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By Dave Shulman
First published in L.A. Weekly, April 12, 2006.
This here’s a sad, sad story about Hank Praml and what he did with his long and luxurious life until he got pulled on up into heaven. If you don’t feel like hearing such a story, I recommend riggin’ up your ear buds to your smart phone on the sly, and watching some Fox News — that should cheer you right up.
(Boy, I’ll tell you what.) Hank Praml was raised and lived his days in tornado country, among lots of right-thinking friends and family.
Growing up, Hank never seemed to need anything. He’d get tired, and there’d be a bed. He’d get hungry, and there’d be food. He’d get randy, and there’d be a friendly young lady to roll around with.
Life was good for young Hank. He studied his Scrip-tchüre and grew strong and tall. Then he turned 27 and made an important decision. He decided to commit suicide. Decided to take his time with it, do it right. Suicide’s a complicated thing. Hank figured it might take him 40 or 50 years.
First step: a job. All the dead people that Hank could think of had gotten that way by having jobs.
“I decided what I’m gonna do,” Hank announced at the breakfast table.
“What’s that, Hank?” said his mother, Charlotte.
“I’m gonna commit suicide with a job!” said Hank.
“Well, well, well,” said his father, Eugene. “Looks like Hank here’s finally growin’ up!”
There was a job opening at the Twohey factory, a.k.a. Twohey Rotational Industries or TRI, the wheelchair factory on the highway just outside of town. The pay wasn’t bad, and most employees were offered health insurance after a 16-year probation period, provided they were documented Christians. But Hank wasn’t too concerned about money. The elder Pramls had made a fortune years ago as the founders of Praml Public Relations Ltd., who counted among their clients the nation’s top-ranked slave traders.
No Praml would ever hurt for money, but all the Praml men were expected to get jobs — it’s just the decent thing to do. So Hank went down to Twohey’s factory to fill out the job application and wound up getting hired on the spot. Not a big surprise — the Twoheys and the Pramls went way back to the old times. Hank’s great-great-grandfather, the Reverend Ethan A. Praml, used to breed slaves with ol’ Lester Dean Twohey, the inventor of the Twohey Roll-o-matic.
Turned out that Hank’s new job was in the public-relations department. A traveling job. A muscle job, some might call it. At night, mostly. Hank would drive from county to county, visiting hospitals, entering patients’ rooms, injecting them with the special Twohey Mix™ of morphine, ketamine and methohexital, and breaking their legs as they slept. Hank had to spread the breakage around the state, so as not to draw undue attention to TRI’s inventive marketing techniques.
Business was good. Hank liked his job. Sure, the Bible said it was wrong to break strangers’ legs for a living, but they were always asleep when he did it, and they were already in the hospital. And if anyone ever died from Hank’s work, he never heard tell of it.
Plus, people fall out of beds and die all the time.
Well, soon enough, Hank turned 30 and married a young woman named Amy-Lynn Higgins, whose pretty little legs he’d broken in the Jessup County ICU. After the wedding, the Pramls and the Higginses pitched in and bought the newlyweds a big house on six acres of riverfront property, just five minutes up the road from the factory. Hank and Amy-Lynn filled their new house with eight artificial children that they bought at the Wal-Mart up in Memphis — Timmy-Joe, Slimmy-Jean, Jimmy-Dean, Millie-Bean, Shimmie-Joy, Demi-Roy, Kimmy-Boy and Ron-Jeremy — and built a greenhouse out back, which they filled with artificial plants, also from Wal-Mart, which really does have low prices.
Hank and Amy turned 40 and 50 and 60; the kids stayed 4, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14 and 16. Once or twice a year, for hoots, Amy-Lynn would get up in the middle of the night, inject Hank with a good dose of Twohey Mix™, and break his legs with a big sledgehammer. That way, Hank could take some time off to spend with the family. It was all good fun.
On Saturdays, Hank got up early and took the big white F150 down to Smith’s Drug Store, where he’d meet up with his friends at the lunch counter, eat pie, drink coffee, and watched Fox News, which cheered everyone right up.
“Look who’s finally awake! Hey, Hank!”
“Howdy, Hank! How’s she runnin’?”
“Hey, Hank! Saved you a seat, if you c’n still fit in it! Heh!”
“Look who’s talkin’, Timmy!” Hank’d say, always, and always, always smile. Then Becky-Lynn’d fix Hank up with a slice of peach pie and a steamin’ cup of coffee, without Hank even having to ask.
“Thanks, Becky-Lynn,” Hank’d say, every time. “How’s things with you and Pete?”
“Pretty good,” she’d reply. “How’s Amy-Lynn? How’s your suicide a-comin’?”
“Pretty good, pretty good,” Hank’d say. “Shouldn’t be much longer now.”
And it wasn’t. Hank turned 70 and retired. His project was almost over. He and Amy-Lynn had long since returned their artificial children to Wal-Mart for store credit, and now they spent their days tending the artificial plants in the greenhouse out back, both in high-end Twohey wheelchairs, having broken each other’s legs so many times.
First tornado of the season arrived late one Frid’y afternoon. The sun snuck under the cloudline and turned the sky a sickly greenish-yellow. Everything got slow and still, until Hank and Amy heard what sounded like the Illinois Central approaching from on high. They looked up through the greenhouse and saw a big ol’ dark red funnel cloud directly above, twistin’ a this way and that, grindin’ its way down.
“That one’s got your name on it,” Amy-Lynn smiled at her husband.
“Well, look at that,” said Hank, reading the tornado and smiling back. “So it does.”