August 28, 2015

Shovelhead did time several times, for various offenses. If he got mad, he’d pull a gun and posture. He never actually shot anybody. He got in a lot of fights, including one in which a man tried to brain him with a shovel.

In jail, Shovelhead learned the art of tattooing. First, he had another tattooist fill the canvass of his visible body. He even had his nickname, “Shovelhead” tattooed across his caved-in forehead. He sports a graying mustache that hangs half a foot on each side of his mouth.

And he is as sweet as a man can be. But he figured out that women weren’t that turned on by an ex-con with his name tatted in Old English script across his beveled forehead and a grey, droopy mustache. And he isn’t a good dresser. Cutoff sweat pants, sleeveless tees and cowboy boots and a rolled up straw hat is his dress-up outfit.

He started collecting female mannequins; his house is full of them. He dressed them up and called them company. At any given time he might have ten or so well-dressed if stiff, “women” gathered in his living room to watch the cable TV.

He likes women. He cares for several old women, and they love him. He braids their hair and they coo like doves. He collects panties from his female relatives (anyone over the age of eighteen)—the ones who think he is merely eccentric and not a pervert—and makes collages.

How does one walk through a “gallery” of panties collages and study them? Shovelhead doesn’t give a damn.

One day, he was shopping at the Dollar General Store—there is everything a man named Shovelhead could want, except beer and sweet red wine: socks, tee shirts, canned goods, ice cream, etc.—and the young, black female clerk greeted him and asked if she could help him.

Shovelhead mumbled some words and then he blurted out, “Go out with me.” And then he almost ran.

But the clerk said, “Yeah, why not?” And they dined at the Finn Inn in Grafton and watched the 100-year-old alligator snapping turtle in the aquarium at their booth. And the young woman asked for a tour of Shovelhead’s tattoos. He took her around the visible parts and she discovered that the tats told a story: of a lonely, misunderstood man.

Then they went to Shovelhead’s house. The woman walked among the naked and partially-dressed mannequins, and then she perused the panties collages hanging on the wall.

And she pronounced him a great artist. And Shovelhead nodded: she got him.

And now the lovebirds are happy as clams. The young woman proudly displays her own vivid tattoos which tell her story, courtesy of Shovelhead. They watch Netflicks and drink beer and eat pretzels, like anybody else. She is studying to be a dental assistant.

Oh yes, she donated five pairs of her used panties: her own, very personal collage, fashioned by a true artist.

And they are happy.

About Eugene Jones Baldwin

I am a writer: non-fiction, fiction, journalism (Alton Telegraph), essays (The Genehouse Chronicles) and have a website: I've published a couple dozen short stories and had eleven plays produced. Current projects: "Brother of the Stones" (available on Kindle), a book of short stories; "The Faithful Husband of the Rain, short stories"; "A Black Soldier's Letters Home, WWII,;" "There is No Color in Justice," a commentary on racism; "Ratkillers," a new play. I am an avocational archaeologist and I take parts of my collection of several thousand Indian artifacts (personal finds) to schools, nature centers, libraries etc. and talk about the 20,000 year history of The First people in Illinois. (See link to website) I'm also a playwright (eleven plays produced), musician, historian (authority on the Underground Railroad in Illinois, the Tuskegee Airmen) and teacher.
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