The End of The Line


Excuse me Ma’am,

Are you awake? O, marvelous, you are! Ma’am I’m going to have to ask you to get off now. We’ve reached the end of the line. This here engine goes no further. You’re going to have to get off here and advance on foot the rest of the way. Before you go though, I must say that I admire your courage, ma’am. We’ll all be pulling for you.

I’ve been conducting this here train for far too long, Ma’am. I’ve seen the vibrant youths of this here town attempt the very feat you are attempting now and never return, but if anyone can do it, it is you. Ma’am, when you co-illustrated
The Adventures of Taco, I knew that we still had a shot. These men may have guns, they may have numbers, but they’ll never have the bindle and twinkle in the eyes that you do.

I know it probably doesn’t mean a lot coming from a crazy old man like me, but I’d like to tell you a story before you go. You see, Ma’am, when I was a little girl, we didn’t have any of the gloominess we have now. Mine is a story of frustration, of attrition, but it is also one of hope. Seventy years ago, I met a man by the name of Frank Tatum. His son Hank had been a fancy football star in his own time, but that’s a story for another time.

Frank Tatum, born third to Lester and Marjorie Tatum, spent most of his childhood farming peanuts behind the shed next to the slightly larger shed where his family lived. I guess you could say the Tatums were shed rich and dirt poor. Frank’s favorite time of year was early autumn when the peanuts were harvested, and it was time to name them. Wallace, Edward, Theodore, Susanne, the others—Frank Tatum loved them all. He swaddled them in what little cloth there was at the time, and would bury them for safekeeping down by the fork in the creek each day before school.

One day, while Frank Tatum was playing in the front yard, a man with a wooden briefcase came down the dirt drive in an old jalopy. He made Lester and Marjorie Tatum sign a piece of paper on the rickety porch of their slightly larger shed, and cheerily waved goodbye with the foreclosure to the Tatum estate in hand. Marjorie Tatum began to cry, and Lester stared off at the jalopy as it pulled away.

Something in 12 year old Frank Tatum snapped that day. He put away his assemblage of individually-named peanuts once and for all and took up the pen in its stead. For an entire year, Frank Tatum fought the legislators in the 5th ward to no avail. Back in those days, it was not uncommon for 13 year olds to be radical political juggernauts. Frank Tatum decided it was finally time to give up.

He returned to a life of farming and naming peanuts. He shaved with a knife and ate only meat. He swore like a merchant marine and cut an imposing figure. Frank Tatum was biding his time. Finally, he had saved enough money to build a shed of his own, and he did so.

Your quest is very much like the quest of Frank Tatum. In many ways you remind me of him, Ma’am: the heart, the determination, the brawny disregard for mankind. Something tells me you two are more alike than you think. So be careful out there, and get us our goddamn shed back!

O, and if they ask who sent you, you tell them it was:
A.T. Piskai

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