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LETTER FROM THE HORSE LATITUDES ICW. Smith DAD, YOUR VISIT and our agonized parting have stirred up things I'd long since hoped were still for good. Your every gesture spoke a need to ask how I came to be who and where I am. Yet I can remember you as a fugitive. Garner State Park, Texas. We heard on the car radio the police were after you. I was eleven, thrilled to be in the company of a criminal. You who obey all laws great and small, you were deaf to the voice of Authority, fleeing the scene while Mother urged you to turn yourself in. You were (are) a lean man gnawed with American worry, quenching the fire in your gut with buttermilk and Bach, a virtuoso on your major talent—joking your way clear of painful situations. "Calling all cars!" you boomed. I laughed uproariously, delighted. "Who was that masked man?" My flattopped head was stuffed with what we left behind; some of those images lingered there for these many years, counting up to this afternoon. No doubt a first for you, being pursued by the police. I recall when you became Scoutmaster for Troop #108, which met in the basement of the First Methodist church on Tuesday nights. We were uneasy about the change; to meetings your predecessor had worn the suit he sold life insurance in, but you donned, of all things, a Scoutmaster's uniform, that crap-brown adult version of our own, complete with hat and kerchief. You didn't relate to us very well. I was tormented that you were much too earnest, when I knew you privately to be a joker. Your religious air was deadly, deadly to our spirits. You never cursed, though this was consistent with your behavior at home. Your predecessor ribbed us about the lines in the Manual which counseled us to sleep with our hands above the covers, not to lie abed in the mornings, and to take cold showers when we felt "restless." He taught us the expression "loping your mule." We liked him; he knew who we were. But you, you seemed oblivious to this side of our nature. At camp you strolled about at night leaving fruity wisps of pipe tobacco hanging in the air as you oversaw everything with the myopia we have in common, the least of many flaws that bind 26S · The Missouri Review us. What's going on in the tents of the Phantom Buffalo Patrol is better left unacknowledged. Tonight, we "Phantom Butt-holes," as we're known, are trying to live down our name in a marathon farting contest. After lights are out and you've retired, we scoot out in the dark to other tents, stumbling onto cornhole orgies, barging in where the victor of a circle-jerk is sweeping up his winnings. The Explorers smoke Luckies on the sly, talk about getting your finger in it, heady stuff to we Phantom Butt-holes. Behind the law, life goes on. A dangerous freedom crackles in the air, but you are asleep already. It's not likely you've forgotten how proud I did you on the rifle range, but let me tell you why: for one, I take instruction exceedingly well; for another, what I saw in the targets helped. The scoutmasters gathered just behind me on the firing line talked about Korea, where things hadn't gone well since "Frozen Chosin." I was paying close attention, having filled two scrapbooks with AP Wirephotos and traced undulations of the battlelines on a map. Although I was only twelve, I'd heard Mother wish that the war would be over before I got older. She had good reason to fear: my secret ambition was to be the next Audie Murphy. Gradually, the conversation turned on the axis of collective guilt, and you all began trading credentials from the Big One. Last in line, you chuckled and told these bombardiers and dogfaces about your draft-exempt job in the oil fields, how with the "Home Guard" you went to the beaches to drill by tossing beer cans filled with sand into the surf, and the closest your unit...


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pp. 168-187
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