G: "Since we're incapable of keeping silent."
D: "You're right, we're inexhaustible."
G: "It's so we won't think."
D: "We have that excuse."
G: "It's so we won't hear."
D: "We have our reasons."
G: "All the dead voices."
D: "They make a noise like wings."
G: "Like leaves."
D: "Like sand."
G: "Like Leaves."
D: "To have lived is not enough for them. To be dead is not enough for them."
G: "They make a noise like feathers."
D: "Like leaves."
-"Waiting for Godot" by Samuel Beckett
People seem to think that City Life is hard and Country Life is slow. I can't speak for half of that, but for my part, calling Country Life slow is like calling a David Lynch film slow. Maybe it is? But is that really your first impression when you watch it? You have no other comments?
Exhibit A: Tom Sutton.
If you just glanced at the man, you'd say: "Ah, a hayseed! A rube complete with as red a neck as any billy that lived in the hills."
I first met Tom at the now ill-fated Ashby's Dry Goods store. This establishment was the closest to our house that sold sodas, candy bars and rented out VHS tapes. They also sold groceries, but you didn't go there for that, so they barely stocked any. It burned down in an act of arson, in an attempt to collect on insurance, but that happened a decade or so later.
Tom wore a dirty gray shirt, or maybe at some point it had been white, and blue jeans. He had a good three-months of scraggly unshaven and indiscriminate gray facial hair. He smelled, too. He smelled of watery American beer and discount cigarettes. His complexion was the same of any pure-blooded Native American, but his eyes were blue. Tom was a simple man. I mean that as a compliment and as a judgement.
He had had a pet monkey, supposedly brought home to him from a veteran from overseas. This was during the tapering end of the Vietnam War, when people cared about bigger things than monkey-smuggling. The monkey would ride on his shoulders with a rope tied around its neck, and did so, for almost a year before Tom had decided that the monkey had to die.
These snap decisions of Tom's were never really explained. In small towns, because of gossip and hearsay, often you're left with the mere actions of a demented party, without any true window into their motives.
So one morning, Tom went to the Arnsley Bridge, which was an old rickety wooden bridge that arched high over a railroad that led from the community of Ebress all the way to Orton's Gap. Taking the monkey by the rope, he flung it over the railing, hoping to hang it, like a condemned man. The monkey, too light and nimble to be killed this way, simply climbed back up the rope. This went on for the better part of the day. Having been seen and having been asked, Tom said that he was hoping a passing train would come and he could throw the poor creature in front of it. This didn't happen.
The ultimate fate of Tom Sutton's monkey came down, weeks later, to Quaaludes. You might not be familiar, and you can be forgiven for that. But Quaaludes is a colloquialism for Methaqualone, which is a powerful sedative. Tom had crushed some and put it in the monkey's food, as well as taken some, himself. The result was Tom, passed out on his neighbor's lawn, with a dead monkey on a rope. Local legend is that the neighbor just mowed around the pair, the next day. That was how Tom acquired his nickname of "Captain Quaalude."
This is simply to establish the character that was, Tom Sutton. Because one feature I did not mention about Tom, was his hat. He always wore a brown felt fedora with a red woodpecker feather in the band. Not the fedora of internet white-knights and memes(which is more specifically, a trilby), but the fedora of Humphrey Bogart or Cary Grant.
Back to meeting Tom at the Ashby Dry Goods Store. My Dad greeted him and shook his hand, and introduced me. Tom turned and grinned a big goofy, foul-smelling, grin and took off his hat. I'll never forget his next words. He pointed at his gray head and said: "Do you see that beast on my head, boy?"
I looked. It was just Tom's head. But he put his hat back on and made a shushing motion with one finger to his lips. My Dad managed to laugh this off, but my literal mind was buzzing with possible explanations for what I had just heard. This wasn't a one-time thing, either. Tom was always driving his piss-yellow pick-up truck around the country roads where I lived. And without fail, upon seeing me, he would take off his hat and point to his head and put to me the same question. "Do you see that beast on my head, boy?" If you're wondering, he never really waited for an answer before walking or driving off, grinning and laughing, or talking to the next person.
I suppose the irreverent end to this rambling narrative, is to point out that his hat was the last thing of Tom Sutton's that was ever found. It was found near an old abandoned quonset diner and rollerskate rink, miles off of Laughter, KY. Tom never did show back up. There were those that said he had headed out on a fishing trip to the Green River, but no sign of him was found there either.
The following year was the worst year the state of Kentucky had ever seen. Disasters struck, one after another. A terrible tornado ripped through Providence and Paris, into Crittenden County. An Ice storm, which at the time was considered the worst in KY history, shut the state down, literally shut it down. There were floods and earthquakes, literally, floods and earthquakes. And Tom Sutton's old house, which had been made out of an old L&N caboose combined with a trailer was struck by lightning and caught fire. These incidents happened in a twelve month time frame, give or take a month or two.
All of this may sound fantastic and melodramatic to you. But you have to understand is that I was the only one, to my knowledge, who made the contiguous association between Tom Sutton's disappearance and all these natural phenomenon. To everyone else, it was just a really bad year in Kentucky.
I was the only one who always wondered, what sort of beast had Tom Sutton been keeping in that old felt hat... As an aside, I have also taken up the habit of wearing a hat, myself. If you ever meet me, I will, without a doubt, have my hat on.