Devouring the Rings


A Swap Meet To Remember


Evening was approaching in the Landfill and the fires from the gas relief pipes in the enormous mound of garbage, proudly referred to by the locals as Tel Stench, were glowing ever brighter as the sun lowered itself upon the horizon.     As it was nearing mealtime (and what time wasn’t in the Landfill) the winding road that led into Stubbietown was  devoid of activity but for a  lone wagon that was closing in on its destination.   Handling the wagon was a tall bearded man dressed in a tattered gray knee-length robe, vented at the waist.  Jammed tightly onto  his head so that the howling wind could not blow it off was a sweat-stained  plastic mesh baseball cap with the words ‘Olaf’s Magic Beans’  embroidered on the front panel.   Clearly agitated at the sight of a huge whirlwind of trash currently blocking the road, he drew his wagon to the side and, taking a clothespin from his pocket, he jammed it onto his ample nose.   “I don’t know why I bother,” he muttered.  “All the magic in Piddle Earth is incapable of keeping the smell of this dump from seeping into my nose.  How can anyone live in this stinking hellhole.”   He then adjusted the elastic band of his counterfeit  beard as he waited for the wind gust to subside.    

The trash devil spun its way down the road, gathering in a menagerie of filth.   As the wind subsided the whirlwind’s contents fell upon and about a small boy-like creature with enormous hairy bare feet.    The boy stopped picking at his toenails and started to gather up some of the trash.   “Ah,” he thought, “There’s still some good eating left in this apple core, and I’ll bet the Old  Crapper will give me some of his better x-outs for these cigarette butts, being there are still a couple of good puffs left in all of them.  After all, they are his favorite brand … Musky Lungs.    I’ll be playing golf for weeks without using a cut ball.”

With the probability of getting hit by flying trash nearly over, the old man led his wagon toward the boy.   As he neared the youngster he shouted, “Out of my way, squirt, or your next tattoo will be my tread marks.”

“Gambloss, you’re late,” scolded the boy as he got up and  ran towards the rickety wagon.  Gambloss stopped the wagon and began moving several boxes in order to make seating room.  “Listen up, Dorfo Baggypants.  Old Farts are never late, we do and say what we want giving no heed to the manners and no respect to cherished customs of anyone living or dead.   If we are late then time is as insignificant as you Stubbies.”

“Boy, have you become a grouch,” replied Dorfo.  “I just wish everything could be like it was when I was a boy.”   Gambloss smiled, leaned over towards Dorfo, reached out his hand, and said, “Here, pull my finger, lad.”   As Dorfo pulled on the finger a loud phbbbbbt ripped from the old man’s rear end and out shot a blue streak of light that flew high into the air, breaking apart into the form of hundreds of M&Ms before exploding into a glorious multi-colored display of fireworks.  

Dorfo exclaimed with childlike glee, “Do it again, Gambloss!”  He then waved his hand through the air and grabbed his nose.  “On second thought, don’t!”  Changing the subject, he continued, “I can see you’re ready for Bellybutton’s monster swap meet.  What do you have in all those crates and boxes?”  “Swap meet, my foot,” shouted Gambloss.  “The kind of junk you Stubbies treasure  I tossed in the trash many years ago.   In fact, it is now likely to be found on fireplace mantles throughout the Landfill.  Junk, my eye!  These crates are filled with gambling equipment such as roulette wheels and slot machines.  I figure with the excitement of the so-called ‘biggest swap meet in Piddle Earth’  and with all you Stubbies hopped up on cheap beer and stale fruitcake, I’m going to make a killing.”  Frodo looked at Gambloss quizzically.   “Hold on there, Bugsy,” he cautioned.  “Other than Bellybutton’s  fortune and the money you’ve lost to us in dubious bets and ill-fated gambling efforts, there’s not much cash to be found here in the Landfill.”   An irritated Gambloss exploded, “Blast, what is it with you Stubbies?   You exist on fast food, candy, fruitcake, and Dumpster droppings, have no money to speak of, and your only entertainment comes from swap meets and golf.   You should be bitter and bored to tears.  I know I am every time I visit this place.   How is it you’re the happiest folk I’ve ever met?   For that matter, why don’t you for once put two and two together?  Think about it ... your feet are grotesquely oversized and hairy,  none of you are over four feet tall, you live in a garbage dump, and hardly anyone ever survives past their 40th birthday!  Duh!”

“Look, you old fool,” said  Dorfo, “Just try some form of entertainment other than gambling for once in your life and you might develop some kind of personality that keeps others from trying to avoid you all the time.  Since you’ve never given golf a chance you can’t know the joy of sinking a twenty-foot bogey putt.   And as far as swap meets go, there’s no more wonderful a feeling than one gets after completing a trade that sends both parties home filled with excitement.   Why, just last month  Gourdo Plaidpants traded his wife, Puddin, to Theo Stinkypants for a Smog bobblehead doll.   It was the talk of the town for days on end.  Some think it was the greatest swap ever.”   Gambloss was not amused; he couldn’t help thinking that he could have  been the proud husband to a catch like Puddin if he hadn’t lost the bobblehead to Theo in a card game on his last visit to the Landfill.   “Yeech,  how will I ever be able to clear that idea from my head?   Bellybutton better have some good booze on hand,” he thought.  Then he turned to Dorfo saying, “I’ve got to get moving if I’m going to catch old Bellybutton before he passes out for the night, but my feet are killing me.  How about you giving an old man a hand?  Will you guide the wagon while I lay down in it and get some   rest?”   “Not on your life, old man,” replied Dorfo as he began to run away.  “Why don’t you try saving up some money for once so you can afford a horse-drawn wagon!”  Without so much as saying goodbye, the now fuming Gambloss picked up the handle to the rusty old Radio Flyer and continued to drag the wagon on up Refuse Alley to Pants Cuff Row where he turned and made his way to see his old cohort.

Bellybutton’s hovel was the last door on Pants Cuff Row before reaching the top of Tel Stench.  It was larger than most Stubbie homes, not because it had more rooms (the usual kitchen, sitting room, and two bedrooms) but because the rooms were much greater in size.   It also had a back door, a rarity among Stubbie homes, which hatched tales of deceit and treachery in the jealous minds of Bellybutton’s neighbors.   In reality it was no more than a portal to Bellybutton’s backyard  which looked out onto the back portion of Tel Stench that was still being used for dumping.   Rather than the weed- and bug-infested gardens that Stubbies were known for,  Bellybutton had turned the area into a practice putting green and driving range.   Bellybutton would spend countless hours here perfecting his golf game when he knew he should have been writing his memoirs.   Every day he would launch balls into the filth and then retrieve them on his  ‘junk expeditions.’   In order to distinguish his own golf balls from new arrivals he stamped them with his personal navel logo that closely reminded some of his detractors, such as the Sackcloth Baggypants’, of the eye of Snorin’.   This way other garbage pickers would be expected to leave them alone, although  quite often one could find them at one of the many daily swap meets, much to Bellybutton’s chagrin. 

Gambloss arrived at Bellybutton’s home, commonly known as the ‘House of Lint,’ and surveyed what he could see of the beautifully manicured putting green and driving range out back.   He shuddered as he compared this sight with the thought of the shambles of a household he would encounter once the door was opened.  He took his staff and hammered on the door hard enough to dent the stout wood.  “That should wake the loafer up,” he snickered.

Soon the door opened, revealing a short man with curly silver receding hair dressed in baggy lederhosen.  Wiping the sleep from his eyes and the fruitcake crumbs from his clothes he looked up.   “Gambloss,” he cried, “I was afraid you wouldn’t make it!  Come in, come in!”

“How good to see you, Bellybutton Baggypants,” replied Gambloss as he surveyed the inside of the Stubbie’s hovel before carefully ducking his head under  the door lintel and gingerly making his way inside.   Gambloss was amazed at the filth and clutter that was strewn about the room.   Just inside the door stacks of old newspapers were spilling onto the floor, partly obscuring scores of loose golf balls.   Other memorabilia that only a serious pack rat would even bother to have was covering shelves, windowsills, and anything else that it could be piled upon.  The table in the center of the sitting room was covered with dirty dishes and pages of manuscript rewrites.   Ash poured out of a fireplace that looked as though it hadn’t been cleaned in months and pictures hung askew on walls of cracked plaster and chipped paint.

“Sit down,” Bellybutton urged.  “I’m so glad to see you.  Would you like a nip of sipping whiskey?”  “Something very strong,” said Gambloss, who was staring in disbelief at the mess.  “I’ve got just the stuff,” exclaimed Bellybutton with a twinkle in his eyes.   “I came across it the other day.  It’s never even been opened!”

As Bellybutton left the main room to retrieve the liquor Gambloss made his way slowly to the table.   On his way the headline of one of the papers,  dated Sept. 21, 485 BSW (Before Star Wars), caught his eye:  BAGGYPANTS DENIES FORTUNE ILLICITLY OBTAINED.   The Old Fart bent over to pick it up and read further.   “Goblins claim Baggypants and an elderly but unknown accomplice cheated them in a series of rigged card games deep within the Minced Meat Mountains.   Reliable sources within the Goblin community contend that previous publications of the adventures of Bellybutton Baggypants were not fully researched or just plain bogus.”   Losing his cool, Gambloss shouted, “Poppycock, the Dwarves were in on it, too!  They’ll never be able to prove it anyway.”   He tossed away the paper and abruptly stood up,  whacking his head on the room’s crossbeam.  “Blast!” he screamed as he reeled and slipped on the loose golf balls, sending him crashing to the floor.   Unable to control his magical powers within he farted out a thin red flame that ricocheted about the room, starting small fires on any combustible materials it touched until finally it hit the clothespin on his nose, where it burned like a fuse down to his face, igniting his beard.   Panic-stricken, the old man got up and grabbed some curtains to put out his flaming beard, only to have the curtains also burst into flames.  As a last resort Gambloss stripped down to his skivvies and, using his robes as a blanket, he raced around the smoke-filled room smothering all the blazes.   “Whew,” he thought, “That was close, but the room looks a little bit better for it.”  From down the hall the wizard could now hear the voice of Bellybutton.   “I’m surprised at you, Gambloss!  You know this is a no-smoking hovel, and that’s some nasty smelling pipeweed fouling up my air.”  “Indeed,” thought Gambloss, “How anyone from the Landfill can be offended by any odor is beyond comprehension!”

Now realizing that he was nearly naked, Gambloss scrambled about in search of something to wear.   He came upon a pile of laundry where his only real choice was between brightly colored lederhosen and an outfit of green and yellow plaid pants along with an old solid orange frilled poet shirt.   Donning his clothing of last chance just before Bellybutton’s return, Gambloss took his seat at the table.   Beardless and looking quite ridiculous in his new  ill-fitting clothes, he awaited his friend in what resembled plaid shorts and a frilled unbuttoned midriff vest that exposed his lack of muscle tone and sunken chest. 

Bellybutton entered the sitting room carrying two shot glasses and a bottle of smoky brown liquid.   He set the glasses down and took a look at the label, pausing before proclaiming, “It’s a new brand, I believe - something called ... ‘Old Poppa Smurf’!”  After filling up their glasses Bellybutton proposed a toast.  “Here’s to old times”, he said, but before the two could clink glasses he gave Gambloss a quizzical look.  “I’ve been in quite a dither lately,” he stated, “and my memory is not what it used to be, but didn’t you have a beard when you arrived?”

Gambloss threw down his shot, coughed, and stood up.  “Dear old Bellybutton,” he mused, “When I arrived I had much more than that, including some dignity!”  That being said the Old Fart looked at the ashes of his staff that lay neatly on the floor and made for the exit.   “Tomorrow,” he shouted, “and just so you know, the only thing Old Poppa Smurf is good for is falling asleep!”   “Tomorrow”, replied Bellybutton, as he closed the door and went back to the table without so much as noticing the evidence of fire and reflected, “I wonder what his problem is?”

The  morning of Bellybutton’s five-and-dime birthday came and the whole of Stubbietown was up and about well before their normal noon wake-up.  A better day could not be wished for as the sun shone brightly and a brisk northeast wind carried the foul odor of the Landfill into the unsuspecting neighboring countryside.  As it was a tradition in the Landfill for any adult having a birthday to hold a garage sale, and in honor of his breaking the age record held for decades by Early 'the Cabbage' Blight, Bellybutton was holding the world’s largest garage sale in the heart of the Landfill.  Everyone was invited to participate including some of Bellybutton’s most vile detractors such as the Sackcloth Baggypants.  As usual, none of the Stubbies did any advance preparation for the festivities so after breakfast the Landfill became a madhouse.   Some Stubbies fell about Tel Stench searching for new goodies, fighting each other for first access to the lines of wagons hauling in fresh garbage from outlying countries.  Others staked claim to sites in Reclamation Park where they might set up shop for the day.  A few were just content to stay home and open their garages for the traditional type of sale.  Among the scheduled events would be an attempt to bake Piddle Earth’s largest fruitcake, a scavenger hunt on Tel Stench for the children, and the famed pyrotechnic displays of Gambloss the wizard, courtesy of the magic beans provided by Olaf Whoopiecushion and his cousin Tootsie.    

Gambloss, after visiting Olaf to buy his monthly supply of magic beans, took full advantage of the big event.   He bought himself a ‘new’ staff and, since he had now become fond of his new clothing ensemble, he loaded up on Stubbie-sized plaid pants and poet shirts.  Unfortunately he couldn’t find any fake beards so instead he settled on buying a mask of a B movie star named  Gandalf.  Cutting the beard from the mask he was able to fashion his own false beard in a style more suitable to the Old Farts of Piddle Earth.  Finding this  new shopping experience so fulfilling, he almost forgot to cook up a pot of his famous baked beans in preparation for the night’s entertainment.   Since magic beans were the source of power for the wizards of Piddle Earth, all sorcerers had to find their own suppliers and develop personal recipes.   Rancidgas the Brown favored split pea and sauerkraut soup.   Others were so secretive that they would never divulge their bean suppliers, much less the dish.  Gambloss’ catalyst was baked beans, which, in a non-magical form, were sold throughout the lands under the brand Gambloss’ Rootin’ Tootin’ Beans.   Upon realization that he needed to cook up a batch, he set off for Bellybutton’s hovel to get cooking.  

Dorfo, who had no possessions other than his golf clubs and accessories, therefore nothing to trade or sell, was put to work setting up and running Gambloss’ gaming tables             in a lean-to next to the beer tent.  As usual the waiting lines were long and the Stubbies who partook in gaming came away with gobs of cash which they immediately blew on beer and useless trinkets. 

Once Gambloss’ money  was all lost, Dorfo closed down the gambling tent and moseyed over to the large dead tree  where the Old Crapper had set up shop regaling the youngsters with stories of how he retrofitted the equipment of top PGA Tour members to non-USGA-conforming  designs.   The boys and girls were awestruck at the Crapper’s tale of how he changed the angle of grooves on one of Lefty’s clubs to give him the ability to hit knuckleballs that would duck and bob through trees upon command.  The Old Crapper chuckled, “Too bad he lost those clubs on a bet to  Daly who in turn lost them to Pete Rose.   I think the IRS has them now!”

Dorfo, who was without a doubt considered the best golfer in the Landfill, was not impressed.   “I can do that now without cheating,” he thought.  “I must be wasting my time working hard for hours a day on Bellybutton’s practice facility.   Oh well, it gets me out of having  to scavenge for a living.”

The day wore on into night.   Trades were made, fast food was consumed, Gambloss’ money changed hands so often it didn’t resemble currency anymore, and so much beer was drunk that the ensuing belching was so loud and constant  it drowned out the explosions of all but the most earsplitting of the fireworks.   Many a belch-off was held to see if anyone could unseat Fineous Bellowburp as reigning champion of the Landfill but no Stubbie was up to the task, though Pintsize Chickenfingers’ wife Bellicose almost overpowered Fineous’ winning eructation while berating her husband for a particularly poor trade he made.  It certainly was a day unlike any other in the history of the Landfill.  At the completion of the swap meet it was observed by many of the Stubbies that merchandise had  been swapped so often that they ended up with exactly what they had at the start of the sale.  

Of course the hit of the day was without a doubt Gambloss’ famed fireworks show which culminated in the wizard blasting out sixty miniature dragons that flew over to Bellybutton’s giant birthday fruitcake to light the candles before turning into knives and slicing generous portions to deliver to each of the garage-salers.   At the end of his show an exhausted Gambloss walked over by the beer tent and took a seat next to Dorfo.   He took off his cap and wiped his brow saying to the young Stubbie, “I’ll have to be leaving tonight to see my leader.   He will present me with my yearly wizard review and discuss my future in The Order of Old Farts.   I just hope it’s not going to be bad news.”  He then took out a small tin from his pocket, set it on the table, and opened it, revealing a somewhat small serving of baked beans.   He plopped the beans onto a used paper plate and began to slowly eat while engaging in a discussion with Dorfo.  “But you were right about the thrill of making a great swap, Dorfo,” continued the wizard.   “I found this great magic staff earlier this morning and all I had to give up for it were three decks of marked playing cards.  The trade of the century, I tell you!  Ha, ha!  Now at the meetings of our Order there’ll be no more laughing behind this wizard’s back!”  “Oh Gambloss,” sighed Dorfo, “That’s just a beat-up old golf ball retriever.  There’s nothing at all magical about it!”  “Oh yeah?” countered Gambloss.  “Look at this, it telescopes out 48 feet and it’s got a round opening at the top for the insertion of enchanted jewels!  I’ve never seen anything like it!”

During his heated discussion with Dorfo and unbeknownst to Gambloss, two small figures  had crawled to the edge his table.   “You distract him while I get the beans,” said the  taller of the two.   “Just save some for me,” the other replied as he snatched the Old Fart’s cap from the table and put in on.  “Slytherin!” shouted the cap, alerting Gambloss that an unauthorized person had donned his cap.   The thief got up and started to run into the crowd and  Gambloss, realizing he had no chance to catch the escaping robber in a chase,  took the ball retriever in his hands, brought it back over his shoulder, and flung it forward.   The telescoping lengths of aluminum tubing flew out piece by piece and landed a solid blow on the thief’s head, knocking him to the ground.   “Well, if it isn’t Marion McCousin,” blurted out an obviously infuriated Gambloss.   “Where’s your partner in crime, the one they call Pipsqueak”?   The young Stubbie smiled and slowly turned his gaze to the table where Gambloss had been sitting.  The wizard’s eyes followed.  

The commotion had been a perfect distraction and now Pipsqueak was busy helping himself to Gambloss’ plate of  baked beans.   When his eyes met the raging stare of the wizard, Pipsqueak knew it was time to take cover.   He leaped from the table and ran out of the brightly lit park and into the dark of Tel Stench as fast as his oversized feet could carry him.   Gambloss made a futile attempt at disabling the Stubbie with his staff but no second attempt was possible due to the awkward and time-consuming effort required to ‘reload’ the ball retriever.  “It looks like I’ll have to spend a little time practicing with this baby,” he proudly said to Dorfo, “But if that wasn’t magic then I’m not a sorcerer.  Now, as for you, Master McCousin, I think you’ll be quite thrilled that instead of turning you into a  lawn ornament I’m just going to make you clean up the whole of this park once the party ends.   Now Dorfo, find some rope.  I want him hog-tied until it’s time for him to go to work”!   Gambloss then returned to the table to finish what was left of his beans.  

Shortly thereafter, Bellybutton decided it was time to make an unexpected speech.   He took a bag of onion rings (his favorite snack), walked to the center of the park, stepped up onto a large tree stump, and tried to get the attention of the revelers.  “Ahem ... fellow … ahem,” he said as he occasionally popped a delectable ring into his mouth.   Seeing that the crowd was too boisterous to get their attention, he took in a huge breath and released an earthshaking burp that easily would have won any of the belching contests earlier in the day.  “Bravo!” the Stubbies roared.  “More, more”!  Having wrested the attention of most of the throng, Bellybutton began.  “I won’t take much of your time, I have but three things to say to you all.    First, as you all know, this is my five-and-dime birthday, a feat of which I’m very proud.”   “Proudfoot!” a shout came from the audience.   Bellybutton lost his train of thought.  “A … yes … as I was saying, today is not only my 60th birthday but it is also the 20th birthday of my ward Dorfo.  Of course I don’t really know why that should matter but I’ve decided to give him, as a present, not only all of MY possessions but all of yours, too!   Yes, to make this day the grandest event in the history of the Landfill, I am using my fortune to buy everything at this swap meet and I’ll leave it to Dorfo”!   Of course the Stubbies were all overwhelmed and took to their feet with shouts of, “Pay up,” “Money talks … BS walks,” or  “Cash only, your credit’s no good here”!  “Oh no!” exclaimed Dorfo, who slumped down in his chair thinking, “There’s no room in that hovel as it is - where can I possibly keep all this junk?  All I really wanted was the driving range and putting green.  I guess it’s time to go away and make my name on the golf circuit.”   After the crowd had settled a bit, Bellybutton resumed his oratory.  “Also, I would just like to say that I don’t know half as much as I  should, but I know twice as much as the rest of you who don’t know squat but who eat more sandwiches than I and four milkmen can deliver without snapping our suspenders.   For that matter, if I had eight beanie babies and the dog ...”. 

As Bellybutton babbled on and on, the Stubbies  slowly began to nod off or turned their attention to the Old Crapper who was retelling one of his more popular tales, the story of his role in the Boston College basketball point-shaving scandal.   None took notice of an extremely bloated looking figure creeping up on the speaker from behind other than a wary Gambloss who, because he was on the lookout for the rascal that pilfered his beans, was not listening at all.  The wizard spotted the figure and, quickly realizing it was Pipsqueak, leaped up from his seat and shouted in a voice that could be heard for blocks, “Run for your lives!  Get away from Tel Stench!”    En masse the Stubbies rose from their near comatose state and, without a clue as to why, ran away from the park and Tel Stench.

Bellybutton, being too caught up in his speech, paid no heed to the warning and did not notice the approaching figure.   What he did notice was that he was down to one last onion ring, larger than most, certainly centuries old, riddled with nibble marks, and with the most enticing aroma of onion, decay, and grease that not even Tel Stench could overcome.  It was time to end his speech.

Pipsqueak, fully bloated to the point of exploding from the magic baked beans, had reached his target.   He raised a fully inflated paper bag to Bellybutton’s ear and swung his free hand toward it  just as the old Stubbie finished up his speech with the words, “I’m outta here.”  Bellybutton took a nibble  of the last onion ring at the exact moment that Pipsqueak  popped the bag.   The weak explosion from the popped bag  went unnoticed next to the mammoth concussive force from Pipsqueak’s expulsion of gas that blasted Bellybutton all the way back to the House of Lint.

The flatus swirled and expanded until from it emerged an enormous red dragon that twice circled over Reclamation Park before swooping down upon the abandoned festival, breathing fire upon the entirety of the park, the conflagration even spreading to the hovels of Tel Stench and beyond.   Amazingly  Bellybutton was uninjured from being hurled to his doorstep.   He got up to find that he was missing the onion ring that he had  taken a bite from just before the blast and, not knowing that the dragon had formed, thought to himself, “That ring is much more powerful than I ever imagined.   I’ve got to find it!”   As he began his search Gambloss and Dorfo were running up Pants Cuff Row.   Seeing the dragon approach they shouted, “Look out, you old fool, there’s a dragon coming”!   Bellybutton looked up just in time to see the dragon take aim at the House of Lint and leaped aside as the monster rained fire down on the hovel.   Once the dragon had moved on to its next target Dorfo and Gambloss joined Bellybutton as he assessed the damage.   “I’ve lost the scrumptious,” lamented Bellybutton, to which a startled Gambloss stared deeply into the eyes of his old friend.   “What’s this about a ‘scrumptious?  I seem to have heard tales of some such thing before, though I can’t remember the significance.”   “I’m sure it was of great importance,” remarked the wizard.   “Well, it’s gone now; I doubt it could have survived that blast of dragon’s breath,” a dejected Bellybutton replied while looking up at the sky.   The dragon had begun to make another pass  at Pants Cuff Row when it unexpectedly exploded  into streamers of red and orange that formed into  lovely cursive, spelling out ‘Happy Birthday, Bellybutton’ as they slowly burned out.  “Hey,” Bellybutton exclaimed,  “There’s writing up in the sky that’s saying happy birthday to me.   How thoughtful!  I’m beginning to feel better already”!

Copyright 2002, 2012 John Keefe

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