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Bushman lives, p.6
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       Bushman Lives!, p.6

           Daniel Pinkwater
 
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  For all I know, Rembrandt would say to himself, “This painting is turning out to be garbage, but I guess I’d better finish it so I can get paid,” and all the time he would be working on some monster masterpiece and not know it. And some of the artists around Old Town were extremely proud of stuff that a cat could have painted. In fact, there was one case known of a cat having better taste than a human.

  It was this guy named Clark Gomez—he was a big hulking idiot, and a painter. Everybody agreed that he was the worst painter in the world. His stuff was not just bad, it was painful to look at. He was a good-natured fellow, and had lots of friends—of course, nobody ever told him his paintings were a disaster. He had a job in the produce department of a supermarket, and he would bring home peppers and carrots and paint them. Only the paintings didn’t look like peppers and carrots, or paintings. Maybe they looked like nightmares peppers and carrots would have if they could dream. And had no imagination.

  One day a cat walked through his window. It was a big shaggy cat, and Clark Gomez decided to keep it. He got dented cans of cat food for free at his job, and the cat decided to stay with him. He named it King Kong. When Clark worked on paintings, King Kong would watch him attentively. He would look at him and the painting with a fixed stare. Clark said he could feel the cat’s eyes burning a hole in him. He said the cat made him nervous. When the painting was finished, Clark would lean it against the wall and have a look at it. The cat looked too. Then King Kong would react in one of two ways. Some paintings he would go behind, then curl up and go to sleep. Clark would slap white paint on these and use the canvas for another painting. Other paintings King Kong would attack and try to claw to death. These paintings Clark Gomez would put in a high rack attached to the ceiling where the cat could not reach them. He would crate up the paintings King Kong hated and ship them off to juried competitions all over the country. Every one of them won first prize, some of them were bought by museums and collectors, and articles were written about Clark Gomez in magazines—not mentioning the cat.

  One day King Kong went out the window he had come in by, and never returned. Clark’s paintings went back to being lousy. He got another cat, but it wasn’t interested in art. He continued to paint, and was promoted to assistant manager of the produce section at the market.

  Chapter 26

  So Here I Was

  So here I was—I had been an artist for three whole weeks, and all of a sudden I didn’t know if I had any talent. I remembered my years of flute lessons—of course, in that instance I had sort of known all along that I couldn’t play.

  I remembered what my father said, “You don’t have to be talented. You can draw at the level you’re at.” I thought about it. I actually went to see Clark Gomez in his studio. He let me in and showed me his paintings, which made me feel slightly sick. He gave me a ginger beer, just to be friendly—but it helped with the nausea. He said if I ever needed any advice or painting lessons, to just drop in again. He had four or five cats and a girlfriend. He seemed a perfectly happy person.

  When I left Clark Gomez’s studio, I was still confused, but I wasn’t worried.

  Chapter 27

  It’s a Great Lake if You Don’t Weaken

  “Senior Chief Horowitz? Recruit Gustave Hildebrand, reporting as ordered.”

  “Come in, Hildebrand. Your nickname is Geets, isn’t it?’

  “Yes, Senior Chief.”

  “Sit down, Geets. Let’s have a talk.”

  “Thank you, Senior Chief.”

  “How are you getting along with your training, Geets? Do you like the navy so far?”

  “Senior Chief, I like it very much, and I am enjoying the training.”

  “You’re not homesick, are you? Have you ever been far away from home before?”

  “Senior Chief, I am not homesick, and I come from Chicago, which is no more than an hour away.”

  “Getting along with the other recruits? Are any of the instructors giving you a hard time?”

  “Senior Chief, my shipmates are swell, and so are the instructors.”

  “So you are completely happy in boot camp? That’s very unusual. We try to make it difficult on purpose, you know.”

  “I am completely happy, Senior Chief. I never got to go away to summer camp, and I always wanted to. I have learned to swim, tie knots, fight fire aboard ship, and all kinds of neat things as a navy recruit. And I love the food.”

  “So why have you been contemplating suicide, Geets? Answer me that.”

  “I have not contemplated suicide, Senior Chief, and may I say I am enjoying this clever psychological interview. If you have ink blots for me to look at, I am ready.”

  “Geets, have you or have you not on several occasions climbed to the top of some of the larger buildings on this base, and did you or did you not do so with the idea of flinging yourself off and plunging to your death, only each time you lost your nerve and did not do it?”

  “Senior Chief, I have climbed to the top of all the larger buildings on this base, and I wish to state that I did so on my own time, during on-base liberty, and was wearing approved navy-issue attire for athletic activities. I did so with the idea of climbing back down and not of flinging and plunging. Also I was careful not to harm the buildings in any way.”

  “Why did you climb the buildings, Geets? Why?”

  “Because they are there, Senior Chief.”

  “Geets, you understand that as a sailor in the United States Navy, you are required to follow orders, and that is mainly what we train people to do here at the Recruit Training Center. If I were to order you to quit climbing buildings, would I be correct in assuming you would obey?”

  “Would these be navy buildings, or all buildings of every kind, Senior Chief?”

  “All buildings of every description, for the entire time of your enlistment.”

  “Naturally, I would obey, Senior Chief. But I would take exception to the order on the grounds that as a sailor in the United States Navy, I consider it my obligation to maintain physical fitness, and climbing is excellent exercise. Also, I would ask if obeying such an order would preclude my climbing a building if a commissioned officer or petty officer subsequently ordered me to in the course of duty, for example to rescue the president of the United States, who had somehow gotten trapped high up on a building, whether belonging to the navy or some other building.”

  “That is not very likely to happen, Recruit Hildebrand.”

  “Senior Chief, we are taught in our classes here at the Recruit Training Center that a sailor should be prepared for the unexpected. I don’t mean to suggest that I know better than the navy, but I would think that instead of ordering me to stop climbing buildings, it would be more useful if you had me teach other recruits how to do it.”

  “Geets, I have reviewed your record. You are a good recruit. The navy likes you. But we think it might be better if you were to go back and finish high school. It would not be a less than honorable discharge. We have something called an entry-level separation. You could reenlist at a later time, possibly when you don’t feel as much of a need to climb buildings. Or maybe you would like to consider another branch of the service. I believe the army has a mountain division—all they do is climb things.”

  “Of course, if the Senior Chief thinks that would be best.”

  “I do, Geets. You are a fine, if weird, young man, and it has been a pleasure to meet you.”

  “Senior Chief, one thing more . . .”

  “Yes?”

  “Am I permitted to keep my dungarees, high-top basketball shoes, and denim shirt?”

  “Yes. Also your navy-issue underwear, socks, and canvas sea bag, and you will be paid for the time you have served.”

  “Thank you, Senior Chief Horowitz. That is more than fair.”

  Chapter 28

  Zion

  A tall youth entered the general store of John Fergusen, in Zion, Illinois, not far from the Wisconsin border, and close to Illinois Beach State Park. Something
about the youth’s manner and appearance alarmed Fergusen at first—he suspected shoplifting or possibly a holdup, and considered telephoning the police. But the young man simply wanted to purchase some canned goods, candles, matches, clothesline, a small tarpaulin, and an aluminum cooking pot. All this he put in a canvas duffel bag.

  “Going camping?” Fergusen asked.

  “Yes. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”

  “Well, have a good time.”

  “Thank you, shopkeeper,” the young man said. Known primarily for the beach, Illinois Beach State Park includes dunes, wetlands, prairie, and woodlands.

  More than 650 species of plants have been recorded in the dunes area alone, including dozens of types of colorful wildflowers. Prickly pear cactus thrives in large colonies in the dry areas, and the wet prairies are carpeted with a wide variety of grasses and sedges. Large expanses of marsh in the swales support dense stands of cattail, bluejoint grass, prairie cordgrass, reed grass, and big bluestem.

  The sandy ridges are crowned by black oak forests with an open, savanna-like appearance and several kinds of fragrant pines.

  Just north of these pines is the Dead River, which actually is a stream that is blocked by sandbars much of the year, forming an elongated pond. When the water finally rises high enough, it breaks through the sandbar and drains the surrounding marshes. The abundance of aquatic plants and fish flourishing in this changing environment provide a vivid contrast to its name.

  Camping is limited to designated areas, and nude bathing, nude romping and flower-gathering, and nude cookouts are discouraged, but since much of the park is inaccessible to police cars and it falls between the jurisdictions of the town of Winthrop Harbor and the unincorporated village of Zion, the rules are generally unenforced.

  Despite its proximity to the cities of Kenosha, Wisconsin, Waukegan, Illinois, and Chicago, the park is relatively underutilized and has a deserted wilderness aspect at times. Fauna includes a rich variety of birds, deer, raccoons, skunk, squirrels, opossums, and muskrat, all of which are native to the area and might be expected, but local residents claim to have glimpsed bears of unusual shape and size from time to time, which naturalists consider highly unlikely and most probably unsubstantiated rumor.

  Chapter 29

  On the Rocks

  There are these big rocks that line the lakeshore. Everybody calls them “the rocks,” but they are really quarried stone, big cubes of it several feet on a side. They’re arranged like a set of gigantic steps leading down to the lake. On the park side you have to haul yourself up to get on top, and in a couple of places there are crude steps made of piled-up stones, a kind of miniature of the big ones. Once you are on top, you’re looking down a few steep levels to the surface of Lake Michigan. It’s really kind of neat. In a thousand years or two, archaeologists will speculate about the rocks as though it were Stonehenge and wonder what strange rites primitive Chicagoans performed here.

  Well, some of the strange rites are not to be mentioned in polite company. The “steps” are plenty wide enough to spread a blanket, and on hot summer nights, lots of people go there to sleep. They treat the rocks as they would their bedrooms. I will say no more except if you go there at night, show good manners walking along, which would include staying on the top level to avoid stepping on the backsides of people at their most vulnerable. In the daytime, it is mostly fishing. There’s not much swimming off the rocks, except maybe at high tide, because once you’re in the water, getting out and up to the first step is sort of impossible, and you’d have to swim a long way parallel to the shore all the way to the end of the rocks at Oak Street beach, and then, assuming you hadn’t gotten exhausted and drowned, it would be a long walk back to where you left your clothes.

  I was sitting on the rocks, trying to draw the lake—I mean draw the water. This was difficult. I wasn’t able to get anything on paper that anybody could possibly think was water. I was coming to the conclusion that maybe it was impossible to draw water with a pencil—maybe I needed some kind of paint, watercolors. I was pretty intent on trying to draw, and had not noticed this girl sitting not far away with a huge dog.

  At first I thought it was a child, because she was child-size, but she had breasts, and hands and feet of an older person about my age, large hands and feet. The dog had big feet too.

  “You see anything out there?” the girl asked me. She was peering out into the lake, shading her eyes with her hand.

  “Lake,” I said. “Water. Some clouds.”

  “That’s all?”

  “Sure. What else should I see?”

  “You don’t see anything like an island, by any chance?” she asked.

  “Nope. And as far as I know, there aren’t any islands around here.”

  “Well, none that are easy to see,” the small girl said. “But there is supposed to be one that is mostly invisible. I just thought maybe you being an artist and all, you might have the ability.”

  “I’m not an artist,” I said. “I’m just trying to draw.”

  “Okay. Sorry I interrupted.”

  “No, that’s okay. I’m not getting anywhere anyway. That’s a nice dog, by the way.”

  “He isn’t a dog.”

  “What is he, a wolf?”

  “Not a wolf either. He’s the Wolluf.”

  “Okay.”

  There was a silence.

  “What’s a Wolluf?” I asked.

  “The Wolluf. He’s what you call sui generis. There isn’t another one—just him. He didn’t always look like this, like a dog. It just amuses him to do so. I brought him with me from New York.”

  “You come from New York City?”

  “Not the city. From the mountains. My name is Molly—what’s yours?”

  “Harold Knishke.”

  “Oh, like in the song. Listen, if you like drawing, maybe you should meet Victor. He’s all about drawing and painting and stuff like that.”

  “Victor?”

  “This guy. We’re staying with him at the moment. He’s the one who sent me out to look for the island. He’s batty on the subject of the island. He’s been trying to find out if it’s really there for like thirty years.”

  “What is he, like an adult?”

  “Like.”

  “So what’s the Wolluf’s name?”

  “I told you. He’s the Wolluf. Doesn’t have a name to my knowledge, other than that.”

  All this time, the Wolluf was peering out over the lake.

  “Let’s go,” Molly said.

  “Go?”

  “Yes. I’ll take you over to Victor’s place and introduce you. You might find it interesting.”

  “Okay.”

  “Okay, let’s go.”

  Chapter 30

  Walking and Talking

  So I walked along with Molly, and the Wolluf, her wolfy dog who was supposedly not a dog and not a wolf. Molly told me her last name was DeDwerg and she came from this Dutch New York family that went back hundreds of years. She said she left the Catskill Mountains because her people were too old-fashioned, and then she got involved with this friend of hers—as near as I could make out, the friend was schizophrenic, or had a dual personality or something like that. Anyway, the friend either thought she was two people, or there were two people who thought they were one person, and Molly said it got so complicated, she felt she needed a break, so the Wolluf suggested they both go to Chicago for a while.

  “The Wolluf suggested?”

  “Yes. Well, he’s been here before.”

  “And you wound up with this Victor. Who’s he, and how did you come to know him?”

  “Friend of the Chicken Man,” Molly said.

  “The Chicken Man? The old guy with the chicken who rides around on buses talking gibberish?”

  “Him. He’s like Victor’s oldest friend.”

  “And you knew the Chicken Man how?”

  “The Wolluf knows him.”

  “The Wolluf knows him.”

 
“They were in Hollywood together in the silent movie days. The Wolluf was an actor, played mostly dogs.”

  “Figures.”

  “Well, he played a famous one called Rin Tin Tin. He was like the biggest movie star there was for a while. Oh, I forgot to mention—back in New York, before we came here, I was crazy for a while.”

  She’d read my mind.

  “But I got cured by this old wise woman. I’m studying to be one too. And I didn’t even know this at the time, but she—get this for an astounding coincidence—is the Chicken Man’s great-aunt.”

  “She must be like a hundred and seventy-five years old.”

  “She is. Anyway, here we are.”

  Chapter 31

  Here?

  We were in front of the white house, the one across the street from Zwieback’s drawing class! “Here? This is where you’re taking me?”

  “Sure. It’s Victor’s place.”

  “We’re going inside?”

  “Why not? It’s interesting on the inside.”

  “‘Why not?’! This is a spooky place. Something strange goes on here!”

  “Stranger than you could possibly guess—but, like I said, interesting.”

  “This is the place where two muffled-up types are constantly whitewashing the outside!”

  “They have to do that.”

  “They do? do that? It’s weird and insane!”

  “Save the questions. If you think the outside is weird, prepare to be rocked and shocked when we go in.”

  “I don’t know,” I said.

  “Don’t be a weenie,” Molly said. “You’ll like it. Come on, we go around the back.”

 
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