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Strange Days Have Found Us

October 6, 2011

Lately, some unusual things have been happening at Uncle Steve's. Now, some of you might understandably argue that odd goings-on have long been the norm here rather than the exception, and I would be the first to admit that this is true. Still, with that said, we've far surpassed our standard quota for weirdness during the last few weeks.

The summer started out pretty hot and dry, and then, as those of you who have been keeping up with the weather in southeastern Ohio will know, we got hit with one extended rainstorm after another. The ground got damp and filled up with puddles, which then turned into breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which started eating everyone alive.

Well, our bartender Norm, ever the inventive thinker, proposed that we sell cans of aerosol-spray bug repellent at the door. So, we went out and got a big sixteen-pack of cans and offered them for sale at store price. That night, Tripping Travis and his band were playing, and we sold all of the cans pretty quickly. There was a lot of spraying going on and the club stunk to high heaven because of it, but we figured it would be worth it if it would drive off the swarms of blood-sucking insects.

All seemed to be going well until someone in the crowd, apparently Tripping Travis's younger brother Edgar, found out that he could use his cigarette lighter to set fire to the spray coming out of his can and make a kind of improvised flame thrower. Soon, all the teens in the audience were trying it out, and even Bert got into it, and he should know better, but he'd already had more than a couple of beers to drink, so I guess that should be taken into account.

I started rushing around the club, trying to get them to stop, but they just laughed at me and said I needed to chill or whatever. I knew something awful would happen, and sure enough, someone fire-sprayed Corey Ferguson's expensive and meticulously polished bass guitar while he was playing it, temporarily setting it on fire until Bert poured his beer on it, which caused Corey to get a massive electrical shock and fall on the floor, unconscious.

Corey was rushed to the hospital and came to a few hours later. He swore that he had seen a bright light at the end of the tunnel and had decided to dedicate his life to the Egyptian sun god Horus from that moment on. When his erstwhile girlfriend Catherine tried to give him an embrace, he pushed her away, saying that he was done with women forever. He asked us to leave the room and we haven't seen him since, and we haven't seen Tripping Travis and his band, either. Rumor has it that the loss of their bass player may have put a permanent end to the group.

Unbeknownst to me, with Corey out of the way, Norm made his move on Catherine. I had always assumed that he stood no chance with her whatsoever, since he is in his early fifties and she is in her twenties. Also, she had always been pretty vocal about her lack of interest in him as anything but a fellow member of the now-defunct Corey Ferguson fan club. Norm apparently decided to do his romancing in secret. I have no idea what methods or techniques he used, but they evidently bore fruit, because last week, Norm and Catherine were married in a private civil ceremony at the local courthouse, and she moved in to his trailer that very day.

I was dumbstruck by the sudden turn of events, but Bert swore that he saw it coming a mile away, remarking that those two were made for each other, since, according to him, neither one has anything to lose. Of course, let's not forget to consider the source of this observation.

So, I went over to their trailer yesterday, and Catherine had completely transformed it with her many decorative touches, such as vintage posters of 1980s-era David Lee Roth, a king-sized water bed, and several pots of plastic flowers from the Wal-Mart in Duckworth. Plus, let's not forget the addition of her seven cats. Norm's house will never be the same.

But the strangest piece of news of all would have to be the mysterious temporary disappearance of Admiral Porkliver's bus.

You may recall that Stoughton Finney and his fellow band members left for the Czech Republic, where they apparently found a certain degree of fame and fortune. In the ensuing months, I only received one piece of correspondence from Stoughton, in which he angrily criticized Norm and me for a number of things that I won't go into again here, and he also provided us with some much needed funds for making repairs to the club, and I once again thank him for that.

During the group's extended absence, we've been unsure as to what should be done about their inoperable bus, which has sat in front of the club for the last several years. There had been the expectation that it would be repaired one of these days, but when we realized that the band's trip to the Czech Republic might last indefinitely, and nobody came forth to claim the bus, we quite naturally started to think of it as a permanent fixture of Uncle Steve's. Recently, Bert summarily decided that he would move in to the bus, so he left his sister's apartment and showed up one day with his suitcase.

At first, I figured that no harm could come of this arrangement, but little did I know that Bert had an ulterior motive. Norm noticed that the supply of beer in the storage refrigerator did not agree with our inventory count. In the beginning, the discrepancies were small, but over time, they became increasingly greater.

Early one morning, I showed up at the club to pick up my iPod, which I had accidentally left behind the night before, and I saw Bert through one of the bus windows, drinking a beer. I waved to him and continued walking towards the club, went inside, found my iPod, and then, as I walked past the kitchen, I noticed that the storage refrigerator was cracked open slightly, when I was sure that I had shut it the night before.

Suddenly suspicious of Bert, I went in to the bus and found hundreds of empty beers cans littering the floor. Well, I made him give me back the key to the club, which he said he needed so that he could go in to use the toilet. It seems like he had other reasons as well.

Anyway, without his access to free beer, Bert moved back in with his sister, and a few days later, I went back to the club by myself to check to see if the doors had been locked, and saw that the bus had vanished.

Shocked and angry, and extremely worried that I would be blamed for its disappearance, I confronted Bert at his sister's apartment, asking him if this was his way to get revenge on me for taking away his key to the club. He got really angry with me and said a bunch of things that I can't print here, but the gist of it was that I found out he really had nothing to do with it.

I was about to call the police about the incident, but figured I should first talk to Norm to see what he thought we should do.

The next day, I called him on his cell, thinking that he would be home, but he answered from the club, saying that he and Catherine had arrived early to start work on a special dinner dish that had to be cooked in a Crock Pot on low heat for several hours. When I told him about the missing bus, he laughed, said very funny, come on, Jake, the bus is right here like it has always been. Then I thought he was pulling my leg, but it was true, the bus was there as if it had never left at all.

I went in to the bus again, which looked the same as before, but there was one important change. The keys were in the ignition, and they hadn't been there before -- I had always assumed that Stoughton had taken them. Curious, I turned the ignition key, and the engine fired up right away.

I'm no expert on bus engines, but to my ears the motor sounded quite good, unlike when Admiral Porkliver first drove it up to the club, because at that time it sounded like a pack of gorillas were doing ultimate kickboxing inside of it. I got out of the bus and did not see any plumes of smoke coming out of the tailpipe, which was once again different from when the bus first arrived here years ago belching out thick black clouds of filth from behind. Extensive maintenance was done to that bus during the brief time that it was gone, mark my words. But by whom and for what reason?

Like I said, these have been strange days at Uncle Steve's.

-- Jake Silverman

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"Won't you tell me where my country lies?" said the unifaun to his true love's eyes...