Name Calling at the Tall Tales Tavern

What a heavy burden is a name that has become too famous.” -Voltaire

**********

Public Domain in the US (created prior to 1923)

Public Domain in the US (created prior to 1923)

The Briar Patch was undergoing yet another normal day. Well, normal for the clientele. Sitting at the bar was Little Miss Muffet. She sat with her curds and protein whey, keeping an eye on her spoon. The last time she had dined at the tavern the spoon had smooth-talked the dish into running off with it; complete with Muffet’s dinner. Still, Muffet never felt that she could complain because Br’er Rabbit stocked curds and left it on the menu just for her.

Br’er Rabbit sniffed the air, noted its perfect balance of wood, beer, and that undefinable “old” quality. Across the room a dog stood up on a chair, its hind legs standing on the seat while the front paws rested firmly on the tabletop. The dog had been growling at its cup of water for over half an hour. The dog was convinced that the mongrel that stared back at him from the glass was the same mutt that had stolen his bone when they had last met at a lone pond. But as Br’er looked on from behind the bar, one eyebrow raised; all he saw was a crazy canine snarling at its reflection. Br’er grabbed a carrot from under the counter, knowing that neither of the patrons was likely to order more anytime soon.

Just then, the heavy wood door swung open and an unmistakable figure shuffled hurriedly in the door. His short and gnarly legs struggled to keep up with his temper. The little fellow was hardly any bigger than the stools that were scattered along the bar. Br’er Rabbit sighed and waved the arrival closer.

“Alright Rumpelstiltskin. I can see that you’re wound up about something. Let’s remember the last time you were this antsy, okay? I had to have Geppetto come in and patch that hole in the floor. There’ll be no stomping your foot today.”

“Yes, yes; fine”, Rumpelstiltskin replied. He pulled of his long cap and held it by the balled-top as he took in the tavern. “Have you seen a woman looking for me?”

Br’er turned his head to one side and considered the question. “Do you mean a human woman?” The idea of a non-grotesque creature making a date with this odd little man was a hard tidbit for Br’er to swallow.

“Oh shut your furry yap. Have you seen one or not?”

“No, not unless you’re here for Miss Muffet. I kind of think you’d scare her worse than that spider ever did, though.”

“Next time you come out from behind that counter; remind me to stomp on those big feet of yours. I’m going to wait at that table over there.”

Br’er started to shout that customers in his establishment usually ordered something, but he then realized that would involve greater effort than he was willing to dole out. He had his carrot, the place had plenty of open seats; why raise a fuss. Also, Rumpelstiltskin had chosen the darkest seat that he could have, the corner table by the entrance; the one that often gets a customer hit by the door opening if they scoot their chair back too far.

For the next ten or so minutes things continued as they had. The dog stopped growling at its glass for a moment. Br’er was beginning to think that maybe the crazy pooch had finally figured it out. But then the growling came back, now with intermittent pauses. Br’er listened and after a bit, figured it out. The dog had the hiccups. He didn’t think it was possible for the growling to have gotten any more annoying. But, in one of those rare moments, the rabbit had been proven wrong.

Slowly, almost perceptibly, a new noise echoed through the tavern. Br’er lifted his ears to their full height and tuned them in. Sure enough, the new thump thump thump sound was coming from the corner. Br’er looked to Rumpelstiltskin and saw him tapping his foot impatiently.

“What did I say about stomping?”

“I wasn’t stomping, I was tapping. A guy can’t have a nervous tick anymore?”

“How about you control your feet, unless you want to crush some grapes for me?”

“I’m waiting for the woman”, he replied in a clearly irritated tone.

“I mean, you’d have to take your shoes off”, the bartender said as he scratched under his furry chin with one ear and looked at Rumpelstiltskin’s feet.

“Not now. I’m busy”, he growled.

“And let’s be honest, you’d have to wash your feet first. I can smell those things from here.”

“Listen Br’er, if you don’t ease off—“

“I can’t exactly have whatever it is growing between your toes as part of my wine. Although, it might add a certain flavor.”

“Look—“

“Help me out here, would you describe the stench of your feet as pairing well with fish? Or maybe there’s a cedar-y or oak-y smell we could sell to the rubes?”

The door opened, ending Br’er’s taunting inquiries. In walked a woman with a traveling cloak. She doffed the hood, letting her auburn hair breathe in the atmosphere. Standing in the middle of the room, she exuded a confidence that showed she was entirely comfortable in this place that she’d never before set foot in. She looked around and took everyone’s measure, even the tar baby display near the back. The woman finished her surveillance sweep by turning slowly to examine the area behind her. As soon as she saw Rumpelstiltskin, she started towards him.

“Rumpelstiltskin, I take it”, she said as she removed her cloak and draped it over her arm. She looked at the seat in front of her and was less than pleased. Removing a few napkins from the middle of the table, she unfolded them placed them on the seat, and nodded in satisfaction. She made a move to lay her cloak over the back of the chair, but changed her mind. The woman sat down, her cloak folded neatly in her lap.

“You the one I’m supposed to meet?”

“It would appear so”, she said. “Why don’t you call me Lizzie?”

“What sort of name is Lizzie?”

“It’s one that’ll do”, Lizzie replied; “at least for today.”

“Wait, haven’t I heard of you?”

“I rather doubt that”, Lizzie replied.

“No, I have. That Mother Goose lady told me all about you.”

Lizzie groaned. “You know that old busybody? She really does love to share everyone’s stories, doesn’t she?”

“Yeah”, Rumpelstiltskin said, becoming more confident. “I’m sure of it now. I remember.

‘Elizabeth, Elspeth, Betsy, and Bess,

They all went together to seek a bird’s nest;

They found a bird’s nest with five eggs in,

They all took one and left four in.’

That’s you, ain’t it?”

“In the flesh”, Lizzie replied. “Let’s not spread that around, hmm? After all, a lady must have her secrets.”

“Well why didn’t you take all the eggs? Why only make off with one?”

“You don’t get it, do you little gnome? Stealing all the eggs would have been thievery. And the knights around here simply adore punishing thieves. However, if only one egg disappears? Why, no thief would leave all those eggs behind. One egg missing is a miscalculation; a misunderstanding. Even if they had caught me, no one would press charges against me for a misunderstanding.”

“I guess that makes sense”, Rumpelstiltskin admitted.

“What you should really focus on are all the names. Who would be the main culprit? Who’s the master thief and who are the accomplices? That’s where I really shine; identities. No one can catch you if they don’t know who they’re looking for.”

“That’s what I wanted to hear. I don’t want anybody to know who I am.”

“Yes, that whole miller’s-daughter affair.”

rumpelstiltskin-anne-aderson“Yeah”, the little fellow said with a growl. “Somebody must have snitched, that’s all I can think. I didn’t think anybody knew my name outside of this turf. One of these days I’m going to find out who talked and they’re going to answer to me”, Rumpelstiltskin said as he punctuated his point by pounding the table with his fist.

“Hey!”

Rumpelstiltskin and Lizzie turned towards Br’er Rabbit.

“What’d I tell you about stomping?”

“That wasn’t a stomp, ya oversized keychain. That was a punch. Like my fist’ll do to you if ya don’t ease off.”

“You keep telling yourself that”, Br’er replied. The rabbit was quite confident that his powerful legs would be more than a match for Rumpelstiltskin, but he’d give the little man one last outburst before he tossed him out. He almost felt sorry for the insufferable grouch. Almost. Not to mention it was almost time for The Titans to come in for their weekly Brag-a-Bout Beerfest Gathering. Any of those powerful figures would happily smite Rumpelstiltskin for free. Br’er thought he might have to offer them a few dishes of dragonwings (served extra spicy) and barbeque sauce, but that would only be to show his gratitude. Br’er looked back at Rumpelstiltskin and smiled, his front teeth showing even more than usual.

“So”, Rumpelstiltskin continued. “What sort of proof can you offer? Word is that your services are a little pricey.”

“That’s because I’m the best. I can’t really discuss my previous clients in too much detail. It isn’t likely that I’d have you meet with them. However, I can offer up some samplings of truth.”

“Like?”

“Surely you’ve heard of Prince Charming.”

“Yeah, I guess. Not really in my crowd though. Word is he’s one of them high-falutin’ types.”

“Have you seen him lately?”

“No. But he’s gotta be around.”

“Really? When was the last time you heard a maiden say, “I’ve found Prince Charming.” Or, “Isn’t he just the best; a regular Prince Charming!”

“Not recently, but I don’t see your point.”

“If you did venture out into such circles, you would find that Prince Charming is no more. I have taken care of him.”

“Where’s the ol’ prince at now?”

Aerial_Hollywood_Sign“Oh, we set him up in Hollywood. He makes a killing with each movie.”

“Wait, you gave him a new identity but let him be famous?”

“Plastic surgery does wonders. I highly recommend it if you’re open to the idea.”

“Sounds painful.”

“It’s worth it. Charming found it worked great for escaping all those women that kept looking for him. Now he’s only hounded by the agents and media. Much less emotional mess involved.”

“Okay, fine. You got one guy off the hook. Where’s that get me?”

“What are you looking for? That’s the question, isn’t it? You obviously don’t need money. Apparently you can create gold whenever you like. This, by the way, is the only reason I agreed to meet. In addition, it is the only reason I allowed for a conversation in this… place.”

Br’er Rabbit overhead the comment but said nothing. That Lizzie person had essentially called his fine establishment a hole in the wall. And not the good kind. Maybe he’d toss in plenty of beer nuts with those dragonwings; really get them in a party mood…

“I want respect”, Rumpelstiltskin answered.

“Respect? And your name is Rumpelstiltskin?”

“What’s wrong with that name? It’s the name my mother gave me.”

“Let’s break it down, shall we? Rumpel, or rumple means crumpled, crushed, or wrinkled. And often the Brits refer to a stilt as a cane. So really you’re a wrinkled man with wrinkled skin who walks funny. Why not just call yourself Uglyhobblesleg?”

“Yeah, well doesn’t ‘Elizabeth’ mean something about oaths and God? Why should I believe you when your name is all about promises and oaths and you’re all about deception and lies?”

“You’ve done some reading. I’m impressed.”

“Names are a specialty of mine. Besides, I’m older than I look.”

“Somehow I doubt that”, Lizzie said as she took in his drooping ears, long nose, and prune-like flesh. “Look, the thing is to create a name that is easy for you to remember but still different enough that nobody guesses it.”

“Exactly, that’s why I already have a name in mind. I only needed you to advise me, maybe move the paperwork along.”

“Uh huh. And what sort of identity change of greatness did you have in mind?”

“Festerskulklout.”

Lizzie thanked whoever was in charge up above that she hadn’t had a drink in her mouth to spit out. “I’m sorry…, what?”

“Festerskulklout. I think it has that certain amount of temerity to it while still feeling like that’s the name of a standup kinda guy. C’mon, tell me the name Festerskulklout won’t make the ladies swoon.”

“I’m sure it will have a very powerful effect on them, yes. Rumpelstiltskin, I’m the expert. Maybe you should hear my ideas. I was thinking Richard Stillman.”

“What?!?!” Rumpelstiltskin tried to leap onto the table in a rage, but his efforts produced only scrambling as he huffed and clamored to climb. “Hey now missy”, he said exhaling with frustration and sitting back down. “No one in my family has ever had two names. That’s…. well, that’s now how things are done. The idea is crazy. Who do you think you are?”

“That’s the brilliance of it. Who would ever suspect that you’d have such a name? Richard; or go by Dick if you still want to be an off-color little man, I don’t care. It’s a solid ID, easy to remember, and who’s going to guess it?”

“No. Not going to happen. Festerskulkabout or nothing.”

“Fine”, Lizzie said as she felt her forehead tighten. The dog growling at the other side of the room was not helping her newfound headache. She needed some encouragement to continue this consultation. “Tell me one thing though; you can make gold out of anything, right?”

“Oh sure. Gold, diamonds, opals, amethyst; whatever you want.”

“Okay”, Lizzie replied. “I’m going to go get a drink and we can work out the details.” She walked to the bar, feeling much less chipper than when she first entered The Briar Patch. This was going to be a very long day.

Tuesday at the Tall Tales Tavern

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Tuesday at the Tall Tales Tavern

There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern.”  -Samuel Johnson

If one travels out to the middle of the middle of the middle of the country, they’ll find a small little tavern.  It’s an easy enough tavern to miss, what with it being surrounded by dead ends, detours, and dirt roads.  However, if a person manages to find this tucked-away place, they can step right on inside.  There are no bouncers, no scary security creatures, just a place to cool off in the sun.

The Briar Patch came along quite a while ago.  Nobody can really recall when it started up, but everyone can agree that there was a time when it wasn’t there, and it’s certainly there now.  The place has always been run by a rabbit.  He’s a nice enough fellow, though apparently a little sketchy.  He’s as friendly a rabbit as you could ever hope to meet, but one always gets a feeling that he’s trying to pull a fast one.  In particular, there’s a display in the corner that causes people trouble.  Unsuspecting folks walk up to admire the tar baby and notice a sign that says, “Shake hands!”  Whenever someone does, they find their hands inescapably stuck.  The rabbit will let you out; for a fee.

Now, any shadiness from the owner can be attributed to part of the place’s charm.  The Briar Patch is a tavern that tends to attract a certain type of clientele.  On the walls there are items that the regulars have either donated or left behind.  There’re a few strands of hair from the tail of a husky blue cattle animal.  Looped in a circle around it is a broken shoelace donated by Casey the ball player.  And by far the most scandalous item is Slue-Foot Sue’s garter belt from when she married.  Various items are strewn about, but only the bartender knows where they all came from and who the original owners are.  If you ask nicely, he may just tell you all about them.

On a quiet day like the one they had last week; when the sagebrush rolled by so quietly that even the air itself was taken by surprise, the tavern had two massive visitors.  The owner keeps a special seat for extra-large customers and he brought it out when Paul Bunyan showed up.  Much to everyone’s surprise, it wasn’t five minutes later that John Henry came bustling in and saddled up to the bar.

Bunyan had his keg of the usual and pulled the top right off.  He looked just like a fella trying to enjoy a cool beer; if the beer were served in a wood can instead of an aluminum one, that is. Henry drank his beverage that was so cold that the countertop underneath his tankard started to frost over.  Bunyan looked down at Henry, they nodded at each other, and then the two went back to silently enjoying their drinks.  It was the owner-slash-barkeeper who got the conversation started.

“So, Bunyan”, he said as he twitched his whiskers and dried out an empty glass.  “What do you think of all these new vehicles coming in across the plains?  Must make the outdoor life kinda different for ya.”

“That’s the plain truth”, Bunyan replied.  “I miss running around in the wide open spaces with trees on the edge.  Now these towns are popping up and these steam engines are nothing but a nuisance.”

“Now wait just a minute” Henry said as he slammed down his drink.  “Are you saying bad things about railroads?”

“I think they’re a pain”, the giant replied.  “They’re always underfoot and they cost me my job.”

“How do you figure that”, Henry asked.

“My ox and I were doing just fine taking down trees.  But along comes this fancy city fella and his mechanical saw and locomotive with cars and I’m out of a job.”

“A man ain’t nuthin’ but a man”, Henry answered.  “He shouldn’t need nuthin’ but his own two hands to get work done.”

“You on the side of railroads?”

“I should say I am”, Henry replied proudly.  “Why, I’ll bet I had a hand in most every track that was laid within twenty counties of this place.  I work the tracks, I do my best, and I can’t think of nuthin’ better than to die with a hammer in my hand.”

“Well your tracks are making this country a lot harder for animals and country folk.  Do you know how many big blue oxen there are in the world after all your trains?  One.”

“I’m guessing that’s exactly how many oversized, frostbitten, slothful oxen there were before the railroads.  Really now, a giant blue ox?  Where does a man even find a critter that messed up?”

“Are you making fun of my best friend?”

“I’m commenting that a man should be making a living and supporting his wife, not running around outside causing a ruckus with a farm animal.  I work the land to get some acres and you’re complaining that I’m wrecking things for you.  I don’t see how you can raise a fuss about me ruining the land when you and your buddy are tearing things up pretty good.  Or are you going to tell me that wasn’t you that made a mountain range with your whooping and partying?”

“Are you gonna take that from that fella, Bunyan?”  The rabbit knew full well that he didn’t need to egg on the lumberjack.  Enormous men have enormous tempers, and Paul Bunyan was no exception.

“You’re making fun of me, Henry?  Why, I could do more work in a day than you could in a year.”

“Well seeing as how you’re using tree trunks as legs for your bar stool, I should certainly hope so.  Maybe you should try to fight less and work a little harder, ya big oaf.”

“Gentlemen, please!”  The rabbit raised his hands in protest.  “I have an idea.”  The rabbit looked up to Henry, then turned and looked up, up, and up some more to Bunyan.  “We both know that you fellas can swing axes and bring down hammers.  But what about drinking?  Surely there’s some fun to be had with that.  Plus, we won’t have a brawl on our hands.”

“Now that’s hardly fair”, Bunyan replied.  “I have a keg in my hands and he’s got his flimsy little tankard.  Why, I could fill that think up with one spit.”

“Sounds to me like the animal-lover is afraid of a challenge!”  Henry took his cup and threw it up at Bunyan until it bounced off of his knee.  “Don’t tell me that big ol’ Bunyan is afraid of someone actually standing up to you?  Or do you have some steaming pile of ox dung to go shovel?”

“I think we can make this fair for both parties”, the barkeep replied.  He hopped on the countertop, wiggled his fluffy tail, and let one of his ears drop down to stroke his chin as he worked things out.  “Now, you’re both big, burly men.  One of you, clearly, is a bit bigger.  So why don’t we take ratios in to our figurin’?  I’ll give Mr. Bunyan here a keg for every tankard I give Mr. Henry.  The loser pays for all the drinks.  What do ya say?”

“Are you sure the little man can cover all the beer I’m going to drink?”  The voice from up in the rafters boomed and echoed with mirth.

“Don’t you worry yourself about that”, Henry replied.  “You make sure you’ve got enough coins in your pocket.  I’ll put in the hard work; you just start thinking up excuses.”

The crowds started to gather as the drinking got more exciting.  The first dozen rounds were nothing special.  The twelve drinks after that were a bit ordinary.  Around the fifty-fifth drink, the bystanders were choosing sides.  Neither folk hero showed signs of slowing down.  The bartender kept going to the back for more drinks.  Word has it that the rabbit put in a call to Pecos Bill to dig out an extra river behind the tavern so he could float all the empty containers away.

The shouts and the wages were flying back and forth.  Women three states away were covering their youngin’s’ ears so that they wouldn’t hear the cussing and the boasting.  The contest was not fit for the faint of heart or the weak of liver.  Bunyan got off his seat around the seventy-second drink so that he could sit on the floor and stare Henry in the face.  The two kept at it.  Every chug of alcohol by one was met in kind.  Extra beer was dribbling down their cheeks, dousing their whiskered faces as the liquid streamed onto their chins.

The crowd had done their best to keep track of the drinks.  They started to chant.  “Ninety-two!  Ninety-three!”  Ninety-four!”  The two men started to slow down.  Their moves to lift their respective cups were starting to get sloppy.  “Ninety-eight!  Ninety-nine!”

By now both men were sitting on the floor.  They slurped and gulped.  Finally, as they took in drink number one hundred and eighth, it happened.  The two caught each other’s gaze.  They looked intently and menacingly at the other.  And they both burst out laughing.

They couldn’t control themselves anymore and they spewed out their beer in the others’ faces.  Henry got a wetter than Bunyan, but at that point the whole tavern was mostly covered in beer.  Henry laughed and slapped Bunyan on the back while Bunyan chuckled and patted Henry on the head.

“You’re a fine drinker, Mr. Henry”

“As are you Mr. Bunyan.”

“So”, the barkeeper interjected.  “Does that mean that the competition is over?  You men are declaring a draw?”

“That’s right”, John Henry said.

“We’re all done”, Paul Bunyan agreed.

“No winner can be declared?”  The rabbit asked this one last time, wanting to be sure.

Bunyan and Henry nodded in agreement.

“Then as the officiator of this contest, I declare that since neither of you has won, we have two losers.  Therefore, you both owe me for all the alcohol.”  The rabbit rubbed his paws together and let his buck teeth show in a grin.  “How would each of you like to pay off the tabs today?”

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