Henderson Lovely, Last of the Munchkins

It was not an easy sell. There was very little money to fund a festival, since the village—like most of Upstate New York—had been hit hard by the recession. The biggest obstacle, to Pat anyway, was that there were no Munchkins. Five of the surviving, original movie Munchkins used to attend the Oz Fest: the Coroner, one of the Lollipop Guild, a Sleepyhead, a Trumpeter, and a Villager. They were the main attraction. However, during the ten-year hiatus, they had all died off. Most casual followers of the film believed that these were the last of the Munchkins. Oz enthusiasts—including Pat Pratt—knew otherwise. Cast as one of the many soldiers of Munchkin City, Henderson Lovely had never made a single public appearance affiliated with the film. Pat understood that if he really wanted to convince the village about the festival, he needed to lure Henderson here.

ONE DAY UNTIL THE OZ FEST

Pat misted Windex on a framed, original 1938 photograph of the Munchkin actors posing in front of the Culver City Hotel. He’d recently won it on E-Bay for three hundred dollars—a staggering price considering his meager wage. Pat couldn’t resist the purchase. It was the perfect addition to his extensive collection of Wizard of Oz memorabilia that ornamented his home: original movie posters, autographed head shots of Judy Garland and Jack Haley, ceramic figurines and commemorative plates, and throw pillows with film scenes stitched into them. Pat also believed the photo would impress his special guest, who would be here at any moment.

“Has it occurred to you that everything’s hung too high for a midget?” Brett said, leaning in the entranceway. Ever since Pat had corrected his son’s use of the term midget, Brett had been saying it twice as often. Pat had suggested, as subtly as possible, that Brett stay at a friend’s house for the weekend, forgetting that the only person he hung out with was Dean Fleming. He’d even considered sending Brett down to North Carolina to stay with his mother. No way in hell Brett would go for that.

“Couldn’t you put on a collar shirt, just while Henderson is here?”

Brett wore a yellow, Limbaugh for President T-shirt. Pat wasn’t sure if it was ironic, whether anything his son did was ironic.

“How about,” Brett began, putting his finger to his lips in mock thought, “I slip into one of Mom’s old dresses and pretend I’m Dorothy?”

Pat stomped past him into the kitchen. “Right. Thanks, Brett.”

“No seriously,” Brett said, following. “I’ll shave my legs and put on some lipstick, and we’ll show that tiny old midget what a freak show we really are.”

Pat placed the Windex under the kitchen sink next to the garbage pail. He lingered, closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, taking in the odors of day-old chicken bones and Pine Sol.  Birds fly over the rainbow, why oh why can’t I? Pat came up from the sink and smiled at Brett.  “You go do that.”

Over Brett’s shoulder, a reflection of light came through the bay window and moved across the wall of the family room. A car had pulled into the driveway. Pat’s chest flipped.

“Please be good.”

Pat rushed out to the front porch and watched as the driver got out of a black, dinged-up sedan. Henderson had insisted over the phone on being picked up in a limousine. Pat was disappointed to see that for the money—nearly 100 dollars—the vehicle was a Lincoln Towncar. Apparently, Henderson was upset, too.

“What in the hell you got me riding in, Mayor?” His voice was strident and screechy, grating like a rusty door hinge. The frazzled driver fled the car to retrieve the wheelchair from the trunk. He glared at Pat as if blaming him for Henderson’s assumed behavior.  “Why didn’t you just rent a guldern Chevy Lumina. You ever ride in a Lumina, Mayor?”

Pat trotted down the driveway and ducked his head into the car.

Henderson Lovely wore a Tampa Bay Rays cap that half hid a long, severely wrinkled face. Big, drooping ears flanked the length of his head. His eyes were soft and blue, nearly ghostlike in their transparency. As expected, Henderson was tiny, though Pat was not prepared for the incongruity of size and age. Incredibly, he looked like an elderly, eight-year-old boy.

“My apologies for the car, Mr. Lovely,” Pat said in his official, mayoral voice—low and authoritative. This was the same tone he used during town meetings when fielding complaints about infrastructure or garbage pick-up.

“Just get me in the guldern house. Need a drink.”

Pat tipped the exasperated driver the contents of his wallet—six dollars. He grabbed Henderson’s green suitcase, and wheeled the old man up the ply board he had laid over the porch steps.