Thomas Doty – Storyteller

Coyote & Friends

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Coyote Goes to Myth-Heaven
by Rick Rubin

They used to tell a lot of stories about Coyote around here. He was their trickie-dickie and their monster-mangler -- he changed the world, but not always for the better. Coyote was a hungry, egocentric pup, forever curious. Nor did the stories tell about just one Coyote; there were a lot of different Coyotes. In some stories, more Coyotes than one were in camp at once.

Coyote was a demigod and everyman. He played a lot of tricks, many of them on himself. The tales they told about that leggy, long-nosed trickster! And in the telling they made him brighter and richer in detail, until that rascally little demigod was real as a cloud or bubble, a shadow or flash of lightning. His range was from the Mississippi to the Pacific. Somewhere between Guatemala and Montana someone was always telling a Coyote story.

Once Coyote was an image, dancing and singing in the minds of all the people. He consorted with great chiefs Elk and Salmon; he had his way with Badger, Antelope and Skunk, frightened Deer and took the daughters of every totem for his wives.

But disease came -- and the English language, Greek gods, Christianity, printed books, movies and finally television. The original people died or moved away; they paid Coyote no mind any more. He lost his power. He sank back to being just an ordinary mortal for another wearisome round of incarnations -- but with all the same old tricks, most of them on himself now. Poor Coyote!

* * * * *

This time, Coyote was a beat-up old bindlestiff, dumpster-diving for his minimum daily eats and sleeping where he fell. He was so low he didn't even have a regular route, but scammed the drop boxes as he encountered them in his perpetual wanderings.

So, one cold and rainy night, when he found a box piled high with yarn remnants a sweater manufacturer had discarded, he climbed right in and bedded down, warm, dry, and apparently safe above the orange peels and poor-boys emptied of tokay.

Such poverty of spirit is what comes of falling off the charts. No telling how long he'd been snuggled in that dumpster, when he felt his bed upend and suffered a great wallop to the head. That lean-flanked, squinty-eyed one saw stars and constellations.

Grinding and roaring, an aging, rusty Leach Pack-Master held the upended drop box high and poured out its contents. Yarn, peels, Coyote, bottles and trash poured into its gaping, odiferous maw. Coyote heard the engine roar; he glimpsed the gate go closed and felt the grinding, invincible compression of the garbage begin. Coyote shrugged and sighed. A world as mean as this one was not so hard to lose, he thought.

And death was not so painful. He lost consciousness, and his spirit left that poor bedraggled body. He rose from flesh, under the street light above the parked cars. He looked back with sadness and relief at the clay he'd left. Then, turning, he confronted the great clear light that drew him into the tunnel to afterlife.

"Ah," thought Coyote, "soon I will be reunited with Bear and River Otter. Salmon and I will hold serious conversations, Mole will serve my every wish as wife, Hawk and Eagle recall our many adventures together." He shrugged off that mortal coil and trotted forward to embrace his destiny.

Ranger Raccoon and Smokey Bear manned the metal detector at the end of the passage. They frisked Coyote harshly, patting him down for hardware or detonatable devices. "Stomp your butt," the Bear in the hat and blue jeans commanded. "Field-strip it, and pack the filter-tip out with you," the Raccoon demanded.

Mouse in short pants came running over, waving his yellow gloved hand, big round ears akimbo. "I'm Mickey, pal," the rodent chirped. "Glad to meetcha, always admired ya!" In a sailor's jumper, his sidekick, Duck, quacked a steady, incomprehensible stream of complaints, charges and rage.

This was not the myth-age Coyote remembered. Where were psychopathic Blue Jay and helpful Uncle Crane? What of heroic Wren and bold Chicken Hawk? And yet, he had to admit a certain similarity. He scanned the crowd in wonder, recalling here a name, and now a face.

King Kong leaned tough against a wall, chatting with Godzilla. Shy Bambi stood on the sidelines as Lassie pranced her high-strung, delicate way toward the ladies' lav. There in the corner, tiny, wispy, almost impossible to see, strutted Poetry Chicken. A tasteful Bird in running shoes fluffed her wings at Coyote, beeped and hurried on.

Out on the dance floor, Snoopy and Garfield tripped the light fantastic with dogged determination and catty insouciance. They would have been a mixed couple in Coyote's day, perhaps even beyond the rules of mythic possibilities, but times had changed. Here they danced together openly before an uncaring world -- and enjoyed heaven knows what secret intimacies in the privacy of their consenting adulthood. Coyote sensed his canine kinship to that floppy-eared fool. He imagined the forbidden delights of feline physiology.

A black-and-white Bird waddled past, shower cap and bathbrush at the ready, reeking of pickled herring. A Dog in overalls conversed goofily with a pert female mini-Mouse. She squeaked appreciatively. Three Little Pigs, one Wolf, a Peanut in a top hat, a quartet of singing Chipmunks, three blind Mice, a philosophical Seagull, a talking Mule and a typing Cockroach claimed Coyote's attention. Off in one corner a pack of assorted doggies played poker. The skinny little bird darted past again, as though to attract his attention. Coyote's mouth began to water.

He saw a herd of Hogs and Bulls lowing and bellowing before a television set, watching the athletic feats of savage Beavers, Ducks and Sled-Dogs. Turkey flipped the dial, catching game after game. Horned Toads assaulted Lava Bears, Gamecocks pummeled Razorbacks, a bewildering array of quadrupeds and feather-wearers blindsided, sacked and upended one another in swift rotation. That Bird ran past again, almost tripping Coyote. "Beep, beep," she voiced her cry and disappeared in a cloud of dust. Coyote felt the pull, but didn't follow.

He sought in vain the friends of his youth, those dignified, serious creatures he'd so enjoyed befoozling. Where were Louse Woman and Grizzly Bear, Cougar, Seal and Snake Tail?

Searching the hall, he chanced to look up and found their dusty portraits lining the baronial walls. The heroes of old were without worshipers now. Their audience ratings had dropped off the charts, too. They had to go up behind glass, old-fashioned, in out-of-date poses.

So this is death and myth-heaven, mourned Coyote. He realized with sudden clarity that only the Beep Beep bird had saved him from being a dusty portrait on the wall. He now was a minor character, expressing one tawdry little story again and again -- he who once was the star, who made up the world and had a part in every story.

It made him think: Real life was not so bad. Sure, he was a stumble-bum, but you got a lot of fresh air that way. And freedom, blessed freedom. Alive, he could still change the story: Sober up and buy a necktie, find a nice Mouse or Sparrow and settle down to connubial bliss. Coyote was the one who changed things. Coyote could change even himself. He wished for another chance.

Just then Alligator, in a polo shirt, gave Coyote an arrogant shove. "The King and Queen are coming," snarled Izod. "Get your mangy peasant bod out of the way."

The characters formed up in twin rows, all attention focused on the vast doors. Fanfares of brass blared from the stacked speakers; colored lights shifted and flared. Mickey Mouse, in tux and top-hat, caught the spotlight with his wand. "Ladies and gentlemen, stars and supporting cast, mammals, birds and lizards, let's bring them on with a big hand, let's greet the Queen and King of myth-heaven. Tops on the Hit Parade, touted for immortality, PR'd into paradise! And so, without further ado, I give you...."

The doors swung open. Frog, in spats and accompanied by Pig in a bikini, appeared.

"...Miss Piggie and Kermit the Royal Boyfriend!"

Pig and Frog! It was too much for Coyote. He would not hold still for it. He would not worship such tiny, trivial eminences.

A wail like an air-raid siren filled the room, blotting out all sound, filling the hall, stopping the proceedings. Everything ground to a halt. Coyote turned his head to see what was making that awful caterwaul.

He realized it was himself, howling for his life in the bowels of the Leach Pack-Master. The driver of the garbage truck had stopped the compactor and was coming around to open it. He wanted to see what had got wedged in his valuable machine. He opened the door, and Coyote leaped out.

The rain was cool on his face. His stomach growled with emptiness, his ribs hurt from the squeezing, but all his faculties seemed intact -- and he was back alive!

The garbage man stared with wonder at the skinny little grizzle-haired bum who'd just escaped being flattened like a grape. "Well, I'll be dogged," the refuse collector exclaimed.

And he probably will, too, but Coyote didn't wait around. Old man Coyote trotted off to see what life held next in store.