Thursday, March 31, 2005

Old, Scary Heads

Here’s a little biographical information about me: I’m a graphic designer and I work in an office in Boston’s La-Dee-Da, Fancy-Schmancy, Artsy-Fartsy, Hoity-Toity, lavender-scented handkerchief of a section known as Newbury Street. There are God knows how many art galleries on this street, along with a fashion institute, the posh Ritz Carlton, an architectural school, and innumerable clothing stores like Louis of Boston, Burberry’s, Brooks Brothers, and so on. I like looking at the huge fashion photographs hung in the windows of Burberry’s and Brooks Brothers. They show rigidly posed groups of what we take to be the upper crust of society, either at a picnic or just hanging around a table. They all look completely vapid, even the collie that appears in one of them. The older people in the pictures must sound like Thurston Howell the Third, and the younger ones probably call their parents ma-MAH or pa-PAH. Just out of view are probably the servants with juicy stories to tell about all of them.

I guess I feel like I don’t fit in here. And I conscientiously keep away from acting the imposter. Since we moved the business here last December, my wardrobe has been upgraded zero times. I ride a touring bike in to work every day, and let’s just say my riding attire won’t make anyone think I’m heading to a fox hunt. Both bike and rider look like they’ve seen some hard service over the years. Maybe “grungy” is the adjective I’m searching for. I clean up and change clothing once I’m in the office of course, but my look is not something found in the pages of GQ. For the past year or so, I’ve gone in for the cargo pants look. I don’t think they let you into Brooks Brothers wearing those.

Anyway, in the building where I work, there is a salon and a spa. As a matter of fact, this end of Newbury Street is lousy with them. And you see plenty of well-coifed, fashionably dressed women of all ages up here. Which is fine with me. Many of them are very attractive, and it beats all the gay guys I used to see in the South End where our studio used to be (no knock on anyone’s orientation, just talking sight-seeing here). Our little elevator, during the busy hours, is redolent with the aroma of beauty products that waft in from these places. Some have a pronounced chemical smell, but even those are OK. It’s like the trapped atmosphere of a feminine planet where men can’t visit, but instead content themselves to hear only the legends. I suppose what I smell every day as I ride up and down the elevator is part of the feminine mystique. The suggestion of a woman, like lipstick on a discarded paper cup, or a long, blonde hair found in the pages of an old magazine. There’s a story there, tantalizingly out of reach.

So it’s not unusual that when I walk to the 7-11 to buy a bag of Tostitos or a Diet Caffeine-free Coke, I might approach a well-dressed woman from behind having just come from a salon, wearing a sexy, younger fashion with long, thick hair, layered nicely with highlights. And it’s not unusual that when I pass her, I might sneak a glance at her face just to sort of complete the picture. But what is unusual is on those rare occasions when I sneak a glance and see the MUMMIFIED REMAINS OF WHAT MIGHT HAVE ONCE BEEN A PRETTY FACE!

Nothing makes me jump out of my socks more than that! Name any scary movie you want: The Ring, Jaws, The Exorcist, White Chicks — none of them have that kind of impact. Women like this should have their own music: the pom-pom pom-pom pom-pom build-up from Jaws followed by the shriek! shriek! shriek! violins from Psycho when they suddenly turn and you see them full in the face. Maybe a law should be passed forcing these women to wear giant letters on the back of their jackets or shirts, like the FBI or the ATF do, only theirs would read “OSH”: Old Scary Head.

I suggest that this is denial in its worst form. The alcoholic telling himself he is only a social drinker, or the kleptomaniac calling her little foible “aggressive borrowing,” is nothing compared to this. What ever happened to aging gracefully? Sure, you can dye your hair a little, do little tricks with make-up, join a gym, but this? Ladies, if you’re flirting with 60 or passed the mark, let’s show some dignity. Watch for some simple warning signs. Like if your cosmetics table has tools from the hardware store on it (particularly the plastering department). Or if your seventh facelift has given you a permanent death grin. Or if your latest eye job make you look like a car with its high beams on. Just because you don’t like the fact you’re getting older doesn’t give you the right to go out and scare people.

Look, I’ll turn 50 next year and my wife is right around that age too (and I won’t get any more specific than that). I’m not saying she’s perfect, but, in my mind, she does it right. She has her hair cut in a sensible way, wears light make-up, dresses nicely and watches her weight. That’s it. Stop right there. That’s all you have to do. A fifty-seven year old woman dressed up like Britany Spears is an anguished cry for help. A cry that assaults the senses. For God’s sake, please stop!

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

A Brief Visit to the Municipal Court

The Official Court Transcript: Officer Carbury’s Testimony

PROSECUTION: Your honor, I would like at this time to call as my first witness: Officer Fred Carbury.

THE COURT: Very well. The witness will now take the stand.

PROSECUTION: Officer Carbury, you and Officer Polanski were the first to respond to the incident at Ma’s Custard Pie Shoppe during the night in question, were you not?

WITNESS: That is correct.

PROSECUTION: And how would you describe the scene?

WITNESS: Complete mayhem. By the time we got there, fifteen, maybe twenty pies had been thrown.

PROSECUTION: Now, Ma’s Custard Pie Shoppe only produces custard pies, is that right?


PROSECUTION: Your Honor, I would like to introduce into evidence, as state’s Exhibit A, one of Ma’s custard pies.

DEFENSE: I object!

THE COURT: On what grounds?

DEFENSE: The evidence is making my clients hungry!

THE COURT: Overruled. (Glowers at defense table.) Continue, Mr. Squeege.

PROSECUTION: Now, when you first entered the shop, didn’t you see one of the defendants holding a pie just like this one?

WITNESS: Yes I did. One of the Mr. Howards.

PROSECUTION: Which Mr. Howard is that?

WITNESS: The one with the soup bowl haircut and the scowl on his face.

PROSECUTION: May the record indicate that the witness has pointed out Moe Howard.

THE COURT: So noted. And may I suggest, in the interest of clarity — given the fact that two of the defendants are brothers and have the same last name — that we refer to each of the defendants by his first name? In other words, by Moe, Larry and Curly, instead of Mr. Howard, Mr. Fine and Mr. Howard?

PROSECUTION: The state has no problem with that, your Honor.

DEFENSE: Whaddaya think, boys? (Mr. Cheatem confers with his clients by going into a football huddle.) Sure, your Honor. Why not?

THE COURT: (Clears throat.) Proceed, Mr. Squeege.

PROSECUTION: Thank you, your Honor. Now, Officer Carbury, did Moe do anything with that pie?

WITNESS: Yes, he attempted to throw it at Larry. But Larry ducked and it hit Pa, the co-owner of Ma’s Custard Pie Shoppe, directly in the face.

PROSECUTION: And what did Pa do?

WITNESS: Well, he sort of looked real steamed. Then he wiped the pie filling slowly off his face with his hand and reached for a pie himself.

PROSECUTION: Didn’t you and Officer Polanski attempt to intervene?

WITNESS: We were about to, but then Lord Frippingham and his wife entered. They had just come from the opera.

PROSECUTION: How could you tell that?

WITNESS: Lord Frippingham was wearing a top hat and tails and his wife, Lady Frippingham, was still holding her opera glasses.

PROSECUTION: So then what happened?

WITNESS: Well, Pa tried to throw a pie at Moe, but missed and hit Lady Frippingham instead.

PROSECUTION: And what did Lady Frippingham say?

WITNESS: Something like, “My word!” or “How rude!” or “I never!”


WITNESS: Well, Lord Frippingham said to Pa, “Now see here, you rascal! You can’t go doing that to my wife! You’ll have to answer to me!”

PROSECUTION: Please continue.

WITNESS: So Pa said, “Oh, yeah? Well I got your answer right here!” And then he pasted him one right in the kisser with a pie.


WITNESS: I’m sorry. Pa struck Lord Frippingham in the face with one of his custard pies.

PROSECUTION: Now, at about this time, wasn’t Officer Polanski trying to apprehend Curly?

WITNESS: He was, sir.

PROSECUTION: And what happened there?

WITNESS: Well, Curly first did this little dance step that made him go backwards. Then, when Officer Polanski approached him a second time, Curly said, “Pick two,” meaning for Officer Polanski to pick two of his fingers. So Officer Polanski picked the defendant’s fore and middle fingers.


WITNESS: Then Curly poked Officer Polanski in the eyes with those two fingers!

(Murmuring sounds.)

THE COURT: Order! Order in the court! There will be order!

PROSECUTION: How did Officer Polanski respond to that?

WITNESS: He said, “Why I oughta…” and made a threatening gesture at the defendant.

PROSECUTION: And what happened after that?

WITNESS: Well, first Curly barked like a dog. Like this: “Ruff! Ruff, RUFF!” That kind of put Officer Polanski off his guard. Then, the defendant took his hand like so (displays hand flattened in horizontal position) and moved it up and down in front of Officer Polanski’s face, like this.


WITNESS: Well, I guess it was kind of hypnotic, because Officer Polanski just kept following it with his eyes until the defendant stopped with an abrupt downward motion. Then Officer Polanski said, “C’mere you. I’ll make mince meat outta ya!” and started to chase after Curly.

PROSECUTION: Couldn’t you do anything?

WITNESS: Well, no, see, because Lady Frippingham feinted by this time and I had to catch her. So I could only look on.

PROSECUTION: What were the other defendants doing?

WITNESS: Moe put his fingers in Larry’s nose and lead him over the automatic mixer. Then he stuffed Larry’s head down in the bowl and turned the mixer on. As he did this, Moe said, “Throw pies at me, eh? See how you like this!”

PROSECUTION: My God! Were there any injuries to Larry?

WITNESS: Surprisingly, no signs of injury at all, but the automatic mixer was ruined.

PROSECUTION: How could you tell?

WITNESS: Because after Larry stopped yelling, “Ow! Ow! Ow!” he pointed to the beaters and said, “Hey, look!”

PROSECUTION: May I introduce into evidence state’s Exhibit B, the beaters from said mixer. (Mr. Squeege holds up two horribly disfigured beaters. Gasps are heard.)

THE COURT: Order! Order! I’ll have order or I’ll clear the courtroom!

PROSECUTION: And what about Pa and Lord Frippingham?

WITNESS: Well, Lord Frippingham by this time had gotten Pa good with a custard pie of his own. Then Pa grabbed Lord Frippingham’s hat, turned it upside down and punched right through it, so the top of his hat stuck up like an opened can. At this point, Lady Frippingham woke up, saw Lord Frippingham’s hat, said, “Oh, Chester!’ and passed out again.

PROSECUTION: Anything else?

WITNESS: Well, yeah. Somehow Curly got free of Officer Polanski and he started running on his side, on the floor, in a circle. And he kind of went like this while he was doing it: “Woo, woo, woo, woo! Woo, woo, woo, woo!”

PROSECUTION: Thank you, Officer Carbury. The prosecution has no further questions, your Honor.

THE COURT: Very well. The court will stand in recess until 2:00.

Easter Sunday report from Mr. Schprock's daughter

My youngest daughter, Ianna, has started a blog and this is one of her posts. She has kindly consented to allow me to repeat it here.

I strained to open my eyes as I heard a loud, heavy knock on my door. I knew everyone’s knock in my family, and without hesitation I mumbled out loud, “What do you want Dad? Ugh.” I lifted my head a little to see my dad and wait for a reply.

“It’s 7:30, but you have to get ready for Easter. Your mother wants to go to St. Paul’s today and the mass starts at 11. Knowing your mother we’ll most likely be late, but I advise you to get ready as soon as possible to keep out your mother’s way. We all know how she gets.”

I sank my head back down into my pillow. After noticing a pool of drool I left from the night I lifted myself up abruptly and shuffled out my bed.

I could already hear my sister beginning her annual rant on reasons why we shouldn’t go to church on Easter.

“What’s the point if we only go once a year!” she yelled across the hall trying to make a point, yet knowing that it would do her no good.

“Uh, well then talk with your mother.” he replied with a grunt.

By the time breakfast came around, I was still half awake yet grinning because of the nice smell of two eggs every Sunday to start off my day.

“Where’s your mother? I told you to call her down. Did you call Lindsay down?” he asked hastily.

“What? Yeah I told Lindsay and she said she’ll be down in a second, and mom is talking to someone, I think it’s like an emergency or something.” I replied without much enthusiasm in my voice as usual, but you must understand that I felt very hungry and my attention was drawn to the sizzling sound of my eggs being fried.

After about 10 minutes or so while everyone had already started to eat, my mother announced that she was to leave in a few minutes to accompany her friend on a walk. My sister and I were pretty aware that the conversation was about my grandmother in Puerto Rico.

My mother returned to the house around 10:30 while me, my sister and father were making haste to get ready to leave. Why we rushed, I have no idea because we ended up stepping out the door about 15 minutes after the mass started.

By the time we got there, my dad had told us that he’d meet us inside because he was sure it would take him “a while” to find a spot for the car. My sister and I giggled and made jokes because of that. It was clear that he would probably take his sweet time finding a spot for he didn’t want to listen to the ramblings of a priest for 2 hours. That’s just not his bag, my sister and I would agree.

Oh boy, because we arrived so late we couldn’t even enter the main church because it was packed, so we ended up in the basement where that was near full also. I remember right when we entered and my mother saw what was going on, she leaned toward my sister’s ear and said, “Right when your father gets here, we are leaving!”

My sister and I faced each other and couldn’t help but giggle, although in our minds we fought to stop ourselves from bursting out laughing.

My mother felt such an urge to leave that she didn’t even wait for my dad to come in. She just stomped right out as my sister and I followed and we waited for my dad in the parking lot.

You should have seen the look on my father’s face, he flung his arms up and dropped his mouth managing to say, “What happened to you guys? Aren’t you supposed to be inside?”

After we explained what had happened, he marched us off back to the car.

“I am very disappointed. For that, I go to que jeso, eh ese San Gabriel. Johnny can you take me there, the Spanish mass starts at 12,” my mother told my dad, she didn’t ask she ordered!

My dad was the last person on Earth who would want to go to a Spanish mass knowing that he couldn’t understand a word of it. He wanted to enjoy Easter, not dread it!

My argument is that even if the mass is in Spanish or English I still wouldn’t understand a word of it only because we only go to Church once a year!

I reluctantly stepped out the car once we reached the church but it was over before we knew it. I guess what kept me and Lindsay busy was that we were playing tic-tac-toe with the program and my mother’s pen the whole time, oh and a bit of hangman. However, I don’t believe that hangman is the most appropriate game to play in a church.

Now that Church was over, I had to survive about 4 hours inside the same house as I would call, “my criminally insane cousins”. Well, obviously I’m being sarcastic, but that is truly how I feel about most of them.

So that’s basically a summary of how my Easter went. No I wasn’t very fond of that day, and yes I could have had better things to do. In fact, much better things to do such as catching up with my reading. Ah yes, reading is truly fundamental.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Finding Susie Beans: Ch. 6. Disappointment!

The story thus far: we meet Oliver Grendall, America's eminent cat (and grudgingly respected by most countries in Europe); little Lucy's beloved doll, Susie Beans, has been stolen; the clues lead to a particular seat in Fenway Park; Oliver and Cool Jay have a run-in with two very bad cats; our heroes now find themselves on the Fenway lawn in the middle of a baseball game!

The crowd was stunned into silence for a moment and Cool Jay and I felt every pair of eyes trained on us. All action on the playing field stopped. My companion and I surveyed the stands. Never in my life had I ever beheld such a sight! Multitudes upon multitudes of people, people beyond number! It was a curious thing that, at that one moment, I was struck by the sheer infinite variety of people I saw all around us, could feel their distinctions, their many personalities, and yet also had the strong sense of them all merging into one great organism, speaking in one vast, guttural, sonorous voice, capable of only one simple feeling or one desire at any given instant. The crowd was a monster open only to the most basic of sensibilities, and yet composed of the most complex creatures on earth!

Soon we heard laughter and some applause. The monster showed amusement and approbation. A door close to us in the green wall that encompassed the park (which, as it traveled around the field, was sometimes low and, at other points, very high indeed) opened and several of the Fenway Park security staff issued from it and approached us. Above the swelling din of the monster Cool Jay and I could hear their walkie-talkies crackling.

“What should we do?” asked Cool Jay.

“Our way doesn’t lie back where we came,” I said, thinking of Max and Scratchmo. “I propose we head to the opposite side of the ball park and regain the seating area there.”

Then we heard one of the security staff, who was getting uncomfortably near, say, “Here kitty, kitty, kitty!”

“Let’s go!” I cried, and away we flew!

It’s an interesting thing that, while one is caught up in an emergency, with the adrenal glands working to maximum capacity, and with fear and self-preservation applying an indefatigable whip to one’s own efforts to escape and avoid calamity, causing his pulse to race and his eyes start out of his head; it is an interesting thing, I say, that through all of this there can be an odd sort of detachment that takes place, as if the creature whose very life may be in peril can, at the same time, act as a disinterested observer and coolly take in his predicament and his environment. As the security staff in their white shirts and khaki pants pursued us, and as Cool Jay and I ran for dear life, I noticed the ballplayers standing there in their pure white, unwrinkled uniforms, seeming to enjoy the spectacle. Their physiques, I could see, were well above the average for their species. The idea of racehorses forced its way into my head, for they are creatures bred, trained and groomed for a certain sport as I imagined these ballplayers to be. And then I could notice, as Cool Jay and I circled back at one point, that high atop one corner of the park there sat an enormous video screen and was surprised to see the image of two cats — one a bright orange — scurrying madly about on a field of green, approaching a circular area of dirt.

It was soon after that when I had an encounter with one of the ballplayers, the person who, I learned later, played second base. We had paused for a moment on the infield dirt, having temporarily outdistanced our pursuers and in desperate need to catch our breath, when this particular ballplayer advanced toward me. He smiled kindly and held out the hand not covered with a baseball glove and said, “C’mere fellah. C’mon,” and then made some coaxing sounds that many providers use to summon their pets. I was transfixed for the moment, because the effect was like Michelangelo’s David suddenly begging your pardon for directions to the nearest restroom. I sensed he meant well, and I also sensed he meant to capture me, and that was something I couldn’t let happen.

Reader, consider this for a moment: here was a human being who was among the paragon of his race as far as athleticism and strength goes. He had talent, skill, training, and was at the peak of physical conditioning. His livelihood relied on the marvelous things he could make his body do that most other men couldn’t. He excelled in speed and quickness, hand-eye coordination, and all else that goes into the making of a professional athlete. And on the other side there was myself, a cat perhaps one-tenth his size, one who could barely climb a tree and who couldn’t, if his life depended on it, catch an old, crippled bird or a three-legged chipmunk. Put this way, how would anyone rate my chances? And yet it was astonishing with what ease I defeated him! First I feinted one way and he did the same; then I feinted the other way and so did he; then I made a flurry of quick movements that left him not knowing what to do; and finally, when I detected the faintest trace of his leg muscles tightening in preparation for a rush, I leaped to my left as he sprang forward and easily eluded his grasp, leaving him face first in the dirt!

The crowd laughed and cheered and applauded. The great monster that populated the stands was enjoying Cool Jay’s and my performance. The stadium security staff, however, was showing increased determination to put an end to it. During my encounter with the second baseman, the amount of security personnel on the field had trebled and were now approaching Cool Jay and I from all sides. It looked like they had more organization for our capture than was shown before, using a sort of encirclement strategy. The way they were positioned, I could see that my idea of dashing to the direct opposite side of the field would be very difficult. Then I heard Cool Jay exclaim: “Section 19!”

That was the section marked on the ticket stub. “Where? Where?” I asked.

“There! underneath all that netting!”

I saw it at once. “All right, Cool Jay, this is what we’ll do,” and I related to him the two simple stratagems I had in mind.

Our pursuers continued to advance on us, tightening the circle. A couple of them, I noticed, had nets. Certainly we needed to keep clear of them! I gestured to Cool Jay toward a particular direction and suddenly cried, “Run!” Together, he and I dashed toward one of the group, a smallish man with a light beard, who first seemed surprised that we should concentrate our efforts on him and then reacted by crouching to grab one of us. As he did this, Cool Jay and I immediately peeled off in opposite directions and ran directly through the legs of the people standing to either side of him! So far so good. We picked up our speed, rejoined each other and made generally for where Section 19 lay, with the security personnel running after us. Some, I knew, would be faster than the others, and it was they who worried me the most.

“Remember: run past our mark!” I called to Cool Jay.

We approached the low green wall and veered a little to the left of the spot we meant for our target. As I predicted, by this time there were three men who broke from the pack and were very close to us, with one shouting orders to the others like a barking dog. Cool Jay and I sped another five feet and then I yelled, “Stop!”

Cool Jay and I came to a halt instantaneously. Chipmunks and squirrels are better at this, but cats are very good at completely arresting their momentum in no time at all. Humans, on the other hand, are rather poor at this, and my expectation of it did not fail me here. We stopped, but those three hottest on our tracks flew by us at top speed, saw their mistake, and skidded and stumbled over each other some ten feet away in a jumble of flying clods of dirt and flailing legs. Wasting no time, Cool Jay and I quickly wheeled about, made directly for our intended spot and bounded over the wall.

The crowd was in an uproar at all of this! There was applause everywhere! Congratulatory shouts rained down upon us: “Way to go, cats!” “That’s showing them!” “You outsmarted them!” “That’s how to kick some butt!” Rather than impede our progress, the people stepped aside for us and cheered as we located the box and then headed up the stairs for the row marked on the ticket. Each row was identified by a double alphabet marked on the aisle steps and we read them off as we flew: DD, EE, FF, and so on.

“Here it is, Mr. Grendall!” shouted Cool Jay. Our row! We took a right into it and read the seat numbers as we hurried on while hopping over the feet of their occupants: two, three, four, five . . . ah! six!


Six was empty!

We gaped at the seat in astonishment. Number six wasn’t just momentarily vacant, it had never been sat in! The nearly empty beer cup on it, surrounded by a clumps of peanut shells, told us as much. Empty! I had never imagined that a seat costing so much could be left unoccupied! I knew a thing or two about the value of money and this was the egregious squandering of it! Cool Jay and I looked at each other. We had come all this way and risked so much!

There was a long pause during which we both stood there thunderstruck. It seemed so unfair! At length Cool Jay said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Grendall, but we should go. I don’t think they’ll let us alone much longer.”

“But how can this be?” I asked.

“We can’t stop and think about it now, sir. We’ve got to leave!”

I could see a couple of ushers in red coats and blue hats making their way toward us. Cool Jay was right, we had to go. We could swallow this bitter pill at our leisure.

The reader might well ask what we meant to do had the culprit been sitting there at that moment. I must confess I only had only vague ideas, trusting more to my wits and improvisation to carry us through than anything else. The best case (which surely was too much to hope for) would have been to recognize the thief and know him to be someone who lived in our neighborhood. The next best scenario, had we not identified him, involved extracting information from him about his address. Probably that would have meant lifting his wallet for his driver’s license, but we wouldn’t have scrupled breaking the law in the interest of reuniting little Lucy with her cherished doll; in fact, I rather felt there was some added measure of justice in that. And then, if that failed, there was the possibility of following this person home, although how we would have accomplished it is something I can only guess at. If he drove a car, we would have had to board it somehow without his knowing. If he used public transportation — well, we knew now what complications that course of action presented, but we would have just had to manage it. The whole idea in the end was to find out where he lived and, through such means as we could devise, discover where Susie Beans was hidden and snatch her back.

But this! What a terrible setback!

“Mr. Grendall!” Cool Jay urged.

The ushers were coming much nearer now and, as their intention of grabbing us seemed obvious to all, they took quite a berating from some of the fans. It was clear that Cool Jay and I were viewed as something like heroes, and the fans’ sympathies were all with us. One man near us tried to pick Cool Jay up, but I think it was only to pet him. Cool Jay wisely slunk back and didn’t let him. “Look at how they sit there staring at the seat!” said someone nearby. “ Maybe they’ve got a ticket for it!” said someone else.

“All right. Let’s go,” I said to Cool Jay.

We picked our way through the seats heading in the opposite direction of the ushers. We could plainly see where one of the exits was that led down into the concourse and made our way toward it. There was a lot of calling to us from all sides as we went along, a lot of “Kitty, kitty, kitty!” but no one hindered us. We gained the ramp and walked down it with the air of paying customers who had every right to be there.

“Well,” I said, “I suppose the only thing to do is to try this again another day.” An unhappy thought indeed!

We turned left coming off the ramp and I immediately bumped into something furry and large. I instantly knew what it was, but given all we had been through, my mind seemed unwilling to register it properly. I sighed inwardly. Could bad luck be so persistent?

“Gremmel!” said a familiar voice from off to my left. “Where you been?”


Next chapter: Ex Deux Machina

Monday, March 21, 2005

Finding Susie Beans: Ch. 5. A Fine Mess

The story thus far: We meet Oliver Grendall, a true Renaissance cat; little Lucy's doll, Susie Beans, is missing; Oliver, with characteristic resolve, pledges to find it; the trail leads to Fenway Park and there we find our two heroes, Oliver and Cool Jay.

As we came closer to the two cats (who had, by this time, become aware of our presence), I could make out their features more distinctly. They both were unclean; I doubted whether either of their fur had felt a tongue for at least a week. The smaller one had grey-brown fur with irregular black streaks in it. In many areas his coat looked knotted and greasy. His left ear had a large nick in it, and there was an ugly scar that ran like a cruel rivulet down the side of his nose. His companion, who was gigantic by cat standards, was hardly more genteel in aspect. He was piebald, with uneven white spots that stood in clusters in some places and were quite sparse in others against a field of dirty tawny-yellow. It looked as if someone had tried to throw a bucket of bleach at him but just missed a direct hit. His eyes, which were his most striking feature, had a red tinge to them. His left fang was missing.

“Good day, gentlemen,” I said as Cool Jay and I drew near. “I am Oliver Grendall and this is my friend, Cool Jay. We’re new to these parts and beg your assistance. To whom might I have the pleasure of addressing?”

The small cat looked at me, gave his friend a quick glance and then, returning his look to me, answered, “I’m Max. How are you?”

“Ah, Max, very well, thank you. Glad to meet you. And you, sir?” I said, turning my gaze to the big cat.

“He don’t talk much,” said Max. “He’s called Scratchmo.”

“Ha!” I said, trying my best to be amiable. “Was he christened that or did he earn this appellation?”

Max’s mouth opened but he did not speak. Here Cool Jay quickly interposed. “What Mr. Grendall means is, we’re pleased to make your acquaintance but we must move on.”

“Hardly so,” I argued. “Cool Jay, you forget that we are here to ask these two fellows a favor.” And then I turned to Max, whom I accepted as the pair’s spokesman. “We aim to go inside this stadium in quest of a particular seat. Are you, by any chance, knowledgeable of the layout in there?”

Max shot another glance at his companion and then answered, “Why, yeah, Scratch and me know this place like the backs of our paws, ain’t that so, Scratch?” There was but the slightest alteration on the impassive countenance of Max’s towering friend that gave evidence of his agreement. This whole time Scratchmo had looked at me steadily, and his unceasing stare began to make me feel a bit uncomfortable.

“Well,” I said, “do you hear that, Cool Jay? I think maybe our labor has been cut in half. Tell me, Max, if we were to give you the exact location of the seat as it’s described on the ticket, could you and Scratchmo conduct us to it?”

“Why not?” he said. “We ain’t got nothing to do at the moment, do we Scratch?”

Scratchmo apparently thought they could accommodate us. What luck! I hadn’t dared to think this thing could go so easily.

“Wonderful!” I said. “Cool Jay, please recite to Max and Scratchmo where the seat is.”

“I’ve forgotten, sir,” said Cool Jay.

This took me by surprise. I turned and stared at him. “What? Forgotten? Cool Jay, collect yourself! You couldn’t have forgotten it in so short a space of time.”

“I regret to say I have, sir.” He had a stony expression on his face that puzzled me. What had gotten in to him?

“Cool Jay! I am very disappointed. I placed great faith in you. But I suppose these things happen.” I patted him on the shoulder. “No harm, though. I have a photographic memory and I can give the information to these two gentlemen myself.” And that I directly did.

“Scratch and me was there just the other day,” said Max. “We can get you to it no problem. C’mon, Scratch. Let’s take these two gentlemen to their seat.” And at this, Max and Scratchmo moved toward the nearest gate with Cool Jay and myself in tow.

There were exclamations heard from the customers and ticket-takers as we four slipped through the turnstile area. “Look at them!” I heard a woman shout. “They want to see the game!” “They’re getting through without paying!” said someone else. “Uh oh! Breach in security!” said a third, apparently as a joke, because others laughed when he said it.

“OK, keep close, gents,” called Max. “It gets busy in here!”

How true that was! Max and Scratchmo led us down a ramp that dumped us right into the midst of the milling, ever-shifting multitude. Once into the throng, we felt carried along by it, as if in a strong stream, and like a stream this active mass of people had its currents and unexpected eddies, its obstructions, and a vague sense of risk. Our guides showed wonderful facility in finding routes through the moving forest of legs. Naturally, we caught the eye of more than a few people as we wended our way, and I could hear comments as we passed them about how determined we looked and how it seemed we had a real purpose in mind.

On the left hand side of the concourse there were, at frequent intervals, stalls offering refreshments, and each one had at least four lines of people queued up in front of them some ten or fifteen deep. On our right, we saw mainly rest rooms, occasional souvenir shops and more entrances into the stadium. Above us were signs that showed the sections of seats we were nearest to. I found the sense of them a bit hard to grasp and thanked heaven we had the good fortune to meet up with Max and Scratchmo, because, if left on my own, I think I would have gone in the opposite direction!

Our two new friends exhibited every sign of knowing exactly where they were going. And yet, after several minutes, we seemed to have reached the end. Max and Scratchmo headed toward an obscure corner off to the right that had a small opening low in its wall. It was, perhaps, the only deserted place in the entire facility. They paused before it and waited for us to catch up.

“We’ve got to go through here,” Max explained.

“I don’t mean to question you,” I said, “but it’s plain to me that the ball field is over there, directly opposite of this place.”

“Oh, yeah. But that’s all right. You’ll see.”

“I think Mr. Grendall makes a good point,” said Cool Jay. “How will going that way help us to get over there?” and he gestured toward the last ramp leading up toward the field of play. The weather had cleared by now and it was all sunlight and blue sky in that direction, while here it was uncertain and dark.

“Well, see, this is the . . . cat tunnel. For our use. Special for us.”

There was a longish pause while Cool Jay and I digested this. “Let me get this straight,” I said at last. “You’re saying that the architects of this ball park — years ago — included in their plans a network of tunnels in this structure meant exclusively for cats?”

Max and Scratchmo exchanged glances.

“Right,” said Max.

“No doubt causing them grievous extra complications and additional expense?”

Another pause.


“Human builders mind you, whose sole aim was to construct a commercial facility for the very purpose of making a profit, would so deviate from their proper goal of the efficient use of their funds and materials and manpower and time as to build tunnels for non-paying cats? Do I state all this correctly?”

“They was big cat lovers, those builders,” Max said rather weakly.

“Cat lovers?” I cried. “Cat lovers? Surely you understate it! They are to be venerated! Can you believe,” I asked Cool Jay, “that people possessing such altruistic goodness can exist? And you wanted us to try this alone! Why, with these tunnels, I dare say we can get to that seat virtually unobserved! Cool Jay, my friend, the goddess Fortuna has been our constant ally today.” Here Cool Jay let out a low groan. “Tut, tut! It’s no sin to be wrong. ‘Mistakes are our teachers,’ as I say. Lead on, Max. We are entirely in your hands. I am sorry to have doubted you”

“Mind your step then,” cautioned Max, and he directed us in through the tight opening. He lead, Cool Jay and I followed, and Scratchmo took up the rear.

We found ourselves in a small chamber, very dark and not very clean. I could dimly make out some loose bits of wood and discarded building materials. “Where is the tunnel?” I asked.

Then I heard Max laugh. It sent a chill up me when I heard it. He laughed as if he had just gotten the punch line to a dirty joke, the type of dirty joke only a certain class of cat would ever think was funny. It was a snorting, derisive kind of laugh. I didn’t like the sound of it.

“Scratch!” he said at length. “He wants to know where the tunnel is!”

And for the first time I actually heard sound come from Scratchmo’s mouth. It was laughter too, or maybe an idiot second cousin to laughter. Call it an approximation of laughter. It was breathy and strangely mirthless. I could hear Scratchmo shift behind me and I instantly became sensible of the cat’s massive bulk and what he could do with that bulk.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

More laughter. “Fatso wants to know what’s going on!”

“Fatso!” I exclaimed.

“That’s right, Gremmel, I’m talking to you — Fatso.” My eyes had adjusted to the dimness now and I clearly saw Max approach me and put his face an inch in front of mine. His breath stank. “You don’t like that, do you Gremmel? Did I hurt your feelings? Scratch, Mr. Gremmel over here don’t like being called Fatso.”

Two things sprang to my mind: the sheer inanity of his taunts and habit I have observed of some cats who take great delight in tormenting their victims (such as small birds or mice) before finishing them off without the slightest scruple or the merest ounce of mercy. The reader must be assured that not all cats are like that. I will never understand how pleasure of any sort can be derived from either witnessing or causing the suffering of another fellow creature. It makes one believe that evil truly exists.

“Are you gonna cry?” he asked.

Of course I wasn’t going to cry, but I could clearly see where this was leading.

“C’mon. One little tear. Just one little tear and I’ll let you and your buddy go.”

And then Cool Jay said, “Don’t tell them, sir, no matter what they do.”

This shut Max up for the moment.

“Tell them what?” I asked. I hadn’t the slightest idea what he meant.

“Right. ‘Tell them what?’ Very good, sir.”

“What’s he talking about?” Max demanded.

“Don’t say it!” said Cool Jay.

Here my keen mind grasped it all at once: Cool Jay, my blessed protege, had a subterfuge of some sort planned. I had to play along.

Now Max stepped over toward Cool Jay. “Listen here, Cool Aid, don’t say what? What’s Gremmel not supposed to say?”

“Not another word!” I said to Cool Jay.

“All right you two. What are you both playing at, huh? Look it, if you got something to say, we’ll make you say it. Scratchmo here ain’t no nursemaid. He’s good at getting his way.” Our backs had been toward Scratchmo this entire time, but we were ever conscious his ominous presence.

“Come on Gremmel, out with it,” Max continued, malice polluting his every word. “Say it! Say it or Scratchmo starts making Cool Aid look like road kill.”

“Well, he and I . . . it . . . it . . .”

“Don’t tell them what it is!” warned Cool Jay.

“What’s what?” said Max. “What’s ‘it’?”

“Well, it’s . . . it’s . . .”

“Let’s go, Gremmel. You wanna see Cool Aid all bent up like a pretzel?”

“. . . it’s . . . it’s . . . “

“It’s what? What is it, Gremmel? Spill it!”

“. . . it’s . . . it’s . . . kitty gold!”

The words just hung there in the air. No one spoke. I looked over at Cool Jay in time to see his shocked expression dissolve to undisguised despair. For all the world he had the look of someone who had played his last card and lost. Kitty gold! Couldn’t I have thought of anything better than that?

I returned my gaze to Max who stared evenly back at me. The silence lengthened. I could have recited an epic poem in the time we all stood there. Then he asked in a low voice, “What’s kitty gold?”

I swallowed and replied, “It’s a sort of currency. For cats.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, with kitty gold, a cat can walk into any store — say any store around here — and in exchange for kitty gold he can walk out with any item of his liking.”



“And you got this kitty gold?”

I turned to Cool Jay. “I’m sorry. They were bound to find out.” Then I addressed Max. “We’ve got a whole bag of it.”


“We’ve hidden it in Kenmore Square. Only we can locate it.”

“Are you getting this, Scratch?”

Scratchmo evidently made a motion as if he wished to speak.

“All right, Cool Aid, stand over here so Scratchmo can tell me something. Don’t try nothing funny.”

Cool Jay moved toward the far corner while Scratchmo stepped over next to Max and spoke into his ear.

“OK Gremmel, listen. Let’s say Scratchmo here walks into the 7-11 and takes two cans of Fancy Feast, any flavor he likes, and then he walks out. Can he do that?”

“Yes, but he must give the cashier its value in kitty gold.”

“And say if I want one of them little red balls they sell in the kiddie section. I can have that?”

“With kitty gold, yes.”

“OK, you and Cool Aid just chill while me and Scratchmo talk. But don’t move, or Scratchmo here makes a bowl of Gremmy Bits out of you. Got that?”


The two conferred for about a minute. Then Max announced: “OK, this is how it is. Gremmel, me and you will go get the kitty gold while Cool Aid stays here with Scratchmo. Once I get the kitty gold, we come back and we let you and Cool Aid go.”

“That can’t work,” I said.

“What do you mean it can’t?”

“We’ve used a special lock on the bag to prevent its theft. It takes both of us to unlock it.”

“What? Oh, come on. You need to come up with something better than that.”

“It’s true. Our lock has a device called a ‘retinal scan.’” Max looked at me blankly. “See, the retina is a part of the eye. Each cat’s retina is different, just like each of our scents is different. This device ‘reads’ our retinas. If it doesn’t register both my and Cool Jay’s retinas, the lock won’t release the bag from where we have it secured.”

“A rettle scan? How come I ain’t never heard a that?”

“I could ask why you had never heard of kitty gold until just now,” I replied coolly. That was pushing my luck a bit too far — as if it hadn’t already been pushed far enough!

But this seemed to satisfy Max. “All right, look it, Scratch,” he said to his overgrown accomplice. “You and me’s gotta go with them, one big happy group. But, Gremmel,” he continued, now addressing me, “if you and Cool Aid try one thing, one little thing, you’ll be coughing up gravel for a month. I’ve seen Scratchmo do stuff you ain’t never dreamed of. There’s no worser cat than him in the city.”

“I believe you,” I said, the first word of truth I had uttered in a while.

“All right,” said Max, “I’ll go out first, the rest of you guys follow. Scratch, keep a close eye on Cool Aid over there. I don’t trust him.”

We squeezed out of the hole in the wall and found ourselves back into Fenway Park. Max instructed Cool Jay and myself to keep very close together.

“I’m sorry,” I said to Cool Jay under my breath. “I’m the cause of all of this.”

“You never have to apologize to me, sir,” returned Cool Jay. “I was in this thing right with you from the start.” We walked a few more steps and then he said, “Fact is, Mr. Grendall, it’s I who will have to beg your pardon.”

“Beg my pardon? For what, Cool Jay?”

“For this!” And then, quicker than a chipmunk with his tail on fire, Cool Jay planted a sharp, stinging bite directly on my right flank!

Was it the pain? Or was it the suddenness, the shock, the surprise? I will never know for sure, because right afterward, I, Oliver Grendall, a cat of rare erudition and capable of the finest, subtlest, most poetical of feelings, master of so many subjects both common and obscure, universally recognized among cats as the creme de la creme, the very cat against whom all other cats must be compared, went completely, totally, utterly, most profoundly and quite fundamentally berserk! I “lost it,” as they say. I yowled and broke away from my captors at a tearing run. I scampered here and there, between legs, over this and under that. Things like popcorn and nacho chips and plastic cups of beer and soda went flying. Curses were heard all around, many hands tried to grab me. Shouts, screams, warnings, imprecations, they went on and on, and I, I went on and on. Dear reader, let me assure you that even the greatest philosophers and sages of this age or any age could not have been unaffected by such an assault! I completely lost my head!

Finally, after some minutes (as nearly as I could judge the time) I calmed and slowed down. Near an entranceway leading to the ball field I stopped and tried to catch my breath. I had no idea where I was. I was still very, very agitated.

Then I heard Cool Jay’s voice. “Good work, sir! But we must keep going! They’re right behind us!”

I turned and saw Cool Jay. Then, framed between Cool Jay’s two orange ears, I saw Max and Scratchmo bearing up to us.

“Which way?” I asked.

“Up there!” Cool Jay replied, indicating the entrance ramp. Now Max and Scratchmo were nearly upon us.

I thought my energy was spent — how wrong I was! Cool Jay and I sped up the ramp, spurred on by Max’s shouts. There was a section of seats right in front of us, but we didn’t miss a stride. Up we went onto people’s shoulders and laps, hopping madly from row to row. What a ruckus we caused! And then we heard, “Scratch, head down the first row, they’re running out of room!” Yet on we went, stepping onto hot dogs and pizza, tearing programs with our claws. Drinks spilled everywhere. Forward, forward we went, ever impelled forward, our momentum carrying us, momentum that admitted no pause or delay. We saw the top of a low wall, we were on it in a second, and we sprang!

And then we landed in the greenest, plushest grass I had ever seen in my life, greener than Mr. Strunk’s grass, Mrs. Swift’s fastidious neighbor who always wore overalls when he worked in his yard. Cool Jay and I looked at each other and then we looked around us. Great Heavens! We were on the field of play!


Next chapter: Disappointment!

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

A Brief Visit with Cap’n Timmy

Yarrr! That’s right, shipmates, step lively now! Mister Kyle, call th’ company to order! All hands on deck! Yarrrrr! Pipe down there amidships and listen up!

As yer captain, I be sore perplexed by th’ state o’ things aboard this here bucket. This mornin’, th’ master’s mate informed me that a certain sailor — I ain’t sayin’ who, but by thunder! he knows who he is! — that he be showin’ hisself on th’ deck wearin’ a striped shirt with a plaid pair o’ pantaloons. Yarrr! I want that swab to know now that him sayin’, “I can get away with it,” don’t cut it aboard this vessel! Damnation, it don’t sir! We be wearin’ coordinatin’ outfits aboard this here ship, and whomsoever don’t like it can do a runway walk down th’ plank! Yarrrrr!

Now, all hands know th’ Flamin’ Queen is a good ship, a proud ship and a damned chic ship, and we means to keep her that way! We observe th’ social niceties here, even if th’ Ramrod’s crew over yonder don’t. We knows when to put out th’ best silver — by th’ blazes we do! — and we always puts th’ salad fork where it ought to go. Now, Billy and Todd, step up here and tell yer captain where be yer manners and taste th’ day afore last when we boarded that sloop off o’ Barcelona? Didn’t we all agree to wear th’ burgundy bandanas with th’ yeller polky dots that day? And we was to bring our good knives too, them’s that has th’ ivory handles, wasn’t we? And, by thunder! — what did ye both mean with them felt hats with all th’ feathers comin’ out every which way? And was them scuffed shoes I seen on yer feet, Todd? We was to make a good impression on th’ Spaniards, but you and Billy spoilt it all! And that cheap cologne into th’ bargain! Yarrrr! Back amongst th’ ranks with ye! I’m takin’ ye both off macrame detail ’til ye learns some deportment! Yarrrr!

Now then, some o’ th’ crew ain’t been usin’ th’ gym likes they should. And them’s that’s been sluffin’ off has been wearin’ baggy clothes to hide th’ fact. Well, startin’ tomorrow, I personally will lead ab class every mornin’ here on deck, and every man jack o’ ye better turn out for it! It’ll be crunches from bow to stern! Each o’ ye will have a six pack inside o’ one month, come hell or high water! And I best see some signs o’ use on th’ Nautilus machine too! We got a locker full o’ nutritional supplements down in th’ hold and I suggest we start usin’ them!

All right, now we comes to tonight’s dance. We’ll be comin’ alongside th’ Ramrod at eight bells. Th’ ship’s carpenter says he’s fashioned a disco ball out o’ plunder from th’ Spanish sloop, and we means to present it to Cap’n Bruce and Lootenant Brent as a gesture o’ good will. Brad and Joey, I be puttin’ ye in charge o’ feather boas. Not so pink like last time — more corral if ye please. And Jimmy, make them spiked high heels five inches and no less! All th’ rest o’ ye men, look lively! Justin, ye finish up th’ faux marble in my cabin like a good lad. I be hankerin’ for more o’ a Venetian look. Mister Kyle, form a detachment o’ men to chill th’ champagne and make up some party favors. Now let’s skip to it men! We’ll show th’ Ramrods what it means to be a Flamin’ Queen! Yarrrr!

Monday, March 14, 2005

Finding Susie Beans: Ch. 4 Kenmore Station

The story thus far: We meet Oliver Grendall, the cat against whom all other cats must be judged; Little Lucy's doll, Susie Beans, is missing and Oliver directs his keen powers of observation to finding it; the trail leads to Fenway Park and Oliver and Cool Jay board the bus to Kenmore Station.

From our vantage point under the seat, all we could see were a variety of feet, some in boots, some in sneakers, others in dressier shoes. The possibility of discovery was very real and we hugged the wall of the bus with all our being. If it were possible, I would have willed myself to the size of an ant. But then a woman (as I could tell from her footwear) sat down directly above us and placed a large shopping bag in such a way as to nearly completely hide our presence.

“There’s some luck,” said Cool Jay. “If that bag remains there, it will be a comfortable trip.”

“Let’s hope,” I said, feeling very optimistic that such would be the case.

But then another problem arose, one I never anticipated. Although, as we soon discovered, a city bus can be very jolting and erratic in its movements, the warmth of our little hideaway and the lulling sound of the engine, combined with a constant swaying motion, all acted as a soporific. In a short time the excitement wore off and Cool Jay and I suddenly became very sleepy. This was dangerous. Although the route ended at Kenmore Station, surely the bus wouldn’t simply stay there. It would embark on a fresh route and gather an entirely different set of passengers, and if Cool Jay and I fell asleep and didn’t wake up in time, the trouble that would bring us would be incalculable. I looked at Cool Jay and could see he was already nodding off.

“Cool Jay!” I said.


“Listen to me! We can’t fall asleep!”

“Right,” said Cool Jay, and his head immediately drooped back down.

But what could I do to keep awake? I had no strategy for it, because all my life the only response I had for drowsiness was to deliver myself body and soul into the waiting arms of sleep. I had to think of something to keep myself awake. Mental exercises? Should I work out square roots? Or perhaps it would be better if a composed a poem, there on the spot. Yes, that’s it. A subject, a subject. Ah, “The Cushion.” No! Let’s see . . . “My Sunny Window Ledge.” No again! Maybe something outside my experience, a rousing battle, a battle at sea! Yes! There I am, the captain! It’s growing dusk and my sloop is coming broadside to a Spanish Man of War! I give the order and the guns go off one at a time in quick succession! Boom! Boom! I can feel the spray of sea water and I sense my sails have taken too much wind, the whole ship is swaying too much. I call to the master to keep her on course, but what’s this? It’s Mrs. Swift, she’s the master!. “Ready with the Meow Mix, sir!” she cries. “Not now, Mrs. Swift! Our lives are in peril!” And yet, I think, wouldn’t the fighting go better with a full stomach? A decision needs to be made! Yes, Meow Mix would be the thing! “In the pantry!” she calls. “Down in the hold!” I must find the pantry. Everything depends on it. In the pantry I’ll eat and the food will give me strength. The great Spanish frigate won’t just wait there. By God it won’t — it means business! I must find the pantry quickly! And then, high atop the mizzenmast, the lookout calls, “Kenmore Square! Kenmore Square!” “Where?” I ask. “Mrs. Swift, have we sighted Kenmore Square?”

Kenmore Square . . . Kenmore Square . . .

Great Heavens!

I awoke with a start to find that the shopping bag had been removed and the bus was deserted! Next to me, Cool Jay snored. “Cool Jay!” I cried. “Let’s run for it!”

Cool Jay, to his credit, went from total inertness to action at the flick of a tail. The bus had a rear door and we both made for it at top speed. Cool Jay, by far the better athlete, hit the top step and bounded out of the bus in a wonderful, arching leap, just as the bi-fold doors began to close. Being somewhat bulkier and out of condition, when I reached the top step the doors had already closed to admit only a 10 inch opening. There was no time to think, no hesitation involved. I bunched my hindquarters and made the leap of my life! I could feel the rubber weather-stripping of the doors graze my sides and the panels, as they met, gave the tip of my tail a little pinch as completed my exit. I fell to the ground at a run and came to a halt. I made it! I made it!

“Mr. Grendall!” exclaimed Cool Jay. “Mr. Grendall! Are you all right?”

“Cool Jay!” I said, nearly out of breath. “That was close! Far too close! But yes, I think — I believe I am all right. Yes, quite well. Quite well indeed.” For so I was. I don’t think I ever felt better.

But where were we now? It was a sort of great, open air brick tunnel with a road running through it. It had odd-sized Romanesque archways inserted in several places on one side and a set of stairs that traveled down into a subterranean chamber on the other. The air was very thick with exhaust fumes from the buses and the sound the engines made in the station were amplified to a distressing extent. This was no place for a cat to be sure. It was in our interest to find our way out at once. But which way?

“Cool Jay, I don’t like the look of those stairs. There is an opening to either end of this station. Let’s see where each way leads.”

We walked to one end of the structure to witness a broad road swarming with cars, more cars than I had ever seen in my life, all flowing from a seemingly inexhaustible source. Some several hundred feet away I could see that three smaller roads had united into this larger one like tributaries to a river, and when one those roads had nearly emptied its load of automobiles, a neighbor road would in turn discharge it’s burden, and so the current was kept constant. Some cars moved slowly, while others aggressively overtook the slower ones and roared on at an alarming speed, often while sounding their horns, which particularly unnerved Cool Jay and myself. There was a palpable atmosphere of menace that hung over the whole scene.

“There is no observable passage across,” I remarked to my companion. “I fear that if the other end of the station is like this, we will have to try our fortunes underground.”

But then we encountered a bit of luck. From one of the smaller roads a bus like the one Cool Jay and I rode in sailed toward us and on into the station’s enclosure. The brakes made a horrible, screeching, metallic sound and, on the instant of stopping, the doors sprang open. As I watched the people stepping out, I noticed a characteristic among many of them that at once gratified me.

“Cool Jay,” I said, “we’re saved. I recognize the emblems you see on their clothing from the Red Sox website. Do you see that ‘B’ with the many points coming out of it? That is the team’s logo. These people are on their way to the game.”

“You have to be right, Mr. Grendall,” Cool Jay replied. “And surely someone in that crowd must know how to get across the street!”

The crowd broke off, with some heading down the stairs while the rest walked on to the other end of the station. Naturally, Cool Jay and I followed the ones who chose the surface. They formed up at a spot immediately where the station walls ended and I saw some of them gazing intently at a pole across the way which had, at its top, a device with three vertically aligned lenses of different colors, which were red, yellow and green with the red one lit up. Directly underneath was a pictograph showing a red hand indicating “Halt!”

“How clever!” I thought, and I waited to see what it would do next. My patience was rewarded by the the sight of the pole shutting off the red light and shining its green light, and the figure below changed to very recognizable character of a man walking. At this, the crowd began to move across the street, generally keeping between two thick, white lines painted on the road. The cars, which had all stopped, sat with their engines running showing no intention of molesting us, and yet at any time they could have made hash of every living creature crossing the street.

“What a marvelous system!” I remarked. “And the restraint shown by the automobiles bespeaks an admirable respect for the law!”

We made the sidewalk on the other side and stayed with the crowd. We passed by several vendors selling hats and pennants that had the Red Sox logo on them as well as those of other teams. There were others selling prepared foods, and the different aromas they gave out instantly threw my mind back to my beloved food bowl in Mrs. Swift’s kitchen. And there were some in the great throng asking for tickets and offering them to sell at the same time — speculators, I surmised, no doubt honest people forced to do this to feed their families. I must confess that Cool Jay and I were all eyes at that moment, bemused by the sheer force of the myriad and varied stimuli, and we might have forgotten for a time why we were there. The sidewalk was teeming with people and we had to use great care not to have our tails stepped on. The din of the people talking and laughing and the vendors shouting, combined with the incessant roar of traffic, created a perfect wall of sound. It was chaos, but one that had surprisingly little fear in it.

The more we walked, the greater the crowd swelled, until the sidewalk could contain them no longer and many pedestrians took to the street, retarding the progress of the cars. We crossed a bridge and there Cool Jay and I beheld the outer walls of Fenway Park. Immediately there were more hawkers and more carts sending forth the most appetizing smells, and policemen began appearing here and there with greater frequency. I could discern, amidst all the people, subdivisions of friends and families, all caught up in the carnival atmosphere. And soon they all began to split up as they sorted themselves out to the different gates. Randomly, Cool Jay and I chose one such collection of people and trailed along with them.

As we approached one of the openings leading into the park, I spied two cats of uncertain heritage situated near a refuse container. I indicated them to Cool Jay.

“Perhaps these two can help us,” I said.

Cool Jay peered at them and replied, “I don’t know Mr. Grendall. I don’t like the looks of them. Maybe we’re better off working things out for ourselves.”

“Nonsense!” I said. “Who are we to look askance at opportunity?” And then, at my urging, Cool Jay and I approached the pair.


Next chapter: A Fine Mess

Monday, March 07, 2005

Finding Susie Beans: Ch. 3. The Journey Begins

The story thus far: We meet Oliver Grendell, cat par excellence, and his friends; they learn that little Lucy's doll, Susie Beans, is missing; the trail leads to Fenway Park.

The Dill’s having high-speed Internet access was quite fortuitous and I had the information I needed within a half an hour. I glanced at their wall clock and discovered that it was nearing 11:00, the time I arranged with the ladies for my Monday morning poetry recital out on Mrs. Swift’s back deck.

By “ladies,” I naturally refer to my devoted followers: Cleo, Gildie and Rosie. Gildie and Rosie in particular are susceptible to the charms of my verse. I had prepared for the occasion a poem entitled, “Ode to a Catnip Mouse,” a rather heartfelt literary achievement of mine which I was sure would have pleased the ladies very much. But today, I appeared on the back deck to tell them that the recital was to be put off. The Red Sox website had indicated that there was to be, on that afternoon at 1:00, a baseball contest between the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians at their stadium, which is called Fenway Park. They were aghast and immediately protested my plans out of concern for my safety.

“Ladies, ladies,” I said. “I am quite capable of looking out for myself.” Here Gildie began to weep and Rosie gave me a beseeching look that quite shook my resolve for an instant.

Then Cleo stepped toward me and put her soft little paw on one of mine. “I’ll come with you,” she said.

I believe I have said elsewhere that I am not very emotional, but Cleo has an uncommon way of disrupting my equanimity. It’s very trying to me sometimes.

“Cleo, Cool Jay has kindly consented to accompany me. Insisted on it, in fact. His loyalty is most remarkable.”

“But Oliver,” she said, “do you really mean to get on a bus?” She referred, of course, to those loud, horrid, smoke-belching contraptions that always seem to signify the coming Apocalypse to even the most stout-hearted cat.

“I can think of no other way.”

“How often have you been in a moving vehicle?”

“Several times. Perhaps the last was when Mrs. Swift took me to the vet when he — he — well, the result was not very much to my liking.”

“When do you leave?”

“Almost immediately. Cool Jay said he would join me here.”

“Let me walk you to the bus. Where is it?”

“In Oak Square, not very far from here.”

I live on Bigelow Street in Brighton, at the top of a high hill. Some seven or eight blocks to the bottom of the hill there is Oak Square. The distance wouldn’t be but a quarter of a mile. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s website indicated I needed to find a bus number 57. It’s terminus, Kenmore Station, was precisely where I wanted to be if I were to gain Fenway Park. It couldn’t be simpler.

At that moment, Cool Jay hopped onto the deck. He had the ticket in his mouth. He laid it down in the little circle we cats had formed and said, “Ready sir.”

“Very well, Cool Jay. Cleo wishes to accompany us to the bus. I propose that we memorize the pertinent data on this ticket stub now and leave it behind. Nothing should encumber us.”

“I have sir,” he said, and he then recited to perfection the location of the seat as described on the ticket. I should mention here that I, myself, had taught Cool Jay how to read, and it gave me no small amount of satisfaction to witness how well my pupil had done under my tutelage. Naturally, Cool Jay’s attainments are a tribute to my efforts, but still some credit must be given to a considerable intelligence on the part of my orange-furred charge. He really did impress me sometimes.

By 11:30, Cleo, Cool Jay and I struck off down Bigelow Street. We hadn’t gone but three blocks before I heard, in a voice that never failed to set my fangs on edge: “Grendy! Well, well, well! And how is his lordship today?”

Ugh! Hobo! The one cat I didn’t want to encounter at such a moment. And that nickname! How I hated “Grendy!”

“Hobo, your concern for me is much misplaced. If you’ll excuse us, we have important business and no time for your chicanery.”

“That’s my Grendy,” said Hobo, stepping in front of us. “ Using a ten dollar word when a one dollar one will work just as well. Who would ever think we came from the same animal shelter?”

His referral to our common origin was no help to my composure.

“So,” he continued, “where is everyone off to?”

“Come on now, Hobo,” said Cool Jay nervously. “I’ll tell you all about it later.”

“What do you see in the pompous windbag anyway?” Hobo asked Cool Jay. “All the cool cats know he’s a fool. Look at him,” he said surveying me critically. “He’s not much to look at, is he? And yet so much.”

Here Hobo touched on a personal feature of mine I haven’t yet imparted to the reader: I am what some might kindly call “portly.” Mrs. Swift is an excellent provider, especially in the way of meals, and my sedentary, bookish lifestyle does not lend itself much toward physical conditioning. I think Gildie and Rosie might have had my physique in mind when they feared for my well-being.

“Oliver is a great cat,” said Cleo. “And I’ve heard all about your ‘cool cats.’ Their fondness for garbage, never cleaning themselves. You’re getting more like them, Hobo. I could smell you back at Perthshire Street.”

“Aw, Cleo,” said Hobo. “I didn’t mean it. Grendy’s OK. Don’t be mad at me.” It was common knowledge that Hobo was a bit sweet on Cleo. “Look,” he said, “maybe I can help. Let me come with you.”

“I don’t think so,” said Cool Jay with a pleading look. “Like I said, I’ll fill you in later.”

But Hobo followed us. Finding his presence odious, I said very little. He told us stories of his exploits: teasing dogs and making them chase him until their chains ran out and they nearly choked themselves, catching birds, climbing trees way up to the little branches. He was quite boastful, yet none of us doubted that his stories were true. Hobo might be a disagreeable cat, but he had nerve. More than what was good for him, I’m sure.

We hadn’t told him what we were up to, but when we halted at the bus stop and waited there for a minute or two, Hobo divined what Cool Jay and I meant to do and burst out laughing.

“Wait! This can’t be true! Grendy, are you waiting for the bus? Are you going to ride the bus?” And then he laughed even harder.

Cool Jay said at length, “So what of it?”

Hobo addressed me with a look of pure glee. “Listen, my rotund, all-knowing friend, cats aren’t allowed on those things. You’ll never get away with it. Tell me: have you ever heard of a cat riding a bus?” And here he erupted into more laughter.

“Can that be true, Oliver?” asked Cleo. “Then you must find some other way.”

I instantly felt that what Hobo said was correct. “Even so, I can think of no other way. The path to finding Susie Beans leads directly to Fenway Park and this is the way to get there.”

This rendered Hobo speechless for a moment. Then he said,“Susie what? Fenway Park? Well, Grendy, maybe you’ve got some pluck after all. Come on now. If I promise to help you, tell me what this is all about.”

There was nothing else for it. Things like buses and such appeared to be more in Hobo’s line than mine, and if Cool Jay and I couldn’t get to Fenway Park, then our efforts for discovering the whereabouts of Susie Beans would come to an end. I permitted Cool Jay to tell Hobo everything. He listened very attentively and even asked some shrewd questions. When Cool Jay had finished, Hobo had the cheek to give Cool Jay what I can only call a “knowing” look. He even went so far as to call our conclusion that the criminal could be found in the manner we proposed more than a reach, but then, although Hobo may be credited with a certain native intelligence, it was plain that his intellect would be forever subordinate to my own, and my judgement must therefore predominate. He did, however, conceive a plan for getting Cool Jay and myself onto the bus, and it happened like this:

After some ten minutes the bus arrived and by that time a modest crowd of seven or eight persons had gathered. Cool Jay and I stood near the bus stop sign and Hobo, with an unmistakable look of mischief written on his face, stationed himself on a low stone wall nearby. Cleo hid behind a bush where she could observe without being seen.

As the bus approached our stop, I glanced at Hobo and noticed his intent look trained at the biggest person of the group, a tall, heavy-set man, about fifty or so, wearing tradesman’s clothes. His back was as broad as the window ledge I am fond of napping on and he had a pugnacious, rough and ready look. The bus came to a stop and the door swung open.

“It’s now or never,” said Cool Jay.

Then, so quickly that no one could have traced his movements with any precision, like a streaking, gray, pistol shot of a blur that came with no warning, Hobo sprang at the man, scampered up his back and dug his claws into the poor fellow’s neck with merciless tenacity. How that man howled! The terrible suddenness of it froze everyone into inaction; everyone, that is, except for the poor wretch who bellowed and roared with unequaled vehemence. He groped and spun and lurched and did a sort of demented tarantella to shake off his attacker, but Hobo eluded his wild grasps and was almost scientific in how he drove his victim to a greater frenzy. By now, the people nearby and those in the bus were finally roused into action. The driver emerged from it to help and the passengers already in the bus crowded to the windows on the side where everything was taking place.

“Now!” said Cool Jay.

Cool Jay and I scampered along the curb and darted up the bus’s steps. At the top landing, we saw before us rows of benches all facing forward.

“Let’s run underneath them toward the back!” I exclaimed.

This we did until the forward-facing benches ran out, to be replaced by long benches on either side of the bus that faced in toward the aisle. There was room underneath these benches and it was there, near one rear wheel well, that Cool Jay and I found a spot dark and obscure enough to hide. I was out of breath and my heart beat like how a bird’s wings will when he first takes to the air. I think I had never been so scared, yet so exhilarated, in my life.

“Are you OK?” asked Cool Jay.

“Yes. How about you?”

“Fine. What about Hobo, eh?”

“Hobo is a cat who enjoys his work,” I remarked. “I don’t know if he was doing us a favor or if we provided him with an opportunity. But in any case we must remain absolutely still here. And remember: when the bus stops and all the passengers get off at once, that’s when we get off. Until then, we must be content to wait.”


Next chapter: Kenmore Station

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

A Brief Visit with the Weird Old Lady on the Porch

Oh, hello, dear! What brings you here? My mail got mixed up with yours? How sweet of you to bring it over. You’re new to the neighborhood, aren’t you? Why don’t you sit a moment, will you? Right here on the chair next to me. I’ve got some cookies baking. They’ll be ready soon and maybe I can tempt you with a morsel.

Oh, dear, cookies and mail reminds me of a time, — my! it must have been thirty or thirty-five years ago. A sweet young fellow, no older than twelve, came up to my porch one day with my mail much like you just have. And wouldn’t you know it? I had cookies baking then, too! Well, this little fellow — his name was Walter — he gave me my mail and I said to him, “Walter, come inside and have some cookies. They’re just baked and you can have a nice, tall, cold glass of milk with them.” Well, Walter wasn’t sure if he wanted to come inside, but I insisted because I was sure he would love my cookies. So he came in and I made him a plate of cookies and gave him a glass of milk, and my heavens! if he didn’t eat up every last little crumb!

“Mrs. Sykes!” he said. “These are the best cookies I ever ate! May I have some more?”

“Why certainly, dear. Have as many as you wish,” I replied, feeling very flattered. And wouldn’t you know it? He ate every last cookie I baked!

After that, Walter became a daily visitor. I always had a large batch of cookies ready for him. I have to mention that I was already an old woman by that time and Mr. Sykes (God bless his soul) had passed away some years before, so I was fairly lonely. And people always seemed a bit put off by me because I have only one eye and, well, this withered hand of mine is no conversation starter either. That and my cackling laugh. Oh, and having only three teeth. Mustn’t forget that. Not a pretty smile. Yes, Walter was a blessing to be sure.

One day, Walter’s mother came to my door. “Mrs. Sykes,” she said, “you’ve go to stop feeding Walter those cookies. His waist has grown seven sizes! We can’t keep him in clothes and, what’s more, this is very unhealthy for him.”

“My dear, you must take that up with your son.” I replied. “What I make in my own kitchen is my affair.”

Then she said several others things to me and left. Dear me, there was an unhappy woman! Never a kind word to be sure.

Walter kept coming by and I kept baking cookies. What a joy it was to see that boy eat! He’d have another cookie in his mouth before the first was swallowed. When I asked him if he wanted more, he could only nod ‘yes’ because his mouth was constantly full. I must tell you that it is a great compliment to a cook to see a person eat so.

Well, Walter did become very fat. In time he grew so fat he had problems getting in through the door (we were using the back door by this time, because his mother forbade him from coming to my house). Often I needed to pull him by the arms, but with both of us working at it, he always managed to get through. And how his eyes shone when he saw the wonderful mound of cookies sending off their delicious aroma from the kitchen table! And what an appetite! How that boy loved my cookies!

One day it happened that we managed to get him in the house, but after he ate the cookies he couldn’t get out. We tried the back door and the front, but Walter just couldn’t squeeze through. We thought about the windows, but could tell right off those wouldn’t work. “Dear, dear, Walter! It looks like you’ll have to stay with me for a while,” I told him.

The next day, Walter’s mother came by looking very distraught. Her eyes were red and swollen from lack of sleep and crying. Walter hadn’t come home and she wondered if I knew where he was. Why, he’s with me, I told her. What? she said. And then I explained what had happened.

Well, as I stand here, let me tell you, never has anyone ever hurled such abuse at me! The language she used! The insults! But I’ve always made it a point to keep my composure, and I swore I wouldn’t let her make me lose my temper.

“Where is he?” she demanded at last.

“I’m afraid he’s gotten stuck in the upstairs guest bedroom,” I told her. And then, without waiting for a proper invitation, she ran straight up my stairs. How she screamed when she saw Walter on the floor surrounded by all my freshly baked cookies! “Walter, come home!” she ordered, and then she got him to his feet and she pushed and she pulled, and she pulled and pushed, but it was of no use: Walter could not squeeze through the door to his room.

“You see?” I said. “Walter can’t come out. He’s stuck in there.”

“You’ve put him under a spell, you old witch. I know you have. You’ve schemed this all along! I want my son back, you hag! You hear me?” she wailed. My, my, she really said that to me, and a good deal more besides.

Well, there was no moving Walter of course. And the cookies kept coming. Lord, how he loved those cookies! I couldn’t make them fast enough! His mother brought the police, but what could they do? Walter wasn’t being held at my house against his will. His parents threatened legal action against me, but they couldn’t find a single charge that stuck. My lawyer, Mr. Slique, saw to that. They wanted a carpenter to widen the doorway, but it was my house! They couldn’t do anything like that without my permission! And then one evening his parents sent a rabbi, a priest and a minister to come talk to me. It was the same as always: everyone who came to speak to me would start off so politely and then the ugliness came out after a while.

Then one night, Walter’s mother stopped by. She seemed very tired and very sad. I had never seen her so down in the dumps. All the fight was out of her. “Mrs. Sykes,” she pleaded. “As a woman, can’t you sympathize with me? He is my son. Stop feeding him the cookies. Let him come home.”

“Poor dear,” I said. “It must be hard, but of course I can only guess at how you feel — I’ve never had a child.” And then she slumped down and wept right there on the floor.

My, my, that was so long ago. How odd I should think of it now.

Hm? Walter? What happened to him? Why, he’s still upstairs in his room. That’s why I’m baking the cookies. But surely he’ll let you have some. No? Some tea then? All right, if you must go, then you should go. But come again, dear. You know where I am.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Remembering the Blizzard of ’78

I’ve lived in Massachusetts all my life and I find it difficult to remember a snowier winter than this one. Maybe there has been a winter to rival this during the time I have walked the earth, but I just can’t remember one as far as frequency of precipitation goes. The snow just keeps coming and coming like a worn out sequel of a sequel. We’re already up to “Snowblast 6: A New Beginning” or “Bride of Sasquatch IV.” It just snowed again here in Boston for the umpteenth time last night, and, as has become my habit on alternating days, I got up a little earlier, pulled on the old boots, grabbed the shovel and scooped snow for an hour and a half. This time it was ten inches. Not the heavy, slushy stuff that struggling chiropractors pray for, but ten inches are ten inches. It takes a while to shovel. We don’t own a snowblower — which is OK, I kind of identify with Paul Bunyan anyway — but a snow shovel can only go so fast. Or I can only go so fast.

Well, it makes me hark back to the Blizzard of ’78. Yep, there was some snow for you. It was when God said, “Let there be white!” and He saw the white and that it was good. Good for paralyzing a whole region of the country for about two weeks. I don’t have the facts and figures in front of me, but we were talking some serious snow. It might have been somewhere on the order of six feet, not counting the giant drifts that were clearly ridiculous and impossible and yet there they were.

The morning after the snow had ended, when calm spread over the land and God had his little laugh, moving on his His next project (probably locusts, that’s something that never gets old), my father woke me to say the time for shoveling had come. I was twenty then and it fell to me and my young, supple muscles to dig my family out. We had a storm door on the front of our house with two large panes of glass that could be detached from the inside. Every inch of that door had snow pressed against it. My father took out the top pane and boosted me up through the top layer of snow to get to the outside of the house.

I sank a bit and then felt blindly for the snow shovel that was somewhere to my left. I found the handle, managed to extricate it and then proceeded to dig my way down to the ground. And, naturally, that was the beginning of something that went on all day.

Everybody on my street shoveled snow. Neighbors I never spoke to, some I didn’t even recognize, were out there. There was a certain fellowship about it. Everybody thought it was funny. Everyone was friendly.

It was like that for a week. A driving ban was in effect and many businesses stayed closed (except for essential ones, like grocery stores), so we didn’t have to go to work or school. People simply walked or cross country skied to get to places. If you needed to buy some groceries, you dragged a sled down to the supermarket about a mile away — just like how it must have been in olden times — and dragged your groceries back. If you didn’t have a sled, someone would loan one to you. We were all in it in it together.

After a week or so, things went back to normal. What a disappointment! I thoroughly enjoyed that blizzard.