Trench Gristle 01: Hot Farina

Either no one else cared or suspected Rastus. Me, I had liked that timeline.

“I see your hand in this, Cream of Wheat Man.”

He smiled the same smile illustrators had captured on the red box. “My hand? No, I’s fraid my hand been busy stirrin’ this big ol’ pot of wheat farina. Want some?”

“It ain’t the time for cream of wheat. I want answers.”

Rastus frowned and his white chef hat leaned a little more on his head. “But I’s figure it’s the best time for wheat farina. It’s breakfast time. Whoever heard of havin’ answers for breakfast?”

He went back to stirring. He hummed a negro spiritual while he worked…”Wade in the Water”?

Meanwhile, my favorite timeline was getting the screw. Nobody noticed cause ol’ Rastus had equalized the karmic balance-no net gain in good or evil.

Here Charles Manson was a celebrated movie star of the 60’s and 70’s.

Ashton Kutcher paid the price for Manson’s Walk of Fame star. “Kutcher the Butcher” they called him. He had turned the whole cast of “That 70’s Show” into his family.

I wasn’t having it. My thing for Mila Kunis was as strong as ever, timeline be damned. She would never grace the cover of Maxim here. And even she couldn’t pull off the orange jumpsuit.

I grabbed the box that had Rastus’ likeness on it.

“Is that what’s got you cheesing?” I asked pointed to his happy countenance on the box, “changing timelines when you get a liking to?”

He stopped stirring and looked around like he was afraid Mr. Charlie was going to come around the corner.

“I’s gonna tell you why I smiles so big and bright. These white folks think I enjoys stirrin’ this farina and pourin’ it into lil white bowls and serving it to they chil’rens lil white faces, and I’s does. But that’s only cause I pisses into the pot.”

“Why’d you do it?”

“It’s right satisfyin’. Besides, nowadays I can hardly ever find the colored only bathroom.”

“No, the timeline. Why’d you change it?”

His eyes went distant. After a minute of humming he spoke. “You know, I’s been peein’ and servin’ and smilin’ for a long, long time. Pretty sure I done served up some hot bowls to black chil’ren too. Like Eddie Murphy. But lil’ Eddie liked my smile more than my farina. He stole that smile, made untold millions from it. Me? I’s still in the kitchen, stirrin’.”

Rastus brought his attention back to the kitchen. He looked at me and smiled bright again. “Now stop all this fuss and have some breakfast.”

He set down a bowl of cream of wheat.

I looked up at him tearfully.

“Mila Kunis shouldn’t have to pay for Eddie Murphy’s business savvy.”

Rastus’ smile lit up the room.

“Aw, hush now. All this carrying on and yo’ cream of wheat’ll get cold.”

I learned two things that morning talking to Rastus.

You can’t negotiate the return of a timeline with a hot cereal mascot.

And if anyone tells you they’ve pissed in something, believe them.

The story behind the story:

Right after reading Bruce Holland Roger’s short short sighted article about using famous people as characters in your stories, the Cream of Wheat Man grabbed a hold of my thoughts and wouldn’t let go. So I let Rastus have his way and wrote this story. I tried to shop this around a few times but seriously? I’m sure a lot of publishers thought I was racist… it’s not like I was sending cover letters saying “This is ok cause I’m a black dude.” I mean, what’s that saying about society in general if putting that in my cover letter did indeed make them feel it was ok to print but not otherwise? Besides the race-baiter that is Rastus, this story relied a lot on pop culture references. And sure, they’re pretty big names that get dropped, but more often than not publisher’s try to stay away from these references in an effort to make a story universally appealing.


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