Fireflies

Found this essay from a few years ago I’d never posted. It was back during that spell of ricin tainted letters in the mail, you might remember those, and then they popped the dude mailing them. He was from Mississippi, which automatically confuses a Yankee like me. It’s a whole other civilization down there, exotic, inexplicable and sometimes downright weird. For starters, the ricin mailer was an Elvis impersonator. That was weird. Funny, yes, but weird. This particular Elvis impersonator, the ricin mailing one, was a martial arts instructor on the side. Odd too, perhaps, but it would have helped with some of those latter day Elvis judo steps. But why an Elvis impersonating, martial arts instructing, organ harvesting (organ harvesting?), paranoid novel writing (one plot involved a involved the CIA, the president and a secret airbase in Arkansas) feller from Mississippi would send deadly ricin in letters to a left wing president and a right wing senator and sign his own right wing nut of an Elvis impersonator’s name makes any sense at all completely escapes me. But I did know an actual Mississippian, blonde and proud and drawling and belle-like, and I asked her how it all made sense. With antebellum grace she apologized and said she doesn’t watch the news. Oh. The matter was dropped, and I forgot all about it.

Good thing, too, as the whole story, it turns out, was screwed up. The Elvis impersonator was off the hook, it was just some wacko behind it all. Some small town hatred. I can’t remember the Faulknerian (if Faulkner was John Kennedy O’Toole) details. Fortunately, soon afterward more ricin laced letters emerged, again from Mississippi. The president got one again, and Mayor Bloomberg. No one got hurt, and they found the ricin in a guy’s refrigerator. His pregnant wife fingered him. She, perfectly, was a beauty queen, and more perfectly, a former reality TV star, a pregnant former reality star. Pregnant again, that is. Her earlier progeny by a flurry of fathers scampered about the house, the little darlings, cute as bugs. Most perfect of all, delicious even, was the fact that she had lied and it was not her husband but she herself who mailed the letters. Revenge, she said. Depression, they said. Some sort of deep south zaniness with ricin in the icebox. She’d ground the castor beans in the kitchen. It got all sad and tawdry and Tennessee Williams and doubtless screenplays are being passed around as we speak.

She’s in jail now. I lost track of her. Where once they brought her a crown and red roses by the dozen, now they bring her meals on a tray. That’s not funny or ironic, it’s just sad. Mississippi madness. There’s not a chance that a Yankee would understand it, not at all. Elvis and beauty queens and ricin don’t really mix up north or out here on the Coast.

I remember re-reading this thing a few times, and not liking it. Oh, I liked parts, but it was such a mess. I pulled things out and it didn’t get any better, so I put them back in, and it still didn’t get any better, so I pulled them out again. Then during a southern California heat spell a couple years back, when the air hung limp with humidity late into the night and there was an eerie southernness to everything, I wrote a beautiful and evocative final paragraph that talked of fireflies. I miss fireflies. Then the weather broke and I reread that paragraph and deleted it. Zapped it into the cornfield. I just tried rewriting it now but it was no good. So I deleted that one too. And now either I junk this thing or post it. I still haven’t decided.

If I could I’d vacation every year in the south, just to see the fireflies. I have fond East Coast memories of chasing fireflies. Maine fireflies. New Jersey fireflies. Fireflies like faraway fireworks on balmy Virginia nights. I wouldn’t chase them now, those fireflies, I’d watch them. I’d swat mosquitos and drink spiked lemonade and watch the fireflies. Then I’d fly back to Los Angeles and bask in the cool night air.

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