Luck evens out for most people. Sometimes, though, one bad break begets another, and it all goes into a death spiral. Such was the case of the Scheltonns of Roebuck, Oklahoma.
Names were not Frank Scheltonn’s forte. It took a lot of thinking, but one could make a case that the decline and fall began with the fact that the town’s greatest and only athlete had played football at Arizona State University after first matriculating at a Kansas junior college whose name almost no one could now remember. Imogene Roebuck gave birth to a son shortly after Coach Frank Kush’s Sun Devils went undefeated and beat Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl. Oklahomans hate Nebraska, at least when it’s playing football, so the first child was Frank Kush Scheltonn because they wanted to name him after his daddy but also somebody famous, and the football coach was the best they could do.
The ballplayer’s name from Roebuck was Cody Starr. It would have been a better choice.
Daddy was Frank, so from the time he could recognize his own name, the son went by Kush. By the time Kush Scheltonn was sixteen years old, Frank Kush was no longer coaching, the name kush no longer had a capital letter, and its name came from the Hindu Kush mountain range and a strain of cannabis that had originally been cultivated there. Being named Kush Scheltonn was about the same as a rock musician dubbed “Dime Bag.” The local cops were trailing Kush before Kush had any idea what kush was.
On the day Kush first went to juvenile boot camp, the rest of the family – Frank, Imogene, sisters Mary Jane and Cokie, and baby brother O.J. – was there to see him off. By then, Frank was aware of what kush had come to mean. “If I had it to do over,” he said, watching the boy board an olive-drab schoolbus, “I believe I’d’ve named him Airplane Glue.”
In the years ahead, Frank developed a love for Evan Williams, and no one much blamed him. Imogene did better and found the Lord, but, even though they could no longer afford the cost of a divorce, the couple almost completely stopped communicating. Mary Jane and Cokie started having babies at regular intervals, with seldom a sign of daddies, and O.J. managed to wait until he was of age before he got sent up for knocking off a Laundromat, which would not have gotten him incarcerated were it not for him shooting the place up and winging a bull terrier because he didn’t like the way it was looking at him.
Frank still worked in the oilfields and liked to stop off at a roadhouse out in the country where a man could still smoke while he was drinking his liquor. It was a straight shot home and nobody much minded when Frank had several. It was just about time for him to run along – in other words, Imogene was probably done commiserating to Jesus and gone to bed – when Big Ed Latourette, the bartender and Frank’s best friend, started talking about the late, legendary Joe Don Looney, one-time Oklahoma Sooner great, who’d bounced all around the National Football League, converted to Hinduism and killed himself in a West Texas motorcycle crash at age forty-five.
“Joe Don Looney,” Big Ed said. “What’s in a name?”
Frank Scheltonn knocked that shot of Evan Williams back, said, “Just about every goddamn thing,” left a twenty on the counter, walked out, cranked up his Lumina, and drifted on back home.