Author: Aaron Blaylock

All About That Bounce

“How much longer are we going to do this?”

“This is important, Bob.”

“Is it?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Is it?”

Bob laid a penetrating look on Woodruff, who ignored him.  The hum of machinery filled the massive manufacturing floor.  Workers scurried about, covered head to toe in bright white jumpsuits.  Woodruff pulled on a pair of latex gloves and carefully took hold of a pair of metal tongs.

“I don’t want to do this anymore,” Bob whined.

“Then go wait in the car,” Woodruff said, as he raised the tongs in front of him, with his eyes set on a caldron below.

“It’s cold outside,” Bob complained.  “Can I run the heater?”

“No, just use the blankets in the back.”

“They smell like llama.”

“I told you not that let him sleep back there.”

“Like I’m gonna tell a llama he can’t sleep on a comfy blanket.  I’m not a monster.”

“Well now you’ve got a blanket that smells like llama,” Woodruff replied, carefully studying the contents of the vat beneath him.

“Your blanket smells like llama,” Bob muttered.

“What was that?”

“Nothing.”

“That’s what I thought.  Now hush,” Woodruff said.  “I’m trying to concentrate.”

“Just pick one and let’s get this over with.”  Bob flailed his arms wildly and flung himself to the floor with his legs crisscrossed.

“You’re getting your jumper dirty.”

“I don’t care!  I hate this suit and I hate this place.  It makes my head itchy.”

“That’s because you don’t have any hair.”

“How dare you!  I have hair.”

“Some.”

“I’ll have you know this was a decision of function and fashion.”

“A decision necessitated by premature hair loss.”

“Balding by chance, shaved by choice.”

“The longer you distracted me the longer we’re going to be here.”

“Fine.”

Bob drew his fingers across his lips in a pantomimed zipping motion.  Woodruff shook his arms and rolled his shoulders back, while turning his head from side to side.  He lowered the tongs and took hold of a lengthy green pickle.  Brine dripped from his selection as he pulled it from the vat.

“Oh that’s a fine pickle,” Woodruff said.  He gently placed the pickle in the palm of his hand with the tongs.

“Okay, you’ve got your pickle,” Bob said.  “Can we go now?”

“This pickle looks good, but looks aren’t everything.”

“That’s not what my agent says.”

“And how many gigs has he booked you of late?”

“That’s not because of these beauties,” Bob held up his hands and rotated them in a showy fashion.  “It’s because I have an undeserved reputation for being difficult to work with.”

“You’ve proved my point,” Woodruff replied.  “Looks aren’t everything.”

“You’re looks aren’t everything,” Bob muttered.

“What was that?”

“I said you’re looks aren’t everything.”

“Wicked burn.”

Woodruff rolled his eyes and Bob stuck out his tongue.  Pickle juice covered Woodruff’s gloves and a drop fell to the floor.  Bob eyed the droplet contemptuously as Woodruff raised the pickle to shoulder height.  Like an MC completing a rap battle, he opened his fingers and let the pickle fall to the ground.  On impact the pickle recoiled and jiggled in the air for a few seconds before bouncing to a rest.

“That’s the stuff!”

“What was that about?”

“If it doesn’t bounce it’s not a pickle.”

“Says who?”

“The state of Connecticut.”

“The state of Connecticut?”

“That’s right,” Woodruff explained.  “1948, the people versus pickle packers.  Two men were arrested for selling pickles that were unfit for human consumption.  The Connecticut Food and Drug Commissioner, was called to testify on ways to check for good pickles.  He said that outside of laboratory tests you could drop it on the floor and a good pickle should bounce.  The pickle peddlers merchandise did not bounce and were declared unpickle-ish.”

“That’s not a thing.”

“Prove it.”

“You’re saying that the people told a pair of pickle packers they couldn’t peddler a pack of pliant pickles ‘cause the pliant pickle wouldn’t pop?”

“Exactly.”

“Bull.”

“No, dill.”

“This is ridiculous,” Bob said.  “You’ve got your bouncy pickle.  Can we go now?”

“That was just a test pickle.”

“A test pickle?”

“Yeah,” Woodruff replied.  “It’s been on the floor.  I’m not eating that.”

“Then what are we doing here?” Bob shouted.

“I was testing the batch.  This batch is good,” Woodruff turned back to the briny caldron and studied the floaters.  He dipped the tongs back into the vat and pulled out a wrinkle-laden specimen.  “We have a winner.”

“Hip hip, hooray,” Bob replied, sarcastically.  “Let’s go.”

“We can’t just go,” Woodruff said.  “We have to pay for it.”

Woodruff placed the pickle into a plastic bag and returned the tongs to the stainless steel table next to the vat.  He peeled off his white jump suit and removed his hair net and booties.  Bob stood up from the ground and followed Woodruff’s lead, disposing of his suit in the nearest laundry hamper.  With plastic bag in hand, Woodruff walked to the manager’s office at the far end of the manufacturing floor and knocked on the door.

“Come in,” a voice replied from the other side.

“Hello,” Woodruff greeted a squatty office manager sitting behind a large desk.  The man was examining a single paper among the clutter on his desktop.  At the center of the clutter was a plaque that read Clifton King.

“Yeah,” the man behind the desk grunted, without looking up.

“Um, yes, Mr. King?” Woodruff began.  “I’d like to pay for my pickle.”

“What?” Mr. King replied, with a dazed look in Woodruff’s direction.  Bob entered through the office door and stood behind Woodruff.

“Hey there, Mr. King, sir,” Bob said.  “Uh, your majesty, uh, highness?”

“I need to purchase this pickle,” Woodruff replied.

“And one he through on the floor back there,” Bob added.

“We don’t sell pickles here,” Mr. King said.  “How did you get in here anyway?”

“Through the door, obviously,” Bob replied.  “You make all these pickles and they’re not for sale?”

“We sell the pickles, but you can’t buy them here,” Mr. King said, standing up and walking around his large desk.

“Oh, um, well this is the pickle I want,” Woodruff said.  “Where would I buy it?”

“Don’t forget the one you threw on the floor,” Bob added.

“You have to buy it from a store,” Mr. King said.  “We are the supplier.  You aren’t even supposed to be back here.”

“Understood,” Woodruff said.  “But since we’re already back here, what can I give you for two pickles.  And whatever Horacio ate.”

“How many pickles do you eat?” Mr. King asked Bob.

“No, I’m not Horacio,” Bob chuckled.  “Horacio is a llama.”

Bob pulled down on a cord, which raised the blinds to a window looking out on the manufacturing floor.  A tall gray llama stood over a box of pickle jars chewing slowly and looking back at the trio inside the manager’s office.  Mr. King’s face turned red.

“Get that animal out of here,” he demanded.

“Sure thing,” Woodruff said.  “What do we owe you for the pickles?”

“Get out!”

Mr. King pushed them through the threshold and slammed the door behind them.  The binds came clattering down covering the window.  Woodruff and Bob stared at each other with wide eyes.

“I think we’d better go,” Woodruff said.

“Come on, Horacio,” Bob called.  “Apparently this organization is llama intolerant.”

“They really should put up a sign,” Woodruff replied.

“Totally,” Bob said.  “You put a giant pickle over your building and people are going to stop for pickles.  That’s just human nature.”

“And llama nature.”

“Fact.”

Woodruff, Bob, and Horacio walked through the giant bay doors out into the parking lot.

“The good news is you got your perfect pickle for free,” Bob said.

“You can’t beat a pro-bono pickle,” Woodruff replied.  “Isn’t that right, Horacio?”

The tall gray llama spit pickle juice on the asphalt in front of them.

“You can say that again.”

Died On The Vine

“Boom!” Bob slapped down a card on the cherry wood tea table.  “Draw four.”

“Shoot.”

Woodruff picked up a yellow pencil and began to sketch rapidly on a small pad of paper.  He scribbled out four separate images of rubber ducks and handed it over to Bob.

“Come to daddy, duckies.”

“Okay, my turn,” Woodruff picked up a handful of colorful cards and studied them carefully.  A wry smile broke across his face as he slowly removed a single card from the arrangement and laid it on the table between them.  “Reverse.”

“Crud,” Bob said.  “Uh, I mean, durC.  Um, esrever ni kaeps ot evah I od gnol woH?”

“Until I say so.”

“riafnU.”

“You’re the one who wanted to play no holds barred Uno,” Woodruff said.  “It’s a high stake, take no prisoners, game.”

Rows and rows of green bushes and vines stretched down the hillside from where they sat.  In the distance, a tall thin man in a black suit made his way up the hill.  The man wore a bowler hat and carried an umbrella in the crook of his arm.

“taht s’ohW?

“Dunno,” Woodruff shrugged his shoulders.

They watched the distinguished gentleman sail through the lush vineyard in their direction.  White billowy clouds hung in the blue sky, like heavenly spectators for their game of cards.  With the thin man still several yards away Bob turned his attention back to the tea table.

“nrut yM.”

Woodruff eyed the approaching stranger for another moment before turning to face his opponent.

“Whatcha got?”

“piks, peew dna ti daeR.”

“Aw man.”

The tall thin man ceremoniously presented himself and removed his bowler hat.

“Monsieur Woodruff et Monsieur Bob. Bonjour, je suis Alcott Stirling.”

“Bonjour,” Woodruff said.  “Parlez vous English?”

“Ah, yes,” Mister Stirling said.  “Actually, I’m from England.  But when in Rome.”

The tall thin Englishmen gestured to the green sweeping countryside surrounding them.

“ecnarF si siht, emoR t’nsi sihT,” Bob said.

“I beg your pardon,” Stirling said.

“Oh, uh, Bob I release you.”

“I said, this isn’t Rome, this is France.”

“Right you are, Master Bob.”

“How do you know our names?” Woodruff asked.

“I represent Hewing, Durker, and Crane.”

“The publisher?” Woodruff asked.

“Quite right,” Stirling replied.  “It took quite a bit of doing to track you down.”

“Track us down?”

“We are eager for a reply to their inquiry.”

“What inquiry?”

“I’ve left several messages.”

“I didn’t get any messages,” Woodruff replied.  “Bob, did you?”

“Yeah, I posted them on the grapevine.”

“What?”

“I put them back over there on the grapevine.”

Bob rose from his chair and pointed to a red brick wall, with a waist-high hedge running along it.  Strewn across the lush green leaves were several small white papers tucked between long tangled vines.  Woodruff walked further up the hill to the nearest piece of paper and loosed it from the grapevine.

“Mr. Stirling called again about Salubrious Women,” Woodruff read aloud.

“Your blog has gained quite a following,” Stirling explained.  “Despite not posting for nearly a year, your following has reached quadruple digits.  Everyone is wondering what happened to Coleen and Sheila.”

“We don’t do that anymore,” Bob said.  “We’ve moved on.”

“But there is clearly an audience clamoring for your advice,” Stirling said.

“How did you find us, anyway?” Woodruff asked.  “We never used our real names.”

“The IP address for your postings led to an encyclopedia shop in the United States,” Stirling began.  “An irritated gruff woman name Carmela told us who you were.  From there, we searched your last known address and next of kin.  The firm dispatched a private investigator who ran across a homeless man who gave us a Google phone number you use in case of emergency.”

“Homeless man?”

“He means Kenny,” Bob said.  “And the term is Vagabond American, Mr. British K. Snooty Pants.”

“We have an emergency phone number?”

“Uh, yeah we do.  Like we’re just going to go parababooning in the south of France without an emergency contact.”

“Para-what?” Stirling asked.

“Parababooning,” Woodruff replied.  “It’s basically skydiving with a baboon strapped to your back.”

“It’s next level parachuting,” Bob added.

“Bob, why didn’t you tell me about these messages?”

“I put them right here for you.”

“On the grapevine?”

“Yeah, what’s the point of staying in a vineyard if you don’t use the grapevine?”

“How does that make any sense?”

“It’s a grapevine, you know, I heard it through the grapevine.  I put all your messages here.  On the grapevine.”

“All my messages?” Woodruff looked down the vine at a dozen other pieces of paper.

“Yeah,” Bob walked down the vine and pulled off a slip of paper.  “Like this one, from your sister.”

“I don’t have a sister.”

“Oh right, hold up,” Bob ran down to the far end of the row.  He plucked the first note and hurried back to deliver it to Woodruff.

“Woodruff, Ancestry DNA is trying to contact you about your sister,” Woodruff read aloud.  “Bob!”

“What!”

“You didn’t tell me I have a sister?”

“I did!”

“You didn’t!”

“I did, through the grapevine!”

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” Stirling interrupted.  “Perhaps this is not the best time.  May I call on you tomorrow in regards to our proposition.”

“I’ll stop you right there, Redcoat,” Bob said.  “We’re out of the women’s health game.”

“If you would just hear our offer, it’s very generous.”

“Pass,” Woodruff said.  “Besides, last time I was propositioned by an Englishman in a bowler hat I ended up crew captain for a Somali pirate warlord.”

“I miss Abshir,” Bob said.

“Be reasonable, we’re offering…”

“Bup bup bup,” Woodruff waved his hands and shook his head at Mr. Stirling.  “Nope!  The answer is no.  Coleen and Sheila are retired.”

“Very well,” Stirling said.  He returned his tiny bowler hat to his narrow head and tucked his umbrella under his arm, indignantly.  “Good day.”

“It is a good day,” Bob replied, matching his indignation.

The tall Englishman spun on his heels and departed the way he came.  Woodruff turned back to the grapevine and surveyed the varied messages.

“Book deal, book deal, home warranty extension, book deal,” Woodruff muttered aloud.  “What’s this?”

Woodruff pulled a note free from the vine and held it up to eye level.  Bob leaned in and read the hand scribbled note.

“Oh that,” Bob said.  “Your credit card company thinks someone stole your identity.”

“What?!”

“Yeah, apparently there’s been some unusual purchases.”

“Unusual purchases?”

“Yeah, a two-hundred-dollar pair of Oakley goggles, eleven crates of pomegranates, six cans of spray cheese, and a couple of baboon harnesses.”

“That was you, Bob.”

“Well I know that, but your credit card company thought it was suspicious.”

“Bob?”

“They froze your account,” Bob replied sheepishly as he backed slowly away.

“Bob!”

“You really should check your messages.”

Woodruff lunged forward, just missing Bob as he tucked and rolled down the hill.  Waving his hands high above his head, Bob sprang to his feet and dashed down a long row of grapevines, staying just out of reach of Woodruff’s long arms.

Before They Hatch

With tongue pressed to the inner wall of his cheek, Bob carefully painted a thick blue stripe down the center of a milky shell.  Woodruff proudly held his egg up to eye level and admired the precision of two parallel red lines, which circled the delicate sphere.

“Beautiful.”

“That looks real good, Woodruff.”

“It does, doesn’t it.”

Woodruff gently placed the egg in a giant nest full of eggs.  The other eggs, that lay amongst the hay, sticks, and stuffing, were each adorned with numbers, lightning bolts, racing stripes, or stars.  Bob placed his decorative oval in the nest and stepped back with his hands resting on his hips.

“What’s next?”

“We wait.”

“For how long?”

“Well that depends,” Woodruff said.  “Chickens take about twenty-one days to hatch.  A duck can take up to twenty-eight, while a duck billed platypus only takes ten.  The turtles will take around seventy days and the crocodile is going to take eighty days.  And the python is longer than the duck but less than the turtle.”

Bob flipped a switch on the wall and four red lamps, hanging over the nest, blinked on.  With his index finger, Woodruff began to identify each egg one by one and whispered numbers as he went.  “Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen…”

“Whatcha two doing?”

Woodruff and Bob spun around toward the voice.  A scrawny young man, with a greasy tank-top, stood in the doorway.  He cocked his head to one side and scratched at the scruff on his chin.

“We’re building an empire?” Woodruff replied.

“Huh?”

“We’ve invented a new sport,” Bob said.

“Crack and Dash!”

“It’s a race to find the fastest egg layers.”

“Oviparous Prime, if you will.”

“Bird, reptiles, mammals, fight it out on land and sea for speciest superiority.”

“It’s the sensation about to sweep the nation.”

They slid to either side of the nest and, with a grand sweeping motion, gesture to the eggs.  The scrawny young man furrowed his brow and looked from Woodruff to Bob to the nest and back to Woodruff.

“Uh, I meant whatcha doing here,” the young man said.  “In a storage closet.  Beneath the bleachers.  On a Tuesday.”

Woodruff and Bob lowered their arms in disappointment.

“Oh, um, well, we wanted our little oviparians to be born to run.”

“So we figured we’d raise them here at the race track so it’d get in their blood.”

“And we painted their shells for racing too,” Woodruff picked up an egg with a blue number four painted on the side.

“You know, crack and dash,” Bob said.

“Crack and Dash!”  Woodruff and Bob repeated in unison.

The young man stood as still as a statue and stared blankly at the excited entrepreneurs.  After several silent moments he sniffed and mindlessly wiped at his nose.  Bob looked over at Woodruff and nodded with a wink.  Woodruff watched apprehensively as Bob approached the beanpole blocking the doorway.

“Biff, may I call you Biff?”

“My name is Trevor.”

“Biff, you look like a man of ambition,” Bob continued, and put his arm around the young man’s bony shoulder.  “How would you like to get in on the ground floor of the next big thing?”

“I’m gonna have to report ya’ll,” Trevor replied.

“Classic Biff.  Listen, here’s the deal,” Bob went on.  “We need a place to hatch our little speed demons.  How about you forget you saw us and we’ll cut in it at four percent.”

“Are ya’ll really hatching demons?”

“I got this, Bob.”

Woodruff stepped forward and pried Trevor out from under Bob’s arm.

“Sorry about him,” Woodruff said.  “We know you’re just trying to do your job.  Would it be possible to rent this space from you for the next ten to eighty days?”

“Well, I dunno,” Trevor said and rubbed at the back of his neck.  “You can’t keep critters at the racetrack.”

“Critters?  I don’t see any critters.”

“Look at them things there,” Trevor pointed to the oversized nest at the far end of the room.

“Those aren’t critters,” Bob said.  “Those are eggs.”

“Eggs that are gonna become critters,” Trevor argued.

“Biff, I mean, Trevor,” Woodruff said.  “Have you ever heard the expression don’t count your chickens before they hatch?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well I don’t see any chickens.  Only eggs.”

“So them are chicken eggs?”

“And duck, and turtle, and platypus, and crocodile…”

“Crocodile?” Trevor exclaimed.

“Yeah, but we’re not sure which one anymore,” Bob said.  “It’s either the big one with the red racing stripe or the tan one with the yellow lightning bolt.”

“Or we’ll all just be surprised if a croc pops out from somewhere else,” Woodruff added.

“How you gonna keep a croc from eating the rest of them critters?”

“Biff, if they’re not fast enough to avoid getting eaten, they’re not fast enough for Crack and Dash.”

“Bob!”

“What?”

“Once again, ignore him,” Woodruff said to Trevor.  “We are going to keep them in separate pens.  Every species will enjoy their own habitat.  They’ll be treated quite well, I assure you.”

“You promise?”

“Scout’s honor,” Woodruff crossed his heart and raised three figures to the sky.

“Well, I reckon it couldn’t hurt none if ya keep your eggs in here,” Trevor said.  “Providing ya clear out once they’re all hatched.”

“Deal.”

Trevor and Woodruff shook hands.  Woodruff wiped the grease from their handshake on the back of his pants and Bob stepped up to seal the deal.  He spat in his palm and extended his hand.  Trevor looked down on the offering in horror.

“What?” Bob said.  “Is that not cool?”

Woodruff covered his face in shame.  Trevor pouted and shook his head with his scrawny neck.  Bob wiped his spit-hand on his shorts and stuck out a closed fist to their new accomplice.  They bumped fists and Bob smiled.

“So what now?” Trevor asked.

“Well the platypus is going to hatch any day now,” Woodruff said.  “That means we’re going to have eleven days to convince him these are his brothers and sisters.”

“How’s your momma platypus impersonation?” Bob asked.

Trevor made a rapid clicking noise with his tongue.

“Excellent.”

Woodruff and Bob exchanged nodding smiles.

VOILA!

Bob pulled open the door and stepped to the side.  Woodruff cupped his ears with his hands.

“Why are you holding both ears?”

“WHAT?”

“Why are you covering your ears?”

“I CAN’T HEAR YOU.  I’M COVERING MY EARS.”

Woodruff walked through the doorway and stepped into the cozy waiting room.  There was a counter at the far side of the room with a clipboard, next to a jar of pens, and a silver bell.  Bob leaned over the counter to look for a receptionist.  Hands still over his ears, Woodruff rang the bell with his forehead.

A short frizzy haired woman with a bright smile stepped out from behind a filing cabinet.

“May I help you?” the frizzy hair woman said.

“Yes, we called ahead about a removal.”

“HELLO.”

“Oh, yeah,” she said.  “Woodrow, right?”

“Woodruff,” Bob corrected.

“MY NAME IS WOODRUFF.”

Bob reached up and pulled Woodruff’s hands down to his side.

“Stop shouting,” Bob said.  “You sound like a crazy person.”

“I couldn’t exactly make out what the problem was on the phone through all the hysteria,” the frizzy haired woman said.

“First of all, Alice,” Bob said, reading her name tag.  “I wasn’t hysterical, that’s my emergency voice.  And second, my friend here has a coin stuck in his ear.”

“I HAVE A COIN STUCK IN MY EAR.”

“Why are you still yelling?” Bob said.  “Can you not hear us?”

“WHAT?  I CAN’T HEAR YOU.”

“How many coins does he have in there?”

“Just one I think.”

“Fill out this form and I’ll be right back.”

Bob pulled a pen from the jar, took the clipboard from Alice, and found a seat next to an end table overflowing with magazines.  Woodruff stared at a stereogram picture on the wall and rubbed gently at his ears.

“Woodruff, do you have any allergies besides faux leather?”

Woodruff continued to stare at the picture.

“Woodruff!”

“I SEE A SAILBOAT.”

“Okay,” Bob said, and continued to write.  “Allergies, none.  Reason for visit…”

“AND A DOLPHIN.”

“Coin in the ear.”

Bob completed the form and reported back to the counter.  With a great big smile, Alice accepted the clipboard and took a moment to look it over.

“All right, bring him on back,” Alice said.  “I’ll go get Doctor Professor.”

“Doctor Professor?”

“Yes, Doctor Daniel Professor.”

Alice opened the door to the right of the counter and Bob escorted Woodruff down the hallway, following the receptionist.  She gestured to an open door and swapped a green flag for a red one.  Woodruff sat on the elevated table at the center of the room and Bob took a seat on a round stood with wheels.

“Doctor Professor will be in to see you shortly.”

She closed the door behind her, leaving Woodruff and Bob alone.

“DID SHE SAY DOCTOR BLOOD PRESSURE?”

“No, Doctor Professor.”

“BELLWETHER?”

“Pro-fessor.”

“PROTESTER?”

“Pro-fess-or.”

The door opened and a tall slender man in a white coat entered.  He removed his glasses and squinted down at the clipboard.  A grin broke across his face and he put his glasses back on.

“I see we have a classic coin in the ear situation,” Doctor Professor said.  “Usually this only happens with small children.”

“DOCTOR PROPELLER, I HAVE A COIN IN MY EAR.”

“Forgive him,” Bob said.  “He can’t hear.”

“I CAN’T HEAR ANYTHING.”

“Okay, well, let’s see what we’re dealing with.”

The doctor pulled out a pen light and shined it in Woodruff’s ear.

“What kind of coin are we looking at?”

“Two pence.”

“Two pence?”

“Yeah, it’s a beautiful coin,” Bob said.  “Mint condition.  You know, before it was embedded in his ear canal.”

“How did he get two pence stuck in his ear?”

“The usual way.  A pretty girl, a magician, a volunteer from the audience, a random coin, it happens.”

“I LIKE YOUR DOLPHIN PICTURE IN THE LOBBY.”

“So he was the volunteer from the audience?”

“No, he’s the magician.”

“Huh?”

The paper crinkled beneath Woodruff as he squirmed from side to side and watched Bob and the doctor.

“You know the old coin behind the ear trick?”

“Sure.”

“Well that’s old news.  We wanted to do something different, something fresh.”

“Uh huh.”

“In our act the volunteer pulls the coin from behind the magician’s ear.”

“So how did the coin get in his ear then?”

“A magician never tells his secrets.”

“I’M A MAGICIAN.”

The doctor shook his head and walked over to the workstation behind Bob.  He rooted around in a drawer for a moment and produced a long pair of tweezers.

“We’ll have that out in a jiffy.”

“WHAT GYPSY?”

Ignoring his extra loud patient, Doctor Professor shined his pen light down Woodruff’s ear canal and carefully lined up the tweezers.  He reached in on pulled out a wax coated coin and showed it to Woodruff and Bob.

“Voila!” Doctor Professor said.

“IS THAT THE COIN FROM MY EAR?”

“Why are you still talking so loud?” Bob asked.

“BECAUSE IF IT IS, I STILL CANNOT HEAR.”

With a grimace, the doctor shined his handy pen light in Woodruff’s ear again.

“There’s something else in there.”

“There is?”

Bob failed to conceal a wry smile.  Doctor Professor eyed him skeptically before he turned his attention back to Woodruff, who was also smiling.

“What’s going on?” the doctor asked.

“What do you mean?”

“IS THERE SOMETHING ELSE IN THERE?”

Doctor Professor pursed his lips and shot a squinty-eyed look at the grinning companions.  He turned his attention, and his pen light, back on the blockage.  With precision, he grasped hold of the obstruction and pulled out a blue handkerchief.  The backend of the cloth diamond was still in Woodruff’s ear so he pulled again and out popped a yellow handkerchief, attached to the blue one.  This was repeated over and over as red, orange, green, and purple followed.  Finally, a pair of polka dot underpants slipped out of the previously obstructed duct and dangled from the end of the handkerchief rainbow rope.

“VOILA!” Woodruff said.

He hopped off the exam table and clasped hands with Bob.  They raised their arms in the air and took a deep bow.

“AND THAT’S MAGIC.”

“Why are you still shouting?”

“I DON’T KNOW, I THINK I GOT USED TO TALKING LIKE THIS.”

“Are you telling me that you came here to do a magic trick?” the doctor asked.

“Sure did,” Bob said.  “We’re going to revolutionize the craft.”

“By doing unsolicited tricks for free to an audience of one?”

“That’s right.”

“Actually there’s a $40 copay,” Doctor Professor said.  “So this act is going to cost you.”

“BUT DID YOU ENJOY THE SHOW.”

“It’s a neat trick, but how did you fit all that stuff in there?”

“MAGIC.”

Woodruff raised his hands to the sides of his face and twinkled his fingers.

“All right, well, you can pay Alice on your way out.”

“About that,” Bob said.  “Would you accept coupons for half off admission to our next show?”

“Uh no.”

“OKAY.  WELL, YOU’VE BEEN A GREAT AUDIENCE.  BE SURE TO TELL YOUR FRIENDS.”

“No.”

Doctor Professor shook his head and pulled open the office door.  Woodruff and Bob stepped out into the hallway and headed for the lobby.

“I think you were right, Woodruff.  Gorilla Magicianing is probably one of those ‘ahead of its time’ ideas.”

“I TOLD YOU SO.”

Pardon My Poupon

With a jackhammer like motion, Bob ran a large knife from one end of a cutting board to the other.  Tiny brown and yellow pebbles bounced in all directions.

“There, see?” Bob said.

“You’re not so much cutting as crunching,” Woodruff replied.

“They are cut.”

“More like smashed.”

“Well this is impossible.”

“I told you so.”

Bob laid the knife on top of the sea of little seeds and threw up his hands.

“If you can’t cut the mustard, then how does anything actual cut the mustard?”

“Because it’s just an expression, Bob.”

“Expressions come from somewhere though,” Bob said.  “There has to be a way.”

“Well, we’ve tried yellow mustard, mustard paste, mustard plants, and now mustard seeds.”

“I still say I cut that mustard plant.”

“Right, but how is that different from cutting a stalk of broccoli?” Woodruff said.  “The expression is ‘doesn’t cut the mustard’.  There’s got to be something that sets mustard apart.”

“What about poupon?”

“What about it?”

“Grey Poupon is a mustard, we could cut that.”

“How’s Grey Poupon different than yellow mustard?”

“It’s classier.”

Woodruff shook his head and looked on his friend with derision and disbelief.

“How did we even start down this path?”

“We were discussing who would win in a fight between a Griffin and a Liger,” Bob said.  “While the answer is clearly a Griffin, you said that a Griffin is mythical while a Liger is real and therefore the Liger would win by default.”

“Which is true.”

“I said that a Buzzfeed poll had the Griffin winning fifty-three percent to forty-seven.  You said that in terms of social science a qualitative poll doesn’t cut the mustard due to sampling bias.”

“Oh right,” Woodruff said.  “Well it doesn’t.”

“So then, smart guy, how does one cut the mustard?”

“IT’S AN EXPRESSION!” Woodruff threw his hands in the air, as if he were signaling a successful field goal.

“Fine,” Bob said.  “No need to get upset.  Let’s just go.”

Woodruff and Bob left the cutting board in the back room and headed for the lobby.

“Thanks again, Hank.” Bob saluted the security guard seated behind the desk.

“Any time Bobby,” Hank replied and returned the salute.

“Tell Barb we said hello,” Woodruff added.

“Will do.  Give my best to Kenny.”

“You got it.”

Bob stepped into the triangular opening and gave the revolving door a push.  He stopped suddenly just as Woodruff’s compartment was enclosed by the wall.

“What if we freeze it?” Bob asked through the glass partition.

“What?” Woodruff said pushing against the stopped door.  “Move!”

Bob turned and pushed the door forward at a run.  The rate of speed for the door made it difficult for Woodruff to escape the roulette death trap and he was forced to keep pace with the circulating doorway.

“We could freeze the mustard and then cut it,” Bob said as he ran against the glass door as fast as he could.

“Okay, fine,” Woodruff said, struggling to keep up.  “That will work.  Can we stop this thing?  I wanna get off.”

The revolutions of the door slowed to a stop as Bob and Woodruff tumbled outside.  Woodruff fell on his back, looking up at the National Mustard Museum sign above the revolving door.  Bob stagger forward and took a seat on the top step, next to the fallen Woodruff.

“We can cut the mustard,” Bob said with a smile.

Woodruff closed his eyes and waited for his world to stop spinning.

“Why are you the way you are?”

“My mom says it’s because I was born under a blue moon.”

A red and yellow wienermobile drove up to the museum and parked in front of the steps.  Woodruff sat up and looked down at the hotdog-shaped vehicle.

“You hungry?”

“I could eat.”

“Wiener?”

“Wiener.”

They descended the steps and walked up to the side window of the oversize hotdog van.

“Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?”

The pimply faced young man in the van cocked his head sideways and stared back at Bob with his mouth agape.

“Ignore him,” Woodruff said.  “We’d like two hotdogs.”

“Did you really not get that reference?” Bob asked the young man with the hotdog-shaped hat.

“Uh, what reference?”

“Grey Poupon,” Bob said.  “You know, the commercial?”

“Um, the only thing I poop on is a toilet and that’s white.”

“Not poop on, poupon.”

“Really, just ignore him,” Woodruff said.  “It’s better for everyone.”

“Grey Poupon Dijon.”

“Who’s Deshawn?”

“Not who, what,” Bob said.  “It’s mustard.”

“Oh, um, yeah, we’ve got that,” the young man pulled out a bright yellow bottle with red letters.

“That’s yellow mustard.  Dijon is a spicy mustard.”

“This is all we’ve got.”

“He doesn’t even want spicy mustard.  He just likes to make obscure references.”

“How do you know I don’t want spicy mustard?”

“Well, do you?”

“No,” Bob answered timidly.  “But you didn’t know that.”

“Two hot dogs, please,” Woodruff said to the young man.  “Ketchup and mustard.”

“No ketchup for me.”

“You don’t want ketchup.”

“I don’t eat ketchup.”

“I’ve seen you eat ketchup.”

“I don’t eat ketchup anymore.”

“Since when?”

“Since I watched that documentary on the tomato industry, Our Big Red Shame,” Bob said.  “The way they tried those poor tomatoes is inhumane.”

“Inhumane?”

“Yes.”

“To a tomato?”

“You’re one of those heartless tomato eaters aren’t you?”

“So are you!”

“Not anymore.”

“You are telling me that you object to ketchup on the moral ground that tomatoes are treating inhumanely?”

“If it’s bruised or mooshy it just gets tossed aside like garbage.”

“If it’s ripe, it gets eaten.”

“I knew it!  Tomato eater!” Bob pointed an accusing finger at Woodruff.

“So you won’t eat a tomato in any form?”

“Nope.”

“What about spaghetti?”

“I take my pasta with alfredo sauce.”

“Pizza?”

“Pesto is better.”

“You’re insane.”

“You can eat what you like, I’ll have my hotdog without cruelty sauce.”

The pimply faced young man handed over two hotdogs, one with ketchup and one without.  Woodruff licked at the ketchup on top of his hotdog and took a deliberating large bite while staring directly at Bob.

“Mmm.”

“How can you live with yourself?”

“Do you have any extra ketchup packets back there?” Woodruff asked the young man in the wienervan.

He handed over a couple of ketchup packets and Woodruff tore them open with his teeth.  Ketchup oozed out onto his chin and dripped onto his shirt.

“You’re an animal.”

“Do I have tomato blood on my face?”

“I’ve lost my appetite.”

Bob dropped his hotdog on the pavement and walked away.

“Where are you going?” Woodruff called.  “What’s to-ma-toe with you?”

Woodruff wiped the ketchup from his chin with a mischievous grin.  He licked his fingers and devoured the remains of his hotdog.  As the Wienermobile pulled away Woodruff bent down over Bob’s hotdog.  He glanced to either side and, when he was sure no one was looking, scooped up the discarded dog and brushed some dirt off the end.  Woodruff took a bite and jogged after Bob with a ketchupless hotdog in hand.

Show Me

Putting one foot carefully in front of the next, Woodruff and Bob made their way slowly toward the back of a bright yellow van.  Bob signaled with his hands for Woodruff to move to the passenger’s side of the windowless vehicle, while he crept quietly around to his left.  The two moved slowly and silently, in parallel, until they reached the front doors.

Woodruff peered through his window and held his index finger to his lips.  Bob nodded back, from the other side of the glass, and mirrored Woodruff’s shushing motion.  Tentatively, Bob reached up and laid hold on the chrome door handle.  He looked across to Woodruff, who bit softly on his lower lip.  With his thumb, Bob gently pressed in the shiny metal button and there was a faint click as the door latch disengaged.  The sound was barely audible but both he and Woodruff winced at the minute noise.

Bob looked over to Woodruff for confirmation.  Woodruff glanced warily over each shoulder and nodded for Bob to continue.  His thumb was still pressed firmly on the button, but he had not moved a muscle since the tiny click.  He drew in a deep breath through his nose and held it for a few seconds.  Woodruff closed his eyes tight as Bob eased the heavy door open.  The hinges creaked and Bob froze.  A wide-eyed Woodruff shook his head and held his hands in the air to beckon him to stop.  Bob remained as still as a statue as Woodruff tip toed around the front of the van to joined him by the creaky door.

“What do we do?” Bob whispered.

Woodruff raised his hands and made a series of signals with his fingers.  Bob opened his mouth slightly and shook his head.

“You know I only know the sign for milk and yes,” Bob replied in his best library voice.

Undaunted, Woodruff gestured to the door and began to pantomime his communications.  He gestured toward the door handle with a closed fist and slowly opened his first with his fingers apart.  Bob carefully released his grip on the chrome lever and took a step back.  Woodruff slid between Bob and the slightly ajar door.  He laid his body flat against the side of the van and slipped his arm into the open crack, like a pair of tweezers fishing for the wishbone in a game of Operation.

“Careful,” Bob mumbled, in a barely audible voice.

Woodruff crinkled his lips, making the universal shush formation.  A gust of wind blew the door wide open with a creak and a clunk.

“Ah man,” Woodruff moaned.

“We’re dead,” Bob said.  “I told you.”

“We could have done it.  We almost made it.”

“No way.  It’s impossible to survive in A Quiet Place universe.  There’s just no way.”

“Especially if you don’t know sign language.”

“My lack of ASL skills did not kill us, the wind did.”

“True.”

“We were killed by the wind!”

“Can I ask what you two are doing?” a deep voice, with a drawl, called from behind them.

They spun around to find a uniformed policeman standing with his hand resting on his hostler.

“Oh, uh, hi Officer…” Bob squinted to read his badge.

“McClusky,” he replied.  “I say again, what are you two doing?”

“We were seeing if we could survive in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity is hunted to extinction by sound,” Woodruff said.

“Spoiler alert, we could not.”

“No we couldn’t.”

Officer McClusky removed his mirrored sunglasses and eyed them suspiciously.

“Is this your vehicle?”

“Technically, it belongs to our friend, Hands,” Bob said.

“Technically?” the policeman asked.

“Well it was left to him by his trainer,” Woodruff said.  “But legally speaking he can’t drive.”

“And why is that?”

“On account of him being a bear.”

“Your friend is a bear?”

“Yep.”

“A bear who owns a van?”

“That’s right.”

The van began to rock from side to side.  Officer McClusky dropped back and loosed the clip on his hostler.

“What’s in there?”

“Hands.”

“He chose to take a nap while we watched a movie.”

“He doesn’t like horror films.  Although I would argue it wasn’t truly a horror movie.”

“It was more of a suspense thriller family drama.”

“Totally.”

“Are you telling me there’s a bear in that van?” Officer McClusky asked.  He pointed to the rocking van with transparent concern and aggravation.  A growling yawn emanated from the back of the van.

“Well it ain’t a chipmunk,” Bob said.

“He’s a little grumpy after naptime, so I’d put your weapon away,” Woodruff added.  He walked to the back of the van and pulled one of the double doors open.  Bob grabbed hold of the other door and heaved it to the side as the policeman shuffled between them.

Hands sat up and scratched at his protruding belly.  He blinked his big brown eyes as he strained to adjust to the daylight.  A pedestrian on the sidewalk tripped over the curb and fell on his hands and knees, never talking his eyes off the bear in the van.  Officer McClusky hurried over to the man and helped him to his feet.

“Is that a…a…a…,” the pedestrian stammered.

“Yes sir, that’s a bear,” Officer McClusky said.  “You’d better move along.  I’ll handle this.”

“Handle what?” Woodruff asked.

“The bear issue.”

“What issue?”

“Well for starters,” the policeman said.  “How did it get here?”

“It is a he and HE rode here in the back of HIS van.”

“Sounds like the issue here is bearism.”

“Bearism?”

“Yeah, the bearist fear and prejudice against large furry mammals.”

“No, the issue is it’s illegal in the state of Missouri to drive with an uncaged bear in your vehicle,” Officer McClusky said.  He got out a small ticket book and began to write.

“Uncaged bear?” Bob said.  “Do you hear yourself?  That’s the most bearist comment we’ve heard this whole trip and we’ve been through Kentucky.”

“And where are you headed on this trip?” Officer McClusky asked.

“Oklahoma,” Woodruff said.  “Hands is competing in a wrestling tournament, unless you’re going to tell us that’s illegal too.”

“Actually, I believe it is.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

“Well poop,” Bob said.

“You can’t say the p-word in Missouri,” the policeman continued to scratch out words on his pad.

“You can’t say poop in Missouri?”

“Nope,” Officer McClusky said.  “This is the Show Me State.  You start throwing words around willy nilly and it gets messy.”

“Indeed.”

“So, you’ve got a busted taillight, expired tags, an uncaged bear and two counts of using the p-word,” Officer McClusky said.  He finished writing out the ticket and handed it to Woodruff.

“Things escalated quickly.”

“That how it works in the Show Me State,” Officer McClusky snapped his sunglasses back on and scrunched his nose to push them up into place.

“This feels like the time we committed low treason,” Bob said.

“In my defense, I didn’t know she was a monarch,” Woodruff replied.

“How do you intend to get that bear out of here?” the policeman asked.

“Call him ‘that bear’ just makes you sound more bearist,” Bob said.

“Can’t we just pay the fine and drive out of here?” Woodruff asked.

“Afraid not.  I can’t let you drive out of here with an uncaged bear in the back.”

Through the trees, on the far side of the parking lot, Bob spotted a sign that read Pat’s Pets.  A smile broke across his face and he began to nodded rhythmically.

“I’ve got an idea.”

 

Minutes later the yellow van was motoring down the highway with the happy occupants signing along to the radio.

“I don’t wanna be your fool, in this game for two, so I’m leavin’ you behind.”

“Bye, bye, bye…”

“Genius idea, Bob.”

“The man wanted a caged bear, we gave him a cage bear.  Isn’t that right, Hands?”

Hand grunted and waved his cage-covered paw at the front seat.  The dome-shaped decorative bird cage fit perfectly over his enormous right bear paw.

“Might sound crazy, but it ain’t no lie, baby, bye, bye, bye.”

Simultaneously, they locked arms in a fist pump position and danced their fists across their faces in unison with the lyrics.

Con Permiso

Woodruff and Bob knelt over a long piece of paper, stretched out on a hot sidewalk.  A towering building rose up beyond a large grass-covered campus.  Bob grimaced thoughtfully, while Woodruff peered down at the drawings like an art critic.

“Okay, we have to stop with the revisions,” Woodruff said.  “This is it.”

“You think it’s ready?” Bob said.

“Totally ready.  Although I still say we don’t need the back patio cover.”

“Yeah, because I’m totally going to sit out on an uncovered patio.”

“That’s my point.  I don’t think you’re going to sit out on a covered or uncovered patio.”

“Just you wait.  I’m going to sit the heck out of that patio.”

“That’s not a thing.”

“You’re not a thing.”

Bob rolled up the paper, like a scroll, and tucked it under his arm as he stood up.  Woodruff led the way up the wide walkway toward the front door of the towering building.  The reflection of the sun off the tall front windows blinded Bob and he raised the roll of paper to cover his eyes.

“That’s one thing I won’t miss,” Bob said.

“The glare from the sun?” Woodruff asked.

“Yep.  Good riddance.”

“Hear, hear.”

“No.  There, there.”

Bob squinted his eyes as he pointed to the sky.  Woodruff pulled open the front door and they entered an expansive lobby.  An oval desk sat at the far end, beneath a mosaic portrait of a rocket ship.

“How can I help you?” the perky brunette receptionist asked.  Her white toothy smile was so bright that Woodruff and Bob could not help but smile back.

“Yes, hi,” Woodruff said.  “We’re here to get these plans approved.”

“Plans?”

“That’s right,” Bob replied.  “Which floor is planning and development on?”

“Uh, Research and Development is on level 4,” the receptionist replied with a furrowed brow.

“That’ll work.  Thank you, my lady.”

Woodruff and Bob marched toward the elevators to the left of the reception desk.  Bob adjusted the roll of paper under his arm and Woodruff pressed the silver button with a red light at the center.

“She seemed nice.”

“She sure did.”

After a ding, the elevator doors slid open and they entered the square compartment.  Woodruff pressed the button under the number four and Bob wedged himself in the back corner.

“What are you doing?”

“If the elevator plunges to the ground I want to brace myself.”

“The elevator is not going to plunge to the ground.”

“I’m sure that’s exactly what everyone who dies in an elevator thinks, right before it plunges to the ground.”

“How is standing in the corner going to help you anyway?”

“Having two walls to absorb the impact,” Bob said.  “Plus, statistically speaking the southeast corner of the elevator is the safest.”

“First off, that is idiotic,” Woodruff said.  “And second, that is the northeast corner.”

“Northeast is the second most safest.”

With another ding, the elevator doors slid open to reveal several rows of chest high cubicles.  Woodruff shook his head and held the door for Bob to enter the office space.  A man wearing a tie and a short-sleeved white shirt walked by, carrying a stack of papers.

“Excuse me,” Woodruff said, as he stepped out of the elevator to join Bob.  “We’re looking for someone to approve these plans.”

“Approve plans?” the man asked.  He shifted the papers in his hands and scrunched his nose underneath the weight of his horn-rimmed glasses.

“Yeah, we need a permit,” Bob said.  “You know, before we start construction.”

“A permit?” the man placed his stack of papers on a nearby desk and adjusted his black tie.

“Yeah, we’re just looking for a standard building permit.”

“Nothing fancy.”

“But this is NASA,” the man in the short-sleeved white shirt said.

“Right, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, we know.”

“Everything is up to code,” Bob said.  He unrolled their plan on top of the man’s stack of papers.  “We just need your okay.”

“Is that drawn in crayon?”

“Yep, hot blue magenta.  Bob made it himself.”

“The crayon?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What exactly am I looking at?” the man asked.

“These are blue prints, or hot blue magenta prints, for a summer home,” Woodruff replied.

“And why did you bring these to NASA?”

“Oh right,” Bob said.  He struck his own forehead with the palm of his hand.  “My bad.  We’re going to build it on Mars.”

“You’re going to build a summer home on Mars?”

“That’s right.”

“We were in Arizona last summer and it was so hot we just wanted to die.”

“Instead, we decided to build a summer home away from the heat.  After a quick Google search we found that the median temperatures on Mars beats anything Earth has to offer.”

“After that we audited a couple of Astronautical Engineering courses.  You know, to learn how to build a space habitat.  And then we designed a comfy summer home for the red planet.”

“I can’t give you a permit to build on Mars.”

“Well not with that attitude,” Woodruff said.

“How are you even going to get to Mars?”

“We’ve got that covered.  Woodruff has been lighting off rockets since he was eight.”

“I was in the Cub Scouts.  With Bob’s crayon experience, we just fashioned a giant molding and we’ll fill it with go-go juice.”

“You made a giant crayon molding and filled it with fuel to launch you to Mars?” the man asked and pressure his glasses back up against his face.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Bob said.  “But we’re going to test it first.  As soon as Zubu passes his pilots exam.”

“Zubu?”

“A friend of ours,” Woodruff replied.

“He’s a chimpanzee,” Bob said.  “Not to be specist.”

“We figured if they are good enough for NASA, they are good enough for us.”

“Let me get this straight,” the man in the short-sleeved white shirt said.  “Your plan is to fly into space in a Crayola shaped rocket, piloted by a chimpanzee named Zubu, and build a summer home on Mars?”

“That’s about the size of it.”

“Did you bring the designs for this death trap?”

Bob pulled a wad of toilet paper from his back pocket and unfurled it.  An image of a red crayon was drawn across the squares.   He held it proudly in front of the man with the short-sleeved shirt.

“It’s to scale,” Woodruff said.  “Each square represents a six foot section.  The crown is the cockpit.”

“What’s the diameter?”

“Nine feet.”

On his wrist watch the man keyed in a series of numbers and peered at them through his horn-rimmed glasses.  He made a face, like the one Bob made when he smelled Kenny’s belly button.

“Even if you filled the fuselage to the top you wouldn’t have enough fuel to reach Mars.”

“The fuel just has to get us out of the atmosphere,” Bob said.  “Our FCE will get us the rest of the way.”

“FCE?”

“It’s a proprietary propulsion system,” Woodruff said.  “It runs off an organically fed, renewable source of energy.”

“What’s the source?”

“The makeup is 59 percent nitrogen, 21 percent hydrogen, 9 percent carbon dioxide, 7 percent methane and 4 percent oxygen,” Bob said.

The man tilted his head sideways and turned his eyes to the ceiling, while he processed the mixture.  His mouth fell open and he turned his gaze back on Woodruff and Bob.

“Are you telling me this thing runs on farts?”

“That’s right,” Woodruff proudly proclaimed.  “Our bodies will operate as zero waste facilities, turning beans into fuel for our Fart Combustion Engine.”

Woodruff and Bob high-fived each other and a low loud hum reverberated from Bob’s backside.

“Excuse me,” Bob said.  “That was wasteful.”

The man in the short-sleeved white shirt stared at them for a long moment, behind his horn-rimmed glasses.

“Well this I’ve got to see,” the man finally said.  He pulled a pen from his shirt pocket and signed their plan.  “Approved!  Let me know how that turns out.”

“Thank you, we will.”

Bob collected their plans and Woodruff pressed the button for the elevator.  The doors opened with a ding and they entered the compartment, leaving the man in the white short-sleeved shirt alone.

“He seemed nice.”

“He sure did.”

Idiom Proof

Woodruff and Bob sat on stools behind two large easels, which supported their own white canvas rectangles.  Green rolling hills stretched out for miles to the distant horizon beyond a wide open field.  A string of horses grazed quietly beneath the setting sun.

“This evening could not be any prettier, don’t you think?”

“Do you have a penny?”

Bob reached into the front pocket of his overalls and pulled out an old copper coin.  He tossed it to Woodruff, who caught it and slipped it into his pocket without looking.

“No, I do not think this evening could get any prettier.”

“How are you coming along with your painting?”

“Really good,” Woodruff said.  “It’s easy.”

Woodruff rotated the canvas toward Bob.  At the center was a triangular slice of chocolate cake on a silver platter.

“Nice cake,” Bob nodded his approval.  “Hand me the bucket of magenta.”

“I can’t,” Woodruff said as he pulled on the bucket in between them.  “It’s caught.”

“Don’t worry about it.  I’ve got some purple and pink I can mix together.”

“What are you drawing?”

“Words,” Bob said.  He turned his canvas around and presented it to Woodruff.  It was filled from top to bottom and side to side with words, painted in multiple colors.

“That’s a lot of words.”

“Yup, a thousand of ‘em.”

“How did you pick which words to paint?”

“I just painted a word for the stuff I can see.  You know, trees, the sky, Elvis, the yard of each neighbor…”

“The whole neighborhood?”

“Yep, every yard.  All nine of them.”

“That wind is chilly,” Woodruff said.  He ducked down beneath his easel.  “Oh, it’s a bit warmer down here.”

Bob reached down and waved his hand around.

“Yeah, I feel it,” Bob said.  “Should we head back and get out of this weather?”

“The last ferry boat for the day just pushed away from the dock,” Woodruff said.  “How are we going to get ‘cross the Tuit?”

“We can cross on that bridge over there.”

The two painter left their canvas’, easels, stools, and brushes and headed back to an old rusty pickup.  A tall, ornate, trailer was hitched to the truck with the word BAND painted on the side in yellow letters.  Bob jumped up on the back of the trailer and the wagon shook side to side.

“Don’t jump on that,” Woodruff said.

“What?  Why?” Bob asked.  “Everybody does it.”

“Just because it’s popular, doesn’t mean it’s right.”

“Okay, mom.”

“Beating!  Come here, boy.”

A brown and white shaggy dog came running through the field toward them.

“Here, boy!  Good boy, Beating, good boy!”

The dog charged right through a waist-high prickly bush.

“No, Beating!” Woodruff yelled.  “Around!  Go around!”

Four grey squirrels shot out of the bush in different directions.  Beating dashed and darted at the little forest rodents, as they danced around him.  The old dog chased one of the squirrels in circles at the base of a nearby tree.  When Beating was overcome by dizziness, the wily squirrel escaped up the tree and jumped to the canopy of an adjoining grove.  Beating recovered and began to bark frantically at the vacant treetop.

“You silly dog,” Bob said.  “That’s the wrong tree.”

“Why do you suppose your Uncle Billy named him Beating?”

“My guess is that it rhymes with bleating.”

“Bleating?”

“Yeah, you know, like the sound a goat makes.  Uncle Billy always wanted a goat.”

“Why wouldn’t he just name it Bleating then?”

“Uncle Billy has trouble with his L’s.”

“But his name is Billy.”

“Yeah, he was just fine until the hot potato incident.”

“This I’ve got to hear.”

“Well, one night at supper, Billy told Elvis to toss him a potato.  Elvis grabbed a potato out of the pot and it was so hot that he chucked it in the air, as a reflex.  Billy thought he was throwing it to him so he jumped over the table and caught it in his mouth.  The tater was so big that he couldn’t chew it and it burned his tongue.  Ever since then we all called him Unco Biwee.”

“So he named the dog Beating because he couldn’t say bleating?”

“That’s my guess,” Bob said.  “You got a better one.”

“No,” Woodruff said.  “That was for all practical purpose comparable to mine.”

Bleating turned his attention to the horses in the field and began to bray like a donkey.

“Whoa!”

“I know.”

“Has he always done that?”

“Ever since he was a puppy,” Bob said.  “Last summer, we worked with him on a whiney, but we couldn’t teach him.”

“Because he’s old?”

“Because he’s a dog.”

Bob raised an eyebrow and looked sideways at Woodruff with a slight shake of his head.  Woodruff craned his neck to mirror Bob, and bent his knees to match his eye level.  Neither wanted to concede the impromptu staring contest.  They drew closer and closer to each other until Woodruff blinked.

“Ha!  Winner.”

“Fine, you win,” Woodruff said.  “But only because I got a grain in my eye.”

“A grain of what?”

“Salt.”

Woodruff rubbed at his eyes with the palm of his hand.

“Salt from your tears?” Bob mockingly rubbed at his eyes.

“Why don’t you just get the dog so we can go.”

“Fine.”

He pantomimed rubbing his eyes again and threw Woodruff and taunting pouty face.  Bob walked around the truck, reached through the open window of the passenger seat, and pulled out a floppy hat.  He held it high in the air and whistled.  Beating stopped braying and snapped his furry head toward the hat.  Bob let the hat go and it fell to the ground.  He had no sooner done so when the dog made a beeline for the dropped hat.

“Works every time,” Bob smiled.

A stray cat wandered out from underneath the truck and surveyed the floppy hat.

“Uh, Bob…”

The cat poked at the hat with its paw and jumped back cautiously.  Beating kept charging toward his floppy prize.  Focused solely on the hat, the cat crept forward as if it was stalking its prey.

“Bob?”

“I see it.”

Woodruff and Bob stood paralyzed by the anticipated collision as the cat slipped its head under the hat just before Beating claimed the object of his desire with a ferocious chomp.  He shook the hat back and forth before trotting to the back of the trailer.

“He kill the cat!”

“Curiosity.”

“Curiosity killed the cat?”

“No, the cat’s name is Curiosity.”

Beating jumped up onto the trailer and placed the floppy hat on the floor of the wagon.  A disheveled and disoriented cat stumbled out from under the hat and waddled away.  Woodruff breathed a sigh of relief and pulled open the passenger side door.  The shaggy dog lay down on top of the floppy hat and closed his eyes.

“Ready to go?” Bob asked.

“Yep.”

They both hopped into the pickup and slammed the rusty metal doors shut in unison.  Bob turned the key in the ignition and the engine chugged, sputtered and died.  He tried again with the same result.

“Pop the hood.”

Woodruff got out of the truck and Bob pulled the lever to release the hood.  A small plume of smoke raised up into the air.  One of the horses in the field whinnied loudly in their direction.

“I doubt that the problem is hay related, Horace.”

Horace snorted and stopped his hoof into the ground.

“Fine, I’ll check.”

Woodruff pulled the lid off the air filter and looked inside.

“Well I’ll be,” Woodruff remarked.

“What is it?”

“Horace was right.  The filter is filled with hay.”

The horses whinnied and pranced in a circle.  When Bob looked out at the prancing ponies, he saw a burly man in a purple and orange tie dyed shirt, sitting on a depilated section of the wood fencing.  The man smiled at Bob from behind an unkempt beard.

“Do you know what you’re doing?” the man in the tie dyed shirt asked.

“Not really,” Woodruff replied as he continued to pull hay from the filter.  He stepped back from the engine and rubbed his greasy hands together.  “Try it again, Bob.”

The engine sputtered and chugged but did not turn over.  The man in the tie dyed t-shirt grinned and scratched at his beard.

“Ya gotta hit it,” he shouted.

“The hay?”

“The filter.”

“Hit it?”

“Yep.”

Woodruff stepped up to the engine and pounded on the side of the air filter.  Bob tried, unsuccessfully, to start the engine again.  They looked back to the man in the tie dyed t-shirt, who sat blissfully on the fence.

“Are you going to come and help?” Bob hollered.

“Haven’t decided,” the man said, rocking back and forth.  “The name’s Dave.”

“Hey Dave, I’m Bob.”

“And I’m Woodruff.  If you know anything about cars, we could use a hand.”

Dave hopped down off the fence and sauntered over to Woodruff at the front of the truck.  He reached down into the filter and dug around in the basin.  A moment later he pulled out a single straw of hay and displayed it proudly.

“Last one,” Dave said.  He returned the filter and fastened the lid.  “Try it now.”

Bob turned the key and the engine roared to life.  “Yawhoo!”

“Thank you, Dave,” Woodruff said.

“No worries,” Dave said.  He wiped his greasy hands on his tie dyed t-shirt.  “Happy to help.”

“So, what are you doing all the way out here?” Bob asked over the humming engine.

“Well, it’s a long story,” Dave scratched the side of his hairy face.  “I came up this way to visit a friend of mine, but I happened upon a young fella on the side of the road who was crying.  I asked him what was wrong and he said he lost his momma’s basket.  He was supposed to collect the eggs from the hens and bring them back to the house.  Turns out he placed them all in one basket and left them by the henhouse and they disappeared.”

“That doesn’t seem like a wise practice.”

“That’s what I told him,” Dave continued.  “But there’s no use getting all upset about something that is already done.”

“I was just telling Bob that this morning when he was crying about the milk I spilled.”

“Again, I wasn’t crying,” Bob said.  “You dumped the whole craft on my face.  I had milk in my eyes.”

“Anywho,” Dave went on.  “We went looking for his basket and found his neighbor had absconded with his eggs.  Crazy old coot was just sitting there in his rocking chair eating raw eggs.”

“That’s not healthy.”

“Right.  So we just watched from the bushes and waited for Mother Nature to do her thing,” Dave said.  “After a little while he jumped off his rocker and ran inside.  We ran up to the porch and grabbed the basket.  I spotted a comic next to the rocker, so I snatched it.”

Dave pulled out brightly colored comic book with Thor written above a muscle-bound figure, with long blond hair flowing from under a silver helmet.  He wore a red cape, and a held a giant hammer.

“You stole his thunder!” Bob exclaimed.

“I don’t know about that,” Dave said.  “Didn’t read it.  The picture on the front just looked kind of cool.  I took it to give that egg thief a taste of his own medicine.  Plus, I forgot to bring a gift for my friend.”

“Two birds,” Woodruff said.

“Where?” Bob asked.

“Over there, on that stone.”

“Nice.”

“So the kids went home and I cut outta there real quick like,” Dave said.  “Then I saw a cloud over your pickup and thought I’d check it out.”

“We’re glad you did,” Woodruff said.  “If there’s any way we could repay you, let us know.”

“I could use a ride.”

“Sure thing,” Bob said.  “Where are you headed?”

“My friend Elvis has a place up the road a ways.”

“That’s where we’re headed,” Bob said.  “Elvis is my cousin.”

“How about that,” Dave said.  “Who knew there’d be a blessing under that cloud of smoke?”

“We can take you up to his place, but Elvis left,” Woodruff said.

“The building?”

“The farm.”

“We saw him back up that way on the other side of the bridge,” Bob said.  “He should be back soon.  Hop in and we’ll run you up there.”

Dave pulled open the door and slid in the middle, between Woodruff and Bob.

“You know you got a dog sleeping in the bandwagon,” Dave said.

“Just let him lie.”

Bob drove up the road in the rattling old pickup.  Dave pulled a handful of cards out of his pocket.

“You wanna play cards?”

“Is that all you’ve got?”

“Yep.”

“You’re not playing with a full deck?”

“Nope.  I bought it off a hobo for an old prostetic arm and a chicken leg.”

“Okay.”

Dave dealt out the cards as they came to the Tuit and crossed the bridge to the other side of the river.

Gloves Off

The noonday sun reflected off the shiny hood of the cherry-red Karmann Ghia, as it rolled up to the guard shack.  Woodruff removed his aviator sunglasses with a snap of his head toward the overweight security guard.

“W and B to see Michela.”

“I’m gonna need to see some ID,” the security guard said, as he scratched at the stubble on his round face.

“We have a 10am photoshoot,” Bob replied from the passenger seat.

“It’s 12:15.”

“In fashion, you are expected to be fashionably late,” Woodruff said.

“We’re models.”

“Uh huh,” the guard raised a skeptical eyebrow.

“Seriously, we’re hand models.”

“Okay, I’m still gonna need to see some ID.”

“You may recognize these babies from the Helping Hands billboards,” Woodruff proudly held his hands out the window in front of the guard.  He waved them majestically in a wave-like pattern.  The guard simply leaned back in his chair, popped a FunYun in his mouth and chewed slowly.

“Or these bad boys from the Hands Across Holland campaign,” Bob said as he removed a pair of sequenced white gloves and hung his hands over top of Woodruff’s.  The guard yawned and rubbed at his belly.

“Look, if you’re not gonna to show me some ID then I’m going to have to ask you to back this jalopy out of here.”

“Jalopy?” Woodruff exclaimed.  “I’ll have you know this is the pinnacle of German engineering and Brazilian manufacturing.  This is as 1961 classic, with finned out front grilles and rounded rear taillights.  They don’t make them like this anymore.”

“I can see why.”

“How dare you, sir?  How dare you?”

“No ID, no entry.”

Woodruff reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet.  He flashed his driver’s license to the guard, who scanned it thoroughly.

“Uh huh,” the guard said.  “How ‘bout you, buddy?”

Bob produced a brown paper bag from under the seat and rooted around in it.  He discarded a peach pit, a silver chain with a smoking sphere on the end, two index cards, a grey-tailed squirrel and a playbill from Wicked, before he found his license.

“I bet Heidi Klum doesn’t have to deal with this,” Bob grumbled.

The guard smirked as he was presented with the mustard stained ID.

“Your middle name is Carroll?”

“It’s a unisex name!”

Bob frowned as he snatched back his ID and dropped it in the brown paper bag.  The guard smiled broadly as he raised the gate and waved them onto the lot.  Woodruff bent right, along a grassy roundabout, and pulled into a parking spot mark with a V.I.P. sign.

“The nerve of that guy.”

“Seriously,” Bob said as he slipped his sequenced gloves on like a surgeon.  “I’m almost too upset to work.”

Woodruff gingerly pressed down on the door handle with his elbow and pushed the door open with his leg.  Bob wiggled out through the open window with his glove covered his hands held toward the sky.  He rolled onto the pavement headfirst and sprang to his feet without using his hands.  The sound of ringing bells drew Bob’s attention toward a mobile ice cream cart on the back of a tricycle.

“All set?” Woodruff asked.

“You go on in,” Bob said.  “I’ll be right behind you.”

As Bob skipped toward the ice cream cart, Woodruff approached the glass-lined office building.  With his hands held out in front of him, Woodruff tapped on the front door with his foot.  A short slender receptionist hurried around her desk and pushed open the door for him.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” the receptionist said.  “Who are you here to see?”

“We have a session with Michela.”

“Of course, he’s been waiting for you,” the receptionist said, as she stepped to the side and invited Woodruff in.  “This way.”

She led the way down a white hallway, covered with varied photographs of babies, beautiful women, well-groomed men, athletes, flowers, gorgeous landscape, and asparagus.  The slender receptionist propped open a black door and Woodruff stepped inside a well-lit room.

“Finally!” a middle-aged man, with wild black hair, exclaimed.  “Do you know how long I’ve been waiting?”

“Not really, what time did you get here?”

“9:30,” Michela said.  “We are paying for this studio time.”

“Two hours and fifty-one minutes.”

“What?”

“That’s how long you’ve been waiting, if you arrived at 9:30.”

“Ay dios mio,” Michela grumbled.  “Can we get started?  Where’s di other one?”

“Higgle Biggle, my snaggle waggle,” Bob said as he strode into the room past the slender receptionist, who was still holding open the door.

“What is dis thing he is saying?”

“It’s just the lingo for the bingo, papi ringo,” Bob said, and tried unsuccessfully to snap with his gloves on.

“It’s really not,” Woodruff said.

“Please, enough with dis nonsense,” Michela said.  “Let’s just get di shot.”

“Get the shot?” Bob said.  “What are we, archers?  We don’t just get the shot.  We make magic.”

Bob raised his hands and wiggled his fingers, inside the sparkly gloves.  Woodruff crossed his arms, held his open hands over his shoulders and posed next to Bob.  Michela shook his head and ran his hands through his frizzy mane.  He picked up his camera and headed over to a platform, which was covered by a large green cloth with a towering green backdrop.

“What is this?” Woodruff questioned toward the green backdrop.

“It’s a green screen,” Michela replied.  “We’ll drop in di product and di background in post-production.”

“CGI?” Bob asked, incredulously.  “Oh no, we don’t do CGI.  Practical effects only.  It’s in our contract.”

“Practical effects won’t work for di advertiser’s vision.”

“Vision?” Woodruff said and held his hands in the air again.  “These hands are the vision.”

“We can’t have our fans thinking these babies are digitally enhanced,” Bob added, as he stripped his sequenced gloves off.  “These are all natural.”

“It’s an ad for Orbits gum,” Michela argued.  “Set in space!”

“Well then, call Elon Musk and book us three seats on a jet plane.”

“Dat’s ridiculous.  We’re not doing dat.  We just need a picture of hands reaching for a piece of gum, dat’s orbiting di earth.”

“Ridiculous?” Bob said.  “That picture is ridiculous.  Everybody knows that in the absence of atmospheric pressure the water in your body vaporizes and your skin tissue swells up.  So if you think of pair of bloated hands frozen in space is going to sell some spearmint refreshment, then by all means go with that ludicrous ad.”

“And enjoy the hellacious sun burn you’ll get from unfiltered cosmic radiation,” Woodruff added.

“You two are insane!”

“Insane is letting the man corrupt your creative soul and compromise your artist integrity, Michela.”

The photographer buried his head in his hands and growled.  Woodruff and Bob watched as he took a dozen heaving breaths, before he shook his wild and wooly hair and set a squinty eyed glare on them.

“Do you have a better idea?” Michela asked, in a surly tone.

Bob looked over and Woodruff with a great big smile and nodded.

“Actually, we do,” Woodruff said.  “Picture with me an evening sky just before dark, a few elect stars have already made their presence known.  Two pairs of hands, linked together thumb to index finger, surround of single piece of gum floating at their center.”

“The hands are orbiting the gum?”

“Exactly!” Bob replied.

“I love it!”

“Of course you do.”

“Let’s set up to shoot it this evening.”

“Sure thing,” Bob said.  “Um, I just need a change of pants before then.”

“Did you stick an ice cream cone in your pocket again?” Woodruff asked.

“This time it was sealed with a thick chocolate shell.”

“Bob, what did I tell you about that?”

“I put it in my back pocket to give it plenty of oxygen.”

Bob turned around to reveal the mushy remains of an ice cream cone dripping down the back of his leg.

“Oxygen is not the problem!”

“Well where am I supposed to store my frozen dairy treats until I’m ready for them?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Woodruff said, raising his voice.  “A cooler?”

“I’m not using my delicate digits to carry around a cooler like a couple of common meat hooks.”

“Then you have to wait!”

“But Biggle-ill wants his chill thrill.”

“First off, stop talking like that,” Woodruff said, pointing his finger at Bob.  “And, for the sixth time, you can’t stick a frozen dessert in your pants pocket and expect it to stay frozen.  Your pockets aren’t insulated.”

“But what if they were?”

“Isolated pants pockets?”

“Yes!” Bob exclaimed.  “Pockets made for the ice cream lover on the go.”

“We could call it the ice cream attaché.”

“Better yet, we could sell the naming rights.  Häagen-Drawers!”

“I don’t throw this word around lightly,” Woodruff said.  “But that is genius.”

“Let’s go work up a marketing plan.”

Bob kicked off his shoes and removed his pants to reveal a pair of leopard print underwear.  He handed his ice cream stained britches to Michela and marched toward the exit.  Woodruff held the door open for his pant-less friend and followed him down the hall as the studio door swung closed.  The photographer stood alone in the silent studio holding a pair of chocolate soiled pants.

“Idiotas.”

Oh, The Places They’ll Go

“How long is this flight anyway?” Bob asked.

“Mr. Geisel’s secretary said it was thirteen hours,” Woodruff replied.

“Ah!  This is going to be the longest flight ever!” Bob said.  “I’m so bored.”

“Here’s a remedy,” Woodruff handed Bob a small booklet.  “Do a crossword puzzle.”

“Does it have a maze?”

Hopefully, Bob flipped through the pages of the booklet.

“There’s no maze, it’s a crossword book.”

“I hate crosswords,” Bob whined and flailed his arms in the air.  “Reading is hard.”

“Yeah, literacy is the worst,” Woodruff said as he rolled his eyes and shook his head.  “Why don’t you take a nap or knit yourself a glove or something.”

“There’s not ample space for my napping style and you know they confiscated my knitting needle at security.”

“Just look out the window then?”

“I don’t like the fog.”

“You mean clouds?”

“Plus, the transparent plastic windows remind me that I’m one crack away from being sucked into the empty vacuum of space.”

“We’re at thirty thousand feet, that’s hardly outer space.”

“And what instrument are you using to measure that?  Because you know I have a finally tuned sense of altitude and the trajectory of our vertical ascent puts us at, at least, sixty thousand feet.”

“Right, your elite internal altimeter.  Well, considering that it’s an FAA requirement that commercial airlines maintain a flight plan with a cruising altitude between twenty-eight thousand and forty-five thousand feet, I really doubt we’ve reached sixty thousand feet.”

“Woodruff, we’re flying into a storm!”

Bob shouted and pointed out the tiny window.  The passengers in the row behind them leaned toward their window and a low murmur rolled throughout the cabin.  Woodruff held his finger to his lips and scowled at his friend.

“Would you put a cap on your crazy, it’s spilling onto the other passengers.”

“What if we run out of gas?”

“We’re not going to run out of gas.”

“Remember that video at the air and space museum?  Planes crash all the time.”

“Trust the pilot, Bob.”

“Trust him?  I don’t even know him.”

A lanky flight attendant, so tall that his hair brushed along the top of the cabin, made his way quickly down the aisle and stopped next to Woodruff.

“Is there a problem?” the lanky flight attendant whispered.  He had to crouch down to look Bob in the eye.

“There’s no problem, Teddy,” Woodruff said as he read the flight attendants name tag.

“There most certainly is a problem, Theodor,” Bob said.  “How is it that you have the freedom to move about wherever you like but we are shackled to these seats by a tiny light, just waiting for a bell to release us like a bunch of lab rats at a medical clinic?”

“Sir, the turning off of the fasten seatbelt sign will coincide with the aircraft reaching its cruising altitude.”

“Yes I know, between twenty-eight thousand and forty-five thousand feet,” Bob said.  “That’s quite a cushion you give yourself there.”

“If there is anything I can do to make your flight more comfortable please let me know.”

“I’d like another bag of peanuts.”

“Sir, you’ve already had twelve bags.”

“How dare you?  How can you justify a limit on life sustaining sustenance while I decay before your eyes, as we hurtle through space in this death trap?”

Woodruff closed his eyes and buried his head in his hands.

“Every guest gets two bags of peanuts.  You’ve enjoyed six times that.”

“I am a loyalty plus platinum rewards member, I’ll eat a lion if I want to.”

“Sir, we don’t serve lion,” Teddy said.  “You selected the chicken and potatoes.  If you like, I can change that to either the beef and broccoli or the kosher vegan option.”

“Kosher vegan?” Bob said and contorted his face.  “Do I look like the kind of guy who would eat a human organ?”

“That’s not what that means, Bob,” Woodruff spoke into his hands.

“Anyways, I can’t eat beef and broccoli ‘cause it makes my burps smell like sulphur.”

“Sir, the chicken and potato is an excellent choice.  The chickens were free range and the spuds are premium Idaho potatoes.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.  In addition to being a master chef, I am the founder of the International Council on Spuds and Tots.”

“Co-founder.”

“Co-founder,” Bob corrected.  “And as such I cannot suppress my professional opinion.”

“Of that I have no doubt.”

“On a similar note, what kind of flatware do you use?”

“Flatware?”

“Flatware, you know?  Forks, spoons, knifes.  Not plastic.  Please do not tell me it’s not plastic.”

“I’m afraid it’s plastic.”

“Be serious.”

“I am serious.”

“Stop joking.”

“I’m not joking.”

“That’s not funny.”

“I’m not trying to be funny.”

“This is an absolute nightmare,” Bob said and pushed Woodruff on the shoulder.  “Did you hear that?  Plastic flatware with premium potatoes.  That’s just perfect.  It’ll blend beautiful with this tacky air bus motif.”

Woodruff looked up with his mouth open and shook his head at Bob.

“Excuse my friend, Teddy.  He must have lost his mind.”

“On opposite day.  ‘cause I’ve found my soul.”

“Soul is not the opposite of mind.”

“Isn’t it?”

“Teddy, you can go back up front,” Woodruff said.  “I’ll take care of this.”

With a forced smile, the lanky flight attendant turned and walked back toward the front of the plane.

“Yeah, go on back up to the elite in the front of the plane with their golden flatware, endless peanuts, and hand spun custard with a fudge ribbon,” Bob shouted.

“What is wrong with you?”

“I don’t know, I’m all messed up.  My horoscope said it’s not a great day for up.”

“Bob, it’s just a horoscope.”

“Just a horoscope!  Remember last week when my horoscope said a stranger will soon enter your life with blessings to share?”

“No.”

“Well it did, and five days later that lady on the bus gave me a donut.”

“It was a bagel.”

“It was a blessing!”

“Horoscopes are designed to be vague and general, to apply to the widest audience with the most possible variables.  They need you to find or create your own meaning, it’s called the Barnum effect.”

“It’s called science.  Not two months ago my horoscope said you will witness a special event, on the same day we attended that Navajo wedding in Arizona.”

“We were only their because you took a wrong turn at Albuquerque!”

“My horoscope made me take a wrong turn in Albuquerque!”

“I’m not going to talk to you anymore.”

The plane suddenly dropped several hundred feet and bounced the occupants around in their seats.  Bob gripped tightly to Woodruff’s arm and screamed.

“Ah!”

“Let go of my arm.  It’s just turbulence.”

“It’s not a great day for up.”

“Would you stop that.”

Woodruff shook his arm free and pushed Bob back into his seat.

“This is it,” Bob said with his eyes closed tight.  “I never even got to get set in my ways, eat supper at two, or try dentures.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The end.  And I missed it.  You’re only old once!”

“Would you quit it.”

“Quit what?  We’re going to crash in the ocean and I totally forgot what grumpy old Theodor said about my floatation device.  I wish that I had duck feet.”

“Oh, the places you’ll let your mind go.”

The ding of a bell sounded through the cabin and a voice spoke through a crackly speaker overhead.

“Sorry about that hop and pop, folks,” the pilot said.  “There’s been a little more turbulence than normal.  My horoscope said it would be a wacky Wednesday.  We’ve reached our cruising altitude of thirty thousand feet, so I’m going to turn off the fasten seatbelt light to give you the freedom to move around the cabin.  And we’ve asked the crew to bring you another round of peanuts, on us.  In just a moment, our very own Teddy G will be out to delight and entertain you with his rendition of Oh, The Thinks You Can Think from Seussical the Musical.  We know you have a choice when you fly and we’re grateful you chose to fly with us.”

Teddy appeared at the front of the aisle, wearing a tall red and white striped hat.  He walked slowly by each row, handing out little bags of peanuts.  After presenting a bag to Woodruff, he tossed one over his shoulder in Bob’s direction.  Bob caught it and looked down with a pout.

“Um, excuse me,” Bob said.  “Do you have honey roasted?”

The flight attendance turned around and pulled a golden bag out of his shirt pocket.  He handed it to Bob, who happily ripped it open and began eating.

“Thank you,” Bob said with a mouth full of peanuts.

“Did I ever tell you how lucky you are?” Woodruff asked.

“What?”

Peanut shards flew from Bob’s mouth and landed on Woodruff’s shirt sleeve.

“This is going to be the longest flight ever.”