Friday, August 28, 2009

Scenes 51, 52 & 53

Q is bent over a putt, calmly gauging the distance and break on a 20 footer. Long green shadows stretch over the putting surface. Beyond the green, across the road, sits an ancient bus. A bunch of high school kids with paintbrushes are milling around the bus.

Wizened old Q draws the putter head back and strikes the ball nicely. It rolls by an inch north of the cup. The golfer sighs.

The high-schoolers are stepping back from the bus and looking at their work.

Q walks off the practice green and drops the putter in his tartan bag. He looks over at the parking lot and the bus. Q calls out, “Are you people almost done?” Chirpy affirmatives come floating back.

His shock of white hair moves in the breeze. His Neapolitan golfwear flutters like a flag. And his magnificent ancient hands twitch some as he looks back toward the clubhouse.

Q picks up the bag by the handle and walks it over to the bus. There is a brief exchange, a check is written, and Q gets on the glistening powder blue seriously old bus and starts it up. The kids disperse to clean their brushes.

The ball is still sitting on the green when Q drives away.



“Back in Heidelberg,” says Professor K, pouring glasses of schnapps from a grimy old decanter for Myron and Blinky, “ze Kleinenflonckers were ze big academic family.”

“So how do you end up teaching community college in the Midwest?” asks Myron.

“Thanks,” says Blinky, accepting his drink in a metal coffee cup.

“I follow my dream,” she says fiercely, producing Blinky’s postcard. “Ze mystery of ze mounds! Ze New Vorld archaeology great—how you say—riddle, puzzle, somezing.” Now she’s pacing. “And so,” she says, “ze famous Serpent Mound!” She pronounces this grandly, borderline like a Bond villain. “Known to every school child in ze state.

But zis,” she goes on, “is ze small potatoes, as you say. Ze big stuff is up ze plateau.”

Blinky’s mouth slips open a little.

Professor Kleinenfloncker, once of Heildelberg now of Mechanicsburg, just north of Interstate 70, explains that “ze most significant” mounds get built between 100 BC and 500 AD. She’s going on about astronomy and watersheds and other science stuff.

“Ze mounds were ceremonial enclosures. Very big. Built of earten valls, and based on ze geometrical figures.”

She takes out a piece of paper and scribbles some mappy-looking things.

“Squares, circles, ochhtagons.”

She gestures to her drawings. They look like geometry problems mated with sentence diagrams.

Creepy old Alan is hunched over everybody else, trying to get a view. His nose is all drippy. Irritated, Myron hands him a box of Kleenex.



Ask anybody about major prehistoric activity in the New World, and they’ll tell you about the Mayans and Aztecs. The Incas, if they remember South America. Twenty-to-one they won’t know jack about the Hopewell, who were running around the Ohio Valley a hundred years before Jesus does the wine trick at the wedding and later the bit with the fish sandwiches.

Special K has a junior research library in her home-base salt dome. The books in it, which are mostly non-kooky ones, would tell you this about the Hopewell: as a group of people, it seems like they hung out in Southern and South Central Ohio, with a big center of action in present-day Chillicothe, and other sites in Newark, Portsmouth, and Marietta. In each of these places, they build a big ceremonial structure on a shelf next to a river. Where they do who knows what, probably dances, and funerals for sure.

The Hopewell got their name from a farmer, Mordecai Hopewell, who owned the land where the first mounds were dug up. (They put on a big show of mound stuff at the Chicago Exposition in 1893.) The Hopewell constructed gigantic enclosures out of dirt. For example, the Newark Earthworks, the biggest piece of architecture made with dirt ever, anywhere, covered four miles from end to end. They built embankments, or like raised berms, from 6 to 15 or so feet tall. Viewed from above, the embankments look like line drawings made out sod. There are smaller mounds inside that look like dots or points.

The lines form very regular shapes. There’s a guy who says that where the angles of these things intersect, adjusting for like a date of 250 AD, you can find astronomical alignments.

Nobody knows any of this stuff because in the 19th century, all the settlers wanted land to farm on, and the new towns wanted good positions above the rivers. So they started digging them all up. Like they weren’t there at all. The Smithsonian freaks out and sends out two guys named Squier and Davis to survey these things before the mysterious Empire of the Moundbuilders is totally wiped out. This is in 1848. The report sits in a drawer.

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