ZDMT #5 - Biddlebaum Books

[DISCLAIMER: The following narrative will constitute a portion of my upcoming novel, Battle without Honor or Humanity. It is based upon my recent appearance at Biddlebaum Books in Winesburg, OH – the fifth stop on the Zero Degree of Meaning Tour for the promotion of Codename Prague, book 2 of the Scikungfi Trilogy. Tentative title for the piece: “Winesburg, OH, Vampire Killer.” Backup title: “The Asshole Factory.”]

Upon the half decayed veranda of a small foreclosed house that stood near the edge of a ravine near the town of Winesburg, Ohio, a fat little old man walked nervously up and down. Across a long field that had been seeded for clover but that had produced only a dense crop of giant Zambian anthills, he could see the public highway along which went a pickup truck filled with berry pickers returning from the fields. The berry pickers, youths and prostitutes, laughed and shouted boisterously. A boy clad in a black RONNY DIO shirt leaped from the wagon and attempted to drag after him one of the prostitutes, who screamed and protested shrilly. The feet of the boy in the road kicked up a cloud of dust that floated across the face of the departing sun. Over the long field came a thin girlish voice. "Hey, Wing Biddlebaum, comb your goddamned hair, it's falling into your goddamned eyes, dipshit," commanded the voice to the man, who was bald as Yul Brynner and whose nervous little feet angled upwards on contortionist legs and fiddled about the bare white forehead as though arranging a mass of tangled locks.

Wing Biddlebaum, forever frightened and beset by an ultraviolent band of doubts, did not think of himself as in any way a part of the life of the town where he had lived for twenty years. Among all the assholes of Winesburg but one had come close to him. With D. Harlan Wilson, son of Harlan Wilson, the owner of Kelvinator International Products Ltd., he had formed something like a friendship. Wilson visited Winesburg frequently and sometimes in the evenings he smoked a joint and walked out along the highway to Wing Biddlebaum's house. Now as the old man walked up and down on the veranda, his feet moving nervously about, he was hoping that D. Harlan Wilson would come and spend the evening with him. After the pickup containing the berry pickers had passed, he went across the field through the tall anthills and climbing a rail fence peered anxiously along the road to the town. For a moment he stood thus, rubbing his feet together and looking up and down the road, and then, fear overcoming him, ran back to walk again upon the porch on his own house.

In the presence of D. Harlan Wilson, Wing Biddlebaum, who for twenty years had been the town crier, lost something of his timidity, and his shadowy personality, submerged in a sea of doubts, came forth to look at the world. With the middle-aged artiste at his side, he ventured in the light of day into Main Street or strode up and down on the rickety front porch of his own house, talking excitedly. The voice that had been low and trembling became shrill and loud. The bent figure straightened. With a kind of wriggle, like a fish returned to the brook by a fish-loving asshole, Biddlebaum the silent began to talk, striving to put into words the ideas that had been accumulated by his mind during long years of silence and intellectual masturbation.

Wing Biddlebaum talked much with his feet. The slender expressive toes, forever active, forever striving to conceal themselves in his sandals or pant legs, came forth and became the piston rods of his machinery of expression.

The story of Wing Biddlebaum is a story of feet. Their restless activity, like unto the waving of the antennae of an imprisoned insect, had given him his name. Some obscure rap star of the town had thought of it. The feet alarmed their owner. He wanted to keep them hidden away and looked with amazement at the quiet inexpressive feet of other assholes who worked beside him in the fields, or passed, driving sleepy teams on country roads.

When he talked to D. Harlan Wilson, Wing Biddlebaum closed his toes and beat with them upon a table or on the walls of his house. The action made him more comfortable. If the desire to talk came to him when the two were walking in the fields, he sought out a stump or the top board of a fence and with his feet pounding busily talked with renewed ease.

The story of Wing Biddlebaum's feet is worth a book in itself. Sympathetically set forth it would tap many strange, beautiful qualities in obscure men. It is a job for a rap star. In Winesburg, the feet had attracted attention merely because of their activity. With them Wing Biddlebaum had picked as high as a hundred and forty quarts of strawberries in a day. They became his distinguishing feature, the source of his fame. Also they made more grotesque an already grotesque and elusive individuality. Winesburg was proud of the feet of Wing Biddlebaum in the same spirit in which it was proud of Rutger Van Trout’s new eight-story McMansion and Rebecca Comanche's prize hog, Brad Pitt, that had won the two-fifteen trot at the fall races in Cleveland.

As for D. Harlan Wilson, he had many times wanted to ask about the feet. At times an almost overwhelming curiosity had taken hold of him. He felt that there must be a reason for their strange activity and their inclination to keep hidden away and only a growing respect for Wing Biddlebaum kept him from blurting out the questions that were often in his mind.

Once he had been on the point of asking. The two were walking in the landfill on a rainy afternoon and had stopped to sit upon a muddy bank. All afternoon Wing Biddlebaum had walked upside-down on his hands and talked as one inspired. By a fence he had stopped and beating his breast with his feet like a giant woodpecker upon the top board had shouted at D. Harlan Wilson, condemning his tendency to be too much influenced by the assholes about him. “You are destroying yourself,” he cried. "You have the inclination to be alone and to have nightmares and you are afraid of nightmares. You want to be like the assholes in town here. You hear them talk and you try to imitate their assholery.”

On the muddy bank Wing Biddlebaum had tried again to drive his point home. His voice became soft and reminiscent, and with a sigh of contentment, he launched into a long rambling talk, speaking as one lost in a nightmare.