Spring is here! The magnolias and Jehovah’s Witnesses are in bloom throughout the neighborhood. I’m a friend to all, waving as I run my morning jogging route. I wave to the masked leaf blower who pauses in his futility to let me by. I wave to the other joggers in their neon shirts. I wave to the woman with the unruly dog. I wave to the old man absently driving his Cadillac as it drifts from one side of the street to the other. I wave to the kids playing ball on the front lawn. I wave to the mail lady as she guns it from one mailbox to the next. I wave to the old harridan standing in the middle of her lawn, who eyes me suspiciously, and who never returns the gesture. I wave at the well-dressed parishioners of Jehovah who, after leaving their bomb-shelter style house of worship, shuffle up and down driveways with their copies of The Watchtower to knock on deserted houses that come to life about thirty seconds after they leave.
Beyond that there is a fairly busy highway that I cut down. It has a nice big sidewalk. I pass a few medical facilities, a technical school, a car repair shop, and a local State Farm insurance office. State Farm has a funny way of advertising. They put a big sign out in front of the nondescript office with the name of the State Farm representative selling policies inside. For a good while now our local State Farm agent has been, as advertised, Betty Leathers.
I have no idea what Miss Leathers looks like, who she is, how she is, or what she is. I’m sure she is an extremely pleasant southern lady who knows her underwriting and actuarial risk assessment. As I go sailing past, though, the name, the name alone, prompts within my warped psyche the same witty tableau. I see it, clear as day, clear as the sign that says, Betty Leathers. A mild-mannered gentleman walks into the little office to secure some common sense insurance plan and ends up chained to a pommel horse in a rutilant sex dungeon filled with devices of pain, torture and humiliation while Mistress Leathers, let’s say, in tall stilettos and a full-body suit of rubber whips the ever-loving shit out of him, all the while screaming insults and threats.
The office is a one-story converted house. The window shades are always drawn. It is so quiet and unassuming that it is easy to miss among the taller office buildings on either side. In fact, it is this veneer of normalcy that permits my imagination to run wild. My fantastic scenario was somewhat helped along, once, when I espied a fellow walking out the front door with a slight limp. There you go, fella. You’ll have to keep fully dressed around your wife for the next two weeks so she doesn’t notice the welts, weals and whip marks all over your body. Heaven forbid she gets wise. That would be a hefty explanation.
“But sweetie, I just went in because I wanted to make sure you and the kids were taken care of in the event of my death,” he would say. “I didn’t expect things to get so out of hand. She offered me brandy and a quaalude. She asked if I was a non-smoker. She asked if there was any family history of medical issues. Before I knew it I was shackled to the wall. Beaten with a paddle board. She peed on me and laughed. Then she offered me a 30-year term life insurance policy for the no-hassle premium of $29.99 a month.”
In the playground of my imagination Betty Leathers is my jungle gym. I owe her a debt of gratitude.
On my morning run last week. Beautiful Georgia day. Big yellow sun in crisp blue sky. The trees, the breeze and the bees. I wave like Rocky Balboa running through Philly’s Italian district. A salutary wave to the roofers, the plumbers, the heating and air-conditioning folks, the landscapers, the moms packing up the minivans. The junk salvager loading up bits of metal detritus into the back of his pick-up gives me a nod. I’m on the highway, approaching the State Farm office where Master Leathers is using rum, sodomy and the lash on some repressed middle manager. But wait! The sign is changed. Our new State Farm representative goes by the name of Dan Upchurch. Up? Church? I didn’t need a Spanish Inquisitor dunking my head under water to know what had happened. Our beloved Madame Leathers had been run out of town by moral crusaders. The disparity of the two surnames had, somehow, brought our quiet community from a bawdy den of sadomasochism to an austere piety. And I for one wasn’t going to stand for it. It was time to pay the folks at State Farm a visit.
“Hello,” he said with a friendly handshake, “Dan Upchurch. What can I do for you today?”
“Just browsing,” I said, scanning the office for any sign of hidden perversion.
“Let me know if you have any questions.”
“What happened to Betty?”
“Good for her.”
It was obvious I made Mr. Upchurch nervous. He watched as I walked around the waiting area, pressing on the walls, looking underneath chairs, stamping my foot on the floor to percuss for any hollow chambers, bending back the rug for signs of distress. I noticed the walls had been repainted.
“I think you better leave, sir!” he erupted. That’s when I saw it, a thin strip of suede fabric with a tiny metal stud in it wedged under the leg of a chair. I picked it up and held it high in accusation. He flinched, began to perspire. He said I had planted it there myself. This was a respectable place of business. There was nothing sordid about it. None of that funny business anymore. I’d have to go elsewhere for my deviant sexual kicks.
“Give us back our dominatrix!” I demanded.
“Get thee to a confessional, heathen!” he yelled.
He pulled out a wand soaked in holy water and doused me with it, then threw me bodily into the parking lot. As I struggled to my feet a young woman came to my aid, helped me up. She was another State Farm representative, just arriving for her first day.
“Dan’s probably having a bad morning,” she said. “Maybe there’s something I can do for you?”
“Thank you Miss…”
“Name’s Gloryhole. Melissa Gloryhole.”
More Alembics to come.