May 142011

by William C. Blome

"A Good Man Is Hard to Find" Harry S. Truman, Thomas Dewey. By Ben Shahn, 1948. Color lithographic poster.

"A Good Man Is Hard to Find" Harry S. Truman, Thomas Dewey. By Ben Shahn, 1948. Color lithographic poster.

Lovely little Lyle was a sweetheart in Bowman, North Dakota, and anyone who went there and said otherwise was escorted out of town by two of the city’s burliest elders.  Generally they would march in silence on either side of the guilty party and lead him along U.S. Route 12 as far as U.S. Route 85, where they would release him with a warning (much rehearsed, and voiced in unison) not to return to Bowman.  This was the routine followed regardless of where the culprit had come from or where he might state was his now-preferred direction of travel.

There was a day in the warm autumn of 1948 when a middle age woman was led out of town in the morning, and then another woman (a bit older, perhaps somewhat less educated) was given the boot in the afternoon.  And because the crossroads of Routes 12 and 85 form a prominent corner in this corner of North Dakota, supporters of both President Truman and Governor Dewey had erected competing billboards there.  The photo likenesses of vice presidential candidates Barkley and Warren glowered at one another across the asphalted prairie.  Importantly, the shade provided by each billboard provided a welcome refuge for woman number one (who promptly stretched out and fell asleep beneath Earl Warren) and, later, woman number two (who made a pillow of her purse and then took a load off under Alben W. Barkley).  In an hour before midnight, both ladies would have been observed to be sleeping peacefully; in some hour after midnight, both ladies had begun to stir and awake.  Each eventually became aware of the other after both had stood up and beheld the starry, moonless sky stretching far, far above the plains, the roads and the billboards.

Woman number two edged cautiously to the corner of her corner and waited awhile before deciding to call across to her neighbor, “Ship ahoy, matey!”  Then, after hearing a somewhat uncertain acknowledgment, she continued, “Lovely little Lyle wasn’t a total darling for you either, I take it.  Look, I’m just curious: what was it you didn’t like about the curly bastard?”

Woman number one wasn’t about to be drawn out so casually.  She pondered that any town as serious about one of its own as Bowman had been might still have more punishment in store for anyone (even way out here and at this hour) believed to be harboring negative feelings about lovely little Lyle.  Moreover, woman number one was starting to feel genuinely sorry for what she had said earlier about lovely little Lyle.  (Seeing his profuse locks of orange-red hair, she had addressed him by the name of Orion Betelgeuse, and the epithet was immediately odious to all in town who heard about it.  One of the residents summed it up (as woman number one was struggling to understand the full nature of her insult) when he said, “The stranger woman called lovely little Lyle a pinhead!”)

But now woman number one sidled over to the corner of her corner and decided it was best to go cryptic with her new-found companion.  So she yelled across the highway, “In a couple of months, deary, you’ll be able to tilt your head back out here at night and behold Orion the Hunter.  His head is a giant red star, he sports a mighty sword, and what in all of God’s creation—with maybe, of course, the exception of lovely little Lyle—could be more splendid and majestic than that?”  And perhaps because Truth often has no greater and more persuasive property than its predicted self-evidence, woman number two, after silently taking in the nighttime summer sky, suddenly dropped to her knees and began to chant, “Lovely little Lyle, lovely little Lyle, lovely little Lyle, you are a sweetheart!”, and it took precious little time, really, before woman number one also became convinced and cleansed, so to speak, and she too dropped and chanted in-time with her comrade.