~~~Hey kids, I just got back from a week on the road and wanted to give you a completely new story. I worked some of this out while on the plane from St. Louis to Phoenix, while stuck squeezed into a seat next to a really nice but decidedly uber-rubenesque gal. We had to put up the arm rest that was between us in order for her to fit, and then ...well, there’s that oddly uncomfortable sensation of a stranger’s thigh pressed up against yours for three and a half hours. To distract myself from that, I thought up Dio stories, including this one:
It was about the middle o’ the day on a Wednesday, back in October o’ ‘76, an’ I was standin’ on Lee street, jus idly chattin’ with a couple o’ the workin’ wimmen from the Bella, when along comes m’ esteemed neighbor Mr. Bu.
“Well, Howdy there, Mr. Bu!” says I, an’ he responds in his usual way with a slight smile, an’ a lil’ bow.
“Missus Di-oh, good day! And Bella Union ladies! Good day as well!”
He give the gals another o’ his smiles an’ a lil’ bow, an’ they giggled an’ curtsied like proper courtesans, an’ we commenced to chat until this wagon come along, driven by a couple o’ micks. We made way fer ‘em an’ it drew to a halt jus’ beyond us, in front o’ the newspaper office. Now mind ye, not the office o’ the current fine publication what Neil runs in his sober moments, but the one that preceded his newspaper. Twas run by a feller named Williams -- not one o’ m’ favorite people in the world, but that ain’t neither here nor there -- and this Williams feller comes outta his office when this wagon pulls up.
He begins a’shoutin orders an’ instructions at these two Irishmen an’ they set to unloadin’ a big sign fer the newspaper office outta the back o’ their conveyance. Oh and it was jus’ one helluva sign, too. Musta been at least mebbe seven feet across an four feet tall, an’ judgin’ by the look o’ the letterin’ an’ decorative flourishes, it had been painted up nicely by a professional sign painter. The wood, I could tell, was planed and sanded smooth, with the boards fitted all tight and neat -- either tongue an’ groove, or at least pegged -- an’ then surrounded by a frame o’ first rate s-curve mouldin’, all squared together with perfect angle joints at the corners. It was jus’ the kind o’ sign that if the thing had been a gentleman sign an’ you happened t’ be a lady sign, you woulda been in grave danger o’ bein’ swept off’n yer feet, an’ at great risk o’ havin’ yer signly virtue compromised. It was just that goddam handsome of a sign.
So we was all admirin’ this shinin’ example o’ carpentry an’ the signpainter’s art, watchin’ as the two Paddys hoist the thing up over the porch o’ the newspaper office an set to attachin’ it to the front wall o’ the buildin’. I sighed an said, “I tell ye what folks, I certainly would be a happy ol’ woman to have a sign even half as nice as that on the front o’ m’ laundry.” ‘Bout that time, Williams, the publisher, espies us an’ comes o’er. He don’t even acknowledge the existence o’ the Bella gals an’ Bu -- instead he starts right in a’babblin’ t’ me about how I need to begin purchasin’ advertisement space in his newspaper, an how it would be a boon to m’ business, a sure-fire means o’ drawin’ more trade than I could handle. An’ I’m startin’ to think to m’self, “Yeah, that would be even better than a big ol’ sign -- would be kinda like havin’ a sign where the whole damn town could see it, an’...”
Then somethin’ happened that kinda changed my mind real quick.
Bu was listenin’ to this Williams prick a’gibberin’ on about the powers o’ newspaper advertisin’ an’ when he finished Bu smiled an said in his quiet, philosophical ol’ gent’s voice, “Notice in newspaper, make much sense. Perhaps Bu could do this for bathhouse...”
He got no further than that before Williams exploded, “No chance of that, you heathen monkey! I’m not going to sully my paper by promoting some vile enterprise like yours...in fact, the sooner people come to realize that you and your kind are a menace to civilization, and we drive you from these shores, the better! Mrs. Kuhr I would think you would have better judgment about the kind of company you keep, instead of associating in a public thoroughfare with chinks and common...”
He was glarin’ at the two gals from the Bella as he was sayin’ this, so he never saw what was comin’ in the form o’ m’ right hook what caught him square on the side o’ his jaw. He sank to one knee an’ was lookin’ up at me with considerable astonishment an’ pain as I launched into him like a un-fed hawk on a fat pigeon.
“DON”T you even THINK o’ goddam TRYIN’ t’ tell me who t’ associate with, ye puffed-up, tin-plated, bile-spewin’ limp-membered TOAD! And FURTHERMORE I would sooner shove a goddam sharpened stick in m’ fuckin’ eye than buy adverstisin’ in yer wretched lil’ rag, what ain’t got no value beyond use in the outhouse!!!”
At this point something of a small crowd was gathering to view the entertainment. My friend Ron the gunsmith told me later that I had gotten to within several inches of the man’s face and was pokin’ him repeatedly in the chest with m’ finger to emphasize the finer points o’ m’ oratory, tho’ I don’t actually recollect that. Ron compared Mr. Williams’ role in the whole episode to someone tossin’ lamp oil into a burnin’ camp fire an’ then bein’ puzzled as to why they ain’t got no eyebrows left no more. Anyhow, I warn’t done quite yet.
“NOW you listen to me, an try to unnerstan’ this as well as yer tiny lizard brain will allow, ye slack-jawed, cockchafin’ greenhorn half-wit! If you EVER, an’ I mean EVER say another goddam word to me, I SWEAR, by the name o’ Jeezus an’ his horn-blowin’ angels, I will goddam slit yer worthless, weasel-fuckin’ carcass clean open, from NECK to NAVEL, an’ then I shall damned well RIP yer mealy lil’ lump of a heart clear outta yer chest with m’ BARE HANDS, an’ feed that sonofabitch t’ the goddam coyotes!!!!”
He din’t reply. He din’t even nod yea or nay. He jus’ got to his feet, never taking his eyes off me, his mouth slightly agape, an’ then he turned an’ went into his office.
The Bella gals were suppressin’ a fit o’ giggles, an ol’ Bu was jus’ standin’ there with that slight smile o’ his. He shrugged a tad, an’ said quiet-like, “As Missus Di-oh now not put anything in paper, may Bu and his nephews make sign for Missus Di-oh laundry?”
Without thinking I replied, “Yes, Hon, I would greatly appreciate that...”
“What you wish it to say, Missus Di-oh?”
I thought a minute and pulled out a scrap o’ paper an’ a grease pencil from m’ haversack an’ carefully printed out the words:
Washing and Ironing
D.A. Kuhr & Co.
Washing and Ironing
D.A. Kuhr & Co.
About a week later, I was still asleep in the back room of the laundry when I was roused by a vigorous knocking at the door. I shouted something about “hold yer goddam horses, I’m a’comin’ pard,” then I pulled the coverlet about me fer some semblance o’ modesty, picked up m’ Walker Colt just in case, an’ stumbled out to see who it was. Through the front window I could see one o’ Bu’s “nephews,” wavin’ an’ grinnin’ like a bobcat what had found an unlocked hen house. I went out an’ greeted him in cordial fashion, an’ found him an’ some companions -- other “nephews” I imagine -- proudly standin’ there with a very large sign.
“Uncle Bu send this for Missus Di-oh. He say we show you, make sure is good...then put up for Missus Di-oh.”
I nodded, still not quite awake, and began looking it over. It was made from first rate lumber, planed and sanded smooth, pegged tightly together and framed by perfectly jointed mouldin’ that...well, was suddenly looking very familiar. It was painted quite nicely...a creamy colored background an’ rich brown lettering that had been very carefully an’ exactly copied from the wording I had written out for Bu the week before: there even was the period after the word “Laundry” that I had included when I wrote it.
“Tis fine work, boys,” I said. “Far better than what I fear I can afford...”
The head “nephew” waved his hand dismissively. “Missus Di-oh no worry. Uncle Bu make this gift for Missus Di-oh. We put up now.”
And they set t’ placin’ ladders an climbin’ on to m’ porch roof to hang the sign. As they began their task, m’ friend Mahaila came strollin’ up with a basket o’ washin’ fer to be done.
“Good morning Dio. Oh my, that is a grand-looking sign you have there.”
“Mornin’ to ye, Hon. And thanks. Tis a gift from m’ esteemed neighbor Mr. Bu.”
Mahaila and I watched Bu’s “nephews” as they efficiently hoisted up the sign and began fastening it to the front edge o' the porch roof.
After a moment of peering at the sign, Mahaila dryly commented, “Funny thing about signs...you know just last week, I heard this terrible commotion in the street and I went to find out that someone had stolen the fine new sign off the front of Mr. Williams’ newspaper office, just a day after it had been placed there....”
I looked at Mahaila, and she looked at me. I could tell she was tryin’ not to laugh.
I called up t’ the head “nephew” on the porch roof, “Say pard, ye must convey to yer Uncle Bu m’ thanks an’ gratitude -- tis a very good sign...much nicer than I coulda hoped for...might I ask where ye found such nice finished lumber an mouldin’s fer the sign?
Head “nephew” was still grinnin’ as he replied “Oh, Missus Di-oh, we find this wood some place.”
“Ah...ye found it?”
“Yes! We find it!”
I arched an eyebrow at Mahaila, and then asked the question I jus’ hadda ask. “Um...outta curiosity, is it perhaps best if’n Missus Dio doesn’t know about where ye boys found the wood fer that sign?”
With no change in his cheerful countenance, the head “nephew” answered, “Oh yes! Missus Di-oh really does not want to know where we find it."
I turned to Mahaila and said quietly, “Well, Mah, I cain’t take it down. Tis a gift from Mr. Bu an’ while I don’t know much o’ the celestial way o’ lookin’ at things, I expect tis not unlikely they look on gift-givin’ in the same way that injuns do -- as somethin’ o’ great significance an’ not t’ be taken lightly. I would not wish to offend Mr. Bu fer the world. But I am sure that as soon as that slimy, mud-eatin’ peckerhead Williams sees that new sign o’ mine, he is gonna put two an’ two together an’ it shall be cause of a great kerfuffle...which don’t concern me very much -- I kin hold m’ own, an’ then some -- but it could be some real trouble fer Bu an his people if’n they get connected t’ the situation ...”
Mahaila looked unperturbed. “Dio, does Mr. Williams ever bring his own laundry back here to be done?"
“Hmmm, no he usually sends one his printer’s boys....”
Mahaila went on, "I would also imagine he does not come back here to use Mr. Bu’s bathouse, nor the opium den, nor the Celestials' grocery and butcher, does he?”
“No, Mah, I can safely say I have never seen him back here on China Row.”
My friend smiled. “I should think not...you know...I have some first-hand knowledge about people who are burdened with hate.”
I nodded. When I had first met Mahaila she was having a dreadful time in Dodge City, in large part because she had the misfortune to fall into a romance with a man who had native blood in his veins. Her words on such matters carried some true weight in my estimation, and I encouraged her to share her thoughts on the issue.
She went on, “People often respond with hate to that which they fear. Mr. Williams, I think has expressed substantial hatred towards the Celestials, and I suspect that is a reflection of his equally substantial fear of them. So naturally, though he may call for their removal, he is not likely to ever change his habits and come back here where he may see your excellent sign. Simply put, he is too afraid of your Chinese neighbors to wander back here. I also gather, he has good reason to avoid ever running into you again. While his fear of the Chinese may be misplaced and unnecessary, I suspect any fear he has of you is perfectly justified.”
I grinned at her an’ we turned to see that Bu’s nephews had completed the task and were admiring their handiwork. We applauded them an told them “job well done” an’ in thanks to them I gave them some bottles o’ wine I had taken as payment from Miz Sal at the Bella fer....well that’s another story fer another time.
But sure enough, I never did see that Williams feller back there on China Row, an’ the matter o' the source o' m’ excellent new sign n’er did come up.
Tis still up there, if’n ye care to see it.