Novel, Film, and Theater Hybrids

Gentle Ben Hur

Thrill to the heartwarming saga of a 600 lb. brown bear who befriends a lonely young boy, wins a chariot race, and witnesses the crucifixion of Christ.

50 Shades of Grey Poupon

Do you really need to know what Col. Mustard wants to do with that candlestick, and where and to whom he wants to do it? I didn’t think so.–Tom Hartley

Twilight: Breaking Bad

Boring, morose teenagers take all the fun out of selling drugs.–Tom Hartley

Going Clear on a Day You Can See Forever

To the surprise of no one, Barbra Streisand learns that in a past life she was an evil galactic overlord.–Tom Hartley

Manos, The Handmaid’s Tale

In the future women will be subject to cruel mockery by a guy in an orange jumpsuit and his adorable robot companions.–Tom Hartley

The Art of the Deal of the Fugue

A composer in the early stages of dementia sets out to make music great again with his endless variations on “Deutschland Über Alles”.–Tom Hartley

Amelie, The Wrath of God

A whimsical gamine goes berserk on the Amazon.

A Brief History of Time Bandits

A brilliant disquisition on cosmology founders hilariously when six dwarves spill out of a black hole.

The Earrings of Madame Da Funk

African-American history from slavery until modern times is reenacted by metaphorical jewelry.

Chloe in the Dog Day Afternoon

A lawyer ponders infidelity with a hostage.

Little Women Who Run With the Wolves

…try valiantly but can’t keep up, which is probably just as well.

Suddenly Last Summa Theologica

The prolonged agony and hideous death of an effete young man at the hands of ravenous street urchins brilliantly sums up all that can be understood of Christian theology.

The Runaway Bunny Jury

Desperate jurors avoid being profiled by ingeniously disguising themselves as birds, flowers, boats, rocks, and fish.

The Scarsdale Diet of Worms

Drastic weight loss through unrecanted heresy.

Call of the Wild Duck

A plucky dog survives life in the frozen Klondike with the help of a symbolic duck.

Old Man Riverdance

Paul Robeson is kicked to death by stampeding robots.

The Best of Mr. and Mrs. Bridges of Madison County

A conventional Midwestern housewife married to an emotionally distant and even more conventional husband writes to a no-nonsense advice columnist asking what she should do about her affair with a charismatic photographer who sees her inner soul and finds her G-spot. P.S. She’s lying about the sex.–Amy Culbertson

Middlemarch of the Penguins

Dorthea’s already unpleasant marriage to the elderly Rev. Casaubon grows even more dreary when she must trudge seventy miles through Antarctic blizzards to the sea, fleeing hungry predators, while Casaubon sits on an egg. —Jamie McCrabby

Gulliver’s Travels With My Aunt

The Lilliputians have nothing on Aunt Augusta. A young traveller is traumatized by strange lands and even stranger relatives. —Jamie McCrabby  

Picture of Dorian Gray’s Anatomy

No comment.–Tom Hartley

Amerikan Pie

On the morning of the day the music dies, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper awaken from uneasy dreams to find themselves transformed into giant insects.–Tom Hartley

The Beast Who Shouted, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”

Tina’s new boyfriend, Harlan, doesn’t beat her or make her take drugs, but he does make her listen to his wild rants about a bleak, post-apocalyptic future populated by talking dogs and implacable ticktockmen, and ruled by a sadistic, all-powerful, sentient computer whose greatest joy is savaging Harlan’s brilliant television scripts with dumb rewrites.–Tom Hartley

Bride of Frankenstein’s Head Revisited

Charles Ryder’s plans to divorce his wife and marry his beloved Julia suffer a setback when Julia is beheaded in a freak wainscotting accident. Fortunately, Julia’s brother, Sebastian, knows a doctor in Austria who can set things right.–Tom Hartley

Of Mighty Mice and X-Men

A retarded super-hero saves a petting zoo from alien attack.Tom Hartley

Deliverance of Things Past

Some hunters get lost in the woods and are rescued by rednecks who torture the hunters with lengthy, obsessively detailed accounts of their unhappy childhoods.Tom Hartley

Lord of the Rings of the Nibelung

Hobbits sing themselves to death.Tom Hartley

The Bell Jarhead

We are at war with terrorism, racism, and  clinically depressed adolescents.

Gone  With the Windows for Dummies

Starting the Civil War; Customizing Your Decimated Plantation; That Scary General Sherman.

The Martian Chronicles of Narnia

The  Lion, the Witch, and Ylla K.

Thus Spake Zoolander

Declaring that God is dead in an interview with Oprah is not a good career move for Ben Stiller.–Tom Hartley

20,000 Bottles of Beer Under the Sea

Al Gore attempts to befriend a giant squid.   A struggle ensues.

Beast in the Jungle Book

On his deathbed, Mowgli is horrified to realize that he has wasted his entire life in the damn jungle.

National Blue Velvet

Dennis Hopper does something unspeakable with Elizabeth Taylor’s ear.

Jurassic Mansfield Park

Fanny and Edmund avert their eyes while Mary and Henry Crawford are slaughtered by velociraptors.

Hey Jude the Obscure

Take a sad song and make it into a tale of deception, despair, and dead babies. Stephen Meyer

The Incredible Lightness of Being There

Turns out Chance makes as much sense in Czech as he does in English.   Daniel Day-Lewis would give his left foot to be in this one.Stephen Meyer

Guarding Tess of the D’Urbervilles

A cynical secret service agent is puzzled by his assignment.   Which  former occupant of the White House  was married to a smoking hot young foreign babe?    There was that Teresa Heinz Kerry, but wasn’t she like eighty, and isn’t her husband still alive?   And not the president?Stephen Meyer

A Room With a View to a Kill

A shocking stabbing in a sun-soaked Tuscan piazza is only the beginning of a tangled web of international intrigue and murder that leaves two repressed English spinsters wishing they’d never crossed the Channel (thank God there’ll never be a bridge or tunnel to make it easier for those nasty foreigners to despoil England’s green and pleasant land!)Stephen Meyer

For Your Eyes Wide Shut Only

The latest Bond girl is suitably kinky but she towers over the diminutive double-o, even without heels.   After an exhaustive and scientifologically-conducted search, a suitable replacement is found: a gal who knows how to slouch and, more importantly, when to keep her mouth shut.Stephen Meyer

The Mayor of Casterbridge on the River Kwai

Provincial English politician and obsessed Japanese war criminal form unlikely duo in this quirky buddy road pic;   traveling around Southeast Asia solving crimes and undertaking local infrastructure projects, their bond deepens as they learn important life lessons, about each other and, more importantly, themselves.Stephen Meyer

The Little Old Curiosity Shop of Horrors

Tourists searching out knicknacks and antiques enter a quaint souvenir store BUT THEY DON”T COME OUT!!!   Audrey Tautou plays one of the hapless customers and no one is sorry when she vanishes.Stephen Meyer

Maggie Simpson: A Girl of the Streets

After her flighty  father loses his job at the nuclear power plant, the poor little four-fingered waif is forced to fend for herself on the lower east side of Springfield;   at first johns find her inability to speak alluring, but eventually booze, drugs and std’s take their toll and she is found dead in the alley behind the comicbook guy’s shop.Stephen Meyer

How Green Was My Valley of the Dolls

A remote Welsh mining town is turned topsy-turvy by the arrival of a flock of boozy, pill-popping scantily-clad Hollywood starlets, there to film a steamy sub-B bodice-ripper;   many of the devout teetotal locals are so scandalized they disappear down the coal pits, never to be seen again.Stephen Meyer

Lilies of the Field of Dreams

Horrified nuns at first blame their black handyman when ghostly ballplayers show up at the convent;   turns out to be the work of an over-hyped would-be auteur who got lost on his way to Iowa.   “Is this all a $150 million budget buys these days?” gripes one of the sisters; “that Durham Bulls cap SO does not hide the bald spot” snarls another; “it’s his waterworld, we just live in it” muses the Mother Superior.–Stephen Meyer

Stuart Little Dorrit

The denizens of the Marshalsea can’t sleep a wink after the mysterious appearance of a hyperactive mouse in a tiny mechanized sportscar.  “Oh dear,” frets LD,  “if only  I had a morsel of cheddar to bait a trap….oh, that’s right, if I could afford some cheese, I probably wouldn’t be living in a freakin’ debtors’ prison!!!”–Stephen Meyer

Melvin and Howard the Duck

The budding relationship between a reclusive billionaire and a dimwittted  milkman is tested by the arrival of a space alien  in the guise of  a foul-mouthed fowl.    The paranoid scizophrenic  creator  of the Spruce Goose doesn’t bat an eye at the sight of a talking man-sized duck, but poor Melvin never recovers from the shock an descends into a life of check kiting and forging wills.–Stephen Meyer

Patch Addams Family Values

A jolly clown nose-sporting pediatrician stops by to cheer up poor Puggsley, laid up  as the result of  another guillotine mishap.   After Lurch and Fester ply the doc with some of grandmama’s cauldron brew and take him down to the playroom for his date with the Spanish maiden, let’s just say this MD won’t be making house calls any more.–Stephen Meyer

Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot the Piano Player

A dimwitted cop meets a timid musician with a mysterious past, and together they push Estelle Getty out a window.

No One Writes to the Colonel Mustard

A colonel attends the funeral of a local musician who was the first to die of natural causes in several years, unlike the host of the funeral who dies of blunt force trauma after being knocked over the head by a candlestick in the parlor.–Garrett Nichols

Arms and the Man Who Came to Dinner

Hollywood actor runs weapons for PETA.–Tess Link

Return of the Native Son

Determined to see the world, an English country girl has her skin cosmetically darkened and embarks on a career as a jazz singer.–Tess Link

How Green Was My Valley of the Dolls

A singing Welsh family migrates to Hollywood hoping to make it big, but instead get caught
in a maelstrom of sex, drugs, and Patty Duke re-runs.–Tess Link

Of Humane Bondage

A Handbook of Painless S and M.–The Boss

The Incredible Lightness of Being John Malkovich

Years ago, in Czechoslovakia, a portal opens into the mind of John Malkovich but no one cares enough to enter.–J.N. Barkin

Update: Most Intriguing Opening Paragraphs of Real News Stories Involving People Stuffing Things in Their Pants

 

ISRAEL (Times of Israel).  Two Palestinian minors were caught by Israeli authorities on Saturday trying to smuggle songbirds to the West Bank in their pants while crossing into the country from Jordan. The two minors — a boy from Hebron and a girl from Ramallah — aroused the suspicion of security at the Allenby Border Crossing after guards heard tweeting sounds coming from their pants. A search of the two minors by the guards revealed dozens of goldfinches concealed inside their pants, according to reports.

NEW YORK, NY (New York Post).  A man tried to smuggle 10 pounds of cocaine through customs at JFK Airport by taping it to his legs.  US Customs and Border Protection said Friday that officers arrested Juan Carlos Galan Luperon on last Saturday after they noticed he was “busting out of his pants.”

PALM BAY, FL (WESH Orlando).  According to a police report, a loss prevention employee at the Publix on Malabar Road saw the 52-year-old woman open a box of frozen clams and hide them in the front of her shorts. The woman also hid some of the clams in her purse, according to the report.

FRIENDSWOOD, TX (Houston Chronicle) A Friendswood man who allegedly hid three bottles of wine and a package of sushi in his pants at a local supermarket has been charged with misdemeanor theft.

RIVERSIDE (CBS Los Angeles)  The owner of an antiques store in Riverside is hoping the public can help her ID a shoplifter. The alleged shoplifter stole two bronze antique sculptures worth about $350 each — by stuffing the pricey items in his pants. Surveillance video showed the man stuffing the statues in his trousers as he ambled around the store.The owner of “Ann-Tiques” on Magnolia Avenue in Riverside says the man stole the objects last Sunday.

DETROIT (The Guardian)  A Canadian man taped 51 live turtles to his legs and groin and tried to hide them under sweatpants in an attempt to smuggle the reptiles over the Detroit border crossing, according to federal prosecutors in Michigan…On 5 August, two fish and wildlife agents say they watched Xu disappear behind two semi-trailers in a Detroit parking lot for about 10 minutes before reappearing with, “irregularly shaped bulges under [his] sweatpants on both legs”. (9/25/14)

ORLANDO, FL (Orlando Sentinel)  Woman stuffed Publix lobster tails down her pants, police say…A store security guard told police he spotted a woman stuffing the tails into the front area of her pants. Then she left the store without paying. A DeLand police officer got a description of the woman and was told she was heading to McGregor Road. The officer spotted a woman matching the description, and later identified as Reed, in the 400 block of Holly Oak Boulevard. The store security officer was taken to the scene and said Reed was the lobster shoplifter. She waived her right to stay silent and agreed to talk to police, a report said.

“Reed stated she entered the store with the intent to steal food,” according to a police report. “Reed told me she was going to trade the lobster tails to a friend and possibly buy Chinese buffet” or painkillers. (6/12/2014)

STATEN ISLAND, NY (silive.com)  Two Staten Island women have admitted to smuggling cocaine inside their girdles into the country earlier this year, federal prosecutors said…Each was selected for pat-down searches after acting nervously, and in Ms. Blassingale’s case, walking “with an awkward gait,” said court records. (12/11/2013)

SKYSCANNER (www.skyscanner.net)  An American Airlines flight attendant is suing her employees after being accused of smuggling rats on board a plane.

Louann Giambattista, who has worked for the US airline giant for almost 35 years, took legal action after colleagues accused her of smuggling her pet rats onto flights in her underwear and was subjected to embarrassing ‘interrogations’ to find them.

American Airlines  employees became suspicious when they saw the 55 year-old eating a bread roll out of a cup during a flight, believing that she was in fact feeding her pet rats, which she had smuggled onto the flight in her underwear and tights. However, Giambattista claims that she was merely trying to appear professional in front of passengers, and was not in fact feeding ‘Roland’ and ‘Ratatouille’ (names have been changed for legal purposes!). In a further incident, a pilot claims to have seen a ‘bulge’ in her pocket that resembled ‘a live pet’.

Self-confessed rodent fan Giambattista claims that the accusations have led to her being blacklisted by customs and is seeking damages from American Airlines for ‘debilitating anxiety’ and post-traumatic stress. Her attorney said that despite Giambattista’s ownership of a rat, this doesn’t mean ‘she’s some loony tune who brings it on a plane with her’.

In subsequent searches, no rats have been found. The case continues. (7/16/2013)

BEIJING (gawker.com)  On Monday, a man traveling from southern China to Beijing with his pet hamburger was stopped by airport security because, whoops, his hamburger was actually a live turtle that he was praying everyone would mistake for a hamburger.

The  South China Morning Post  (which picked up the story after it was first reported in  Guangzhou Daily) wrote that the man–identified only by the surname Li–tried to smuggle the turtle through with his luggage by wrapping it in KFC paraphernalia.  His plan worked perfectly until airport security officials looked at the hamburger with their eyes, at which point it quickly became obvious it was a turtle.

LONG ISLAND, NY (Mail Online)  An American Airlines flight attendant is suing the airline after allegations were made by her colleagues that she had smuggled her pet rats inside her underwear and pantyhose onto an international flight. (7/12/2013).

MIAMI (Miami New Times) Columbian “nuns” caught smuggling four pounds of cocaine in their habits. (5/7/2013).

SARASOTA, FL (South Florida Sun Sentinel)  When a security guard at a supermarket in Sarasota, Fla., confronted Christopher Frazier Seiler, 45, after store employees spotted him putting 10 cans of deodorant in his pants, Seiler tried to escape on a bicycle. The bicycle chain broke, however, and Seiler fell to the ground, losing most of the deodorant. (5/8/2013).

PORT MACQUARIE, Australia (Port Macquarie News)  Smuggling stolen seafood down the front of his pants and assaulting a local shopkeeper has put Terrence John Rowles behind bars for four months. The 36-year-old of Douglas Street, Port Macquarie was found with almost a complete seafood basket hidden in his pants on February 26, 2013.

Once confronted, Rowles emptied his pants of kilograms of prawns and some oysters he had stolen just hours earlier.

He appeared via audio-video link at the Port Macquarie Local Court on Monday, pleading guilty to two shoplifting offences and common assault.

A statement of facts tendered to the court said an off-duty police officer first spotted Rowles shoving $50 of frozen seafood down his pants from the deli of a local supermarket. (4/17/2013)

PALM BEACH, FL (Palm Beach Post) A customer at a store in the 100 block of North Dixie Highway stuffed two bottles of Head &Shoulders shampoo into his pants, then left the store without paying for them. He was arrested for the $15.58 theft and taken to the county jail. (10/4/2012)

ROCHESTER, MN   (PostBulletin, 6/12/2012)  A 25-year-old Rochester man has been charged with theft in Olmsted County District Court after allegedly stuffing $650 worth of golf clubs down his pants at a sporting goods store, then trying to flee.

The sound of several clubs clanking together initially alerted an employee at Sports Authority as Beruk Meskelu Zeru walked out of the store on April 25, according to the complaint. Zeru, 101 E. Center St., No. 211, allegedly pulled the clubs out of his pants upon leaving the store, then took off running.

A Sports Authority employee drove north, in the direction that Zeru had headed on South Broadway. The employee found Zeru standing in a grassy median about 1 1/2 miles away, the golf clubs still in hand, according to the complaint. (6/20/2012)

FT. LAUDERDALE. A rogue TSA Agent who stole more than $50,000 worth of property has been fired and arrested after he was caught trying to shove an iPad down his pants. The thief was named  Nelson Santiago, and he had been working for the TSA since 2009. During that time, he racked up fifty grand worth of stolen electronics from passengers traveling through Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport’s Terminal 1. If you’ve traveled through there and had something go missing, chances are he stole it. (cultofmac.com, 7/8/2011)

LONGMONT, CO – Police in Longmont arrested an intoxicated woman after they say she stuffed a dog down her pants during a domestic dispute.

Officers found Johna Turner arguing with a man at a home. She agreed to leave that location but wanted to take her dogs.

A witness told officers to check her pants. Police say Turner shook her leg and a Chihuahua fell out. The puppy wasn’t hurt, however Turner was arrested on suspicion of animal cruelty. (9/6/2012)

NEW DELHI (CNN) — He had a slender loris in his underpants.

That’s the explanation airport guards at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport gave Sunday for detaining a man from the United Arab Emirates who allegedly had the tiny, big-eyed critter hidden in his underwear.

The guards were conducting a routine pat-down of the Dubai-bound passenger when they discovered the rare, slender loris, according to Hemendra Singh, a spokesman for the Central Industrial Security Force.

The loris is a nocturnal primate that grows to no more than 10 inches (25 centimeters) long, according to the conservation group Edge of Existence. The species, native to Sri Lanka, is listed as endangered under the Wildlife Protection Act of India.

Authorities found a second loris abandoned in a trash can. They sent both to wildlife authorities, Singh said.

Guards turned over the man and two fellow travelers to customs officials. No charges have been filed. (9/12/2012)

WINTER HAVEN, FL – Authorities in Polk County are trying to stop a new trend of thieves stealing underwear from store shelves.

Winter Haven Police are working multiple cases where thieves walk into stores like Dollar General and stuff packs of undergarments in their shirt or pants.[This is rather meta, no?–jw]

“Their pants or shirts are baggy enough where they can conceal these items and just walk right out of the store,” said Jamie Brown, Spokeswoman for the Winter Haven Police Department.

Last Friday, surveillance video recorded one thief cramming an estimated nine packages of socks, underwear, and shirts down his pants.

“It may not seem like much to some people, but ultimately the merchants are having to pay for this, which is passed down to us.   So we want to make sure these people are held accountable,” Brown said.

Police aren’t sure why the thieves are focused on undergarments, other than the fact that they’re easy to conceal and walk out with.

Tough economic times may also play a role.

“People are doing desperate things,” she said.

TEMPE, AZ–A man was caught at a pet shop near University Drive and Dorsey Lane stuffing tarantulas into his pants. (myfoxpheonix.com, 2/1/12)

CHICKASHA, OK–A suspected thief was taken into custody after allegedly trying to conceal a stolen chainsaw in his pants.   The limping thief was eventually chased from the store, ditching the chainsaw in the process. A short pursuit ensued, with the suspected thief diving headfirst into a creek, police say. (msnbc, 2/23/2011)

ROME, GA–A Kingston Man was charged with shoplifting from a Walmart store by stuffing a chicken down his pants. (AP, 3/2/2011)

JACKSONVILLE, FL–A homeless man was spotted Tuesday afternoon stuffing the ferret into the front of his pants at the Pet Supermarkert at 609 Beach Blvd., according to the Jacksonville Beach Police Department.

A 17-year-old witness alerted store employees and followed him to a nearby parking lot on First Avenue North, the arrest report said. After a confrontation and tussle, the man shoved the ferret in the teen’s face squeezing it. The ferret bit him, leaving two puncture holes in his ear. (jacksonville.com, 10/28/09)

Note: A pattern is beginning to emerge concerning Germans, lizards, and New Zealand.

MEXICO CITY–A Mexican man was arrested upon arrival in Mexico City after flying from Lima, Peru with 18 titi monkeys strapped around his waist. While the monkeys traveled in his luggage, Roberto Sol Cabrera placed the endangered monkeys into socks that fit into a waist girdle “to protect them from X-rays,” though two of the monkeys did not survive the journey, sadly.  Police said Mr. Sol Cabrera behaved “nervously” when questioned at customs. (7/20/2010, BBC News)

NEW ZEALAND–A German man, Hans Kurt Kubus, 58, was caught attempting to smuggle 44 lizards out of New Zealand, and will now face roughly three months in jail and pay a $5,000 fine, according to the BBC. Apparently, the man sewed pouches into his underwear for the express purpose of smuggling the reptiles…

[T]he reptiles, a mix of geckos and skinks, are endangered species and protected by New Zealand law. The BBC reports that the lizards are profitable as well, selling for as much as $2,000. For his part, Kubus pleaded guilty and said the lizards were for his personal collection, not for sale. (1/27/2010, Today in Travel blog)

LOS ANGELES–A man was charged Tuesday with smuggling songbirds into the United States by hiding more than a dozen of them in an elaborate, custom-tailored pair of leggings during a flight from Vietnam to Los Angeles. Sony Dong, 46, was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport in March after an inspector spotted bird feathers and droppings on his socks and tail feathers peeking out from under his pants, prosecutors said. “He had fashioned these special cloth devices to hold the birds,” said U.S. attorney spokesman Thom Mrozek. “They were secured by cloth wrappings and attached to his calves with buttons.” (5/7/2009, Times Wires)

SYDNEY– An Australian man was caught with two pigeons hidden in his pants on an international flight from Dubai to Melbourne, Australia. The 23-year-old man was searched after authorities discovered two eggs in a vitamin container in his luggage, said Richard Janeczko, national investigations manager for the Customs Service.

They found the pigeons wrapped in padded envelopes and held to each of the man’s legs with a pair of tights, according to a statement released by the agency. Officials also seized seeds in his money belt and an undeclared eggplant. (2/3/2009, AP)

SWEETWATER, TN – A woman has been charged with possession of burglary tools after police said a crowbar slipped out of her pants as she was lurking around a church. (AP, 1/28/08)

LOS ANGELES – When the rare birds of paradise escaped from his suitcase and flew over the heads of U.S. Customs Agents at Los Angeles International Airport, Robert Cusack decided it was best to confess that, yes, he did have more to declare.

“I have monkeys in my pants,” Cusack told the agents. (Court TV, 9/19/06)

SYDNEY, Australia–A Sydney man has been charged under the country’s biodiversity conservation law after allegedly trying to smuggle parrot eggs out of Australia in his underpants. (ENS, 11/15/2004)

LOS ANGELES–The two men couldn’t wiggle out of this one—not when customs agents found snakes writhing in their pantyhose. (L.A. Times, 9/16/97)

BAYONNE, NJ–Ace Hardware Store employees at 915 Broadway saw John Pasuco, 41, of Broadway, stuffing about $130 worth of paint brushes into the front of his pants, police said. (nj.com, 11/19/03)

LANSING, MI – A woman stole a boa constrictor from a pet store by slipping the snake down her pants, the owner said. The animal was stolen Thursday afternoon from Preuss Animal House in Lansing.

“I am far less concerned for the person than for the snake,” owner Rick Preuss said. The 20-inch snake was worth $174.

Jayzun Boget, assistant manager of Preuss’ reptile department, called the heist “audacious.” (AP, 4/7/08)

ST. PETERSBURG, FL–William Napoli was almost in the clear with his purloined strip loins but the bulge in his pants did him in, authorities say. (St. Petersburg Times, 6/17/08)

SAN DIEGO – A San Diego man accused of poaching lobsters allegedly was caught with six of the creatures stuffed down his pants.

Thirty-three-year-old Binh Quang Chau, who has been cited four times for poaching, allegedly took the lobsters from the La Jolla State Marine Conservation Area.

Department of Fish and Game warden Daryl Simmons says wardens arrested Chau when they noticed “odd bulges” in his pants. All six of the newspaper-wrapped lobsters were still alive and were returned to the ocean. (AP, 10/11/08)

SAN LEANDRO, CA–The younger of two brothers who survived a Christmas Day tiger attack at the San Francisco Zoo has pleaded no contest to grand theft for allegedly shoplifting video game equipment from Target stores in the East Bay, authorities said today…

Dhaliwal was arrested March 27 by San Leandro police after a security guard at the Target at the Bayfair Center mall on East 14th Street saw him hiding two Nintendo Wii controllers in his pants, police Lt. Tom Overton said. (San Francisco Chronicle, 11/14/2008)

NEW ZEALAND–A German reptile collector has been fined US$5,300 for attempting to smuggle lizards out of New Zealand in his pants.     Customs intercepted Jorg Kreutz, 38, trying to leave the country with two green geckos in his underwear, according to Customs Minister Phillida Bunkle. (BBC News, 2/2/2001)

LAFAYETTE, IN (WLFI) – A Lafayette man, Joshua Parrish, received his sentence for possessing pain killers and trying to leave a grocery store with a frozen pizza in his pants.

Parrish pleaded guilty to two counts of possession of a controlled substance and one count of theft. A judge sentenced Parrish to time served at the Tippecanoe County jail and community corrections.

Prosecutor Pat Harrington said officers found 24 pills in Parrish’s pocket that he did not have prescriptions for. He said Parrish was arrested when security at Pay Less Grocery Store witnessed Parrish stuffing a frozen pizza down his pants.

 

Medea in the Garden

“Medea in the Garden” was ready for reading, in installments, at

http://www.fivechapters.com/2009/medea-in-the-garden/

but apparently the Five Chapters website has died.  So here’s the story.

 

By midnight all the men were asleep.  My Kenneth was upstairs in bed, Bert and Joe had each gone home, and Di’s husband, Adam, was out like a light on the love seat.  By then the fire was roaring and the snow falling in big fat clumps.  And after onion soup, veal roast, artichokes, creamed new potatoes, Double Gloucester, stewed Anjous, Leah’s blackberry pie, and every color of wine, we four women were wide awake and ravenous.  So I went to the pantry for breadsticks and Liederkranz and came back instead with cognac and my precious new 20-pound bag of plump, salty, premium, natural-color Escondido Nut Farm pistachios, which my mother sends us every Christmas.

This was one of those subversive impulses that flash and stun without warning.  The sort which when you’re young compel you to blurt “I love you” when you certainly don’t, as a kind of insane courtesy.  The happiness you spread never offsets the cost.   Until now, I had shared the pistachios only with Kenneth, and that just since two years ago when he discovered them in a hatbox under the bed and threatened to rat me out to the children.  It was some small compensation, that evening, to please my friends, to watch them reveal their fine natures through food play, but not enough.  Never enough.

We had been talking about Baghdad and the polar ice caps, and about Caroline’s new drapes which she made herself with no previous sewing experience, and then on to how uncanny I was to have found a Sanredaam print stuck in an old book on party stunts, and so on, when Di leaned forward with that constipated expression she sometimes gets and asked, “Why do men like to slap women on the ass?” You can always count on Di.  “No, seriously,” she said.

“What a wonderful question!” Caroline, bony as a chicken foot, scooped yet another mound of pistachios from the communal bowl and funneled the nuts through her cupped hands into an ashtray already choked with shells.  She knew we were watching.  “This way I get to… rummage through the empties and sort of…come upon the full ones.  Then I sort of…pounce on them and wrestle them to the ground.”

Caroline’s little pistachio drama, hyperbolic and fey, is in keeping with her overall comic style.  Like certain theater people, she is always “on,” her mannered dottiness at once wearying and contagious, so that in her company, and against our will, both Di and I often catch ourselves chattering in unconscious imitation, adopting as our own her clichés and the rhythm of her speech, and even the fluttering mock-genteel gestures of her hands.  Only Leah, the rock, huge and solid, imperturbable as Buddha, remains intact, amused but unseduced, true to the classic ironic style: the majestic, straight-faced understatement.  Leah objects at length and often to all the sort-ofs, quites, and wonderfuls.

Leah ate slowly, contemplating each nut throughout its progress from random selection to obliteration. “I like the closed ones,” she said. “I like to crack them with my teeth.  If anyone finds any…”

“They won’t,” I said, keeping my voice light.  “These are premium triple-grade-As, sifted and resifted by hand, for a guarantee of absolute perfection.”

“Quality control!” cried Caroline.  “How wonderful.  Of course I must say I do miss that bright rosy color, the telltale fingertips, the sort of—“

“Stigmata,” said Leah, continuing darkly, “Nothing this pleasurable should be guilt-free.” Once upon a time, Leah claims, she made these pronouncements in all seriousness.  She ruminated and blinked in Di’s direction.  “Has Adam been spanking you, dear?”

“What? Oh! No.”  Leah, who has a genius for catching you on the wrong foot, had startled our Di into a blush the color of a dead-ripe Freestone.  Di is a newlywed, younger than the rest of us by forty years, slim and straight as a wading bird; an intense sharp-witted young woman, and a treat for the eyes.  Usually spirited company, she had been throughout this evening listless, preoccupied.  An ominous little bundle in our midst, ticking quietly away.  Like my own moody daughters. Like me, once a moody daughter.  She was laughing now, with us, uncomfortable and pleased, at the center of attention.  “Not exactly,” she said, provoking more laughter.

“And why not, I’d like to know?” Caroline brandished a fist.  “Good God, what have we come to, where will it all end?”

“It’s not a personal question,” Di said. “It’s a theoretical question.  I just suddenly wondered.”

“Of course you did,” said Caroline, “but the more interesting question is, why do women like to be slapped on the ass?”

“I don’t,” said Di.

“I sort of do, once in a while,” someone said.  Actually it was me.

Leah cleared her throat.  “They slap us on the ass for the same reason that compels them, when they are young boys,  to run up and touch the Witch’s House.”

“Ah,” we three said in unison.  Di was especially impressed.  She added, “Wow.”

“Bravado, is all,” Leah said, shattering a nut with her back molars.

“Do you really think so?”

Leah pondered, ponderously, assuming at last a benign, abstracted smile.  “No,” she said.

“You do, too,” I said, and continued before she could protest.  “When I was a child, our neighborhood Witch’s House was the only stucco house on Columbia Avenue.  It was pink with red tile roofing, and round rooms and turrets like a castle, and an ugly oak out front with all its limbs amputated.”

“They are often hideous, with round rooms and turrets,” Leah said.

“Our Witch’s House was just an ordinary old barn with a fat lady in it,” Caroline said.  “She was so enormous that she couldn’t wear clothes.  In the wintertime she wore blankets fastened together with safety pins, and in the summer she wore sheets. She kept pigs.  On windy days, when she came out to slop the pigs, the sheets would loosen and billow and snap, and the pigs would scatter, and I used to pray for one great big gust to come and blow those sheets away.  One day, at high noon, this actually happened.”

“Ah,” said Leah.  We were all quiet for a while, listening to the crackling of fire and pistachio shells, and the stertorous breathing of Adam; contemplating the solid, glistening apparition of the Naked Fat Woman, who appeared, at least to me, to rotate serenely within the fire itself as if on a vertical spit, glowing red like the center of the earth.

“I’m pregnant,” said Di in a low voice.  “I haven’t told Adam yet.”

Caroline opened her mouth to say, “How wonderful,” but didn’t and probably would have caught herself even without warning looks from Leah and me.  For Di looked at no one, her expression aggressively noncommittal.

So no one spoke, and after a time the suspense dissipated into an easy lull. Adam’s breathing changed, becoming shallow and rapid, his eyes rolled beneath slightly open lids, and his long legs jerked arrhythmically, in little puppet spasms.  He is a handsome young man, so the effect was more endearing than pitiful.  Di was particularly taken.  Apparently she had never seen him do this before.  “Is this a nightmare?” she asked.

“We’ll see,” said Caroline, smiling.  “He’s probably just chasing rabbits.”

Leah peered at her over the tops of her glasses.  “He’s not a dog, Caroline.”

“I wasn’t implying anything.  I dreamed about rabbits once myself.  An enormous beautiful white rabbit, and it hippity-hopped into Baba Yaga’s house on stilts, or what looked like Baba Yaga’s house on stilts, when I thought about it later, you know.  Then it blew up.   Not the house.  Just the rabbit.  It just sort of whoomfed and oozed out under the door.”

We all said that was disgusting.

“Don’t I know it,” she said.  “I was sort of retching when I woke up.  But then I was retching a lot in those days, because I was p—“ Caroline began to cough.  “Husk,” she whispered, pointing at her throat.  “Ahem.  As I say, at the time, I had one of those twenty-four hour bugs.”

“My mother had terrible nightmares,” said Di.  “Sometimes she’d scream so loud and wild that we’d all be frightened out of our minds.  One night my poor Dad—he must have been having a bad one, too—started screaming right after she did, and oh, that was a horrible sound.  The two of them were awake and scaring each other to death, screeching their heads off in the dark, and of course we got hysterical too, and ran into their room.  It took like forever to find the light switch.  This became a classic family joke, like the time they broke the bed.  I didn’t think it was all that funny, though.  Mother always said her nightmares were silly.  The worst dreams, she said once, don’t make you scream.  But she would never tell me more about them.”

“Then she shouldn’t have mentioned them,” Leah said.  These were my feelings exactly.

“But she did,” Di said.  And this retort—for it was that—made Leah blink.  No one said anything, and after a very uncomfortable minute Di got up and went to the bathroom.

In Di’s company we Old Ones had always refrained from homeowner talk and anecdotes about our kids.  We wanted not to bore her or pull rank.  On this occasion, though, she was inescapably, willfully junior; what with her pointed exit and equally stylized return ten minutes later.  She entered the dark and silent room as though it were a stage, and she the ingenue, with downcast eyes and lips tightly pursed.  She sat on the carpet in front of the fire, giving it her full attention, presenting to us her grave and lovely profile.  I would have waited her out.  I would have let her stew.  But Leah and Caroline, who have only sons, were moved by pity.

“The worst dreams,” Leah told her, with obvious misgiving, “are when you wake up smiling.”

“Or humming a little tune,” said Caroline.

“And then you realize why.” Leah regarded Di with kindly intensity.  She preferred, of course, to leave the rest unsaid.  Di could see this, so she nodded as though pretending to understand, with a wholly unconvincing smile.

Adam sighed a whispery sigh, licked his lips, rubbed his nose with a baby fist.

“You dream about a baby,” Leah said, “and it cries and cries.  You pick it up and it cries.  You rock it and walk up and down with it and sing lullabies to it and it cries.  It makes you frantic.  It makes you crazy.  Then a brilliant idea occurs to you.  And you get a hold of a darning needle, and you thread it with fine silk wire…”  Leah shuddered.  Leah shuddering is impressive, for there is a great deal to Leah.

“And you, what, sew its mouth shut?” asked Di, unnecessarily. My God, girl. Of course you do.

“One should not,” said Leah, “feel guilty about a dream, or a conscious wish, for that matter.  All that counts is what one does.  One should not feel guilty about a dream.”

“So you say,” Caroline said, clapping a hand on Leah’s shoulder with rare camaraderie and giving it a little wobble.  “Okay, once I was trapped in my living room with Antonin Scalia. Joe was there, and another couple, and we were having a cocktail party, and here came Antonin Scalia—either that or Saddam Hussein–crazed with blood lust.  He was chasing us around the room in slow motion with a butcher knife or—no, it was a gun.  He had this terrible gun and he was waving it around.”

“You sure it was a gun?” I said, trying to lighten the air with a double-entendre, which of course fell flat, as I am not a vulgar person, but really, I had to do something.

“Then somehow I overpowered whoever it was and tied him up in one of our butcher block dining chairs.  Butcher block!  Freud Alert!  Then I picked up this knife—you’re right, it was a knife—and proceeded to cut off his arms and legs.  I had to do this to make absolutely sure he didn’t hurt anybody.  It was hard work.  It took a long time.”

For God’s sake,” I said.  Caroline has a mind like a sprung trap.

“I haven’t finished.  I was so proud of myself!  Then I looked over at Joe—he was sitting on the couch with Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman—and they were all staring at me with horror.  And then I looked at Antonin Scalia, and it wasn’t him at all, it was just a great big, well, baby.  Of course, after I woke up I was ill, but in the dream it seemed like just the worst kind of social gaffe.  I was so embarrassed!  I was swanning around, trying to laugh it off, and feeding the baby, who still lived, plumping pillows in back of its baleful little head.  I kept saying, Look, he’s okay, he’s just fine, no real harm done! I kept saying, He’ll be as good as new, you’ll see!”

“They’re not always about babies,”  I said.  Di worried me.  She was too solemn.  God knows, we don’t want to take ourselves that seriously.  The whole point of Di is to lighten us up, not the other way round.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Enough,” I said.  “Life is too short.”  The hour was late, and I was tired and cold, the way you get when you’ve stayed up too long.  I offered more cognac all around, in a voice which was, I thought, clearly insincere, but Caroline took me up on it, and then I drained the bottle into my own glass.  “Well, I wrote to the president again today,” I said.

“How wonderful!”

“Tell me your dream,” Di said.

I sighed and rubbed my forehead as though it ached, but she persevered, silent, poised.  The young are incredibly selfish.

“It was in the early days of our marriage, long before the children, although at that point we had just begun to try.  Kenneth and I were traveling cross-country, sleeping in motels.  I woke up smiling in a strange room and a gray morning, to a dull, rhythmic, thumping noise, which I came slowly to realize was part of a fading dream.

“I was killing a small mammal, some sleek, furry creature, like a ferret or a weasel.  It was badly mangled but still conscious.  I had a hold of one of its hindquarters and was beating the animal against a wooden block until the joint loosened and ripped away.  This act gave me intense pleasure.

“When I was fully awake, I ran to the john and threw up.  I couldn’t shake the scene from my mind, or explain it away, for the creature was as real to me, and still is to this day, as any you and I could see together.  So I made myself go back to sleep again.  I visited a thousand libraries, in different European cities, all quite detailed and of varying architectural design. I studied textbooks on anatomy, surgical techniques, anesthesiology.  I put the animal to sleep and reassembled it.  I didn’t skip a step.  Sheets of muscle were layered and joined, veins and arteries somehow soldered, and at the end my stitchwork was so fine that the animal’s coat was seamless and no one could have told, just from looking, that it had suffered any injury.

“When it came to, it cringed at the sight of me and would not let me near enough to stroke its fur.  Its eyes were terrible.”

“I’m sorry,” said Di.

“So am I,” I said.  “Sorrier than I can say.”

“Why did you write to the president?” Leah asked in a tone that brooked no opposition.  She is the oldest, the most forbearant, and God help you when her patience runs out.  She had an ominous look about her now and her color was bad.

Caroline noticed it, too.  “Yes, tell us,” she said.  “What did you say this time?”

“Same old thing.  Stop it right now, whatever you’re doing.”

“This instant,” Caroline said.  “We know you’re up to no good.”

Leah sighed.  “I haven’t been watching the news.  I don’t have the heart any more. But I was under the impression that things were pretty quiet.”

“Yeah.  Too quiet.”  Caroline began to giggle.  Caroline gets very silly when she’s overtired.

“I just reminded him that I wasn’t cut out to be a frontline soldier, and neither were my children.”

Caroline applauded.  “Hear, hear!”

“That’s exactly it,” said Leah.  “They put us on the front line.”  Leah regarded the fire.  “A long time ago. They should never have done that.”

“Why do you bother?” Di asked me, quite rudely.  And here I thought we had placated her. “Nobody reads your letters.”

“I know, but it makes me feel better.”

“If you know, it shouldn’t make you feel better.”  Crabby, militant, tiresome child.  We had in the past suffered her to lecture us on “learning to deal with rage.” She made me regret this indulgence.  “You’re comforting yourself with a fairy tale.  You don’t have any real power at all.  None of us does.”

“Hush,” said Leah.

“We have the power to swell up and burst,” said Di.  “We have the power to feed and burp and wipe up poop and walk up and down in the middle of the night.”

“Hush,” said Leah.

“We have the power,” said Di, her chin jutting toward Leah, “to make ourselves so important to them that they grew up to hate and fear us and make fun of us, and I hate it, I just hate it, and that son of a bitch can do anything he wants to, and you can write your letters from now until doomsday and it won’t make a goddamn bit of difference.”

“That’s enough,” whispered Leah.

Leah did that thing she does, where she moves without moving.  I can’t do it.  She loomed over the kneeling girl, filling her eyes, filling the room.  Even I was afraid.  Di paled, as well she might, and made herself small.

“The world can end in two ways,” whispered Leah.  “One is with a bang.”

“Kablooey,” said Caroline.  Leah shot her a look.

“That,” I said, “would be their way.”

“Their way,” said Di, her eyes huge.

“They have their ways,” said Leah, “and we have ours.”

“Tee hee,” said Caroline.”

Don’t you dare!” Leah shouted like a thunderclap.  We all jumped a foot.  “This is deadly serious business, Caroline.  Don’t you ever laugh at this.”

Caroline, clearly embarrassed, assumed a ludicrous air-raid posture, arms folded tightly over her head. “No fighting in the War Room, okay?  You know I can’t bear confrontations. I’d walk over my own grandmother—“

“You’re scaring me,” said Di, to Leah.

“I scare myself,” said Leah.  She smiled a great sorrowful smile.

“We scare us,” I said.

“Yeah, but nobody scares the Fat Lady,” Caroline said.  “My, she was a sight to see.”

We were all breathtaken for just a moment, but Leah said, “You kill me, Caroline,” and that was the end of that.  We were at peace all of a sudden, all of us, even Leah.  Even Di, whose face was thoughtful now, and not quite so junior.

She went and fetched the coats.  They all stood and stretched and bundled up for the record cold.  We spoke in whispers, refraining from waking the driver until the last possible moment.  He had slept through all of it, his own dream long past.

Di wrapped her neck and chin in a muffler the color of robins’ eggs, which set off her hair in a way we all admired.  Her eyes were still quite unreadable.  “I’ve always wanted children,” she said, gazing directly at each of us in turn.

“So did I,” said Leah.

“We all did,” I said.

“We’ve talked about having two,” Di said.

“How wonderful!”

“You won’t regret it,” Leah said.  “I never have.”

“Nor I,” Caroline said.  “Quite honestly.”

“Children are the future,” I said.

We all smiled then, the way women do.  There was a round of awkward hugs—a long standing practice which I blame Caroline for initiating—and Adam was gently roused and hustled out the door with sleep in his eyes.  Someone else must have driven: I doubt that he even knew where he was.

 

 

What with holidays and various family crises and Kenneth throwing his back out again, it was five months before the next get-together, at Caroline’s.  We had a pretty good time, although I must say my party was better, as Caroline is one of those egocentric cooks who feel compelled to alter time-tested recipes with arbitrary additions in order to make the dishes “theirs,” with predictably odd results.  Di was more vivacious than usual and seemed to have lost, permanently, that sweet, slightly annoying deference which she used to show towards us older folk.

Her stomach was flat.  Perfectly flat, almost concave.  This would simply have saddened me, I think, except that she flaunted her tiny waist with a wide silk cummerbund of a particularly flamboyant rosy hue.

I did not like that heartless touch, that cummerbund.  She and Adam left early, and at some point Caroline asserted—Caroline, of all people—that there was such a thing as being too thin.  But that was all anyone said about it.

 

Twinkle, Twinkle (Bat Chase)

This is an old commissioned piece (McSweeney’s) which had to be about an idea from Fitzgerald’s Notebook.  I chose:  A bat chase.  Some desperate young people apply for jobs at Camp, knowing nothing about wood lore but pretending, each one.

 

 

 

TWINKLE, TWINKLE

 

The first thing that happened was when her mother pulled up to let her off in front of the church, and Caro was in such a hurry to get out that she opened the passenger door too soon, before they’d gotten up next to the curb, but they were close enough so that the door edge dug into the grass, and she started to get out, but her mother said, “Wait, don’t get out yet, I have to back up,” and Caro, poised half out of the car, stared at the wide curved door hinge right in front of her, a thing she’d never seen before, as the car strained in reverse, and then something cracked with a deep unresonant twonk.  “What was that?” her mother asked.  “Why can’t I back up?”  And then, “What have you done?” Her mother tried to drive forward, but that didn’t work either, because the door was stuck open at an exact right angle to the length of the car.  When Caro stepped out into the street the door edge lifted free, but still it wouldn’t close, not even with Pastor Bosworth and the Dugdales pushing on it.  Everybody crowded around, pointing. “Why didn’t you tell me to stop?” her mother asked.  “What was the point of just sitting there and watching it happen?”  Caro reached into the car and grabbed her suitcase.  “I’m sorry,” she said.  “Do you want me to not go now?” “What would be the point of that?” said her mother. In the end Caro stood on the church lawn with the others, the Bosworths and the Dugdales and all the Pioneers and the other two Pilgrim counselors, and watched her mother perform a sweeping U-turn and roll away, around the corner and down the middle of Broad Street toward the Sunoco station, with a funeral line of cars behind her and the right rear door sticking straight out like a broken wing.

Caro had been in a hurry to get there early so she could ride with Pastor Bosworth, whose wife and kids were going separately in the station wagon.  She would sit up front in the lime green VW, with the two other counselors in the back, and they would talk about metaphysics.  After the last fellowship meeting she had told him that her faith was beginning to slip away, which was an understatement.  Her faith hung by a thread.  Sometimes when they talked she was sure he knew this.  Last Saturday, during the bottle drive, she had asked him if a good person could find salvation even if he didn’t believe, and Pastor Bosworth had looked right at her as if she were an adult, and she had seen regret in his Prussian Blue eyes.  He hadn’t wanted to say “No,” but he had done it anyway.  This was a deep compliment.  He was younger than her father, and he smelled like cherry tobacco.  When she had tried to imagine Pioneer Retreat Weekend she had never gotten farther than the hour-long ride to Weekapaug—the part that really mattered.  But of course the second thing that happened was that the VW was packed full already, with Marianne Plummer, who was only the corresponding secretary, in the front seat beside him, whipping her long hair around, laughing her brassy laugh, and Caro, Pilgrim President, had to ride in the church bus with the junior high Pioneers.   All the way there she kept her face turned to the window.  She had traveled this way her whole life, since she was old enough to even see out, and what mystified her was that her gloomy reflection never seemed to change, as through her own ghost she watched the world pass by from year to year, forever.

Pastor Bosworth, who her mother said drove like a maniac, beat the bus to Weekapaug, and when Caro found her way to her assigned cabin, her Pioneer girls were gone, having strewn their clothes all over the rough pine floor and joined the rest for Orientation in the Rec Hall, from which Caro could hear a wan chorus of “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore.”  Caro unpacked and folded her clothes under her bunk. The cabin air smelled of pine and lake algae.  She took out her leaf identification book  and brought it with her to the window, where she could make out sugar maples or red maples, or maybe both, and probably oak, or maybe beech, along with a bunch of conifers.  She had claimed, when volunteering to be a Retreat Counselor, an encyclopedic knowledge of New England leaves.  This was a lie, but certainly no worse than the lies she told every single time she recited the Apostles Creed. She counted a maximum of fifteen in her Creed, reckoning that a man named Jesus probably did suffer under Pontius Pilate, die on the cross, and get buried.  Caro was a quick study and had planned to cram leaf identification at the last minute, which this was, but now she found herself unable to distinguish, either on the page or through the window, one variety of maple from another.  The red maple leaf was supposed to be “broadly ovate” with “three shallow lobes”, while the sugar maple leaf was “palmate” with five lobes.  Caro, who loved learning new words as a rule, instantly hated “palmate”, “ovate”, and “lobe”.  Of course she looked up the definitions of all three but found herself unable in her depressed state to hold them in her mind.  They struck her as stupid anyway, as did most words standing for concrete objects in which she had no interest.  So, the red maple had five finger-like things, and the sugar maple three, or perhaps it was the other way around.   So what?

Still she had a job to do, to help the Pioneers find God in the Trees.  Fred Mania, the vice president, was to show them God in the Lake, and Marianne was supposed to be a big authority on God in the Night Sky.  (When Caro’s mother had heard  this, she had snorted and told Caro’s dad  that Marianne might be pretty good at that, since she spent so much time on her back, which made no sense to Caro.  Marianne knew nothing about nature, she was sure.)  Caro had wanted the Night Sky, about which she also knew nothing, but it was much more romantic than Leaves, so of course Marianne got it.   Sighing, Caro buckled down next to the window and  studied leaf ID, concentrating so hard on the sassafras and the white oak and the ironwood that she didn’t notice when somebody banged the gong, and so the third thing that happened was that she missed dinner.  After that, Caro stopped counting.

When night came and they all stood at the edge of the water searching the sky for God, Marianne pretended to find Orion’s Belt and deferred to Pastor Bosworth for the rest of the lecture.  Nobody paid attention anyway.  The older Pioneers made infantile jokes about Orion’s pants and two of the seventh graders got their sneakers wet running around in the dark.  Caro strained to hear Pastor Bosworth and to see what he saw in the sprinkle of stars, but she couldn’t get close enough to him even to make out his features.  Just his dark profile against the lake barely illuminated with starshine.  By the time she had edged within a few feet of him he had started to pray.

The next day, the only full day, was solid spring rain, so Leaf Walk and Lake Appreciation were canceled, and she had to help keep the Pioneers amused in the Rec Hall, first with a stockpile of ancient jigsaw puzzles, and then with parlor games.  She tried to teach them Charades and In the Manner of the Adverb, but except for the eighth grade girls they were instantly bored and soon shut her out and devised their own games.  After dinner they pushed the dining tables out of the way, and Marianne and Fred Mania plugged in a portable phonograph and started playing a “Four Seasons” record, from which came the ugliest sound Caro had ever heard.    Of course the room came to life, and soon the adults wandered back in, the Dugdales and the Bosworths, and there was dancing.  Caro watched it all the way she always watched groups of people engaged in a common enterprise.  How did they know when to joke and laugh and shout and when to be still?  How did the girls inhabit their own bodies?  How was dancing possible?

Something was happening in the far corner of the hall, near the back door.  Three kids were pointing up at the rafters, and then Pastor Bosworth and Fred Dugdale walked over and craned their necks and peered, and suddenly Marianne and Mrs. Bosworth were covering their heads and screaming, Bat! Bat!  Even some of the boys were screaming, their voices breaking high.  Then everyone stood stock still, pointing at Caro.  It’s in her hair!  Her hair!  Caro could feel it settle behind her right temple on her hairband.  The creature didn’t weigh more than a raindrop; if it had claws it didn’t use them.   Marianne Plummer was instantly, brilliantly hysterical, trying simultaneously to dramatize her concern for Caro and wrest the spotlight away from her.  Caro, holding her head level, walked past her, through the staring crowd, and out onto the porch, where she sat down on a bench and waited.

She had been waiting all her life, and she waited now, with interesting new patience and a new companion.  If they ask me what I’m doing, she thought, which of course they won’t, I’ll say I’m finding God in the Bats.

Mrs. Bosworth came out and asked her if she was all right, and Caro, facing away, said yes, the bat had flown off, which wasn’t true.  She heard Mrs. Bosworth tell something to the others, and then there was the scraping of chairs and tables as they lined them up for Sunday good-bye breakfast.   There was singing, with Fred Mania strumming his one guitar chord, and the music went on for a long time, and then Pastor Bosworth spoke, his voice low and resonant, and there was a question and answer period.  She couldn’t hear the actual words, but the topic, she knew, was “Who Do You Think You Are, Anyway?”

Eventually the voices stopped and it was time for Communion.  Hearing footsteps approaching the door, she lightly stood and tiptoed around the porch corner, out of sight.  Pastor Bosworth called her name twice, and then again, and then closed the door.  After a safe time Caro moved to the front porch window and looked in.  They were seated at one of the long tables, all on the same side, facing forward toward Caro, lit only by hearthfire and candlelight.  Pastor Bosworth was at the center, and to his right was his wife, and to his left, in Caro’s communion place, was Marianne, and the rest arrayed symmetrically to either side.  Caro couldn’t hear a word, but she watched Pastor Bosworth say that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread.  He passed down two halves of a homemade loaf and they tore off large pieces with their hands.  This was his body, broken for them.  He poured real wine into a plain tumbler and they all shared, his blood, shed for them.  Caro held her breath.  She had never seen anything as beautiful.  Their faces uniformly solemn, their faith strong in the moment, and at their center a man she loved without hope or comprehension, and all of it newly distant and cleanly put to rest, in her box of girlhood treasures.  She closed her eyes, to hold the picture tight, and there was a sudden lightness behind her temple like a departing spirit, which fluttered close in kind farewell, and then away.

 

Links to Uncollected Stuff

Each of these is represented somewhere on this site, but here are links to uncollected and mostly unpublished detritus.

 

http://www.jincywillett.com/journal/2010/10/27/hell/

http://www.jincywillett.com/journal/2014/05/29/leaving-san-diego-eventually/

http://www.jincywillett.com/journal/2015/08/24/a-million-bees/

http://www.jincywillett.com/journal/2010/12/09/i-dont-trash-my-own-life/

http://www.jincywillett.com/journal/2009/07/02/consider-the-ambivert/

http://www.jincywillett.com/journal/2018/06/27/trivial-pursuit-or-requiem-for-the-hornblooms/

“Medea in the Garden” is on this site.

“Twinkle, Twinkle” is on this site.

A Million Bees

(This appeared last year (2014) in issue 6 of Gigantic magazine.  Make of it what you will.)

 

 

A MILLION BEES 

 

I know one joke. I learned it from my husband, who cracked me up every time he told it.  When I tell it, nobody cracks up.  I’m horrible at telling jokes.  Some people are just no good at it, and I’m one of them. Here’s me telling this joke:

Once there was a man who claimed he had a million bees.

See, this is a bad start.  The sentence is too formal in structure, plus it starts out with “once,” like a fairy tale.  Fairy tales aren’t funny, on top of which the man turns out to be a farmer, so you have to make that clear right away.

A farmer claimed he had a million bees.

Kind of abrupt. Still too formal. “Claimed.” It’s like the hilarious “writ of mandamus.”

There was this farmer who said he had a million bees.

Okay.

A reporter for the local paper was assigned to write about the farmer and the million bees.

No.  You don’t need “for the local paper,” since we can assume he didn’t write for the Times, and we don’t care whose idea the story was anyway, plus “assigned” blows.

One day a reporter drove out to the farm and approached the farmer and said—

Of course he approached the farmer.  He didn’t bellow at the man across a field of wheat.

So this reporter drove out to the farm and said, “I hear you have a million bees on this farm.”

Close.

So this reporter drives out and says to the farmer, “I hear you have a million bees on this farm.”

And the farmer says, “Yup.”

And the reporter looks around and says, “Are they outside in this field of wheat?” And the farmer says, “Nope.” 

The farmer is standing in front of a red barn.  “Are they in this barn”? The farmer says–

Nobody cares about the color of the barn.

And the reporter looks around and says, “Well, they gotta be in this barn.” And the farmer says, “Nope.”

I’m on a roll.

“Well,” says the reporter, “—

Too many wells.

“Are they in the house then?”

“Then” ruins it.  Act it out instead. Oh god.

“Are they in the house?” [I attempt to look puzzled and skeptical. My voice rises on “house.” My performance is grotesque.] The farmer says, “Yup.” So they go into the house. 

The reporter looks around. “Are they in…the kitchen?” “Nope.” “Are they in the living room?” The farmer says–

God, why don’t you go through every room on the first floor.

The reporter looks all around and doesn’t see any bees. “Are they in the basement—

The reporter looks all around and doesn’t see any bees. “Are they in the fruit cellar—

Stop it.

The reporter looks all around and doesn’t see any bees. They must be upstairs. “Are they…upstairs?” The farmer says “Yep.”  So they go upstairs.  The biggest room is the master bedroom–

Seriously? The master bedroom?

The reporter looks into the farmer’s bedroom.  “Are the bees in here?” “Yup.”

“Are they under the bed?” “Nope.” The reporter is getting steamed.

Steamed!  That’s good!

“So, are they in this bureau?” “Yup.”  [I attempt to convey exasperation. Eyeroll, maybe, exaggerated slump, maybe. Both. I wish I were dead.]

The reporter first tries the biggest drawer, then the—

The reporter goes through the bureau drawer by drawer until—

It’s one of those old bureaus you see in farms. It’s got these huge drawers—

Turns out nothing’s in the bureau drawers.  All that’s left is a large jewelry box on top of the bureau.  The reporter says “There aren’t a million bees in that jewelry box…?”

“Yup.”

[Wearing what I hope is a look of profound disgust, I stare directly at the imaginary farmer. I sigh, desperately.] The reporter yanks open the jewelry box.  Inside there’s some pearls and buttons and pins and a tiny velvet ring box—

That is so very wrong.  But I can see that ring box, it’s very small and of course it’s cheap velvet, black, and the top is worn and shiny. It’s shimmering right there in front of me, a goddamn ding an sich, unknowable and indescribable, yet like an idiot I strive to make it magically appear in another’s mind, so that the two of us can hold hands and gaze at it together and for one precious moment not be mistralswept and utterly alone, and if I were writing instead of telling a joke I’d strive like hell, but nobody cares about the ding an sich

Inside there’s some pearls and buttons and pins and a ring box.

“Are you telling me you’ve got a million bees in that ring box?”

“Yup.”

“Are you serious? A million bees?”

“Yup.”

“You’ve got a MILLION BEES there in that tiny box?”

“Yup.”

Here we go.

“But you couldn’t have a million bees in that box! They’d all be crushed!”

AND THE FARMER SAYS—

Why can’t I stop now? Why? We’re all  drowning in flop sweat. I haven’t made eye contact with anybody since we got to the stupid master bedroom.  The Funniest Punch Line in the World, delivered by me to these innocent people, would be cringeworthy. We are united in one hope: That the ordeal is almost over.

We need a new style of joke, one which ends just before the punch line.  I could kill with jokes like that.  Who the hell cares what the farmer says?

The whole damn point is that there are a MILLION BEES.  Just the phrase “a million bees” gets funnier every time you say it.  Even when I say it, it gets funnier.  Bees themselves are not funny—they’re not funny at all. They make annoying sounds and sting you. But the sound of the word “bee” is funny, maybe because it sounds like the letter it begins with, also when you pluralize it it even sounds a little like buzzing, and of course the number (a million) is perfectly hyperbolic.  There are larger numbers, but they don’t work.  Try it.  “A billion bees” is just tiresome.

So ideally the whole joke could just be boiled down to

There was this farmer who said he had a million bees.

If I only had the strength of character to just say that and back away.

Fuck ‘em.  That’s what the farmer says.

 

Story to Film

I’ve neglected to note that student films (through Prof. Frederick Lewis, Ohio University Media Arts & Studies) have been made from two of my stories.  Working with these students was a pleasure.

From “The Best of Betty”:

 

From “Julie in the Funhouse”:

Leaving San Diego (eventually)

From Monday’s Union-Tribune, May 26, 2014:

San Diego: Loving and (Eventually) Leaving It

 

Nope, it’s not there any more. Here’s the piece:

It is always summer in Escondido. Locals claim four seasons, but I’ve been able to identify only one. There used to be a fire season, which threatens to extend beyond November, and countywide conflagrations will soon be no more seasonal than earthquakes. Summer stretches from January, when the median temperature hovers around 60 degrees, to December, when it does the same damn thing. The rainy season (winter, so-called) is easy to miss, and there is no fall at all. Autumn arrives only in theory. Families troop up to Julian to admire the “foliage,” since some leaves do change color, but they do not do this in a magnificent way. For magnificence you need sugar maples.

I moved here from Rhode Island when I was forty-one, a widow with a small child. My family was in Escondido, so here is where I had to be. I bought a house and planted trees, took in dogs and a cat, settled in. But not for good. Even after twenty-five years, I’m still just visiting.

Once the place was paradise. In 1970 my family, minus me, moved here to escape the snow and so my dad could grow everything under the constant sun. At home, his garden had produced as many rocks as it had tomatoes. Here he planted kumquats, mandarins, white peaches, pluots, raspberries, grapes, nectarines, figs, persimmons. He grew flowers too, roses and plumeria, epiphyllum and iris. Persian melons the scent of which could madden you on the hottest day. I loved my yearly visits.

And all the days were hot, and all the nights were cool. Back home, in the dog days, when the humidity topped 95 and the nights were as sweltering as the days, the mayors of Middletown and Newport would sometimes throw open the state beaches so people could stagger, some fully clothed, down to the waterline, lie in the surf, and get a few minutes of sleep. Hardly paradise. Paradise was dry heat.

And swimming pools, accoutrements of only the wealthy in New England, here as middle-class as propane barbecue. The summer sky was always blue and when the sun got to be too much, I could sink into the pool. I always returned home with a tan and looked forward to coming back the next year.

Whether you fall permanently in love with San Diego—a love that takes you from youth through middle age and beyond—really depends on how much the outdoors means to you. The first time I saw swimmers frolicking with dolphins right offshore, I was enchanted. The same with gray whales and coyotes, bobcats and eagles. Birdwatching is much easier here than at home: there’s water all over Rhode Island, so the birds have the great luxury of being where you are not. Here they have to put up with people roaming the lagoons with binoculars and bags of stale bread. (Once, at high noon in July, I saw a kingfisher staking out a birdbath on Felicita Avenue. In Rhode Island he’d have commanded a trout stream.) There’s a whole lot of nature out here, and that’s not including the Zoo and Wild Animal Park, which I refuse to call anything else, and where I spent hundreds of happy hours with my son. But this is not my home.

Although I do see the allure.

They get you with the jacarandas. Fragrant trees the size of oaks, exploding all over May and June with outlandish lavender blossoms. Jacarandas look like Disney trees, dreamed up by the animators of Fantasia. Giant bouquets the color of Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes! My favorite shade, even though, according a test I took when I was a kid—it was in McCall’s– if your favorite color is lavender, you’re immature. Jacarandas look like Nature took a day off and one of her kids just went crazy.

They get you with fruit fresh-picked from the trees, trees you can plant yourself in your own back yard, because everything grows here and every season is a growing season for something. On a typical summer day in Escondido, ripe grapefruit will roll down my hilly street unmissed and unremarked, because there are so many more where they came from. Rhode Island has fruit trees, but only apples and pears get the chance to ripen fully. The first summer I came out to Escondido, my dad’s neighbor invited me to pick a peach. “Just cup your hand around it. Don’t pull. If it’s ready it will come to you.” And it did, I can still recall the weight of it, a freestone the size of a softball and the color of a New England sunset, its flesh perfectly soft and obscenely juicy, so that biting into it felt like the sort of thing you shouldn’t do in public.

They get you with surfing and swimming and skiing all on the same day, which must knock the socks off of people who surf, swim, and ski. And you can plan outdoor parties, dinners, weddings, pretty much without Plan B. This would be a serious plus for social types. Not so much for hermits.

I do get annoyed by the anti-California bias of people back home. I know more than one New Yorker who won’t even fly out here for a weekend because of imminent earthquakes. There’s something absurdly Biblical about their conviction that any minute California will be punished for its sins and they’re terrified of being caught in the righteous apocalypse. As though the rest of the country, the non-California part, didn’t have its own sins. Others say they would miss the seasons. I miss them myself, but not enough to move away.

It’s the sky, really.

They don’t have good clouds here. They’re mostly very high up, wispy or mackerel or absent entirely. I miss the drama of low clouds, whether threatening or friendly, black or ivory or bright white. The sort of sky you can lie on your back and watch. Here, at a certain time of the year, you can see great big clouds in the distance, but they’re fenced in by the mountains.
And the blue never seems to change. It’s a pleasant blue, your basic sky blue, but I distinctly remember a sky whose hue could deepen at a whim. At home the sky was small, hemmed in by buildings and trees, but its color changed unpredictably. The sky wasn’t background there. It was spectacle.

And the sunsets! Please, I can’t number the times a local has said, “Look at that beautiful sunset!” I hope I smile agreeably. Okay, there’s a modest wash of yellow and some orange and, if we’re really lucky, a cloud or two to set it off, but it’s just your basic sunset, and anyway you’d better look fast, since around here night drops like a felled ox. In order to have a gorgeous sunset, you need clouds. Lots of them, intercepting the sunlight, playing with it, passing it on to us, not for our sake, of course, but what a happy accident! And I still remember an otherwise unremarkable afternoon in Greenville, R.I., must have been more than forty years ago, when the air around us, not just the sky but the air, was pink, as though motes of water suspended in the humid air encased us in sapphire.

When I leave, I will miss a great deal. The night sky, far richer with stars than the sky I remember. I’ll miss the scrub jays and the coyotes and the possibility of rattlesnakes. I’ll miss the runaway grapefruit and the obscene peach. And the jacarandas! But in the twilight of my life, I insist upon a twilight sky.