Questionable personalities everywhere. Well after all, not every neighborhood can be abundantly blessed with people as perfect as we were.
’Twas truly a hood for strugglers. Broke most weeks. Trapped. Cursed by fate, there we resided, confined among the “certified” in a luxurious trailer park, where the chief status symbol was new tires for the house.
Call it a cosmic force thingy, call it a fact: Kookie people gravitate toward each other. The big mystery? In the marching band of life, how did everyone but us-uns fall out of step?
The bloke who dwelled two doors down with his mate, Myrtle, called himself Murpho. He played the fiddle; she played the accordion. After a sample concert, my wicked wife affectionately but secretly nicknamed the couple Sharps and Flats.
Sharps and Flats shared the unique misfortune of both being nonsexual masochists. They desperately sought humiliation from others. As fate would have it, my bride and I both identified as nonsexual sadists. A perfect quartet? — Not.
What snagged that setup was the fact that my wife and I were not the run-of-the-mill sadists. We were true sadists. We insisted upon being exceedingly nice to masochists and, much to our glee, it simply drove them ding-batty.
Sharps and Flats’ desire to be publicly humiliated chiefly manifested itself in their pretense as wannabe hillbillies. It was weee dogie this and weee dogie that and on and on like Ma and Pa Kettle. All this was rendered somewhat less obnoxious by the odd fact that they looked a lot like Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.
Once on a night of desperate loneliness, we showed up at their door and were surprised by a big sign: “If yur uninvited or unexpected, ya’all is also unwelcome. Go away!”
Meant to incite hostility and punishment, the sign prompted compliments from us: “What a clever greeting,” I said. My bride’s lips dripped with her special brand of insincerity-syrup as she felt Flats’ garment: “That’s a lovely burlap outfit, dearie. Matches that leathery skin of yours to perfection.”
We complimented their cuisine, including the stench of kidneys boiling on the stove, but we lamented aloud that we had become (instant) vegetarians. We heard a manic swashing from the executive toilet. We discovered Sharps washing their dishes in the bathtub.
“Murpho! Turn down the water! Company’s here!” Flats yelled. Then turning to us she said, “Fun fact about that bathtub.”
Myrtle then related how Murpho hated taking a bath, that he had “tubba-phobia” — a severe fear of falling down drunk in the tub. To conquer that, she reported that he habitually crawled into the tub, never standing up, passed out as he soaked and eventually came to, crawled back out and weaved his way to a comfier bed.
Having always suspected that there must lie a pharmaceutical explanation for his eccentricities, I discovered my assessment was close. Sharps soon pulled a flask from his hind pocket and offered me a swig. Seemed glad when I declined. Turned out he was swilling down 200-proof corn alcohol.
Sharps winked as he claimed that he drank under only two conditions: “alone or with somebody.”
Having emptied the flask with two more gulps, he launched into a bawling jag. What prompted it? The memory of a brilliant Johnny Rogers’ football play from the Nebraska-Oklahoma Thanksgiving game of 1971.
Flats explained: “He so emotional. He cried once at a K-Mart opening.”
Suddenly, Sharps sniffed, quivered his lips, then wailed: “Is Anyone listening to me? Oh, I hope Someone is listening to me. Because I already KNOW thishh.”
Yup, the boy boozed it up a bit. Once when Flats was away visiting “kinfolk,” I heard something that sounded like the proverbial torturing of a moose. I noticed a police car parked outside the couple’s house at midnight.
Strolling by to see what was happening, I saw two cops, staring into the couple’s window, laughing hysterically. Sharps, drunker than a hound dog chasing two skunks, was wearing earplugs and bellowing off key at the top of his lungs.
When he spotted the cops, he yanked off the earplugs, blasting the air with Willie Nelson’s rendition of a darling little ditty titled “Mule Skinner Blues.”
So, that was Murpho and Myrtle. Two of my all-time favorites. Sweet entertainment for us newlyweds and now for sweet strolls down memory lane.
Oh, when the couple found out through the hood grapevine that my bride had nicknamed them Sharps and Flats (in honor of their musical “talents”), Sharps loved the new handle.: “It also honors my mind — Sharp”
Sharp, indeed. Sharp as a mitten filled with jello — but oh so charming.
— Steve Eskew
Retired businessman Steve Eskew received master’s degrees in dramatic arts and communication studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha after he turned 50. After one of his professors asked him to write a theater column, he began a career as a journalist at The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This led to hundreds of publications in a number of newspapers, most of which appear on his website, eskewtotherescue.com.