My dad died a few years ago. Here’s a letter he wrote to Paul Fussell, author of The Boys’ Crusade (I had given him this book with great trepidation because Dad didn’t talk about the war–combat vets don’t–but I knew that this book was about his group. I’m so glad I gave it to him.) Anyway…
(or Requiem for the Hornblooms)
A Radio Play in Three Acts
Fred & Ethel (couple in their sixties or seventies)
Buck & Penny,
Randy & Alice (young academics)
(sounds of cutlery on china, people eating)
Ethel: Pork balls?
Buck: Oh, I couldn’t.
Ethel: Potato puffs?
Randy, Alice: Really, no.
Ethel: Who wants more pork balls? Speak up, kids. Lets don’t be shy.
Buck, Penny: Oh, no, honestly, I’m full, etc.
Fred: Ethel goes hog wild for company.
Ethel: Oh, Fred.
Alice: What do you call this casserole, Mrs. Mertz?
Randy: (urgent whisper) Murgatroyd!
Ethel: (laughing) Everybody makes that mistake! Don’t they, honey? But Alice, you mustn’t be so formal.
Fred: Ain’t neighborly.
Ethel: Fred and me are experts on making new friends in a hurry, and you don’t do that by standing on ceremony. You don’t do that by sticking to Mrs. This and Mr. That.
Fred: Politeness kills.
Alice: Oh, of course you’re right. Ethel.
Ethel: Vegetable rummage!
Alice: I beg your pardon?
Ethel: The name of my casserole. I call it Vegetable Rummage. Men love it.
Randy: So. You two move around a lot, I take it.
Fred: Yes, Randy. We’ve lived just about everywhere in the contiguous forty-eight.
Ethel: Except the Northwest.
Fred: Made our homes in twenty-seven states.
Ethel: And Kingston, Ontario!
Randy: What do you do, Fred?
Fred: Strictly U-Haul. Professional movers are crooks. Plus they smash hell out of your knickknacks.
Randy: Sorry. I meant, what do you do for a living?
Fred: I’m retired, Randy.
Penny: Well! Do you think you’ll maybe stay here a while? Put down roots, as they say?
Ethel: Its a lovely area. So nice and quiet, just the way we like it. And weve never lived among university people before. I expect we’ll get a lot of culture off you kids.
Fred: No. What about those two in Biloxi? Ernie and Corinne Something. Horn. Horner.
Ethel: Oh, he just taught high school. He wasn’t a real professor.
Fred: Hornington? What the hell was it? Hornberry?
Ethel: It’ll come to me. They were sweet though. Redheads.
Fred: Fine neighbors.
Ethel: Lots of fun.
Fred: Hell, yes. We had fun with those two. Hornbloom? Shoot, that’s gonna drive me nuts.
Ethel: Well, while you’re doing that, you can help me clear the table. Penny, Alice, you just stay right where you are. Fred’ll help me in the kitchen. You kids just pass the bottle around and digest your meal.
(sounds of clearing up)
Buck: Sure was a fine meal, Ethel.
Others: (concurring sounds)
Ethel: We’ll be back in two shakes.
(sound of receding footsteps)
Fred: (from a distance) Hornbottle.
Ethel: (from a distance) Hornbostel!
Fred: (from a distance) Hornbostel!
(sound of closing door)
Buck: (lowered voice) We’re in hell. Get it? We’re all dead, only we don’t know it yet, and we’ve gone to hell.
Penny: Buck, they’ll hear you.
Buck: Penny, humor me. Just take me through it one more time. I spend four hours grading papers, and two more in the company of no less than three deans, if you know what I mean, on top of which a little freshman rains all over my office, and I come home with a migraine and a simple wish for oblivion, and here I am in hell. And I honestly don’t see what I did to deserve it.
Penny: I told you. Alice and I were having coffee, at Alice’s, and spying on the U-Haul out the pantry window, and then the bell rang, and she got us both at once.
Alice: There she was, big as life, so to speak, with two pans of Rice Krispie bars.
Penny: Sort of a Welcome Wagon, only in reverse, she said.
Alice: Me and Fred always make the first move, she said.
Penny: And then she insisted we all come for dinner.
Randy: So what? Why didn’t you get out of it?
Penny: How? She wouldn’t take no for an answer. Literally. (pause) Well, it’s not like we didn’t try. Both of us. What are you supposed to say when somebody won’t take no for an answer?
Penny: Anyway, they’re harmless enough.
Randy: Pork balls. My god.
Buck: Sounds like a disease.
Randy: Not to mention old Fred, the World’s Most Boring Human.
Alice: I don’t think they’re boring exactly. I don’t know, there’s something wrong. Something a little bit off. Don’t you?
(sound of door opening)
Ethel: (from a distance) You kids make room now for my special dessert!
Others: Really, wish I could, no kidding, etc.
Ethel: (from a distance) Nonsense! I won’t take no for an answer.
Fred: (from a greater distance) Tell em about after dinner, sweetheart.
Ethel: (from a distance) Weve got a little something planned for after dessert. Something different. Something fun.
(sound of door closing)
Ten thousand slides of their vacation paradise in—
Randy: No, no! Ten thousand slides of ten thousand homes. This is our backyard in Topeka.
Buck: And twenty thousand fun couples. This is Donny and Marie Cornplant from Sioux Falls. They were a fun couple, weren’t they, Fred? And cultured as all get-out!
Penny: And this here’s Maxine Hornbostel. You can’t see her face, but thats definitely her right tit
Alice: Look, don’t you all think its a little weird? Really? I mean, why invite company over for dinner before you’ve even fixed a place to sleep? Isn’t that weird?
Penny: Weird and boring.
(sound of door opening)
(sound of approaching footsteps)
Ethel: Here we are, gang! Feast your eyes!
Fred: Its Ethel’s Special Company Dessert!
Ethel: I call it Wacky Cake.
Others: Oh, wow, it’s really something, hey, wowee, etc.
(music up and over)
(sound of people going downstairs)
Ethel: Would one of you kids hit the light switch on your way down? It’s on the right?
(sound of a click)
There! A little light on the subject!
Fred: End of the grand tour, children!
Penny: You’ve got a lovely house. Thanks for showing it to us.
Alice: Yes, it’s so spacious and uncluttered. (under her breath) And unfurnished. Did you notice, they didn’t even realize they had a bathroom on the first floor until Buck pointed it out?
Randy: (whisper) And those huge crates stacked in the upstairs hall. What’ve they got in there?
Alice: (whisper) Whatever it is, it’s got that musty old Goodwill smell.
Ethel: Did you say something, Alice?
Alice: I was just commenting on your basement. It doesn’t have that musty old basement smell.
Ethel: (from a distance away) Come in here, everybody.
(footsteps, click of a light switch)
Here it is, our pride and joy. The Game Room.
Others: Ahhh! Nice! Really roomy! Paneling! Etc.
Buck: When you get some furniture in here, it’ll be quite comfortable.
Fred: Aww, we dont need furniture.
Ethel: Sit down, everybody! The floor’s clean!
Alice: (whisper) No, its not.
Ethel: Time for our little surprise.
Randy: Gee, we thought the tour was the surprise, Ethel.
Buck: (whisper) Gee, that was pretty lame.
Ethel: Fred, drag the steamer trunk over here.
(sound of trunk being dragged)
Buck: Ill give you a hand. Wow, what have you got in here, cement blocks?
(dragging sound stops)
Fred: Ethel and I have a little confession to make.
Buck: Anything to do with that dead body in here?
Buck: The Torso in the Trunk.
Ethel: I don’t know what he’s talking about.
Fred: He’s making a joke, sweetheart.
Penny: He’s just had a little too much of your splendid Chablis, Ethel.
Buck: Pass the bottle, Alice.
Ethel: Good idea. Pass the bottle all around. (pause) You see, Fred and I just love to play games.
Fred: We can’t get enough.
Ethel: We’re Game-a-holics.
Buck: What are we supposed to do? Guess what’s in the trunk?
Ethel: No, no. What’s in the trunk is the actual games themselves.
Fred: And props.
Ethel: You see, in all our travels, weve learned that the very best way to meet new people–
Fred: Break the ice–
Ethel: Is right here in this very trunk!
Randy: Well, the thing is, we’re really not too big on structured–
Fred: Your board games, your card games, your games of chance–
Ethel: Bingo, Lotto, Mah-jong–
Fred: Bridge, poker, euchre, whist–
Ethel: Hearts, canasta, Bolivia, keno–
Fred: Charades, Twenty Questions–
Ethel: I’ve Got a Secret, Name That Tune–
Fred: Mumblety-peg, dominoes, Chinese checkers–
Ethel: Craps, monte, fantan, crackaloo–
Fred: Pinochle, quadrille, bezique–
Ethel: You name it, we play it.
Alice: Yes, but–
Ethel: Open up the trunk, Fred.
(sound of trunk opening)
Gather round, and take a gander at that.
Buck: Good grief.
Randy: That is impressive, Mrs.–Ethel.
Alice: Look at all these games.
(sound of boxes being shuffled)
Some of these must be antiques.
Ethel: Just like Fred and me!
Fred: Like she says, were game-a-holics, from way back.
Buck: Must be a support group for that.
Penny: (whisper) Buck!
Alice: Look, the original Parcheesi. An old Monopoly. Clue. Mr. Ree. Tiddlywinks! Authors. Here’s a set of rubber quoits. They’re so old they’re rusty.
Penny: Authors? Isn’t that for kids?
Randy: Rubber doesn’t rust, Alice.
Fred: Sure. Kid stuff. We play it with little kids.
Buck: (too loud) How about Old Maid? Now there’s a heart-stopping–
Penny: I’m sorry, Ethel, Fred, but Buck here seems to have reached the limits of his–
Randy: Yeah. We’re all pretty beat.
(sounds of people getting to their feet)
Alice: It’s a wonderful collection, and some other time–
Ethel: No, no, no! You mustn’t go!
Fred: Now, sweetheart, you heard the kids. They’re tired.
Ethel: But, the game! We’ve got to play. We always have such a good time. It’s so much fun.
Fred: Honey, honey, don’t push it. She gets so disappointed. She gets her heart set on things. Some other time, right, kids?
Ethel: But it’s so much fun.
Fred: Come on. I’ll see you all to the door.
Buck: Help me up, Penny, my leg died.
Penny: Wait. Look. We can play a quick game of something.
Buck: (sighs, bitterly)
Ethel: You don’t really want to.
Penny: Sure we do.
Alice: Sure we do.
Randy: But it’s got to go fast. I’ve got a lecture at 9 AM.
Ethel: (clapping her hands) Wonderful!
Fred: Okay. What’ll it be?
Randy: You choose. You’re the experts.
Ethel: No, you choose. It’s more fun that way.
Buck: (sarcastic) Penny, darlin’, why don’t you choose?
Penny: (whispers) I’m sorry, Buck.
Alice: I know! Trivial Pursuit!
Randy: (whispers) Are you nuts? That takes hours!
Alice: (whispers) Trust me. They haven’t actually got Trivial Pursuit. I looked.
Randy: (whispers) Oh. Oh, I see! (out loud) Yeah, Trivial Pursuit! It’s the only game we ever play.
Buck: (whispers) Are you insane?
Randy: (whispers) Alice looked. They don’t have it.
Buck: (out loud) We just love Trivial Pursuit!
Penny: (whispers) Are you crazy?
Buck: Trivial Pursuit! Hell of a game, Trivial Pursuit. I could play Trivial Pursuit all night, and have, on numerous occasions! Every chance I get! Too bad you haven’t got it.
Ethel: Darn! We don’t, do we, Fred?
Fred: ‘Fraid not, honey.
Buck: Awww. What a shame.
Ethel: But wait!
(sound of rummaging)
Weve got some sample cards in here somewhere. Got ’em in the mail. Some promotional deal. Game of the Month Club. Here they are!
Alice: But that’s just a handful. And where’s the board?
Ethel: Oh, we don’t need a board.
Buck: Wrong, wrong, wrong. You have to have a board. It’s no good without a board.
Ethel: We can improvise.
Buck: Wrong, wrong, wrong–
Fred: Ethel’s fast on her feet. She’ll figure something out.
Ethel: We’ll play teams. There’s six cards, so each team gets two.
Buck: Wrong! Six cards? For one thing, you must already know the answers, so what’s the point of–
Ethel: We never looked at these. Did we, Fred? See, I just opened the package.
Buck: (sighs) Are we out of Ripple?
Ethel: Then we go around clockwise. The couple on your left picks a category, you read the question, and if they answer incorrectly, they pay a penalty.
Randy: You mean, money?
Penny: What if they get the answer right?
Ethel: Well, then, if they answer right, the first couple pays a penalty.
Fred: That’ll work.
Ethel: No, not money. A penalty.
Alice: Why not have rewards? Why not reward the winning couple?
Fred: Nope. Gotta be a penalty.
Ethel: Rewards aren’t as much fun.
Randy: But whats a penalty?
Buck: Oh. Oh, no. She’s talking about stunts. Some kind of humiliating stunt.
Penny: Like reciting the Gettysburg Address?
Buck: Like reciting the Gettysburg Address with your head up your butt.
Randy: You know, I think money is really a better–
Ethel: Too impersonal. Penalties are lots more fun.
Fred: Folks let their hair down.
Buck: And make screaming idiots out of themselves.
Fred: (pause) It never fails. Does it, sweetheart?
Ethel: Right, Fred.
Fred: You young people. You’re so uptight.
Ethel: You never want to loosen up.
Fred: At first.
Ethel: At first. But believe it or not, after awhile you’d forget yourselves. Come right on down to our level.
Alice: Ethel, its not a matter of different levels
Fred: Sure it is. You think were a couple of old fools.
Penny: No, no, that’s not–
Ethel: But you’ll change your minds. I guarantee. Wait and see.
Ethel: Give us a chance.
Alice: You know, I’m afraid we’ve been rude. Of course we don’t think you’re fools.
Ethel: So humor us.
Fred: You might learn something.
Randy: (pause) Deal the cards, Fred.
(sound of cards being dealt)
Penny: After all, it’s only two rounds.
Ethel: Twelve. Twelve rounds.
Penny: TWELVE rounds?
Ethel: Two cards, six categories per card.
Alice: I still don’t know what a penalty is.
Randy: How will we know who wins?
Fred: It’ll be obvious.
Buck: Let’s just get this over with.
Ethel: Do you and Penny want to be first?
Ethel: Pick a category.
Buck: Science and Nature.
Fred: Say, that’s your field, isnt it? Biology?
Buck: Just give me the question.
Penny: Lighten up, Buck.
Ethel: Which planet in our solar system is farthest from–
Ethel: Right! So, we have to pay a penalty. Okay, Buck, do your worst.
Buck: Recite The Iliad.
Ethel: (sharp intake of breath) Oh, my! (laughs) My word.
Fred: He’s a sharpie, my dear.
Randy: Buck, you’re being kind of a jerk.
Penny: Cut it out, Buck, I mean it.
Ethel: Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures, for so were the counsels of Jove fulfilled from the day on which the son of Atreus, king of men, and great Achilles, first fell out with one another.
How far do you want me to go, Buck?
Penny, Alice, Randy:
(silence; collective gasp) Wow! Bravo! Bravo, Ethel! All right!
Fred: Well done, my pet.
Alice: Ethel, that was amazing! Well, I don’t mean amazing…
Buck: (deeply suspicious) Yes, amazing. It was, indeed, amazing.
Randy: Our turn.
Buck: What category.
Buck: Home and Garden. Whats the main the main vegetable in vichyssoise? Wait, isn’t that rummage?
Alice: Potatoes. Okay, Buck. Get ready for your penalty.
Buck: Why me? Why not Penny?
Randy: We want you to grasp your right foot firmly with both hands, and insert it in your mouth.
Buck: Ha, ha.
Alice: Or sing “Layla.”
Buck: I don’t think so, Alice.
Randy: Hey, foul! You can’t refuse a penalty.
Penny: It’s no use, Randy. You’d better give the penalty to me.
Buck: We are not amused.
Penny: And when we are not amused, we are a great big baby.
Alice: Well, in that case, your penalty is, you have to take him home with you tonight.
Penny: God, No! Not that!
Buck: Keep it up, Penny.
Penny: What do you mean, keep it up?
Buck: Just do that. Keep it up.
Ethel: Maybe I was wrong. Maybe we ought to just quit.
Penny: No. We want to play, don’t we, guys?
Randy: Pick your category, Fred and Ethel.
Fred: How about Entertainment. Eh, sweetheart?
Ethel: Entertainment Tonight!
Randy: Where–uh-oh, this isnt fair–Where did Betty meet the leader of the pack?
Alice: They’ll never get that. Pick another one–
Ethel: Why–at the candy store. He stopped and asked my name…
Fred: You get the picture?
Ethel: Yes, we see.
Fred: That, Ladies and Germs, is when she fell for the Leader of the Pack.
Penny, Alice, Randy:
Incredible! I dont believe it! How do they do it? Etc.
Ethel: I suppose it comes of making so many young friends.
Fred: We thrive on young people.
Ethel: I think it’s time for the candles. Don’t you, Fred?
Fred: Here’s an easy penalty stunt, kids. Alice, there’s candles and candle-holders right here in the trunk. You light them, and Randy, you go over there and turn out the lights.
(sounds of rummaging)
Alice: Here they are.
(sounds of receding footsteps)
Randy: (from a distance) Ready?
(sound of match being struck)
(click of a light switch)
(sound of approaching footsteps)
Randy: Pass the bottle, Penny.
Penny: This is nice.
Randy: I’d like to propose a toast.
Penny: Yes, a toast. To Fred and Ethel!
Randy: To Fred and Ethel!
Alice: To Fred and Ethel!
Ethel: I think we meet with their approval now.
Fred: I guess so.
Ethel: Isn’t that nice.
Buck: Just who are you people?
Ethel: Beg pardon, dear?
Buck: Skip it.
Fred: What category do you want, son? Its your turn.
Buck: Up to you, Fred, old boy. Fred Murgatroyd, of Anytown, USA.
Ethel: Go on. Pick one. You’ll be sorry if you don’t.
Buck: You really are a game-player, arent you, Ethel?
Penny: We’ll take Geography. (pause) But first I just want to say something. I just want to apologize to everyone in this room, and especially to you, Ethel, and to you, Fred–
Buck: Don’t you apologize for me, damn it–
Penny: For the disagreeable and uncalled-for behavior of my husband–
Buck: Shut up!
Penny: Who always has to have his own way, no matter what–
Buck: You little ass-kisser!
Penny: You son of a bitch!
Ethel: Whats the capital of Guam?
Buck: Guamville, you old bat!
Penny: (begins to sob; sobs throughout argument)
Buck: Guam City! Who cares? Guamopolis!
Alice: (whispers) Randy, do something.
Randy: You’re way out of line, buddy.
Ethel: It’s Agana.
Alice: Bedtime, everybody. Game’s over.
Fred: Au contraire.
Buck: Look at yourselves! Sitting in the dark on a grubby linoleum floor playing dumb parlor games with a couple of–middle-class Martians!
Fred: I don’t suppose you’d be willing to put this lampshade on your head, would you, son?
Buck: Who the hell are you people?
Ethel: (singsong) Well, somebody’s got to pay the piper.
Alice: I’m sorry, Ethel, we have to quit.
Ethel: (singsong) I guess it’s up to Penny.
Penny: (still sobbing) I want to go home.
Fred: Scoot over here next to me, honey.
(sounds of scooting)
Penny: (sniffling) I’m so embarrassed.
Fred: There. Just tilt your head up in the light, toward me.
Ethel: Penalty time!
Fred: Penalty time!
(sound of a vicious slap)
(five second silence)
Buck: You just slapped my wife in the face.
Alice: My god.
Penny: You hit me.
Fred: Ha! That’s twenty you owe me, my pet.
Fred: You should know better than to bet against Murgatroyd the Magnificent.
Buck: You just slapped my wife in the face!
Fred: He did it again! As I say, its a funny thing. You hit an uneducated man–a plumber, a trucker, a local yokel–and he hits you right back. Bam!
Randy: I don’t believe this.
Fred: You hit a fellow with a PhD, and he’ll give you a news bulletin.
Buck: You just slapped my wife in the face!
Alice: Move. Now. Let’s get out of here. Right now.
Fred: Hold it right there, kids. That’s right. Don’t move a muscle.
Randy: He’s got a gun!
Alice: Oh, my god!
Penny: You’re pointing a gun at us!
Fred: See? They did it again!
Ethel: Don’t rub it in.
Randy: See here. Is this some kind of an act?
Ethel: Lord, you people are trite.
Alice: What are you going to do with us?
Ethel: Why, we’re going to have fun with you, Sweetness. Or as much fun as can be had, with a lot of whining, gutless snobs.
Fred: You kids are a big disappointment to her.
Buck: They’re going to have fun with us. Like they did with the Hornblooms.
Ethel: Hornbostels. No, you aren’t a patch on the Hornbostels. They were troupers.
Fred: They were scrappers. That Ernie all but rose from the dead to bust two of my ribs.
Ethel: Ha! If you could have seen your face!
Fred: Had him in a fireman’s carry, remember, and I was concentrating on getting him up those damn circular stairs–
Alice: Why were you carrying him upstairs?
Fred: Do you really want to know, child?
Penny: No! No! I don’t want to know!
Alice: The crates. Oh my god. They put them in the crates.
Penny: I’m not listening!
Alice: How many people have you–killed?
Randy: Hush, Alice. Nobody’s been killed. Nobody said anything about killing anybody.
Penny: No! It’s not happening!
Fred: This one’s going to lose it, like that Harrington woman in Ishpeming. She’ll be catatonic in a minute.
Ethel: She’ll snap out of it.
Fred: How much?
Ethel: Fifty bucks.
Fred: You’re on.
Buck: They’re putting us on. Penny. Honey, come here, calm down, it’s all right. There weren’t any fifty-two bodies in those crates. For one thing, they wouldn’t fit.
Fred: We don’t keep the bodies in the crates, Professor. Why the hell would we want to do that? We use the crates to transport them out of town, so we can dispose of them in the countryside.
Buck: You would have been caught by now. Hundreds of people must have seen you. Fifty people couldn’t just disappear without someone raising an alarm.
Randy: Right! The FBI would have a file on you. Your pictures would be in every post office in the country. You’d be featured in tons of websites.
Fred: I suppose we are.
Ethel: But it doesn’t do any good.
Fred: Show them, Ethel.
Ethel: Should I? It’s a little early.
Fred: Go on. Now, pay close attention, children. Do the eyes, Ethel.
Buck: Contacts. Big deal. Her eyes are blue.
Fred: Do the teeth, Ethel.
Buck: So what? It’s a disgusting effect, I’ll grant you, but hardly–
Fred: Do the nose, Ethel.
All: (exclamations of horror, screams, retching sounds)
Buck: Holy God, what is that?
Ethel: Little Olsen girl bit it off in Rapid City.
All: (more horrified sounds)
Fred: Now, I ask you, children. How many people could look at that long enough to give anyone a decent description?
Buck: Put it back on, for God’s sake.
Ethel: Aren’t I pretty, Buck?
Buck: How can you stand to look at her?
Fred: I wouldn’t expect you to understand this, but ours is a marriage of true minds.
Ethel: Now, you show them, Fred. Show them your wonderful disguise.
Fred: All righty.
Penny: (totally hysterical) No! No! Don’t! I can’t stand it! Don’t let him, Buck!
Fred: Don’t let me what?
Penny: Don’t do it! Please, please, please, for God’s sake, don’t take off your mask!
Fred: (pause) You trying to be funny?
Ethel: You watch your step, Miss. It’s all right, Fred. She’s just ignorant.
Fred: Well, all right. What I am wearing–is this wig, see? Which I remove, like so, and simply comb my hair over–like so–and then I simply don these glasses–like so–and–voila!
Alice: You don’t look any different.
Fred: The hell I don’t! I’m unrecognizable.
Randy: No, you’re not. Your hair’s a little different, is all.
Fred: I’m completely incognito!
Randy: As a human being, maybe.
Ethel: Don’t let them get to you, darling.
Fred: I never heard of such ignorance.
Buck: Are you people crazy?
Fred: Nope. Just evil.
(sound of Alice blowing out two candles)
Alice: Get the other candle, Buck!
Buck: (blows out third candle)
Ethel: (giggling) The little dickens!
Alice: Roll, everybody!
(sounds of scuffling, running around)
Penny: Buck! Buck! Where are you?
Buck: Shut up, Penny. You’ll give away your position!
Penny: It’s dark! I can’t see! I can’t stand the dark!
(sound of gunfire)
Penny: (one long scream, ending in silence)
Buck: Penny! Penny!
Ethel: Maybe she doesn’t want to give away her position, dear.
Fred: Maybe she can’t.
Ethel: Tee hee.
Randy: (whispers) Find the stairs.
Alice: (whispers) I can’t even find the doorway. Is that you?
Buck: Penny! Answer me!
Ethel: (groans softly)
Ethel: (groans again)
Buck: (whispers) Are you hurt bad? Say something.
(sound of match being struck)
Ethel: Hi, Buck!
Ethel: Come back here, you little scamp!
Buck: (whispers) Randy, find Penny! She must be down. She must be hurt bad.
(sound of match being struck)
Fred: Would you like a hand?
(sound of running, bumping into things)
(sound of Alice falling down)
I think–I think I just found Penny.
Alice: It feels bad, Buck. Oh. (sobs quietly) Its all sticky.
Ethel: Now pull yourself together, girl.
Fred: Don’t give up. Our money’s on you. You’ve got spunk.
Alice: What’s the use?
Randy: Yeah. You’re going to kill us all anyway.
Fred: But not necessarily.
Ethel: Wouldnt be a game, otherwise.
Buck: (husky with tears) Has anyone ever gotten away from you two–freaks?
Fred: As a matter of fact, no.
Ethel: Tee hee.
Fred: But there’s always a first time.
Randy: (whispers) I’ve found the doorway. The stairs ought to be over here to my left. Im going up.
Alice: (whispers) Be careful.
Randy: (whispers) If I make it to a phone, I’ll call the police.
(sound of light footsteps on stairs–12 or 13 steps)
Ethel: Did you fix the stairway, Fred?
Randy: Oh, no!
(sound of body falling downstairs, followed by silence)
Alice: Randy, say something!
Ethel: Maybe he doesn’t want to give away his position.
Fred: You kill me.
Alice: You murderers! You’ve killed him! Oh, god, he’s dead!
Buck: Shhhh. Alice, we don’t know that. They may both be alive. Just hurt.
Alice: You think so? Maybe?
Buck: Yes. And nothing–irrevocable–has happened
Buck: And we can all just forget this whole business
Alice: (sobbing) Oh, yes
Buck: No hard feelings. No police
Fred: I think they’re trying to tell us something, sweetheart.
Buck: You murdering coward! I’ll see you in hell!
(sounds of running, scuffling, thudding, going on for some time)
Ethel: (breathless) Time out!
(Note: Everybody’s out of breath for a while.)
I gotta get my breath.
Fred: Me, too. (laughing) We’re getting a little old for this.
Buck: What do you mean, time out? You can’t just say time out.
Fred: You can when you’re holding a gun.
(sound of stealthy footsteps)
Ethel: You don’t have to keep tiptoeing around, Buck. We never shoot during time out.
Buck: You people are insane.
Fred: You keep saying that.
Ethel: They always say that.
Fred: They cling, like limpets, to the pitiful delusion that virtue corners the market on rationality.
Ethel: Its a sickness of the age, Fred.
Alice: Monsters! Hideous, horrible, monsters!
Ethel: That’s better.
Fred: Though a touch theatrical.
Ethel: Well…metaphorically, I suppose.
Alice: You’re not human.
Ethel: Look, there’s no call to get insulting.
Fred: Accept it, little one. We’re just very, very bad people.
Buck: Yes. Why?
Fred: That’ a silly question. It’s like asking someone why he likes lamb.
Buck: It’s nothing at all like lamb!
Alice: Don’t argue with them, Buck. Don’t dignify this.
Buck: We’re going to die, Alice, and I want to know why. I want to make some sense out of the thing that’s going to kill me.
Fred: No, you want to lull us into inattention with a lot of small talk, and then rush us when we least expect it. But no matter.
Ethel: I guess the truth is, Fred and I were just made for each other. We knew it the moment we met.
Fred: Remember our first date, honey?
Buck: What did you do on your first date? Torture a cat? That must have been romantic.
Ethel: No, we ran down an old woman on the Merit Parkway.
Buck: You killed somebody on your first date?
Fred: Who knows? We never looked back, did we, honey?
Ethel: No. She doesn’t count.
Buck: And you’ve been….systematically butchering people ever since.
Ethel: Oh, no. No, no. We didn’t get into it seriously until Fred retired.
Alice: Kill us.
Buck: Yes. Do it.
Fred: Say, what’s the rush?
Ethel: Don’t give up now, kids. You’ve turned into real good sports.
Fred: They sure have.
Ethel: Look, Fred, couldn’t we cut the cards, this one time? Like we’ve been talking about?
Fred: Well…all right. Let’s give it a whirl.
Ethel: We don’t want to get stale.
Fred: And they have been good eggs.
Ethel: Okay, now, here’s what were going to do. First time ever, a real chance for you kids. We each team cut the deck, and if you get the high card, why, we actually–
Buck: No more games.
Alice: Kill us.
Fred: Aw, come on.
Alice: I don’t want to live without Randy.
Buck: Penny’s dead. What’s the point of going on?
Alice: We’d rather die than share this planet with the two of you.
Fred: Well. Gee.
Ethel: (pause) Oh dear.
Fred: It’s gone sour.
Ethel: Do you think we went too far?
Fred: Apparently we did.
Ethel: What do we do now? You think?
Fred: I don’t think we have a choice. (clears throat) What do you say, people?
(3 second pause)
Penny: Oh, Buck. Buck, honey. I’m so sorry
Penny: (crying) Oh, Buck.
Buck: Penny, you’re alive! Penny, keep still, lie quiet.
(sounds of shuffling, thud)
Goddamn trunk! Penny, baby–
Penny: Buck, don’t come near me. You’re gonna kill me.
Buck: I love you!
Penny: You won’t for long. (sobs)
Ethel: Oh, this is just terrible. I feel so guilty.
Buck: Guilty! You miserable witch! Penny!
Randy: (sigh) Don’t take it all on yourself, Ethel.
Buck: Randy’s all right?
Alice: Oh, Randy!
Buck: Penny! Penny, where are you? Christ, if I could just see–
Randy: Hold it, everybody. Just stand still where you are and listen.
Ethel: Who’s going to do it?
Penny: (sniff) I’ll do it.
Ethel: No, I’ll do it. I talked you into it.
Randy: No, I’ll do it. I talked Penny into it.
Buck: Will you two shut up! You’ll give away your–
Randy: (laughing) Look, buddy, it doesn’t matter.
Alice: Yes, it does! As long as we’re all together, it matters, right up until the last breath.
Randy: Alice. Listen to me. (sigh) It’s a joke.
Alice: No, no–
Penny: Alice, Randy’s telling the truth. It was all a terrible joke.
Ethel: Terrible is right.
Penny: (sobbing) And they’re never, never, never going to forgive us.
Buck: A joke?
Alice: A joke?
Buck: (pause) When you say joke–now, let me get this straight–when you say a joke, do you mean–a joke?
Penny: (sniff) Yes.
Buck: A joke, as in–We’re in no actual danger? As in, We’re not going to die?
Alice: How is it even possible?
Randy: It was a setup.
Buck: A setup.
Ethel: Yes, and it’s all my fault. You see, Fred and I though it would be–well–fun, you know, to play a little prank–
Buck: A little prank!
Ethel: Well, okay, an elaborate prank–
Randy: See, they called me over this afternoon, and introduced themselves, and we got to talking, and…well, we just worked this whole thing out, and then I called Penny–
Alice: What are you talking about? What thing are you talking about? Are you trying to tell me that you’re in league with these–these killers?
Randy: They’re not killers, Alice.
Alice: They killed 52 people! They ran over an old person!
Ethel: Honey, we never even ran over a squirrel.
Randy: Look, you know the expression, It seemed like a good idea at the time? Well…it seemed…like a good idea at the time. Boy, are we in trouble.
Buck: You bastard. You sadistic…irresponsible…swine.
Penny: Buck, don’t. Don’t say ugly things you can’t take back.
Buck: And you! My sweet wife! How could you do this to me? To Alice, your best friend!
Penny: I…I just thought…we just thought it would be…you know…fun.
Ethel: You see, Fred and I really are game players. That much was true.
Buck: You just shut your mouth.
Penny: Don’t talk to her like that.
Ethel: It’s all right. I don’t blame you. See, kids, Fred and I, we used to be in show business. We did improvs for a living. Way back before TV.
Alice: But your face. That awful hole in your face.
Ethel: Show business, honey. I keep trying to explain, see, Fred and I were in vaudeville, during the very last days of the Orpheum Circuit. After that, we did clubs. And I was a magician. The only female magician they ever featured, and a pretty darn good one, too, I might add, though I suppose now is not exactly the time to brag. Anyhoo, the nose was a piece of cake.
Buck: All done with mirrors. Right?
Ethel: No, it’s all done with greasepaint and spirit gum and rubber.
Alice: But…all those nasty things you said to us. How could you act like that–for a joke?
Ethel: Show business again. You take on a part. You get into it. You go too far.
Buck: Oh, I see. Get it, Alice? Fred and Ethel don’t caravan around the country killing people. Nooooo. They just put on skits. They just frighten innocent people into cardiac arrests. They just corrupt the gullible and break up friendships and ruin marriages. And then they pack their stinking crates into their stinking U-Haul and drive away. And everywhere they’ve been, even weeds can’t grow, and people wake up in the middle of the night in a freezing sweat and can’t even look each other in the eye at the breakfast table. You know, Ethel, you were right, and I was wrong. You are evil. You’re wicked old people, and if it takes the rest of my life, and if I have to break a law to do it, I’m going to see to it that you never again have so much as a single minute of fun. (pause) Come on, Alice. Let’s get out of here.
Penny: Buck. You’re not going without me?
Buck: No, you stay here. Stay here and have some more laughs with your new friends.
Penny: Buck. You said–you couldnt live without me.
Buck: How ill-timed of you to point that out. How very unwise.
Penny: Tell me you love me. Please. I know you love me.
Buck: What if I do? I’ll never forgive you, you know.
Penny: But you do still love me, Buck? Tell me you love me.
Ethel: Yes, Buck. Say it. Just say you love her.
Buck: Oh, for Christ’s sake.
Penny: Say it.
Buck: (pause) I love you, Penny.
Ethel: Oh. That was good.
Buck: Now, get your ass home.
Alice: You too, Randy. We have a lot to talk about. Good night, Murgatroyds. You need not see us out.
Oh, Randy, is that you? Why are you still lying on the floor? Get up.
Randy: I can’t. My neck’s busted.
Alice: (through clenched teeth) You’re not funny, Randy. Get up now.
Randy: I told you, I can’t. My head and neck are lying in what is often referred to in cheap fiction as an impossible angle.
Buck: Nothing’s impossible around here, buddy. You just get old Fred here to work some of his magic on your neck. Or come see me. I’ll straighten it out for you. Come on, Alice, you can stay with us.
Ethel: Oh, Fred wasn’t a magician, Buck. I was the magician.
Buck: Yeah? What was Fred? The rabbit?
Penny: No, Buck. Fred was a ventriloquist.
Ethel: And a first rate impressionist, to boot. He did the most uncanny imitations.
Randy: (pause) Murgatroyd the Magnificent.
Penny: Murgatroyd the Mellifluent.
Randy: Murgratroyd the Miraculous Mimic.
Alice: (whispers) Oh. No.
Penny: Tell me that you love me, Buck.
Randy: Wanna hear my Boris Karloff?
Buck: Oh my God.
Ethel: Hit the light switch, Fred.
(sound of click)
Fred and Ethel: (pause) Gotcha!!
Ethel: Tee hee.
(music up and over)
(sound of interior car motor throughout)
Fred: Ahhh. It’s good to hit the road again, isnt it, pet? The open road. Always makes me feel young.
Ethel: Speak for yourself. I’m all done in.
Fred: Quite a night, eh?
Ethel: Well, it would have been all right if you hadn’t let those two get out of the basement and run around like that. Face it, Fred, we’re too old to go chasing up and down stairs.
(sound of slap on thigh)
Fred: Come on, woman! You loved it.
Ethel: That’s not the point. We’ve got to slow down.
Ethel: Or–or–you’ve got to start helping me with the clean-up. I was down on my knees scrubbing and mopping two hours after you went to bed.
Fred: Besides, I only did it for you.
Ethel: You’re full of prunes.
Fred: I did. I know how much you like to watch ’em scramble around. Your eyes get all big and wild–
Ethel: Oh, poo.
Fred: You’re a wild woman, Ethel.
Ethel: You’re an old fool.
Fred: I figure we head up through New Haven, New London.
Ethel: We can’t go to Boston. Been there, done that.
Fred: I thought, maybe Providence.
Ethel: Okay with me. I’ve always liked the name. Providence.
Fred: We’ll get us some clams.
Randy’s voice: I love you, Ethel.
Ethel: (laughing) Cut it out, Fred.
Buck’s voice: I love you, Ethel.
Ethel: You do, do you?
Fred: I really love you, Ethel.
Ethel: I wuv oo, too.
(music up and out)
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
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
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” was ready for reading, in installments, at
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
Each of these is represented somewhere on this site, but here are links to uncollected and mostly unpublished detritus.
“Medea in the Garden” is on this site.
“Twinkle, Twinkle” is on this site.
(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.
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.”
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—
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…?”
[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?”
“Are you serious? A million bees?”
“You’ve got a MILLION BEES there in that tiny box?”
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.
March 25, 2015, with Barbara DeMarco-Barrett