Timothy Barstow was cute as he could be. You’ve heard that expression “cute as a bug”? That was little Timmy. That’s how cute he was. He had short blond hair and one big blue eye. The other was white. He was blind in that eye. His skin was the color of egg drop soup. And he was thin. Thin thin thin. Aside from all that, he was cute as they come.

Sickly and thin, but cute as the dickens. The Barstows, unfortunately, had less than a pot to piss in. Ed, Timmy’s father, sold black velvet paintings from the trunk of his car. Elvis, Jesus. Rainbows and unicorns. Sandy, his mother, said “yes dear” to Ed; that was her job. Might as well have been.

But as desperate and dismal as it seemed at the time, the Barstows were sitting on a platinum mine. Tim Barstow could sing. Boy could he sing. You’ve heard that expression, “sings like an angel”? His voice could send chills down an archangel’s spine.

What with black velvet paintings and “yes dears” and all that, Ed and Sandy never noticed the gift their son had. One day they heard him, alone in his room, singing gospel and hymns and old country tunes. He belted out songs, like the frog in “One Froggy Evening”, and like that cartoon, Ed and Sandy got greedy.

Come see the blind boy, come hear him sing. People did, people came. Tim Barstow’s voice was a money-making machine. Ed got a Beamer. Sandy got jewelry. Bracelets and rings

And Timmy got thinner. You know that expression “thin as a rail”? He was thinner than that. He walked with a cane, he was blind in both eyes. He got yellower too. Yellower, even, than egg drop soup. 

It was painfully obvious little Timmy had cancer. What to do, thought the Barstows, but Ed had the answer: Little Timmy T-shirts and pillows and ashtrays. A YouTube channel and a Little Timmy Hour, with a house band and guest stars and Little Timmy Dancers. 

The dollars rolled in; Ed and Sandy spent them like there was no tomorrow. You’ve heard that expression? Sadly, there wasn’t for Timothy Barstow. When the money ran out, every penny and dime, Ed looked over at little Timmy's cane. He turned to his wife. Think we’d get much for that? Sandy smiled. Yes dear, she replied.

Now Ed and Sandy live out of their car, and the Barstows get by like the grifters they are. For people like them, this is just a transition. Who knows what could happen. Ed might run for office. Congressman, senator. President, even. Maybe give Sandy a Cabinet position.

A church might be measured by the height of a steeple. Nations, perhaps, by the heart of a people, and we’re measured now by a recent election like diseases are measured by rates of infection.

You’ve heard that expression, “leopards can’t change their spots”? Well it just isn’t so. That’s a fib. It’s a lie. We change every day, we get worse all the time.

The world once applauded our character. Our spirit. Once we were lauded for our strength and ability, and now the world looks and sees something like Timmy; the world looks at us like a black velvet painting. And either that comes by a plague or a pox—or it’s always been there, like the frog in that box.