Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Human Trait

Last week, Turner Classic Movies had The Dirty Dozen on. I didn’t stay up to watch it, but it reminded me of the last time I saw The Dirty Dozen when Daughter Number 2 was probably in the first or second grade. For any of you not knowing the plot, a bunch of convicts with life sentences are given a chance for freedom if they can complete a suicide mission behind enemy lines during World War II. Toward the end of the movie, a whole mansion-full of Nazi bigwigs and their wives are having a big bash. The dirty dozen’s objective is to wipe them all out by planting explosives everywhere. So as we watched this, DN2 asked me what the dirty dozen were planning to do. I explained that the good guys, the dirty dozen, were going to kill the evil bad guys, the Nazis. “What did the Nazis do?” she asked. “They caused a huge war that lead to a lot of deaths and suffering.” “But their wives?” DN2 pursued. “What did they ever do?” “Well,” I said, “I guess that’s guilt by association,” an answer she neither understood nor was satisfied with. “But they didn’t do anything!” she insisted. Then, after seeing Charles Bronson or one of the other actors throw an explosive device into a ventilator shaft, she turned to me on the verge of tears and asked, “Why don’t they stop?” A second after that, we switched to All That on Nickelodeon.

When Daughter Number 1 was a very little girl (I’m guessing pre-kindergarten), we took her to an older kid’s birthday party. Featured as the climax of the festivities was a straw piñata in the shape of a donkey hung from the ceiling — all the kids lined up for their turn to be blindfolded and given a stick to whack it with. DN1 had never seen this before, and even I have to say the children (all of them peeping under poorly tied blindfolds) really attacked the effigy with maniacal glee. Anyone doubting we humans are descended from a lower, more bestial order of life should have seen those pink-cheeked cherubs get medieval on the poor donkey. While this went on, DN1’s hands went to her mouth and her eyes grew wide with fright. When the final, killing blow eviscerated the piñata and candy spewed everywhere from the wretched thing’s bowels, DN1 burst into tears and was inconsolable for at least ten or fifteen minutes afterward — and I didn’t blame her a bit for feeling that way.

When I was a little boy, one of my friends was given the Little Golden Book version of the gingerbread man story, which told the tale of the swift, mischievous gingerbread man who wouldn’t come to heel and accept his station in life as a pastry. At the climax of the story, the gingerbread man needed to cross a brook and made a deal with a crafty fox to give him transport. First he rode on the swimming fox’s back; but, when the back became submerged under water, the gingerbread man was forced to stand on the fox’s head. This goes on until eventually the gingerbread man is given no other recourse but to perch himself on the fox’s nose or drown — all according to the diabolical fox’s plan. Finally, when the fox opened his mouth to eat the gingerbread man, the illustrator of the book showed a freeze frame of the moment just before the fox bit down on the poor little gingerbread man. He caught the expression of horror on the gingerbread man’s face, his mouth and eyes perfect O’s of white icing, and the cunning, wicked look in the fox’s eyes, his teeth sharp and cruel. I was stunned, knowing that a split second later this sentient, playful creature, the gingerbread man, would have his life extinguished by a barbaric fox who viewed him as nothing more than a food source, a thing to eat, digest, and put out of his memory without the merest pang of conscience. He had no appreciation at all of what a wonderful, funny life the gingerbread man led. The monstrosity of the act fascinated me; I was horrified, yet held in thrall.

It’s a pity that part of growing up means inuring yourself to acts of inhumanity, either in fiction or even on the evening news. DN2, who wept for the Nazis’ wives, now has no problem playing the most violent video games. DN1 can watch your basic slasher/horror flick without it costing her a night’s sleep. And I, of course, can handle just about anything I hear or see. A great human trait we all share is really a double-edged sword: we can adapt to anything given enough time.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Wedding Bells

This weekend the family and I drove up to Maine. The missus and I were invited to a wedding in the pretty little town of Edgecomb, on the grounds of a beautiful former farm there, of two people in their forties, each getting married for the first time. Let me ask you this: do you think it’s different getting married for the first time at that stage of life? I can understand how people in their forties taking their second, third, fourth, or fifth waltz down the aisle might view the whole exchange of vows with a slightly jaundiced eye — you know, perhaps thinking, “yeah, yeah, richer and poorer, sickness and in health, wrap this up and crack open the champagne” — but how about for the first time at that age? Is there anything in it like the innocence and mystery we see with younger folks tying the knot? Can the mystery and innocence be present, mixed in with a little wisdom and experience? Could it possibly be better and more rewarding to wait until that age to get married? I wonder.

The ceremony was high in content and brief in length, my kind of wedding. The justice of the peace invited the guests to offer whatever advice or observations they thought appropriate to the couple before the I do’s were officially spoken, and two good friends of the groom stepped up and made some poignant, extemporaneous remarks that really helped make the occasion memorable. After the ceremony there was no DJ or band, no throwing of bouquet or garter, no dancing, just eating, drinking and socializing with some jazz CDs playing in the background. The bride wore red, which I thought an interesting choice (it had me thinking of the scandalizing red dresses in the movies Gone With the Wind and Jezebel — thank God Aunt Pitty Pat wasn’t there!). All in all, it was a wedding for grown-ups: low-key, almost casual, a chance for friends to gather to celebrate the good fortune of two well-deserving people. One of the best weddings I’ve ever been to.

The kids didn’t go to the wedding (we thought they’d be bored, but later wondered if perhaps they would have liked it); instead they stayed behind in a cottage we rented at the Gosnold Arms in New Harbor, Maine. The hotel is directly across the street from a small harbor where the fishermen ply their trade, so quiet and tranquil a spot you’d think the laws governing time didn’t apply there. The missus and I enjoyed the picturesqueness of the spot; the girls appreciated the cable TV. On Sunday we went to Booth Bay Harbor, a delightful little tourist trap with crisscrossing streets jammed with quaint, eccentric little shops like so many houses and hotels on a Monopoly board. The rain, which threatened all day, held off until we loaded into the car and headed on home. All in all, a great family weekend.

Friday, August 25, 2006

A Father/Daughter Moment

Ladies, remember the first time your father shaved your mohawk? Didn’t it make you feel like Daddy’s special little girl?

Have a great weekend everybody!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Pete’s Moon

Well, he’s doing it again. Jason of Clarity of Night is holding another short fiction contest. The object of the game is to write a short story no longer than 250 words in length based on the photograph above. So start your pencils!

Here is my submission:

The campfire burned low and the ponies were hobbled for the night. The two cowboys lay back on their bedrolls looking up at the unsettled sky, idly watching a fierce, bright moon strain hard against a cover of tight, curdled clouds.

“This night puts me to mind of when old Pete died,” said the older man.

“He shot hisself, didn’t he, Reb?” asked the other.

“It was his gun what done it, with his finger on the trigger.”

“Why do you suppose he done that for?”

“I reckon that old moon told him to,” replied Reb.

“Shucks,” chuckled the younger man, but then he noticed Reb no longer lay there. He sat up straight as a plank and looked all around him. “Reb!” he called out. “Where you gone off to, Reb?”

The night wore on and the moon traveled high, its brilliance barely contained by the imprisoning clouds. Buck grew more and more skittish not finding Reb anywhere, his frantic halloaing answered only by the insolent bark of coyotes.

Finally, past midnight, the moon broke through the clouds and bore right down on poor Buck. Durn thing is brighter than the sun! he thought. And bigger, too.

Two days later Reb rode into town with Buck, stiff as a new boot, draped over his pony’s back. Reb had tied Buck’s hat to one of the panniers. Buck’s spurs gleamed dully as his feet bounced in rhythm to the pony’s sway. In his right hand, Buck held his pistol tight.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Forbidden Fruit

What’s your favorite food? If you were marooned on a desert island and allowed only one food, what would it be, this one thing you desire above all others and will never tire of? Is it something fancy with an unpronounceable French name, or is it something the French might call Le Big Mac? Is it spicy or sweet, salty or fatty, all natural or conceived in a laboratory? Is it good for you or bad for you? Would your dentist approve or disapprove? What is it?

The food I love most in this world is a fresh, plump, red, juicy tomato. I like to eat tomatoes like apples, sprinkling a little salt on the bite mark before I go in for another chomp. This year my fondest prayers were answered when the missus planted a garden that has yielded a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes and regular tomatoes. A couple of weeks ago, the harvest began.

Ah, but here’s the problem: tomatoes make my face break out! It’s true. Even though I turned 50 this year, in this one respect I’m still a part of the Clearasil generation. I’ve battled acne all my life and have taken medication for it since junior high. The medication works very well, but modern science still hasn’t come up with the answer for the tomato, and now I’m suffering from over-indulging in my personal forbidden fruit. Last week my face was literally sore and took on the topography of the Appalachian mountain chain. Since then I’ve stopped eating tomatoes and things are returning to normal, but every time I walk into the kitchen what do I see but mounds of delicious, shiny, red tomatoes calling out to me! Why? Why is life so unfair?


Well, if anyone ever wondered what goes on in the mind of your humble servant, what truly makes him tick, you may end this speculation and find out for yourself. The fabulous Flood has interviewed yours truly in her blog, an interview which will no doubt lead her to block my access to it forever. Please, no frivolous lawsuits if learning my innermost thoughts and desires leads to hysterical blindness, uncontrollable facial tics, extreme mental anguish or other such maladies. You’ve been warned.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Schprock Takes Another Holiday

Well, I spent all of last week at my beloved home away from home, the World Fellowship Center (aka Hippie Camp) in Conway, New Hampshire. It was “bike week” and, as I am the only one in the family committed to practicing this truly perfect form of human propulsion, I went away all by my onesies. World Fellowship has a small campground where you can stay for really, really cheap, so I brought along my nearly 30-year-old mountain tent and my sleeping bag and so placed myself a little closer to Mother Nature.

Folks, I had a blast. Good food, good company, good weather and good exercise. Most mornings we went on 25–30 mile treks except for Wednesday, when a guy named Jerry and I went on a “century,” a 100-mile bike trip through the beautiful White Mountains. It was absolutely idyllic. New Hampshire has this scenic stretch of road that cuts through a part of the White Mountain National Forest called the Kancamagus Highway whose summit reaches nearly 3,000 feet. We began our trip by pedaling up that to be rewarded by a spectacular view at the top. There I met a fellow cyclist named Larry who appeared to be somewhere in his late-sixties, early-seventies. He attracted my notice because his bicycle was loaded down like a pack mule. Every conceivable spot where you could hang a pannier or other type of bag was taken up. When I inquired about his journey, Larry told me he started off in Washington state on June 1st and had been following an eccentric zig zag route that has taken him from as far north as Canada to all the way down to parts of the US south. His destination point was Bar Harbor, Maine, which he should have reached last Saturday. He had already gone 4,600 miles when we spoke!

Going off alone to Hippie Camp was sort of a gutsy thing for a shy guy like me to do. I am not a particularly social animal, so placing myself in a situation with strangers to all sides of me was not done without some trepidation. When I try, I can be reasonably engaging — in fact, in college I was generally taken for the genial, easygoing type. But I do put up barriers and sometimes these barriers can be hard to overcome. However, the great thing about World Fellowship is the general atmosphere of friendliness and acceptance. When you eat in the dining hall, you find yourself seated at a long table among roughly ten other people. Handshakes and introductions are de rigueur and often you are asked where you’re from, what you do for a living, how long you’ve been coming to World Fellowship and so on. If you have any social skills at all, it’s impossible not to apply them and improve upon them. As a result I made several friends with whom I plan to keep in contact.

This experience isn’t all that different from the overnight camp I used to go to when I was a kid (which, coincidentally, is only 12 or 13 miles away from World Fellowship Center in West Ossipee, NH). My parents used to drop me off with my trunk, instruct me to write home, and then peal away in their car in a cloud of dust and flying road debris, leaving me alone in a cabin with a bunch of strange kids whose space I was supposed to share for two weeks. But it always wound up that when Mom and Dad came to pick me up I didn’t want to leave. To this very day, one of my ideas of earthly paradise is good old Camp Calumet Lutheran.

Last week I actually had a chance to go visit my old camp — I hadn’t been there since 1973 when I was a C.I.T. Incredibly it was exactly the same. Exactly. All the buildings were still in their accustomed spots painted red with white trim. When you walk from Luther Hall to the dining hall where the main office is located, Lake Ossipee is on your left and the girls’ cabins are lined up on your right, all of them named after women from the Bible. It was just like going back in time, only here I was older, taller, and, unfortunately, playing the role of interloper. I was quickly accosted by one of the camp directors and after regaining consciousness from the tasing she gave me (just kidding!), I explained I used to be a camper there as a kid. The director kindly told me I couldn’t go anywhere without an escort, which of course was perfectly understandable and was, quite naturally, unacceptable to me, so I thanked her and left. But that was enough. Perhaps next year I’ll talk Daughter Number 2 into going for a week or two to Camp Calumet and then, when we drop her off, I’ll wallow in nostalgia to my heart’s content.

A great discovery was a tiny theater found in the nearby town of Tamworth called the Barnstormers Theater. During one of our rides we came across it and I made mental note to come back to attend a performance. The play was The Lion in Winter and it really was very well done. The actor who played King Henry did a passable, if unintentional, imitation of Sean Connery (I kept waiting to hear him call his royal mistress Miss Moneypenny), and I found the play itself to be smart and funny, full of memorable lines and reminiscent of Shakespeare. I recommend it to everyone.

One last note and I’ll let you go: I met a man named Marc Mauer who is the executive director of The Sentencing Project in Washington, D.C., an organization “that promotes criminal justice reform and the development of alternative forms of incarceration.” All last week I made idle chit-chat with him at mealtimes and found him very pleasant company. On Friday he gave a presentation based on his book, Race to Incarcerate, a publication which questions the conventional wisdom of battling crime by building more and more prisons. I found him to be an extremely persuasive speaker who could adroitly field a barrage of questions from his listeners by simply having all the facts at his fingertips. I purchased his book and am reading it now. I won’t choose to go into it at this moment, but one tidbit I think worth bringing up is this projection: among American males born today, African-Americans stand a 1 in 3 chance of spending some time in a prison, as compared to 1 in 8 for Hispanics and 1 in 16 for whites. Now I know what conclusion your typical skinhead will draw from this statistic, but you have to believe that economic factors play a large role in this, along with a healthy helping good old fashioned prejudice (i.e., crimes that might merely put a white person on probation land a black guy in the slammer).

That’s all I’ve got. Thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

So What Was the Deal with Mr. Tuttle?

Okay, okay, so I got everyone wondering about the bear in the story about Mr. Tuttle. What? Is it unusual to have a circus bear in the back seat of your car all of a sudden? I don’t know, maybe it’s a generational thing. Back in my day, lots of people had bears in their back seats. We even had expressions for it. Like when we paid for something at the local five and dime, we used to say as we counted out the money, “Here’s your three dollars and there’s twenty-eight cents for the bear in the back seat.” Honestly! Your parents never told you about that?

All right, I can see this isn’t going to work with you guys. Tough crowd. So I guess I’ll just have to explain my thinking.

You see, just recently I saw the Shakespeare play The Taming of the Shrew. To make sure we’re all on the same page here, let me point out that a “shrew” in Shakespeare’s sense is a caustic, scolding woman, someone very difficult to get along with — so get those images of a stout fellow in lion tamer garb subduing a tiny field mouse with whip and chair out of your head . . . it’s not the same thing at all. And, thankfully, there were only “shrews” in Shakespeare’s day — nowadays all woman are consistently congenial and the pleasantest creatures on earth. But for the purposes of explanation, we must imagine that there could have existed at one time a woman who was hard to please.

Anyway, this fellow named Petruchio sets out to marry the shrew Katherina for her money; but, not being satisfied with merely that, he also determines to break her of her “froward” ways and mold her into the kind of wife he wants. His program calls for him to do many lunatic, nonsensical things to completely throw Katherina off her game, and one of the actions he takes is to dress up in a ridiculous costume for their wedding. The whole wedding party can’t believe why he shows up so attired, but, despite their protests, he goes through the wedding in that costume without once explaining how he came to be dressed so, passing the entire thing off as a long and tedious tale.

Well, from that I got the idea of writing a story about a staid, quiet couple whose uneventful lives get a jolt when the husband goes completely out of character and appears in the middle of the night drunk and wearing outlandish clothes. To crown it all, I had him arrive home with a bear in the back seat of his car, leaving to his wife’s (and the readers’) imagination how this humdrum man came to be in this condition. The wife, who loves him, eventually reasons that to demand an explanation of her husband’s outrageous actions might threaten the very underpinnings of their marriage — in other words, if he confesses to one thing, then she would of course have to react in a certain way, and so on and so forth until any hope of recovering the placid life they once enjoyed becomes destroyed. She knows he’s a good man and thinks it wise to forgive him his one indiscretion, this blip on the screen as it were, and keep herself in the dark. I little counted on readers getting hung up about the bear, but now I can see that that was indeed a provocative element in the story.

So what can I say? I am blessed to have intelligent, critical readers who have the patience to read my whimsical little tales and give me the feedback I so desperately need. So thank you one and all . . . I mean it, you guys — you’re the best.

And, by the way, I had a wonderful vacation this past week and will file my report soon.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Mr. Tuttle

I’m on vacation this week and Internet access for me will be spotty at best — but, being the considerate guy I am, I’ve left you all with a tender tale of true love. So grab a box of Kleenex and enjoy!

Mrs. Tuttle was a large woman. She would admit to being big-boned, and sometimes, during moments of unrestrained frankness (when perhaps she went a cocktail too far), she might even have referred to her figure as “generous.” Mrs. Tuttle sewed many of her own dresses using patterns she hoped would help diminish her wide hips and reduce her vast bust. Her height rivaled that of most men and her hands, which were large, strong, raw and big-knuckled, were often kept concealed within delicate silk gloves. She applied make-up quite liberally to her face and wore her perfume a bit too heavily; everyone could always tell which room Mrs. Tuttle had just been in. She affected a feminine walk as best she could with feet jammed into shoes a size too small. One town wag remarked that Mrs. Tuttle walked like an elephant on a tightrope.

She belonged to all the right clubs. At various times Mrs. Tuttle had been president of the Historical Society, the Book Club, the Garden Club, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Ladies’ Auxiliary Firefighters. She headed the church’s altar guild and supervised the coffee hour after the church service was over. She was lead mezzo-soprano in the church choir.

Mrs. Tuttle had been married to Mr. Tuttle for 32 years. High school sweethearts, the Tuttles never had children. When people inquired, Mrs. Tuttle always replied, “Oh, I’ve never needed children. Mr. Tuttle is my boy.” Then she added importantly, “He’s my very big boy.”

Mr. Tuttle was, in fact, not so very big. Nor was he so very small. Being neither tall nor short, Mr. Tuttle was also neither thin nor fat. He was neither handsome nor homely. You couldn’t say he was particularly virile, yet neither was he effete. He wasn’t a shy man, but you couldn’t call him outgoing either. Mr. Tuttle’s hair was wispy and sand-colored and receding at the hairline. His eyes, which appeared minuscule through the strong lenses of his round spectacles, were a washed-out blue; his mustache was weak, his face pale, and he spoke in a soft, reedy voice as if he only had half a lung. Looking at him, you couldn’t help thinking Mr. Tuttle was slowly being rubbed away by an eraser.

The Tuttles owned a ranch house in a suburb 15 miles west of Boston. Mr. Tuttle worked for an accounting firm in the city and always took the train unless he knew he had to work late that night; in that case, he drove his car. The Tuttles rose at the same time every morning and, while Mr. Tuttle shaved and showered, Mrs. Tuttle prepared his breakfast and fixed his lunch. When Mr. Tuttle arrived at the table, there would be fried eggs if it was Monday, french toast if it was Tuesday, scrambled eggs if it was Wednesday, grapefruit and toast if it was Thursday, and cream of wheat if it was Friday. Mrs. Tuttle laid the newspaper out with the sections slightly separated so Mr. Tuttle could easily choose which parts of it his inclinations that morning led him. When she finished with all her work, Mrs. Tuttle would sit down across the table from him with a big plump in her chair and say, “Well, Tuttle, mind the time,” or, “They say rain today, Tuttle, so bring your umbrella.”

Mrs. Tuttle adored her husband. She inspected his suit jacket for lint or stray hairs every morning before he put it on and she always helped him into his overcoat at the door. The night before, Mrs. Tuttle would dutifully lay out his clothes and you could always tell which day of the week it was by which tie Mr. Tuttle wore. His wing-tip shoes gleamed and his homburg hat with the feather in its band was always well-brushed. A glance at Mr. Tuttle would tell anyone he had a wife who looked after him.

One morning Mr. Tuttle informed his wife he needed to work late that night; it was tax season and it couldn’t be helped. He would have to take the car. The couple owned a black Studebaker Commander which Mr. Tuttle kept in tip-top condition. It sat in their driveway on four sturdy whitewalls like some great, regal, mythical beast held in abeyance, awaiting Mr. Tuttle’s Zeus-like animating touch. It gave Mrs. Tuttle a thrill to see her husband take control of it. He looked magnificent behind the wheel. That morning she stood on the doorstep and watched Mr. Tuttle as he backed the car out of the driveway and rumbled away down the street.

Then Mrs. Tuttle busied herself for the day. She straightened up the kitchen and dusted and vacuumed the living room. She changed the sheets on the beds and put a load of clothes into the washer, which later she wrung out and hung on the line. At ten o’clock, Mrs. Tuttle brewed herself a cup of tea and settled into the big armchair to listen to Our Gal Sunday and Young Doctor Malone on the radio. When Young Doctor Malone was over it was eleven o’clock and time to take her bath and prepare to meet the girls for their trip into Boston.

Twice a month, Mrs. Tuttle, Shirley Nordstrom and Alice Lundquist rode the train into Boston for some shopping. Shirley usually picked the girls up in her Packard and drove them all to the station where they took the train to North Station and then transferred onto the subway. At Downtown Crossing, Mrs. Tuttle liked to spend long hours in Jordan Marsh, Filene’s and Filene’s Basement, lingering at the perfume counters, the jewelry counters and in the lingerie department. Mr. Tuttle didn’t make an awful lot of money so her purchases had to be well-considered and within budget. All the while, she and Alice Lundquist kept up a steady stream of talk. Alice liked to complain about her husband, who, according to her, was just plain cheap and mean. Mrs. Tuttle would listen sympathetically and occasionally put in: “Oh, no, Mr. Tuttle would never say that!” or “Mr. Tuttle knows how to treat a woman. Your Frank should speak to Mr. Tuttle.”

On the ride home that day, Mrs. Tuttle thought about her life with Mr. Tuttle. It was all she dreamed of as a young girl. True, she didn’t marry an orthodontist like Shirley Nordstrom and have her own car, but she did all right with Mr. Tuttle. Their home was modest, but it was clean, well-furnished and modern. They hadn’t bought a television yet, but Mrs. Tuttle had just about everything else she could want. She had a wringer/washing machine, an Electrolux vacuum, a hi fi and a garbage disposer. Most days her clubs kept her busy, and on the weekends she and Mr. Tuttle would get together with either the Hendersons to play bridge or the Colsons to play canasta or the Whites to play Scrabble. Saturday was the day Mr. Tuttle donned his green coveralls and worked in the yard while Mrs. Tuttle tended her flower beds. On Sundays, her sister and brother-in-law came to visit after church, and while she made sandwiches and potato salad with Louise, Mr. Tuttle and Bill liked to sit in the screened-in porch to listen to the ball game and drink Narragansett beer. Sunday nights, Mrs. Tuttle mixed drinks and sat down on the divan next to Mr. Tuttle to listen to Lux Radio Theatre. It was heavenly.

Mrs. Tuttle arrived home very late in the afternoon and made a small supper for herself. She bought a new hat that day and left the box out on purpose so she’d remember to show the hat to Mr. Tuttle. After cleaning up the kitchen, she took the clothes in from the line and folded them. At seven o’clock she tuned into NBC to listen to that new show, The Six Shooter, starring Jimmy Stewart. Later, at eight o’clock, she listened to Gunsmoke on CBS.

After writing a letter to her mother, Mrs. Tuttle retired for the night. She knew Mr. Tuttle would probably be kept at work until quite late and wouldn’t expect her to wait up for him. She made herself comfortable in bed with the new book by Norman Mailer, the one the book club would discuss next Thursday, and read it for an hour or so. Then at around 10:30 she felt quite drowsy and turned the light off to sleep.

It must have been around two in the morning when a loud sound woke her up. Although she had been dreaming and was still in that funny state of semi-consciousness, Mrs. Tuttle had the distinct impression that an automobile had crashed into her house. It felt almost like a physical blow to herself. She sat up erect in bed and strained her ears to hear more. Nothing. She listened a little longer and finally heard a car door slam.

She clicked on the lamp next to her and saw her husband was not yet in his bed. Could that have been Mr. Tuttle? She called out to him in a timid voice: “Tuttle? Tuttle?”

No reply.

Eventually Mrs. Tuttle summoned her nerve and got out of bed. She put on her robe and slippers and went to the closet to get the baseball bat. The Tuttles didn’t keep a gun, but they had a 32 ounce Georgia Cracker from when Mr. Tuttle was a boy. With the bat gripped firmly in her right hand, Mrs. Tuttle stepped out of the bedroom and padded softly across the length of the house to the door which lead into the converted garage. She put her ear up against it.

Mrs. Tuttle heard the garage’s outside door open and the sound of stumbling footsteps on the linoleum floor. Then she heard the sliding door to the utility closet open and, after a moment, the sudden din created by several large, heavy objects crashing to the ground. Then there was a scrambling noise, like a raccoon foraging madly in a trash barrel, followed by a couple of loud oaths.

“TUTTLE?” she shouted from her side of the door. After a brief pause, she barely heard a small voice from within the room quaver, “Oh no!”

It was unmistakably Mr. Tuttle.

Mrs. Tuttle turned the doorknob and entered the room. It was pitch black inside; Mr. Tuttle hadn’t turned on the lights. She reached over to the light switch and snapped it on.

“Mr. Tuttle!” she exclaimed.

There he was at the utility closet standing in a clutter of junk, his leg hopelessly entangled in a badminton net. He held in his hands a pair of Indian clubs. But that wasn’t what shocked her. Her husband, Mr. Tuttle, the love of her life, was wearing on his head an oversized baby’s bonnet, his white shirt was grimy and smeared with either lipstick or blood, his pants had been replaced by a Scottish kilt and he wore combat boots painted gold.

Mrs. Tuttle was speechless for a moment.

“What is this? What’s happened to you, Tuttle?” she finally demanded, loudly and with a hint of hysteria in her voice.

“Now, my dear, there’s an explanation for this, a perfectly good explanation.”

“For this?”

“It’s not what it seems, Mrs. Tuttle, believe me!”

She paused a moment to fully take in the sight and exclaimed once again, “Mr. Tuttle!” not believing the evidence of her own eyes. She stepped closer to him. His legs appeared so thin and white and his knees were very knobby. Mr. Tuttle was ashamed of his legs and never wore short pants, not even in the hottest weather. And here he was in a kilt!

“What were you doing just now?” she asked.

“Returning these,” said Mr. Tuttle, holding up the Indian clubs.

“And just what were you doing with them?” she pursued.

“That’s a long story, my dear.”

Mrs. Tuttle sniffed the air. “Are you drunk?”

“Not so very.”

So, she thought to herself, you were working late, eh? A lie! This man had the effrontery to lie to her! “I’m ashamed of you, Tuttle!” she said with all the disdain she could put into it. Then after a moment she asked, “Was that the car I heard?”

“That? Oh, yes, it was the car. Regrettable, but easily mended, I think.”

Mrs. Tuttle stomped by him with the baseball bat still in her hand and out the door into the driveway. The streetlight illuminated the scene as a composition of mostly highlights and shadows. At first the car looked all right, but when she inspected the front she found the bumper pushed in like the damaged prow of a boat. Several feet away she saw what had been done to the house. Mr. Tuttle had evidently backed the car away after striking it.

Mr. Tuttle appeared by her side. “It’s really better than it looks,” he assured her.

“But . . . but our car! Our beautiful car!” Mrs. Tuttle said gesturing toward the Studebaker with outspread arms. How many hours had Mr. Tuttle spent washing and waxing the car, and changing the oil and the spark plugs? Then she saw something inside it and instantly let out a piercing scream.

Something very large was in the car. With the light so uncertain it was impossible to tell what it was, but a dark, amorphous shape with black fur appeared to move about in the back seat. “Tuttle!” she shrieked. “In the car! Is it . . . some sort of dog?”

“Shush, shush!” said Mr. Tuttle. “The neighbors!” He tentatively laid his hand our her shoulder. She shrugged it off.

“Tuttle! What is that in that car?”

“If you calm yourself, I’ll tell you. It’s nothing to be frightened of,” said Mr. Tuttle. “Now please, shush. Are you calm now, my dear?”

“Tuttle,” she said in a more even tone, “I demand an answer!”

“That,” said Mr. Tuttle, pointing inside the car, “is a bear. A small, trained circus bear. Very gentle. Quite domesticated. I think you came nearer the truth when you called it a dog.”

Mrs. Tuttle stared at Mr. Tuttle. At first Mr. Tuttle didn’t return her look, but after a half a minute he did. It wasn’t done defiantly, but it certainly seemed unapologetic the way he gazed back at her. They locked eyes like that for a long time, neither one saying a word.

Mrs. Tuttle felt that what was happening was important, a milestone in their marriage. She hadn’t had time yet to reason the whole thing out, but she couldn’t escape the feeling that this event was a crisis masquerading as a comedy, and what she said next would set their relationship on an irrevocable course for either good or ill. Her husband certainly looked absurd. The baby’s bonnet, the lipstick (for she knew now that that was what it was), the kilt, the ludicrous combat boots — how could there be a satisfactory explanation to all this? How could anyone explain a bear in an accountant’s car at two o’clock in the morning?

She looked at him. He looked at her. The bear pawed at the window of the car. Her mouth showed the faintest trace of a smile. So did his.

“Oh, come on to bed, Tuttle,” she said at last. “And take that ridiculous bonnet off your head. I’ll wake you up early so you can return that bear to wherever you got it from.”

She stepped aside to allow Mr. Tuttle to lead the way. As she followed she looked him up and down, not missing a detail, and suppressed a giggle. Mr. Tuttle was her boy all right, she thought with a pang in her heart. Her very big boy.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Circle Logic

The effervescent Tiff has invited everyone to write a short story about the above picture in 500 words or less. Here’s my humble submission for the Pulitzer committee to consider.

Professor Pi had had a rough day. Things weren’t going very well at all with his government-funded Circle Alignment Project. Perkins over in purchasing mistakenly ordered 50 three-and-a-half foot ovals that morning, and some joker replaced the round pegs with square ones so they wouldn’t fit into the round holes anymore. To crown it all, late that afternoon word reached the Center for Circular Sciences that Doctor Isosceles of the Triangular Think Tank had successfully aligned seven triangles with an margin of error of only one-billionth of an inch; this bested the work of their rival, Professor Quad’s nearly perfect “six squares of straightness.” Professor Pi’s assistant, young Wilkens, delivered the bad news to the professor himself. The esteemed man of science had just settled down to his customary tea and Oreo cookies when Wilkens burst into his office.

“What? Seven? Impossible!” spluttered Professor Pi, upsetting his teacup. “We haven’t done six yet! It’s these damn circles — they keep rolling, never stay put.”

“Professor, I needn’t remind you that the Senate Select Sub-committee on Geometric Shapes makes their recommendation this Thursday.”

“Right you are, Wilkens. As things stand now, Isosceles’ triangle will be a shoo-in. Cancel all your plans, my boy. Our only hope is action!”

The experimental four foot high Velcro circles had shown promise by staying fixed to their receptor bases, but ultimately had to be scrapped because the professor’s carpet slippers kept sticking to the floor and the fuzziness of the circles threw off the measuring instruments. Titanium, copper, steel, and lead were all tried, but as soon as the last circle was put into place, one of the others would start rolling out of line. Throughout the night and well into the following day, Professor Pi and Wilkens labored over the problem of beating Doctor Isosceles and his seven totally trued-up triangles.

At midday the professor and Wilkens took a break at the diner next door. As Pi sat slumped dejectedly over the counter staring glumly at his tuna melt and Coke, he glanced over to see Wilkens about to dunk a chocolate-glazed donut into his coffee. “That’s it, Wilkens!” cried the professor as he seized the donut from his surprised protege. “Back to the lab!”

It was a black day indeed for both Doctor Isosceles and Professor Quad when the news hit. The bold headline type of The Washington Post proclaimed: “Senate Adopts Circle as National Shape!” Then the subhead ran above the professor’s picture: “Professor Pi unveils new design; first man to align eight circles through use of “stabilizing holes”; Nobel Prize considered.”

Yes, by God, the professor did it!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Achieve the Body You’ve Always Dreamed Of!

Above is a picture taken of me during a break in my annual Martha’s Vineyard bike tour last Saturday. But friends, I’m not here to talk about the ride. Instead, what I want you to do is take a close look at my sculpted physique. What do you see? A finely developed chest, mighty arms pulsing with power, an abdomen as firm as the expression of resolve on my face, a tree trunk-sized neck with veins standing out in stark relief — all in all, an incredible specimen, wouldn’t you say? Well hold onto your hats everybody, because what I have say next will shock you senseless: I achieved all of this without steroids or any other kind of bodybuilding supplement! That’s right: no hydroxycut, xandrine, Met rx, EAS myoplex, whey protein — none of those. And here’s the kicker: I don’t even lift weights!

How did I do it? Over the years I have developed a body sculpting program based on certain exercise principles I call “muscle mass magnifiers.” Just how they work is a mystery even to myself, but you can’t argue with results. And what do I call this unorthodox training regimen? Schprock Hard! That’s right. And now I’m offering the Schprock Hard! workout program to the general public.

If you are at least 18 years old and have a credit card, please use the comment link below to enroll in my intensive 12 week course. After Schprock Hard!, you’ll never walk away from the mirror disappointed again. And for you skeptics, I invite you to check out the picture below of my riding buddy, James T. James has agreed to take my course and allow his progress to be charted. As you can see, there’s a lot of work to be done, but I will guarantee that within 12 weeks those puny biceps and pecs will be ten times the size they are now and absolutely Schprock Hard! So don’t delay! Contact me now so you can have the body you’ve always dreamed of!