Fall 2011, Volume 11

Fiction by Guinotte Wise

Pete & Me & Gypsy Rose Lee

“Money is important,” Pete Morey said.  “Adults tell you it’s not, but they don’t believe it.  It’s important.  It might be The Most Important Thing.  I mean you can be kind and help people and all that other stuff better, if you have money.  You can do everything better when there’s money.  Answer me this:  is bankruptcy good?  Is it?”  There was a glint of the evangelical in Pete’s eyes.  His short haircut was pushed up from his forehead with Butch Wax.

“I don’t think so,” said Buddy Riggs.  Pete had just moved in down the street, and brought a different set of energies to the neighborhood than Buddy had ever encountered.  He also talked funny, having grown up in Michigan.

They were both twelve and living in boomtown, post-war Tulsa in 1949.  Oil capital of the World.  Pump jacks nodded like giant praying mantises everywhere, sucking oil from wells and recesses rich and deep and each one bore more than the one before it.  Wildcatters were hitting two out of five without even trying.  The Riggs’ bootlegger drove a Cadillac Yellow Cab to drop off their weekly supply; Tulsa County was legally “dry,” but dry was a joke.  It was nothing but blue skies and tall cotton from here on in.  But Pete apparently had darker thoughts about droughts and resources and Buddy listened.

 “Right.  Bankrupt is NO money.  If your folks went bankrupt, people would come and take all your stuff.  The sofa.  Your bike.  They’d roll up the carpet from the floor.  I saw it once,  A neighbor filed bankrupt.”

Buddy considered this.  “Jeezo.”  He tried to take it in.  The giant file rasping on something.  The carpet being rolled up, neighbors watching.

“Right.  Jeezo cheezo fuckareezo.  Bad.  So the opposite is Rich.  Which do you want to be?  Bankrupt or rich?”

“Rich,” Buddy said.

“Okay, we’re going to get money today.  How, you ask?  I’ll tell y…”


Pete slid him a quick look as though he was mocking him.

“I’ll tell you how.  You know all those extra hangers in your folks’ closets, your sister’s closet, your closet?  Go get ‘em.  Bring ‘em to my house, now.  I’ll go do the same.  Then we hit the neighborhood for hangers.  Everybody wants to get rid of hangers, they have too many.  My mom says they multiply, throws them out.”

After a couple of hours collecting hangers, they each pulled Radio Flyer wagon loads over four feet high, tied with twine.  Buddy was leery of being seen by someone he knew with a kid’s toy full of hangers and he told Pete of his fear.

“Whadda you give a care, ay?”  Pete said in his funny accent.  “You’ll have money.  They won’t.”  Pete spoke Yankee and was almost universally avoided at Horace Mann school, Buddy being the only one who acknowledged his presence.  Even at his shallow age he sensed something special in Pete’s makeup.

During the canvassing effort Buddy asked Pete how they would transform hangers into cash.  Collecting hangers was relatively easy.  Once the homeowners had determined they weren’t selling subscriptions or Boy Scout raffle tickets, they said sure, and heaped hangers on them.  They were performing a service.  But how would they turn them into money?

Pete said, “I talked to two cleaners in Utica Square.  They each said they’d buy the hangers four for a penny.  I said two for a penny, they said okay.  Probably coulda gone a penny each, but you can’t push adults too far.”

Buddy was amazed.  He could hardly talk to an adult, much less bargain with one.

“Thing is,” Pete continued, “they have to buy hangers in truckloads.  Nobody brings ‘em back.  And used hangers look just like new ones, ya know?”

Both wagons were heaped high.  Hangers were securely tied for the long walk to Utica Square, the city’s new suburban outdoor shopping complex.  Some indignity could be involved here; they would pass several homes where Buddy was known.

Worst of all, he might chance upon Diane Jackson, who he was thinking of exchanging I.D. bracelets with.  Going steady.  Maybe even kissing some day, though the thought colored his cheeks.  If she saw him pulling wagons with Pete, who everyone thought was weird anyway, he was done for.

Luckily they saw no one of any importance.  Some smaller kids trailed them with their own wagons for a block or so. That was embarrassing, but Pete told them to scram, and they did, with a few fading catcalls.

The cleaners bought all they had, and they split $3.40 right down the middle.  $1.70 was a lot of money to Buddy in 1949.  He wanted to go to the five and dime or the hardware store and spend it immediately.  It might buy a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun.

“You can do that,” Pete said, “or you can make more money with that money.  People don’t get rich if they blow everything they make.”

“Okay, how do you do that?”

“I don’t know yet.  I gotta think about it.  I might loan it to some kid for a double-your-money-back payment.  I might pay some younger kids to collect more hangers.  Or I might just put it away.  I’ve got enough right now to buy Wolfe’s Ariel 4-square.”

Buddy’s eyes widened.  “A hundred bucks?  You’ve got a hundred bucks?  Jeezo capeezo!”  Tommy Wolfe, an older kid over on Peoria Street, had a used Ariel motorcycle for sale and had given Buddy a ride on the back.  The ride had been in exchange for spreading the word the bike was for sale.  Come to think of it, that was something Pete would think of doing.  The fluid, living world of finance was beginning to beckon to Buddy.

“Right.  Jeezo capeezo japaneezo.  But what do I want with it?” Pete said.  “I’d be out a hundred bucks and it might throw a rod ten minutes after I bought it.  And I’d have to buy gas and oil.  I can’t register it.  I’m too young for a license.  I couldn’t own it legally.  Doesn’t make sense.”

Buddy’s nascent jealousy at Pete owning the Ariel he coveted subsided.  He shook his head emphatically at Pete’s limited options in the area of motorcycles, though he’d not contemplated any of them.

“Nah, doesn’t make any sense.  So what do we do next?”

Pete counted his change, said, “You got a shoeshine kit?”


“Get it.  You got neutral, black and cordovan polish, ay?”


They set up in Utica square.  A hand-lettered sign on shirt cardboard said SHINE 25c.   After they’d made their first dollar, Pete said, “You’ll make more tips if you don’t look mad.  I know you’re not mad, you’re concentrating,” he said, palms out, heading off Buddy’s objections.  “Just look up and smile now and then.  They like that.

“And if they don’t tip, go on to the next one.  Some a these guys are close as two coats of paint.  Shitty tippers.  The richer they look the shittier they tip sometimes.  Spend all their money looking rich.

“And on cowboy boots?  Don’t shine any more of the boot than what shows under their cuff.  They don’t see it and nobody else does either.  Waste of time.  Waste of polish.”

They then moved their operation to a location where their customers could sit on a low wall, and read the complimentary Tulsa Daily World copies that Pete suggested they each invest in for a nickel apiece.

Ten dollars and change later they bought lunch.  Donuts and an Orange Julius.

“The money’s great, but this is hard,” Buddy said.  “Are we gonna do this every day?”

“No.  This is just to get our stake.”

“Steak?  Not me.  I’m not hungry, and anyway they’re expensive, aren’t they?”

“Stake. S-T-A-K-E,” Pete spelled out.  Like when you go gold mining you got to have a stake.  You know, money to buy picks and pans and pack mules.”

They resumed shining shoes and boots, agreeing to stop when they had $10 between them.

Pete said Utica Square was a goldmine.  They could set pins at the bowling alley, continue their hanger business, shine shoes, run errands, all they had to do was think.  Money started with thinking.  They thought up a merchant-sponsored kid’s dog show with blue ribbons, trophies, celebrity judges.  Pete opened up the world of free enterprise and Buddy was a hungry student.


But, now, whenever his folks rolled the carpets up, as they did sometimes when they had parties, and people danced, it gave Buddy a chill.  He thought of Pete’s dire bankruptcy scenario.  The Cadillac cab would come and drop off booze for such affairs and the adults got all red-faced and jovial as they always did at these parties.  Sometimes they would wander into his room late at night looking for their coats or each other.  One night a couple came in and started undressing in the dark, and Buddy woke up and hollered in fear.  That was  a scene.  The couple kicked over a drink and ran into the hallway tripping over their loose clothing.  He chalked it up to a nightmare but the next day the spilled drink was still there and his room smelled like gin.

While his mother cleaned it up, he asked what they were doing with their clothes off.  “Going to bed, I imagine, “ she said,  “they were tired.”  That made sense to Buddy.  Those parties went on forever.  “Mom, are we…going bankrupt?” he asked.

“Not quite,” she said, opening his window to air the room out.  “Just about, though.  Why?”

“Well, don’t let them take anything.  I’ll pay them,” he said.

His mother lit a cigarette with a small silver lighter she carried.  Head cocked, she looked at him as though he were emitting bell music.

He had, in his desk drawer, a roll of ones making about $15.  He figured it would take $50 to buy them out of bankruptcy.  Anything over that he’d spend or make more money with.  He squared his shoulders and headed to Pete’s house.  The day was crisp, the sky blue, the breeze invigorating.  He heard crows call in the woods over by the driving range.  It was a good day to make money.


“Today,” said Pete, “we take the bus to the Tulsa Oil Exposition.  You got bus fare?”

“Always,” said Buddy.  He was never without a small amount of what Pete called emergency funds.  It was not for candy or “crapola,” as Pete put it.  Buddy had been to the Oil Expo in previous years as his dad was in some kind of oil-related business.  Wasn’t everybody?   They had booths and tents all over the place, free stuff everywhere and bags to carry it in.

On the bus, Pete said, “Don’t look right at him, but I think that’s Willie Sutton over there.”

Buddy looked.  Pete punched him in the arm.   “What did I say, doofus?  Did I say look at him?”

“Sorry.  Who’s Willie Sutton?”

“Only the most famous bank robber since Jesse James.”

Buddy pivoted around and stared at the man, got punched again.  The man was wearing a mismatched suit, brown pants and a blue pinstriped double-breasted suit coat, brown fedora, white socks and shoes that needed a shine, Buddy noted, professionally.  Didn’t look like a tipper but you never knew. 

“Bet there’s a reward, ay,” Pete said.

“How much you think?”

“Thousands.  He’s FBI Number One Most Wanted probably.  We should tail him.”

“Maybe he’s going to the Oil Exposition,” said Buddy.

“May be.  We could get a cop there.  You know what he said when they asked him why he robbed banks?”


“Because that’s where the money is,” Pete said with a grin.  He repeated it and punched Buddy on the shoulder and laughed.  Buddy was getting tired of being punched on the shoulder.

“Neato,” said Buddy.

“Neato cheato crapperito,” said Pete, “but he’s a loser.  He’ll end up in jail just because some kids like us saw him on a bus.”

“You’re a poet and don’t know it,” said Buddy. “Kids like us…saw him on a bus.”

The bus had stopped once during their conversation.  Willie Sutton was no longer in his seat.

“Maybe we should get off, go look for him.  He musta seen you looking,” said Pete.

“Maybe it wasn’t him,” said Buddy.

“Yeah.  What would he be doing here, anyway?”


“Bet it was him, though.  I saw his picture at the post office.  Guy’s a dead ringer.  My old man said all I had to do was tell a cop and I’d get the fat reward.”

They discussed the possibilities they’d missed, the crowds of adoring school kids, Diane Jackson wanting to go steady and him saying he’d think about it, no worries ever again about bankruptcy, the wind in his hair as he flew down the road on Wolfe’s Ariel 4-square, Diane behind him, holding to him for dear life.

“Here’s the thing,” said Pete, “one door closes, two more open.”


“My granpa says that.  Think about it.  You’ll get it.  It means don’t cry over spilt milk.”

Buddy thought about it.  It would have to be a good day to replace catching Willie Sutton.


The Oil Expo was a hive of activity.  Lines were three deep at concessions, and a constant stream of people moved between the parking areas and the main buildings.  A huge gold statue of a Paul Bunyanesque man with a driller helmet stood at the entrance to the fairgrounds, his hand on a real oil derrick.  Pete read the plaque near the statue aloud,  “The Mid-Continent Supply Company placed this eight-story-tall Golden Driller statue as a striking symbol of Tulsa’s prominence as The Oil Capital of the World, and the International Petroleum Exposition. Weighing 43,500 pounds and standing 76 feet tall, his right hand rests upon an oil derrick taken from a working patch in Seminole, Oklahoma.”

“Eight stories, holy moly,” said Buddy.

“Holy moly bad-breath Foley,” said Pete, invoking the name of a feared shop teacher at Horace Mann School.  Buddy dodged a punch in the shoulder.

Admission was free.  They stopped at each booth until they began to acclimate to the relative ratio of interest of vendor to twelve-year-olds and vice versa.  Both had started filling their bags with free brochures, but so many of them were about drill bits and pumps and chain hoists, they began exercising some judgment as to the desirability of materials.  They both picked up large, free knife-sharpening stones that bore the words, “Illegitimus Non Carborundum” on them and the name of the company.

One booth offered free “refreshments” which they found to be bourbon-spiked Cokes after grabbing two, unnoticed by the man making them for customers.  They spit theirs out simultaneously and found real soda pop at another station.  The advantage to being kids at such a convention area was nobody tried to pitch products to them, and they were able to move about relatively freely and unhampered.  There were kids everywhere, with or without parents.  They skirted the midway area full of the usual scams, hoops over milk bottles, shooting galleries with skewed barrels on the guns; Pete explained each one, and said, “How many chalk statues of Daffy Duck do you need, anyway, ay?”  At one penny arcade game they watched frustrated kids operate the controls of a small crane with a clamshell bucket inside a glass case, attempting to pick up a heavy gold watch among lesser treasures.  The watch would get hoisted and as they swung the crane boom over to the open feeder hole, the door would shut, or the watch would fall back among the piles of lesser prizes. 

Pete looked around the booth.  Then he elbowed Buddy, said, “Watch the guy over by the table.”  At a table full of literature about cranes and heavy equipment, a man drinking coffee casually worked a lever on a model train transformer whenever someone got the watch too close to the opening.  The watch would fall back into the pile.  Two other men handed out catalogs and talked to prospects.  Pete found small metal bulldozer giveaways on the table, took one and dropped it into Buddy’s bag.  They moved on.

A sign on a closed tent near the end of the midway proclaimed “Gypsy Rose Lee, in the flesh! Shows at 2, 4 and 8”   “Hey a fortune teller,” said Buddy.  The line was long, all adult men, but this went unnoticed by Pete and Buddy since most of the adults at the Expo were men. He explained to Buddy how fortune tellers worked the people they were supposedly “reading.” When they finally arrived at the opening they were immediately stopped by a man in a suit.  “Whoa. Where ya goin’ boys?”

“In to watch the fortune teller,” Pete said. 

“Hah!  That’s a good one.  Fortune teller.  Nope, this Gypsy makes a fortune, she don’t tell ‘em.  You boys are too young to come in.  It’s burlesque, guys.”

They stopped at a picnic table and sorted through their bags.  “So this Gypsy Rose Lee is a burleycue dancer. Yeah I’ve heard of her,” Pete mused.  “She sure has the longest line out here.”

“What do they do in there?” asked Buddy.

“Takes her clothes off.  Strips.  Wolfe says strippers have tassles on their boobs that they can make go around.  He says some burlycue dancers take it all off, right down to their ol’ fuzzy.”


“Never mind.”  He stared off toward the tent, deep in thought.

After drifting aimlessly through the booths and displays, Pete said, “I wanna see something.  Let’s go back to the Gypsy Rose Lee tent.”  Buddy followed him as he went to the side of the tent.  There were structures on either side forming narrow alleyways between the tents, and in back, simply grassy areas and equipment.  These areas were deserted.  Pete got on his belly in the grass and pulled up a part of the tent between stakes, looked in.  He stood up, smiling, wiping dead grass and dust from his clothes.

Sneaking around between tents made Buddy nervous.  “Let’s go, Pete.”

“Yeah, we’re done, I think.  For now.”

As they drifted toward the exit, Pete said, “Hey, Buddy, I saw you got a periscope in your room, right?”

“Yeah, an old carboard one.”

“Does it work, ay?”

“Sure.  Works good,” he said proudly.

Two bus trips later they were back at the fairgrounds, periscope in an Oil Expo giveaway bag.

Pete set it up between stakes, closer to the front than the place he had reconnoitered.  He wandered out back, returned with a large piece of cardboard which he placed in front of the periscope viewer.  Then he turned to Buddy, said, “Here’s what we do.  The next show starts in an hour.  This is a test run; we start talking to kids, tell ‘em it’s free and they can watch an actual adult burlesque show.  They’ll spread the word.  Then we start charging.  A dime a minute.  We tell ‘em to come to the right side of the entrance and go between tents.  This might work, it might not.”

Buddy said, smiling, “Periscope rental is what?”

Pete grinned. “You learn fast.”  He whipped a stopwatch from his jeans pocket, said, “I think we’re even here.  Without this, we’d be doing ‘one Mississippi’ all night.”


There were few takers at first, but soon the line had to be directed to form in back of the tent so as not to cause undue attention. They were raking in dimes, nickels, pennies, making change for dollar bills.

Then business reality entered in the form of “insurance.” 

An older kid approached them.  He was chunky, dressed in jeans, leather jacket, about 14 years old.  Lefty.  His hair was slicked back in a ducktail, not like Buddy and Pete’s crew haircuts.  While he talked to them he patted his fist into an open hand menacingly.  After he explained his mission, he said, “So.  Insurance.  It’d be a good thing to pay it.  And I’d also act as a lookout if you hadda am-scray.  Plus I’d keep the other insurance agents offa y’all’s back.”

Pete and Buddy conferred.  Pete came back with, “Okay.  You’re performing a service.  You get free looks when the line runs out, plus a dollar a show, okay?”

They agreed on two free looks an hour at peak times, and four dollars a day.

Insurance paid, they went back to work.  Then Buddy’s older sister showed up.

“I’m tellin,’ you little pervert,” Emily said to Buddy, who began stammering.  “Did you ever spy on me with that periscope thing?  DID you?”  She stood arms folded, eyes narrowed.  She was 14 and very convincing when she got her back up, Buddy knew from experience. 

Red-faced, Buddy protested, “I never…” 

“Trouble here?” said their insurance agent, Lefty, smacking his fist into his open palm.  She turned to him,  “Who are you, greaseball?  You bother me and I’ll scream bloody murder…”  Lefty went back to his station, scowling.  She turned to look at this creature, eyes slits and lips hidden on one another. 

Pete explained to Emmy it was a business proposition, one she could profit from.  She settled for a dollar and left.  Pete said, “Your sis isn’t real bright, no offense, ay.  I’da asked for 10% off the top.  And demanded to see the books.”  He paused, looking after her.  “Pretty, though.

And there were “books.”  Pete was keeping a small ledger in a notebook garnered at one of the booths.  With a pencil and sharpener obtained at another display.

The next day when they set up, Pete told Buddy, “We stand to do okay on this venture, unless more business expenses crop up.  If we get too many of those, we fold and go to the next thing.”

“What other expenses could we get?”

“Cops.  You know that Caddy Yellow Cab that comes to your folks’ every week?  He pays off somebody.  We might have to.  That’s an expense.  Insurance is going to go up, you know that.  Lefty’s small brain will start working.   If our folks hear about this, it’s all over.  Emmy’s okay for now, but wait ‘til she needs a buck or two.  The periscope is getting banged up.  We’ll need a new one.  And so on.”

The line began to form.  Mostly kids.  One drunk adult.  The kid at the periscope said to nobody in particular, “Goll-eee, you oughta see this. She just took off her feathers!  Gol-darn!”  Other kids fidgeted and giggled in line.  Pete went back to the books.  Buddy kept time on the stopwatch and moved the kids along.  Lefty stood guard near the front of the tent, arms folded, now and then whipping out his comb.

None of them were aware of the two ladies in line, one of whom carried a buggy whip.  They were talking and laughing as the line moved them closer to the periscope.  Their presence was masked by the noise of the midway, the P.A. system announcing winners of drawings.  Dust and discarded brochures blew down the alleyway between the tents, rattling the canvas as the wind picked up.

Smells of Cotton candy and sno-cone syrup wafted from the vendors around the corner, but something else caught Buddy’s olfactory attention.  Perfume.  He smelled her perfume before he saw her.  He was on his knees showing the latest kid how to leave an inch or so distance between his forehead and the periscope.  “Got it?” he asked.  The kid nodded, Buddy said, “Go,” and clicked the stopwatch.  Still on his knees he turned and was eye-to-knee with the first lady.  Fancy high heel shoes, stockings that looked like a fishnet, red silk kimono open a bit showing a short costume underneath.

“Don’t move, little man, or you get this.”  She whistled the whip in the air.  He froze.  This was serious.  This was not another “business expense.”   She turned to the lady with her, said, “Patti, get that other kid front and center. Thanks, hon.”

“Stay,” she said to Buddy as he started to get up.  He stayed, looking up with his mouth open.  This was some movie star, he thought.  So was the other one.  The one named Patti had hold of Pete’s shirt, and she stood him next to Buddy.  The line was disappearing and Lefty was nowhere to be seen.   Men in suits stood at each end, blocking the way out.

“I’m Gypsy Rose Lee,” said the statuesque, colorfully dressed one.

“But…but you’re inside…” said Buddy.  The music was filtering out into the blue sky afternoon.  Whistles could be heard. 

“Actually some of the lesser ecdysiasts are delighting the mid-day crowd.  If you read the sign, I’m only on in the evenings.  Aren’t you a little young for burlesque, kid?”

“I…yes, I, well, it’s business…”

“Monkey business, I’d say,” and she laughed.  So did her friend.  “Let me in on it, what do you say?”

They told the ladies the whole story, even back to Willie Sutton.  Had they only tailed him correctly they wouldn’t even be here.  They’d be rich and famous and not involved in burlesque.  Not that there was anything wrong with burlesque, Pete hastened to interject, in fact his dad said it was an art form.  They called her Missus Lee and she said, “Call me Rose, boys.  And this is Patti Page, the famous singer/actress.  She’s here to sing at the Expo finale.”

“And she’s no everyday stripper,” said Page, sweeping an arm at Lee.  “Her act is acclaimed for its humor and grace.  Rose is an author, actress, dancer, playwright.  You name it, she can do it.  I heard what some of the boys were saying about her and I do not appreciate it.  Did you start those rumors?”  This other movie star-looking lady was standing with a fist on each hip, pink suit that looked like church dress-up, small hat and veil.

“I don’t take it all off, that’s for sure.  Why, I’d be mortified,” said Lee.

“How much did you make?” asked Patti.

“Umm, probably $35 after business expenses,” said Pete.

“I’ve got a good mind to make you give it to charity,” said Page.

Rose said, “Aw, Patti, they’re just a little misguided.  I think they’ll put it to good use.  I’m kind of impressed, actually.  They’re up-and-coming businessmen.  It’s not like they’re stealing hubcaps.”

“Well, I want their names and addresses.  Louis?” she called to one of the men blocking the alleyway.  She was beautiful, thought Buddy.  A vision.  Both women were.  How could Pete and he have talked like they did about tassles and…and the other thing.  Even though he didn’t know strictly what the other thing was, he had an idea.  He felt the color rising in his cheeks.   He hoped they weren’t going to tell his folks.  He’d never hear the end of it.  Disgrace forever.

Before Rose left she said to the boys, “Look me up in ten or fifteen years if I’m still hoofing and not doing something dignified like writing bestsellers.  I could use a couple smart cookies with business degrees.”

Louis had obtained their names, addresses, and phone numbers and checked out the information before they were released.

“I forgot my periscope,” Buddy said on the bus.

“Business expense,” said Pete.

“Monkey business expense,” said Buddy, and they laughed so hard they were leaning on one another, breathless as they passed the stop where Willie Sutton had surely escaped.


Days later, Buddy’s mother stopped him in the kitchen before he left to join Pete shagging golf balls at the driving range for 50c a bucket.  She’d just been to the mailbox and was holding a letter.  “Do you want to tell me about this Patti Page and Rose business?”  He could feel his face going red.  This was it.  Next stop military school.  Or worse.  “P-P-Patti P-P-P…” was all he could get out.

She handed him four tickets to the Patti Page Expo Finale show.  “She says she and her friend Rose met you and your friend at the Oil Exposition and they were impressed with your enterprising spirit.  That you had inspired a little youth movement of some kind?”

“Uh, well, we were helping direct kids to some of the tents and booths.  We were kind of an information booth.  We thought maybe the expo people would hire us but…”

“But?” she prodded.

“But it didn’t work out.”

“I’ll be.  Patti Page.  We have an invitation to go backstage after the show, it says here.”

“I wouldn’t want to bother her, mom.  I, uhh…”

“Nonsense.  It’ll be fun.  We’ll all go.  And the Moreys are going too!  I’ve been wanting to meet them.”


On a fresh, spring Saturday morning, the Oil Exposition over and not due back for five years, Buddy was counting his bankruptcy roll, and found the souvenir knife-sharpening stone in his desk drawer.  Illegitimus non carborundum.  Latin, sort of, Pete had told him.  Pete’s dad had said, with a guffaw, it meant, “don’t let the bastards wear you down.” 

He smiled.  Good advice.  The same day they’d gotten that translation, old man Spivey at the driving range had stiffed them out of 50c, claiming they’d only shagged four buckets of golf balls instead of five.  Pete had shrugged it off, said, “Illegitimus non carborundum, ay.  We’ll make it up.”  Then they’d sold grab-bags of old Tootsie Toys and other small things to neighborhood kids for 20c apiece.   They rode their bikes to Utica Square and dropped them on the ground outside Payne’s drug store.  “Chocolate root beers.  I’ll buy,” said Pete.

 As they settled into a booth with their frosted mugs, Pete said, “Remember that Patti Page show?  The way your sis kept hinting about telling on us?”

“Yeah.  I thought sure Emmy was going to let the cat out of the bag when we all went backstage.  Scared the peewaddins out of me.”

“I got somethin’ on her.”

“You what?”

“I saw her on the back of Tommy Wolfe’s motorcycle last night, and she said she’d kill me if I told.  That means one thing.  Your folks don’t want her on motorcycles.”

“No kidding.  It’s the law at home.”

“And, get this: she took a drag off his cigarette.  Double whammy,” Pete said.  “So I told her to zip her lip about the Oil Exposition.”  He made the motion across his mouth.  “One less business worry for us.”

“Great!  She threatens me with that all the time.  Hah!  Good one!”

Their straws hit bottom at roughly the same time and they prolonged the sucking noise until they got an annoyed look from the counter girl.

Once outside they walked to the bowling alley, left their names for pin-setting the following week.


The clouds speed up.  Where does the time go.  Oil Expositions come and go, quit altogether.  Marriages, deaths, the wells run dry.  Cattle take over where pump jacks rust.  Buddy’s family has moved away in the 50’s.   Neither Buddy nor Pete write letters and they lose touch.  In the spring of 1970 Gypsy Rose Lee dies, and Buddy thinks back to her offer of 1949.  His BA might have been enough.  He phones his sister and they talk about Tulsa, laugh a bit.

Buddy has mildly surprised himself by not becoming a millionaire.  He hasn’t done badly, but the promises whispered to him in the Tulsa night breeze moments before sleep have not materialized.  Patti Page is still singing Tennessee Waltz he sees in a Sunday Supplement.  He has the CD. 

On ebay he comes across a carborundum stone, souvenir of a Tulsa Oil Expo long gone.  The bids reach $68, and he lets it go.  Crazy to pay so much for something he got for free in 1949.  He wonders about the other bidder.  



BIO: Guinotte Wise is a Creative Director at an advertising agency in Kansas City. Previously a CD at Saatchi & Saatchi, Los Angeles. Sculptor, sometimes in welded steel, sometimes in words. Educated at Westminster College, University of Arkansas, Kansas City Art Institute. Some work is at http://www.wisesculpture.com/

He was Finalist, Amy Hempel/Opium contest 2011; Winner, Fiction 7; Gordon Award, Our Stories Review, 2011; Fiction Semi-finalist, Nimrod; 2nd place winner, 2010 Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction, Medulla Review 2010; Hon. Mention, Oblongata Flash Fiction; Oaxaca Film Festival & Literary Awards 2010; Appearing in: Crime Factory Review, Aug 2011, Stymie, May 2011, Telling Our Stories Press Anthology 2011; Opium, 2011; Stymie, Aug 2011.