A Year of Brilliant Water

Had I known that Jackie’s boss was making a play for her, right there at the party she and her husband Jonathan were throwing, I would have liked him even less than I did at first impression. He—Andy was his name–was a nice guy, thoughtful and sensitive and all that, but irritating all the same.

Andy was half a head taller than everybody there except for Jonathan’s boss, the public TV newscaster with the sonorous voice and the forehead as high as a dolphin’s. He was always “Jonathan”—nobody ever called him “Jon,” not even Jackie, which may explain Andy’s appeal. Both Andy and Jonathan worked for non-profits, but lived well; it didn’t take a detective to figure out there was trust fund money behind both of them, although Jonathan was less subtle about letting you know it. He’d leave brokerage statements out on his desk when we went to visit, like Poe’s purloined letter, but his intent was not to conceal but to disclose.

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There was a high-end store downtown that bore the family name but Jonathan wanted no part of it; he wanted to take part in the great debates of our time, and be recognized as a thoughtful commentator. He’d tried every angle in the book to get hired at our local liberal paper of record, but I guess nobody told him that he was NOKD—“not our kind dear.” He had that rag-trade background, if you know what I mean.

So he ended up catching on at public TV, which in my mind was just as good. You were on the right side of all the issues as far as the local prevailing thinking went, and you didn’t have to cover fires in triple-decker apartments or stabbings and shootings in poor neighborhoods. You only addressed the big national and international issues, even though anybody who mattered in New York or Washington didn’t give a damn what a little channel in Boston thought.

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But while Jonathan was talking about big things, Andy was—as I understood it—doing something about one of them, the big one. Jackie humbly introduced him to Marci and me as “one of her fellow earth-savers.”

“Nice to meet you,” he said with a smile that you’d say was self-deprecating, if you were charitable.

We chatted a bit, the four of us with no one joining in. Jackie and Marci went to college with Jonathan, so I always felt like a fifth wheel when we got together. At least Andy acted interested, where Jonathan tended to lord his position as a minor local celebrity and future philanthropist over you.

“Do you like to hike?” Andy asked me.

“Depends on where we’re going.”

“It’s the journey, not the destination!” Jackie chimed in. She’d dragged Jonathan to Nepal for their honeymoon, and stayed in touch with their Sherpa.

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“There’s a lot of easy mountains not too far from here in New Hampshire.”

“I’ve climbed Monadnock twice,” I said.

“You should try Kearsarge next,” Andy said.

“Or Chocura!” Jackie added, more excited than I thought justified by a hunk of granite.

At this point Jonathan appeared behind the other three, appearing a bit anxious to join the group. They were talking and didn’t notice him, so after a while I looked at Marci and nodded in Jonathan’s direction. She didn’t understand at first, so I cleared my throat until she said “What?”

“Jonathan’s trying to say something.”

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She gave him a look without sympathy. She’d heard whatever complaints Jackie had about living with him in the first year of their marriage, which he had such high hopes for. “May you have a life of brilliant water,” the minister had said at their wedding, “like the diamond in the ring, which you may now place on the bride’s finger and repeat after me.”

They had had a Book of Common Prayer wedding, with nothing improvised. She was a beauty and her parents were paying for it, so he—in a last act of grace—had acceded to their wishes. They had moved into a home far away from the city, in an exurban town that young people typically didn’t live in unless they grew up or worked there, but she wanted to be near the ocean and the mountains.

The first year had been brilliant, or at least that’s what Marci kept hammering into me. I was a faceless drone in a corporate job, Jonathan was not. Jackie had room to build her harpsichord, Marci did not. They had a wonderful house on the North Shore where they had lively dinner parties, we had a place on the back side of Beacon Hill that was dark and cold and too small. We didn’t have all the furnishings you got when you got married because we weren’t, just living together; they’d taken the leap, a further one in Jackie’s case since she didn’t want to leave the little town in Connecticut where she and Marci had grown up, while Jonathan needed to be in a major media market. And so the quaint little house in Newburyport had been their compromise.

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“Jackie, do you want to move people on to the activities?” Jonathan finally managed to get in sidewise between a crack that formed momentarily in the wall that the two women and Andy formed with their backs.

“There’s no rush,” she said with an airy toss of her head, and continued talking. I felt sorry for the guy, even though he wasn’t my favorite human being. I’d tried to connect with him back when we first got together as couples but it was clear he didn’t think I was anybody who was going to help him get wherever it was he wanted to go.

I could see him seething a bit over Jackie’s shoulder, and then Christopher, Jonathan’s boss, came over to talk to him.

“Do you want me to read from Dickens’s Christmas Carol?” he asked.

“Maybe later, after we’ve eaten,” Jonathan said. The guy clearly wanted to hear himself talk—it was a diplomatic way of putting him off. “Can I have everybody’s attention please?” Jonathan said to the crowd and, surprisingly, people turned to hear him without being asked twice, except for Jackie, Marci and Andy, who continued to talk until they finished their conversation.

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“We have all kinds of arts and crafts supplies over on the table here for you to make Christmas ornaments with,” he said, and there was a murmur of appreciation that a party among the sort of young strivers we all were back then could include such a creative activity. “Nobody’s a pro, so there’s no need to be embarrassed if you make a mess. Unless you make it on my Shiraz here,” he said, pointing to the Oriental rug he stood upon.

There was laughter and a general movement in the direction of a game table on which were laid out felt and thread and glitter and glue and other makings for ornaments. I joined the crowd, hoping Marci would follow me, but she stood there with Jackie and Andy, talking on, not seeming to care.

I got some black and white and orange felt and a needle and thread to make a penguin, and came back to sit down by the trio. “Are you going to make anything?” I asked Marci. She had been so close to Jackie for so long, I wanted to make sure she didn’t get Jonathan upset without intending to. If she meant to be an accessory to marital friction, there was nothing I could do to stop her.

“I will. Jackie said she’s not in a hurry.”

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I started to sew as best I could, which wasn’t very well. Eventually Marci put down her drink and went to get the makings for an angel, which she had no better luck with; she tried to glue the felt together to save the trouble of sewing, but it turned into a mess.

Jonathan was holding court, accepting the casual flattery that came one’s way for resisting the tides of convention among our crowd. It was a wonderful idea, Jackie was so lucky to have such a creative husband. This sort of talk flowed easily, since there was an implied pat on one’s own back with each compliment; aren’t we all so interesting as opposed to our parents and other suburbanites who just ate and drank too much when they got together for the holidays.

Jackie and Andy had moved to the tree, out of the way of the arts and crafts, and were sitting underneath it talking intently about something of great importance to them both. Their faces took on a more youthful cast, like college freshman in a coffee shop discussing their plans to change the world before they graduated and realized there was no money in that. I finished my penguin, made a little loop of gold thread to attach it to the tree, and took it over to the table to offer it to Jonathan.

“Hey thanks, that’s great. Look everybody,” he said, drawing more attention to my little creation than I wanted. “Why don’t we have a contest for best ornament? Here’s the early leader.”

There were oohs and ahs, mostly mock but some sincere, from the crowd, and a new burst of energy now that we were engaged in friendly competition. I went back to Marci to see how she was doing and she’d given up and had started over.

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“What’s with Jackie and her boss?” I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“They’re all by themselves making goo-goo eyes at each other.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“You don’t think it’s a little rude to go off like that at a party?”

“No—they work together.”

I just shrugged my shoulders. We’d had this conversation before, how men shouldn’t think of women as exclusively theirs, like a dog. I thought there was probably a happy medium between the two extremes, but I wasn’t going to get into it.

As the evening wore on Jonathan continued to play the convivial host while Jackie and Andy rarely took the time to unlock their eyes. When they did, it was usually for a gush-fest with somebody who was coming or going and they’d stand together, or maybe Andy would withdraw a few steps if he didn’t know the people. Jonathan was usually off taking care of drinks and food, some of which he’d cooked himself. He could have afforded a caterer, but it wouldn’t have seemed right; he and Jackie were into showing others how much they didn’t care about his money, and how they’d do things their way, not in the grand style of his parents.

And so after a while I noticed him getting—a bit frazzled. He was drinking, but not that much, but running around a lot, trying—it seemed to me—to appear happier than he was. Marci had told me he’d turned out to be more high-strung than Jackie had thought he’d be. They didn’t live together first, the way most of us did back then, so she hadn’t seen him during long periods of togetherness, which means isolation. She hadn’t seen him through a winter here, where you’re thrown back on your own resources. In the end, I guess you’d say she’d only seen his social side.

I saw him go to the kitchen and then up the stairs that led to their bedroom on the second floor. It was pure Jackie—a pencil post bed, no TV, everything very plain, uncluttered. There was a throw on the bed from her grandmother, blue and white. Wide-plank floors with Shaker rugs. I’d only been up there once, when he took me to show me what he’d done with a print I’d given him; it was of an old London newspaper hawker, shouting “’Speshill ‘dishun, ‘orrible railway haccident.” The occasion was his promotion to on-air reporter, so I figured a news theme would be appreciated.

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I started talking to Jonathan’s boss—Christopher. I guess nobody was allowed to have a nickname in public television. He’d come from a big Irish family, his dad was a working farmer who died young, so there was more depth there I’d guessed from appearances. He talked about how he loved Christmas, with the rituals and the parties, and this reminded him of his offer to read from Dickens. “Have you seen Jonathan?” he asked me, as he looked around the room. I guess he didn’t want to upset the rhythm of the party by starting a story without permission.

“I saw him go upstairs,” I said.

“I’ll go fetch him,” Christopher said, and bolted away like he was in fact a dog after a stick.

I went back to Marci in the hope of getting out by the time Christopher got back so I wouldn’t be stuck listening to Scrooge and Bob Cratchit, but she was in no mood to leave. She and Jackie and Andy were still having a grand old time, so I got another drink and sat down in a chair near the fire. I could have gone to sleep there—I was starting to nod off—when Christopher came back downstairs and rushed over to Jackie with a look of concern.

He whispered something in her ear, and they went back upstairs after she’d excused herself to Andy and Marci. I was wide awake now, and stood up in case there was some medical emergency. I didn’t want to intrude, but I could tell something was wrong.

After a few minutes Jackie came back down and began to announce, in quiet tones to people in groups as small as she could manage, that Jonathan wasn’t feeling well. Christopher put on his coat and went outside, apparently to bring his car to the door from where it was parked down the country road from the house.

“What’s the matter?” Marci said, and Jackie took her aside so that I didn’t hear very well. The explanation between the two old girl friends was longer and more detailed than the version that had been announced generally. I stepped away and let them talk.

Christopher came back in and escorted Jonathan down the stairs; he looked pale, and his face was red. They stopped as they reached the door for Jonathan to put on a heavy coat, and Christopher waved a common goodbye. “Good night and Merry Christmas everybody,” he said, and everyone responded in kind, including some who had yet to hear the news.

“Feel better, Jonathan,” Andy called out in an affable, sympathetic tone, but Jonathan had already stepped outside.

I didn’t hear the story until we were out on the highway, headed home, the windshield wipers scraping a view through heavy wet snow. “Jonathan seized up,” Marci said. “He’s wound pretty tight. Jackie’s talked to him about meditating, but he won’t.”

“He’s got a tough commute and he works on deadline—I’m not surprised he’s tense. And there was a bit of provocation as well.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Maybe you missed it,” I said, and kept driving.

 

Moi et La Vache Qui Rit

I have generally found that, if you are in quest of some certain escape from Philistines of whatsoever class—sheriff-officers, bores, no matter what—the surest refuge is to be found amongst hedgerows and fields, amongst cows.

                    De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater

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I first encountered La Vache Qui Rit in a little neighborhood grocery store in the Hyde Park neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago.  She was, in a word, irrepressible.  “Look,” she said to all and sundry, including those over in the sundries section.  “‘Cheese flavored food product,'” she read from a package of American “cheese,” breaking out in laughter.  “It isn’t cheese, it’s a ‘cheese-flavored food product.'”

To say that I fell in love with The Laughing Cow at first sight would not be an understatement; she was “La vache qui rit quand je ne peux pax,” viz., “The cow who laughs when I can’t.”  Burdened as I was by hours of freshman homework in the humanities, social studies, the physical sciences, phys ed and of course French, I had neither the time nor the energy to laugh–I needed a bovine friend with little cheese wheel earrings to do my laughing for me.

It was Charles-Andre-Joseph-Marie de Gaulle, the first president of the Fifth Republic, the man named after quadruplets who cracked “How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?”  “Je ne sais pas,” as I used to say when Dr. Bell or Madame Cooney or Mademoiselle Quintana or Monsieur Isacharoff, the four pedagogues who tried unsuccessfully to drum French into my head, would ask me a question.  En Anglais: “I don’t know,” because the only cheese I ever needed was La Vache Qui Rit.

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Ye olde dorm.

I took her home, or more precisely to my dorm room, in her most popular format, the “spreadable wedge.”  What followed was an orgy of cheap pleasure that surpassed anything I’d previously experienced with Velveeta, my cheesy “If you’re lookin’ at me, you’re lookin’ at country” girlfriend back in Missouri.  After we were done dusting the cracker crumbs out of my bed, it occurred to me that there was more to life than oral gratification.  “You know, Vache . . .”

“Oui?”

“I was wondering–do you think you could help me fend off a few bores?”

“What kind?”

“A varied assortment.  Academic, artistic–”

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Siegel-Schwall Band:  They may be bad, but they’re also boring.

 

“You mean The Siegel-Schwall Band?”

“Well, yeah.”

“They’re awful,” she laughed.  She was, after all, La Vache Qui Rit.  “White guys imitating white guys imitating black guys.”

“Like somebody making hand puppets in Plato’s cave.”

“Anybody else?”

“Wegener–the professor of something or other who can’t make it in the English Department and can’t make it in the Philosophy Department so he latches on to a scholar . . .”

“McKeon?”

“. . . on the nosey, who’s too big for any one department, and becomes his acolyte.”

“I don’t know,” she said, her fescue-sweetened breath blowing my way.  “That’s two tall orders.  Anybody else?”

“Well there’s this guy who’s in my dorm . . .”

“Um hmm . . .”

“It’s like he’s already become an old fart at the tender age of eighteen.”

“How so?”

“Smokes a pipe.  Has elbow patches on his sweaters.  Says things like ‘I’m in the mood to read a really good epic poem.'”

“Ouch,” she said.  “Were his parents . . .”

“Professors?  You got it.  He brought his own file cabinets to school with him.”

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“I think a case like that is probably incurable.  You can’t help somebody who’s the product of inbreeding.”

I figured she was right on that score.  “So what can you do for me?”

She looked off into the distance, as if yearning for the peace and contentment of her home in the former French province of Bresse.  “I can give you the tools,” she said with a distracted air.  “What you do with them is up to you.”

I gulped in recognition of the challenge that lay before me.  “Okay,” I said solemnly.  “Let’s do it.”

“Follow me,” she said.

“Where are we going?”

“To class.  Let’s start you out easy with a feckless academic.  They’re easier to cow.”  She said this with a glint in her eye, seeing if I caught her play on words.

“I’m right behind you.”

“Watch out for bovine flatulence.”  So earthy!

We made our way to the building where the Department of the History and Philosophy of History and Philosophy was housed, and made our way to the fourth floor, where an eager retinue of acolytes sat waiting for the entrance of the semi-great professor.  I sat down at one of the rectangular tables, each with an ashtray that said “No smoking” on it.  I looked around, but didn’t see any bottles that said “No drinking” on them.

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French cows: “Mieux!”

At the stroke of the hour he entered; the fraud, the con man, the second fiddle, the guy who’d parlayed a symbiotic (if not parasitic) relationship with the great translator of Aristotle into a cushy position with tenure; two courses a semester, a sabbatical every seven years, three months off in the summer.  Nobody ever went into academics looking for hard work.

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“I thought we’d have class outside today so you wouldn’t be stifled by my hot air.”

“What’s this guy’s game?” Vache whispered to me as he sat down.

“He’s the Professor Irwin Corey of academia.  Talks a bunch of nonsense but makes it complicated so you think it’s your problem if you don’t understand.”

“It is your problem–he’s handing out the grades.”

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“Did I say teleology of hermeneutics?  My bad–I meant hermeneutics of teleology.”

 

The prof gave everybody a poop-eating grin, the way Oprah or a Tonight Show host looks out on an audience that’s been warmed up for them.  “Let’s dive right into Lucretius!” he said, but everyone knew that was a head-fake.  He wouldn’t stay with the Roman poet-philosopher long enough to make a cogent argument; he’d be off to the races, comparing him to Rousseau, Marcel Duchamp, Neil Young and Shemp, the Fourth Three Stooge.
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Lucretius:  “What’s with the No Smoking ash trays?”

 

The neophyte intellectuals were scribbing away, except for one particularly devoted devotee named Eliot–figures–who had brought a tape recorder.  He didn’t want to miss a word while writing, which would also detract from his ability to fawn.

The prof was going a mile a minute and almost missed the exit for Sartre, and so had to slam on the brakes and double back.  La Vache seen her opportunity and took it, like Tammany Hall boss George Washington Plunkitt.  “Excuse me,” she said after swallowing the cud she’d been chewing.  “Is this little bout of logorrhea going anywhere?”

The academic was caught off guard by Vache’s no-nonsense air.  He was used to having his ass kissed, not kicked.

“Well, uh, yes, of course.  It leads to Giambattista Vico, and from there to Marx, and . . .”

“Yogi Berra?”

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Berra:  “There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

 

“Excuse me?” the prof said.  “You’re introducing a lowly baseball player into a colloquy about the greatest minds of Western Civilization?”

“He’s the second most quoted person in history after Lewis Carroll,” Vache said.  “As Casey Stengel used to say, ‘You could look it up.'”

The professor had been knocked off his balance, but he regained his footing on the firmer ground of academic bureaucracy.  “I don’t believe I’ve seen you in this class before,” he said blandly.  “You know you can’t audit a course without the registrar’s permission.”

“I’m a visiting faculty member in the French department,” she said.  “I’ve come to America to see how we can improve on our academic inefficiency.”

My GPS Cats

          Using tiny satellite tracking harnesses, the Cat Tracker Project has enrolled more than 500 cats in a program that will outfit them with Global Positioning System devices.

          The Boston Globe
Rocco
“Is Okie lost–again?”

 

I was pretty excited to be chosen to test drive CatTrack, the state-of-the-art global positioning system for cats. It would mean an end–finally!–to stupid arguments with my housemate Okie, who is to feline intelligence what the Marianas Trench is to the Pacific Ocean; the lowest depth, the nadir, the perigee, the bottom of the bottom.
Okie
“I am not dumb. Just–directionally challenged.”

 

A few summers back Okie was gone from Memorial Day until late in August, and not because he has a summer house on the Cape. He was hopelessly lost, not “cheating” on our owners the way some cats do in order to get a second crack at the Purina Cat Chow every day. No, Okie returned several pounds lighter and even more confused than he was when he left, if that’s possible, the result of wandering dazed in the woods behind our house during the hottest months of the year. When the Nobel Prize Committee calls, he knows it ain’t for him.

But with GPS to guide us on our way, I’m hoping that my days of chasing after the Oak-man, trying to herd him home like a sheepdog, are over. God knows it’s only going to get worse; he’s 63 in cat years, and the grey matter he’s lost over the years in late-night fights with fisher cats–among other local predators–ain’t coming back.
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Fisher cat–not a household pet.

 

While I’m thinking these thoughts I watch Okie amble up, all innocent barefoot cat with cheeks of grey. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, poor sap, so I’ve had to serve as his tour guide over hill and dale lo these seven years we’ve been living together.

“How they hangin’ Oak?” I call out.

“Nothin’ much,” he replies. He has a stock assortment of come-backs, which don’t always fit the greeting.

“You want to go chase chipmunks?” I ask.

“Sure,” he says. “Although–”

“Yes?”

“I don’t want to get lost again.”

“I know buddy,” I say. “But not to worry, I’ve got GPS.”

His face clouds over. “I am so sorry to hear that. Is there anything you can do for it?”

“It’s not a disease you nutball, it stands for ‘global positioning system.'”

“Oh,” he says, and I can tell he’s not quite comprehending. “Do we even have a globe anymore? I mean, the kids moved out, and I thought mom gave a lot of that stuff away.”

“Not a globe, the globe–the one you’re standing on!”

He looked down at his feet, to make sure he wasn’t missing anything. “Yep–it’s right here,” he said.

“It had better be–I don’t know where else we’d put it,” I said, shaking my head. “C’mon, I’ll show you how it works. You punch it what you’re looking for . . .”

“Chipmunks!”

“And we see what comes up.”

A voice with a vaguely British accent came on–I guess the units were originally made for Range Rovers–and began to speak: “Proceed twenty steps to the stone fence, then turn RIGHT to enter the motorway.”

“Do we have a motorway?” Okie asked, clueless as usual.

“I think the nice English lady in the little box means our driveway.”

We low-tailed it down to the asphalt circle that connected our front walk to the street, then began to poke our noses into one of those “dry” New England stone fences Puritan women devised to keep their men’s minds off of sex–and try saying that five times fast.

“Well look what we have here,” I said with a note of feigned Kumbaya pacifism in my voice.

“What?”

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“It’s Chip and Dale!”

“REALLY?” Okie asked. “I love those guys!”

“No not really, you dubo–figuratively.” Unlike me, the Oakmeister does not peruse the many tomes on aesthetic philosophy that the elder male human in the house keeps as vestiges of his undergraduate days. “I’m not wasting my time chasing cartoon characters.”

We crept along, cat-like–actually, it wasn’t just cat-like, we were genuine flesh-and-blood cats–until we were positioned just outside a likely chipmunk cave.

“Now would you please proceed in a stealthy fashion?” I asked, and plaintively I might add.

“You want stealth, huh?”

“Right–and silence.”

“Okay,” he said. Duh.

We each took a position on the opposite sides of the crack through which we expected, any minute, a chipmunk to pop its head. I held my breath–I made Oakie hold his own. After what seemed like an hour, we saw a furry little head peak out to see if the coast was clear. I gave Oak a glance and for once, he seemed to “get it”–the whole predator/prey thing–right away. I silently mouthed “One . . . two . . . three”–when the silence was broken by . . .

“Arriving at–destination. Chipmunk hollow on RIGHT.”

The damn GPS! The chipmunk scurried back into the hole as if he’d been sucked by a vacuum cleaner.

“Damn it to hell!” I squealed.

“Better watch it–mom will hear you.”

“What’s she going to do–send me to Blessing of the Animals Day?”

Behind Enemy Lines With the Paracat Corps

 

Thomas De Quincey’s elder brother William succeeded in some attempts at bringing down cats by parachutes.

                                              The Life of Thomas De Quincy, Malcolm Elwin

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As I looked around the hold of the Puss in Boots, I realized I might be spending my last moments with my buddies Okie, Chester and Chewie.  We were cats on a mission; to drop behind German lines and insinuate our way into the hearts and minds and onto the laps of hausfraus wearying of World War II.  The plan was to pull off a Lysistrata of sorts; have them withhold their, um, favors from their men and bring the Third Reich to its knees.

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“. . . gluck, gluck, gluck, gluck, gluck . . .”

 

“You guys ready?”  It was Captain Lemuelson, captain, as you might have surmised, of the crew, leading us to ask in our minds who the hell was flying the plane.

“I heard that,” Lemuelson snapped, brooking no question to his authority, not even an internal monologue.  “We have a perfectly well-qualified Co-Captain who’s handling the knob and the stick and the wheel and that other thing, the watchamacalit.”

“The whammy bar?” someone asked.

“No, that’s a guitar part.”

“The who-si-whatsis?”

“That’s it.  Anyway, if any of you are about to crap your pants from fear, the chaplain is here to offer a few words of prayer.”

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Father McCloskey stepped forward, and none too steadily I might add.  He’d been transferred from the Army and was afraid of heights, so my guess was that he’d taken a nip or two of sacramental wine.  He crossed himself and began to speak, slowly and reverently: “Bless us O Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive, through . . .”

“We’re not getting ready to eat, you dingbat–stop saying grace.”

“Oh–then what were the cocktails for?”

The Captain gave him a look that could have defrosted a freezer.  “Just say something to make these cats’ leap to a near-certain death easier to bear, would ya padre?”

The cleric began again.  “Dear Lord, please guide these cats on their way to the heart of the enemy.  Let them warm it and turn the thoughts of the Huns towards their fellow Europeans, whom they will one day crush by monetary rather than military means.  Ah-men.”

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Angela Merkel checking to see how much her Greek friends owe her.

 

Those of us who’d been raised in Catholic homes made the Sign of the Cross, everybody else just improvised with various non-denominational forms of hand jive.  Then we were ready to jump.

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We’d been drilled in questions the Nazis might ask us to determine if we were really German if they found us crawling through the countryside.  Name Goethe’s latest best-seller.  Who’s better, Bach or Mozart?  Which Katzenjammer Kid is which?

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I looked at Okie, and he looked at me.  He started to give me a little thumbs-up, then realized that he didn’t have opposable thumbs.

“I guess this is it, Rocco,” he said.  “It’s been great . . .”

“Like hell it has, unless you were going to say it’s been great having the living crap beaten out of you on a regular basis.”

He gave me that stupid smile of his, the one that comes over his face when he knows I’m making fun of him and still doesn’t get the joke.  He is not, to put it metaphorically, the brightest bulb on the scoreboard.

“If one of us doesn’t survive, the other has to write mom, okay?” I said.

“Sure, sure,” he said.  We knew the odds were against us.  We’d read about Operation Cat Drop, the British plan to parachute cats into Sarawak, Borneo to fight an infestation of rats.  Pretty Sarawakky if you ask me.  There are no reliable accounts of what happened, and the fear that all of us felt was we were guinea pigs being used to test some crackpot theory cooked up back at HG.  And nothing offends a cat’s dignity like being used as a guinea pig.  Fer Christ sake, you can get guinea pigs cheap at Pet World.

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Frankly, I wasn’t even sure we needed parachutes.  I mean, have you ever seen a cat fall and not land on its feet?  The whole parachute pack was a nuisance, if you asked me.  Without it, I could have hauled a lot more food and probably survived in the wild until I’d found the perfect little German gingerbread house to take me in.

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Elite black Schwarze Katz paracat prepares for night jump.

 

We clipped our chutes to the overhead rail, and the plane banked slowly to the left over Berlin.  If all went well, one of us would make it to the bunker and beguile Eva Braun into talking her man into calling the whole thing off.

“What is it we’re supposed to say again?” Okie asked me.  His short-term memory is shot from too much catnip.

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The face that launched a thousand-year Reich.

 

“Geronimo.”

“What does that mean?”

“He was a daredevil Indian, used to jump from high places.”

“Without a chute?”

“He didn’t need no stinking parachute.”

I saw Okie gulp a little.  He was plainly nervous.  “Besides that Borneo Cat Drop, has anybody else ever tried what we’re about to do?”

“Well, there was Thomas De Quincey’s older brother.”

“Isn’t that the guy who wrote Confessions of an English Opium-Eater?”

“That’s the one.”

“So we’ve got a hare-brained scheme to land cats in Borneo, a crazy Indian and a drug-head, right?” Okie asked.

“That about sums it up, pal,” I said.

He looked out the door of the plane, then back at me.  “Well,” he said just before he jumped, “That’s good enough for me.”

 

Helpful Household Hints From Helena!

Helena’s many “Household Helpers” stuffed her mailbox with numerous “questions and suggestions” this month. So without further “ado”–or errant misplaced “quotes”–let’s see what’s on their minds!

Dear Helena:

Last month somebody asked you what she could do with all those little chips of bar soap that are too small to wash with but too big to throw away. Your “hint” was that she should melt them down in a frying pan with vegetable oil and pour the mix onto a waffle iron to create “soap waffles” to wash your feet with. I tried this and put one in the shower where my husband Earl stepped on it, slipped and threw his back out. Now he is laid up for at least a month and cannot tend to his work as a contract farmer, with spring planting coming up! I’d like to know what you intend to do about it.

Beverly Oehrke, Tarkio, MO

Dear Beverly–

Please–check my column! I said you should use soap waffles as a welcome washing mat for your pets–not your husband–when they come in from outside with dirty feet. Also, remember that soap waffles are not edible.

Dear Helena:

I tried your suggestion that you could use “dust bunnies” to make clothes from scrap. It was a lot of work, but I recently completed a cute sweater vest and skirt combo. They were a sort of greyish brown, so I dyed them red. I wore this outfit to my bridge club the other day at Sue Ellen Myneke’s house. She just has one window air conditioner and it is in the den where her husband was watching the University of Oklahoma pre-season wrap-up, not where we were playing cards. Long story short, I was sweating like a bitch wolf in heat and when I got home and took my clothes off my body was brick red from my neck to my knees! How am I supposed to get this off?

Eunice C. Othmer, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Dear Eunice:

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade! The Oklahoma Sooners “official colors” are crimson and cream, and you should fit right in at the first football game of the season when it will still be hot enough to wear shorts and a sleeveless blouse.

Dear Helena:

My husband came back from the lake last weekend with fifteen catfish, which we have put in the deep freeze until we hear from you. I have never cooked any catfish other than ready-made breaded fillets. Do you have a good recipe I can use?

Mrs. Veneta Sue Dunham, Hoxie, Arkansas

Veneta Sue–

Here is a traditional recipe for oven-baked catfish that my grandmother gave me:

Take catfish fillets, dip in egg and cover with bread crumbs. Season to taste. Set oven to 350 degrees. Place catfish on a cookie sheet. (Add a layer of aluminum foil to avoid scrubbing later if desired.) Put cookie sheet in oven along with a 2 by 4 (get at any lumber yard or Home Depot). Bake for 45 minutes. Throw away the fish and eat the board.

Helena:

I took the advice of the reader who wrote in, a Mrs. Virginia Buchter, to put sponges in the dishwasher at night to get them clean and make them smell fresh in the morning. Unbeknownst to me, my husband Virgil read in his “Outdoor Life” magazine that the way to get his “gimme” caps clean was to wash them in the dishwasher. Anyway, he put his “Dekalb Seed Corn” cap in the upper rack with the glasses last night where I didn’t see it, and this morning all my sponges and dishes smell like soybeans. Do you have Mrs. Buchter’s address so I can get ahold of her to see if she can help me with this problem?

Wanda Jean Peters, Normal, Illinois


You ruined it!

Dear Ms. Peters:

I must maintain the confidentiality of all my corresponents’ personal information under the Federal Advice Column Privacy Act of 2014. However, you might try running a load of dishes with some baking soda instead of detergent. It will either get rid of the odor or remove the pattern on your china.

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Take My Advice–I Wasn’t Using it Anyway.”

Crowd at Walk for Low Sperm Count Lacks Potency, Numbers

WAYLAND, Mass.  It’s the first weekend of the annual spring charity walk season, and Lisa Montelo wants to be the early bird that catches the worm.  “C’mon,” she says to her husband Jack, who is sitting in the front seat of their Toyota Prius listening to sports talk radio.  “We’re going to be late.”

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“Our men will be here in a minute–they’re lagging behind.”

 

“Cool your jets,” he says dismissively.  “It’s not like two more is going to make any difference.”

Jack has come, at Lisa’s urging, to be part of the Walk for Low Sperm Count, an annual fund-raiser for research into the causes and cures for the affliction that she is convinced he suffers from, although he disagrees.  “I’ve got no problem with my masculinity,” he says as he flicks a cigarette butt into a drainage ditch.  “I can name the place-kick holders on all four Patriots’ Super Bowl winners.”

The scientific name for the marchers’ cause today is oligospermia, which in extreme cases becomes azoospermia, or a complete absence of sperm in a man’s semen.  A variant of the condition, oligozoospermia, refers to a man with low sperm count whose wife takes him to the zoo to watch animals mate in an effort to kindle his romantic interest.

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“I’d rather be playing video games.”

 

As many as 20% of young men suffer from the affliction, even though the remedies to correct it are simple, such as switching from “tighty whitey” briefs to boxer shorts, stopping smoking and reducing alcohol intake, and avoiding hot tubs, saunas, and steam baths.  Other associated conditions, such as high stress levels, aren’t as easily manipulated, but “It’s not like it’s hopeless” according to Linda McLamay, who joins this reporter with her husband Pete over a glass of chardonnay in her case, and a shot of ginger brandy and a Narragansett beer in his.

“You’re part of the problem,” he snaps as he downs the brandy in one gulp.

“Me?  What do I have to do with it?”

“If you’d get off my back it would bring my stress level down and I wouldn’t drink so much!”

CEOs Find Time Management is Key to Enjoying Horndog Life

CLEVELAND.  Kyle Thatcher is, at 47 years old, the youngest CEO in the history of Prothonotary Bank & Trust Co., a sleepy institution he shook into profitability with innovations that rocked the staid banking community here.  “I decided to take a shot at staying open after 3 p.m., and on Saturdays,” he says through the chiseled jaw that has earned him the confidence of regional stock analysts.  “Call me crazy, but I think it helps our bottom line if people can get in the building,” he says with a faraway look in his eye that seems appropriate for a business visionary.

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“No more complimentary leatherette checkbook covers!”

 

But Thatcher had no sooner risen to the top than he found something missing from his life.  “I just wasn’t enjoying foreclosing on crappy mom and pop businesses the way I did when I was starting out,” he muses.  “The thrill was gone–I didn’t love what I was doing anymore.”

So Thatcher signed up for a ten-week crash course in time management with Bonnie Ladsdale, whose company “Time Fighters!” helps top executives find time in their lives to re-charge their batteries and regain the energy they need to increase shareholders’ return on equity which, as the companies who pay for her services agree, is the principal reason for other men’s existence here on earth.

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“Let your secretary separate your paper clips into big and small sizes–you don’t have time!”

 

“Bonnie is a jewel, that’s for sure,” says Herb Wertheimer of Demeter Investment Partners, a hedge fund that places huge bets on the businesses who retain Ladsdale.  “She took a mid-cap pet food company that couldn’t make a profit with both hands and turned it into a world-beater we sold for seven times EBITDA, whatever that is.”

Today Ladsdale is giving Thatcher an initial consultation to determine what course of action–weight training, aerobics, stretching–is most likely to help him regain the cocksure attitude that made him the top-ranked graduate of the Kagler School of Management at nearby Waldmore University.  “What is it you really, really want to do that you don’t have enough time for now?” she asks him with a glare so intense it could scour a frying pan made sticky with American chop suey crust.

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American chop suey: Yum!

 

Thatcher looks at her cautiously, unused to such an intense interrogation from anyone other than his board of directors and institutional investors.  “You want the God’s truth?” he asks somewhat doubtfully.

“You’re wasting my time and yours if you give me anything less,” Ladsdale replies with a poker face.

“Well,” Thatcher begins slowly, after glancing around to make sure there’s no one within earshot in the spacious exercise room, “I would really, really like to have an affair with a sexy woman.”

“Um-hmm,” Ladsdale says as she takes notes.  “But somehow or other, there’s never time–right?”

“You got it,” the CEO replies, and it’s as if a great weight has been lifted from his shoulders.  “Even with the chauffer-driven limo that takes me to and from work . . .”

“That’s paid for by the company–right?” Ladsdale asks.

“Sure–like my country club memberships.  Anyway, what with the job and the charity dinners and the business lunches . . .”

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“So a priest, a rabbi and a lady snake charmer are playing miniature golf . . .”

 

“And the wife?”

“That’s part of the package.”

“And the 2.3 kids . . .”

“Actually we corrected the rounding error, so we’re capped at two–it all eats into your time.  I never get a chance to just . . . cut loose and do the Mongolian Cartwheel with a babelicious babe.”

“The Mongolian Cartwheel–is that the one with the bighorn sheep and the box of Milk Duds?”

“No, you’re thinking of the Burkina Faso Half-Twist.  The Mongolian Cartwheel is performed with a yak and a movie-size package of Twizzler’s Red Licorice.”

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Try the 180-piece “Executive Retreat” container. 

 

“Got it,” Ladsdale says as makes some marginal notes on an intake form.  “Okay,” she says, “why don’t you take your clothes off and I’ll check your vital organs.”

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