A Möbius – structured tall tale
Ever fall in love with a midget?
I don’t suppose you ever fall in love with a midget weighing thirty-nine pounds, did you?
No, I said, but have another beer.
Down in Gallup, he said, twenty years ago. Fellow by the name of Rufus Jenkins came to town with six white horses and two black ones. Said he wanted a man to break the horses for him because his left leg was wood and he couldn’t do it. Had a meeting at Parker’s Mercantile Store and finally came to blows, me and Henry Walpal. Bashed his head with a brass cuspidor and ran away to Mexico, but he didn’t die.
Couldn’t speak a word. Took up with a cattle-breeder named Diego, educated in California. Spoke the language better than you and me. Said, Your job, Murph, is to feed them prize bulls. I said, Fine; what’ll feed them? He said, Hay, lettuce, salt and beer. I said, Fine; they’re your bulls.
Came to blows two days later over an accordion he claimed I stole. I borrowed it and during the fight busted it over his head; ruined one of the finest accordions I ever saw. Grabbed a horse and rode back across the border. Texas. Got to talking with a fellow who looked honest. Turned out to be a Ranger who was looking for me.
Yeah, I said. You were saying, a thirty-nine pounds midget.
Will I ever forget that lady? he said. Will I ever get over that amazon of small proportions?
Will you? I said.
If I live to be sixty, he said.
Sixty? I said. You look more than sixty now.
That’s trouble showing on my face. Trouble and complications. I was fifty-six three months ago.
Told the Texas Ranger my name was Rothstein, mining engineer from Pennsylvania, looking for something worth while. Mentioned two places in Houston. Nearly lost an eye early one morning, going down the stairs. Ran into a six-footer with an iron-claw where his right hand was supposed to be. Said, You broke up my home. Told him I was a stranger in Houston. The girls gathered at the top of the stairs to see a fight. Seven of them. Six feet and an iron-claw. That’s bad on the nerves. Kicked him in the mouth when he swung for my head with the claw. Would have lost an eye except for quick thinking. Rolled into the gutter and pulled a gun. Fired seven times, but I was back upstairs. Left the place an hour later, dressed in silk and feathers, with a hat swung around over my face. Saw him standing on the corner, waiting. Said, Care for a wiggle? Said he didn’t. Went on down the street, left town.
I don’t suppose you ever had to put on a dress to save your skin, did you?
No, I said, and I never fell in love with a midget weighing thirty – nine pounds. Have another beer.
Thanks. Ever try to herd cattle on a bicycle?
No, I said.
Left Houston with sixty cents in my pocket, gift of a girl named Lucinda. Walked fourteen miles in fourteen hours. Big house with barb – wire all around, and big dogs. One thing I never could get around. Walked past the gate, anyway, from hunger and thirst. Dogs jumped up and came for me. Walked right into them, growing older every second. Went up to the door and knocked. Big negress opened the door, closed it quick. Said, On your way, white trash.
Knocked again. Said, On your way. Again. On your way. Again. This time the old man himself opened the door, ninety if he was a day. Sawed – off shotgun too.
Said, I ain’t looking for trouble, Father. I’m hungry and thirsty, name’s Cavanaugh.
Took me in and made mint juleps for the two of us.
Said, Living here alone, Father?
Said, Drink and ask no questions; maybe I am and maybe I ain’t. You saw the negress. Draw your own conclusions.
I’d heard of that, but didn’t wink out of tact.
Called out, Elvira, bring this gentleman sandwiches.
Young enough for a man of seventy, probably no more than forty, and big.
Said, Any good at cards? Said, No.
Said, Fine, Cavanaugh, take a hand of poker.
Played all night.
If I told you that old Southern gentleman was my grandfather, you wouldn’t believe, would you?
Well, it so happens he wasn’t, although it would have been remarkable if he had been.
Where did you herd cattle on a bicycle?
Toledo, Ohio, 1918.
Toledo, Ohio? I said. They don’t herd cattle up there.
They don’t anymore. They did in 1918. One fellow did, leastways. Bookkeeper named Sam Gold. Only Jewish cowboy I ever saw. Straight from the Eastside New York. Sombrero, lariats, Bull Durham, two head of cattle, and two bicycles. Called his place Gold Bar Ranch, two acres, just outside the city limits.
That was the year of the War, you’ll remember.
Yeah, I said.
Remember a picture called Shoulder Arms?
Sure. Saw it five times.
Remember when Charlie Chaplin thought he was washing his foot, and the foot turned out to be another man’s?
You may not believe me, but I was the man whose foot was washed by Chaplin in that picture.
It’s possible, I said, but how about herding them two cows on a bicycle? How’d you do it?
Easiest thing in the world. Rode no hands. Had to, otherwise couldn’t lasso the cows. Worked for Sam Gold till the cows ran away. Bicycles scared them. They went into Toledo and we never saw hide or hair of them again. Advertised in every paper, but never got them back. Broke his heart. Sold both bikes and returned to New York.
Took four aces from a deck of red cards and walked to town. Poker. Fellow in the game named Chuck Collins, liked to gamble. Told him with a smile I didn’t suppose he’d care to bet a hundred dollars I wouldn’t hold for aces the next hand. Called it. My cards were red on the blank side. The other cards were blue. Plumb forgot all about it. Showed him four aces. Ace of spades, ace of clubs, ace of diamonds, ace of hearts. I’ll remember them four cards if I live to be sixty. Would have been killed on the spot except for the hurricane that year.
You haven’t forgotten the Toledo hurricane of 1918, have you?
No , I said. There was no hurricane in Toledo, in 1918, or any other year.
For the love of God, then, what do you suppose that commotion was? And how I came to Chicago? Dream – walking down State Street?
I guess they scared you.
No, that wasn’t it. You go back to the papers of November, 1918, and I think you’ll find there was a hurricane in Toledo. I remember sitting on the roof of a two – story house, floating northwest.
Okay, have another beer.
Thanks, he said, thaaaaanks.
I don’t suppose you ever fell in love with a midget weighing thirty – nine pounds, did you? I said.
Who? he said.
You? I said
No, he said, can’t say I have.
Well, I said, let me tell you about it.
A short story by William Saroyan, first published in his 1938 collection “Love, Where is My Hat?”
Cowboy Murph’s story unfolds through a series of intriguing questions he addresses to the narrator and that he himself proceeds to answer, only to be involved in a tall tale that includes the herding of cattle on bicycle and an impossible trip from Ohio to Chicago on the roof of a two storey house drifted by a hurricane. Murph fails to return to his initial question about falling in love with a midget “weighing thirty – nine pounds“, despite the narrator’s repeated requests. Toward the end of the story, Murph seems to have completely forgotten about the midget tale: after a twist of the story, the narrator appears to adopt the midget tale for himself and the story ends suspended and inverted, implying a possible new circle of another tall tale that may never close by addressing the original question. Saroyan’s short story presents parallels to a Möbius strip structure, a topological surface with only one side, modelled by half twisting a strip of paper and joining the ends to form a loop.