Divinity in Odd Numbers

Clarence Bartholomew Whistleblower was born an odd number. Growing up, though not to a great height, in Nebraska he lagged behind the spindly legged goggle eyed Poindexters who were always chosen last on game day. Clarence was never chosen at all. His mother often forgot to set a place for him at dinner, but not even that, or any other slight, snub, rebuff or spurn ever managed to erase the Mona Lisa smile on his face, or undermine the naive optimism that guided him through each day.

When the waves from the Great Crash of 1929 rolled over Nebraska washing away any prospect of prosperity he stuck his toothbrush in his hip pocket and set off for Chicago in search of fame, fortune and adventure. Somewhere along the flat, even roads of Nebraska he lost his toothbrush.

Landing in Chicago he settled on odd jobs while keeping his eye out for something better. He latched onto a job selling encyclopedias, spent all his time reading them and got fired after three weeks without a sale. He tried door to door sales of household cleaning products, brooms, brushes, that kind of thing. Every house he visited gave him the brush off. 

Finally a ‘guaranteed’ opportunity came his way. Clarence would sell raincoats. Collecting his stock he set up his stand on the hottest day in June of what would turn out to be the driest summer in Chicago for four generations. He lost his stock during the only thunderstorm that year giving them away to every sob story and promise to pay the following day. His last raincoat went to a one-armed homeless man who insisted Clarence take the deed to a farm in California as compensation. The man said he’d tried to sell it but hadn’t any luck. He figured, so he said, that an experienced salesman like Clarence should have no trouble unloading it for at least the price of a raincoat. Clarence returned to his flop to find the landlord had changed the lock.

With nowhere to sleep and a deed in his hand Clarence decided to head for California. He hitched a ride with a truck driver who said he knew all about the Golden West. Why, in California, he said, you can stick a pencil in the ground, get yourself a good night’s sleep under the stars, wake up the next morning and find yourself under an orange tree. Yessiree, California is the place you wanna be.

The truck driver left Clarence ten miles short of his destination. He walked the rest of the way through a parched countryside that made the Mojave look like an oasis. At long last, dusty, dirty, shoes worn through, and mouth drier than Death Valley itself he arrived. The site looked less fertile than the moon. Dead tired Clarence fished in his pocket for the pencil he’d found along the last stage of his trip, stuck it in the ground and went to sleep using a rock for a pillow.

The next morning Clarence awoke, rolled over and noticed that the pencil he’d planted was still a pencil. He pulled it out of the ground. It had become a dirty pencil with a sticky black substance on the end of it. It smelt a lot like his father’s old tractor back in Nebraska. Clarence had discovered oil.

It was only fair, under the circumstances, to return to Chicago to seek out the one-armed homeless man and share the bounty. Clarence spent seven years looking for his benefactor. Being as open and honest as Nebraska all he succeeded in attracting was an endless stream of charlatans, shams, frauds, fakes, imposters, pretenders, hoodwinkers, hoaxers, cheats, deceivers, dissemblers, double-dealers, tricksters and confidence men, an endless variety, but with one thing in common. They all had two arms.

Eventually Clarence gave up and returned to the California mountains where he lived in a run down shack, wandered around the countryside, made a note of every person that did him a kindness and remembered them in his will.