HISTORY OF AMERICA
Editor's Note: With the last issue THE SUN began a new feature which will appear in this space every issue until further notice. "BILL HUTTONS HISTORY OF AMERICA," short stories and bizarre historical sketches taken from Hutton's books The Strange Odyssey of Howard Pow and A History of America, will properly mark the Bicentennial observation here in These States and bring people some welcome /satiric relief from all the earnest horseshit being passed out in red-white-and- blue buckets. Hutton, a native of Birmingham and Detroit, studied journalism at WSU in Detroit, worked for the Nantucket (Mass.) LIGHT as a summer reporter, and saw his first publication in magazines associated with John Sinclair and the Detroit Artists 'Workshop in 1965-66. Settling in Buffalo, N. Y., for same reason, Hutton opened Buffalo's (and one of the nation's) first psychedelic ballrooms-BILL ZEIGFIELD'S HEAVEN- which quickly drew the fire of the local gestapo, Weekly trips lo Timothy Leary's Millbrook estate, in G. Gordon Liddy's Queens County. NY, didn't help either, and Hutton was busted in the spring of 1967 for a number of marijuana and LSD crimes committed with the son and daughters of Buffalo literary honcho Leslie Fiedler (Love and Death in the American Novel). His painful contact with the bestial narcotics police of the Buffalo area was a terrifying, deeply traumatic experience, and Bill Hutton has never fully recovered from the shock. In and out of the Pontiac (Michigan) State Hospital for the past eight years, Hutton's mental health has been tragically disrupted since these stories were written. and he remains a "mental patient "at Pontiac to this day. His brilliant satiric writing, however, has never been more accessible, and the second of The SUN 's regular reprints - a fantasy of department store America, penned in 1965-should help Hutton gain some of the respect and attention his work has deserved since it was first printed in mimeographed editions of 500 and 1000 by the Artists' Workshop Press and the Coach House Press (Toronto).
The following story is taken from The Strange Odyssey of Howard Pow and is entitled "Ed Dream Buys a Farm."
Farms, farms, farms ....
Ed Dream's eyes scanned the building directory in the Department Store. Farms were on the ninth floor it said & Ed Dream checked his wallet to make sure $2000 was still there. Then he found an elevator and told the operator to take him to the ninth floor.
The elevator was very crowded. A heavy woman in a blue coat was standing next to Ed Dream. Ed Dream, fairhaired, young & wearing a plaid shirt & bluejeans, leaned close to the woman's ear.
"I'm going up to number nine to buy a farm," he told "her. The woman was holding a bundle pf packages and tried to move away from Ed Dream. "It's going to be a little place with a porch where I sit and watch the cows and chickens coming home over the hill. Maybe something like Thomas Gray was thinking about when he wrote "Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard":
"The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea.
The Ploughman plods his weary way
And leaves the world to darkness and to ne. ..."
But suddenly the elevator stopped, interrupting Ed Dream. "Ninth floor," said the elevator girl nasally, "farms and countryside, creeks and trees. Watch your step please."
Ed Dream stepped out of the elevator into a field. The ninth floor. It was morning & the sun was low & glittered through the branches of some trees growing above McCutchin's Lumber Mill. The grass around Ed Dream was wet with morning dew. Ahead of him he could see the counter. It was about a hundred yards away, tall grass growing up around it, and he started walking.
A woman with brown hair & glasses was at the counter, wearing a plastic badge which said, Farm Sales, Miss Groat.
"May I help you sir?" she inquired.
"I want to buy a farm," Ed Dream said. He was 25.
"Do you have anything in mind?"
"Well, I don't know," he said."Something with a porch on it, 1 know that much. Maybe a few pigs & cows & stuff."
The woman reached beneath the counter.
"Well, I think we can help you." She brought out a book of farm listings.
"Sure hope so," said the future farmer.
"Let's see," she said, tracing her finger down one page of the book. "I could pul you on a wonderful little potato Farm in Maine -about 1500 hundred miles that way." She pointed toward Maine. "It would cost you $1700."
"Or how about a tobacco farm?" asked the woman. "I have a very nice tobacco farm in Virginia you could have."
"I think I want some animals."
"You think you want some animals." she said, turning a few more pages. "Well. let's see. . . . Oh, here's something. Yes. Here's something. It's in Ohio. 'Must sell,' the listing says, 'fifty-seven acres. Lots of animals, a farm house with nice porch and view. A real bargain at $1995."
It took Ed Dream not one second longer to make up his mind, as he slapped the money on the counter and cried, I'll take it!"
"Boy!" said the bull, sitting in the big chair. "This sure beats living in the barn!"
The bull was watching the Huntly-Brinkley Report.
"Yes it does, Elmer," said the cow, in the kitchen fixing supper. "Oh, did I tell you, Elmer," she continued, "that the goat's coming to supper tonight?"
"No," said the bull, surprised but evidently pleased.
"Yes. . . . Well, I got to thinking that we haven't had a good that with the goat in a long time, so I asked him to come by."
"Wonderful," the bull said. "Does he still have the goatee?"
"Yes. darling, he still has the goatee."
"Crazy beatnik goat," laughed the bull.
"Now, Elmer." said the cow. "don't call the goat a beatnik."
"Well," asked the bull, "what are we having to eat?"
"I've got a nice tin can for the goat and some Kentucky Blue Grass for you."
"Kentucky Blue?" said the bull, sighing. "That's my girl!"
Ed Dream was sure he must have been seeing things. He was standing on the front porch of his new farm, scratching his head. The young farmer had just gone inside tor the first time but had come right back out. swearing he had seen a bull and a cow inside watching TV.
"No." he said. "I didn't them, I just thought I did."
Ed Dream opened the door and walked in again. The television was turned off and there was no bull or cow. He looked under the sofa.
"There's no beast under this sofa." he said.
He looked behind the chair .
"Nope. Nothing behind the chair."
Ed Dream opened the closet door.
"Come on out of there," he said. "I'm Ed Dream."
But there was nothing.
"I was seeing things," he decided.
Then the front door opened. It was the goal.
"Bull. you old son -of-a. . . . You're not Bull" said the goat. His goateed jaw agape.
"Hey!" was all Ed Dream could manage.
The goat charged Dream and butted him across the room. Ed Dream hit the wall with a Ioud wock and slid to the floor. And by the time he had got ten up again and shaken the cobwebs from his head, the goat was gone.
"Jesus," Ed Dream said. several large circles spinning around his head. "That goal really hit me."
He walked around the rest of the first door, very suspicious now lest he get butted by the mystery goat again. until he finally satisfied himself that the animal was only a figment of his lucid imagination. Then he went upstairs.
The floor of the hallway creaked as Ed Dream walked on it. "Have to fix these floors," he said, opening the door of the master bedroom. What he saw there made him leap and his tongue spun around & his eyeballs popped out.
There was a woman in the bedroom.
"Howdy. . . . I'm the farmer's wife," she said.
She was heavy and had long pigtails, a wrinkled face, a yellow gingham dress and two wooden buckets filled with fresh milk.
"Well, I just bought this place," explained Ed Dream.
"I know you did." said the Farmer's Wife, smiling.
"Well, you can't stay here. . . . That's what I'm trying to say."
"But I come with the farm."
Oh, this is too much, thought Ed.
"I don't care if you come with the farm," he said. "I want peace and quiet. I want to sit on the porch and smoke my pipe and drink my cider. I want to watch the blackbirds out in the cornfield."
"You don't understand," said the Farmer's Wife. "I'm part of the bargain. You get the Farm with all the Animals, the Trees, the Stream running through the Mossy Forest, the Fishing Hole, the Mason Jars. the Oak Tree and Swing, the Red Tractor and me!" She beamed at Ed Dream. "All for the low price of $1995."
"Yeah, but. . . ."
"No buts about it," said the Farmer's Wife. "I simply come with the farm." "I don't know," Ed Dream said. "I don't know how ['m going to like this."
"Never mind how you're going to like it." she said. "Just come along with me. It's almost time for supper."
Ed Dream followed the Farmer's Wife downstairs.
"Now," she said, holding the back door open for him. "You go out in the field, and when you hear the bell ring it means supper's ready."
Ed Dream was not exactly sure what was going on. He stood out in the wheat field leaning on a scythe. It was late in the.afternoon and the sun was going down; it sat just above the low hills that rose to the west. The hills were darkened in shade, and below them was the village. It was a small village and very poor, and soon, as the sun set, the peasants would come down from the hills along the foot paths with their potato sacks (or whatever the fuck peasants carry) slung over their shoulders.
Ed Dream took a red bandana from his pocket and mopped his brow-mopped it heavily.
"Come an Git It!" he heard the woman yell, and he could see her across the field, standing by the back door and clanging a big iron triangle. He dropped his scythe & started across the field to the farmhouse.
"Man, l'm sure hungry," he said. sitting down at the table.
The Farmer's Wife had fixed him a Swanson's T.V. Dinner For Farmers. Ed Dream ate the peas, carrots, turnips, pig's feet. dumplings and molasses, and watched Robert Trout with the News & Weather.
He looked at the Farmer's Wife and tried to smile.
"I guess farming's for me," he said bravely.
. . . But so far he wasn't really sure.
After supper Ed Dream walked out to the back porch. He sat on the old divan with the cartoon springs sticking up and lit his corncob pipe. It was dark outside, with a small amount of light coming out from the kitchen door. Ed Dream wondered if the McCoys or the Kettles would pay him a visit tonight, or the Beverly Hillbillies. He wondered if the Forrester family from Willa Cather's A Lost Lady would stop in tonight to talk about the Harvest. He wondered about Jesse Stuart. He wondered what Jesse Stuart was up to. He wondered what Old Fonse from Jesse Stuart's wonderful farm story, Uncle Fonse Laughed was doing tonight.
Ed Dream rocked in the divan.
"Ma," he said. to the Farmer's Wife. "What, Pa?"
He spit. It landed on a cricket and the cricket threw up.
".'. . This farmless prairie had no heart that beat, no waves that sang, no soul that could he touched...
- Old Rolvaac, GIANTS IN THE EARTH"
"What are you talking about. Pa?"
"I don't know," said Ed Dream. staring out at the night. "It's just that none of this is like I thought it would be. . . ."
Ed Dream and the Farmer's Wife went to bed soon. They climbed into the big four-poster with the electric patch-work quilt on it. Ed Dream turned the light out, but before he was asleep the Farmer's Wife shook him & said, "Do it to me like the bull does it to the cow!"
Out in the barn, the bull and the cow were talking with the goat. The cow was hysterical. She clutched a lacy handker-chief & the barn was filled with her loud sobbing.
"Will you please SHUT UP!" said the bull. "My God, Bessie.you'd think the world had ended."
"Well, well." she sobbed, "maybe it has. . . . Boo, hoo hoo. . ."
The bull looked at the goat.
"So, you don't think he saw is then?"
"No. . . No, Elmer, I don't reckon he did." The goat spit. "As I say, I went in there hoop-de-dooin', spectin' to find you and Bess. Well, he pops into view and I tell you I liked to die." "And then you butted him?" interjected the bull. "And then 1 butts him," corrected the goat. "I butts him a good one. too. Clean across the room."
The chickens were at one end of the barn. watching the bull and the goat. The pigs were playing poker in the back room.
"Well, as long as he didn't see me and Bessie," said the bull, "I guess we're all right."
"I'd say so," said the goat.
But the cow was still crying.
"I don't want to be sent to Armour Star," she sobbed.
The bull just shook his head.
"Women!" he said.
At 5:30 a.m. a rooster jumped up on the fence and sang La Traviata. Ed Dream woke up. He sat up in bed and stretched his arms over his head.
"A new day," he said. "It's a new day and I got work to do. I got to milk the cow, collect the eggs and feed the chickens." He climbed out of bed and put on his overalls and the big boots. "It looks like a good day and I'm going to get a lot done!"
Ed Dream splashed some cold water on his face. combed his hair and went downstairs to the kitchen. The Farmer's Wife. her hair in curlers, wearing a green robe with little tea kettles on it, had bis breakfast ready -a cup of A & P Instant Coffee and a Mrs. Pauls Energy Pill for Farmers, Ed Dream swallowed the big pill and drank the coffee.
"Now I'm ready to go out and do the chores," he said. kissing the Farmer's Wife on the forehead and bolting out the door.
Ed Dream talked to himself as he plodded along the dirt path to the barn. He was in a great mood today.
"Maybe when I'm done with the milking and the chickens I'll chop some wood." Ed Dream was wearing a new plaid shirt. "Maybe I'll get the tractor and plow the fields. Maybe I'll plant some corn. Maybe I'll build a shed." Ed walked toward the barn. "Maybe in the afternoon I'll go down to the old swimming hole for a dip.
"Oh! the old swimming'-hole! where the creek so still & deep Looked like a baby river that was laying half asleep. ..."
"Ha. ha, ha. . . ."
Ed Dream walked merrily to the barn, wondering if he'd run into James Whitcomb Riley down by the Old Swimmin' Hole.
"Jesus Christ, here comes the farmer," cried the goat. The goat was peeking out the barn door. "l'm gonna butt him again."
"No," warned the bull. "Don't butt him. Just act natural." The bull looked at the other animals in the barn. "Everyone just act natural."
The chickens put their sewing away and the pigs folded the card table and put out their cigars. The horse put away his copy of Black Beauty and the owl, up in the high beams of the barn. tucked away his glasses and his book. The owl was ploughing through Herzog, by Saul Bellow.
Ed Dream pushed the big barn doors open and the morning light poured in. The cow mooed. She was in her milking stall. The bull rubbed his horns against the slats of his pen and the goat was eating some straw. The chickens squawked and laid a few eggs.
"Good morning, cow," sang Ed Dream, setting a bucket under the cow and pulling a milking stool up for himself. He jerked the cow's tail twice.
"That's for good luck," he said. 'I've never milked a cow before."
Oh, brother, thought the cow, taking a deep breath and holding it.
"Now," said Ed Dream, "I guess I just pull your tits like this."
"No!" shouted the goat. The goat took off his head. It was Harry Truman. Harry Truman was wearing a goat costume. "No, you won't milk that cow. Farmer Ed!"
"Wha. . .?!" "
What's going on Harry?" said the bull. looking at the TV audience and shrugging. He took his head off. It was Teddy Roosevelt.
The cow was Warren G. Harding. The chickens and the pigs and the rest of the animals took off their heads. Thirty-eight ex-presidents of the U.S.A. use Gillette Blue Blades in their razors and swear to a clean shave!
Ed Dream ran from the barn as if in fright from the Good & Plenty Express. His eyes were white and his hair stood on end. A bulldozer appeared and rolled him flatter than a pancake, but he got up and shook himself back in shape & started running.
He ran at silent movie speed, across the wheatfield and through the great corn stalks. Far ahead of him he could see the department store counter. It was up on a ledge beyond the Trees, past the Trout Stream that ran through the Pine Forest, above the Rolling Valleys and the Plains of America, Ed Dream had tears in his eyes when he reached the counter.
"May I help you?" asked the plain-looking woman who had sold him the farm.
"I'll say you can!" he said.
"What is it?"
"What is it? It's the farm. It's about the farm I bought here the other day."
"You're not happy with it?"
"Just a minute, sir," said the woman, leaving.
Ed Dream waited. Soon another woman appeared. She wore a badge that said, Miss Thompson, Supervisor, "Yeah?" said the woman. "l'm not completely satisfied with the farm I bought from you people the other day!"
"Would you like to exchange it for something else?"
"A coconut grove? A mink ranch?"
"I just want a little place where there's none of this fancy stuff going on. Just a place where I can feel the sun on my neck and watch the horses coming home over the hill."
"I see," said the woman.
The woman and the department store counter disappeared in a puff of smoke. Ed Dream was left standing alone, the wind blowing the tall grass & the blue sky was all around him.