World’s Biggest Toothpick
A Short Story by Tim Josephs
Written using the suggestion "Pick"
Originally featured on 01-10-2007
As part of our series "Phases of a Holiday Meal"

“And we’re all yelling at him to put the thing down, but on account of the banana and that Irish fella yodeling, he just couldn’t hear us.”

The old man with the large nose and bushy mustache stopped to take a sip of his coffee. After he put his cup down, he looked around the nearly empty bar and grill.

“Okay, so where was I?” he continued. “Ah, the yodeler. So, Stevenson has the umbrella opened and-“

“Yeah, and he hits the fire alarm and the sprinklers go off, you told that one last week, Henry.”

Henry looked a little insulted. “Oh, I did?”

George nodded and shoveled the last of the meatloaf into his mouth.

“It’s a good story, though,” Chester said.

Henry smiled. “That it is.” He thought for a moment. “Did I ever tell you about Seymour Haggleton? Cheapest man in the tri-county area. One time he was at the store trying to buy some bacon and along comes Charlie Landerbrooke and-“

“Yeah, yeah, and he and Seymour go and steal a pig, you told that one yesterday.”

“I did? Huh.”

“Good story, though, Henry.”

“Well, if there’s nothing else,” George said, adjusting his thick glasses, “I guess I best be going,” He picked up his plaid cap and put it on his bald head. He slowly started stepping down from the barstool.

“Wait a second there, George.” Henry said. “Did you ever hear about Roscoe Dealman?”

George thought for a moment. “Dealman. No, I can’t say I have. What’s his story?”

Chester grinned. “Oh, yeah, this is a good one.”

“Roscoe Dealman,” Henry continued, hiking up his pants on his protruding belly, “was always looking for an angle, something that would make him some easy money. He never had a lotta success with anything; I seem to remember him trying to sell something called ‘mole farms.’ But anyway, one time he and his lady-friend, Loretta, went on a scenic tour of Arkansas. It seems that on that tour they visited some interesting sites, including the biggest ball of twine in North America, the largest walnut in the continental US, and the biggest can of beets in the world. After buying a pair of “World’s Biggest Beet Can” hot pants for Loretta — a little overpriced he thought at $29.95 — it got Roscoe thinking; maybe he could come up with the world’s largest whatever and charge people to see it.”

George straightened himself on the stool and took off his hat.

“So after they got back, Roscoe started looking around the house, but besides a large dust bunny, that he really didn’t think anyone would pay to see, he couldn’t find anything. In the backyard he had a whole pile of scrap metal and he thought he could make himself one of those big cans, creamed corn or chick peas or something. He didn’t have anything to fill it, but he never saw the inside of that beet can so it could have been empty for all he knew. He worked for days trying to make a giant can but he just couldn’t get it right. He was about to give up, had his sights on some other get-rich-quick-scheme, something to do with pet skunks I think, when a big storm hit. Do you remember that storm, Chester?”

“Of course I remember that storm! That was the night Mrs. Briarmont’s poodle got hit by lightning.”

“That’s right. So the next day Roscoe goes outside and a huge tree had fallen right near the house. They were lucky, too, a few more feet and it would have been right in their kitchen. So, anyway, he goes and gets his chainsaw and he’s just about to start chopping the thing up when he really looks at it. It’s an old tree but the trunk was perfectly straight. That’s when Roscoe realized he had a real money-maker right in front of him.”

Henry picked up the end of a pickle on the plate in front of him and popped it in his mouth.

“Well?” George asked. “What was it?”

Henry smiled. “Roscoe decided that he would take that tree and create himself his own tourist attraction by making the world’s largest toothpick.”

“Toothpick?” George asked a little skeptically.

“That’s right,” Henry said. “Of course everyone, including Loretta thought he was crazy. Who was going to pay to see a giant toothpick? Well, Roscoe wasn’t dumb about it. He only worked at night and covered the log during the day so no one could see it. He spread fliers around and put signs up all over the tri-county area advertising the toothpick. And you know what? By the end of the four months it took him to carve the damn thing, he had everyone worked up to see it.”

“I know I was excited,” Chester said.

“So, when it was ready, he set it all up, he even got some red velvet ropes when the Rialto on Main shut down and put ‘em around the thing.”

“I think he actually got those ropes when the Montgomery burned down,” Chester said.

Henry thought for a moment. “You know, I think you’re right, Chester. The Montgomery had some darker colored ropes than the Rialto.”

“That’s true. Softer, too.”

“That they were. Do you remember when we were there to see that double feature that time and the damn projector stopped-“

“Uh, fellas,” George said. “What about the toothpick?”

“Oh, yes, of course. So real early one morning people started lining up to see the thing. Some said the line went on for miles, I don’t know about that but Chester and me were some of the first folks there. Roscoe charged people five dollars to see it, another five if you wanted your picture taken with it.”

“Picture?”

“Yup. You could lean against it or crouch down at one end and pretend you were picking your teeth with it. Chester got one of those.”

“I did,” Chester said with a smile. “Actually dislodged some asparagus that had been stuck for a few days.”

“So, how’d the thing look?” George asked.

“How do you think it looked? It looked like a huge damn toothpick! Roscoe did a fine job carvin’ the thing. So, in addition to the pictures, Loretta, who was a bit of a seamstress, made a whole bunch of shirts that said “World’s Biggest Toothpick,” that were $20 if I remember correctly.”

“So, Roscoe finally made some money,” George said.

“That he did, the money poured in; but the story doesn’t end there. You see, something started happening to Roscoe.”

“Something weird,” Chester chimed in.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, apparently the Guinness people had gotten wind of the toothpick and they were going to come out and maybe put it in that book of theirs. So Roscoe started obsessing over it. He always thought something was going to happen to it. When people came to see it, he would hardly let them near it; he thought they were going to hurt it somehow. He started sleeping next to it ‘cause he thought someone was going to steal it, even though the thing probably weighed a couple thousand pounds.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah. The real problems started after the next big storm hit. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the last one, but it did do some damage, including dropping a sizeable branch right on top of the toothpick.”

“What happened to it?”

“Well, not much really. There was a scratch and a little dent but no one probably would have noticed. But of course Roscoe did. He closed down the attraction for repairs. Now from what I heard, it shouldn’t have taken him more than a day or two to fix it. But every time he came close to finishing, he’d find something else wrong and start working on that. He’d work on the thing for days, would hardly even sleep. Loretta said, right before she moved out, that Roscoe accused her of sabotaging the toothpick, said that she was jealous of it.”

“Wow. So, what happened?”

“Well, it was about a couple months later that the people from Guinness came out to measure it, but by then Roscoe had sanded it so much it was now only about the third or fourth biggest in the world. That’s when folks say he lost it.”

“What do you mean,” George asked. “Like he went crazy?”

“That’s what a lotta people thought,” Henry said. “So one day me and Chester decided to see if the rumors were true and we went up to Roscoe’s place. The door was wide open and the whole house was a mess, by then Loretta had been long gone. We called for him but couldn’t find him in the house so we went around back. And there he was wearing some filthy clothes hunched over something we couldn’t see.”

“So I says, ‘Hey, Roscoe,’” Chester said. “And he stopped doing whatever he was doing; do you remember that, Henry?”

“That I do, and I don’t feel ashamed to admit I was a little scared at that moment. So he turns around and we can barely recognize him; his eyes were all squinty and he had a full brown beard with wood shavings all over it. He looks at us for a second and I don’t think he knows who we are, but then he kind of smiles. We helped him up and went inside. It was only then we realized the giant toothpick was gone.”

“So, what happened?” George asked.

“Well, he was in pretty bad shape. He kept saying he had to finish the toothpick before the Guinness people came back. He said he needed to get the record.”

“And then I said, ‘Well, it looks like you’re trying to set the big, crazy beard record.’” Chester said.

“You didn’t say that!” George said.

Chester nodded.

“That he did,” Henry said, “and I gotta tell you, I was ready to run. Roscoe just stared at us for a minute and then he starts laughing. Then we all start laughing. Well, after that we talked to him for a while and I think we got through to him. The next day we saw him down at Jake’s getting a haircut and shave.”

“I mean, what happened to the toothpick?”

Henry glanced at Chester and they both smiled.

“Well, a few weeks after that, Roscoe came in here to thank us and to let us know that he had talked things over with Loretta and she was thinking about coming back. That’s when he gave me this.” Henry slowly reached into his shirt pocket. He pulled out a brownish-yellow toothpick and held it up. “This is all that’s left.”

“That’s it?”

Henry nodded.

“Wow, that’s some story.”

“That it is.”

“Hey, Henry, can I see the pick?” Chester asked.

Henry looked suspicious. “What for?”

“I just want to see it, is all.” Henry held it out to him. Chester curled his upper lip and shoved his right index finger into his mouth. “I got some more asparagus that just won’t budge.”

Henry looked disgusted and yanked the toothpick back.

“What?”

“Alright, fellas, I really gotta be going now,” George said, putting his hat on and sliding off the stool.

“Hey, George,” Henry said. “Did we ever tell you about Marty Gutman and the Feedin’ Frenzy?”

“Oh, that’s a good one,” Chester said.

George rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I think you might have mentioned that once or twice.” He slowly started shuffling towards the door.

“Ya see,” Henry continued, not paying him any attention, “Marty Gutman was a large man, probably still is; you might say his name suited him well…”

Read More By Tim Josephs

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