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Whispering_Jack

A HIGHWAY OF DEMONS - CHAPTER 12

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Back in the present, Whispering Jack discovers the cure for the club's ailments ...

A HIGHWAY OF DEMONS by Whispering Jack

CHAPTER TWELVE - THE DELISTING OF JOE BTFSPLK

"Well I'll be damned
Here comes your ghost again
But that's not unusual
It's just that the moon is full
And you happened to call" ~ Diamonds and Rust by Joan Baez

It was the day of the AFL National Draft. I ventured out into the crisp morning air for a light jog to clear the head after what had been a hard week at work. With no particular course in mind, I simply ambled along in a random direction followed by the silky white clouds of misty breathing. At the end of the road, I discovered that I had stumbled by accident upon a place full of long forgotten memories buried deep in the past. It was my old school bus stop.

There used to be a petrol station on the corner of North Road and now it's a fire station but the seating outside where we waited for the bus remains in place with a new roof so that today it provides shelter for travellers who sit in patience waiting for their ride.

I was in the very spot where I alighted the number 10 bus every school morning and the memories of 1964 came flooding back. I was a young teenager holding the Sun News-Pictorial open at the comic section where my favourite was Li'l Abner by satirist and artist Al Capp.

I recalled the many famous characters of the comic strip, whose images has been hidden from mind for more than half a century. Abner Yokum and his sweetheart Daisy Mae, Mammy and Pappy, Moonbeam McSwine, Sadie Hawkins, Earthquake McGoon, Rotten Ralphie and other residents of Dogpatch and the dystopian Lower Slobbovia. There were also assorted other characters like Fearless Fosdick, Senator Phogbound, General Bullmoose and the controversial Joanie Phoanie who sang revolutionary songs of class warfare like "Molotov Cocktails for Two". Capp had bitingly and unfairly used the character to parody singer/songwriter Joan Baez. Somewhere at home I had an album by the real Joan singing sweet songs of peace and freedom and it was close to my heart.

Suddenly, he appeared in my mind's eye: the iconic Li'l Abner character whose image best describes the sad condition that has infected my football team during that long gulf in time that separates then and now. Joe Btfsplk was the world's worst jinx, a man whose very presence caused instantaneous bad luck to befall anyone unfortunate enough to be in his vicinity. Joe had a perpetually dark rain cloud over his head and despite the fact that he was well-meaning and friendly, people avoided him like the plague.

I realised then and there exactly what had to be done. I turned around and with heat pounding, I made my way home running faster, yet more smoothly in stride than I had done in many years. Thoughts bounced through my head all of the way back and when I got there, I went directly into the study where I found a large sheet of white paper, a drawing pencil, crayons and some ink.

I worked feverishly, drawing rectangular boxes, sketching characters and scenes within them and after an hour, withdrew to view my work. Modesty prevents me from describing it as a masterpiece.

The first box portrays the scene in an office where a Christmas tree adorned with festive decorations sits in a corner next to a calendar showing the month of December 1964. A newspaper of the day is visible showing a front page picture of Melbourne Football Club hero Ronald Dale Barassi wearing a Carlton guernsey. The two men standing in the office appear to be in shock, their faces ghostlike. They are Stormin' Norman Smith and Jumpin' Jim Cardwell, leading figures in the most successful football team over the past decade.

The next box is a close-up of Jumpin' Jim with a dialogue balloon that says, "Water under the bridge Norm. He's gone and there's nothin' we can do about it now!" Moving to the right we see Norm and his response, "I suppose you're right. The silver spoon mob destroyed any chance we had to keep him and now, we have to move forward ... Did I hear a knock on the door?"

Norm's hearing is good because in the next frame we see the unmistakable figure of Joe Btfsplk standing before them with the customary dark cloud hovering over his head. Then another Jumpin' Jim close-up, almost identical to the last, but this time a touch of red lights up his chubby left cheek.

"Sit down Joe and thanks for coming. Norm and I have been talkin' and ... er ... well, um ... we think your future here is limited. We're moving you on. You've been delisted. Oh, and on your way out, can you ask that young Alves feller outside to come in please?"

The following scenes show thunderous storms surrounding the M.C.G with heavy rain lashing the old Grey Smith Stand doomed to fall soon under the wrecker's ball. The 1965 season is well under way and Stormin' Norman has just been sacked as coach. The Demons are on the other side of town playing the Kangaroos under stand-in coach Checker Hughes and are on their way to defeat. A week later, Smith is reinstated but the team keeps losing and slips out of the finals for the first time in more than a decade.

I sensed that the hand of Joe Btfsplk was behind this despite or perhaps because of his delisting. But something more still had to be done so I spent the rest of draft day trying to come up with a solution.

By mid-afternoon, when I thought I finally had the answer, I went back to the drawing board and kept working away for a couple of hours until the stroke of seven o'clock in the evening and my work was done. Just in the nick of time.

This time the first box is dominated by the hulking figure of Abner, all 191 centimetres of him (or 6' 3" on the old scale) with hat in hand, and next to him stands the diminutive Joanie Phoanie, the sad-eyed lady of the lowlands.

"Joanie, Mr. Capp probably won't agree with me sayin' this but on behalf of the good citizens of Dogpatch, I want to sincerely apologise to you for the hurt, his nasty attacks caused you. We're sorry."

The following box features Joanie, her eyes now lit up, placing a gentle kiss on Abner's cheek and the ones that follow show the modern municipality of Dogpatch bathed in sunshine. The swamps and the piggeries are gone, the streets are clean and green and the townspeople all look happy. Joe Btfsplk is standing in the crowd but the storm clouds no longer sit over his head. They have been replaced by a rainbow halo.

The next strip contains vision of a scene at the Gold Coast Convention Centre and it contains five rectangular boxes, all of them depicting the same white haired man and the five balloons above him bearing the following words,

"Player number 214953 Jubilation C Petracca ... Eastern Ranges, Beverley Hills Junior Football Club",

"Player number 215163 Available Angus Brayshaw ... Sandringham Dragons, Hampton Rovers",

"Player number 214809 Smilin' Alex Neal-Bullen ... Glenelg, Klimpton Football Club",

"Player number 215424 Stupefyin' Billy Stretch ... Glenelg, Henley Sharks Football Club",

"Player number 214991 Oscar Colossal McDonald ... North Ballarat Rebels, Edenhope-Apsley".

The bad luck that inflicted this football club for so long is gone. We're over players killed in tsunamis, tanking sagas, footballers involved in machete attacks, sacked coaches, mental illness, parents killed in car accidents, dodgy sponsors, merger talks, drunken players in jail, outside casinos and urinating in bars, lazy and incompetent officials, disgruntled players, presidents, club legends and coaches dying before their time, salary cap breaches, debilitating injuries and bungled drafts. With the ghosts of the past buried and the curse of Norm Smith gone with it, the picture should be clear.

We're ready to take on the world.





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That'll do it....

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Ahhhh the gorgeous Joan.Foolish Bob.

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