The Rural Detective
Chapter One: In the beginning...A rural private detective's job is nowhere near as glamorous or exciting as it sounds. For example, at least half my cases involve irrational soy weevil paranoia – it turns out they're extremely neurotic insects. The other half of my clients, as any grizzled private dick worth his sodium chloride will tell you, consist of suspicious spouses. God knows I've spent my share of chilly evenings surrounded by corn stalks, peering through long lenses into haylofts. More evenings than I could possibly ever remember. Fortunately I don't have to remember, since my personal files contain detailed, 8-by-10 glossy evidence of the more gorgeous investigative subjects caught in various stages of guiltiness. But that's neither here nor there, for the events I relate below spring from the last half of my caseload: disgruntled farm animals.
I should start at the beginning. I was born in Chicago, at a very young age, to struggling-artist parents who had no business raising a kid, let alone thirteen of them. Unfortunately, they also had no business in the art business. They starved for their art and us kids starved along with them.
That my parents were talented is undeniable. As a boy, my father won the Illinois State Fair butter-sculpting contest with a perfectly scaled rendering of the downtown Chicago area done with such accuracy and detail that the litter in the streets included strewn newspapers with microscopically legible copy. Unfortunately he was later disqualified when an intrigued judge with a magnifying glass discovered that on the buttery Sears Tower's 88th-floor, the Springfield-facing windows unmistakably depicted the Mayor and several prominent corporate fat cats pressing their bare buttocks against the glass in the general direction of the state's capital city.
My mother, originally from Lawrence, Kansas, garnered a modicum of countywide fame as a youngster for her realistic and edible portraits of local business owners and visiting dignitaries done in wheat germ paste on pressed, dried kelp paper. Perhaps edible is not precisely the right word but they were well done likenesses nonetheless.
My parents' mature art was of the sad, neglected sort that induces intrigue but not investment; provokes philosophical pondering but not patronage. Their greatest financial success was a performance piece in which they covered each other in axle grease and body-rolled a mile and a half down the middle of Michigan Avenue during rush hour reciting the Gettysburg Address backward while wearing nothing but top hats and spats without shoes. They had no official sponsors but the axle grease, intended to complicate their anticipated forcible removal by Chicago's Finest, picked up enough spare change from the street to pay bail and rent for that summer. Though the “7 and Score 4 Michigan Roll,” as it was titled, did little to endear commuters to their art, in general people truly enjoyed my parents' work. It's just that no one would ever pay them a penny for it.
Critics were only slightly more generous. In a review of their first joint showing – consisting in large part of impressionist chalk-on-slate sketches each made of the other while simultaneously rollerskating naked – the noted Tribune critic Simon Wabash praised “a boundless creative energy” but lambasted their “seemingly disinterested developmental process.” He was critiquing their art but Simon Wabash might as well have been describing their parenting philosophy.
Owing to my parent's complete aversion to the basic responsibilities of child rearing I soon found myself neglected, and, aided by the recurring confusion over whether they had sired a dozen or a baker's dozen I took to wandering the mean, dirty streets of the city. At the somewhat impressionable age of 18 months I was crawling from corner to corner begging strangers for a spare diaper change. But before long I began to realize that a pathetically helpless infantile expression and copious amounts of drool, my only redeeming attributes at that age, would ultimately prove insufficient for success in this world. At least, that is, without an Ivy League diploma. Life looked bleak.
And then my first big break occurred. While being charitably burped by a transvestite Puerto Rican teenage mother of three on the Orange Line to the Loop, I happened to spit up on the lapel of my long lost uncle, Jergens, who instantly recognized the face of his sister in my bald, chubby-cheeked mug. Weighted with the guilt from having broken all family contact years ago after making his personal fortune, Uncle Jergens vowed then and there to raise me as his own. From that moment forward, though I would always call him Uncle, he became the only real father I would ever know. Incidentally, thanks to Uncle Jergens' chronically recurrent bachelorhood and voracious libidinous appetite I would know dozens upon dozens of “mothers” over the years leading to a complex so convoluted my psychiatrist, together with a theoretical physicist from Northwestern University, coauthored an interdisciplinary research paper titled, “A Many-Mother Problem: The Non-uniqueness of Solutions to the Partial Differential Equations Describing Oedipal Chaos”. That's neither up nor down but another story entirely – one with much more nudity.