THE ODYSSEY AND THE IDIOT


  It was a sweet, spring, sun-drenched day on the farm - the
kind you only read about in books.  The sky swept unabated across
the flat horizon; a few whiffs of clouds floated lazily by.  High
grass in the field swayed gently in the breeze.  The field itself
teemed with a thousand worlds of life.  A spider repaired its
torn web.  A chrysalis freed butterfly flew aimlessly about.  The
chirping of baby birds provided music among a rare row of trees.
   For little Stevie, his world around him wasn't as miraculous as it
once was.  As a child of imagination, nature was a mystic and sacred
thing.  He knew not only there was more than met the eye - but
infinitely more.  Part of him absolutely believed bliss was his only
destiny and he wanted to share that feeling to all he met.  When he
saw a leaf, he saw a direct connection to his Maker.  All he wanted
to do was dream...
   But was that really practical?
   The question was a dark cloud to Stevie.  Life was getting a
little more complicated for the still naive farm boy.  He sat
unmoving on the wooden fence surrounding the field, this touch of
despondency gnawing at him.  Usually he was a happy and sunny child
but now he was searching.  Which way should he go: to follow his
imagination...or to do what was "practical".  He knew what he wanted
to do - but since when did that count for anything!
   "Is this all there is?" he sighed, the wind buffeting back his
hair.  "Nobody wants to have adventures anymore.  Nobody dreams
or wants to have fun.  The world is such a drag.  What am I doing
here, anyway?"
   The thought littered in his head.  "Hey, if I knew the answer
to that, it would solve everything!"
   He grew excited about this idea of finding The Answer.  He
could make it an adventure.  The excited boy jumped off the
fence.
   "I'll go ask Dad.  He has an answer for everything."
   All a dither, he tore across the field back towards the house. 
The spider was upset - his web ripped anew.
   Stevie spied his father and a long-time hand walking out of
the barn.  He paused to watch the wiry frame of his father who
always walked so urgently in his long, purposeful strides.  There
was much work to be done on the farm and he was not about to let
anything slip up.  That usually intimidated Stevie, who rarely
dared to interrupt.  But this was different.  He felt his father
would be pleased to enlighten his son.  He ran with all his might
to catch up.
   "Hi, Dad," said the boy brightly.
   His father continued his long strides.  "What is it, Stevie? 
I'm busy."
   "I was wanting to know something."
   "What would that be?"
   "Why are we here?"
   His father's footsteps ground to a halt.  Stevie captured his
breath.  "The reason we're here," sternly spoke the balding man,
"is to work.  If you did some more of it, you would know that. 
Does that answer your question?"
   Stevie could only wonder at the tone he heard.  He didn't
understand how he had upset his father.  The two working men
strode away to business.  Stevie could hear as they conferenced
among themselves.
   "Don't you think you were a bit hard on him?" pressed the old
hand.
   "Oh, yeah," replied Dad with a bit of sarcasm, "He's a real
hard irker that one."
   Stevie was hurt.  For though his father had said "worker" he
heard only "irker".  But then, his father always said stuff like
that.  Undaunted, he thought of his mother.  I should have gone
to her in the first place," he lamented. "She's lots easier to 
talk to."
   He slammed through the screen door to the house.  He found his
mother in the back ironing clothes.  She looked up when she saw
him.
   "Stevie, have you seen your father?  That leaky faucet is
driving me crazy."
   "Uh, no, Mom.  I just came in to ask you a question."  He paused
for a sign of possible retribution before continuing. "What are we
here for?"
   "You mean, why do we exist?"
   "Yes."
   "I don't have an answer to that, honey.  Maybe you should turn
to the Bible.  It has all the answers."
   "Where in the Bible should I look?"
   "I don't know specifically."
   "There must be some answer you know."
   "Sometimes it's best not to think about such things."
   Stevie studied the sleepy motions of the iron moving methodically
and efficiently over the shirt.  It was a silent little world into
which he peered.
   "I still don't understand."
   "All I can say," said the mildly flustered woman, "Is that you'll
just have to learn how to dope."
   He was disappointed be the answer, though acted pleased. "Okay,
Mom.  I'll see you later."
   "Don't forget to tell your father about the faucet," she reminded
the rushing boy.
   "I will."
   The screen door slammed again.
   Outside the house, Stevie felt cheated.  "I have the world's
dumbest parents," he muttered.  "What I need to do is get off
this rotten farm and into the real world.  There I can find an
answer."
   The dirt road leading to the highway caught his eye.  His
chores were done; he had nothing better to do - why not walk out
to the highway?  He wanted to be alone.
   He ambled along admiring the neatly planted rows of wheat.  He
made a game of stepping in and out of the tire ruts.  Before he
knew it, he stood at the edge of the smooth black ribbon leading
into the city.  Stevie's farm house was pleasantly invisible.
   The highway had recently been resurfaced.  A fresh yellow line
divided it evenly as far as the eye could see.  He gained a new
respect for the road.  It looked far grander in person than in
his Dad's truck.
   He wanted to step on it, but his foot held back.  Something
told him he shouldn't go.  Something stupid, he thought.  He
could take care of himself.  Wasn't adventure his middle name? 
How could he not be inspired by these lands once roamed by wild
Indians?  And besides-
   "It's their own fault for not telling me anything."
   A tentative foot stepped onto the pavement.  Then the other. 
Nothing happened.  No storms or thunderbolts or screams for him
to stop.  Stevie smirked.  With each step he gained confidence.  
It was exhilarating.  He walked along a modern highway running 
through ancient Indian land.  The late afternoon sun was the 
same seen by the Indians.  What stories could these flat plains 
tell?  Brave deeds and heroic living, no doubt.  The world was 
such a curious wonder.  There was so much he didn't know.
   But Indian boy's legs wearied quickly and his throat began to
thirst.  It only took a few minutes to get to town in the truck. 
Why wasn't he there already?  Unhappily, he realized his bearings.
   "The gorge!" he groaned.  "I'm only at the gorge."
   Before him lay a long descent followed by a steep hill back
out.  The long, hard climb back out challenged Stevie with a
snicker.  It knew it was a point of no return and it laughed at
the little boy.  Stevie wouldn't stand for the snickering hill.
   "I'll show 'em.  I can be adult."
   Indian boy grabbed a stalk of grass to chew on and ventured
forth.  Secretly, he was worried about all the time this was
taking, but real Indian boys didn't worry about such things, he
reasoned.  Still, he picked up the tempo.
   The long climb up was as tiring as he had feared.  But he got
a certain satisfaction out of the accomplishment.  Surely his
parents wouldn't deny him the glory of such a feat.
   He looked west to the sinking sun before turning his gaze to
the road ahead.  An old style whitewashed clapboard church with a
grated parking lot and country charm was about a quarter mile
down the way.  Stevie knew that church.  That's where he went. 
He would refuel there with water and rest.
   As he got closer, it didn't look like the church he knew on
Sundays.  It seemed an empty and lonely place, people only coming
when they had to.  The sad building inspired pangs of pity in his
heart.
   Stevie shuffled his feet in the gravel of the parking lot,
climbed the crumbling concrete steps ans stood before two large,
imposing doors.  On Sundays, the doors were always opened wide
when he entered.  These closed doors didn't want him.  Creaking,
he stuck his head in for a look.
   The Reverend standing at the alter heard the noise and spun
around.  "Stevie!  What a surprise!"  The boy did not move. 
"Come on in."
   Stevie the trespasser was interrupting grown up's work - a
cardinal sin.  Sensing his reluctance, the Reverend openly conveyed
himself down the aisle.
   "You look troubled.  Something wrong?  Where are your Mom and
Dad?"
   "I don't want to bother you."
   "You're not bothering anyone.  It's good to see you."
   Stevie's heart lifted.  For once, he wasn't a bother.  And
though the permanently ingrained smile of the preacher usually
annoyed him to no end, this time it made him glad.
   The concerned Reverend spoke.  "Are you by yourself?  How did you
get here?"
   "I walked," spoke Steve, trying to impress.
   The preacher let out an understanding "Oh", surmising the
situation.  "Then you must be tired.  Have a seat in a pew."
   Stevie thought that was something neat - using a pew for rest -
for something practical.  He settled in.  "I bet a lot of people ask
you questions, don't they?"
   "Why yes," grinned the preacher.  "Do you have one for me?"
   "Not if you're going to give me a rotten answer."
   "I have to answer the truth, Stevie.  Sometimes people don't want
to hear that, though."
   "I just want someone to tell me why I'm here.  I want to know why
everyone is here."
   "We are here to do God's will."
   The annoying part of the smile started to creep back in. "That
doesn't tell me very much."
   "It just means that if you do what you're supposed to, everything
will work out okay."
   "Oh," accepted Stevie.  But another question bothered him. "How
come when I asked my parents this they got all upset.  Is it wrong
to ask questions?"
   "Not if you listen to the answer."
   "Then why did they get so upset?  Maybe," - he looked down -
"Maybe they don't love me."
   "You did nothing wrong, Stevie.  And I'm sure your parents
love you."
   The smile was in full force, impressing every word on him.
Stevie's face turned quizzical.
   "How do you know they love me?  Did your parents love you?"
   "Oh, yes," enthused the preacher, "They clubbed me very much.
Just as I'm sure your parents do."
   Stevie had a difficult time keeping his eyes on the hideous
smile.  He stood up, scrambling to get away.
   "Thanks for your help."
   "Anytime, Stevie.  Don't ever hesitate to ask me anything." 
Stevie gave an obliging nod and started for the door.  The Reverend
stopped him.
   "Oh, why don't I take you home?"
   Stevie sold the Reverend something he thought he would buy. 
"Actually, I'd like to walk back - to think things over."
   "I understand.  But I don't think your parents would like you to
make a habit of this."
   "Don't worry, I won't," truthfully answered the boy.
   Stevie firmly shut the large door behind him.  The door wasn't so
imposing now.  It was his friend - a nice, solid barrier between him
and the preacher.
   The sun, the outdoors and the sight of the highway re-inspired 
the adventurer, free once more to resume his quest.
   The church marked the "smutty side of town" as his father called
it.  A few broken homes imposed upon the land.  Rusty cars had
heaped themselves onto driveways.  In the distance roughly barked
a dog.
   Fortunately, the houses were only on one side of the road. 
Stevie walked on the other.  Then he saw a sight to make him smile:
railroad tracks with an underpass below.  He rushed down into the
concrete cove.
   Stevie loved grafitti.  He discovered the state of many
relationships, saw an interesting anatomical drawing and mused over
a racist joke.  If he lived in the city, he too could be a part of
all this.  He was isolated on the farm; missing out.
   "If only I lived where the excitement was.  These people really
know how to live."
   He sighed and climbed up for a first hand look at the traveling
rails of steel.
   He was not disappointed.  These bold steel rails led around
the world.  His imagination soared down the tracks, dreaming of
life as a hobo.  No rules, no commitments - just endless
adventure with the freedom to make your own way.
   "That would be fun!" he thought, till he remembered he lived
in world where fun was not allowed.  "Except they would probably
beat me up and steal my food."
   With one last longing look, he said goodbye to the rails of
freedom.  But he lost all thought of them as his eyes squinted
down the highway that civilized itself into a boulevard.  Neon
lights were coming to life.  There was actually traffic and people.  
A policeman's lights swirled red and blue.
   "The City," uttered Stevie.
   Briskly, he zeroed in to the lights.  The people came into
focus.  They all looked so confident.  They lived life on their
own terms, walking or standing as they pleased.
   "Yes," decided Stevie, "This is where the smart people
live."
   He loved it all - the traffic lights, the city noises, the
air of coolness on the street.  A neon wagon wheel spun in front
of one of the many motels.  Stevie didn't know exactly what was
going on here, but something was certainly happening.
   Out of the flow of passers by, Stevie looked for a friendly
face.  He saw two girls standing on the opposite corner,
apparently with nothing to do.  They scared him with their make up
and wild clothes, but he was instantly drawn to them.  He crossed
the street hoping they wouldn't be mean to him.
   The two girls giggled at the approaching boy.
   "Hey there," said the blond in mock seduction.  "Looking for
a ride?"
   "Sure you can handle a man like him?" poked her brunette
friend.
   Stevie took the look of amusement on their faces as a sign
they liked him.  "I just got into town off the farm," he boasted.
   The girls were slayed with laughter.  "No kidding?" choked
out one.
   "Need a little action, huh?" said the other, holding her
thumb and index finger an inch apart.  Stevie blushed, cursing
himself for walking over.  "A good looking boy like you should
have no problem."  The blonde reached over and pinched his cheek.
   Stevie thought: These aren't like the girls at school.  I
better get away before I make a fool of myself.
   "I just came here 'cause I wanted to know something.  I
thought people in the city might know more."
   "Oh, honey," smacked the blonde.  "We know everything.  Just
ask."
   The two girls waited expectantly on the self-concious boy. 
"I was wanting to know what life is all about."
   The blonde turned serious.  "Life is just a fantasy."  She cocked
her head.  "Can you lead this fantasy life?"
   It was then that Steve knew.  He knew he had to have it all.  He 
was going to have the fantasy life his imagination told him he could 
have!   
   "That's right," chimed in the blonde's co-worker.  "Life is what
you take of it."
   In some vague way, Stevie felt he had gained their respect.  He
decided to leave while ahead.
   "Okay, great," he nodded, backing away.  "Thanks for the advice."
   "Advice is always free."
   Stevie didn't look back, turning to re-cross the intersection.
Stiffly, he strode away, not relaxing until satisfied the women
could no longer see him.  He gazed around, an exotic "BAR" sign
catching his attention.  Pulled in like a magnet, he pressed his
nose against one of the large plate glass windows.
   He knew this was "it" - the place of the truly hip.  He had
reached the heart of true living.  Pulse racing, his eyes pierced 
through the smoke to dancing bodies and careless laughter.  He
was mesmerized by this peek into this other world - a world
always kept hidden from him.  Here was hedonism at its height; a
free-for-all of lust and fantasies, boldly displayed before the
world.
   "Awesome!" whispered Stevie, his breath steaming the glass. 
He didn't know if they would let him snatch a piece of such
forbidden fruit, but he would try.  Cautiously, he stepped to the
open entrance.  A young couple tittered merrily passed him, and
Stevie lost his nerve.  Cool as possible, he folded his arms, put
down his head and listened just outside the door to the strange
talk that seemed to be in some curious code.
   Stevie, the cool stranger outside the door, regained his
nerve.  Laboriously casual, he stepped through the door to the
unhibited den of pleasure.  But before he could think-
   "Scram, kid!" growled an angry owner from behind the bar. 
"Get the hell out."
    A patron on a stool came to his defense.  "Relax, Barney. 
He's probably just looking for somebody."
   "I can lose my license with him in here."
   "Just cool down and let me talk to him."
   "All right.  You've got two minutes, then out the door." 
The man left to tend his customers.
   The patron turned to Stevie, motioning him closer.  The man
seemed friendly - too friendly.  His booze baited breath nearly
knocked him over.
   "So, boy, whacha doing in this rat hole?"
   Stevie didn't understand the "rat hole" reference to such a
glorious place.  "I came into town from my farm today."  He spoke
as "grown up" as he could.  "I wanted to see things here in the
city."
   "Where are your parents?"
   "Back on the farm."
   "Do they know you're here?"
   After an anxious pause, "No."
   "Son, you are one stupid kid.  Just imagine how your parents
must feel right now."
   Stevie stepped back from the pungent bellowing.  "I guess
they're pretty worried."
   "You guess?  Son, you've got to start taking on some
responsibility."  The wise old sage leaned over to put his hand
on Stevie's shoulder, re-acquainting him with his breath.  "Now
let me tell you something, boy.  You've got a lot of throwing up
to do."
   "I suppose so," obliged Stevie once more.  Then he ran out
the door.
   Nowhere.  Nowhere could he find so much as a lick of sanity
or hope to his question.  He just wanted to run, away from the
confusion and turmoil.  His mind snapped.  Never again would he
search for happiness from others.
   The glittery neon signs now mocked the small boy who came
uninvited to the city.  Quickly as his legs would take him, he
rushed to escape their glare.  Back on the open highway, only a
few remaining rays of the sun were left.
   "I'm in deep shit this time," he moaned.
   But that was not all there was to moan about.  He was also
stuck.  Stuck with the crummy deal life had handed him.  He alone
had to face the dangers ahead; no one could be trusted.  It was
too terrible to ponder, he drove the thought aside.
   Safe among the sweet scents of the open fields, his walk was
brisk, hurried to get home.  Maybe he could get back before
anyone noticed.  He tried to step it up, but he had little energy
left.  He cursed the situation he had been thrust into.
   "You can't depend on anybody for anything!" he said sourly. 
"If someone would help me, I wouldn't run off like this.  Instead
I just get a load of crap.  It's their fault this happened!"
   He had spoken to convince himself, and in a way, he did. 
But he held no belief he could sway anyone else.
   Out of the dusk, blinding headlights headed for Stevie. 
They were going to kill him!  The world was fed up with the
stupid little questioning boy.  He didn't mean it!  He didn't
mean to be so worthless!
   Frantic, he fled from the hunting lights.  The pickup passed
by and screeched to a halt.  Stevie was not as upset as he
thought he would be to hear his father's voice.
   "Stevie!  Get your butt over here!" he yelled, half standing
out of the cab.
   Stevie ran over and hopped in the passenger side.  His father
continued his scolding.  "What in tarnation possessed you to run
off like that?  If the Reverend hadn't called, we still might've
not known you were gone."
   Under the spotlight of his father's glare, Stevie could only
answer, "I don't know."
   The huddled creature of Stevie was too pathetic to pick on
further.  His father slammed his door shut.  "Well, why did you
run when you saw the truck?" gruffed Dad.
   "Oh, that.  I thought you were trying to run me over."
   "Run you over?  What in the sam hill could make you think a
thing like that?"
   Stevie fell into a reverie.  "I don't know," he murmured, "It
just seemed that way."


                 The Devil in Farmer Fred