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Two Excerpts of Fictional Characters Being Offered Dirt As Food or Drink by Other Fictional Characters Who Have Gone Crazy

I have already told you about one of my fav. novels called The Sisters Brothers (2011), by Patrick DeWitt.  Especially the part where the crazy prospector has tricked himself into believing dirt is actually ground coffee. 

I will tell you about it again, and I will also add new info concerning more crazy people tricking themselves into believing dirt is actually food in the novel World Made by Hand (2008), by Howard Kunstler.

The first excerpt is from The Sisters Brothers (pgs 226-230):

In the morning a man stood over us, small and grizzled and smiling, a happy prospector reentering civilization with his hard-won pouch of dust and flakes.

'Good morning, gentlemen,' he said.  'I was just about to make a fire for my coffee when I smelt your smoke.  I'd be happy to share a cup, if I might borrow your heat.'

I told hm to go ahead and he stoked the coals, setting his blackened kettle directly atop the embers.  He spoke to himself as he did this, offering hushed words of encouragement and grace: 'Good, good.  Tidy, tidy.  Very nicely done.'  Every half minute or so he suffered a fit of twitches and I thought, He has been alone in the wilderness for too long, and has become two people.

'You are heading into San Francisco?' asked Charlie.

'You bet I am.  Four months I've been away, and the closer I get I can't hardly believe it.  I got it all worked out to the last detail.'

'Got what all worked out?'

'All the things I'm going to do.'  We did not ask that he elaborate, but he needed no invitation to continue: 'First thing I'm going to do is rent a clean room, up high so I can look down and see everything as it passes.  The second thing I'm going to do is call for a piping hot bath.  Third thing is I'm going to sit in it with the window open and listen to the town.  Fourth thing I'm going to do is have a shave, to the bare cheek, and a haircut, close-cropped and parted.  Fifth thing I'm going to do is buy a new outfit from the hat to the boots.  Shirt, undershirt, pants, stockings, all of it.'

'I have to go to the toilet,' Charlie interrupted, and he walked away into the forest.

The prospector was undisturbed by my brother's rudeness and in fact did not appear to notice it.  He was staring into the fire as he spoke; he probably would have continued talking even if I had left: 'Sixth thing I'm going to do is eat a steak as big as my head.  Seventh thing I'm going to do is get very, very drunk.  Eighth thing I'm going to do is get a pretty girl and lie down a while.  Ninth thing I'm going to do is talk with her about her life, and she'll ask about mine, and we'll go back and forth like this, civilized and properly.  Tenth thing I'm going to do is no one's business in the world but my own.  Eleventh thing I'm going to do is send her away and stretch out in the clean, soft bed, like this.' He stretched out his arms as wide as he was able. 'Twelfth thing, boy, I'm going to sleep and sleep and sleep!'

Now the water was boiled and he poured us each a cup of coffee, the taste of which was so poor it actually startled me, and it took my every bit of politeness not to spit the liquid out.  Dredging my finger along the bottom of the cup, I brought up a mound of grit.  I smelled and then licked this and identified it as dirt.  People will often describe something as 'tasting like' dirt, but this was not the case, here - my cup held earth and hot water, nothing more.  I believe the man, through some lonely prospector mania, had begun brewing dirt and tricking himself into believing it was coffee.  I had a mind to broach the subject with him but he was so pleased to be sharing, and I did not want to upset his pride; at any rate, who did  think I was to try and undo what had surely taken many days and nights to become fact for him?  I decided to wait until his next fit of twitches and then pour out the dirt-water while he was not looking.  Charlie came back from the woods and I informed him with secret looks that he should not drink the 'coffee'; when the prospector offered him a cup he declined. 'More for us,' the prospector told me, and I weakly smiled.

... 'Hope you see all your plans through,'  I told him, and he smiled a crazy smile and said, 'Heh!'  He turned and walked away, with Benny bringing up the rear.  Once he was out of earshot, Charlie asked, 'What was wrong with the coffee?'  I passed him my cup; he took a tentative sip and discreetly spit it out.  His face had no expression.  'This is dirt,' he said.

'I know it is.'

'The man brews and drinks dirt?'

'I don't think he thinks it's dirt.'

Charlie liifted the cup and took another sip.  He pushed this around in his mouth, and again he spit it out.  'How could he not think it's dirt?'

I thought of this twitching prospector and the chicken-holding prospector and the dead, headless prospector and said, 'It would seem to me that the solitude of workng in the wilds is not healthy for a man.'  Charlie studied the surrounding forest with a kind of suspicion or mistrust.  'Let's move on,' he said, turnng to fold his bedroll.


The second excerpt is from World Made By Hand (Pgs. 128-130):

Mrs. Raynor banged around in her kitchen and eventually she came out with a pitcher and some glasses on a tray.

'How are you fellows doing?'

We all said fine, thank you, and offered some vague pleasantries.

'I thought you might want to try some of my strawberry wine.'

We all said thank you.  She put the tray down on a round wicker table.

'This used to be a sod farm,' she said.  'We had all the sod business between Albany and Glens Falls.'

'Is that so?' Brother Minor said.  He managed to refrain from making a joke.  Perhaps he sensed, as I did, that something was off.

'Well, there's not much call for sod these days, as you might imagine,' Mrs Raynor said with an attempt at a plucky smile.  The effort only made her face seem more skull-like.  'I'll go back in and see to supper.'

Brother Seth, no shrinking violet, had a go at the pitcher as soon as she went back inside.  The twilight had reached the purple stage where things were no longer very distinct.  He filled the five glasses.  One by one we all had our sips and soon enough we were all cutting looks about at each other.

'This here's plain water,' Brother Minor said in a low voice, 'or I'm a durn mud turtle.'

'Well, it's nice clean water, at least,' Elam said, 'and sometimes I think you are a mud turtle.'

'Maybe she made a mistake,' Seth said.

'Any of you all see a garden about this place?' Minor said.

'None that I noticed,' Seth said.

'Ssshhhhh,' Joseph said.

We didn't speculate about it further.  We just sat along the porch there in a row watching the last glimmers of daylight dissolve in the shadows of the far hills, enjoying our water.  Time went by.  We watched a quarter moon swing above the treetops while glimmers of its reflection on the river played through.  An owl hooted in the distance.  We slapped at mosquitoes.  Our stomachs growled.  I didn't notice any cooking aromas emanating through the screen door.

Finally, Mrs. Raynor called for us to come inside.  She had no candles going in there, not even further back in the kitchen.  The moon cast a pallid glow through the windows.   She directed us into the old formal dning room.  It contained a large oval table and padded chairs.  I had a candle stub in my pocket and lit it.  Elam found a tall crystal candlestick on the sideboard to put it in, while Joseph went out to get more candles fom his pannier.  The table was set for six with cloth napkins and nice cutlery.

'Sure smells good, don't it,' Brother Minor said.  Banter was his way of allaying nervousness.

We all sat down.  Joseph returned with more candles and soon the big table, at least, was lighted. 

'Can we help you with anything in there, ma'am?' Seth said.

'No, you fellows just get comfortable.'

She soon appeared with a heaping dinner plate in each hand, put them down in front of me and Minor, went back for two more for Joseph and Elam, and then two additonal for Seth and herself.  We all swapped glances around at each other in the candlelight.

'Potatoes and peas coming right up,' Mrs. Raynor said and she came back in with two serving bowls.  I took the one full of potatoes.  It was not the least bit warm.  I took one and put it on my plate.  It was a rock.  I passed the bowl left to Seth and he took his and so on.  When the peas came around I took a helping.  It was grass.  The lamb stew on our plates was watered up dirt: mud.  Mrs. Raynor told us to dig in.  I pantomimed eating and the rest did as I did, except Brother Minor, who could barely control his mirth.  Of course, I did not regard this as a mirthful situation, and I doubt the others did either.

'Excuse me, ma'am,' Brother Minor said.  'I don't have much appetite tonight.'  He got up from the table gingerly and left the room.

The rest of us went through the motions long enough to be polite.  Brother Joseph volunteered our services to help with the dishes, but Mrs.  Raynor wouldn't hear of it and the four of us remaining retired to our camp.

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