canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Three Mile Island Hotdogs

by Lance Levens

"I’m talking lower GI apocalypse," I said to Munlin, my girl. "Diverticulitis, anorectal diseases, carcinomas, angiodysplasias. I think our products are causing ‘em all. I clean out the john, Munlin. I know. We got us a regular epidemic here. These truckers load up on three chili dogs, curly fries, a giant Coke, cinnamon rolls and Twinkies for desert, then battle the acid tsunami that follows with a whole bottle of Pepto. Hell, I’m just waitin’ for the ACLU, Lower GI Tract Division, to walk through those doors any day and say : Pheus Wynette, we have a warrant for your arrest on account of the many bowels you have willfully and maliciously infiltrated."

Outside, we carried twenty pumps at Fred’s Frozen Igloo: Gas and Chow. The yard was full of eighteen wheelers refueling. Throw in the back rooms we had for drivers to clean up and sleep in and you’re talking a mammoth operation.

Now this is what kills me about Munlin. Here I have laid out an earth-shattering scenario that might land me in the federal penitentiary as somebody’s favorite sex toy and all she does is stuff her pipe with more freakin’ French and freakin’ Indian tobacco. She claims it’s high quality.

"Bought it at Vincennes ," she says, packing and puffing. " Vincennes Gold."

"Vincennes road kill," I said. Munlin sat by the register in her coon skin cap, smoking her little white pre-revolutionary clay pipe with the authentic tobacco from the pouch that smells like road kill. On week ends she’s a re-enactor; only she won’t go to the usual spots where dozens of week-end yuppie re-enactors sit in their SUV’s and listen to Classic Rock CD’s or doo-wop instead of bad, but authentic banjo plucking. She only goes French and Indian War re-enactments. Can you name one battle from the freakin’ French and the freakin’ Indian War? She spends of lot of time on our grand, open highways. One time she dragged me all the way to Ft. Ticonderoga —don’t ask—where I met a man who’d starved himself down to the French and Indian gold standard of one-hundred thirty-two pounds. He only spoke eighteenth century. Munlin said he memorized whole letters from the eighteenth century, then sat around the campfire until a silence needed filling when he could toss in a sentence like: "Therefore, I heartily commend the aforementioned project..." or "In these as in all matters I remain firm…" He got awarded some big national award by the national medal awarding folks who encourage the hard core types to leave their wives and babies and go sleep near the back entrance of some shopping mall--where the battle was actually fought.

I told her normal women don’t go walking around in a coon skin cap smoking a tiny white pipe. She grinned: "I know. That’s what makes it so much fun."

"Pheus," she said, "what makes you think you know anything about all this medical hogwash. You found some blood in the john. Hell, that’s nothing. It’s those Three Mile Island hotdogs cooking back there in that so-called kitchen."

"I find blood every day. And have you noticed the clouds of gas hanging over this place. I need a gas mask. You could light a match by the Red Man display and we’d all be blown to kingdom come. I hear ‘em. They wait till they’re about three feet inside the door—right over there by the prophylactics—and they cut loose. Straight faced as wooden Indians, they stand there and cut loose. I been over there three times already with my Top o’ the Morning."

A customer came in.

I pulled down my red Fred’s cap. It came down too low over my eyes. Munlin, said it made me look like the kid who never gets picked for baseball. Munlin, I said, I AM the kid who never gets picked for baseball.

"Pheus, you look stupid." Munlin uses up all her tact on the job which is telling welfare folks the government teat is dry. "Get a Braves hat."

I explained why I dumped the Braves. "I read this article said John Smoltz and Andruw Jones and Bobby Cox all three misuse anti-acids. I can’t support any team that doesn’t practice good GI tract hygiene."

In my one semester of college I took two classes: business and Modern Philosophical Atheists. My business instinct told me we had to treat our customers better. Stop feeding their stomachs toxins; my Modern Philosophical Atheist instinct told me people like Sartre and Heidigger would have wanted intelligent treatment of their bowels. I mean I don’t know much about European bowels, but they can’t be that much different from ours. The Ding-an-Sich’s got to go next to the Ding-fur-Sich, and so forth. When I tell people I read and underlined a whole book about "dings" in college, they nod up and down like some puppet was pulling their strings.

The trucker wanted a dozen Goody’s.

I counted out the packets and rung them up. "You know what the research on Goody’s, says, don’t you?"

The trucker was a large, pot-bellied man with three day’s beard and several packs of Winston's crushed into his T-shirt pocket. His Truck It or F--- It Hat was red, turned sideways. He looked like a very large Moe with a hangover.

"What research?" he said.

"Taking Goody’s is like drinking sulfuric acid."

"Oh, hell," he said. He swept up his change and left.

We watched him grunt up into his rig. Behind him sat a glinting steel cylinder. Munlin took a puff of her road kill, authentic French and Indian War tobacco.

"He’s hauling sulfuric acid," she said. "Didn’t scare him one bit."

That month I had a slogan:

Buy our chili, it’s hot and thick,

But when you’re tummy’s yellin’: SICK!

Only one thing’ll ease ya’:

The Gold Standard: Milk of Magnesia.

Here at Fred’s we carry: Phillip’s, $1.75 a bottle.

Herbert, the little entrepreneurial black dude that owned Fred’s didn’t get it. He liked to pace back and forth, hands behind him, and talk. Pace and talk. Always wore a snappy plaid coat and an au courant bow tie.

"Pheus, we don’t have a lower tract problem. Truckers are truckers. We can’t tell them what not to eat."

"Herbert," I said. "People care about their lower GI tract. They want to know that their local retail outlet cares, too." I believed that.

"Don’t that toilet need cleaning?" he said, nodding to the rear of the store where there was already a line. "It ain’t been cleaned since Moses walked the earth." He knew I cleaned it every night.

I pointed out that associating the oft-abused Jewish people with what goes on in a truck stop bathroom might be considered, in some circles, politically incorrect.

He glared at me. Herbert has this tiny moustache he shaves to a nub. He twitches it when he gets mad. Needless to say, it was in motion. "Pheus, I’m trying to make money here. This is a big operation. I can’t have you obsessing over truckers’ lower GI tract. We get truckers from all fifty states!"

I pointed out that I had been at Fred’s for nearly two years and I had not encountered one trucker from Hawaii .

He nearly split a gut.

The acid hauler came back in. He slapped both hands on the counter. "You telling me my Goody’s are making me sick?"

I looked outside and saw that his rig was half-way in and half-way out of the road. The rig door swung wide open. Apparently, it had all come together in his head just as he was about to gear up for I-16.

"Well, yeah, that’s what I’m saying, "I said.

"Goddamn, why didn’t you tell me before now?" he yelled. He slammed down on the counter loud enough to scare Munlin into standing up.

I jumped back.

"You been here two years watching me buy these things. Come in here twice a week. A dozen Goody’s every time. And you ain’t said one goddamned word.!"

I jumped back from the counter where my panic button was that summoned the cop who sits on the highway munching Crispy Creams and protecting all the fast food joints and us. Then the trucker leapt over the counter like he was sixteen years old. I‘ve never seen a big man jump like that except the day when I saw my Uncle Weasel jump out of the way of my Aunt’s meat cleaver that she paid seventy five dollars mail order from Toledo, Spain.

"What are you doin’," I yelled. By now Munlin had crawled under the counter.

He glared at me. "You should have told me."

"Look, calm down, your lower GI track is all screwed up because of all this bad stuff you been eatin’."

"Stuff you been selling me." He moved closer. I could smell onion rings on his breath—our onion rungs.

"Look" I said, backing up, "We got a three for one deal on small Pepto’s."

"Don’t like the taste," he said, as he came closer.

Munlin reached up and slammed the squeal button. The trucker looked down and she looked up. "What the hell you think you’re doing?"

"Swatting flies?" she said and dashed out the door.

I stepped into the cash room behind me and slammed the steel-reinforced door. The trucker pounded on the door with my back up against it. I felt like I was riding a surf door. I also thought about all the other clogged up lower GI tracts out there just waiting to explode like this one. I had this vision of all the twists and turns of a lower colon all jammed up, pressured tight, about to bust, causing the other end, the eyes and ears, to see weird stuff and do weird things. This was just the beginning. A rumble was rolling down I-16, steady and fierce; it was moving to a rhythm of pain and revenge, moving toward us.



Herbert didn’t like the idea, but the incident with the crazed trucker nudged him in my direction. Herbert considers himself a non-violent person. He practices some religion called Ba Hay—with a little roof mark over the "a" in Hay. Munlin said it sounded like a church for sheep. It was Monday, always his sporty day. He was wearing Bermuda shorts with a bleeding madras belt, a breezy yellow shirt, sandals and sun glasses. His blue Volvo was parked in front so everybody could see it.

"It’s our fault, "I said. "That trucker went crazy because of us." I was kneeling down and unpacking a New Classic Lays box. It’s easy to get them confused with the Old Classic Lays so I was using my calculator to count them and keep them separate. He was standing over me, arms crossed. Outside the yard was busy. Kamira in Savannah had six rigs moving as a unit down I-16 with a police escort. Munlin said we should all stop drinking tap water for a month.

"How can it be our fault?" Herbert said. "The cops said the guy went off his noodle."

I explained my lower tract theory. That must be the third time Herbert has heard it.

He stared down at me, mouth open. Then, he looked away a second and shook his head. "Pheus, you are one obsessed dude."

The next Monday he stood by, arms folded, as I cleaned out the candy shelf. No more Butterfingers, Milk Duds, Baby Ruth’s or Snickers. Gone. Next, I cleaned off the cakes and pies: Moon pies, Twinkies, cinnamon buns. Gone. Then the chips. Doritos, Pringles, Lays. Gone. I had a giant card board box that I was pushing around the store on a flat bed with rollers. Outside, the Green Goodies Emporium truck from Savannah was unloading the replacements and within a week my cousin Leonard had carpentered us in a well-lit, mist-fed veggie/fruit aisle: spinach, tomatoes, cabbage, Vidalia onions, Swiss chard, apples, bananas, oranges, lemons, plums, cherries. Leonard loves Vidalia’s so we gave him a giant sack full for the work. We had to buy three new compressors—which cost a bundle. Herbert paced back and forth as the mist machine for the fresh vegetables was installed.

"This damned set up better draw ‘em in here like flies," he said.

"We don’t want flies," I said, but I could already feel a seismic shift in truckers’ bowels up and down I-16.

The day we reopened after a two week break to set up the new Fred’s the truckers came in by the droves, starved for their old favorites: beef jerky, Snickers, Red man, Bull of the Woods, sodas, Twinkies, cinnamon buns, Vienna sausage and saltines. They stood there, their John Deere hats on, scratching a three day growth and muttering amid a cloud of their own gas.

"What the hell?" one regular said. He was short, skinny man with rotten teeth from too much beef jerky and red Man. His name was Tommy G. He hauled

farm equipment out of Tennessee to the port in Savannah . He wandered dumbstruck down the aisle where his Red Man and beef jerky had been. He looked like a little boy who just lost his puppy dog. I suggested a salad with oil-free salsa.

"A salad? Hell’s bells, Pheus, I been watered up since Dublin for some jerky."

And so it went for a week. Herbert was scratching himself like he had just got in from a swamp hunt. "Pheus, this is not working. These good old boys are addicts. We are not a de-tox outfit."

Munlin took a few puffs of Vincennes gold and pointed out that we needed to grease the rails.

I put up a sign: The first trucker who buys five pounds of healthy produce gets a month’s supply of Jerky.

That was the first step. Gradually, they began to buy the veggies and the fruit. Apples only, at first. Then, the mangoes and the guava and the kiwi.

A month later I got my first letter from a grateful wife. Tommy G. showed it to me, proudly. It was written in pencil on a yellow legal pad.

"Dear Pheus:

I want to thank you. You have helped T.G. get over his bad gut. Ever since he took that awful run to Savannah he had this bad gut, but since you started feeding him those vegetables and all he’s like a new man. He don’t hit the door no more. He don’t scare our babies no more.

Alzorene G.

Our new operation shifted into high gear.

One day Munlin walked in with an old woman who could have passed for an Indian princess. She had long grey hair with feathers dangling from various spots. Her full, flowing multi-colored dress trailed behind her, snagging Tootsie Roll wrappers and such, but if you didn’t focus on that she looked dreamy, ethereal.

"Pheus, this is my Aunt Puck. Real name’s Radamanthine. She wants to be your new veggie store’s spirit guide."

I shook Puck’s hand. She smiled up at me. I thought I smelled weed, but Munlin’s French and Indian reenactment tobacco was too strong for anyone to smell anything for sure.

"Ooh," Puck said, looking around, "somebody’s got gas. Bad vibes."

I told her about my theory.

She walked around the store, eyes closed, waving air toward her mouth. She would stop, breathe in and sniff.

"You were just in time, Pheus, " she said. " A few more days and…" She gave us a frightening look. "High carb spirits runnin’ amok."

"High carb spirits?" I asked.

"Refined sugar spirits have had their way. They’re pissed. You’re runnin’ them out of their home. This has been their turf for years."

"Refined sugar spirits?"

Puck went around touching everything with a long black and white feather.

"What’s she doing?" I asked Munlin.

"Driving away the ecologically unfriendly spirits. You got you quite a menagerie here."

Munlin explained that the au courant veggie stores had spirit guides so when the people come in they could tune in to the right wave length to help them get in touch with what they needed to eat.

Puck gave me a sexy squeeze. She was old enough to be my grandmother. "Let your gut be your guide, baby, " she said.

By now our store was beginning to smell like celery, onion and spices. Teachers from the local high school started coming in: Mr. Swinson, the French teacher, who had a long white haired pony tail, took a liking to our zucchini. Mademoiselle Phiguerre, a tiny woman with pursed lips who reminded me of a squirrel. She said apples from Quebec were juicier than ours. She and Munlin talked about the Battle of Quebec . Ms. P even tried some of Munlin’s road kill tobacco.

Puck followed them around the store giving off a steady stream of jabber I couldn’t make heads nor tails of. I overheard one conversation between her and Ms. P at the spuds rack.

"Ah, sturdy potatoes. Do you prosper? Are they treating you well." Puck put her ear down close to the potatoes. "They say they had a long and difficult journey. Peace is what they seek now. Peace."

Ms. P nodded vigorously and bagged half a dozen.

One day a friend accompanied Puck. He was bald and wore a beard that came down below his waist. They were both riding bikes. In his basket he carried a jar filled with a swamp root he had just harvested. He looked to be seventy but he all his teeth and was tall, lean and tanned. Reminded of me of a guy Munlin and I had seen in a documentary on the Amish. Munlin said the Amish made the best moonshine in the country.

"Tubers," he said, thrusting the bottle at me. "Locally abundant."

"They cure bad gut," Puck said, grinning and rubbing her tummy. "Your guys need ‘em."

"Tubers," I repeated.

The man’s name was Juniper. He helped me clean the plants and set them out. They were long and round like a stick of taffy. Puck helped me cut off the long roots at the bottom. I tried a tuber. It tasted like celery.

Soon we were carrying ma huang, black main root, scutter peas, green and black cohash, Russian cold water persimmons and some things I couldn’t pronounce. I noticed the truckers were happier, smiling even. I felt like Albert Schweitzer must have felt when he brought good health to the African darkness.

"Pheus, my man, you are the grand McDaddy of Mr. Eisenhower’s interstate," Tommy G. said, one day. He had his arm around my neck. "Where’s Puck?"

I stepped out side where I had last seen her pouring water into a gallon jug to store more swamp roots. When I stepped back inside, I saw her and Tommy G. step inside the last bunkroom. Twenty minutes later I peeked in to ask Puck if swamp tubers go well with salsa and there they were, she and Tommy G. going at it on a trucker’s cot like two sixteen year olds on a summer’s night.

The next day I asked Munlin about her aunt.

"Puck?" she said, "she’s the black ewe of the family. Been around the world twice. Didn’t learn to read and write till she was twelve and then read the whole encyclopedia."

I told her what I’d seen.

"Don’t surprise me one bit. I took her to Ticonderoga ten years ago and she

was hittin’ on anything wearing a tricorn."

When I confronted Puck, she was shelling peas in the lentils section.

"Tommy G.? He’s sweet. Reminds me of my high school sweetheart, Burp Reynolds."

"Burp Reynolds?"

"Drove a Camarro and wore the cutest cowboy hat. Always talking about this great race he was in, The Cannonball something."

"The Cannonball Run?"

"That’s it. How’d you know?"

I looked around me to see if something like reality was still the rule. Over in the carrot section I noticed two truckers munching like Bugs Bunny.

"Look," I said, whispering, "I get the joke. Ha, ha."

"What joke? My boyfriend’s name was Bartram T. Reynolds. We called him Burp because that’s what he did. He burped—loud enough to make your ear drums hurt."

"This is crazy," I said. "You’re talking about a movie character."

"No movie. He had a friend that drove an eighteen wheeler. They both talked about Smokie this and Smokie that."

"Smokie and the Bandit!"

"Bandit. That’s what Burp called himself. How’d you know that. I haven’t heard that name in forty years."

I threw up my hands and wished we had kept the aspirin section, but Puck told us analgesics give an off inflammatory vibe. Even Herbert believed her.



Business had never been so good. Herbert brought me a bouquet of flowers.

"Pheus, I was wrong about you and this whole nutrition thing. These boys love the change. Heck, they’re buyin’ everything we’re servin’ up here."

He laid out drawings for another wing, a greenhouse where we could grow more organic vegetables, even hydroponic tomatoes. We had the blue prints spread out on a work table in the safe room when we looked out the window and one of our eighteen wheelers was easing into the lot followed by a state patrolman. When the trucker stepped down, the patrolman cuffed him and gave him the duck shove into the patrol car. Then the trooper leaned back on his car and started writing. In a few moments another truck wheeled in also followed by a patrol car. The trooper cuffed that driver and gave him the duck shove, too. Within thirty minutes, while we watched, the lot filled up with patrol cars and eighteen wheelers. All the drivers got the duck shove.

My heart started pounding. Herbert turned high-yellow. His moustache looked electrified.

Two patrolmen came in, took off their sun glasses and approached the register. Herbert and I came out from behind the counter.

"Gentlemen," I said, loudly, trying to grin and trying to show how relaxed I was with our officers of the law.

Wearing sun glasses, one patrolman read from his metal-backed pad. He was tall and fit, tan and deep-voiced.

"Like to see the owner of Fred’s Frozen Igloo: Sandwiches and Chow."

Herbert stepped forward. He stood at parade rest. "That’d be me, Herbert J. Salisbury."

"Mr. Salisbury, we got six rigs out there that we stopped in a sting operation at the Soperton exit. The drivers claim that in the last six months they purchased altogether more than four pounds, fourteen ounces of marijuana, and two pounds, eight ounces of hashish at this establishment."

Herbert looked like he wanted to scream.

Puck--the obvious culprit--was nowhere to be found.

Within minutes the troopers were looking under zucchini and grapes, Granny Smith apples and bananas. One of them carried large metal snappers. Inside Puck’s locker he found a grocery sack full of dime bags of weed. Each bag bore a smiley face.

When they put the cuffs on Herbert, I thought he was going to cry. He just stared out ahead, not looking at anybody. He couldn’t talk.

"Pheus, we been selling weed, "he finally said, his voice cracking. "That’s why they’re so damned happy. It ain’t the kiwi and the bean sprouts. They been smoking weed!"

"Officer," I said, "Mr. Salisbury didn’t know anything about any weed. You see it all started when we were trying to help the truckers with their lower GI tract problems. The whole place smelled and we just thought we’d start a fruit and veggie…"

They didn’t even let me finish my sentence! They shoved Herbert out the glass door.

I followed, running. I thought Herbert’s eyes were going to pop out of his little Ba Hay head.

"Please, officers, Mr. Salisbury is completely innocent. Please…"

The tall patrolman put Herbert’s face down on the top of his patrol car. Then, he turned to me. "What’s your name?"

I stopped cold. "My name?"

The patrolman smiled. I won’t say it was a wicked smile--which it was. I won’t say he knew how much pain and suffering he was causing--which he did. He just glared at me.

"What’s your name, " he repeated softly. He took out his ball point and punched down the little ball point button on the top. I told him my name and gave him my phone number. He wrote those down on a yellow form in triplicate, tore the form out and handed the top copy to me.

That’s when they gave Herbert the duck shove. There sat his new blue Volvo, looking affluent and successful, impressing the waitresses down the road at Mickey D’s and Wendy’s and Burger King and now he was getting the duck shove. An entrepreneur like Herbert!

My faith in truth, justice and the American way was beginning to crumble. One last time my eyes met Herbert’s eyes as he craned his neck around to look at me and the patrol car pulled away with him in it. I wondered if his Ba Hay friends would dis-Ba Hay him for selling weed to truckers. I could already see his picture in the paper with his little moustache twitching.

I figured this would be the last French and Indian straw for me and Munlin, too.

A truck pulled in from California ; the trucker hopped out of his rig wearing a sombrero and a serape. He clicked castanets over his head and yelled for all to hear:

"Hola, ya’ll! Where’s some of them Fred’s green goodies I been hearing so much about?"

Lance Levens - teacher: Latin, German, English - Pub.: Beloit Poetry Journal, Poetry Southeast, StoryGlossia, et. al.; Pushcart nominee for fiction, chapbook "Jubilate" (Pudding House Press) coming out after Christmas '07.  






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