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Dream Cleaver 

In my dictionary, "BBB" does not stand for "Better Business Bureau." Naw. Try "Bumptious Bubble Buster" — "Bumper" for short. Do you get the feeling that the term contains a kind of negative connotation, a sneer of sorts? Well, you should. I'm sneering as fast as my upper lip will permit.

Who are these people? People who puncture an illusion — usually unasked — without hope of material reward. The spiritual satisfaction of possessing superior knowledge over someone, of being able to flaunt that knowledge, of being able to shatter some innocence which up until this moment has been a shield against the whiney anguish of truth — that must be what motivates Bumpers.

You may crave some examples. Perhaps the most obvious is he or she who reveals the facts of Santa Claus and invariably takes monumental pleasure in doing so. A friend remembers the day Santa left her life:

'It was my older brother (Isn't it always older brothers?) and I kept telling him I didn't believe him. So he grabbed me by the arm and dragged me down the hall. We had a long hall and at the end of it was a closet with a long, mirrored door. My brother opened the door and pushed me in. "See? Those are all your presents. You'll get "em all on Christmas morning.'"

That's a Bumper for you.

When I was still a crumb snatcher, my uncle took me with my two cousins for some cane-pole fishing. Progress was steady and slow, with mostly yellow-bellied perch getting on our hooks, and almost half of those getting off again.

Then there was that sudden surge that suggests the power of the unseen. The tip of my pole almost doubled on itself, and for some indefinite time — who knows what happens to time when there's something large on the hook — my cousins yelped and I trembled about the possibilities in front of us.

Magically it was over. Something long and magnificently ugly was flopping on the clay-mud of the bank, and I was swelling with the sin of pride. My uncle walked over to take my glory off the hook.

There it was, held up for a moment to admire and then and then turning over and over as it tumbled through the air before crashing safely back into the bayou. My uncle had thrown away my glory without an apparent thought.

'Why, that's a choupique! They're a trash fish!" was all the explanation he ever offered.

I never knew who made such rules or why. I only know they are enforced relentlessly by Bumpers the world over.

My brother once told me a tale from his early days of high school. He was still in awe of his teachers, men of such accomplishment and gravity that when he called them "sir," he meant it. He quoted them to our parents.

Then one day, he ran afoul of the law. The details are forgotten and no longer matter. What is remembered is that this teacher asked him for his phone number and promised to call the parents after supper.

My brother panicked. The teacher already had punished him for his role in the transgression, but this phone call business was like double jeopardy. Because in those enlightened days teachers were mightily esteemed by parents and if one of them reported that you had plotted to blow up the cathedral at Chartres, your parents would have hung their heads in shame. And then they would have flogged you into a near-death experience.

The phone finally rang. Our old man got on and stayed on a long time. After he finally hung up, he began telling my brother what he had heard. It was only then that my brother began to realize the unthinkable: His teacher, that paragon of propriety, had lied to make his offense even more dastardly. Lied!

At the time, my brother says, he'd never heard of any adult lying about a kid. At that moment, his world changed forever. His universe would never again deserve the respect he'd given it.

Teachers can be Bumpers, too.

Then there was the matter of The Tailwagger.

She was one of the wonders of the ancient world, the Pharaoh's lighthouse transported to the Third Ward, and the ancient world was the one surrounding me as I was leaving my teens.

Many of those faraway afternoons were sacrificed on the altar of a neighborhood bar with a pool table and a generous admissions policy.

There were other attractions. One minor one was Tommie, a drunkard the color of washed chalk who swept out the place from time to time. One major one was The Tailwagger, a honey-haired honey built like a brick amusement park who lived directly across from the bar.

So placed, she could easily be seen from the bar's front windows as she sat on the porch, watered the lawn, unpacked the groceries. She was luscious, a world thus far undiscovered but a potential hopefully looming in our futures.

The Tailwagger was married to a guy who seemed a little older. We didn't see him much, and when we did, he seemed strangely indifferent to the Good Luck swishing around his house in hip-huggers.

So that's how things were this Saturday morning. Tommie was slowly wiping down tables with a bar rag. The Tailwagger was sitting on her front porch swing, perusing a catalog. Me and Perch had our noses pressed firmly against the front window. We were discussing her absentee husband. "Man, if I had something that looked like that around my house, you'd never have to look for me. I'd never leave home."

That's when Tommie looked up and busted a coupla balloons with alcoholic hoarseness.

'Just remember this, you hotshots. No matter what they look like, somewhere, some guy is tired of them."

That was all. With just those few words, a wino had blown dust on all our sparkling notions of future potential. Even if there was a Tailwagger coming into our lives, it would not be enough.

Tommie the Bumper. They're everywhere. Just dare to have some belief system you want to hide under for a little while. A bubble, so to speak.

They'll bust it. Oh my, yes.

click to enlarge MARK KARCHER
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