Fight House, 2004
William Faulkner has his Snopes—Ab, Bilbo, Doris, Eck and the others—of Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. I had the Strocks of Tennessee and Arkansas. Faulkner created a whole county full of families. I crammed all my efforts into just one, and trust that when I am laid to rest they may be looked back upon as among my finest fictitious creations.
They started innocently enough and spun out over the better part of 2007 like good fictitious characters do, in response to the changing circumstances around them. My friend Wally Torta, who actually goes by several names to protect his standing in the Witness Relocation Program. (Oh, hell! Have I just blown his cover? Probably not. There must be lots of Tortas in the Suffolk phone book.) Anyway, Wally has posted a drawing of a lawn chair at his blog.
I can’t even remember what the deal was about the chair. Probably Torta complaining that the chair wouldn’t hold him, his MacBook, his scanner, his Wacom tablet, his stack of moleskin journals and his 48-state collection—if you know Wally, you know he’s never acknowledged Alaska and Hawaii—of keepsake coffee mugs from Hardee’s.
Whatever it was he said, it deserved a response from someone official. And thus was born “Wardell Strock, General Counsel” of the “Xiamen Division of the North American La-Z-Daze Leisure Industries.” Strock took Torta to task for using the chair improperly.
That should have been it. Wardell should have said his peace and quietly slipped back into the Chinese shadows. But then Strock’s estranged wife, Bernice Flanagan Strock, caught wind of Wardell’s comment and felt compelled to set Wally straight about her ex. Along the way, she informed Wally:
“I'm too much of a Christian woman to tell you about Wardell's so-called ‘secretary.’ Let's just say that if you were to look at her kids, their eyes slant a little more American than most China babies.”
Wardell caught wind of this and responded:
“I apologize for my wife's unruly outburst. I called the accounting department. She got her check. The children got their Christmas presents.”
From there it only got worse. Before long, Wally's blog became the place where Wardell’s extended family, which by this time also included his son Flippy ("who doesn't know that all children don't have webbed feet"), an unnamed daughter, his Chinese secretary’s children Jamoon and Yeeha and his barely literate, NASCAR loving, proud son of Tyronza, Arkansas, father-in-law Vernon Cheswood Flanagan, worked out its issues.
When Wally started complaining about the incessant chirping of a cricket sharing his abode, Wardell, ever the vigilant legal counsel, advised:
“You must have one of those cheap American-made crickets. The Song of Summer crickets we make at the Jinggangshan Factory #4 of North American La-Z-Daze Leisure Industries are designed to gently lull you to sleep when it gets dark and lift your spirits into the new day when it gets light again. (Batteries not included. Do not kiss product on lips. May contain lead.)”
Wally responded by naming the cricket Wardell.
When Bernice criticized the toys Wardell sent his kids for Christmas, Wardell responded:
“We neither accept nor acknowledge any problems with the Tumblin' Great Wall 'O China play set, when used properly. This product was extensively tested by my secretary's children, who were dazzled by the infinite number of ways they could move just a few building blocks to transform the Wall into, among other things, a Kitka doll, a bust of Kim Jong Il and a 4GHz dual processor.”
If Bernice wasn’t giving Wardell a hard time, Vernon Cheswood Flanagan was admonishing Wally to feature some NASCAR footage to boost his blog’s readership. (He did, too. If you don’t believe me you can see it here.)
When one of Wally’s readers doubted the veracity of NASCAR having put a man on the moon, Vernon quickly responded:
“I see you're not a man who believes in the word of the lord, Billy Bob. I know there's a moon because I know in my heart that Dale Earnhardt is sitting right up there beside Jesus hisself. I got a '3' decal with white angel wings on my truck to prove it.”
When the sheer energy of keeping this train wreck of a family drama alive finally got to be too much, I outed myelf as their creator to Wally, but not before, as faithful readers of Crackskull Bobpants will remember, Torta named his cat Bernice and she summarily ate Wardell.