Scooby-Dooby-Doo, Where Are You? (R)

MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR

 

If those who refer to themselves as “critics” are to be believed, I am supposedly a novelist of some “labyrinthine genius” who takes “devilish delight in morbidly over-wrought plots etched in blood and forensic detail” and who could benefit from “intensive roto-rootering of her deliciously twisted psyche.” I love that one. I’ll leave it up to you, dear reader, to concur with or disclaim this quick-sketch portrait of yours truly. Myself, for every paragraph I’ve crafted around little old ladies ground into Italian sausage or vacuum cleaners being emptied to reveal anonymous severed genitalia clogging up the works, I still see myself as that near-blind mouse of a girl in orange turtleneck sweaters who spent too many hours with unresolved sexual confusion and the Late Late Show.

I guess the very first story, the first that suggested the path I would follow and the unrefined skills I would use to find my way, came after greasy truck-stop food. Yep, blame an entire career of nefarious fiction on road-worn bore­dom and the chicken fried steak in Bugscuffle, Tennessee.

It’s not that he was particularly ugly. His face had the hook and hard angles of a character actor from a ’30s melodrama and the gaunt, sunken cheeks and spidery eyebrows of a Dickens villain. Indeed, in retrospect, I realize that my early habit of casting random passers-by in my stories by the most superficial summation of their physical presences was kind of a throwback to Victorian fiction and its use of anatomical stereotypes as a shortcut to characterization. It’s not that he was particularly ugly, but, well, he just looked like a bad guy. And he was the sloppiest eater of soup I’ve ever seen.

This older gentleman was sitting two tables away from us at The Axle Stop dressed in a shiny gray suit that was probably worn out of the store (and every day since) in 1953. The local realtor, maybe, or funeral-home director. He was lost in a world of flashing pewter spoons and lumpy vegetable soup. He was all birdish move­ments and necktie stains, but he inspired me onto a flight of pot-fuelled, chicken-fried-steak-fed high whimsy.

“See that old guy over there?” I started, indicating my target with a french fry.

They swiveled, fixed him, and nodded.

“That’s Mr. Jenkins. He’s a swell old guy, much beloved, and he also owns the fairgrounds just outside of town.”

“Hey, yeah?” Shaggy bobbed along with it while Fred quizzed, “How do you know? You’ve never been here before.”

Daphne just rolled her eyes at her boyfriend’s thickness.

I let it come. “And what a place. It stopped being home to fun and laughter long ago. The Tilt-A-Whirl is still, the carousel is gray and dusty, the framework of the roller coaster is just a skeletal shadow against the sky. It’s no wonder so many of the locals believe the place is haunted….”

And I had them. Even Fred stopped moving the mashed pota­toes around on his plate and listened while I told the tale of four strangely familiar young adults traveling the country in a floral green van with a big, clumsy, grinning Great Dane, who just needed some­where to stay for the night. Hey, how about those old, abandoned fairgrounds?

Many chills and spills followed as I layered my story with enough red herrings to choke a walrus, twists and turns stacking up like junk from a Mary Roberts Rinehart garage sale. A spectral figure stepping from the shadows of a decaying Fun House, nothing but a swirling cloak and a pair of burning eyes – the Phantom of Bedford County! There were chases and pratfalls and cheap comedy at the expense of Shaggy and his canine counterpart. While I cast Fred, Daphne, and myself in somewhat true, if broader, versions of our­selves, I got quite a chuckle out of making Shag and Scoob into the jittery cowards of the bunch. For someone as chemically mellow as Norville Rogers this was a stretch indeed. The closest I’d ever seen Shaggy get to real fear was the occasional burst of manic paranoia he was subject to whenever we were pulled over by the cops (which in the South seemed to be once every fifteen minutes). But even then Shaggy was a master thespian and an absolute genius at stash con­cealment. We, by the grace of a very groovy God, never got busted. Not once.

Over at the counter, getting steady refills on their coffee and trading dirty jokes with the waitress, were two state troopers who, bim bam allakazaam, became Officers Thomerson and Hicks, the skeptical lawmen who refused the wild stories of our intrepid sleuths as a bunch of hysterical, drug-induced nonsense. They knew the real reason behind the disturbances at the fairgrounds; they had their eyes on none other than Mr. Jenkins’ no-good, fuck-up nephew Carl (who came to life courtesy of the rough-looking young trucker who’d wandered in at just the right moment). Seems Carl had recently been released from prison after a 3-year sentence for trying to torch his uncle’s park. If anyone was out to ruin old Mr. Jenkins, it would be his shifty firebug nephew.

But what about the Phantom’s footprints? They were clearly somewhat dainty 8 ½s, while Carl Jenkins boasted size-11 boots. And what of the mysterious lights from the Fun House in the dead of night? And the unmarked trucks parked out back that seemed to vanish with the dawn?

It all led to a trap laid by our four free-wheeling amateur detec­tives, a showdown in the Fun House’s hall of mirrors. With Scooby-Doo’s alert nose as their secret weapon, they let the dog take them right to the man in the cloak and ghoulish mask. When the lights came up the kids were able to turn over the Phantom to officers Thomerson and Hicks who were dumbfounded when the mysterious spook was revealed to be –

“Hey! It’s Old Man Jenkins!”

At which point Carl Jenkins stepped out from behind the control panel where it was he who threw the lights on at our – I mean the kids’ – cue. With his help, the character who was very much like myself laid out the plot of kindly Mr. Jenkins’ years-old drug manu­facturing and smuggling operation based right there in the park.

Carl had himself suspected something was afoot when he found himself framed for the fire that his uncle had actually set. Appearing as a poor old man forced to shut down his wonderful fairgrounds, Jenkins had concocted the Phantom ruse to scare off any thrill-seeking locals who might stumble across his actual reasons for keeping the park empty.

“And I would’ve kept right on getting away with it too,” spat Old Man Jenkins, “if it hadn’t been for you kids and that meddling mutt of yours!”

Okay, it was simple and silly, but it was a fun way to cap off a lunch in ol’ Dixieland. We were still chuckling about it and debating some of the finer points of the plot as we exited the Axle Stop to find Scoob waiting patiently just outside the door, more interested in our leftovers than in whatever it was we were laughing about.

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