I was sittin’ and tootin’ on my old ceramic jug one day not too very long ago and contemplatin’ and a-fixatin’ on how jug-tootin’ is hardly ever taught in our schools anymore. What a shame.
But like my old grandpap used to say, “Moanin’ and complainin’ does about as much good as a three-legged skunk with a busted stink-hole in a textile mill tryin’ to get romantic with a half-frayed spool of defective rayon-based yarn scheduled for immediate shippin’ to a once-prosperin’ perfumery that’s already been shut down due to a labor dispute and everybody says it’s haunted and you can hear the ol’ duchess carryin’ her head around in a basket on certain moonless nights, and the yarn was originally intended for costumin’ their elaborate annual talent show that ain’t even goin’ to happen, in fact some disgruntled ex-employees are thinkin’ of burnin’ down the whole shebang that night in protest over their poor treatment at the hands of management. I mean, why are they spendin’ all this money on a supposedly morale-boostin’ talent show when they dock Bill Tutweiler’s pay just ’cause he messed up his expense report? He went up there to the capitol with the VP of marketing because that dude don’t know a blessed thing about extractin’ botanical oils. Old Bill was doin’ him a favor, and this is the thanks he gets. He’d a-rather been workin’ the line any day. And his youngest, Molly, has that problem with her foot.”
Takin’ that sage advice to heart, I sought out our superintendent of schools, Mort Mortimer, in the big metal drum where he lives, under some mattresses at the junkyard. These bureaucratic fat cats sure do know how to get under a fella’s skin! First thing he started in to askin’ me to do was to stop a-droppin’ my gs and a-puttin’ the suffix a- in front of stuff. In the interest of compromise, I agreed.
Mort appeared to listen thoughtfully as I outlined my comprehensive plan for returning jug-tooting to the countywide curriculum. My astonishment was immense when he rubbed his pimpled chin for no more than a moment and said, “I’ll do it!”
Alas, my triumph was short-lived.
“I’ll do it… on one condition,” Mort said. “
You come back here to the old junkyard at midnight and face off in a jug-tooting contest against a jug-tooter of my choosing. As long as you can outplay him, I’ll bring up your plan for consideration at the next board meeting. And I can call in a few favors to line up those votes.”
With a haughty snap of my fingers, I showed him I had nothing to fear from any tooter he could produce.
At midnight, a trash fire cast a spectral gleam over the yard. At Mort’s signal, my lean opponent, pale and solemn as death, appeared from behind a stack of old crushed cars. He wore a flowing black cape fastened by a silver clasp in the shape of a goat’s head. His long ebony walking stick was similarly festooned.
“Why, it’s the devil himself!” I exclaimed.
Mort said no, it was just a guy named Gus he knew back when he lived in Shreveport.
Gus asked whether I minded if he blew into the eyehole of a human skull.
“Be my guest,” I replied. “Everyone knows that the human skull is one of the earliest forms of jug.”
Gus gave me a shrewd, appraising look, and I could see that my knowledge of jug history had floored him. Nonetheless, he didn’t even break a sweat as he piped out an ebullient toccata on his instrument of choice. Even the slimy rats who inhabited the place stood on their hind legs and swayed gracefully, as if mesmerized. When Gus was finished, a preternatural hush filled the night.
I raised my jug to my lips and blatted the same two notes over and over, really the only thing anyone should do on a jug. When I was done I dashed it to pieces on the oily ground, confident it would never be played so well again.
Giving an unearthly scream, Gus vanished in a spew of chartreuse flame.
So that was weird.