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“Look happy!” Cleo Cliffords knelt down. He pointed the Brownie at little Raymond and Sadie. They looked happy, because they were happy. They played all the time and giggled and really liked each other. It was the one lucky thing in Cleo’s life — his kids were ignorant.
“There’s going to be a scientist who finds out how to get to the moon, but he’s not going to find out happiness. It’s not science.” – Pat Lanegan, Fiftyfold It Comes In: Putting Yourself Out There!
Cleo Cliffords sold things. Or, as he liked to quote Pat Lanegan, he formed relationships with people and they communicated with goods. Cliffords was well-liked. He had been at several outfits and did well at all of them. Set record sales at most of them. But he’d get bored. He’d figure out how to sell what they wanted him to sell: insurance, carts, sock garters, cigarette papers, whatever. Then he’d feel he had mastered it and move on. Pat Lanegan, inspirer and the “back-of-the-mind disciplinarian,” said, “Masters make masterpieces; then they move on to other masterpieces. Sitting still is for the infirm.” Cliffords wouldn’t say it like that to the supervisors like that. No sir. That’d sound arrogant. He’d approach them like this.
“Mr. Peabody, may I have a word with you?”
“Yes, Cliffords. I just saw your sales for this period. Superb business! You’ve broken the record!”
“Oh, thank you, but really it was your end that made it easy. You know what? I just tell them what comes naturally to anyone who sees this….” Cliffords would then deliver his spiel that of course did not come naturally. It would be a systemic and broken-down and refined in every step along the way, speech with well-timed inflections, cadences and pauses. He’d complete the deal with hand gestures specifically designed to appeal to what Lanegan called the “back of the mind,” but psychologists would say subconscious and usually a chart or two that looked plain, but had words boldfaced that formed thoughts in the vendees’ minds, welcome or not.
The boss would always at the end of these “Frame-ous Playlets” grin widely and dumbly. They had been sold on the product they were trying to sell to others in the first place. What Cliffords had just told them seemed to come naturally and would of course be replicable in the other salesmen out their on their routes. The thought would come to their mind, “Why am I not selling more? I’ve got the best product on the market! A meeting with all is due.” Cliffords would then say, “I truly appreciate the opportunity, Mr. Peabody, but I feel I need a challenge. If I can’t be a shareholder in your company and profit when this product becomes the biggest thing since Gone With The Wind, I might as well go somewhere where the company needs a man to be, uh, “creative” to sell the goods.” He would then wink at the boss who would be so full of joy on how great his product was and how it sold itself, he’d shake Cliffords’s hand and say, “Oh, I understand. Good luck to you, sir. I will write a letter for you if need be,” usher him out of the door and turn back thinking back on what Cliffords had just said and how rich he’d be.
“A system is a ladder. A ladder to get you up above. I just built a great ladder for you!” – Patrick Lanegan, Laneganics
Pat Lanegan was a baseball player. He played around the turn-of-the-century and had a reputation as a smart, tough player. He pitched southpaw and had a windup that would see him arch his back and stick his chin straight up to Polaris. He’d hover there, mustache ruffling in the wind and stare at the sky as if he were having a conversation with a stern authority figure hovering ten feet above him. He’d then deliver the pitch with his arm going way in the motion before his body sprung up to catch up with it. It looked like a hay baler whose parts weren’t timed for each other.
Opposing crowds responded to his innovative approach with hoots and catcalls. They’d fly kites with filthy messages above the mound in his windup’s eyeshot. But no one could deny the beauty of his curved ball. Or the speed of the heater. Alas for him, no one could deny it was frighteningly easy to steal bases when he was on the mound. It just took one person to get on base, easily steal to third and then get batted in on a sacrifice fly. Nevertheless, he was loved and journalists always looked towards him for quotes. And his quotes got around. In fact, Heywood Broun compiled some for a column and quite a few people, including Cleo Cliffords, cut that column out and hung it up on their walls for inspiration.
It was around that time Pat Lanegan retired from baseball and began a lecture tour touting his new book Laneganics. It was a wild compendium of homilies, advice, experiences and even explanations of the divinity that were rather novel. Cleo Cliffords loved it. He took them to heart and they worked for him. After seeing Lanegan lecture in a neighboring town and shaking his hand afterwards, Cliffords was committed to Laneganics, even the spiritual stuff he didn’t get. But it didn’t help him with Alma.
Alma Fullsail was five years Cleo’s junior and lived on a dirt farm in Denver, Oklahoma (now under a manmade lake within Norman city limits). One summer day, Cliffords had swung south on a route to sell insurance to farmers. He talked to Alma’s father that day. Sold a small policy to the stubborn man thanks to Laneganics. Listened to him complain about the soil on his farm for 20 minutes. Cleo didn’t want to point out that his farm was acquired free land Alma’s grandfather got in the land run of 1889 and his grandfather got what he paid for, but he listened and empathized. Cleo saw Alma on his way out of the gate leading to the Fullsail property.
Alma was tall, thin and had striking features. Her eyes were big old things and her hair fell naturally on her shoulders in a way so perfect it had to be an accident. She looked at Cleo walking away in silence.
Cleo turned around and smiled. Lanegan said, “A smile is a crowbar on jammed metal.” He waved and applying principle 2 of Laneganics – get the other one talking, asked her, “You must be the young Fullsail. Do you like it out here?”
Alma looked at Cleo in puzzlement. She considered the question. She looked around the farm. The barn, the chickens, the fences, her dirty hands. She shook her head no.
Cliffords grinned. She may not have talked which was a warning sign in Laneganics, but God, she was beautiful and her no meant she wanted something else.
Cleo took another look at her. He could not remember seeing anyone as captivating as Alma Fullsail. He remembered a snippet of Pat Lanegan’s lecture, “The beauty of beauty is you can have it. You just make it want you.” Cleo smiled at Alma. Made eye contact. Put his palms outward just as Laneganics advised it.
“I don’t know your first name yet. Don’t know how old you are, but guessing, what 19? What, I’m right? And you don’t know me. The usual thing would be me to ask you to a picnic. But I can tell you do not want that. You want to see the world outside this farm, right?” Alma barely nodded her head. “I could ask your father for your hand in marriage now and we could learn to love each other. And you could be off this farm forever right now.”
Cleo shocked himself. He didn’t know he was going to say that until it came out of his mouth. He was planning to ask her to a picnic. It really must be love. Alma’s facial expression did not exchange. She stared at him up and down. She looked around. A chicken huddled in the dirt plucking out its own feathers while squawking.
“Let’s talk to my father.”
“My ideas and rules aren’t just for the business meeting. They can help you create a little Heaven on Earth!”
Patrick Lanegan, Smiles All The Whiles (pamphlet)
The marriage happened. Alma proved to be a good wife. A little quiet, but she kept their new tract 3 bedroom house clean. They had their two kids, Raymond and Sadie. Alma named them. Cleo wanted to name their boy Patrick (of course), but she named him Raymond after her father. He told Cleo when their daughter was born he wanted to name her Patricia, but Alma glared at him in the hospital. “Her name is Sadie.”
Things were sometimes rough at the house. Alma would not speak to Cleo for days. Would just sigh. Cleo suggested doctors about what he called her condition. She’d look at him with a contemptuous sneer.
Oh, the looks! Good man Lanegan addressed that in Laneganics too. “A dirty look is just being goshdarned dirty scared. The mark of fear that you can connect with them.” This confounded Cleo. This was his wife. They had two kids. Lived together and spent hours upon hours together and she’d still regard him as a stranger coming for her soul.
He tried everything. Went to the church she wanted (Primitive Baptist was her father’s church and the closest one of that denomination to their neighborhood was a town over. They went a few Sundays. He’d stare at her watching the sermons. She had the same look at the preacher as she did with him when talking about his sales routes. One Sunday, she got dressed for church, but at the last second told Cleo, “I do not to want to go to that church. Let us go out of this city and let the children run in the woods.”) Got her a maid every Tuesday to help with the chores. Took her on the town on Fridays (though she would not dance; only would have one rum and Coca Cola, and picked at any food she didn’t have before). Got her involved with women’s clubs he’d heard of. But she just seemed to hold a pain in her. Or maybe it was a strength. He changed his mind on what it was all the time.
He was eating his Salisbury steak and spinach one night. He at least appreciated she cooked all right. Raymond and Sadie were eating their dessert, cake – the lucky kids, Cleo hadn’t seen a cake until he was thirteen. Cleo ran late from the route he was on and Alma’s hard unspoken rule was food was set at 6 o’clock. So he was behind a course from the kids who were giggling and singing at each other. It made Cleo happy. Sadie said something especially cute and Cleo looked up at Alma to see if she heard it.
Alma was looking out the window over the sink. This was not unusual. He’d see her do that often. He walked over and stood behind her. He looked out the window too. “What are you looking at, Alma?”
Quietly, she said, “The pine trees are beautiful.” She walked away to grab the kids’ dishes from the table, but not before he saw the tears in her eyes.
“If you don’t clinch the sale, ask yourself, “Where did I fail the system?”
Patrick Lanegan Fiftyfold It Comes In: Putting Yourself Out There!
“You’re a wonderful man, Don. I wish you’d write down some of your thoughts. You’d make money and the world would be a better place.” Cleo signed the deed and handed the pen back to Don Size, a pale pie-faced empty grinner in a suit that he’d never wear well.
“Thanks, Mr. Cliffords. I just might do that.” He leaned back and Cleo could see the gears turning in his head, him, Don Size writing a book! What a great idea! This Cleo Cliffords was a good man. Of course, Cleo left out that he thought the world would be a better place if everybody wrote down his thoughts. Just so people of the future could study them and put this world in context. Don, the realtor in this small town at the foot of a small mountain in southeastern Oklahoma, had just sold him a cabin with screened in porch for 25% off the asking price. It was so cheap Cleo bought it outright with his second savings account, what Patrick Lanegan called “Doesn’t Have To Be A Dream account.”
Cleo liked the house all right, but thought this might open Alma up. Her moods were even worse in the last month. He got a call from Raymond’s kindergarten teacher last Wednesday. Raymond had had an accident and she saw he wasn’t wearing underwear and Mrs. Cliffords did not answer her phone. Could you pick him up? He got to the school. Poor Raymond was embarrassed in his wet pants. He got home and the door was open. Alma was lying on the bed curled up. He sent Raymond to his room to clean up.
“Alma! For Pete’s sakes! Raymond wasn’t wearing any underwear! What is going on!” Alma rolled over. Those big eyes of hers had a flash of vulnerability he had not seen before.
“I don’t know, Cleo. I’m trying.”
“Oh, Alma. Why not go to Dr. Brown? It did wonders for Bonnie Anderson!” Alma paused, then grimaced and shook her head. Cleo sighed. Laneganics didn’t prepare him for this.
“I have to go back to work. Be sweet to Raymond. The kid feels humiliated.” He went to the living room and came back.
“Here.” He threw a copy of Laneganics on the bed. “I know I’ve suggested it before. But I beg you to read this. It will help.”’
“You can find something in everybody to compliment. Everybody has a light in them that you can acknowledge. And that acknowledgement will give you a power that sends you on up that ladder.”
Patrick Lanegan Ruling From The Kindness Throne
Cleo clutched the key to the vacation house in his hand while steering the Nash down the last stretch of residential street to home. Analyzing the factors in front of him, he wondered if he’d ever finish his Great Project. Laneganics describes the Great Project as the one thing in a person’s life that had so many factors that it seemed to elude and disprove your beliefs, your systems. “When you beat the Great Project, you feel exalted. And you’re ready to teach others and thrill to when they beat their Great Project.” Don knew years ago Alma was his Great Project. He knew this house among the pines would be her great refuge. Would this be the final block to making her happy?
When he turned into the driveway, Raymond and Sadie were playing in the front yard. He got out and they ran to him. What great kids. He handed them some fried pies he picked up at a stand near their new vacation spot. They oohed and dug into them. “Where’s your mom?” They shrugged and went back to slurping on the apricot filling of their pies.
He walked into the house. “Alma?” No answer. He went back to their bedroom. She would be there laying down on their bed. The bed was empty.
His copy of Laneganics lay on the foot of the bed. He looked down at it and saw Alma’s handwriting forcefully written over the title.
YOU TRICKED ME. YOU WERE ALWAYS TRICKING ME.
His knees buckled a little. He picked it up. She had dog eared parts and circled several of Lanegan’s principles and thoughts. She had written by all of them SEE? SEE?
Her closet door was open. It was empty.
“I’m a simple man. I just opened my heart and all this stuff came barreling down from the skies on me.”
Patrick Lanegan Laneganics
They sang songs all the way up to Lake Wesatsa. The kids asked about their mom a few times. He just said Grandpa was sick and she had to take care of him. He clutched the wheel and went through the coping steps Lanegan prescribed when a sale turned bad. He was trying to distance himself from it and analyze it like a Ghost Editor. His eyes watered. It was worthless. He just sang along with the kids as best as he could.
They pulled into the dirt driveway. “This is yours!” The kids ran out and after each other. Cleo looked behind him down the road, halfway expecting Alma to be running towards this place away from where they’d been. A place where they could sit on a porch and just chat. He looked at his address book under F and saw the entry for Fullsail Farm. Was she there? What did she want? Where else could she go? He had no idea at all.
He looked at the stump to the side of the house. Why was this one felled? He went and grabbed Raymond and then Sadie and set them on the stump. He wanted her to know that he was fine.
“Look happy!” Cleo Cliffords knelt down. He pointed the Brownie at little Raymond and Sadie.
About The Author:
Wampus has been on game shows. His vanity project of a book Amber Sunshine, Amber Waters will be finished and released at some point in time (weather permitting).
The Imaginary Family Project on Facebook
About The Imaginary Family Project:
The 2011 Imaginary Family Project is a year-long collective art endeavor coordinated by occasional amateur artist Quentin Bomgardner and co-sponsored by The Red Dirt Chronicles. This project is based around “lost” vintage photographs, which have been acquired at flea markets, garage sales, estate sales, and eBay – heirloom collections, with no heir. Every week a different author will “find” one photograph by creating an imagined history around one of its subjects. At the end of the year, the collection will be compiled and presented as a group.
8 thoughts on “The 2011 Imaginary Family Project – Week 49”
I’ll confess that I have not read those economic/capitalist/self-help gurus. But what your piece does is distill a pervading deadness of the 50’s optimism in the wake of WWII that was a foundation of survival for men and women. Revolutionary Road. Relationships in our parent’s generation truly sucked. OK, I don’t really know whereof I speak and I only suppose a post war connection. In any case, your story was resonant, redolent, and reminiscent of that psychological era in US history. Very evocative.
Great piece! I enjoyed the structure and the interplay between story, the internal lives of the characters, and a- [n imaginary – yes, I googled Patrick Lanegan] Dale Carengie-like guru. The story shows depth and sensitivity. Nice details too (“a suit he’d never wear well”, “A chicken huddled in the dirt plucking out its own feathers”). A pleasure to read.
Odette, Laneganics is influenced by Lawsonomy, a movement by Alfred Lawson (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Lawson) that I read about in a clearance bin book I took a chance on called Zig-Zag-and-Swirl (http://www.amazon.com/Zig-Zag-Swirl-Alfred-Lawsons-Greatness/dp/0877453128) as well as Dale Carnegie’s principles.
I immediately went to D. Carnegie in my head when reading the fiction principles. Brava!
Oh – my tender heart!
Wampus, the effort you put into this Imaginary Family Project entry was truly telling of a beautiful spirit and talent. Thanks for the work you did because it has now been shared with the readers. For that, I’m grateful.
All the best on your vanity project…RDK
Excellent story, sir!
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