Bushman Lives!, p.10Daniel Pinkwater
Golyat’s senior project at Creeping Shrub was a set of designs and plans for a mural to be painted on Boulder Dam. The mural was to depict the history of westward expansion, the local Indian tribes, historical personages who had been in the neighborhood such as Mark Twain, Kit Carson, the marine hero Ira Hayes, and also cowboys, prostitutes, Chinese railroad laborers, Thomas Edison and Nikolai Tesla, the development of hydroelectric power, Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt, desert plants and animals, and a tribute to the nation of Mexico and the Catholic church. After he graduated, he sent the project as a proposal to the Boulder Dam Commission, the States of Nevada and Arizona, the United States government, the president of Mexico, General Electric, the Ford Foundation, and the Vatican, hoping to have it approved and funded so he could paint it. Nothing came of this.
He then went to Spain, with a plan to muralize the medieval walls around the city of Avila. However, he had been misinformed by Eddie Balchowsky and did not know that the fascist-supported side had won the civil war, and the dictator, General Franco, would not be likely to approve his mural—but to be fair, the other side would not have approved it either, since the walls of Avila were about a thousand years old, and in perfect condition—and pretty much anybody who wasn’t Golyat would have thought putting paint on them would be a bad idea. Plus, it was pretty much the same as his plan for Boulder Dam, and the contents and persons depicted would not have meant much in Spain.
Golyat went back to Chicago and prepared a brand-new plan, this time for a mural to be painted on the Great Wall of China. It would show the history of the planet, from the beginning of time to the present, and he included a large section about the life and deeds of Mao Tse Tung, thinking this would get the new Chinese government to consider his proposal favorably. I don’t think he really believed he had much of a chance, and worked at the same time on a smaller project to be painted on the Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt. He sent both ideas off, and never heard back.
He then settled down to doing paintings on canvas, but he was dissatisfied and bitter. I asked him why he didn’t try for some local walls, in churches, post offices, lobbies of new apartment buildings—things like that.
“Not interested,” he said.
“So you never did any murals?”
“The mistake Michelangelo and all those other mural painters made was working too small. Do it right, which means do it big, or don’t do it at all. I still remember how let down I felt after I did that barn.”
Of course, I continued to drop in on Arnold Zwieback’s drawing classes. On one particular occasion the model was Captain Shmendy, a retired Great Lakes sailorman. Captain Shmendy wore a posing pouch, which is sort of like a bikini bottom and looks ridiculous, also one of those yachting caps. He had a great many tattoos on his wrinkled old hide, including some of lizards in ballet shoes and tutus—the same subject as some of Golyat Thornapple’s paintings. There was also a tattoo of what looked very much like the white house with the vast interior where I had my little studio space in which I never did any work.
I was certainly curious about why those particular images, and was trying to decide whether it was good manners to ask a naked old person about his tattoos during the break.
It turned out I didn’t have to ask. When we took a break, Captain Shmendy did not cover up with a robe like the female models did—instead, he held forth with a lecture about his life and career, pointing out the skin art related to different parts of his story. The lizards, he explained, he’d had done when the ballet de reptile from some island or other came to Chicago in 1939. The house I thought I recognized he claimed was the house he had grown up in, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. These tattoos were on the captain’s upper arms. Down one side of his body were portraits of the five women he’d been married to. On the other side was a list of sandwiches he had specially enjoyed, and the date on which he had eaten them—for example, in 1947 he had a fried egg on toast, which he felt deserved to be commemorated. I wanted to know if the lizards had anything to do with Thornapple’s paintings, or maybe if Thornapple himself had drawn them, but it turned out to be impossible to ask the captain any questions. He was a nonstop talker.
Across his back was tattooed DEEP WATER WALLAH over an American eagle, and an old-fashioned sailing ship.
“This modeling is only a temporary gig,” Captain Shmendy said. “I’m expecting to be put in charge of an important expedition in the near future.” Then, for some reason, he looked directly at me when he said, “And we’ll be wanting some able-bodied young chaps to man the oars.”
Needless to say, the guy was hard to draw, and all the students were frustrated. Except Billy Zwieback—he was sketching away energetically with an intent expression. I leaned over to get a look at his drawings—he was creating a cartoon character of Captain Shmendy, and had even designed a title logo, “Naked Old Loony.” I could see why he was excited. It definitely had possibilities.
She Knows Things
I was in the Art Institute, looking at The Bedroom, a swell painting by Vincent Van Gogh, when Molly found me. She had the Wolluf with her.
“How come they let you bring a dog in here?” I asked her.
“Because he’s the Wolluf. He’s not a dog. Anyway, I’ve been looking for you. Do you know a guy named Geets?”
“Sure, I know Geets. He’s probably my best friend. He hasn’t been around for a while. Did you see him?”
“It’s a Zen term. Can’t be explained.”
“So where did you see him?”
“He’s at the house.”
“The house where we hang out?”
“Well, let’s go see him.”
“All right, but I warn you, he’s tzu-mishi-wa.”
“Can’t be explained?”
We were walking. “How did you know I knew Geets? Did he mention me?”
“No. He just set up a little workshop at the house and started working on his . . . work.”
“And you came looking for me.”
“Why? Why did you come looking for me?”
“Because you’re a friend of Geets, and I thought you would like to see him.”
“But he never mentioned me.”
“I said that.”
“Why did you know I was a friend of his?”
“How many times do I have to tell you? I’m studying to be a wise woman. I know things.”
He Bends Spoons
Geets had set up a little space in the weird house. His equipment consisted of a wooden stool and a small crate full of spoons. I could see why Molly thought he was tzu-mishi-wa—he was sitting on the stool, holding a spoon in his hand, and staring at it with an intense expression. He was so focused on the spoon that he didn’t notice me until I was standing right beside him and spoke to him.
“Bushman lives,” I said.
Geets looked up slowly. “You know, he literally does.”
“So what are you doing?”
“I’m trying to bend this spoon.”
“By staring at it?”
“Well, by directing the power of my mind at it. So how have you been?”
“Pretty well. I’m doing art. How about you?”
“I’ve had adventures and learned things.”
“What did you mean, ‘he literally does’? Who does?”
“Bushman. One day, Harold, you and I are going to see Bushman in person.”
“Huh? You mean when we die?”
“No, see him—on Skolnick Island. He is like a king there.”
“You know he is dead and stuffed and on display in the Field
“That is a mannequin covered in fun fur, part of the deception to cover the real shame—that of the Zoological Society and the city of Chicago in general, that he did not die, but simply busted out and went they know not where.”
“But you know where.”
“So I believe.”
“What is this Skolnick Island? I never heard of it.”
“There are any number of things you have never heard of, my friend. Skolnick Island is named for Father Skolnick, a Jesuit who came over with Marquette and that crowd, and was an early explorer and naturalist. He was interested in gorillas. Before coming to North America, he was in Sierra Leone in Africa. Some say he collected a few particularly promising ones and brought them to Illinois with him.”
Molly was standing a little way off.
“Mishi-gazu,” she said.
When Your Friend Is Nuts
What do you do when your friend goes nuts? Molly said she could probably cure him with mint tea—that having been the method used to cure her. I took this with a grain of salt, since it was fairly likely she was still crazy as a bat—I give the example of her insistence that the Wolluf, who was furry and four-legged and licked his own genitals, was not a dog but something else. And, as I thought about it, Geets, with his habit of climbing buildings, had probably always been crazy and this was just a new aspect of it. Well, I liked them both—and they were no crazier than a lot of people I knew.
“When do you think you’ll be done bending that spoon?” I asked him.
“I’m about ready to take a break,” Geets said. “I still have to get the hang of it.”
“Why don’t we all get a Greek salad, and then I’d like you to meet someone. I have a mentor. You want to come along and see him?”
“That’s cool,” Geets said.
Just As Crazy
When we went up to Golyat Thornapple’s place, he had photos and sketches of some kind of odd-looking building all over.
“My new project,” he said.
“What is it?”
“Well, these are pictures of the Potala Palace in Tibet, the ancient residence of the Dalai Lama. I’m using them to begin planning a mural.”
“You’re going to muralize the Potala Palace in Tibet?”
“Something very like it, only bigger, and nearer.”
“The invisible island in Lake Michigan!” Molly said.
“Skolnick Island!” Geets said.
“You know about Skolnick Island?”
“It’s invisible?” I asked.
“It’s camouflaged! It’s painted to look like water—it can be done, you know.”
“And they have a Potala?”
“And they are going to let you paint it?”
“It’s being arranged. The Wolluf has been over there representing me.”
“Molly’s dog? The Wolluf?”
“He’s not a dog. He’s the Wolluf. Anyway, he’s my agent.”
So here it was: I had gotten a real, honest-to-goodness mentor and guide, and what happens? He turns out to be just as crazy as everybody else.
Geets and I met at the outdoor café at the Nor-Well Drug Company for a cup of coffee and a blueberry muffin. I was sketching a couple of nautical types who were sitting at the other table getting doughnut crumbs on themselves. They were about our age, and wore blue sailor suits—like the kid on the Cracker Jack box. They must have had them since they were a lot younger, because they had outgrown them. Fat ankles and fat, hairy wrists stuck out of the cuffs, and the blouses were tight across the belly. Both of these tars were tall and fat, with close-cropped thick black hair, nerd glasses, and those Dixie cup sailor hats. I was having fun drawing them—they looked like wild boars stuffed into uniforms, and the little insignias and bo’suns whistles on lanyards were interesting.
“Those are not regular sailors,” Geets said.
“They’re not regular humans, as far as I can tell,”
I said. “But how do you know? They look like sailors to me—sloppy sailors, but what else could they be?”
“I was in the actual navy for a short time,” Geets said. “Those uniforms are way out of date.”
“You were in the navy? When was that?”
“Last month, it was,” Geets said.
It had been just over a month since I had seen Geets last—and that was how long I had been doing the drawing thing. It seemed longer. “You were in the navy, and now you’re not? What happened?”
“The navy decided that it would be better if I finished high school,” Geets said.
“They kicked you out?”
“Entry-level separation. I can reenlist anytime after I graduate.”
Sometimes you mean to say something and what comes out is not what you meant to say but what you were actually thinking. “What are you?” I asked the sailor boys.
“We’re Lake Scouts.”
“Is that like the Sea Scouts?” I asked.
“Nah. The Sea Scouts is connected to the Boy Scouts of America. They’re all about water safety and boating technique—boring stuff.”
“And what are the Lake Scouts about?”
“Well, it’s similar, only we’re more like vikings or pirates.”
“We have a lot of fun. We learn to tie nautical knots, and sing chanteys, study the great seafaring traditions—flogging, keelhauling, walking the plank, tattoos. Maybe you’d like to join the Lake Scouts.”
“That should be a breeze for you, Geets, since you were an actual sailor.”
“Recruit. But I know all the knots and some of the other stuff.”
“We’re actually going to go out on the water in the near future,” the Lake Scouts said.
“Where do you have your meetings?” Geets asked.
“The basement of the Bahamian Rite church on Sedgewick,” the scouts said. “Wednesday nights.”
“I’ll make a note.”
An Ancient Tribe
Wednesday night, Geets and I were sitting on a low wall across the street from the Bahamian Rite church.
“Are you seriously thinking about joining the Lake Scouts?” I asked Geets.
“I just want to see them,” Geets said. “Look! They’re starting to arrive.”
All the Lake Scouts appeared to be tall and fat, pale-skinned and hairy, with the same short haircuts, and eyeglasses.
“That’s interesting,” Geets said.
“They all resemble one another.”
“They’re all tall, fat, hairy boys with glasses—probably from the west side. What’s interesting about that?”
“I think they are of an ancient tribe.”
“Older than that.”
“And that is interesting why?”
“Just is. I’m interested in anthropogeny—that’s human evolution. I have come to believe there are more loose ends around than is generally believed—and we just might be looking at a bunch of Neanderthals or something similar.”
“Neanderthals in Chicago.”
“Yes. Does that seem so unlikely?”
“Now that I think of it, it would explain a lot.”
One Potato, Two Potato
Though Golyat Thornapple was crazy, his was a standard or acceptable level of craziness. He was still able to teach me all sorts of neat things.
“Ah, Harold, just in time! I’m going to teach you how to eat a baked potato.”
“I already know how to eat a baked potato.”
“Are you sure?”
Golyat flipped open the oven door of his lit
“First, with a fork, we poke a line of holes along one side of the potato,” he said. “Then, using thumb and index finger we squeeze the ends until the potato bursts open along the line of holes we’ve made. Cutting into a baked potato with a knife is something horrible and against God and nature.”
At my house, we always cut into the potato with a knife, slapped some butter on, a little salt, and that was the whole deal. I became interested in what Golyat Thornapple was saying and doing.
“Now butter, of course—then the salt and pepper, a dollop of sour cream . . . I shake some dried chives from a jar—fresh chopped would be better, of course—and here is your basic baked potato. Partake.”
I partook. It was pretty good, worth paying at tention to, and clearly better than baked potatoes as executed by my mother.
“Is this how you have them at home?” Thornapple asked me.
“No,” I said with my mouth full. “This is better.”
“In your future life, as it may come to you to prepare baked potatoes, would you say you are more apt to make them the way Mama made them, or this way?”
“This way, without question,” I said, dripping some butter on myself.
“I point out, in passing, that there are many variations on what toppings you may employ—cheese, for one, crumbled bacon, caviar, even.”
“Now, if a kindly mentor had not, out of the goodness of his heart, given you the very potato you are presently enjoying—but if you read about it in a book, would you be inclined to try this approach to the Solanum tuberosum or common spud as contrasted with whatever your well-meaning but unenlighted mother might do to them?”
Bushman Lives! by Daniel Pinkwater / Young Adult / Humor / Fantasy / History & Fiction / Science Fiction have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes