Allegiance and Betrayal
Peter Makuck
In "Friends," Rick is in a snit. He and his wife knew a couple named Tapper, who, after twenty-two years, have just gone off to live in Florida. Didn't tell anyone --- just disappeared.

Rick tells his friends Owen and Vivian, "I don't get it ... Twenty-two goddamn years." The four of them drink gin-and-tonics next to the pool, watch college kids fooling around below, and Rick sums it up: "If they walked into this pool right now, I'd get up and leave."

    Take that back. I'd piss on 'em, then leave.

Rick and Lynne and Owen and Vivian speculate on the reason. Owen says that maybe they were in the Witness Protection program. Or maybe Scott Tapper might have been fooling around with friends' wives. Since Scott was a musician, Owen supposes, maybe he "was living up to his name --- here a tap, there a tap, everywhere a tap tap."

    I mean, going into these homes with husbands at work, the guy was tuning more than pianos.

As we can well imagine, before the third gin-and-tonic sets in, there comes more speculation. About Scott. About him and other errant wives.

Even Vivian?

Or Lynn?

§   §   §

Makuck teaches writing, does poetry, appears in all the right places. Hudson Review, Gettysburg Review, Georgia Review, Virginia Quarterly Review. Those little magazines that are considered respectable, have been around forever ... literary periodicals that no one ever reads. (I don't. Do you?)

He is a respectable writer, but I have the distinct feeling of a little distance, like maybe a twenty-yard punt, between the words and the heart. In one of the title stores, two young men enrolled in St. Anthony's College sneak off one day to drink beer and climb a tower (hints of Ulysses, complete with Latin quotes: Lex est quid notamus, "Laws are what we say they are.")

It appears that one of them --- J. C. (yes) --- has a plan on how he can keep from being kicked out of yet another school. Something has to be done in the confessional. A little white lie.

Once again, the drama is there, the words fit, there is a beginning, a middle and an end ... but, how should we put it? ... the soul seems to be out-to-lunch.

In these twelve stories, there are a few too many gin-and-tonics. Even for me. And I love a good gin-and-tonic before dinner. Or lunch.

Messages are spelled out for us even when we don't need them: "Therefore we must save ourselves with the final form of love, which is forgiveness."

There are a few chills (in one we think someone may drown; a storm kicks up in another with our characters stuck in their tiny boat, far from shore, with "stabs of lightning" and "fat drops of rain.")

There are occasional stabs at wit ("Everybody's drowning in apathy nowadays ... but I don't care,") along with hints of vaguely misogynistic coarseness, You're only as old as the women you feel.

§   §   §

However, amidst all the hokeyness you'll find one story that's a jewel. So much so that you might want to pick up the book at the library just to read it.

It involves an old geezer named Siems who may buy a 4Runner from Greg who's just lost his job and his wife. The old man is a charming old galoot with an eyepatch, and in the midst of the dickering, gets Greg to loosen up at a nearby bar.

When Greg calls him "Mr. Siems," he replies: "Booger, please. Everybody calls me Booger." Well ... OK.

And then to the lady tending bar, "Jack Daniels on the rocks." It's about time, even though I'd prefer a gin-and-tonic.

The old goat not only goes through his days and, presumably, his life hooked up to this atrocious name, but we find out that he's a quite a card, maybe even a visionary. He certainly is a laid-back wit out of the sticks.

    He slid off his stool. "I got to drain mah dragon, but with this here prostrate, it takes me about a hour to pee. If I'm lucky."

Greg, suddenly cut loose from family and job, is apparently addicted to watching raccoons raiding his ex-wife's bird feeder. He also watches the old man's nephew across the street from the bar, presumably wants to be sure he's not hot-wiring his 4Runner. It appears, however, that Booger can see even further than Greg. He has the ability to see into one's past.

We expect wispy ladies in long Oriental dresses to discover the ability to peer into the lives of others ... but this old guy? With his dragon (and his "prostrate?")

    "Tell me if I'm right. That son you mentioned" --- he closed his eye and tilted his head back --- "I'm getting that he's down in Flower-da, and you ain't happy about it. I'm getting that your parents are passed away, your daddy just months ago."

"Greg couldn't believe it. How could he possibly know."

Sticking this slightly daffy art of being a fulltime seer into the body of a dried out old galoot is magic. At least it was for me: a real tonic.

What Makuck has done here is caught the form of the short story exactly, and --- by its very contrariness --- has made it a perfect fit.

Maybe there's a tiny spark of life in those little quarterlies after all. The usually tendentious Hudson Review first published the story of the transcendental abilities of a North Carolina cracker several years ago.

The story was called --- what else? --- "Booger."

Makuck has a poetry review
in the newest issue of the
Hudson Review.
In general, it's pretty bloodless,
with the usual police lineup of
romantics and classicists:
Wordsworth, Keats, Menelaus,
Proteus and "Augustan Satire."
--- Richard Saturday
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