Biff Sock Pow

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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

 

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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

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

 

Chief Inspector Biff in “The Drawing Room Murder”

inspector

A 60-Second Mystery

(Solving Times May Vary)

Chief Inspector Biff walked into the drawing room and stood looking about the crime scene, taking it all in. It was your typical overstuffed drawing room in your typical Victorian motif. He was mildly gratified when the two uniformed coppers, one posted at each door of the room, snapped suddenly to attention at his appearance.

“At ease, boys,” he said gruffly. They stood less at attention, but still eyed him warily.

In addition to the uniformed coppers, two plain-clothed inspectors were poking about with little plastic things that looked like pencils, but which were actually solid plastic Official Police Investigation Sticks™. Everyone just called them Opies. They prevented getting fingerprints or body oil all over everything. After all, one never knows what might actually turn out to be evidence. For instance, in The Case of the Compromised Crime Scene it turned out that one of the Opies themselves was a piece of evidence. It had been quite an ordeal to not get them all mixed up. The whole affair had been like a crazy game of Pick-Up Sticks.

“What have you got?” said Chief Inspector Biff to the two investigators who had not even looked up from their fine-toothed comb business.

They stopped crawling about on the floor and stood up to face him. “Not much, I’m afraid, Chief Inspector Biff,” said one of them, gesturing to a small collection of little plastic baggies sitting on one of the occasional tables in the room. “Just the usual assortment of hairs, lint, lipstick-stained cigarette butts, swizzle sticks, cocktail napkins, buttons, pearl earrings, cuff links, tie studs, gold teeth, monocles, cat toys, aglets, paper clips, hair bands, a cheese ball, and a single bullet casing.

The Chief Inspector raised his eyebrow slightly. “What was that you said?”

“Bullet casing?”

“No, before that.”

“Cheese ball?”

“Yes. That one.”

“I said ‘cheese ball‘, Sir,” confirmed the investigator.

“Very interesting,” said the Chief Inspector, stroking his chin thoughtfully. “And where was the murder committed?”

“Right there,” said the inspector, pointing at a body lying between the card table and the clavichord.

Chief Inspector Biff took a step towards the body and bent over slightly at the waist to get a better look at the deceased. After a moment, he straightened back up and turned back towards the inspectors. “Yes. Quite. Very interesting. And who is the deceased?”

“Sir Reginald Duke Lord Baron Earl of Wightsmith Downs-HamptonShire.”

The Chief Inspector raised his eyebrow just a bit higher than it was before. “That’s quite a mouthful. Cause of death?”

“According to the medical examiner, it appears Sir Reginald was done in by that candlestick lying next to him. Blunt trauma, most likely.”

Chief Inspector Biff stroked his chin again. “Sir Reginald . . . in the drawing room . . . with the candlestick.”

“Yes sir, Chief Inspector.”

“And I am sure you noticed the orange-ish smudge on the candlestick?”

“No, Sir.” The inspector looked sheepish.

“Yes. There. On the column, just below the knop.”

The inspector leaned down and looked closer. “Gosh, sir! You’re right. I hadn’t noticed that. I thought it was just a bit of wax.”

“And what is the butler’s name,” asked the Chief Inspector.

“Brimble, Sir.    Nigel Brimble.”

“Sir Nigel Brimble?”

“No, sir.  Just Nigel Brimble.”

“Go fetch him at once. And take a close look at his left index finger. I expect you will find it coated with an orange substance that is nearly impossible to wash off.”

“The cheese ball!” exclaimed the second investigator who, up to this moment, had not had any speaking parts.

“Precisely,” said Chief Inspector Biff, snapping his fingers to drive home his point. “There is no stain more indelible than synthetic cheese powder with a base of one or more of the following: corn oil, canola oil, coconut oil, or palm oil.”

“You’ve done it again, Sir,” said the first inspector, his voice full of awe.

“Posh,” said the Chief Inspector. “It was elementary.”

“That one’s taken, sir,” said the first inspector.

“Oh. Then it was … er … um … facile.”

Everyone was about to laugh, but the scene froze and the credits began scrolling by at a dizzying speed.

 

An Interview With the Author of the “Alistair and Alexis” Comedy Series

Biff, author of the wildly unpopular “Alistair and Alexis” series of allegedly humorous short stories was recently interviewed by Yuks and Chortles Magazine.  What follows in an unauthorized, copyright-infringing excerpt from that interview.

Y&CM:  We understand, Mr. Biff, that you consider yourself a humor writer.

Biff:  Please.  Just call me Biff.

Y&CM:  Right-o.  Biff it is, then.  And you consider yourself a humor writer?

Biff:  Not originally.  No.  I was an ordinary writer, but in college I kept getting my papers back from my professors with things written in red pen at the top of the paper like “Oh, you think you’re funny, huh?” and “Funny guy, eh?” and “Very humorous.  Please see me after class.

Y&CM:  And that led to a life of comedy writing?

Biff:  No, it led to a life of ostracism and privation.  It seems comedy writers are held in the same regard as carpetbaggers, used car salesman, and people with pinkeye.

Y&CM:  I see.  Most interesting.

Biff:  Not really, no.  But thank you for saying so.

Y&CM:  I would like to ask you about your “Alistair and Alexis” series of short humorous pieces.

Biff:  Must you?

Y&CM:  Yes.  Your check cleared the bank and so this was our agreement.

Biff:  You’ll edit this part out, right?

Y&CM:  Oh yes.  Without a doubt.

Biff:  Good.  Carry on.

Y&CM:  A lot of humor experts and analysts say that comedy very often comes from a dark place, a place of pain.  Is that true of the “Alistair and Alexis” series?

Biff:  Oh yes.  Indubitably.

Y&CM:  And what is the pain that is reflected in “Alistair and Alexis”?

Biff:  The pain and anguish that resulted from my not being born into a wealthy family.

Y&CM:  So you live vicariously through Alistair?

Biff:  No, I live precariously through myself.  Alistair and I are nothing alike.

Y&CM:  How so?

Biff:  Well, Alistair is shallow, self-centered, highly educated while not being very bright, and he tends to drink alcohol when he feels nervous and unsure of himself.

Y&CM:  And how do you differ from that?

Biff: Well, I prefer chocolate to alcohol.

Y&CM:  But you’re alike in every other way?

Biff:  No.  As I pointed out earlier, he is fabulously wealthy.

Y&CM:  And you’re not?

Biff:  Well, I’m a comedy writer …. soooooo …

Y&CM:  So, no.

Biff:  No.

Y&CM:  And what of Alexis?

Biff:  What of her?

Y&CM:  Is she symbolic of something or is she merely a foil for Alistair?  His “straight man”, as it were.

Biff:  I think the politically correct term is “straight person”.

Y&CM:  Straight person, then.

Biff:  Or Person of Straightness.

Y&CM:  As you wish.

Biff:  Or “Human of linear extension with non-curvature”.

Y&CM:  And you feel that accurately describes her?

Biff:  Who?

Y&CM:  Alexis.

Biff:  Oh!  Alexis!  No, she has curves.

Y&CM:  So if she is not merely the … er … um … foil to Alistair’s antics, then is she symbolic of something else?

Biff:  Yes.  She’s symbolic of his wife.

Y&CM:  But she actually is his wife.

Biff:  Right.

Y&CM:  So that’s not symbolic.  That is, in fact, who she is.

Biff:  Symbolic.  Symbiotic.  Semiotic.  Schmimbolic.  Potato, puh-tah-toe.  She just sort of appeared in the first story.  What was I supposed to do?  Tell her to hit the bricks?  They seemed to hit it off okay so I thought, “What they hey?”  And the rest is comedy history.

Y&CM:  Is it?

Biff:  No.  It’s not.

Y&CM:  So what’s next for the “Alistair and Alexis” franchise?

Biff:  Well, Y&CM … do you mind if I call you Y&CM?

Y&CM:  No, go right ahead.

Biff:  Well, Y&CM, I hope to write enough “Alistair and Alexis” stories to be able to mimeograph them out into a small booklet and leave it in the waiting area of Gate 32 in Terminal C of the DFW International Airport.  The plan is to have a literary agent, who might be traveling from Dallas/Fort Worth to, say, Wilmington Delaware in order to scout out a good military school for his bratty son, find the booklet and read it on the plane.

Y&CM:  And you think he will find it so good that he will publish it?

Biff:  No, I expect the mimeograph fumes will be so strong that he gets so high that he thinks it would a good idea to turn “Alistair and Alexis” into a TV series or a movie.

Y&CM:  I see.  That is actually fiendishly clever!

Biff:  Thank you!

Y&CM:  Well, Biff, I see from the time that your check for $32.50 has been consumed and so we must bring this interview to an end.

Biff:  Must we?

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Alistair and Alexis Go to a Board Meeting

boardroom

It was time for the annual meeting of the board of directors at Gargantua Enterprises and Alexis and I wanted to get there early for the pre-meeting elbow-rubbing that always preceded the actual board meeting.  And by “we”, I mean “Alexis”.  Alexis found schmoozing to be great sport and was a big fan of anything corporate.  I, on the other hand, was just hoping there would be snacks and spirits and a motion to adjourn early.

Things were well underway as Alexis and I made our way into the board room.  We walked through the large double doors which were no doubt made of some exotic species of wood from the Amazon rainforests.  The executive board of Gargantua spared absolutely no expense in the lavishness of their board room or the compensation of their top executives.  This was in evidence even more as my leather wingtip shoes sank into the plush emerald-green carpeting of the boardroom like cinder blocks in quicksand.  I only hoped their budget for food was as lavish as their budget for boardroom accoutrements (or, as the French would call them, accoutrements).

“How do I look?” I asked Alexis, shooting my cuffs nervously.

“You look great,” she said, somewhat distractedly.  I could tell she was looking keenly at everyone in the room and cross-referencing them against the leather-bound copy of Who’s Who Among Business Titans which she keeps on her nightstand and which she has committed to memory (along with the quarterly supplements).

“Is my tie straight?” I asked, straightening it just a bit.  The haberdasher had assured me it was of the finest silk, produced by pampered mulberry silkworms in a quaint little Italian village overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.  However, one can never be sure if that is enough in these situations.

“It’s as straight as an arrow,” she said, glancing at it for nearly half a second before resuming her field studies of our city’s industrial elite.

“Thank you, my little rose,” I said, beaming at her compliment.  “And may I say you look absolutely ravishing!”

She glanced at me sharply and held up a dissuasive finger.  “There will be no ravishing,” she said.

“It’s merely an expression, my beautiful little daisy.”

“Well, that’s what you said at the charity ball last month and as I recall, you got entirely too handsy.”

“It was a tango,” I said.  “I hardly think I was taking any liberties.”

“Well, all the same, we need to stay focused tonight and not let ourselves get distracted.”

“Oh!” I said excitedly.  “Hors d’oeuvres!”

My outburst was caused by a silver tray passing before my very eyes like a vision, being borne by a somber man in tails, striped pants, patent leather shoes, and a nametag that identified him as Ivan.  Ivan looked as if he bore the weight of the world upon his shoulders in addition to the weight of the tray of nosh he held somewhat morosely.

“Hors d’oeuvres, sir?” he said in monotone, obviously unimpressed by his own wares.

“Oh, my, yes!” I said excitedly.  It had been hours since my petite little dahlia and I had strapped on the ol’ feedbag.

However, Alexis slapped my hand lightly as I reached for an amuse-bouche which I suspected might contain wild salmon.

“We need to stay focused,” she said.

“I hardly think an amuse-bouche will make me distrait.”

“Oh?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.  “Remember the deviled eggs at League luncheon last year?  You became obsessed with them.”

“In my defense, it was the first time I’d ever had one.”

“Well, somehow your brief introduction of the League president to the assembly turned into an homage to deviled eggs.”

“Well,” I said, becoming a bit reminiscent, “They were quite amazing.”  I looked at the hangdog countenance of our present Hors d’oeuvres hander-outer.  “Do you have any deviled eggs, Ivan?”

“No, sir,” he said, sounding as if he were delivering a eulogy.  “Just assorted bruschetta, canapés, caviar, charcuterie, spanakopita, and amuse-bouche.”

“That’s a pity,” I said.  “I would give anything for a deviled egg, up to half my kingdom.”

I noticed Alexis had become distracted by someone across the room who looked important, so I quickly grabbed an amuse-bouche and popped it in my mouth.  It was absolutely heavenly, though I had no time to savor it.  I had to swallow quickly before Alexis turned her eagle-like gaze back on me.

“We should take our seats,” she said.  “I think they are about to get started.”

I quickly swallowed the flaky perfection of the amuse-bouche and said somewhat dryly as I tried to avoid choking, “Lead on, McDuff!” I grabbed a frosty goblet of white wine off of another tray as it passed by me like manna from heaven to help me clear the ol’ throat.

We took our seats down in the lower-rent section of the mammoth boardroom table.  Dear old Pops may have been a member of the board of Gargantua Enterprises, but not one of the more important ones.  That was the sole reason he trusted me to be his proxy and to cast a vote in his stead.  If it had been for one of the corporations of which he held a higher stake, he would not have let me within a hundred miles of the place.  He had resigned himself years ago to the fact that I did not have a head for business.

There were opening statements by various bald-headed, portly men who looked like they might clutch at their hearts at any moment and make gurgling noises.  At appropriate junctures in these blatherings, their fellow board members harrumphed and said “hear hear” periodically.  I suddenly realized my wine glass, though still frosty, was empty.  I made eye contact with Ivan and raised my glass slightly.  He morosely walked over and filled my glass with a fine Port wine and then resumed his post against the wall.  He looked like a man who had spent a good deal of his life standing against walls before managing to defect from his home country and make it here to America.

Alexis leaned over to me and whispered, “Lay off the sauce.  It’s almost time for the vote.”

“What vote?” I asked, also whispering, for apparently that’s what we were doing.  I sat my empty glass on the boardroom table.  There was no coaster, so I just set it on the copy of the Annual Report that was sitting in front of me.

“They’re voting on whether or not to merge with Leviathan Industries.”

“Well that certainly sounds ominous,” I said.  “Gargantua and Leviathan teaming up?  Didn’t Hobbes warn us about that sort of thing?”

“What are you babbling about?” she whispered, trying not to attract the attention of the Chairman.

I whispered back, ” … a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire for Power after power, that ceaseth only in Death.”

“Are you soused?” she asked in a whisper.

“After two glasses of sub-standard port?” I whispered sniffily.  “I hardly think so.  Oh, thank you, Ivan!”  My somber sommelier had refilled my glass and shimmered noiselessly back to his position against the wall.   I lifted my glass in a wordless toast to this Gunga Din.  He may be dour, but he knows a man in need when he sees one.

“It’s time for the vote,” she whispered, her voice becoming higher pitched and fraught with anxiety.  “It’s a voice vote and it’s almost around to you.  Are you ready?”

“Vote?” I asked again.  “What are we voting for?”

“I’m not voting,” she said quietly.  “You are.”

“That hardly seems fair,” I said, incensed.  “Our forefathers fought valiantly for universal suffrage.”  And then added, in the interest of fairness, “And our foremothers.”

“No,” she whispered, seeming most distraught.  “You are voting proxy for your father.  About the merger.”

“Ah, yes,” I said, suddenly remembering.  “Father was telling me something.  About something.  Or other.”

“About Leviathan.”

“Ah, yes,” I said.  “Leviathan.”

“Mr. Callington,” came a booming voice from the head of the high-rent district of the boardroom table, which seemed to be in a different zip code from the part I sat at.

“Present!” I said, standing, forgetting for the moment that I was no longer in Sister Theresa’s Latin class.  Her stentorian voice always had an effect on me not unlike a gunshot near a skittish horse.

“How do you vote, sir?”

I gazed around the august assemblage (though it was only April).

“Let me start by saying,” I said, setting my empty glass on the annual report.  “That Hobbes was an ass.”

I felt my dainty Alexis tug at my sleeve, but I patted her fondly on the shoulder to assure her that I had the matter firmly in hand.

“To whom are you referring, Sir?” asked the Chairman of the Board.  He was an intimidating chap who stood about six foot seven, had a burr haircut like he had just returned from several months at Parris Island where he tested the mettle of Marine recruits.

“I refer, sir, to Hobbes,” I said.  “He was a most colossal ass.  Are we living in a Kingdom of Darkness?  Are we Leviathan?”

There was murmuring among the board along with more tugging at my sleeve, but I extracted my arm with some difficulty.

“Sir,” said the imposing and impatient chairman, “We are Gargantua.  Are you for or against the merger with Leviathan?”

I drew myself up.  I may have pounded the table, but the presence of the Annual Report, now somewhat soggy from the perspiration from my wine glasses, dampened the results and robbed them of their effectiveness.

“Never!” I said, feeling quite strongly about it.  “We are not Leviathan!   Look at Ivan here,” I waved my hand at my old friend, who now suddenly looked less morose and more surprised.  “Does he benefit from Leviathan?  I think not.”

“Yea, or nay, Sir!” said the beet red Chairman.

“Nay!  Always nay!  We must never become Leviathan!”

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The back of the limousine was very quiet on the ride home.  Alexis looked at me periodically, but mostly looked out the window at the passing scenery.  But finally, she spoke.

“Your father wanted you to vote yes on the merger with Leviathan,” she said quietly.

“Did he?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.  “He was quite explicit about it.”

“He is always quite explicit about everything,” I replied.  “The man doesn’t have an ambiguous bone in his body.”

“Do you think he will be upset at your vote?”

“Oh, most assuredly he will be.”

“Will he cut you off?”

“Perhaps for a bit,” I said.  “But he will eventually come around.  He will say I take after my mother’s side of the family.  Apparently he has a soft spot for my mother.  And anyway, this is really his fault.”

“His fault?  How?”

“He was the one who insisted on giving me an Ivy League education.  That’s where I learned what an ass Hobbes was.”

 

Alistair and Alexis Go to an Antique Shoppe

 

vintage_silhouette_elegant_man_woman (v1)

“I say, Old Thing,” I said, addressing my better half.  “Take a look at this.”

“First off,” said Alexis (aka my better half), her hand on her hip, “Don’t ever call me Old Thing again.  And secondly, I am not going to keep reminding you that you’re not British.  You’re as American as drive-ins, monster trucks, and urban sprawl.”

“My apologies, Old … I mean, Sweetheart.  It’s British comedy week on PBS during their pledge drive and I’m afraid I immersed myself in it.”

“A bit too much, I’d say,” she said.

“Can one have too much British comedy?” I asked, stroking my van dyke beard thoughtfully.

“Given the poor quality of your faux British accent, I’d say the answer is a resounding yes.”

I drew myself up to my full height, to protest.  However, drawing myself up to my full height around Alexis is usually pointless, given her diminutive stature.  I tower over her no matter how I am standing (or even slouching).  But what she lacks in height, she makes up for in intractability and fractiousness.  In fact, it was her willful personality which first drew me to her back when we were mere fledglings on the playground at school.

◊◊◊◊◊◊◊ Wavy, out-of-focus lines indicating a flashback sequence … ◊◊◊◊◊◊◊

She walked right up to me on the playground and said, “I bet you can’t push me on the swing.”

Of course, I could not turn away from a challenge and so I drew myself up to my full height then, too, though it was much less dramatic back then than it is now, and I said, “Is that so?  Well I’ll bet you I can.”

And she said, “I bet you my milk money that you can’t.”

And I said, “You’re on” and soon I was pushing her on the swing victoriously.

She was obviously delighted that I had proven her wrong.  She gladly gave me her milk money afterwards.  Later that same day I bumped into her in the lunchroom (not surprising inasmuch as we were in the same grade and were both students of Mrs. Stern) and she asked me if I could buy her a milk since she was a bit short. I was nothing if not chivalrous and so I bit my tongue and did not utter the obvious joke and loaned her enough money to buy milk.

◊◊◊◊◊◊◊ Wavy, out-of-focus lines indicating end of the flashback sequence … ◊◊◊◊◊◊◊

I shook my head and came back to the present since nothing that was in the flashback is germane to the current story, other than to point out that over time I came to tower over her in height and she came to tower over me in treasons, stratagems and spoils.

“My accent is just fine,” I said.  “The lady who answered the phone at the pledge drive complimented me on it.”

She just looked at me dubiously and then seemed to realize something that gave her a start.  “Oh no!” she said.   “Are we about to receive a truck load of tote bags and coffee mugs and DVD sets of things you can watch online for free?”

“We may receive the odd coffee cup,” I mentioned blithely, “But I was assured they were of the highest quality.  But the really amazing part is that when you pour a hot liquid in to them they magically display the phrase ‘What ho!’, which is, I believe, something they say a lot in Britain.”

“You know what else they say a lot in Britain?” she asked.

“No,” I said.  “What?”

“Are you completely barmy!?”

“Ah, yes,” I nodded knowingly.  “I believe I have heard that uttered once or twice during the marathon.”

“Well, anyway,” she said, seeming to tire of our discussion of the subtle brilliance of British comedy, “What is it you want to show me?”  I have noticed throughout our life together, that Alexis seems to have a very short attention span when it comes to certain topics.  Apparently, British comedy is one of those things.

“Simply this,” I said with a flourish as I pulled the object from behind my back where I’d been holding it this entire time.

“What on earth is that?” she asked, plainly appalled.

“A walking stick,” I said, proudly.

“I can see it is a walking stick,” she said.  “Why are you showing it to me?”

“It’s British,” I said proudly.  She still did not seem to understand and was just staring at me like a flounder.

“Are you telling me you drug me to this dusty old antique shop to show me some beat up old walking stick?”

“But it’s British,” I said again, since she had not seemed to grasp the import of that the first time I said it.

“So’s my Uncle Bob,” she said, “But you don’t see him hobbling around on some old stick.”

“Bob’s your uncle?” I asked, a little surprised.  “I always thought he was Dutch.”

“Can we focus on this gawd-awful stick you are waving around?” she asked.  “What on earth do you need a walking stick for?  Do you have a janky knee you haven’t told me about?”

“No, my knee is fine, my dainty little delphinium.  Thank you for asking.  But this stick is more about fashion than convalescence.”

“Fashion?  That old thing?”

“Yes,” I said.  “See this?  This is black ebonized malacca.”

“Fascinating,” she said, though I could see she was far from fascinated.

“And the handle … that is genuine buffalo horn.”

“Is it?  I was thinking it was complete bull.”

“Nope.  Pure buffalo.  And this collar?  That is solid silver.  See that intricate design?  AND … it is hallmarked.  It says right on it, 1887.  Can you imagine?  This beautiful walking stick is nearly a hundred and fifty years old!”

“Amazing!” she said.  “Just think, it was built right around the time this conversation started.”

I chose to ignore her sarcasm.

“And here is the best part,” I said.

“Oh my god!” she exclaimed, putting her hands to her cheeks.  “It gets better?”

I tugged on the handle, pulling the U-channel epee blade from the malacca shaft.

This time she said “oh my god!” with much more emotion and much less sarcasm.

I nodded appreciatively at her appreciation.  “I know!” I said enthusiastically.  “Isn’t it great?”

“Great?” she said.  “It’s insane!  Why do you need a sword in a cane?”

“It’s not a sword, my petite little flower.  It is an epee.”

“I don’t care if it is a butter knife.  Why on earth would you need it in a walking stick?”

“Oh, you know,” I said, matter-of-factly.  “One never knows.  Just in case.”

“Just in case what?  A fencing competition breaks out at the theater?”

I pondered her words.  “I suppose it’s not out of the realm of ….”

“Put it back,” she said.  “I won’t have such a thing around the children.  What if Edmonton …”

“Edrington, Darling.”

“Yes, Edrington.  Of course.  What if he were to find it?”

My resolve faltered at bit.

“Or little Eveline,” she continued in order to drive her point home.

“Evangeline.”

“Yes, what if our little Evangeline were to find it?”

“Well, a walking stick is hardly appropriate with a lady’s attire.”

“I think you’re missing the point,” she said, a little perturbed.

“This point?” I asked, touching her arm ever so lightly with the blunt tip of the epee.  “Touché, eh, what?”  I smiled at my own joke.

“Oh my god,” she said, exasperated.  “You are not British!  Please put the walking stick back.”

“And the monocle, too?” I asked, somewhat crestfallen.

“Especially the monocle.”

“And the spats?”

She eyed me briefly and I could see her patience was wearing thin.  “I will wait for you in the car,” she said.  She turned and exited the store in something of a huff.

There was a moment of silence as I slowly slid the epee back into the black ebonized malacca walking stick.

“So, you won’t be purchasing the walking stick?” asked Evan, the proprietor of Evan’s English Antiques.”

“No, Evan.  I am afraid not.  The missus has quite put her foot down.”

“Or the monocle?”

“No.  I’m afraid not,” I said, a bit downheartedly.

“Or the top hat?”

I perked up.  “Oh, no.  I am definitely keeping the top hat.  I think it’s smashing.”

“And your lovely wife did not specifically say for you to put it back,” he said, picking it up off of the counter where it had been sitting.

“You are quite right, Evan,” I said.  “She did not.”

“Shall I wrap it up for you, Mr. Callington?”

“No,” I said, thoughtfully.  “Just have it shipped to my office.”

“Very good, Mr. Callington,” he said, smiling.

“What ho,” I said, and turned to go join my lovely little rose bloom in the car.

.

.

©2017 by biffsockpow.wordpress.com

Alistair and Alexis Go to a Concert

symphony-clipart

I leaned over to Alexis and whispered, “Who are we here to see?”

I thought I caught a hint of rolled eyes, but she marshaled herself admirably.  “It’s not so much who we’re here to see,” she said in a whisper.  “It’s who we’re here to hear.”

I nodded thoughtfully.  I glanced around the symphony hall that was slowly filling up with people.  The women wore nice dresses of black or regal colors.  They all glittered with jewels and precious metals and their hair was impeccably coiffed.  The men generally wore black or blue suits except for the occasional rebel that wore tweed sportscoats with patches on the sleeves.  I’m surprised such subversives were admitted.  I’m quite sure the management doesn’t care much for ruffians and vagabonds.  I couldn’t help but notice that the men in tweed were unaccompanied by the fairer sex.  Who wants to be seen with a vagrant wearing herringbone?

“So, then who are we here to hear?” I whispered to the lovely little Mrs. Callington.

“Vivaldi,” she said simply, for she was distracted by looking all around us to see if she knew anyone.  She certainly seemed more intent on seeing someone than hearing them.

I nodded, again thoughtfully.  “I am pretty sure he is dead, isn’t he?” I asked.  “It would be quite a miracle if he were to show up on time given the circumstances.”

“He’s not here in person,” she whispered in exasperation.  “They are playing his music.”

“Well, that’s wonderful,” I said, nodding my head approvingly.  “I’m sure he would like that, God rest his soul.  What a nice way to honor the deceased.”

“They play him every year,” she said.  “It is tradition.  The third concert every season is Vivaldi.  Really, Dear, I’d think you’d know that.  We have been season ticket holders for years.”

“Ah,” I said.  “I didn’t know he was part of the regular rotation.  Third concert every year, eh?  Good for him.  He deserves it.”

“Oh look,” she whispered suddenly, putting her hand on my arm just above my wrist to simultaneously get my attention and to tell me to shush.

“What am I looking at?” I asked, trying unsuccessfully to follow her gaze to see what she was looking at.  All I saw were well-dressed concert goers looking for their seats, obviously eager for a generous dose of Vivaldi.

“There is Tricia,” she whispered, and flicked her chin almost imperceptibly towards a knot of people looking for their seats.

“Oh, jolly good,” I exclaimed in an approving whisper.  I had no idea which of the 20 or 30 women who lay in the direction of Alexis’ nod was Tricia.  Or how we knew her.  But I’ve found it best in these situations to just play along.  “It’s good to see her up and about.”

“I can’t stand her,” said Alexis through clenched teeth, her grip tightening on my arm.

“Nor can I,” I said, quickly changing teams.  “Can you believe her gall at showing up here tonight?  What would Vivaldi say?”

The little woman glanced at me in what could either be exasperation or amazement that I was somewhat able to keep up with the batting lineup.

“It’s not so surprising,” she said.  “Her husband is Herb Blakely of Blakley’s Better Bitters.  They are one of the patrons of the symphony”

I perked up.

“Blakley’s?  The beer magnate?”

“Yes.  And she is insufferable about it, even though she merely married into the family.”

“How dare she!” I said with high dudgeon, for I thought that’s what the situation called for.  I’ve found it’s always best to stay on the good side of someone with a high and unpredictable temper, particularly if that person is within arm’s reach.  “Although,” I said, striking a more contemplative tone, willing to see both sides of the situation, “If one simply must get married, one could do worse than marrying a titan of the ales and spirits industry.”

“It’s not that she married into the family,” she said, still gazing with gimlet eyes at the group which contained the odious Tricia, “It’s that she lords it over everyone as if she were royalty.”

“The nerve!” I said hotly. Then, with what I considered to be an acceptable length of pause, followed with, “Do you suppose the bar in the lobby is stocked with Blakley’s since they are a patron?”

“How can you possibly be thinking about beer at a time like this?”

I drew myself up, cut to the quick.  “Hey, I am on Team Vivaldi,” I said.  “I’ll buy one of his jerseys in the lobby after the show.  I’m perfectly fine without a rejuvenating tonic.  I am perfectly content to sit and have my fill of Vivaldi for …what would you say … 20 minutes?”  I put out feelers for what she thought the duration of the concert might be.

“The concert lasts for two hours,” she said, her face in a bit of a frown.

“Two hours?” I asked, shocked.  “Just how much music did this Vivaldi fellow write?”

“He wrote hundreds of concertos and sonatas and even some operas.”

“Hundreds?” I asked, aghast.  I may have paled a bit.  “Who could possibly have had time to compose hundreds of anything back then?” I asked.  “Weren’t there plagues or wars or inquisitions that took up a lot of peoples’ time?”

But my little dimpled daffodil had other things on her mind.

“I am going to go over and talk to her,” she said.

I may have been a bit confused at this point.  “I thought you couldn’t stand her,” I said.

“I can’t.”

“Well then that makes going over to see her seem a little … well … fatuous.”

“Not at all.  Have you forgotten that I have been put in charge of the big charity fundraiser next month?”

“Of course, I haven’t forgotten,” I said, looking hurt that she would think such a thing.  “But what exactly are we raising funds for again?”

“For the Polk Inn restoration.”

“Ah, yes,” I said.  “How could I forget the ol’ Polk Inn restoration project?  If anything around here needs restoring, it is the Polk Inn.  Why, just last week I was telling Jeremy at the club that the ol’ Polk place was becoming an eyesore and in need of some major restoration.”

But I was talking to myself.  My Lovely Little Dahlia had gotten up and approached the abominable Tricia with purpose.  It was obvious she was willing to set aside her distaste of Tricia for her enthusiasm for the Polk Inn restoration.  Which, now that I think about it, just where in the heck is the Polk Inn?  I can’t say that I’ve ever seen it before.  However, this was no time to spend contemplating dilapidated old piles of brick and wood where Washington may or may not have slept.  The time had come for action.  To think was to do and, just like a hare would do if the cobra were to look away for a moment, I bolted and in a moment, I was in the lobby, one foot on the brass footrail, my forearms against the highly-polished bar.

“I’ll have a pint of Blakely’s, please, Barkeep,” I said.

“Yes, sir,” came the reply and he turned to pull the amber fluid into a pint glass.

“Oh, you like Blakely’s do you?” asked the whiskered man beside me.  He looked for all the world like a sea captain from the days of Clipper ships.  He wore a navy-blue blazer with gold buttons on it, white shirt, blue slacks, and blindingly polished black shoes.  He had a slightly nautical air about him, possibly due to his thick, gray beard.

“I must say, I do,” I said, hoisting the full glass of it in a sort of toast.  “I’ve always said that if there’s one thing that goes swimmingly with two hours of Vivaldi, it is a pint or two of Blakely’s finest.”

“I’m glad you like it,” said the nautical-aired man.  “Grandfather would be pleased.”

“Grandfather?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.  “I say, you’re not related to Vivaldi, are you?”

“Oh, goodness no,” he said.  “I’m about all Vivaldi’d up.  If the wife drags me off to one more of his operas, I think I might just become a hermit.  Last month she dragged me off to see “La verità in cimento” and I seriously contemplated jumping from our box seats and making a run for it.”

“So, no relation, then?” I asked, having picked up on his coolness towards the Vivaldi family.  Perhaps there was an old family feud still going on between his family and the Vivaldi’s.

“Not a bit.  No, the grandfather I was referring to was Grampa Blakely.”

My eyes widened.  “So …. So … you’re …”

“Yes, yes,” he sighed.  “I’m one of those Blakely’s.  Herb Blakely, to be exact.”

“Well, if you don’t mind me saying it, you sound a lot less happy about that than I would be if I were one of those Blakely’s.”

He shrugged and took a hearty drink of one of his own beers.  “People think ales and spirits is all fun and games,” he said, almost sadly.

“A common misperception,” I agreed sympathetically.

“But it is just like any other business,” he said.  “My days are filled with accountants and lawyers and marketers.”

I shuddered.  There but for the grace of God go I, I thought to myself.  I patted him sympathetically on the back.

“I’m sorry to hear that, old man,” I said sympathetically.  “A man in your position should be able to enjoy the fruits of your labors without having to deal with such things.”

He nodded and glanced at me appreciatively.    “You seem like you understand my situation.”

“I do.  I do,” I said.  “I avoid lawyers and accountants and marketers like the plague.  Of course, I am handicapped somewhat by having married one.”

“Which?  An accountant or a lawyer or a marketer?”

“I can’t really remember,” I said.  “But she is one of the three.”

We both sipped contemplatively on our Blakely’s while leaning against the bar.

“What you need,” I said finally, “Is something else to take your mind off of the unsavory characters you are forced to associate with.”

“You mean like a hobby?”

“No, something more than a hobby.  Something that will give you purpose and a sense of fulfillment.”

“What do you suggest?”

I looked around, trying to think of something.  It was at that moment I saw my diminutive daisy stalking purposefully and with pique into the lobby looking for me.  In desperation, my mind tossed me a lifesaver in the form of an idea.

“You should take on a project that will challenge you and yet fulfill you.  For instance, you could take over the restoration of the old Polk Inn project.  Now there is a project worthy of the talents and energies of a man like you.”

He stared off into space for a moment as if trying to imagine himself leading the resurrection of a moldering pile of old lumber and masonry.  I could feel Alexis’ footsteps drawing ever nearer.

“It would be just the thing to bring you back your joie de vivre,” I said, trying to push him over the edge.

“Maybe you’re right,” he said, warming to the idea.

“Buttercup!” I said brightly to Alexis now that she was in our midst.   She was about to give me a speech on temperance, but I jumped in quickly before she could build up a head of steam.  “I’d like you to meet my friend Mr. Herb Blakely.”

“Blakely?” she asked, her eyes widening and all of the ire draining out of her.  She suddenly became the solicitous flower that I had married long ago.  My stock just went up considerably in her eyes.

“Yes,” I said, as they shook hands.  “And furthermore, he has agreed to take on the Polk Inn restoration project.”

There are few things in a man’s life that fills him with a sense of accomplishment and victory like avoiding a dressing down by his petite jolie fleur.  Of course, the antidote to that feeling of warmth and happiness is two hours of Vivaldi.

Jack Be Nimble

agility-meeting-rm-v1

I strode purposefully into the conference room where my staff was already assembled.  About half of them were looking at their phones and busily swiping left to right or up and down, depending on whether they were looking for a date or catching up on what their friends were doing.  The other half were talking quietly among themselves and laughing a little, no doubt talking about what they did last weekend or are planning to do next weekend.

“Okay, people,” I said as I closed the door to the conference room.  “Let’s get busy.  The customer will be here tomorrow afternoon and we need to get this presentation polished up ASAP.”  I sat and hooked up my laptop to the overhead projector.  “I don’t need to tell you how important this presentation is.  We have been selling them for three months on how we are nimble and agile and can meet their specification quickly.   Now –”

“Um, Jack?” said Dave, raising his hand slightly as if we were still in high school.

“Yes, Dave?”

“I noticed the company logo …”

“Yes?” I said.

“I noticed that it’s the wrong color blue.”

“Wrong color blue?”

“Yes, sir.  The logo is supposed to be Pantone 2132 XGC, the logo in your presentation is Pantone 2387 XGC.”

“Um … yes.  Thank you.  I’ll make a note to have it updated.”

“It’s in the header on every page.”

“Noted,” I said, making a note on my legal pad.  Then I straightened back up,  “And so, we’ll just move on past the title page …”

“Jack?” came Mary’s voice.

“Yes, Mary?” I asked.

“The title font is Cambria and it should be Century.”

“Um … yes … okay.  Thank you,” I said, making a note in my legal pad.

“And the body font throughout should be Times New Roman,” said Tim.

I glanced up over my glasses at him.  “Very good.”  I made another note.

“The title page needs to have our company’s security and privacy markings,” said Ellen.

“Yes.  Fine,” I said, trying to hide my mounting frustration.  “But I think it’s important that we move on to the actual content of the presentation.”

Having silenced them temporarily, I moved off of the title slide and to the first slide.

“Now on this slide,” I said, “I want to grab their attention.  I want to get across to them why we are uniquely positioned to quickly …”

“Um, Jack?”  It was Dave again.

“Yes, Dave?”

“Your bullet list contains diamonds.”

“Yes?  Is there something wrong with diamonds?”

“Diamonds are not on the company’s approved list of bullets.”

“You don’t say.”

“Yes sir.  I would suggest either dots, circles, squares, open squares, or pips.”

“Pips?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very well.  I’ve made a note to have that corrected.  Now, on this first bullet, I’m going to state how we can meet their schedule because of our agility …”

“Jack?”

“Yes … Mary …”  I said, finding it difficult to mask my growing frustration.

“The hanging indent on your first line should be a half inch …”

“Listen,” I said to the room at large.  “We are never going to get through this if we just focus on formatting issues.”

There was a moment of silence and I was about move on when I heard a small voice say, “Nimble is misspelled in the second bullet.”

                                                              *

Seven hours later the door of the conference room opened and we all filed out, totally exhausted and dejected.  We had finally gotten through the three-page slide presentation and had cleaned up all the formatting, font, and color issues.  I would just have to review the content at home that evening so that I could make sure it was okay before the customer presentation tomorrow.

I’d call a quick 8 am meeting tomorrow morning with the engineering staff so they could review it.  That should work out okay.

Alistair and Alexis Attend an Auction

art-gallery

“I say, James,” I said, by way of addressing James, who was busy chauffeuring like nobody’s business at the moment.

“Yes, sir?” came his response from the front seat in the cool, calm, unflappable manner which has no doubt made him a legend among chauffeuring circles.

“What say we swing by The Gryphon’s Nest for a snifter?”

He glanced at me briefly in the rear view mirror and then returned his gaze to the road, a move that separates the professionals from the rookies.

“Do you think that is wise, Sir?”

“Wise?” I asked, philosophically.  “I don’t know about wise, but I think it is damned necessary.  I will leave the question regarding its wisdom to the philosophers.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Would Plato have thought it wise?  Aristotle?  Spinoza?  No doubt they would have had their doubts.  As for me, of doubts I have none.  Swing by the ol’ watering hole, if you would be so kind, James.”

“Yes, Sir,” he said.  And then after a moment’s hesitation, said, “I was only thinking …”

“Thinking of what, James?”  I asked, my mind a little distracted about what Spinoza would have thought of The Gryphon’s Nest.  No doubt he would have enjoyed their hot wings and their 100-inch ultra-high definition television.

“I was only thinking that Mrs. Callington was expecting you to meet her at the auction.”

“Which is precisely why I need the snifter, James.  One can’t just simply go to an auction without being fortified.”

“Yes, sir,” came the professional, if somewhat pointed response.

“One needs bracing.  A little gusset for the spine.”

“Yes, sir,” he said again, which was his way of saying, “It’s your funeral.”  And perhaps he was right.  What are auctions if not the funerals of the detritus we no longer want or need?  James must be in a particularly philosophical frame of mind today.

Still, when I arrived at the auction an hour later after a brief stop at The Gryphon’s Nest, I believe that my course was the best and I was gusseted and well-oiled to be able to endure the auction.  A snifter or two of Kentucky’s primary export had braced me to a considerable degree for the ordeal that was no doubt to follow.

“Where have you been?” hissed Alexis as I sauntered into the auction venue.  This was her normal greeting for me.

“I’m fine, thank you, Dear,” I said warmly, for I was full of bonhomie.  I kissed her cheek.

She eyed me for a moment with wild surmise.  “Have you been at the Crow’s Nest?”

“Gryphon’s Nest,” I corrected.  “The Crow’s Nest is a bar.”

“Well, what do you think the Gryphon’s Nest is?” she asked.

“It is a pub.”

“It’s the same thing,” she said.

I was about to correct her and explain that a pub is far more sophisticated and effete, but there was the sound of a gavel and a deep booming voice saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, if you please.  The auction is about to start, so if you could take your seats, please.  Thank you.”

“Never mind,” she said.  “Let’s go take our seats.”

She turned and walked towards the array of chairs that were nicely padded, but were still the sort of chairs one finds in a hotel banquet room.  Except that we weren’t in a hotel banquet room.  We were in the ballroom of Drimble Manor, which had been converted for the occasion.  The occasion, of course, was the dissolution of the Drimble estate, prompted by the untimely (though not entirely unexpected) passing of the senior Mr. Drimble, the founder and chief executive scoundrel of Drimble’s Kibble, the high-end dog food for snooty dog owners.

I sat next to the lovely Mrs. Callington and smiled at her.  She was looking quite lovely this evening in her prim pencil skirt and white silk blouse, black stiletto heels, and patent leather belt.  Her jet-black hair was pulled back particularly tight this evening, reflecting the lights of Drimble Manor like moonlight on an inky sea.

“You look … lovelry … lovel …ry …. level .. ree ..tonight,” I whispered, then added as an afterthought, “My dear.”  I thought it was a good save.

She suddenly rolled her eyes as if someone had stepped on her toe.

“Good god,” she whispered.  “How many bourbons did you have?”

“Just … just … the two.  Or three.”

“Well for god’s sake, don’t stand near any open flames.”

I looked around but didn’t see any flames of any sort.  “Yes, dear,” I whispered.

“And don’t bid on anything.”

On this topic, I was quite prepared to speak.  I leaned back over to her and whispered.  “Not … not … not to worry, my Delicate Cherry Blossom.  I pursued … perused … the catalog, my beer … deer … dear.  There was not a shingle … single .. splinter of furniture, not a single slosh of paint on canvas, not the first shark … sherpa … shard of glassware, that caught my eye.”  I pointed to my eye pointedly, so that she could get my point.

She put her hand on my pointing finger and lowered it back down onto my lap.  “Well just make sure you don’t bid on anything.”

I put my finger to my lips as if I were shushing myself.  “Not a single bid will I make.  Other than for your affections.”  She rolled her eyes.

At that moment, the auctioneer gestured towards a painting.  “Our first item up for bid this afternoon is a lovely painting by Amaud Desrosiers.  It is an abstract entitled, “Jolies filles à la plage”1.   The opening bid is two thousand dollars.  Do I hear a bid?”

I scrutinized the painting.  There were straight lines and garish colors, like geometric shapes run amuck.  There was no balance among either the elements nor the colors.  And, my French may be a little rusty, but I did not see either filles nor plage.  A better name for this monstrosity might have been “Boîtes mal dessinées2.  I was incensed.  What was monsieur Desrosiers trying to pull here?  Did he think we were plebeians?

Où sont les filles?3” I whispered to Alexis, my dudgeon quite high.

“Shhh!” she shushed sharply.

“Où sont les filles?!”, I repeated a little louder, for perhaps she hadn’t heard me.

“Oh my god,” she hissed at me, “You’re not even French!  How are you speaking French all of a sudden?”

“We have a bid for $2000,” said the auctioneer.  “Do I hear $3000?”

I let out a derisive little breath.  I whispered to my lovely Alexis of the beautiful scowl.  “Can you believe someone bid on this poubelle4?”

She glowered at me.  “You!  You bid on it,” she said in a sharp whisper.

“I?” I gasped, metagrabolised5.  “That’s impossible.  I would not bid on such … such … “ I gestured towards the piece of offending art looking for the correct word.  “Such rubbish.”

“We have a bid for $3000,” boomed the auctioneer.

“For god’s sake,” said my petite little Alexis of the smoldering glower.  “Stop flapping your arms.  You’ll bankrupt us.

*                                          *                                             *

Later, on the ride home, I confided in James.  “She was quite right to be so upset, James.”

I saw his eyes in the rear-view mirror glance back at me for about an eighth of a second, which is the correct amount of time for someone of his professional demeanor to look at an employer who had bid on poubelle against the better judgement of his better half.  A glance that had lasted any longer would have been untoward.

I looked around me on the rear seat of the limousine.  In addition to the execrable “Jolies filles à la plage”, there was a Schovajsa  glass vase that weighed about 20 pounds and probably would not hold a thimbleful of water, a Louis XV chair that looked as if it were upholstered in curtains salvaged from a defunct brothel, and an art deco figurine of a woman that was so exquisitely rendered that it would most likely take some additional explaining to the lovely Mrs. Callington over and above the seventeen hundred dollars I’d accidentally bid for it.

James looked back towards the road, but his eyes had said everything in that eighth of a second that the irascible Mrs. Callington had said quite verbosely over the course of the ten minutes we sat at the bursar’s desk settling up our account.

I was beginning to understand how the now-defunct Mr. Drimble had ended up with so much flotsam over the course of his 98 years.  An accidental gesture here, and intemperate wave of the hand there, and suddenly one’s ballroom is full of dubious artwork.

Perhaps we should have an auction of our own soon.

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©2017 by biffsockpow.wordpress.com

 

 


  1. Pretty Girls at the Beach 
  2. Poorly drawn boxes 
  3. Where are the girls? 
  4. Trash 
  5. Mystified 

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