Biff Sock Pow

Finding the humor in everyday life.

The Alistair and Alexis Christmas Special (A Shameless Plug)

vintage-christmas-cards 1

What better way to relax and get away from all of the stresses and craziness of the holiday than with a comic novel about the stresses and craziness of the Christmas season?

All of his family’s money can’t seem to buy the easy-going Alistair a moment of peace and quiet from Alexis (his wife’s) grand ideas and complex schemes for the Christmas season.  Alexis  is determined to not only outdo their Christmases from previous years, but to also to top whatever the neighbors are doing to celebrate the season.  Alistair does what he can to keep his beloved wife happy, but it is mostly dumb luck that keeps him on Santa’s “Good” list.

Below is a handy list of links to the Alistair and Alexis Christmas Special, Episodes 1 through 8. I am writing new episodes as fast as I can and hope to have another one out very shortly.

I hope you are all enjoying a very merry Christmas season so far!

 

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

 

 

 

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The Alistair and Alexis Christmas Special, Episode 7

vintage-christmas-cards - Family Decorating Tree 1b

Link to Episode 6

“Right this way, my Adorable Amaryllis,” I said, holding her hand and leading the way.  It was slow going.

“I can’t see a thing,” she said, holding on tight to my hand.

“That is because it is pitch black,” I explained.  I thought it would have been obvious to even a casual observer, let alone my keen eyed little Sunflower, but I have never been above stating the obvious if I thought it would help shed some light on things (so to speak).

“Yes, I can see that it’s pitch black,” she said, I thought, a little peevishly.

“Technically, you can’t,” I said, trying to be helpful.  “But the brain is a marvelous thing and it interprets a complete lack of light as being darkness.  It has to do with rods and cones and all that sort of thing.”

“Ow!” she yelped suddenly.

“Mind the dog,” I said, again trying to be helpful.

“We don’t have a dog,” she said.  Her tone did not seem to be improving any in spite of all of my helpful banter.

“Then I’m at a loss as to what that was.  Perhaps a free-range ottoman or a roaming occasional table or some other piece of errant furniture.  One never knows.”

A tiny voice from somewhere behind Alexis reiterated her desire to have a cat someday.  Alexis vetoed this almost before Evangeline managed to get out the word “cat”.  Another voice further back said, for the second time today, that dogs were definitely the way to go.  Alexis also vetoed this motion from the floor and went on to say that there would be no animals of any sort allowed in the house or anywhere on the Callington estate.  The silent sound of disappointment floated up from the rear of our human chain.

“We’re almost there,” I said.

“That’s good,” she said, “Though it’s too late to save my toe.”

“You’ll forget all about your little piggy in just a moment.”  I pulled out a pen light and switched it on, but took care to only illuminate my face.

“You had a pen light this whole time?” asked Alexis, seeming surprised and agitated.

“I did indeed.  I had secreted it in an inside pocket of my jacket.”

Alexis inquired, in her own inimitable way, as to why I hadn’t used it before now.  I cautioned her about the use of expletives around the children, and she reposted something that was ironic due to its use of expletives.

“I didn’t use it before now because I wanted to surprise you,” I said.

“Surprise me with a broken toe?” she said, a bit petulantly, I thought.  “Well, mission accomplished.”

I decided that the time had come to steer this conversation away from her charming little toes, so I used the pen light to find the switch and I flicked it.

The Great Room was suddenly illuminated with thousands of tiny white Christmas tree lights that had been carefully and painstakingly wrapped around each branch, sub-branch, and trunk of our 20-foot-tall Christmas tree.  At the very top of the tree, a winsome angel glowed with a warm, benevolent light, no doubt from bearing tidings of great joy (and also because of a low-wattage bulb secreted modestly within the folds of her robe).

“Oh, Darling!” said Alexis with pure delight in her voice, her toe forgotten.  She released my hand so that she could clap her hands together as she stared in ecstasy at the massive and well-lit tree.  “It’s absolutely gorgeous!”

“Thank you, my Darling Delphinium,” I said, beaming with pride at her compliment.  “It is rather eye-popping, isn’t it?”

“It is breathtaking!” she said as she gazed up at it rapturously.  I glanced at the children to find that they were similarly impressed and had apparently been struck dumb by the sight.

“How on earth did you manage to get the tree lit and the angel on top in just the few hours we were out shopping?”

The time had come to fess up and admit that I had not worked alone.

“I had a little help,” I admitted modestly.

“Did you call the fire department and use their hook and ladder truck?”

“No, nothing so dramatic as that.  I consulted with James and he said he knew a chappie –”

“Not the baggage handlers again?” asked Alexis, her eyes widening.

“No, not them, though I’ve no doubt they could have done a stellar job moving the tree if we’d needed it moved back and forth across the room.  No, this called for moving up and down, rather than back and forth.”

“And James knows a circus trampoline act?”

“No.  Better.   He knows a roofer who, apparently, collects ladders as a hobby.  He had a truck that fairly bristled with them.”

“A roofer, eh?”

“Named Rufus.”

“A roofer name Rufus?”

I held up my hand.  “I swanny.  I could not make that up.  His motto is Let Rufus Roof You.  It was printed on the side of his truck.”

She eyed me keenly for a moment as if trying to determine if I was just making up this entire story, but then she glanced back at the tree and apparently satisfied that there was no way I could have done this on my own, and so finally came to peace with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

“Well,” she said, “I’m sure he was a little out of his element, working beneath the roof instead of on top of it,” she said finally.

“He adapted quickly.  Apparently, he puts up Christmas lights for people as a sideline.  The results speak for themselves.”  I indicated the tree with a flourish of my hand.

“Yes, they do.  It is absolutely gorgeous!  Thank you, Darling!  The whole time I was shopping with the children I had a vague sense of dread as to what we would be returning home to.”

“Oh, ye of little faith,” I said, shaking my head.  I may have also tsk’d in disappointment.

“I expected to come back and find you crushed beneath the tree or hanging from the highest bough by your necktie.”

“I was spared such indignities by the appearance of Rufus and his collection of ladders.”

Alexis turned to the children, who were still looking a bit gobsmacked at this colossal conifer in our Great Room.  “After your baths and after you’re in your pajamas, we will come back down and decorate the tree just like we do every year.”

This seemed to incentivize them greatly and they streaked out of the room in a state of great excitement (and ear-piercing vocalizations).  Alexis said she would follow them and supervise their ablutions and dressing.   For my part, I said I would coordinate with Mrs. Fournier on the making of hot chocolate and fresh cookies.  We agreed to meet at this exact spot in precisely 45 minutes.


 

Later that same evening, as I browsed through our mind-boggling collection of Christmas music for something to put on the hi-fi, Alexis was on her knees in front of the many bins and totes and storage boxes that held our vast collection of Christmas ornaments.   The children, freshly washed and wrapped in a protective layer of flannel, were “helping” her.  Their helping consisted of excitedly tearing the lids off of storage bins, pulling out boxes, which they also opened to pull out ornaments.  I shook my head.  I could have told them they were making a rookie mistake.  Obviously, they were not familiar with either Alexis’ color coded charts nor her patented “method of doing things.”  I had no doubt they were about to be schooled in both.

I finally found and put on some gentle, soothing Christmas music to set the tone.  Mrs. Fournier brought in a steaming cauldron of hot chocolate and a silver salver of homemade cookies.  This had the effect of distracting the children from the bright, shiny ornaments.  While they sipped at their chocolate and giggled with each other about biting the heads off of the cookie snowmen and elves and reindeer, Alexis tried to conduct a seminar on her method of decorating the tree.  She was explaining to them the importance of good tiering, of balance, and of form.  The trick, she instructed, was to avoid “clumping” of either colors or textures or thematically similar items.

I could have told her that her words were falling on deaf ears.  The children were much more interested in their ragtag collection of headless snowmen cookies, reindeer cookies with no antlers or legs, and elves denuded of their pointy hats.  They were giggling uncontrollably and composing elaborate stories with each other about the rise of the headless snowmen, and how an army of hatless elves rode in on their antler-less (and sometimes legless) reindeer to save the day.

Alexis sighed hopelessly as she realized she had lost her audience.  I just put my arm around her shoulders and offered her a steaming mug of hot chocolate.

“Don’t fret, my ravishing Narcissus,” I said, giving her shoulders an encouraging squeeze.  “Let them decorate as they will. I predict they will lose interest by the time they’ve hung 8 or 10 ornaments.  Then I will herd them upstairs and put them to bed while you rearrange all of the decorations to conform to your standards for tiering, balance, form, and anti-clumping.

She smiled up at me, her eyes glittering beauteously as they reflected the thousands of lights of the tree.   “You’re right,” she said, taking a tentative sip of hot chocolate.  “I don’t know why I get so worked up about things like this.”

“Because, my Dear, you are a perfectionist.   Which makes me wonder why on earth you ever agreed to marry me.  I am decidedly non-perfect.”

“You are perfect for me,” she said.  “Two perfectionists would have killed each other before the wedding was over.”

“You are probably right about that,” I said, taking a contemplative sip of hot chocolate.  I noted that the mug I was holding had painted on it a sprig of mistletoe, so I held it above our heads and leaned down to give her a kiss.

“Not in front of the children,” she said, giggling and turning her head slightly so that I ended up kissing her on the cheek.

“Well, they’re bound to find out about us sooner or later,” I said.  “We can’t hide our relationship from them forever.”

“You know what I mean.  Later,” she said, conspiratorially.  “After they are asleep.”

She set her mug down and got the children’s attention, which was now much easier since their cookie army had been decimated, with both sides suffering heavy losses.

The tree decorating began in earnest.   Alexis carefully took the delicate ornaments out of the boxes, I affixed the hooks to them, and the children hung them on the tree.   Alexis had a story that went with each ornament.  I was amazed at her ability to remember the story of our family’s life as told in Christmas ornaments.  How she was able to keep track of which ornament went with which life event was beyond my comprehension.  I hadn’t even known where we stored the ornaments, let alone what each one means.  It’s a good thing she did not demand perfection from me like she does with everything else.

I was wrong about the stamina of the children.  They remained engaged and enthusiastic about the entire process from start to finish.  I could tell Alexis was cringing at how they hung some of the ornaments, but one could not find fault in their energy and enthusiasm.   We sang along with the Christmas carols on the hi-fi.  We took breaks to enjoy hot chocolate and a new batch of cookies from Mrs. Fournier.  I, of course, had to get out the ladder to hang up the ornaments above the children’s reach.

Eventually, much to everyone’s dismay, we ran out of ornaments.  I glanced at Alexis to gauge her reaction.  She just stared at the tree, biting her lower lip as if not quite sure what to make of what she was seeing.

The tree looked the very picture of Christmas cheer and beauty.  The ornaments were absolutely lovely.  The shining ribbons of gold and silver that Alexis wove amid the branches were lovely.  Everything was absolutely perfect.

Except …

Except that the decorations only went about halfway up the tree.   The top half of the tree was completely bare except for the twinkling lights that Rufus had weaved into the branches earlier.

I glanced nervously at Alexis, sure that she would be extremely displeased.  Even the children seemed to be holding their breaths as they kept glancing back and forth between the tree and Alexis.

But finally, much to everyone’s shock, she merely said, “It’s perfect.  Don’t you all think so?”

We nodded our heads, stunned, and mumbled our agreement.

“Okay, children,” she said.  “It’s time for bed.”

They protested a little as she stood and begin herding them towards the door.  She stopped in front of where I stood looking at the tree, still feeling a little like the villagers whose village had been spared by the passing tornado.

“And as for you …” she said to me in a low voice so that the children could not hear.  I stiffened, fearing the worst.

But she just smiled and said, “Next year, make sure I only get a ten-foot tree.”

I smiled and kissed her on the top of the head and assured her that I would.  After all, sometimes less is more.  Or, at least it is just enough.


Link to Episode 8
Copyright ©2017 by Biff Sock Pow

 

*Press it* Muwhahahahaha! I stole Cyranny’s blog post about a shared meet!

I’m stealing the blog post that Trina stole from Cyranny!   This is the second steal for that post, so it can’t be stolen any more.

Record your own White Elephant blog post steals down below in the comments.

via Press it Muwhahahahaha! I stole Cyranny’s blog post about a shared meet!

The Alistair and Alexis Christmas Special, Episode 6

Vintage Christmas - Man on Ladder & Tree 2

Link to Episode 5

Jacques is nothing if not efficient.  The tree practically beat us back home.  He must have had his crew felling it, tossing into the Christmas tree wrapping machine, and loading it on the truck as we stood in his quaint little log cabin of an office while I wrote him a check, the amount of which nearly made me black out for a moment.   However, Jacques did not even have the decency to blush beneath his bushy beard when he looked me in the eye and stated the price.  He waited patiently for me to write that outrageous number on the check, then he took it from me, thanked Mrs. Callington for her business, patted each child duly on the head (two pats for the girl and a hair tousle for the boy), and then gave me a peremptory glance and what I believe was a barely audible “harrumph”.  He then called for “Thor”, his nearly toothless dog, and he departed the office to go off and help other shoppers find trees that were just beyond their budgets.

We had barely gotten the children home, out of their bulky winter clothing and distracted with a hearty meal from Mrs. Fournier, our chef, when a large truck pulled up outside with our tree, bound, gagged, tied down on the bed of the truck, and completely unaware of the new adventure that awaited it.

Two burly woodsmen hopped out of the cab of the truck and rang the doorbell.  A very excited Mrs. Callington greeted them and showed them where in the front room she wanted the tree.

“I’d like it in front of the big window so that it will be visible from the Lane.”

“Yes, ma’am, Mrs. Callington,” said Jeff (according to the name stitched onto his work shirt).  He seemed to be the ranking officer of the two woodsmen, for he was the taller and stronger-looking of the two men.  Plus, he was the only one that could talk, apparently.

“But not too close to the window.  I would like to be able to observe it easily from the chairs by the fireplace.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said again, and I believe he would have tipped his Jacques’ Jolly Jólatré Farm -embroidered ball cap, but his hands were busy taking notes on the clipboard he held.

“But mind the chandelier,” said my impatient little Impatiens.

Jeff and Steve (the other chap, per the stitching on his shirt) looked up and seemed to make a mental note of the existence of the large crystal chandelier that formerly hung in Merton House in England before we picked it up for a song (and several thousand pounds) at an estate auction several years before.

“Steve,” said Jeff, still gazing upwards.  “Mind the chandelier.”

“Sure thing, Boss,” said the taciturn Steve, seeming to make a mental note of the chandelier.

Jeff then gazed keenly at me.  “How high is that ceiling, Mr. Callington?”

I gazed upwards at the ceiling and furrowed my brow as if calculating its height based on angles and hypotenuses and cosines and such, and then glanced at him and said, “I haven’t the foggiest.  It was here when we moved in and I never felt the need to measure it.  I know it is high enough to make retrieving runaway helium balloons from children’s’ birthday parties impossible.  One must wait for them to come down of their own free will.”

Steve suddenly pulled something from his toolbelt and held it up for all to see.  I expected him to say voilà! with a flourish, but he seemed to be the sort of chap that rarely said anything at all, especially things like voilà.  He did turn slightly back and forth at the waist, holding up the gun-shaped item as if he were a magician that had just pulled a rabbit out of a hat and was holding it up for all to see.  Seeming disappointed that no one ooh’d or aah’d, he pointed it at the ceiling and pulled the trigger.  All that came out of it was a point of light on the ceiling.  He then scrutinized the gun and announced, “This is a 25-foot ceiling.”

“Good heavens!” I exclaimed.   “Twenty-five feet?  That seems a bit excessive for a ceiling.  Did you know about this, my bonny little Bellflower?”

“I knew we had a ceiling,” she said, her face revealing that she wasn’t quite sure what I was angling for.  “But beyond that, I knew nothing.  It came with the house.”

I gazed up at the ceiling with a new sense of wonder.  “Twenty-five feet,” I murmured, almost to myself.   “Who would’ve thought?  It makes me wonder who changes the lightbulbs.”

“If you’ll pardon me, Mr. Callington,” said Jeff, no doubt feeling as if he should steer the conversation back towards the subject of Christmas trees.  “Your tree is only 20 feet tall, so you should be just fine.”

“Well, that is certainly a blessing,” I said.  “We don’t have any rooms with higher ceilings than this.  At least, I hope we don’t.  Frankly, I’m surprised we have this one.   Wow!  Twenty-five feet.  I had no idea.”

“Do you want us to bring the tree in, Mr. and Mrs. Callington?” asked Jeff, always the consummate professional when it comes to Christmas trees.

“Yes.  Please do,” I said.  “I believe you have the coordinates from my lovely helpmeet.   Deploy the tree at will.”

“Yes, sir,” said Jeff.  Steve saluted.  Then they departed to go out to the truck to release the tree from its bonds.

I watched them with extreme fascination (causing them to ask me politely several times to “Please step back, Mr. Callington.  We would hate for you to get hurt”).  They used a crane on the truck to unload it onto the drive and then they used sheer muscle (and a few moving dollies) to wrestle the beast indoors and into the great room.  They freed it from its ropes and its confining net and then slowly raised it up to its final standing place (while minding the Merton House chandelier).  They painstakingly leveled and plumbed the tree until it was as true as a compass needle.  They secured it in the stalwart-looking tree stand, filled it with water, swept up and removed all of the bark and needles that had come loose during the tree raising ceremony, and trimmed the tree here and there so that it was more aesthetically pleasing.  As they departed, I tipped them both handsomely and praised them as being the Rembrandts of tree raising ceremonies.  They both thanked me, touched the brims of their Jacques’ Jolly Jólatré Farm -embroidered ball caps, and departed, leaving only a faint smell of diesel and Grand Fir.

Alexis informed me that my mission was to top the tree.  This she said blithely as she herded our brood out the door for a few hours of frenzied Christmas shopping.  Pondering the logistics of getting anything at all at the top of such a towering tree, I summoned the ever-resourceful James into the Great Room for a summit meeting.

“James,” I said, mixing myself a drink, “We have a slight problem.”

“Problem, sir?” he asked.  As always, he had a penchant (as the French would say) for asking pertinent questions.  He inclined his head slightly as he asked it, which made a marvelous pun, but as I knew he did not speak French, I didn’t pursue it.

“Yes.  A most confounding problem.  Drink?” I asked him, indicating the drink trolley with a wave of my hand.

“No, thank you, Sir.  I may need to drive somewhere.”

I nodded.   “Very prudent.  As a chauffeur, I’m sure there is always a high probability you may be called on to drive somewhere.”

“Yes, sir.  It is always a distinct possibility.”

I plunked an olive into my martini and took a contemplative sip.

“You have no doubt noticed the addition of a tree to our décor.”  I nodded slightly towards the towering 20-foot-tall Grand Fir that had assumed a place of prominence in the room and was casting a long shadow due to the recessed lighting in the ceiling.

“Yes, sir, Mr. Callington.  I noticed it when I walked into the room.”

“It clashes somewhat with the art deco theme of the room.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Trees tend to be …” I waved my drink in a slow circle, searching for just the right word.  “What’s the word I’m looking for?”

“I’m not sure, Sir.”

“Fauvistic.”  I took a long sip of my martini, nearly finishing it off.

“Fauvistic?”

“I started to say impressionistic, but I think that understates the issue.  A tree of this nature is too bold to be merely impressionistic.  That’s why I said Fauvistic.”

“That makes sense, Sir.”

“I’m not sure it does entirely,” I said dubiously.  “But be that as it may, we still have a problem.  That is why I called you in here.  You have a penchant for coming up with solutions to problems.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

“And the problem as I see it, is this tree.  Did you know this ceiling is 25 feet tall?”

“No, Sir.”

“Well, it is.  I have it on very good authority.  There were actually lasers involved.  Lasers always remove all doubt.  So here is the problem.  The ceiling is 25 feet tall.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“And the tree is slightly less than that, coming in at right about 20 feet, give or take.  So, you see the problem.”  I took another sip of my martini and started to mix another.

James looked up at the ceiling and the treetop, and then back at me.  “No, Sir.  I’m afraid I don’t.”

“Well, the problem is as follows.  It’s not quite as complicated as a train leaving Milwaukee at 65 miles an hour while another train leaves Chicago at 70 miles per hour, but it is darn close.  I have it on good authority that the tree is 20 feet tall.  Lasers and all that.  The last time I visited Doctor Billingsworth, he informed me that I stood right at 6-foot 1 inch in my sock feet, though how he knew that I don’t know, because I was wearing shoes at the time.  Drink?”

“No thank you, Sir.”

“So, just tossing about round numbers, twenty feet minus 6 feet is  …”   I gazed at him.

“Fourteen feet, Sir.”

“Is it?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Well, there you go.  Fourteen feet, give or take.  That is without lasers, so there’s really no way to be sure.  And how tall are you, James?”

“Six foot two, Sir.”

“In sock feet?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“So even if you stood on my shoulders, we would still be … twenty … minus fourteen … plus six …”   All this advanced mathematics was making my head spin.  I took a soothing sip of martini.

“There would still be eight feet of tree above us, Sir.”

“Yes!  Precisely.  Eight feet.  Now, this is where the math gets tricky.”  I paused to take a sip of martini.  “There is a ladder out in the shed, but it is only a 12-foot ladder.  So, if we set up the ladder.  And then you get on my shoulders.  And then I climb up on the ladder.   I forgot to ask you, can you hold a star?”

“Star, Sir?”

“Well, an angel, really.  There was a vote.  I voted for the star.  But Miss Calgon … Missus Calderon … Calliope … my darling Calla Lily … she cast the deciding vote on an angel.  So, my Jere Dames … dear James.  I will need you to get a good solid grip on the angel.  And get on my shoulders.  And I will climb the afear mansioned … after motioned … aforementioned ladder.  We will have this tree touched by an angel in no time.”

“Sir, I don’t think it would be a good idea for you to climb a ladder at the present time … with or without me on your shoulders.”

“You may be right,” I conceded.  “There would be no one to hold the ladder for us.  And that is just plain unsafe.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Oh, I know!” I said excitedly, for I’d just had a brilliant idea.   “I could stand on the ladder … at the very top … angel in hand.”  I pantomimed my idea, my martini being the understudy for the angel, who was still in her dressing room refusing to come out for the rehearsals.

“Yes, Sir?” said James, sounding a trifle dubious.  But that was only because he had not heard the full plan yet.

“And then … here is the brilliant part.   And then I jump .. you see … down, onto the divan and it … SPRINGS me … up … graceful arc, you see.  And then, when I am near the summit … I just … spike the angel on top of the tree.  Like those mountain climbing chappies with their flags.”

He was silent a moment, as if he were visualizing what I’d just said.  His eyes seemed to follow my projected trajectory up into the stratosphere of the Great Room.

“Sir, if you don’t mind my saying it, I’m not entirely sure that plan will work.”

“You mean you think the ottoman would work better than the divan?”

“No, Sir.  I just don’t think the plan will work regardless of the furniture we use.”

“Oh posh,” I said, waving away his doubt with my drink.  “It is foolproof.  What can go wrong?”

“I’m afraid lots could go wrong, Sir.  For one thing, I’m not sure the divan is up to being jumped on from off the ladder.”

“Nonsense!  That is pure 18th century oak.  Fine craftsmanship.  Solid oak.  Not the fluffy bits, of course.  The legs.  Solid oak.”

“I may have a better solution, Sir.”

I am not too proud to admit that I was a little hurt.  “Well, I fail to see how another solution could be better than the one I proposed, James; but let’s hear it.  I am always ready to consider alternative solutions, no matter how harebrained they might be.”

“Well, Sir.  I know a guy –”

“One of the baggage handling chaps?” I asked, squinting at him through my martini glass.

“No, Sir.  This guy is a roofer.”

“But I don’t want the angel on the roof.  No one would be able to see her, poor thing.  Imagine her disappointment.”

“No, Sir.  He is a roofer and he has a large collection of ladders.  Furthermore, he is not afraid of heights.  He could have the angel up on the tree within the hour.”

I considered his suggestion as I popped the olive from my latest martini into my mouth and chewed thoughtfully.  “Within the hour, you say?”

“Yes, Sir.  Furthermore, he could also string all the lights on the tree for you.”

I visibly started.  I had not considered the lights.  There were two or three dozen strings of them and they would have to be wound round and round the tree.  That would be nearly impossible to do while spring-boarding off of the divan.

“Very well, James.  Call your chap.  I am going to go to my den and recline in my recliner.  I am feeling a bit woozy for some reason.  No doubt all the excitement of a new tree.”

“No doubt, Sir.  And, yes, Sir.  I will call him right now.  And shall I have him replace that burned out lightbulb on the ceiling, Sir?”

I squinted upwards to where James was pointing, though doing so made the room shimmy somewhat, no doubt due to the strong odor of Grand Fir in the room.

“Yes.  By all means, James.   Let there be lights.”


Link to Episode 7
Copyright ©2017 by Biff Sock Pow

 

 

 

The Alistair and Alexis Christmas Special, Episode 5

Vintage Christmas - Christmas Tree Shopping 1b
Link To Episode 4

The annual Callington tradition of going to pick out the Christmas tree for the front room was well underway.  We had already made great progress.  To wit:  we had managed to get both children into the car at the same time.  There had been a couple of false starts.  On the first attempt, we were halfway down the drive before we realized our darling little Evangeline was nowhere to be seen.  An interrogation of her brother, Edrington, revealed nothing.  He was too busy building and fighting robot dinosaurs on his handheld gaming console.  Of little sisters he knew nothing.  If she were a dinosaur he might have shown more interest.

On the second attempt, we had actually pulled out of the drive and were tooling along Meandering Pheasant Lane when Evangeline sent word from the rear of the SUV that we were minus one brother.  She assured us she was not complaining, but was merely asking if she could strap her dolly in with the seatbelt that Edrington would normally be using if he was there.  We made a quick U-turn at the entrance to the Hawthorne- Pinckney’s estate and returned to home port to find him in the kitchen tucking into some Sous vide grouse with beetroot left over from the night before.

On the third attempt, we were nearly to the edge of town when we realized neither child was in the back of the SUV, which would explain the relatively peaceful, quiet ride that my darling Alexis and I were enjoying.  We returned home, conducted a search and rescue mission, and found them in the media room watching a movie as if they hadn’t a care in the world.  But it turns out that they did actually have a care in the world, for Evangeline immediately complained that Edrington was making her watch a movie involving time-traveling donkeys who must save the world by making wisecracks while shooting aliens with lasers.  Edrington retorted that he simply could not watch another movie involving large-eyed, mystery-solving girls talking about the power of friendship and unicorns.  I said we would table this discussion for the next family meeting and then herded them out to the SUV and supervised the buckling in of said offspring myself.

On the fourth attempt, we paused the SUV at the front gate before pulling onto Meandering Pheasant Lane, and we both looked far back into the recesses of the SUV to make sure both children were present and accounted for.  Satisfied that they were, and that we were not seeing apparitions, we continued on our way to Jacques’ Jolly Jólatré Farm.

Jacques was a large Norwegian chappy with a bushy beard, a penchant for plaid flannel shirts, suspenders, durable work trousers, and heavy boots.  Even when talking casually, he looked as if he should have an axe resting jauntily on his shoulder.  However, to my knowledge, I have never seen him wield an axe.  In fact, all I have ever seen him hold with any regularity is a Grande mocha cappuccino.   Jacques is the owner of the only Christmas tree farm for hundreds of miles and so he is the go-to guy for all things evergreen, piney, and Christmassy.

The weather was perfect for the outing.  The sky was slate gray and overcast, idly threatening to snow, but without any real conviction.  The air was brisk and slightly below freezing.   This all went well with Alexis’ jaunty country outfit consisting of a liberty shirt, a fleece gilet, a light green Schoffel ghillie coat, chocolate colored moleskin breeks, Le Chameau Andalou Ponti lined boots, a cashmere scarf, and Bordeaux colored knit cap of lamb’s wool with a faux rabbit pompom.  Apparently, she thought we might accidentally end up fox hunting in the Cotswold’s or that we might wander unawares into a photo shoot for “Ladies’ Country Estate” magazine.    Compared to her, I and the children were woefully underdressed in our jeans, flannel shirts, sneakers, and anoraks (though Evangeline’s was pink).    Still, there was no denying that Alexis was as cute as a little Scottish button (except that she is Irish on her father’s side, and Italian on her mother’s side).  It seemed a shame to tell her that we would merely be picking out a Christmas tree on Jacques’ humble little tree farm, and that no one was going to see her except Jacques and a couple of dozen other denizens of our fair city who, like us, like to prepare for Christmas by taking the short drive out into the country to visit Jacques and his trees.  The worst thing we were likely to encounter was Jacque’s curmudgeonly old dog whose growl was definitely worse than his bite due to his advanced years (and poor teeth).

Since Alexis was driving, it meant that, according to the rules of the road (established in an international tribunal convened shortly after the invention of the in-dash radio), I got to select the music we listened to.  I fiddled with the knobs and buttons and pushed this and diddled with that, trying to find something seasonal.  This caused Alexis to remark at various points, “I don’t find zydeco music particularly Christmassy” or “Are you hearing subliminal messages in the hiss between stations that the rest of us are missing?” and, my personal favorite, “Please find a station or so help me I will put you out on the side of the road.”   It was that last one that inspired me to find a local station that plays Christmas music 24/7 between Thanksgiving and Christmas, broken up only by commercials and perky announcers announcing that we should not worry, that more Christmas music will be coming up right after this commercial break.  The children and I even began to sing along with some of the carols we knew the words to.  Sadly, that made me question whether all the money I was paying Madame Gagnon for music and voice lessons was truly worth it.  In fact, I made a mental note to call her and ask her if my delightful little bairn had ever even set foot in her fine establishment.  Perhaps all these months they had been accidentally wandering into the tap dancing school next door.  To test that theory, I made a mental note (the second of the trip so far … perhaps I should be writing these down) to put on “Singing In the Rain” later at home and see if they would spontaneously break out into dance.  If so, strong steps must be taken instantly to undo the damage, for there are few things more vexing to parents than tap-dancing children.

I was so lost in my concerns over the fear that my progeny might be engaging in covert tap dancing that I suddenly found that we were at Jacques’ Jolly Jólatré Farm.  Alexis navigated the SUV expertly through and around other vehicles in the large grassy field that served as the parking lot, which is truly amazing considering that she can hardly see over the dashboard.  However, I learned long ago that asking her if she wanted me to get some of the large coffee table books to put in the driver’s seat for her to sit on was a mistake of the highest order.  One would not think she could get much distance on a large coffee table book of photos of the birds of the rainforest, but she managed to get a good ten feet on it, though her arm mechanics could use some refining and the follow-through needed some work.

We debouched from the SUV after several minutes of chaos caused by the complexity of seatbelt buckles, lost dollies, lost dolly accessories, dying batteries on a handheld gaming console, the finding and putting on of coats and jackets and earmuffs and a single shoe that had somehow ended up in the cargo area.  It made me wonder why people make such a fuss about Hannibal crossing the alps on elephants.  That campaign was a walk in a park with toy poodles compared to a road trip with children.  If Hannibal had to take a boy and a girl, aged 8 and 5 respectively, across the Alps, elephants or no, the whole thing would have been a disaster and the history books would have recorded that Hannibal gave up on the venture a mere mile and a half away from home.

We walked across the field towards the gate leading to where the Christmas trees were.   I won’t say our pace was glacial, for I believe glaciers move generally in a straight line and with a constantly forward direction, but there were some definite similarities in speed.  Betting would have run 8 to 1 in favor of the glacier due to its steady pace and forward direction, whereas we were a bit of a dark horse due to our serpentine path, frequent stops to look for dropped items or examine particularly interesting fauna in the grass of the parking area, and a general lack of single-mindedness.  Progress improved somewhat when Alexis took Edrington’s hand firmly and I picked up Evangeline to carry her.   Edrington, like me, was aware of the dangers of trying to go in a nor’ by nor’eastly direction when Alexis would rather one be heading in a sou’ by sou’westerly direction.  So, he matched her pace and direction with no fuss or complaints.  Experience will hone such survival skills.

We entered through the gate in into Jacques’ cultivated forest.  It was much like any forest one would find one’s self lost in, except that all of the trees were evergreens and they were all spaced apart equally with such precision that it appeared as if an obsessive-compulsive Johnny Appleseed had wondered through the area with a bag full of evergreen seeds, a laser precision GPS-guided measuring device, and a seed-planting robot.  It was a little disorienting while walking through it, but it was also oddly satisfying.  The air was filled with the aroma of evergreen.  Our shoes padded nearly silently on the bed of pine needles we walked on.  We could see our breath when we talked or exhaled.  Once inside where the trees were, sounds were oddly muted and views of the other shoppers were obscured by the trees and so one felt alone.  One could almost hear the lines of Robert Frost,

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep …

I started to recite this as we walked through the uniformly spaced forest, but since it did not involve cage-fighting dinosaurs, large-eyed crime-fighting girls on unicorns, or high fashion, I felt it would fall largely on deaf ears.

“Well, my darling little Petunia, what kind of tree are we looking for?” I asked.

Alexis stood, hands on her hips, looking around at the bewildering array of trees, looking for all the world like the Lady Alexis of Achadh Chraobhan surveying the lands surrounding her manor house.  I felt as if she were about to make a pronouncement and, perhaps it was my imagination, it seems as if a hush fell over the highly symmetrical forest.

“I’m not sure,” she said at last.  “Something … very … you know … Christmas tree-y.”

I looked around at the hundreds of Christmas trees that surrounded us.  “If only there were somewhere we could find such a thing,” I said.  “I wonder if Jacques has a special area he keeps those sorts of trees?”

She cast one of her patented looks at me, designed to visually serve me a cease and desist notice.

“You know what I mean,” she said.  “I would like a tree that is tall.  And fluffy.”

“Is fluffy a characteristic of evergreen trees?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said coolly.  “I mean it should not be too skinny.  I want lots of branches to hang things on.  We have a lot of ornaments.”

“And,” I pointed out helpfully, “It will make it easier for the cat to climb.”

“We don’t have a cat,” said Alexis.

Evangeline, who had heretofore been relatively quiet, suddenly cast her vote in favor of getting a cat.  Edrington, aroused from fighting virtual dinosaurs in his virtual world, asserted that dogs were superior to cats for a variety of reasons that he failed to enumerate.  Alexis, as chairperson pro tempore tabled all discussions of cats and dogs and effectively killed the resolution under consideration by the board.  There would most likely have been a strong protest from the floor, but we were mercifully spared a ruckus by the sudden appearance of Jacques himself.

As always, I was quite surprised to see that he was not carrying an axe.  What is the point of being a 6-foot-6 Norwegian chap with a beard and a plaid shirt if you weren’t going to carry an axe with you everywhere you went?

“Can I help you folks?” he asked.  His voice was deep and friendly and was disappointingly free of a Norwegian accent.

“Yes, thank you!” said Alexis gratefully.

“Where do you keep your Christmas trees?” I asked.

Jacques looked at me keenly with his arctic blue eyes, no doubt acutely aware that we were surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of Christmas trees.  Perhaps it is just as well that he doesn’t carry an axe around with him.

“What I mean to say,” I continued hurriedly.  “Is, where do you keep your fluffy Christmas trees?”

“Fluffy?” he asked and I am pretty sure he was now considering adding an axe to his business attire.

“Something with lots of branches,” added Alexis.   Then, as an afterthought, added, “We have lots of Christmas ornaments.”

“Some of them came over on the Mayflower,” I added helpfully.  Alexis shushed me.

“No,” she explained to Jacques, smiling nervously.  “They didn’t.  We just have a lot of them and need a lot of branches.”

“Well,” said Jacques, “You can’t go wrong with your firs.”

“You’ve always wanted a fur, my Delightful Periwinkle,” I said brightly to Alexis.  She shot me a withering look.

“Firs are very popular,” continued Jacques, unperturbed, “Particularly your Douglas and your Noble firs.”

“Are there ignoble firs?” I asked.  Alexis shushed me with her foot against my shin this time.  Fortunately, her expensive Le Chameau Andalou Ponti lined boots were soft soled and so did no real damage.

“Anything from the fir family will have lots of branches,” continued Jacques.  “The noble fir keeps a long time.”

“Very noble,” I commented, though stayed away from Alexis’ Le Chameau Andalou boots.

“The Douglas fir has a nice aroma to it,” said Jacques, apparently deciding to ignore my commentary.  “And the Fraser fir has upturned branches, which some people like.  It also has good needle retention.”

“Like Grand Pa-Pa’s old phonograph,” I whispered to Evangeline, for at this point, she was the only one listening to me.

“The Colorado Blue Spruce,” said Jacques, “Is a very handsome tree, but it can have a foul odor if crushed.”

“Much like Grand Pa-Pa,” I whispered to Evangeline, which elicited a giggle from her.  Alexis shot us both a steely glance and I put my finger to my lips to shush the irascible Evangeline.  Obviously, she was getting out of control.

“Now your Scotch pines not only have excellent needle retention,” said Jacques, “But they have superior keepability.”

“Like me,” I whispered to no one in particular.  This time Evangeline put her finger to my lips to shush me.  She obviously took after her mother.  I glanced down to Edrington for support, but he was absorbed in conducting a cage fight between a T-Rex and a triceratops.

Alexis wanted to see a sample of each type of tree and so Jacques invited us onto his six-seater golf cart and we began a trek that went from one tree to another.  They all looked quite alike to me, but Alexis nearly swooned at each tree, though she would then begin to find fault in each one.  Our precious offspring could not have been any less interested if we were looking at brown cardboard cutouts of other brown cardboard cutouts of tax returns, water bills, and jury summons.  I suppose in their fresh, undeveloped minds, a tree by any other name is still a tree.  There was no tree ever invented that would hold their interest until it had presents underneath it.  Children are funny that way.  They are not very arborealogically minded.  But then again, neither am I, so perhaps it is genetic.  Unlike Joyce Kilmer, I have met many trees I did not like and, on the whole, can take them or leave them.  I bear them no ill will, but they generally will not hold up their end of a conversation.

After looking at the dozens and dozens of trees that we were driven around to, even Kilmer would have become antipathetic towards trees and would have wandered out to the barn to retrieve an axe.  Fortunately, just as I was about to ask Jacques if there were perhaps any St. Bernard dogs with casks of rum strapped to their necks roaming around freely, Alexis gasped and gripped my arm tightly.

“Alistair!”

“Yes, my delightful crocus?”

“There it is!”

I looked in the direction she was pointing, but I could not see her tree for the forest.

“Could you be more specific, Dearest?” I asked, for all the trees I saw looked exactly alike.

Jacques had stopped the golf cart and she ran and stood rapturously in front of  a towering Christmas tree of staggering proportions.    “This one,” she said, looking up at it.  I’m surprised she didn’t get dizzy and fall down while looking straight up like that.

“I’m not sure that will fit in the front room,” I said dubiously.

“We can trim it to fit,” said Jacques helpfully.  “This here is a Grand Fir.  The big kahuna of fir trees.”

I wondered if “big kahuna” is an old Norwegian expression meaning “really big tree”.

“We’ll take it,” said Alexis.

“But, my exuberant Fiorella,” I protested.  “There is no way this sequoia will fit on top of the SUV.”

“We deliver,” said Jacques dispassionately.  I really think he was doing this just to get back at me for my earlier jests.

I sighed and reached for my wallet.  This battle was over before it began.  If my darling little Daffodil wants a tree that will take up the entire room and pop up through the ceiling and into the master bedroom, then that is what she shall have.  The irony of it is that we probably do not have enough ornaments to cover such a tree.


Link to Episode 6
Copyright ©2017 by Biff Sock Pow

How To Have An Existential Crisis For Fun and Profit (and Maybe a Few Yucks)

panicking

I decided to take a break from my make-it-up-as-I-go-along Christmas-themed blog novel (blogvel?) and write an actual blog post.

I have to be honest with you.  I have not posted in a while because there just hasn’t been much to write about.  How many blog posts can I wring out of my boring job?  How many blog posts can I get out of a very mundane, pedestrian life?  When I first fancied myself as a writer at around the age of 15, I just assumed that every moment of my life would be fascinating to readers if I could just somehow get my writing in front of them.

That was way before the Internet.  The only way you could get your writing in front of readers was to write a very grumpy, complain-y letter to the editor of the local newspaper, and even then there was only about a 0.01% chance it would get published.   I knew writers who would take out those free ads in the “Weekly Shopper” or “Green Sheets” just so they could experience the thrill of something they wrote appearing in print.  (No names … I promised them I would never admit that to anyone.)

Anyway, that was a long, roundabout way of saying that my belief as a 15 year old that my every written word would be fascinating to the reading public has undergone something of a change as I’ve gotten older and especially since I starting writing this here blog o’ mine.  I realized not everything I write is fascinating or amusing.  That came as something of a blow to my writer’s ego.    Worse still, I realized one day that the stuff I write doesn’t even hold MY interest!  That was an even worse blow, not only to my writer’s ego, but to my ego as a human being.  I now live in fear of having a near fatal accident, because I don’t think I’ll be able sit through my own life flashing before my eyes.  I might very well yawn and nod off in the middle of it.

So, I’ve slowed down on the ol’ blog and have been trying to regroup and rethink what I’m doing here.

I love writing humorous things and making people smile or laugh or even just feel good.  But humor writing is a strange thing.  If I were a stand-up comedian, the laughter of the crowd is instantaneous feedback.  It makes you want to write even more funny stuff so you can hear that laughter and applause.  It becomes a drug and you write and perform more and more material trying to get more and more laughter.

But writing humor is completely different.   You write it … you toss it out there into the ether … and there is no (or very little) feedback.  So you question … was it funny?  Did anybody smile?  Did anyone laugh?  Did anyone even read it?

You don’t know the answer to those questions … so the doubt sets in.  The doubt turns to self doubt.  The self-doubt turns to a kind of depression.  And that leads to a lack of energy and thus a lack of output.  The lack of output becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy of “I guess I just wasn’t that funny after all.”

I think that is why my posting goes in waves.  When I am prolific it is because my confidence is high and thus my energy levels are high.  When the confidence wanes (because of the aforementioned lack of feedback), so too do the energy levels wane.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not asking for sympathy comments or likes.  I’m just trying to give you a glimpse into a humor-writer’s brain.  The humorist is almost always a self-doubting person who is insecure about their writing abilities … or their abilities to connect with others in a humorous way.  It is no secret that comedy is almost always a defense mechanism.  There is almost always a sort of nervous awkwardness behind every piece of comedy or humor.

Anyway … enough about that.  My next post will be humorous.  I promise!  Or your money back.

 

The Alistair and Alexis Christmas Special, Episode 4

vintage Christmas - Outdoor Tree #2

Link To Episode 3

Alexis stormed into the kitchen as if she were about to establish a beachhead and deploy troops.  The rapid-fire clickety clack of her heels on the tile floor sounded just like a marble in a roulette wheel about to make some wagerer very unhappy.  I glanced up from the sandwich I was making to see my beautiful little iris approaching from a nor’ by nor’easterly direction and felt the barometer dropping.  If I were an old sea captain, I would have taken my briar pipe from my weathered lips and said something along the lines of, “There’s a storm a-comin’,” and then went back to tying my knots.  But I was not tying knots, I was sculpting a masterpiece from pastrami, swiss cheese, rye bread, and assorted condiments.  Decorating the yard with James, Ivan, Crusher, and Boss under the keen and demanding eye of my diminutive little taskmaster had worked up a powerful appetite.  I offered to feed Crusher & Co., but they said they had to get to work.  I paid them for their efforts, though they tried valiantly to refuse it, but I was finally able to get them to accept a few shekels.

Alexis heaved to alongside the kitchen island where I was composing my sandwich and stood there, arms crossed, one foot tapping, looking at me as if she expected me to say something.  I smiled what I hoped was a disarming smile, but behind the smile was a fear-frozen schoolboy wondering why the teacher was gazing at him sternly and expectantly.  I felt I needed to say something, so I did the best I could.

“Can I get you anything, Dearest?” I asked.  “Would you like me to make you a sandwich?”

“I’d like a new tree,” she said in response.

I considered her while I took a thoughtful bite and chewed, trying to buy myself a few moments to try and get a bead on just what the heck she was talking about.

When I finally spoke, I spoke thusly, “We always go out and pick out a tree with the children.  I can’t say how new it will be.  We could count its rings, I suppose.”

“No, not the Christmas tree for the front room.  The tall tree we put outside the front gate, by the lane.”

Ah, the light dawneth.  I was once again on her wavelength, though it was still a bit filled with static.  She was referring to the large faux tree that we put outside the front gate, by the lane every Christmas.  McShandy and his crew would be out on Monday with his crane truck to assemble it.  It required a well-trained crew and good worker’s comp insurance to put together since it stood at a breathtaking 45 feet tall, not including the star.

I struck a placating tone and said, “The one McShandy and company will be installing for us on Monday is quite new,” I said.  “We just purchased it 2 or 3 years ago.  It probably still has the price tag on it somewhere, though it might be obscured by flocking.  McShandy has a heavy hand when using his flocking gun.  He wields it like a flamethrower.  Do you remember that poor jogger last year who happened to be jogging by when McShandy –”

“I’d like you to call him and tell him to keep our current tree and to get us another one.”

“What’s wrong with the one we have?”

“It isn’t tall enough,” she said, reaching out to pinch off a piece of pastrami from my sandwich and pop it into her mouth.

“Tall enough for what?” I asked, astounded.  “The star on it is already so high in the air that we have had wise men stopping by to ask if we’ve seen any newborn babies in these parts.”

“It just isn’t tall enough, that’s all,” she said, reaching out to pinch off a bit of pastrami and swiss cheese, which she also popped into her mouth.   “Oh!  That’s really good,” she said.

“Thank you,” I said, pleased.  “It is an old family recipe.  Would you like me to make you one?”

“No, thank you,” she said, reaching out to pinch off a bit more of it.  “I’m not hungry.”

“It’s no trouble,” I said.  “Everything is still out.”

“No.  Honestly.  I’m not hungry.”  She picked up my sandwich and took a healthy bite of it.  She set it back down on the plate.

“Well, would you mind terribly if I made myself another one?” I asked.

She shook her head, still chewing.  “No.  No.  Go right ahead.  You should eat something.”

I began making another sandwich as I watched my first one disappearing before my very eyes in elf-sized bites.  It’s a good thing she wasn’t hungry.

“Anyway,” she said, “Call McShandy as soon as you’re done making yourself another sandwich and tell him we would like a 90-foot tree.

I nearly dropped the knife I was using to spread the imported mustard (Gruberhoffer’s Unglaublich Gelber Senf).

“Ninety feet?” I gasped.  “I don’t think we live in an area zoned for lighthouses.”

“Ninety feet isn’t so tall,” she said casually, taking another hearty bite of what used to be my sandwich.  “Lots of things are 90 feet tall.”

“True.  King Kong springs to mind.   Godzilla.  Bingham’s Department Store downtown.  The TV broadcast tower on the edge of town.”

“Oh, you’re exaggerating,” she said with a toss of her glossy, jet-black tresses.  “Do be a dear and call McShandy’s.”

“But, Dearest,” I said.  “Why on earth do we need a 90-foot tree outside?  It might attract errant lumberjacks.  Planes will be circling our house looking for a place to land.  Ships will run aground at our neighbor’s house while trying to avoid what they think are shoals on our property.”

She sniffed, tossing her hair again.  “Well, if ships do run aground at our neighbor’s house, it serves them right.  That’s what they get for only having a 65-foot tree.”

Suddenly, all became clear.  The scales fell from my eyes.  I realized that I had gotten pulled into an arms race against my will with our neighbors, the Hawthorne- Pinckney’s.   This would require all the diplomacy I could muster to dissuade my determined little Delphinium from escalating this into all out tree warfare.  Though the winds of war were blowing, hopefully the metal boughs would not break from the carbide steel trunk.

I thought for a few minutes as I ate the second sandwich I had made in the past ten minutes.  Finally, I said, “Okay.  I will call them and tell them to extend our tree to heights never before seen in these parts.  Perhaps instead of a star at the top, McShandy can outfit it with a split-level aerie that can serve as a home for lost eagles.

“Thank you, Sweetheart!” she said, smiling at me.  Her beautiful smile lit up the kitchen far more radiantly than the recessed lighting from Cavendish’s Lighting Emporium was able to do, even with fresh bulbs.  I nearly weakened in my resolve, for her smile has always had the power to melt my heart and make my knees feel like a meniscus failure is imminent.  But I must be strong.

“My pleasure,” I said.  And then, after pausing a moment, added, “It’s a shame, though.”

“What’s a shame?” she asked, finishing off the last of her sandwich and gazing at mine longingly.

“Oh, just that such a large tree is going to block the view of the house and all the beautiful yard decorations you spent so much time designing and laying out.  All those people who always drive down our lane every Christmas to see all the decorations will think that all we put up this year is metallic redwood tree.”

She pondered this in silence for a moment, biting her bottom lip.

“Yes,” she said at last.   “I suppose you’re right.  It kind of goes against the Christmas spirit to deprive people of a simple joy like looking at Christmas lights and decorations.”

“Yes, my pretty Poinsettia.  You are absolutely right as usual.”

“And your three new friends did such an excellent job of decorating the yard exactly the way I wanted it.”

“They did indeed execute your vision of a perfectly decorated yard quite well.”

She looked at me a moment, her eyes soft with seasonal goodwill.   Then she sighed, and said she must get back to her other Christmas preparations.  She picked up the remaining half of my second sandwich, turned, and walked out of the kitchen with a happy-go-lucky bob in her step.

Crisis averted.

 


Link to Episode 5
Copyright ©2017 by Biff Sock Pow

The Alistair and Alexis Christmas Special, Episode 3

Vintage Christmas - Sleigh man & woman 3a

Link to Episode 2

“Welcome to Mount Yuletide, my beautiful little Holly Berry,” I said to Alexis as she emerged from the front door of our house.  I gestured proudly to the impressive buttes and knolls of boxed and binned Christmas ornamentation that we had just unloaded out of the truck.  This alpine range of holiday jubilance had been assembled under the house’s portico to protect it from the intermittent flakes of snow that were beginning to drift down lazily from the gray sky.

Alexis closed the door behind her and finished putting on her coat by tying the belt around her waist with a yank.  She surveyed the mountainous range of bins and boxes critically.  Knowing her ways as I do, I knew she was going through her mental bill of lading to see if I’d forgotten anything.

“Did you get it all?” she asked.

“I won’t know that for sure until you tell me,” I said, “But if we would have gotten anything more than we did, it would only have been by breaking into adjacent bays and making away with other people’s belongings.”

“That’s ludicrous,” she said.

“That’s larceny,” I corrected gently.

“Where is the sleigh?” she asked suddenly.

“Fear not, my Observant Orchid.  James and his three elves have taken the truck to go back and get it.  It wouldn’t fit after we’d loaded the truck with everything else.”

“Wasn’t the truck big enough?”

“There was no room in the end,” I said, shaking my head.  “In hindsight, perhaps we should have loaded the sleigh first, but we thought it would be better to wrangle the herd of reindeer in first.  You know what reindeer are like.  One must contend with recalcitrant antlers.  And of course, one must avoid stacking them in a way that would appear untoward to a casual observer.  Given all that, it turns out that reindeer take up a surprising amount of space.”

“Wait … did you just say ‘three elves’?” she said, rewinding the conversation to the point just before the riveting reindeer soliloquy.

“I did indeed.  Even if your faith in James and I were larger than a mustard seed, we could not have moved these mountains of Christmas trimmings, frills, and furbelows by ourselves.  Not before about mid-January anyway.  Fortunately, it just so happens that James knows a couple of chaps who are experts in moving things from Point A to Point B.”

“Are they movers?” she asked, looking dubious.

“Movers and shakers,” I said, “who happen to be in the moving and shaking business.  To wit, they are stevedores.  Or, as they are more commonly called, airport baggage handlers.”

Alexis gasped and cast a worried look at the peaks and crags, the crowns and crests, and summits and pinnacles of Mount St. Nicholas as if she feared she would see nothing but broken shards of glass ornaments, snowmen split into their constituent flakes, disheveled elves, and de-antlered reindeer.  However, there was no scree to be seen here at the bottom of the slopes of Mount Kringle.

“Baggage handlers?” she asked, aghast.  “Do you not remember what baggage handlers did to our matched set of fuchsia Bon Viveur luggage on our trip to Monaco?”

“As I recall, they loaded it on and off the plane, though I did not witness the feat in person.”

“They absolutely destroyed it.  It was completely ruined.  All of it.”

“Did they?” I asked, a little surprised.  “I’m afraid I don’t recall that, my Excitable Heliotrope.  I thought it arrived back home much like we did; a little travel weary, but otherwise intact.”

“They put those hideous ‘opened for inspection’ stickers on them that left that sticky residue on them.”

I gasped, horrified.  “Not sticky residue!”  I nearly ran around in a circle holding my head in my hands, but thought better of it.

“And they scratched the handle on my makeup case.”

“I suppose that is why we have never returned to Monaco,” I mused.  “One simply can’t deplane in Monaco with shoddy luggage, even if it is a matched set of fuchsia Bon Viveur luggage.”

“My point is,” she said, her voice indicating that she was growing weary of trying to get her point across to me, “Is that airport baggage handlers have a reputation for … well … mishandling baggage.”

“It’s a wonder they’re not called baggage mishandlers,” I said, stroking my chin thoughtfully.

“Did they horribly mishandle my precious ornaments?” she asked, running her hand maternally over one of the sealed bins (marked “Christmas Stuff”).  “Some of them,” she continued, “are heirlooms and have been in our families for ages.”

“No doubt some of them came over on the Mayflower,” I said.   “And heaven only knows how the baggage handlers on Plymouth Rock mishandled them.”

“You’re being silly,” she said, obviously not in the mood for merriment.  “Tell me, how horribly did they treat our Christmas decorations?  I can’t bring myself to open any of the bins too look.  I’m too afraid of what I will see!”  I feared for a moment she would drape herself over a stack of bins dramatically like a femme fatale in a silent movie while a placard popped up momentarily reading “sobbing inconsolably” to doleful organ music.  However, she refrained admirably and merely looked up at me pleadingly.  I thought for a moment that there was a glint of a tear in the corner of her eye, but it was no doubt a reflection of the portico light on the edge of her contact lens.

“Fear not, my Agitated Amaryllis,” I said in a soothing voice.  “They were as gentle and as scrupulous as if they were moving sleeping babes.  I witnessed the loading myself.  It was a thing of beauty.  It nearly brought a tear to my eye.”  I decided not to tell her that they loaded the truck with all of the energy and theatrics of circus clowns juggling glassware.  My confidence in the safety of her prized ornaments lay in the fact that she packs them as if she were going to mail them to Jupiter by way of the asteroid belt.

“I just can’t believe you let airport baggage handlers toss around our delicate Christmas ornaments like chaff.”

“Does one toss chaff?” I asked dubiously.

“You know what I meant,” she said, doing that cute little smirk of hers that she uses when she is annoyed with my word play.

“I assume you meant that you can’t believe I let them thresh around our delicate Christmas goods like chaff.”

“Keep it up and there will definitely be a threshing.”

“I was only chaffing, my pretty little cornflower.”  I bent a little at the waist and kissed her on the top of her head.

“Well, we might as well get started sorting out these things so we can get busy decorating.”

I stared at the stacks of bins and boxes with something akin to despair.  “But it will take months to open up these various vessels to see what’s inside them.  We might still be out here next spring separating the this’s from the that’s.”

“Oh, it’ll be easy,” she said blithely.

I was dubious.  “I don’t see how it could possibly be easy since all of the boxes are labeled identically with the less than helpful ‘Christmas Stuff’.”

“Don’t be silly,” she said, with a lighthearted laugh.  “Did you forget that I used to work summers at Daddy’s toy factory helping with the inventory?”

“You never fail to surprise me, my clever little Camellia!  I did not know that about you.”   I pondered for a moment about whether the tidbit of information she just offered me had anything to do with the time her father’s business had nearly gone under, but I decided that was just the sort of thought one keeps to one’s self.

“Well, I did,” she said, seeming a little irked at my surprise.  “And I was quite good at it.  Daddy said so himself.  He said he wasn’t sure how he ever managed without my help.”

“And was it there that you learned the efficacy of labeling all boxes with the same label?”

“They’re not all labeled the same,” she said, her irkiness growing a little.  “See this little blue  dot here?”  She pointed to the upper right corner of the box, just above the “s” in Christmas.

I leaned in for a closer look.  And then leaned in a little bit more.  If ever there was a time that a monocle would have come in handy, this was it.  But through my creative use of squinting, and by following her diminutive and porcelain finger, I was able to discern a tiny blue dot on the box.

“Yes, I see it now,” I said as I straightened back up and blinked to try and restore my depth perception.

“Each box has a colored dot on it to indicate where it is to go.  For instance, blue means it contains outside decorations.”

“Brilliant!” I said.  “Your scheme is spot on.”

“Ha ha,” she said, feigning a laugh at my joke, but then giggling at how effectively she feigned amusement at my ineffective comment.

“So, what do the other colors mean?” I asked.

“I will have to run back inside and get my color-coded chart,” she said, obviously excited at the prospect of getting to use her color-coded chart for something other than making my eyes glaze over.  She left, looking as excited and giddy as I’d ever seen her look about nearly anything.

While she was gone, James pulled back up with the truck and after it had come to a stop, he, Ivan, Boss, and Crusher disembarked.  Once again, I was impressed by the size and musculature of these three amigos.   I am not a small man, but I looked like a bantamweight next to them.  I was afraid to stand next to Crusher for fear someone would mistake me for Curious George and he that Man In the Yellow Hat.

“We retrieved the sleigh, Sir,” said James coolly as if he were announcing he had picked up a pizza on the way home.

“Splendid,” I said, and nearly clapped him on the back, but James is not the sort one claps on the back.  So, instead, I just said, “James, you sleigh me!”

“Where shall we put it, Sir?” he asked, obviously not hearing my little bon mot.

I glanced over my shoulder at the front door of the house to make sure my lovely, retiring better half had not returned yet.

“James,” I said gravely.  “You must unload the sleigh quickly and then save yourself and your men.   Alexis has gone to retrieve one of her many color-coded charts.”

I have never seen James actually jump like a jittery chihuahua that was the victim of a Jack-in-the-box going off right in front of him, but I am pretty sure he blanched beneath his tawny complexion and may have aged a year or two before my eyes.  However, years of chauffeuring me through the snarled and dangerous traffic of our fair city has given him a certain battle-hardened taciturnity.  He drew himself up a bit as if he were about to announce that he was volunteering to fly the suicide mission far behind enemy lines.   He glanced over to observe that his three compadres had unloaded the life-sized sleigh.

“Mr. Callington,” he said, and though I may be mistaken, I believe his voice may have wavered a bit.  “I think perhaps you should go with Ivan to return the truck.  The others and I will stay here and …. and … deal with Mrs. Callington’s color-coded chart.”  He swallowed hard.

I gripped his arm with my hand, squeezing it briefly in a wordless show of manly gratitude.  What else could I do?  There were no words.  He was offering to throw himself on a color-coded grenade for me.  But could I do that to him?  Could I do that to the man who has served me faithfully these past few years, nearly from the moment I lost my license in that unfortunate misunderstanding with the Federales?  There was only one thing to say.

“Are the keys in the truck?” I asked.

“Yes, Sir,” he said somberly.

“You’re a good man, James.”

“You should go, Sir.”  Then he turned slightly.  “Ivan!  Take Mr. Callington to return the truck.”

I could see James in the large side-view mirror of the truck as Ivan and I drove hastily down the winding drive to the front gate.  I saw my passionate little Poppy, color-coded chart in hand, addressing James, who pointed towards the truck and said something to her, no doubt in a placating voice.

“You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din,” I muttered as we cleared the gate and turned onto the quiet lane that led into town.

“Thank you, Mr. Callington,” said Ivan.  “But I’m just an ordinary Joe trying to get by.”

“Aren’t we all?” I asked philosophically.  “Aren’t we all.”


Link to Episode 4
Copyright ©2017 by Biff Sock Pow

The Alistair and Alexis Christmas Special, Episode 2

Vintage Christmas - 1939 International Harvester heavy-duty trucks

Link to Episode 1

“I say, James,” I said to James as he navigated the behemoth rental truck through mid-day traffic on the way to the storage facility where the Callington family Christmas goods and chattels were eagerly awaiting their annual deployment in, on, and around maison de Callington.  “What are your views on women?”

He kept his eyes glued to the road like the true professional he is, but I could tell he had heard me and was pondering the question.  I rarely have known James to offer an unconsidered opinion.  He always ponders things before speaking about them.  There are many politicians that could take a page from his playbook.  As a chauffeur, he has no peer.  As a fine, decent chap, he also has no peer.  One could say with confidence that he is peerless.

“I would have to say that, on the whole, I’m all for them, Sir,” he said after some few moments of pondering.  He said this while expertly maneuvering the truck to avoid an unfortunate incident with a compact car driven by an unalert driver.

“Yes.  Quite,” I nodded, not entirely satisfied with his answer.  I felt it to be overly diplomatic and noncommittal.  But I let a few moments of silence slide by before my follow-up question.  “Is there a Mrs. James?” I asked, not wanting to appear overly inquisitive.

“Yes, Sir,” he said.  “Married five years now.  You were at our wedding.”

“Ah yes,” I said, feigning remembrance.  “So I was.  A wonderful ceremony.  And Mrs. James is a fine woman.”

“Belinda.”

“Yes, Belinda.”  I tried to make a mental note to remember her name, but I knew my attempts to store her name into my memory banks was akin to writing it on a piece of paper and throwing out the window of the truck.  My brain simply was not designed to remember things.  “You got yourself a fine woman there, James.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

“No, what I meant by my original question re: women is … do you ever find them a trifle … well … shall I say … do you ever find their demeanor to be … shall I say, peremptory?”

“I’m not sure I follow you, Sir.”

I paused why he navigated a particularly sharp turn around a Mercedes that was double parked in front of a haberdashery.

“Let me come at it a different way,” I said.  “You have met my enchanting little magnolia blossom.”

“If you mean Mrs. Callington, then yes, Sir, I have met her.”

“Yes.  Quite.  Do you find her methods to be, shall I say, magisterial?”

“Mrs. Callington is a very confident woman,” said James, forever the diplomat.

“And by confident, you mean …”

“Here we are,” said James suddenly as he pulled the truck just as suddenly into the parking lot of the Ewe Store It storage facility, nearly causing me to slide off of my seat.

“There’s certainly no denying it,” I said, observing a 18-foot-tall sign bearing a cartoon sheep standing on its hind legs giving us the thumbs up signal while winking conspicuously under the neon words “Ewe Store It”.  The enterprising owner of Ewe Store It had obviously had the sign decorated with garland and Christmas lights to celebrate the season.   They had somehow even managed to affix large reindeer antlers to the cartoon sheep’s head.  Nothing says Christmas like an anthropomorphized sheep wearing reindeer antlers and twinkling Christmas lights.  It is probably exactly the sort of sheep one would have found standing around the manger (on two feet, no less), and giving a thumb’s up to the gift of gold.  It might have been less enthusiastic about the frankincense and myrrh as they were nowhere near gold on the periodic table.  It was no doubt one sharp sheep with a head for commerce even back then in those trying times.

James pulled up to the security gate, held out the key fob, which magically opened up the gate and he drove on through.

“Which bay are we looking for, James?” I asked, still a little fascinated by how a gate could be opened simply by waving a key fob at it.  What wondrous times we live in!

“Someone wrote 232425 on the key fob in Sharpie,” he said, driving slowly while scanning the numbers on the garage doors of the bays.

“Well, that can’t be right,” I said.  “I am notoriously bad with numbers, but all of these bays have numbers on them less than 100.”

“Yes, sir.  Perhaps there is some sort of mix up.”

“It would seem so.  Shall I call my delightful little jasmine blossom and ask her what gives?”

But at that moment James stopped the truck and appeared to be scrutinizing the numbers on one of the bays.  “No, Sir,” he said, looking a little distracted.  “I think we are in the right place.”

“But we are only at Bay 23.  By my reckoning, we are about 200,000 bays away from where we need to be.”

“No, Sir.  Now that I am looking at the number on the fob, I believe it is actually saying bays 23 comma 24 comma 25.”

I may have blanched a little.  “Do you mean to tell me that we are here to pick up three garage-fulls of Christmas trappings, appointments, bric-a-brac, bibelots, baubles, paraphernalia, chattels, and appurtenances?”

“It would seem so, Sir.”  He shut off the engine and we both climbed down out of the truck and into the frigid late-November air.  I gathered my Harris tweed jacket a little tighter around me and jammed my hands into the pockets, stubbing my finger against that accursed Meerschaum pipe.

“Did we bring a big enough truck?” I asked as he began undoing the lock of bay #23.

“We got their largest truck, Sir; the thirty-footer.”  He lifted the overhead door to reveal a wall of cardboard boxes all labeled “Christmas Stuff” in a delicate, feminine hand that I would recognize anywhere.  It is the same flowing handwriting used on one of the signatures at the bottom of the marriage license.

“Please tell me that this bay is only three feet deep and that these boxes are all that there are,” I said.

James was peering between a slight gap between two of the columns of boxes that completely filled the entry to the bay.

“Well, let me put it this way, Sir,” he said as he stopped peering between the boxes and turned to me, looking very much like Herbert Morrison about to report to me on the landing of a certain dirigible in New Jersey.  “If we had gotten the smallest truck at the rental place…” he began.

“Yes?” I asked, momentarily hopeful.

“We could have parked it inside of this bay.  With room to spare.”

My crest fell noticeably.  “That is exactly the sort of news I could have done without, James.  Are the other two bays equally as capacious?”

Rather than answer me directly, he walked to and unlocked bay #24.  He lifted the door to reveal yet another wall of boxes, bins, totes, and cartons, likewise usefully marked “Christmas Stuff”.

“And what if I select what’s behind Door #3?” I asked.

Up went the door.  This time, thankfully, there was no wall of boxes.  No, in this bay were a collection of things that would not fit easily inside boxes.  There were life-sized reindeer and Santas and elves and sleighs and giant candy canes and signs to the North Pole.

I staggered and but for grabbing onto the rental truck (which was beginning to look far too small for this massive collection of holiday cheer), I might have fallen.

“Are you okay, Sir?” asked James, always keenly astute as to the mental state of his employer.

“I think we’re going to need a bigger truck,” I said.

“Oh, I think we can make it work,” he said, always the optimist.

“Perhaps,” I said, “If we had half a dozen Teamsters to give us a hand.  I’m as hale and hearty as the next man, but I’m not sure you and I are up to the task of loading six or eight metric tons of Christmas cheer into the back of this truck.   We are but mere mortals after all.  Even Atlas himself might tremble at the thought of moving this lot, even assuming he could set down the heavens gently enough to keep from breaking them.”

James, ever resourceful, pulled out his phone and began dialing.  “I’ll call up 2 or 3 of my buddies,” he said.  “We’ll have this stuff loaded in no time.”

My outlook brightened considerably.  “Tell them remuneration will be swift and sure.  I’ll grease their palms as liberally as if they were about to enter a taffy pulling contest.”

“They’ll be glad to do it for nothing,” he said as he listened to the dialing.

“I wouldn’t think of letting them do it for nothing,” I said, aghast.   “Even the chaps who put together the Great Pyramids were paid for their efforts.  And that was child’s play compared to this!”

Our conversation was interrupted momentarily as James spoke succinctly but jocularly with a chap apparently named “Boss”.   Boss was instructed to round up “Ivan” and “Crusher” and to find their way to Ewe Store It poste haste.  He did not mention money to them, but said there would be beer after a job well done.  Then he hung up and grinned at me.

“They’ll be here before we could get the first reindeer put on the truck.”

“Well, I will be eternally grateful to them.”

“Well,” said James with just the merest glint of a twinkle in his eye, “We wouldn’t want Mrs. Callington to be upset, would we, Sir?”


Link to Episode 3

Copyright ©2017 by Biff Sock Pow

 

The Alistair and Alexis Christmas Special, Episode 1

vintage-christmas-cards 1

I was in my den, recumbent upon my dear old recliner and with my feet up on the coffee table (in direct defiance of house rules).  A fire crackled in the fireplace.  Soft music tinkled on the hi-fi.  In short, I was the very picture of serenity and relaxation.  And why not?   I felt I deserved a little quiet time to be alone with my thoughts (such as they were) and to recover from the lunacy of the past week.  Chaos had finally packed its bags and vacated the premises (and good riddance!).

I sighed happily.  What better place for a man (this man specifically) to escape from the trials and tribulations of the world than into my den, my man cave, my sanctum sanctorum?  In this room I am I master and commander.  I am lord of this modest realm; laird of this estate.

My absolute monarchy was suddenly challenged by the abrupt appearance of my dearest Alexis, who burst into my den like a squall line on its way to wreak havoc on a small island paradise somewhere.

I had just struck a match and was waiting for the sulfurous flare to die down a bit before holding it to the meerschaum bowl of my pipe in order to give the Cavendish cut of Kentucky Burley tobacco the same sort of benevolent glow that I had been feeling myself up until that moment.  However, the sudden and energetic appearance of my delicate little begonia so startled me, that I dropped the lit match I’d been holding and so had to jump up suddenly and do a bit of a jitterbug to find the flaming little bugger before my Harris tweed jacket went up in flames with me in it.  In the process, the pipe slipped from my mouth and showered fine Cavendish-cut Kentucky Burley tobacco all over me, my recliner, and the carpet.  If I’d had a faithful old cocker spaniel asleep on the floor beside me, he’d have been covered in tobacco as well.  So, it was just as well that I didn’t have a cocker spaniel.

“What gives, my little scarlet primrose?” I asked as I bent to pick up the pipe from the thick carpet that had cushioned its fall.  “Though you always inflame my passions, this time you very nearly took the house along with them.”

She stared at me a moment with a disapproving glower as I retrieved the smoldering match (now mercifully extinguished) and brushed the tobacco from my jacket, which, at the moment, was not a smoking jacket, but which was merely a jacket.

“What exactly were you doing?” she asked pointedly.  Though her stature is decidedly elfin, her piercing eyes and tapping foot could make her seem as formidable as an Amazonian warrior princess.

“I had been throwing darts,” I said in what I hoped was a casual tone, “but of course that isn’t much fun without an opponent.”

“And after that?”

“I was sitting and enjoying a bit of music.”

“And that?” she asked, indicating with the merest inclination of her head the meerschaum pipe I held in my hand.

I looked at the pipe in my hand.  “This?  This belonged to my grandfather (rest his soul) and I inherited it somehow through the mysteries of probate.”

“What were you doing with it just now?”

I could tell my little flower was somewhat perturbed and I began to feel a little warm, though not as warm as I would have been if the tweed sports coat I was wearing had gone up in flames a minute before.

“Well, um, I was admiring it.  The carving is exquisite.”  I held it up for her to see better.

“It’s hideous,” she said.  “That is the ugliest woman I ever saw.”

“That’s no woman. That is Dionysus, who is, by all accounts, the god of wine.”

“And it’s filthy.  I can’t believe you had that in your mouth.”

“That is patina, my Petunia.  Though snowy white in 1823 when it was first carved, generations of avid smokers have given it a … well … a smoky finish.”

“You, too, will have a smoky finish if I catch you lighting up that or any other thing in the house.  You know I could never get rid of that smell.”

“Well, I … “

“And you know I have allergies.”

“Yes, but only to the children.”

“And to smoke as well,” she said, a trifle defensively.  “Daddy smoked like a fiend.  It’s a wonder I survived to adolescence.”

“And not merely survived,” I said, thinking a bit of the old oil would soothe the savage breast.  “But emerged the clear victor.  A fairer lily has never—”

“And,” she said, cutting me off before I could get the old oil flowing, “You know how smoking upsets me after what it did to Daddy.”

I cast her a quizzical look.  “What did it do the dear old fellow?”

“It very nearly killed him!”

“Well, I hardly think that almost choking on a bone from a smoked salmon …”

“Anyway, I didn’t come in here to talk to you about the fact that you are never to smoke in this house again.”

“Oh … um … okay.”

“Do you realize what today is?”

Only the fact that I was suddenly frozen in terror kept me from running around the room in a panic.  What important date had I forgotten?  Our anniversary?  No, that was in June.  Her birthday?  No, that was … um…. on over in the summertime, I think.  The children’s birthdays?  No, I distinctly remember just recently having a pool party for one of them (the boy, I think) and some sort of sleepover glamor party for the other one (the girl, most likely).  I was completely stymied.  What in the world had I forgotten that would now come back to haunt me in a most Dickensian way?  There was only one thing to do.  I would have to dissemble like I have never dissembled before.

“I believe it is Friday, my Delightful Dahlia.”

She pursed her lips, and even though it makes her look as cute as the dickens when she does that, it indicated that I had guessed wrong.

“Well, that is better than one of your usual guesses,” she said.  “The last time I asked you what day it was, you guessed the Feast Day of Ecgberht of Ripon.”

“Well, I panicked.”

“Yes, I saw the same look of panic in your eye just now.  But I’ll end your suffering and tell you that today is the very first day of the Christmas season.  It is very nearly upon us.”

“Good heavens,” I gasped.  “It seems like just yesterday it was Thanksgiving.”

“That was just yesterday,” she said patiently.

“That would explain all those people in our house.”

“You mean our friends and relatives?”

“Some of them, yes.  Some of them I’m not so sure about.  I think there were more than a few interlopers.”

“Well,” she said, “That tends to happen when there is an open bar.  But that’s not important right now.  What’s important is that there is less than a month before Christmas and there are a million things we need to do.”

I could tell by the look in her eye that when she said things we need to do, she very likely meant things that I would be doing under her direct supervision.

“Such as?” I asked with a growing sense of trepidation.

“Well,” she said as she began to tick things off on her fingers.  “We have to get a tree.  We need to get all of the decorations out of storage.  We need to come up with a Christmas card list, have Christmas cards printed and then we need to sign them and mail them.  We need to decorate the tree and the house and the grounds.  We need to plan the Christmas parties –”

“Parties?” I asked, my ears suddenly perking up.  “As in more than one?”

“Yes, Darling.  We can’t just have one party.”  Her tone of voice implied that even a space alien who had landed on earth yesterday would have known that.

“Why not?”

“Well, there are different types of parties.  For different groups of people.”

“You mean like the Montagues and Capulets?”

“Now, Darling,” she said placatingly.  “You know it never ends well when my family and yours are together for more than an hour or two.”

“Yes,” I nodded with a sigh.  “I remember quite well our wedding.  It was very nearly the first time in recorded history that the bride and groom eloped in the middle of the ceremony.”

“Oh, it wasn’t as bad as all that.”

“Yes, well … you’re right in that there was no actual swordplay.  And they did all came together when your father choked on that fishbone.”

“Be all that as it may,” she said, which is a phrase that, roughly translated means Put a sock in it and listen to what I’m about to tell you, “We have a million things to plan out and do before the 25th rolls around.”

“I am all agog, my Beautiful Begonia.”

“I have a complete list of them downstairs.  I’ve also made a color-coded chart of who is doing what and when.”

I groaned inwardly.  Her color-coded charts were enough to give Einstein a headache.  She was the only one who could translate them and their mere existence meant that lots of innocent bystanders (such as myself) would soon be caught up in missions so complex and so daring that hardened special operations forces would run for the hills to avoid them.  But it was too late for me.  I was already caught up in her web of color-coded charts, to-do lists, and schedules.  There was nothing for me to do but accept my fate.  Half a league, half a league, half a league onward.  Cannon to the right, etc etc.  You get the picture.  Mine is not to reason why.

“So, what is my first task?” I asked.  I almost saluted and clicked my heels, but thought better of it.

“Your first task is to find somewhere out of sight to store that unsightly pipe,” she said, casting yet another jaundiced eye at dear old Grand Pa-Pa’s prized pipe.  I tucked it quickly into an inner pocket of my sports coat.

“And secondly?”

“Secondly, go get all of the Christmas things out of storage.”

I saluted before I could stop myself, but she did not seem to take any offence.  “You can count on me, my Darling Daffodil!  I will execute my duties faithfully, or die trying.”

“Well,” she said, standing on her tiptoes to kiss me on the cheek.  “I’d rather you didn’t die.  It would cast a pall over Christmas.”

“And it might upset the children,” I added.

“It might at that,” she agreed.

“Well, we mustn’t do that.  I’ll just be off to get the Christmas things, then.”

“Wonderful!” she said, enthusiastically.

“But … um …”

“Yes?” she asked.

“Just where in the dickens did we leave them?  The attic, maybe?”

She shook her head.  “They’re in the storage building on West 23rd.  I’ll give you the key and the directions.  Take James with you.  He can drive the truck.”

“We have a truck?”

“No, Silly.  You’re going to go rent a truck and then go pick up all the stuff.”

I was suddenly much more interested in the mission.  “A truck?”

“Yes, Dear,” she said indulgently.  “You get to ride in a truck.”

“I’d rather drive in it.”

“But you don’t have a license.  Which is why I said to take James.”

“Well, it’s no good just riding in a truck.  One must drive it to get the full effect.”  I wasn’t sure why my chauffeur should have all the fun of driving a truck.

“The full effect for you,” she said, “Would be a ticket and a substantial fine and having to wait even longer to get your license reinstated.”

“I suppose you’re right,” I said, crestfallen.

Christmas was already off to a disappointing start.


Link to Episode 2

Copyright ©2017 by Biff Sock Pow

 

What’d I Tell Ya?

snowman-edited-3

As if to prove my blog post yesterday, the meteorologists here in Dallas are predicting that we may get a light dusting of snow tonight.  So we’ve gone from 80-something degrees and muggy on Monday, to 54 degrees, overcast, and windy today, to a chance of light snow tonight.  True, it may only be one angstrom deep, but it still counts.

At least there’s no chance we’re get bored with our weather!

 

T’is the Season — To Crank Up the A/C

christmas-card-armadillo-WEB 01

It is Christmastime here in Texas, and do you know what that means?

No?  Neither do us Texans.  December is always a grab-bag of random weather events this time of year.

It might rain so much we feel like we should build an ark and start gathering up our pets … or it might be so dry that people are decorating tumbleweeds instead of Christmas trees.

It might be so cold that it begins to seem plausible that the woolly mammoth may make a comeback and sweep across the plains … or it might be so warm the Christmas carolers wear shorts and tank-tops and flip flops.

We might have a white Christmas as snow drifts down from the heavens … or we might have a brown Christmas as dust drifts in from west Texas and recreates the dust bowl.

In short, we never know just what the hell kind of weather we’re going to have around here in December.  At the moment it is sunny and 80F (27C) and very humid.  But tomorrow the high is only suppose to be 55F (13C) with a slight chance of rain.  And by Christmas?  Who knows?  Rain?  Snow?  Fog?  Gloom of night?  Frogs?  Locusts?

Anyway, it got me to thinking what Christmas carols might have been written if they had originated here in Texas.  Below are some I thought of.  They’re very lame, I admit!

Can you think of any more?  Leave them in the comments if you do!

What Christmas?  (White Christmas)

It’s Beginning To Look a Lot Like Cryostasis  (It’s Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas)

I’ll Have a Blue (Belle) Christmas    (I’ll Have a Blue Christmas — Blue Bell is a local and popular brand of ice cream)

Rudy, the White Toothed Meteorologist  (Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer)

Here Come Sandy Clouds  (Here Comes Santa Claus)

The Little Drover Boy  (The Little Drummer Boy)

Francis, the Lawman  (Frosty the Snowman — Francis Hamer was the Texas Ranger involved in killing Bonnie and Clyde)

Barrel of the Ales  (Carol of the Bells)

O Hail-y Night  (O Holy Night)

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Photos From Alabama

Below are some of the pictures I took during my Thanksgiving trip to Alabama.  They’re not exactly Thanksgiving themed.  It just happened to be Thanksgiving when I took them.


 

The Mississippi River as seen from the bridge crossing from Louisiana into Vicksburg, Mississippi.  This photo was taken at about 60 miles per hour and it was quite a trick to not get a bridge strut in the picture.  Out of a dozen pictures, this was the only one without a strut in it.  Sadly, there were no river barges going by at the time.

IMG_0933aImage © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

 

I believe this flower is a camellia.  It was on a tree in my mom’s yard that was ablaze with them.  It doesn’t seem very fall-like, does it?  The daytime temperatures were quite pleasant (about 65 F or 19 C), though they would get frosty at night.

IMG_0941aImage © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

 

The camellia tree was quite literally buzzing with activity from bees and wasps and flies and birds.  I caught this little fellow going to town and taking advantage of the warm weather to gather up what pollen she might while she could.

IMG_0949aImage © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

 

Here’s a fly trying to blend in on a camellia bush leaf.  The sunlight caught his colors quite amazingly, but they didn’t really come out in the photo.

IMG_0944aImage © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

 

A table for two.  The weather was perfect for a little tea on the south lawn.

IMG_0962a.jpgImage © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

 

An old nail in an even older cedar tree.  There’s no telling why this nail is here.  It might have held up a sign or a bird feeder or a flower pot.  Who knows?  But the nail survives long after whatever it held up has perished.

IMG_0970aImage © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

 

A granddaddy long-legs who thinks he’s hidden in this nook in the fence.  The best thing about granddaddy long-legs is that they are completely harmless.  You can pick them up and hold them without fear.  I suspect it annoys the spider quite a bit, though.   These were the favorite things for boys to scare girls with in the first grade.

IMG_0972aImage © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

 

This is an okra bloom on an okra plant that was flourishing in a fallow field.  Everything else on the plant had been stripped bare by deer.  I’m not sure why they spared this bloom and the baby okra below it, but it made for a nice picture.  I have been eating fried okra my entire life, but I had no idea it had such a pretty bloom.

IMG_0994aImage © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

 

I passed this old country church while driving down a little road in the middle of nowhere.  I thought it looked quite pretty, so I stopped and took a picture of it.  The colors look a little washed out in spite of my efforts to bring them out through post-processing of the picture.  According to the historical marker in front of the church, it is over a hundred and seventy years old and pre-dates the Civil War by several decades.  I’m glad it survived the War and the subsequent reconstruction.

IMG_1007aImage © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

Poor Biff’s Almanac: Post-Thanksgiving Edition

Poor Biff's Almanac Graphic (Colored) #1 with Turkey

I’m not sure how the past week went by so quickly.  Perhaps I slipped into some sort of turkey-induced coma and I’m just now waking up.  I have vague recollections of:

  • putting nearly 1500 miles on the odometer of my car
  • mingling with multitudes of people who, in spite of my doubts, I have come to understand are my relatives
  • consuming more calories per day than a rugby team
  • going to bed at 8 PM simply because there was nothing else to do
  • drinking coffee so strong that I swear I developed a mild case of X-Ray vision after drinking a cup of it.

Still, even with all that, it is hard to believe that time could pass so quickly in rural Alabama.  Normally time there runs about as slow as molasses in January.  And yet, here I am, back in Dallas and back in the same rut I was in before I left.

As I predicted in my previous post, I did indeed get to enjoy some cornbread dressing and giblet gravy.  In fact, I had it two days in a row.  That may have clogged my one remaining artery, so if I start babbling incoherently (more than usual, anyway), just let me know.  In fact, all the food was absolutely wonderful.

Well, okay; I lied.  When people bring covered dishes, there are invariably those dishes that fail to meet expectations.  For instance, when I was going through the line I saw a pan of green beans that had delicious-looking slices of bacon on top of them.  I was excited.  I love green beans and I love bacon, so obviously this was a dish that I would enjoy immensely.  What can go wrong with green beans cooked with bacon?  Plenty, apparently.  The beans were sweet.  SWEET!  Who puts sugar in green beans?  I was incensed.  I ate them, of course, because in my family, wasting food is the eighth deadly sin.  In fact, based on some punishments I received as a child, I think it may be number one on the list (with a bullet).  I came to believe that my relatives would rather me regularly practice the other 7 deadly sins rather than scrape my uneaten oatmeal into the trash.  To this day I cry out in horror when a french fry slips from my fingers and drops between the seat and the console in my car, never to be seen again.  “Oh!” I cry to the heavens while rending my clothing, “If only I were envious or lustful at this moment rather than the wastrel that I obviously am!

Moving on ….

However, there were things that made up for the sweet green beans.  For instance, someone brought a sweet potato casserole with a sweet glaze containing fresh-hulled pecans.  Sweet potato casserole is always a fan favorite, but this one was so heavenly that I thought a riot might break out when it was announced it had all been consumed.  Later it was discovered that someone had licked the dish so clean that the blue cornflower pattern on the CorningWare™ had disappeared.  The culprit was never caught.  (Helpful Hint:  Ginger ale can remove ink stains from the tongue.)

I had my annual slice of pecan pie.  I love the taste of pecan pie, but each slice contains enough calories to feed a small country, so I limit myself to one per year.  I do love pecans, though.  I nearly succumbed to my addiction and bought a bag of in-shell pecans at a country store, but the $38.50 price tag caused me to stagger and fall into a stack of bags of Jim Dandy grits.  I consoled myself with a two dollar bag of grits.  And an RC Cola.  And a Moon Pie.

Well, that is about all of the stream-of-consciousness recollections I can conjure up of the past week.  If I think of more stuff I’ll write some addenda.  But for now I’m going to go do a couple of sit-ups and try to start unclogging my arteries for next year.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

 

 

Poor Biff’s Almanac – Pre-Thanksgiving Edition

Poor Biff's Almanac Graphic (Colored) #1 with Turkey

The week of Thanksgiving is a good time to pause and reflect.  Such introspection helps us realize certain things.

For example, on the Monday before Thanksgiving, it is easy to realize who has used their vacation days judiciously throughout the year and who hasn’t.  The office today was populated solely by schmoes like me who had used up most of their vacation days before today.  On the plus side, it was very quiet, making it much easier to take a nap without being disturbed.  On the minus side, there wasn’t enough ambient noise in the office to wake me up in time to go to lunch.

The quietude today enabled me to reflect on the true meaning of Thanksgiving.  The true meaning of Thanksgiving, for those of you who didn’t know, is to be the official start of the Christmas  shopping season.  If you go to any store on this, the Monday before Thanksgiving, looking for Thanksgiving decorations, prepare to be disappointed.  Outside of a freezer full of turkeys and precarious stacks of canned cranberry sauce and Stovetop™ Stuffing, the only evidence of Thanksgiving you are likely to see are big “countdown to black Friday” signs.  They might as well put up signs saying, “Thanksgiving Schmanksgiving!  Prepare to give us your Christmas money!”

And just for the record, Biff loves Stovetop™ Stuffing!   If I find out it’s on the menu, my eyes light up just like the kid in the commercial when he finds out his mom is making Stovetop™ Stuffing for dinner.   But where me and the Kraft corporation part ways is the whole “Stovetop™ Stuffing instead of potatoes” campaign.  I’m sorry, but if anyone tries to come between me and my potatoes, things are going to get unpleasant very quickly.  And if you want to see Biff in a quandary, make me choose between Stovetop™ Stuffing and potatoes.  You’ll see me as indecisive as the midwestern rube on the Let’s Make a Deal show dressed as a scarecrow, trying to choose between the hundred dollar bill that Monty Hall is holding and whatever’s behind the curtain that the lovely Carol Merril is standing in front of.  Vegas has potatoes as the odds-on favorite, but never discount the lure of the curtain (or  Stovetop™ Stuffing).

Where was I?

Oh yes … Thanksgiving.

Well, it’s nearly upon us.  I will be enjoying my annual Thanksgiving – slash – family reunion in Alabama again this year.  The table will be loaded to the point of collapse with fine, traditional Southern Thanksgiving foods.  One of my favorites (in spite of waxing poetic about Stovetop™ Stuffing just now) is homemade cornbread stuffing and giblet gravy.  I don’t know if you’ve ever had honest-to-goodness Southern giblet gravy, but it is so good as to make grown men cry.  I can attest to that, being a grown man.  And also having people at Thanksgiving asking me why I’m crying.   To which I retort, “You shut up!  I’m not crying.  You’re crying!”

Giblet gravy makes Biff a little emotional.

I don’t know what exactly is in giblet gravy, but I am pretty sure I don’t want to know.  Just as it makes grown men cry with sheer joy, it also makes them clutch at their chests and gurgle like a slow-draining sink while their faces turn the same shade as the canned cranberry sauce.  I am pretty sure it is about 90% liquefied turkey fat, and 10% “other” (consisting of a medium onion, diced boiled egg, a few spices, and perhaps a little more turkey fat just for good measure).   I have survived about 40 servings of cornbread dressing and giblet gravy in my life and people back home are starting to look at me in awe.   I have already beaten the over-under and I’m not sure who has 41 servings in the betting pool, but I’m definitely going in for another serving this Thanksgiving!  Wish me luck!  I’m going in!

Speaking of canned cranberry sauce (which we just were … you can scan back over the article if you don’t believe me) … just what the heck is THAT?  I was a little put off of the whole cranberry thing when, as a child of about 6, I was witness to a horrific event.  I was in the kitchen when my aunt removed the end of the cranberry can with the can opener and then shook the can over a little white serving dish.  I watched in fascination and horror as the cranberry colored cylinder slowly emerged from the can with a cringe-inducing scchhhhlllooooorrrrpp!! and plopped onto the serving dish.   It jiggled for a moment and then was still.  I may have turned a little green at the sight and so vowed then and there that I would not eat whatever that was, but would instead double up on the cornbread stuffing and giblet gravy.  Mercifully, I did not have to witness where giblets came from or I would not be the omnivore I am today.

Anyway, I hope you all have a fantastic Thanksgiving and that you truly have much to be thankful for this year!

 

 

A Sunday Evening Ramble

Biff Hiking #3

Time To Pay

I can’t ramble far tonight, because its early evening and it’s already dark outside.  Thank you, Daylight Savings Time!    I love it when it is dark at 4:30 in the afternoon.  And as much as I enjoy that “extra hour’s sleep” in the fall, I know I will pay dearly for it next spring when you come back around like the Grim Reaper to get it back … with interest.  You, DST, are like the IRS of time.

You’re like, “Hey, remember that hour I loaned you last fall?”

And when I say, a little warily, “Yessss?”, you say,

“Yeah.  Um.  I’ll be needing that back.”

“Oh.  Okay.  Sure.  No problem.”

“Well, there’s a little problem,” you say with a sympathetic smile, much like the loan shark who’s about to break your knees with a cudgel.

“What little problem?” I ask naively.

“Well, there’s the interest.”

“Interest?  I didn’t know there was interest.  I’ll be glad to give you back the hour you loaned me.”

You chuckle.   “Well, yes, I’ll be taking that hour back.  Along with every hour of your life for the next three weeks.”

“Nooooooo!” I yell, lifting my hands up at camera that’s rapidly panning backwards through the rain and the despair.


The Pilgrims Landing at Galveston Rock

The weather here in Dallas is decidedly un-autumn like.  The temperatures are in the 70s and 80s (~ 23-27 C).  The sun is bright as hell, requiring the use of sunglasses.  The grackles (our local bird of choice) are sleek and healthy looking.  The leaves are slowly changing colors and falling, but only out of boredom.  The breezes are light and southerly.  Flowers are in full bloom.

It makes me think that if the Pilgrims had landed here in Texas rather than Massachusetts, those first winters of theirs may have been much more pleasant.  They might have also started saying “y’all” and “fixin’ to” and “dern tootin’“.  Although I can’t imagine William Bradford landing at Galveston and saying, “Howdy, Pilgrim.  I’m fixin’ to mosey on over there to that big ‘ol rock over there.  Y’all tie up them ships and sidle on over there directly and we’ll have us some barbecue and whomp us up some vittles.  Dern tootin’!

The history of America might have turned out a whole lot different if it had actually happened that way.  At the very least, we might all be eating wild hog for Thanksgiving, rather than turkey.  Or some kind of jerky.  Or maybe chili.


R.I.P. CDs

I went into Barnes & Noble today to buy a CD for someone as a gift.  I was disappointed.  CDs have apparently gone the way of the dodo, the woolly mammoth, and the solvent 401K.  In the large room in the back that has been chock full of CDs for as long as I can remember, the CD section consisted of some sad little shelves in the back, and offered only “Best of …” CDs and Christmas music.  The rest of the thousand or so square feet was dedicated to DVDs and, ironically, vinyl albums.

Those of you who have been reading my humble little blog for a while know that I have written before about how bemused I am that such an archaic and inferior music-delivery system has made a comeback in a big way.  But I did not think that CDs would disappear so quickly.  I looked for a CD the other day at Target.  They don’t even sell CDs any more!  What is the world coming to?  (Waves my buggy whip in the air angrily.)

So it is official.  The age of the CD is over.  Time of death:  2017.

Toe tag ’em, boys, and get ’em down to the cooler.

 

An Open Letter To My Fellow Bloggers

Panicking

Hey!  You know what’s a full time job?

Reading other peoples’ blogs.

Man!  I try to keep up.  I really do.  The more people I follow, the more things pop up on my “Followed Sites” stream.  And I try to read them.  I try to be a good follower.  I am liberal (though sincere) with my likes.  I even try to comment once in awhile.  But after an hour or two of that, it dawns on me I haven’t written anything in my own blog.  So I click the “Write” button and start to dash something off.

But then I have to deal with Bloggers Guilt.  That’s the feeling of guilt you get when you’re writing in your own blog and realizing that dozens of posts by fellow bloggers are slowly scrolling down into oblivion in your “Followed Sites” stream.   There’s no keeping up.

So I read and like and comment in a slapdash manner.  That makes me the equivalent of that flaky, unreliable friend that you can’t ever count on to show up on time or be where they’re supposed to be.  And when you are moving and need someone to help you, they’re no where to be found.

I’m sorry.  I don’t want to be that way.

Please accept my sincere apologies!

And if you could all stop writing for about a month so I could catch up, that would be great.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sunday, I Hardly Knew Ye

time-machine-8

Well, here it is Sunday evening again and once again I am sitting here wondering just where in the heck today went to.  One minute I’m awakening to the smell of coffee brewing (because I set the coffeepot timer the night before) and facing the day with wide-eyed optimism, and the next minute the sun is setting below the rooftops to the west of me and I am running around in a panic going, “No!  This can’t be happening!  My to-do list is practically untouched!

But, I shouldn’t be surprised.  It is this way every Sunday evening.  Whatever government agency is in charge of regulating the speed of time does not like us wasting our time on the weekends being unproductive.  They want to get us back to Monday morning as quickly as possible so that we can once again be productive members of society, and not the weekend slackers that we would definitely be all the time if we ever won the lottery.

Be that as it may, I did get a few things done today.  Nothing that matters in the grand scheme of things.  They were just the sorts of things we fill up our days with; the things we look back on and smile and say, “Well, I got a few things done, at least.”  But these things are self-replenishing.  We do them … and then an hour or a day or a week later they need to be done again.   And, what’s worse, they’re not the sorts of things that anyone notices that we did.   They only notice them if we fail to do them.  So we do them not because it brings us pleasure to, but because we avoid the unpleasantness that would result if we didn’t do them.

Either way, it Sunday’s over and it’s time to get back to being a productive member of society.

Another Saturday Ramble

Biff Hiking #3

The Parable of the Static Squirrel and the Rambling Acorn

Apparently, rambles are a popular topic (tag) here in the blogosphere.  I think that is because we writers (or, at least, us people who fancy ourselves writers) have a lot of difficulty thinking of topics to write about and so we just start writing in the hopes that something will come to us.

Result:  Instant “ramble” post.

It occurred to me as I was writing that, that that it is erroneous to believe that something will come to us when we begin to write.  It is more accurate to say that when we start to write, we stumble upon something to write about.  It is highly unlikely that an acorn will be out for a ramble and will happen upon a squirrel who is sitting motionless on his haunches on the ground hoping for an rambling acorn.  No, the burden is on the squirrel to become an adventurer and go off in search of an acorn.  Acorns are notoriously antisocial and unadventurous and so must be found and encouraged to come out their shells and to become, oh, I don’t know, an oak tree or something.

Enter:  the squirrel, stage left.

I don’t know what the hell that was all about, but lets move on before I stretch that metaphor so thin that you can wrap chicken breasts in it and pound them with a meat tenderizer.

Rah Rah Sis Boom Bah!

I went to a high school football game last night.  If you have never been to a high school football game in Texas, you have missed out on quite a spectacle.  It is a Very Big Deal® down here.  Except for the absence of television cameras and sideline reporters and wall-to-wall company branding, you could easily imagine that you are attending an NFL game.  The stadiums are huge.  The crowds are huge.  The bands play energetically and amazingly.  The cheerleaders are professional quality.  The spirit girl squads look like a Dancing With the Stars episode is about to break out.  The players are going at it tooth and nail wearing professional looking gear.  There are announcers.  The giant scoreboard video monitors play animations and replays.  The fans are enthusiastic.  There are hot dogs and popcorn and nachos everywhere.

And all this for only 8 dollars!

Once, a few years ago, my dad came down to visit us from his home in a northeastern state and since he happened to be here on a Friday when there was a game, we took him to our high school football game.  About 30 minutes into the Texas HS Football Experience™, he looked at me and said, “Is this a special game or something?”  I replied that no, it is not.  In fact, the opposing team wasn’t even in our conference and so the game essentially meant nothing.  And he said, a little incredulously, “You mean every game is like this?”  And I said, “Oh, no.  Some games are much bigger.  If we play our hated cross-town rivals, you would think the circus (and ESPN) had come to town”.

Three-fur Saturday

It is a little known psychological fact that humans are predisposed to grouping things into threes.  It’s call the Power of Three.

Have you ever noticed when you spontaneously reel off a list of things to someone, like a list of examples of your favorite foods, or a list of your favorite books, they are almost always lists of three?  It’s because three is the smallest group of things that the human brain needs in order to establish a pattern.

Weird, isn’t it?

Anyway, here’s your third part of this ramble post.  Don’t thank me.  My brain made me do it.  I would have been perfectly happy to stop at two.

 

 

Re: Small Talk (and Other Hazards)

Sinking_Boat_clipart_image v2

“When I go to a party and try to launch small talk, it displaces its own weight and we sink with all hands aboard.”

 – Hildegard Dolson

From “I Love a Nice Liar“, 1967


 

I stumbled across this quote from Hildegard Dolson the other day whilst reading a compendium of humor writings and I immediately identified with it, for I am not now, nor have I ever been, good at small talk.

It’s not that I think small talk is beneath me.  Far from it.  I envy people who are good at it.  But whenever I try to engage in small talk, my brain cuts all ties with my mouth, wishes it well in its future endeavors, and waves from the dock as the S.S. Blathering Mouth drifts, rudderless, out to sea.

I can only watch and listen helplessly (and aghast) as my mouth strings together the most preposterous thoughts using the most motley, mangy collection of mongrel words ever to have escaped the confines of a thesaurus.   I can only hope that people assume I am under the influence of strong narcotics, for I would hate for them to think that this is my actual brain talking.

Random Tidbits (11/05/2017 Edition)

 

Random Tidbits.png


The Fall of my Discontent

Today I would like to bundle up in a warm coat, perhaps don some gloves, and go for a tramp through the fallen leaves and the brisk autumn air.  I would like to see my breath when I exhale.  I would like to look forward to a warm, steaming beverage when I finally get in out of the chilly air.  However, Mother Nature with her long history of not caring what I like or don’t like, chose to have it be a sultry 90 degrees (32 C) today and about 60% humidity.  The sun is so bright one must wear sunglasses.  Wearing anything thicker than a T-shirt will cause one to run the risk of heat stroke.  And the only refreshing beverage that sounds good right now is iced tea or perhaps Gatorade.


Tired and Feeling Low

Can anyone explain to me how every autumn, like clockwork, the tire pressure warning light in my car turns on?  It is usually on or around the first “cold” snap we have (cold being a relative term).  I will be driving to work and the light will come on.  I will check the pressure and, sure enough, each tire is anywhere from five to ten pounds under what it should be.  This happens on multiple cars over multiple years, so I don’t think it is because I have a wonky car.

I understand all about air expanding and contracting as temperature rises and falls.  I understand about materials becoming more brittle as temperature falls (and so perhaps not holding a seal as good as it should).  I understand that tires just lose a little pressure in the course of performing their duties of hitting potholes, speed bumps, and armadillos.  It is just the uncanny timing and precision that has me a bit nonplussed.


Aye!  Candy!

Halloween candy has a strange attribute.  In the weeks leading up to Halloween, when walking through the store, the candy displays looks so inviting, so delicious, so irresistible.  The stacks of bags of candy corn and fun-sized versions of everything from M&Ms to Baby Ruths to Kit-Kats to anything you can imagine make our eyes light up.  We are happy just to run our hands over it and ooh and ahh about how wonderful it all looks.

Then, in the week after Halloween, when it has been reduced to a third of its cost before Halloween, when it now lays in disorderly piles on clearance racks and tables, when the M&Ms are mixed with the Kit-Kats and the Nerds are jumbled in with the Twizzlers, it all just looks so tawdry and unappealing.  I think it is like waking up after a night of alcoholic excess and finding someone less-than-attractive laying next to us in bed (not that that has ever happened to me, but hey!  I watch TV and movies too!).

Suddenly, what just yesterday was enticing and alluring and beguiling, is suddenly tawdry and gaudy and meretricious.  The thought of eating any of it is actually a little nauseating.

But we buy it anyway … because it’s 75% off.   And who knows when we’ll be able to buy a pound of candy corn for ten cents ever again?


Four-Lorn

It just occurred to me that I could have gotten four small individual blog posts out of this, rather than one package of four posts.  But this way I can sell in bulk and pass the savings on to you, my Dear Reader.  So, later, when you are at home and wondering to yourself, “Why did I buy four of these when I really only need one?”, you can think clever marketing.

Or, more accurately, you can thank my laziness.  I don’t have the time or the energy to create four different posts, with all of the concomitant activities of finding clever (ha!) artwork, thinking of effective tags that will get me lots of reads, and trying to think of pithy titles that will grab the attention of rapidly-scrolling readers.

So, my laziness is your gain.   And has all of the appeal of Halloween candy the week after Halloween.


 

How Not To Write a Blog Post

Sleeping in Brain 2

I guess the only way to get back into this writing thing is just to roll up my sleeves and post something.  I keep waiting for inspiration to strike me, but that is kind of like waiting to win the lottery (without buying any tickets) or waiting for Mr. or Mrs. Right to appear (while never leaving one’s room), or even Waiting for Godot (if you’ll pardon an obscure reference).   No, I’m just going to have to write something the hard way … by actually writing it.

When I was a youngster, I heard the expression, “Nothing succeeds like success“. I have pondered that expression off and on my entire life, wondering exactly what it means.  I finally decided it was a rather cynical way of saying, “Of course successful people know how to succeed.  What they did worked for them.  Someone else might do the exact same things and fall flat on their face.

But I also chose to take this positive nugget away from that tired old saw:

In order to succeed at something, you must actually do that thing.

We live in a culture that assures us that we can succeed at things simply by  believing that we can.  How many movies and books and songs are there that tell us we can have something simply by believing something hard enough and sincerely enough?  How many artists do we see on those “best singer” type shows that, when asked why they should win the competition, sob and sniffle and say, “Because I just want this so badly!”

Well, that’s not how life works.  I really wish that it did.  If it did, I would be a wealthy and adored published author, living on my nearly-inaccessible lighthouse off the coast of Maine.

But I’ve never been delusional.  I have known all my life that if I wanted to be a published author that I would have to work at it morning, noon, and night with the obsession of a bee making honey.  But I allowed myself to get distracted by things like earning a living, eating, having a nice home, etc.  Writing not only took a back seat to other things, it had to follow along by hitching a ride on the rear bumper of a dilapidated old Trailways bus that was hundreds of miles behind.

This blog is a metaphor for my writing “career”.  I don’t put much effort into it, but expect success anyway.  I expect each little post to grow and thrive and blossom and to become some amazing, brilliant sunflower, big enough for everyone to see.  But the fact is, I don’t water it or fertilize it or even look at it much.

That’s not exactly a recipe for success.

So, I could rewrite the “nothing succeeds like success” aphorism to say

Nothing fails like not striving for success.

 

 

The Blind Shall See …

 

man with spiral glasses 2

One of the sucky things about getting older (and that is a very long list) is that the eyesight begins to go.

(Wavy flashback lines go here)

I was diagnosed very early in life as being blind as a bat.  This became apparent when my Mom took my brother and I to see the Harlem Globetrotters when they performed in Jackson, Mississippi.  About halfway through the game I asked my Mom, “What are all those blinking lights up there by the ceiling?”

She looked at me incredulously.  “Do you mean to tell me you can’t tell what those are?”

“No, Ma’am,” I said.  “All I see is a bunch of fuzzy, blinking lights.”

My brother decided to get in on the incredulity act.  “Are you telling me you can’t read those ten foot tall numbers on the scoreboard?”

“Those are numbers?” I asked, incredulously.  We were all getting in on this incredibility thing.

A few days later I found myself at the eye doctor attempting to read the eye chart … and failing.  I could not see the giant, foot-tall letter “E” that he was trying to get me to see from just a few feet away.

Long story short, I was diagnosed as being legally blind due to being incredibly near-sighted.  Even the doctor was incredulous.  It was a big week all around for incredulity.  Luckily, at age 8, I had not driven myself to the eye appointment since I was now legally blind.

(Quick, wavy lines as we flash forward … because we need to wrap this up.)

It is a well known fact that, as people age, they become more farsighted.  We know this because movies and TV shows are filled with the joke of old people holding reading material as far away from their face as possible so they can read it.  People joke with each other in these situations, “Do you want to to go hold that across the room for you?”  This is followed by much laughter (most of it feigned).

So, because of that, all my life I have believed that, as I got older, my eyesight would get better because my creeping farsightedness would begin to cancel out my nearsightedness.

I found out that it doesn’t work that way.  All that happened is that I became both nearsighted and farsighted at the same time.  I had to wear contact lenses for my nearsightedness, and also reading glasses for my newly acquired farsightedness.

I complained about this at my eye appointment today and my doctor suggested I wear a different prescription contact in each eye.  I was skeptical.  I had a mental image of me walking around in circles all day long.  But I thought, “What the heck? What do I have to lose?”  So I tried it and he fitted me with a pair of sample contacts.

I feel like a beam of light shone down from me on high and a heavenly host began to sing.  I could see far away.  I could see close up.  I could actually read my phone without wearing reading glasses.  I could read traffic signs.  I was able to work at my computer without wearing reading glasses.  In short, I feel like I did many decades ago when I got my first pair of glasses.

I remember yelling as loud as I could, “Mom!  Come in here quick!”

“What?” she asked, alarmed, as she rushed into the room.

I pointed up at the ceiling and said excitedly, “Look!  There’s a fly!  On the ceiling!”

She did not share my excitement.  She did not realize I had never seen a fly from far away before.  Or anything, for that matter.

And now I can see both far away and close up for the first time in decades.  This is a great time to be alive!

 

 

Shadow On the Ruins

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It has been twenty years since the day I arrived here.  Twenty years to reflect and become bitter.  Twenty years to examine this house.  And twenty years to hate everything I’ve found.

Why did I have to end up here?  This is not where I pictured myself ending up.  I used to imagine bright, sunlit rooms in a large, vibrant house, surrounded by those that I love.  I imagined laughter and smiles and celebrations and comforts.  Instead I find myself in this miserable old wreck of a house, miles from anywhere, and no one to love or be loved by.  There isn’t even much furniture or anything at all to make it seem inviting or comfortable.  It is all dust and filth and decay and rot.  It is ramshackle and rickety, creaking and tired.  It is dark and drafty at night and even on the brightest days the sunlight can only manage to send feeble, dusty shafts of light though the nearly impenetrable shroud of honeysuckle and jasmine that has taken over the outside of the house.

I am so tired.

I feel I have to go somewhere . . . but where shall I go?  I have been to every spot in this house, seen them from every angle, from every perspective, during every condition of light and dark and hot and cold.  There is nowhere left to go.  So I stay here in this room.  The room upstairs.  In the back of the house.  As far from where It happened as possible.

I used to stay in the room at the front of the house.  I wanted to be near a window so I could look out.  So I would know if anyone came near the house.  I keened every day for the sound of a car approaching or the sound of a voice or perhaps the sight of a headlight or flashlight during the night.  But rarely did such things happen.  And after awhile I drifted to the back of the house, not really caring if I saw a light or heard a sound.  No one would come.  It has been twenty years and in all that time there were only a few instances of someone coming near the house.  I could count them on one hand.  It was strange that on those few times when someone actually did approach the house, I found that I was not anxious to see them.  Or to be seen.  At first I went eagerly to the front door, yearning to finally see someone, to talk to someone.  But as they got closer I would fill with rage and shame and I would retire back upstairs.  To the back room.  And they would leave without having even come inside.

And so now here I lay.  Too tired to move.

Twenty years ago I understood physical exhaustion.  But to have one’s soul exhausted is unbearable.  One can rest a body and cure physical exhaustion.  There is no cure for spiritual exhaustion.  There is only more and more exhaustion.  With every passing day or hour, it only gets worse.  You visit the same rooms over and over and over a thousand times.  Ten thousand times.  Yearnings fade and flicker and die.  And there is nothing left but the exhaustion.  The bitterness.

It is like lying in bed at night, sleepless, staring up at a featureless ceiling in a silent room in a darkened house.  You memorize the ceiling.  You memorize the faint humming of the silence.  And the night never ends.  There is no waking.  No sleeping.  No desire to get up.  No desire to remain lying in bed.  There is no desire at all.  Only the emptiness.  And the never-endingness.

The only thing that makes you want to move is not being able to bear seeing this room or this wall or this ceiling one more time.  Not for one more second.

I leave the back room.  Moving is hard.  I used to take moving for granted.  I moved without thought, almost without effort.  It was as easy as taking one step, and then another, and then another.  Moving was purpose and purpose moved me from spot to spot, place to place, moment to moment.

Now there is no purpose and moving is hard.  Time has become thick and viscous and it is hard to push through it from one moment to the next.  I cannot even discern one moment from the next.  Was this the same moment I was just in?  Or is it the next?  It is that sense of time being blurred and smeared that makes it hard to tell if I am moving or if I am still.  Was I just here in this very spot?  Or did I just move here?  Or have I been standing here for a year?  It is hard to tell.  Movement now is not purpose; it is memory.  I remember wanting to be in the front room and here I am but I do not remember coming here.  Perhaps I have always been here.

This front room no doubt used to be a happy place.  There probably once were children that played here.  There were probably Christmas trees and Easter baskets and birthday cakes.  There were probably people hugging as loved ones came or departed as time rose and fell and filled these rooms with the viscous ooze of its passing.  But now it is cold and dark.  Wallpaper peels from the wall, no longer possessing the will to cling or remain straight or to cover what might be underneath.  What is underneath is aging, warping wood that no longer contains moisture or strength or grain.  It is now all dry and crumbly and warped.

These floors should probably creak and probably would if I could walk on them.  The carpet has rotted away or was unraveled by rats and mice and is gone, leaving only the dusty and uneven boards below.  They should probably creak.  I wish they would.  Oddly enough, it is a sound that I would like to hear.  But there is no sound as I come into the room.  Or perhaps I was already here.  For a moment.  Or a year.

I wonder what will become of me when this house is no longer here.  This house is all I remember.  I don’t allow myself to remember what happened before there was this house.  Before I came to this house.  What is the good of that?  If I had known my life was leading me to this house, I perhaps could have lived differently, but how could I have known?  Or perhaps I knew but did not want to know and so pretended that I didn’t.

And as much as I hate this house, I don’t know what will happen to me after it is gone.  Already, in these twenty years, I have watched it go from being merely remote and forlorn, to being forgotten and abandoned.  I have watched it lean and sag and be covered with vines.  I have watched paint fade and peel and wallpaper rot and fall from the wall.  I have watched metal rust.  I have watched window glass slowly run within the panes like clear, chilled molasses, before cracking and falling from the weathered wood.  I have watched holes appear in the roof.  I have watched plants grow in dirt between planks in the floor.  I have watched countless generations of spiders produce cottony, fibrous blooms in every nook and cranny.  I have heard timbers pop and beams fall and windows break.  The house is rotting around me and I cannot know what will happen to me when the house is no more.  Will I inhabit this plot of earth that now lies beneath the house?  Will it be freedom?  Or yet more confinement?

I am at the stairs leading down to the basement.

How long have I been here?  Have I stood for a minute?  An hour?  A month?

The movement that got me here is a memory, but not a very good one.  Time is smashed and smeared and I remember moving from the front room to the basement stairs, but I don’t know how long the memory lasted.

I’m tired.  I want to rest.  But there is no rest.  There is no lying down.  There can be no closing of my eyes.  I cannot even tell if they are open or closed.  What I see when they are open is the same as when they are closed.  There are no lids that can differentiate that which I see from that which I do not want to see.  My sleep is waking; my waking, sleep.  Everything exhausts me.  Nothing revives.

I am halfway down the stairs, passing from one shade of black to another.  All is darkness but I do not need to see.  I have stared at every nail and every board and every crack a thousand million times and my seeing them or not does not change them one bit.  They rot, but slowly.

I am in the basement and I relish the rage.  It is a frozen hand in fire.  It is sensation where there is none.  It is a destructive cure for an annihilating disease.  The rage flares and roars around me, warmth in the absolute cold of oblivion.  But it is a warmth I can only feel inferentially.  I know it to be, so I must take solace from something I believe should be.  Rage is all there is.  And it comes but intermittently, like a comet roaring through this empty space, filling it with glowing, radiant ice.

And fear.  Or rage.  I can not tell.  They both subsume me and when I venture into the basement I descend into one or the other, but I can not tell which.  It is rage at why I am here.  Or fear that I am still here.

Why am I still here?

It was twenty years ago.

There.

In that corner.

Here.

The memory exhausts me.  It was the memory that moved me from there to here.

The damp, seeping floor of the basement gleams a wicked reflection, not of light, but of darkness.  This soil floor.  This moldering floor that has not known dryness in twenty years.  This oozing patch of earth, wet with the blood I spilled twenty years ago.  This lightless, unknown, hurried, extemporaneous, grave that covers the bones that used to move within me, not with memory, but with purpose.  And I rage at the bastard that put me there, the wound still fresh and flowing . . . lively even in death.

And then the rage is gone.

I am back in the room upstairs.  The moon would be shining through the hole in the roof if the vines did not cover it.  I remember coming back upstairs.  But I don’t remember when.  Was it the tenth time?  The hundredth?  The ten-thousandth?

Why am I still here?

.

Copyright ©2017 by Biff Sock Pow


Author’s Note
I wrote this story ten years ago for Halloween and so I thought I’d post it here since Halloween is upon us once again.  I originally posted it on a blog site that has long since disappeared,  much like the house in this story. 
This was the first (and probably the last) ghost story I will ever write.  Horror and hauntings and ghosts and things like that are not my long suit.  But I hope you enjoy it!

The Heat Is On …. (cough cough!)

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It finally got cold enough to have to turn on the heaters.  Here in Dallas, that means it dipped all the way down to about 46 degrees (8 C).  While that may not seem like much to those of you in more northern climates, down here it means that it’s time to stoke up the ol’ furnaces.

There are some seasonal rituals that people like, such as the first time that the leaves need to be raked, the first time the walkway needs to be shoveled free of snow, or the first time the lawn needs to be mowed in spring.  I suppose some people even like lighting the furnace for the first time every year.

I am not one of those people.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love the house to be nice and toasty warm on a cold winter’s night.  In fact, I prefer it.  But the first time the heater is fired up every year fills me with dread.  And that’s because when I fire up the heater for the first time in nine months, it must first burn off 9 months worth of dust, pollen, mold, and who knows what else that settles into the furnace and the ductwork over that nine months.  It is a nice, funky pong that smells something like an old, used sponge that  caught on fire, smoldered for a bit, and was then doused with the stagnant water from a leaf-clogged rain gutter.

So that was the smell that awakened me at about 2 o’clock this morning.

On the plus side, it was nice and toasty warm.

 

 

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