Thursday, March 5, 2020

CriMemoir: Dennis McMillan on the True Story Behind Sokdolager by Scott Phillips

I asked all the contributors to my 20th anniversary volume of original short stories, D'Ray's Measures of Poison, to set their tales in the 1930s--my favorite decade for many pop-cultural icons and genres, including cars, gangsters, and men's clothing styles, especially hats. Most of the writers came up with an historical angle on one type of crime or another, but one of my good friends, Scott Phillips, transmogrified a Wichita story I'd told him a few years' before to flesh-out part of the youth of his Willefordian, dick-head hero Wayne Ogden, who first appeared in The Walkaway.

Sociopaths start instantiating early in life, as everybody reading this knows. Scott turned the subject(s) of the story I'd told him, a young Arkansas hillybilly named Euliss Goff and his arson of Wichita gangster Tony "the Gar" Garcia's Lambourghini, into a late-1930s tale of Wayne Ogden, at the end of the summer between his junior and senior years of high school, when he'd finished selling kitchenware door-to-door. Wayne had the results of his summer's work-efforts--$36--in his pocket, and was feeling pretty cocky in that certain sociopath way, so he'd ambled into the Uptown Rec, where the bartender was a friend of Wayne's late father, and a place he knew he could get served a beer in spite of his youth.

At this point, Scott diverged Wayne's story from the actual events of several decades later that "morally-forced" Euliss Goff to burn up Tony Garcia's exotic sports car in the middle of a swelteringly humid Wichita, Kansas, afternoon, directly outside the front door of Garcia's bar, the Uptown Rec, to the amazement of all and sundry who witnessed the conflagration. Since all the principals of this miasmal narrative are long dead, I think I'm free to give the complete back-story
here, as a small tribute to Scott's creativity.

The real events were as follows, and need to be prefaced by short descriptions of the lifestyles of both principals--Euliss Goff, 15-year-old hillbilly; and Tony "the Gar" Garcia, 30-some-odd-year old Wichita coke dealer, bar owner and, in general, gangster-without-portfolio. When sociopaths CROSS paths . . . well, the results can be unpredictable, to say the least.

Euliss Goff was the 2-years' younger brother of my best friend in 7th grade, Eddie Goff, an Arkansas hillbilly whose father had come to Wichita to work as a machinist in one of the "plants" around town (Boeing, Beech, Cessna, Learjet, Swallow Aircraft, Both Euliss and Eddie had an
inbred hatred of "the laws," as they called the police, and both were certainly destined for prison before their 30th birthdays, had Fate not intervened.

At the age of 16, Eddie dove into a water-filled rock quarry and broke his neck, almost completely severing his spinal cord. Eddie remained wheelchair-bound, with full use of only his left arm, partial use of his right, legs strapped to the wheelchair, riven by muscle-spasms, for the remainder of his fairly short life. After Eddie's accident, though, Euliss devoted himself to his brother's care and possible recovery, to the point of obtaining a Master's degree in Physical Therapy from Colorado State U. The ultimate fate of both brothers, however, was to die in Wichita from heroin overdoses before their 40th birthdays. I found out their sad ends in the mid-1990s, on a visit to Wichita where I tried to track down some of the people I'd known as a kid.

I didn't really know Tony Garcia, although I met him 3 or 4 times at a bar on 2nd Street that was popular with the people I knew who were still living in The TAW from the mid-1970s through the year 2000. Garcia was known as a burly and affable companion--a good guy to play snooker, pool, or cards with in his bar, while drinking and snorting coke, the sale of which was his main business, but he was also known as a guy not to "cross" in any kind of business/dope deal as he had a homicidal temper, so all the real "players" in town, as well as the wannabes, tried to stay on his good side. He was also known for closing his bar, the Uptown Rec, early; locking the door and continuing a private revel of drinking and coke-snorting with those of his friends who wished to remain until the wee hours, when at times he would fire his .45 automatic through the ceiling, just for fun, in an excess of jocularity.

One summer night in the late 1960s, 15-year-old Euliss Goff was in the Uptown Rec, and stayed for the party after Garcia had locked the door. But that situation didn't last longer than it took Garcia to find out that one of his co-partiers was the underage Euliss, and being half-drunk and coked-up at the time, The Gar proceeded to bodily eject Euliss from his establishment, throwing him hard out onto the sidewalk. This insult to his hillbilly sensibilites prompted the next day's grand finale.

Euliss made up a Molotov cocktail out of an old wine bottle filled with gasoline, put it into the front basket of his bicycle, and rode a few blocks' over to the Uptown Rec, where Garcia's newly-acquired Lambourghini--the only one in Wichita--was parked right outside the front door. As he pedaled by, Euliss casually lit the Molotov and tossed it onto the front seat of Garcia's new ego-toy. The Lambo burnt to the chassis before the fire department truck could even arrive on the scene. Garcia had no idea who'd done this dirty deed to him, blaming some rival black dope dealers from the ghetto for his loss, rather than dream the culprit was a 15-year-old hillbilly kid riding his bicycle down the streets of The TAW.

Such is the true origin of Scott Phillips' very fine short story Sokdolager, which is defined by most dictionaries I consulted as "the final, determining blow in an argument or confrontation, physical or otherwise." I believe Scott chose his title appropriately.

(Sokdolager first appeared in D'Ray's Measures of Poison edited by Dennis McMillan and later in The Best American Mysteries 2003 edited by Michael Connelly and Otto Penzler. It is available in Scott's collected short fiction Rum, Sodomy and False Eyelashes. Wayne Ogden has appeared in The Walkaway and then The Adjustment as well as the short story The Crow Killers.

That Left Turn at Albuquerque, the latest novel from Scott Phillips is available now. Grab a copy at your favorite local bookstore through Indie Bound or from

Subterranean Books (they'll have signed editions)

Barnes & Noble


Dennis McMillan, formerly of Dennis McMillan Publications, turns 70 this year and is in self-exile in Gallup, New Mexico.

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