Monday, January 21, 2008


ONE FINE BRIGHT DAY in early December, a homeless man appears on the front stoop of The Godlight Baptist Church in Calhoun Falls, South Carolina, where he is greeted at the door by the presiding minister. The smell that rises up from the man’s clothes, what the pastor would later refer to as “piddle,” is so strong it stings the preacher’s nostrils like a chemical and after reminding the man that "cleanliness is next to godliness” he re-directs him to the city's homeless shelter. The next day the man is back, this time coming through the rear side entrance, which actually places him in front of the congregation during Sunday service. His monstrous face, the pastor is reported to have remarked, looked human only because he wore glasses, and you knew that glasses belonged on a human face. An usher went on to say that the glasses were too big, resting loosely on his nose, so that when he jerked his head suddenly to the left or right, which he did frequently and inexplicably, they flew to the floor, leaving behind the face of a wild animal, a heinous beast. Needless to say, the parishioners are appalled. The service is brought abruptly to a halt. The first two rows hold their breath and pinch their noses. A little girl cries. The burliest of the church’s five elders, a former navy man, escorts the intruder, somewhat roughly, to a bus stop bench one block away. Throughout the course of the next month, the man visits the church a total of twenty-six times and eventually the pastor warms, impressed by the man's surprising knowledge of the Bible and his ability to quote heavily from its text. In a matter of weeks, the man gains the trust of the entire congregation and ends up fucking the flock out of thousands.

I stood on a ridge of clay and rock bleeding the final toke from a menthol King that had broken in my pocket and was consequently shorter on pleasure than normal. I stood there in the wind and cold surveying the job ahead. Bags of all different sizes, imprinted with logos and slogans, emblazoned with words of gratitude and smiling yellow moons and tiny red targets in six rows of four, found their way to the ten foot Cyclone that girdled the Middlesex County dump. The bags, amassed and pressed flat against the flimsy chain link, prevented the winter wind from flowing through it, resulting in increased resistance and, eventually, a knocked down fence. It was cheaper, Public Works had decided, to have someone walk the perimeter once a week and remove the bags, than to make repeated repairs. That’s where I came in. It was the only job I had managed to get since my release from a jail owned and run by the same county that oversaw the dump. I’d been briefly confined for selling a bump to an undercover at the bar where I had bounced. A Regular named Chuckie. Or Upchuckie as he was known. On account of the fact that his face looked like it had been hurled up in doughy, ruddy sploosh by his thick, horse-like neck. The last thing Upchuckie looked like was a cop. But so be it. A cop he was.

It was six days before Christmas when Simon called. At 38, my step-brother Simon was four years older than me and a tenured Comp Lit professor at NYU. We hadn’t spoken in three years. We weren’t close. Simon and me. Not that I didn’t want to be. Since the very day my mother and I moved into the semi-detached he and his father shared in Edison, NJ, I had loved, admired and glorified Simon. In fact, for six months thirty years ago we had shared a common obsession I had hoped would lead to a permanent alliance. It did not. It was the winter of 1982 when my brother and I first discovered The Sacred Writings. Two books the size of dictionaries housed in a cardboard slip case. I can’t remember who read which story first, but the silly coincidence of our addresses, we lived on a cratered wreck of a dead end street called Baker Boulevard, made us feel special, linked to its characters, and we read all 60 stories before spring. By summer I alone had started on the fourth and final novel, while my brother was lured away by a sturdy JV cheerleader named Gloria Scott with hair the color of dirt and red knees rubbed raw by the massive pyramid formations for which her squad was known and for which she invariably served, with her massive man back, as the bottom center stone. Simon quickly lost interest in Sherlock Holmes, and, as a consequence, me.

I realize now, it was the concert of Watson and Holmes, their brotherhood, coupled with my own interest in kindling such a connection with Simon, that I found so appealing. Ironically, I’ve never had a single companion of my own and have spent my entire life alone. Disinterested in female relations and unable to achieve any substantial male friendships, I’ve lived my life as a lone wolf, a rogue elephant, an odd man out. My brother, on the other hand, was neither attracted to this rather tender fraternal component of the canon, nor did he feel any desire to establish such an association with me and eventually our lives deviated in more drastic ways. Simon hopped onto the academic fast track, applying for early admission his junior year, leaving behind both me and Baker Boulevard, while my early literary exposure to opium and morphine embedded in me an interest in such things that finally took physical shape my senior year, when I put my first hole into the veiny underside of my ropey teenage arm. I drifted in and out of various migratory jobs: planting trees, picking fruit, detasseling corn, before settling in as the doorman for The Twisted Lip, one of the few full frontals in the state and arguably the finest twat and shot spot in all New Jersey. Then Upchuckie, the bag of toot, and jail. Now, of course, I work at the dump.

It was this winter, three decades ago, that was the subject of Simon’s phone call. Sort of. There was it seems, a thriving Sherlockian society on campus called the The Poor Folk Upon The Moor of which Simon, unbeknownst to me, was a member. He had since read the four novels, indeed had reread the 60 stories, and had subsequently written a respected monograph on Watson’s floating war wound which had apparently been awarded with publication and minor accolades. Simon stated all this in a dull, even voice, what I imagined was his classroom voice, but still provided no clue to why -- after three years, five days before Christmas, ten minutes past midnight -- he had decided to call. I certainly wasn’t foolish enough to think that Simon wanted to impress me with his Sherlockian homecoming, his return to The Sacred Writings. He did, however, want to meet. He would be in New Jersey visiting his father for the holiday (our parents had since divorced), and we agreed upon a Pizza Hut parking lot as the half way point between Baker Boulevard (where I no longer lived) and the mobile estate my mother owned in a respectable trailer park on route one. I have a plan, Simon said suddenly. To bleed dry The Poor Folk Upon The Moor. Then he hung up.

By Shinwell Porlock

To read the rest of The Poor Folk Upon The Moor, you must visit our website,, and purchase volume one of The Raconteur Reader.

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