Tag: Aaron Blaylock

Unreasonable Exposure

“This suit is so hot,” Bob said.  “I feel like it’s trying to suffocate me.”

“I told you to go with the spandex,” Woodruff said.

“So I can be on display for all the world to see?” Bob asked.  “No thank you.”

“I feel light, like a hummingbird,” Woodruff replied.

“You look like a Ken doll dipped in green apple nail polish.”

“You’re just jealous that my suit doesn’t impede my movements.”

“It doesn’t impede the outline of your underpants either,” Bob said.  “And could you have picked brighter colors?”

“It’s so the bad guys see me coming,” Woodruff said.  “I strike fear in the heart of crime.”

“You strike fear in the retina of crime,” Bob said.  “Is that what the R stands for, Retina man?”

“You know this stands for Reason Man,” Woodruff said, and tapped the green letter on his chest.  “A ne’er-do-well’s worst fear is reason.”

“You picked the lamest superpower ever.”

“Uh, you can’t defeat reason.”

“Of course you can,” Bob said.  “Ignorance, opinion, delusion, disbelief, misinformation…”

“Fine,” Woodruff said.  “But the most interesting superheroes are the ones with vulnerabilities.”

“Then whey didn’t you be Vulnerability Man?” Bob asked.

“Because reason is the cure for chaos,” Woodruff said.

“Are you trying out catchphrases?”

“Well, I was going to use the striking fear in the heart of crime one, but then you made for of it.”

“I’m sorry,” Bob said.  “I’m just grumpy because of this stupid hot suit.  I had to fast for like three days just to fit into it.”

“That’s super unhealthy.”

“I’m so dehydrated it’s not even flonny…fonny…funny.”

Bob stopped and swayed on the spot, as they neared the end of the alley.

“We’ve got to get you some water,” Woodruff said.

“No can do,” Bob replied.  “One drop and I’ll expanded like a Magic Grow capsule.  You’ll have to cut me out of this suit with a paring knife.  I’m fline…fine.”

“How do you expect to help the helpless when you’re in need of medical attention?”

“Whenever the call, no matter the peril, you can always count on Xposure.”

Bob placed his hands on his hips and looked thoughtful up at the fire escape beside them.

“You went with Exposure, huh?”

“Xposure.”

“Exposure.”

“X-posure.”

“That’s what I said, Exposure.”

“No, X-posure.”

Bob crossed his forearms over his chest.

“Fine,” Woodruff said, crossing his forearms over his chest.  “Ex…posure.”

“Now you’ve got it.”

“And your superpower is a good tan?”

“My skin can soak up the rays from the sun, like Superman, and change color like a chameleon.”

“That’s just tanning, you should be Tan Man.”

“Um, my powers come from ultraviolet radiation,” Bob said.  “What do your powers come from, education?”

“Education is more powerful than a good tan!”

“Tell that to George Hamilton!”

“Now I know why Batman works alone,” Woodruff muttered.

“Yeah,” Bob said.  “Robin, Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, totally alone.”

“An orphan, a butler, and a snitch.”

“How dare you?!”

“I’m sorry, Bob…”

“Xposure.”

“Exposure,” Woodruff corrected.  “We didn’t get all dressed up to fight each other.  Let’s remember why we’re here.”

“You’re right,” Bob said.  “It’s just so hard.  We’ve been walking around for like ten minutes and there’s no crime anywhere.”

“Disappointing.”

“Totally.”

“Well the sun is going down so crime is bound to go up.”

“You’re just saying that to make me feel better.”

“No, really,” Woodruff said.  “Statistically speaking, you’re much more likely to be a victim of a crime at night.”

“Here’s hoping,” Bob said, as he adjusted his leather eye-mask.

“Help!” a woman’s cry echoed through the cavernous cityscape.

“Did you hear that?” Woodruff asked.

“It’s go time,” Bob replied.

“Which way?”

“Follow me.”

Bob struggled against his leathery confines as he sprinted up the street.  Woodruff jogged along beside his partner with the swishing sound of spandex joining in concert with the crinkling crunching rawhide.  Suddenly, Bob stopped and turned his ear to the sky.

“Help, please help!” the woman’s voice echoed again.

“This way!” Woodruff said.

“No, this way!” Bob turned and ran back the way they had come.  Woodruff jump and whirled around a mailbox and sprinted up the sidewalk.

“Groovy outfit, dude,” a long-haired man walking his shih tzu said.

“Thank you, citizen,” Woodruff replied in a deepened false voice.

“What was that?” Bob asked.

“That was my hero voice.”

“You sound like Robert Barone.”

“From Everybody Loves Raymond?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ll take it!”

The duo rounded the corner and stopped in the middle of the street.

“Help!” the voice cried again.

“There!” Woodruff said, pointed to a third story window.

Black smoke billowed out the window and up into the air.  A blonde woman wearing a bright red dress leaned out the smoky window and waved her arms frantically.

“What do we do?” Bob asked.

“Call 9-1-1,” Woodruff said.

“But we’re superheroes,” Bob replied.

“My superpower is reason,” Woodruff said.  “Since neither of us is fireproof, the reasonable thing to do is call 9-1-1.”

“You should be called Coward Man.”

“Coward Man’s superpower would be longevity.”

“Are you with me or not?”

“You know I am.”

Bob dashed down the back alley behind the building with smoky window.  The backdoor was prompted open by an old milk crate and Woodruff and Bob burst inside.  After a quick scan, Bob headed down a narrow hallway and bounded up the stairs.  The woman’s muffled plea for help could be heard coming from the floors above.  Bob paused at the landing to catch his breath.

“This super suit is making it hard to breathe,” Bob said.

“Are you sure it’s the suit?” Woodruff asked.  “I saw you get winded taking the trash out last week.”

“It’s a long driveway and that barrel was heavy.”

“It had wheels.”

“My new workout regimen starts Monday.”

“You said that last Monday.”

“And it did,” Bob said.  “But this is a new new workout regimen.”

“As far as I could tell the old new workout regimen was just you pacing back and forth in front of the freezer until you gave in and ate a box of ice cream sandwiches,” Woodruff replied.

“It’s called intermittent fasting,” Bob said.  “You deprive yourself of calories, intermittently, and then eat them all real fast.”

Woodruff just shook his head.

They ascended two flights of stairs without stopping and pulled open the door to the hallway.

“This way,” Bob said, racing down the hall.

“Where’s all the smoke?” Woodruff wondered aloud.

The woman yelled again and Bob backtracked to the door he had just passed.

“X-plosion!” Bob shouted, and he kicked open the door.  A beautiful blonde, surrounded by black smoke, turned around with a startled look on her face.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“Reason Man and Exposure,” Woodruff declared, in a deepened false voice, as he placed his hands on his hips.

“Xposure.”

“That’s what I said.”

“What do you think you’re doing?” the woman asked.

“We’re here to rescue you,” Bob replied.

“Rescue me?” the woman said, scrunching up her forehead.

Woodruff and Bob ran to where the woman stood and peered out the window, through the smoke.  Blue and red lights flashed from the street below and a bright white spotlight shone up at them.

“The fire department is here,” Woodruff said.

“And they’ve got a trampoline,” Bob said.

“I think that’s called a jump net.”

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“No Bob, no I’m not.”

“Come on, Reason Man, you only live once.”

“We should just take the stairs,” Woodruff said.  “The path is clear and there’s not even any smoke in the hallway.”

“You shouldn’t be here,” the woman said.

“She’s delirious from all this smoke,” Bob said.  “There’s no time for stairs.”

Bob took the woman in his arms and stepped up onto the window sill.  He took a moment to judge the distance, while Woodruff squeeze himself onto the ledge with them.

“On three,” Woodruff said.

“What are you two doing?” the woman questioned.

“One, two,” Bob counted.

“Don’t you dare!” the woman shouted.

“Three!” Woodruff and Bob yelled in unison.

They jumped from the window, screaming, and the three of them plummeted down the waiting firemen below.  They bounced off the jump sheet and landed on the feet, still clinging to one another.

“Cut!” an irritated man with a goatee shouted.  “Who are these two?”

Beyond the firetrucks and flashing lights, a camera crew was perched on a lift that overlooked the street.

Woodruff looked back up at the window from where they had leapt, and the black smoke suddenly stopped as if it had been turned off.  All eyes down on the street were on them and nobody moved.

“We’re Xposure and Reason Man,” Bob said.

“You ruined our shot,” the irritated goatee man said.

“What shot?” Bob asked.

“I think they’re filming a movie,” Woodruff said.

“Really?” Bob asked.  “Wow.  We’ve only been superheroes for like fifteen minutes and we’ve already got a movie.  Take that Adam Warlock!”

“Get these two off my set,” the irritated man demanded.

Immediately a quartet of muscly security guards emerged from the crowd and made their way toward them.

“Time to go,” Woodruff said.

“Remember, m’lady, whenever the call, no matter the peril, you can always count on…”

Woodruff grabbed Bob by his leathery collar and pulled him away from the blonde woman in the red dress.  They dashed down the nearest alley with the security guards in pursuit.

“You know what we need?” Woodruff asked, as he looked behind at the advancing guards.

“A Reasonmobile?” Bob replied, huffing and puffing.

“Theme music.”

“Oh yeah!”

They both jumped in the air and fist pumped the sky.

Uno es el Numero mas Solitango

“Cinco empanadas, por favor,” Woodruff said.  He reached for the first meat pastry.  “How many do you want?”

He turned around to see only unfamiliar faces, of friends yet to be made, filling the marketplace.

“Bob?” he turned his raised eyebrow away from the sea of swarthy consumers and back to the business at hand.  The street vendor placed four additional empanadas in a brown paper sack and handed it over the pushcart.

“Gracias,” Woodruff said.  He exchanged several bills for the greasy paper sack.

Woodruff weaved through the crowded alleyway, munching on his flaky meat pastry.  He looked up and down the cobblestone street as he reached the intersection.  Just before the bend, he spotted Bob strutting back and forth across the narrow roadway.  The music from the horns and drums of a lively quartet echoed off the two-story buildings that lined the street. 

After observing Bob saunter around for a moment, Woodruff popped the rest of the fried pastry in his mouth and made his way casually up the street.

“Hey Bob,” Woodruff said.  “Whatcha doing?”

“Dancing,” Bob replied.  His melancholy moves were out of step with the upbeat rhythm of the local musicians.  Both Woodruff and the band eyed the hoofer wearily.

“Uh huh,” Woodruff said.  “But why?”

“I’m working on a new dance.”

“I thought we came here to eat empanadas.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Okay, what’s wrong?”

“Nothings wrong,” Bob said, he shook his hips back and forth before taking long strides away from the band.

“I kinda think something might be wrong,” Woodruff said.

“Why do you say that?” Bob asked.  He crisscrossed his arms wrapping himself in a hug and spun around into more long strides back across the street.

“Well, for one thing, I have a greasy bag of fried meat pastries and you haven’t even looked at them,” Woodruff said.  “And for another, you are meandering around by yourself in the middle of the street.”

“I’m not meandering, I’m dancing,” Bob said.  “And I told you, I’m not hungry.”

“As long as I’ve known you that’s never been true,” Woodruff replied.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” he snapped his head, twirled, and slowly high-stepped back toward the band.

“You look like a flamingo,” Woodruff said.

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Bob said, spinning back to Woodruff and crossing his steps overtop each other.  “Flamingos are beautiful and graceful.”

“This is painful to watch,” Woodruff replied.

“You know the saying, if it’s not painful it’s not dancing,” Bob said.  He sunk his hips, squatting low to the ground, and slid sideways.

“That’s not a saying,” Woodruff said.

“It is now,” Bob replied.

“I asked where you wanted to go for lunch, you said Buenos Aires” Woodruff said.  “So now we’re in Buenos Aires and you don’t want to eat?”

“What can I say,” Bob added two aggressive hip shakes.  “Gloria Estefan was right, the rhythm has gone and got me.”

The drummer rolled his eyes and Woodruff shook his head.  Onlooker wandered over from the marketplace and began to gather around the contorting and prancing foreigner.

“It doesn’t look like the rhythm’s got you, it looks like it’s trying to get away from you,” Woodruff said.

“If you’re worried about what it looks like, you haven’t surrendered to the music,” Bob said.  Another head snap and he spun again and strode around the crowd.

“I think we’re all ready to surrender, to the music or whatever it is you’re doing,” Woodruff said, holding his hands in the air.  “We surrender.”

“It’s all part of the process,” Bob said, with a twist and a lunge.  “To make an omelet you’ve got to break a few eggs.”

“Is that what you call this?” Woodruff asked.  “The omelet?  The broken egg?  Cause it’s a mess.”

“If you must know, I call it the solitango,” Bob said.  He stood up straight and looked back at Woodruff.  “It’s the seductive dance of the perpetually alone.”

The band stopped playing and turned to Woodruff as well.

“Perpetually alone?” Woodruff said.  “What are you talking ab…oh.  Of course.”

Bob hung his head.  The crowd awkwardly looked away and slowly began to disperse.  Woodruff walked over to the band.

“Por qué no se toman un descanso,” Woodruff said.  He handed over the bag of empanadas, and the bandleader happily dispersed them to his bandmates.

Woodruff walked over and put an arm around Bob.  “It’s Thursday.”

Bob nodded.

“And she didn’t write,” Woodruff said.

Bob shook his head.

“You can’t go into the dumper every time your pen pal doesn’t write you back,” Woodruff said.

“She’s not my pen pal, she’s my soulmate,” Bob said.  “And she did write me back.”

“What did she say?” Woodruff asked.

“She’s getting married,” Bob said.  He wiped at a tear forming on his cheek and sniffed.

“To Orlando?” Woodruff asked.

“Stupid stunningly perfect pirate elf,” Bob muttered.

“You knew this was a possibility,” Woodruff replied.  “It’s like Beyonce said, if you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it.”

“She’s knows I’m a wild stallion,” Bob said.  “I can’t be housebroken.”

“I don’t think that’s what you meant,” Woodruff said.  “At least I hope it’s not.”

“Wild hearts can’t be housebroken!” Bob cried.

“Okay, alright buddy,” Woodruff said.  “You’re a wild heart.  You pee wherever you like.”

“Thank you,” Bob said.  He sniffed and wiped his nose.

The band members watched quietly from their stools, having finished their empanadas.

“So, the solitango, huh,” Woodruff said.

“Now it only takes uno to tango,” Bob said.

“You wanna show me how that goes again?” Woodruff asked.

Bob turned to the bandleader and nodded.  The drummer centered himself and the trumpeters raised their instruments.

“It’s all about confidence and passion,” Bob said.  “But like the kind of passion you have reading a good book all by yourself, and the kind of confidence it takes to go to the post office on your own for the first time.”

“Got it,” Woodruff said.  “I’m ready.”

“Cinco, Seis, Siete, Ocho,” Bob said, and clapped his hand over his head.  The band began to play in rhythmic harmony.  “Hands in the air, Woodruff.  Now sink your hips like they were just hit by an iceberg of loneliness.  That’s right, you’re the Titanic, but you’re going down dancing.  Now strut, left, two, three, right, two, three.”

“Like this?” Woodruff asked, crouching like a catcher with his hands in the air.

“Not bad, but you’ve got to feel it,” Bob said.  “That feeling when you check into a hotel and ask for a single twin bed or tell the hostess you’d like a table for one.  Feel it!”

“Like this?” Woodruff sank to his knees and hung his head to one side.

“That’s it!” Bob said.  “Now imagine you’re dancing for a room full of cats!”

Woodruff jumped to his feet and twirled around, before high stepping his way across the street.

“You got it!” Bob shouted.  “That’s the solitango!”

The band stopped playing and several onlookers began to clap from down by the marketplace.

Woodruff and Bob took a bow and gestured to the band.  They all gave a little wave to the audience.  The applause subsided and Bob sighed.

“You feel better?” Woodruff asked.

“I feel hungry,” Bob said.

“I knew it!” Woodruff yelled.

“Those empanadas looked delicious,” Bob replied.

Two young ladies sat by a doorway on the near side of the street.

“Buenos movimientos,” the girl with brown-eyes said.

“Me?” Bob asked.

She nodded and her friend giggled.

“Gracias,” Bob said.  “Would you like to get some empanadas?”

“Si,” she replied.

“Bueno,” Bob said.

The two young ladies joined their new foreign friends, as they walked down the cobblestone street toward the smell of fried meat pastries.  Behind them the band began to play, and everyone started dancing together, all by themselves.

Foot In Big Mouth

The wind hollered across the serenely calm lake as the moonlight glimmered off its rippling waters.

“Bob!” Woodruff called again.

When no answer came, Woodruff stepped down onto the sandy banks of the wooded island.  A pair of footprints trailed off the beach into the brush.  Kenny stood at the edge of the bridge and held a flashlight high overhead, to light the way.

“You don’t think he’s…” Kenny began.

“No, he’s alive,” Woodruff interrupted.

“I was going to say taking a nap,” Kenny replied.

Woodruff grimaced but did not look back.  He pushed aside the ferns that blocked his way.

“Bob, if you jump out and scare me, I’m drinking your milkshake.”

The only sounds were the chirping of crickets and a lone raspy bullfrog.

“It’s chocolate,” he added, to improve the severity of his warning.

“I don’t think he can hear you,” Kenny said.  “I hate to say it but he’s…”

“He’s fine, Kenny,” Woodruff interrupted.  “He’s fine.  He’s got to be.”

“I was going to say he’s a Scorpio,” Kenny replied.  “Passionate, independent, and not afraid to blaze his own trail, no matter what others think.”

Woodruff turned and laid a narrow-eyed scowl on the old vagabond.  Kenny sheepishly rubbed the scruff on his chin and held the light a little higher, in a vain attempt to seem helpful.

“Stay here,” Woodruff said.  “If I’m not back by sunrise, go get help.”

Kenny nodded and gave him a thumbs up.  Woodruff stepped beyond the tree line and stood still for a moment, until his eyes adjusted.

Of all the times Bob had vanished, the trombone festival, the Myrtle Sklesko incident, the three-day blackout in the Pyrenees, this was the most worrisome.  A number of possibilities troubled Woodruff’s mind.  Had a lake merman worked Bob over for hitting on his lady of the lake?  Had a tribe of pygmy warriors carried him off to be sacrificed to a vengeful god?  Again.  Did he find Bigfoot on a day when the beast was suffering an intense migraine brought on by a 72-hour YouTube binge and mild dehydration?

The sound of grunts and groans coming from deeper into the woods broke Woodruff from his worry spiral.  He inched forward, cautiously, toward the sounds.

“Bob?” he whispered.

Through the thick forest foliage, Woodruff could see strands of orange light casting a warm glow into the dark woods.  He crept forward listening to the soft groaning.

“Bob,” he whisper-yelled as he drew closer.

The groans stopped and Woodruff reached out to part the curtain of leaves in his path.  Behind the natural barrier was a clearing with a roaring fire at the center.  On the far side of the clearing, Bob hung upside down, with ropes tied to both ankles.

“Bob!”

Woodruff sprang into the clearing and ran around the fire pit.  He grabbed hold of Bob’s waist and lifted him up to ease the tension of the ropes.

“Woodruff!”

“I got you,” Woodruff said.  “Who did this?  Was it an angry merman?  How many times have a told you to leave the underwater world alone?”

“It was him,” Bob said.

“Who him?” Woodruff asked, looking down at his overturned friend.

“Him,” Bob pointed out across the clearing.  Woodruff bent over and slowly followed Bob’s finger to a giant hairy creature beyond the fire.

“Bigfoot,” Woodruff muttered.

“His name is Bert,” Bob said.  “And his feet are actually proportionate to his height.”

“Hello,” Bert said.  He waved a hair-covered hand at Woodruff.

“Uh, hi?” Woodruff said.

Bert flashed a big bright smile and Woodruff stood up straight.  The furry giant wore only a blue and black afghan around his waist.  Other than that, his body was covered from head to foot with dark brown hair.

“Are you going to eat us?” Woodruff asked.

Bob and Bert chuckled.

“Uh, gross,” Bert said.  “Why would you think that?  Because I’m hairy?”

“That’s hairist,” Bob said.

“Then why do you have my friend tied up next to a fire in the middle of a secluded island forest?” Woodruff asked.

“The fire is for light and warmth,” Bert said.  “We’re the middle of a secluded island forest.”

“And I asked him to tie me up,” Bob added.

“What?” Woodruff asked.  “Why?”

“He asked me how I got so tall,” Bert replied.

“He told me it was from long term inversion therapy for a chronic back condition,” Bob said.  “I told him I was looking to add some scale to this sweet package.”

“That’s what Xi said,” Bert added.

“Inappropriate,” Woodruff said.

“What?” Bert asked.  “Wang Xi is a composer I summered with in Kathmandu.  She wanted to add scales to her composition.  Get your mind out of the gutter.”

“You were in the Himalayas?” Woodruff said.  “You’re kidding.”

“Nobody kids about Kathmandu,” Bob replied.

“What’s funny about that?” Bert asked.

“The Himalayas,” Woodruff repeated.  “You know, the Yeti.”

“Oh Woodruff,” Bob said, covering his upside-down eyes.

“That’s offensive,” Bert said.  “I happen to have hereditary gigantism and suffer from congenital hypertrichosis, which effect one in ten billion people, just so you know.  I’ve had to endure a lifetime of Sasquatch jokes and straight up cuckoos.  Have you ever been hunted?  It’s not fun.”

“Actually, Bert, we have been hunted,” Bob said, swinging gently side to side.

“A couple of times,” Woodruff said.  “It was not fun.”

“Not fun at all,” Bob agreed.

“I’m sorry,” Woodruff said.  “That was insensitive.  Please forgive me.”

Bert sat down on a stump and scratch at the ground with a broken branch.

“It’s okay,” Bert said.  “My ex says I’m too sensitive.”

“No,” Bob said.  “It’s got to be hard living out here on your own.”

“Oh, I don’t live out here,” Bert said.

“You don’t?” Bob said.

“No, I was just doing some fishing,” Bert said.  “You know, disconnecting, getting off the grid.”

Bob craned his neck and looked up at Woodruff, before they both turned back to Bert.

“I’m a hedge fund manager from San Fran,” Bert said.

“Why aren’t you wearing clothes?” Woodruff asked.

Bert looked down at the afghan tied around his waist.

“I fell in the water and hung my clothes out to dry,” he replied, pointing to a clothesline hanging between two trees.  “Bob gave me this blanket he knitted.”

“Crocheted,” Bob corrected.

“We thought…” Woodruff stopped himself before further offending their host.

“You thought I was a mythical creature living in a secluded island forest away from societies reach?” Bert said.  “I get that a lot.”

“Wow,” Bob said.  “We sure learned a valuable lesson about making snap contextual judgements.  Even when the evidence seems to overwhelmingly support them, you could still wind up mistaking a bay area capitalist on a fishing trip with a North American folk-legend.”

“No worries,” Bert said.  “If I had a nickel for every time I was mistaken for Bigfoot, I’d have invested those nickels in the market, quadrupled my original investment, and bought a SKS-HT540 7.1 Channel Surround Sound System with a 10-inch subwoofer and Bluetooth.”

“The Onkyo,” Woodruff said.  “Excellent choice.  I’ve got the HT-7800 at home.”

“Always nice to meet another audiophile,” Bert said.

Bert gave a double pistol salute with his finger guns just before being taken to the ground by a rampaging man who leapt from the bushes.

“Run for it, guys!” Kenny yelled, as he struggled with his hairy captive.  “Save yourselves!  Tell Meryl I’ve always loved her.”

“Kenny, what are you doing?” Bob asked.

“Kenny?” Bert said.

“Bert?” Kenny replied.

“Hey!” they sang in unison.  With a great big smile, Kenny climbed off Bert and helped him off the ground.

“You know each other?” Woodruff asked.

“This is my brother-in-law,” Kenny said.

“Ex-brother-in-law,” Bert added.

“Her loss, brother,” Kenny said. 

“As always, you’re too kind.”

“How’ve you been?”

“Good,” Bert said.  “You?”

“Same,” Kenny said.  “Whatcha doing out here?”

“Fishing.”

“Catch anything?”

“Just these two,” Bert said, pointing at Woodruff and Bob.

“Those are throwbacks for sure,” Kenny said, with a wink.

“Definitely,” Bert said, and pantomimed a tossing motion.  “Catch and release.”

Kenny threw his arm around the waist of his former brother-in-law and they both laughed.  The smile fell from Kenny’s face as he looked over at Woodruff and a dangling Bob.

“Wait a minute,” Kenny said, raising an eyebrow in their direction.  “Did you two think Bert was Bigfoot?”

“It was dark,” Woodruff said.

“And far away,” Bob added.

Kenny shook his head and muttered, “Of all the hairist…”

“It’s Reno all over again,” Woodruff whispered.

“She was incognito!” Bob said.

Woodruff mouthed a silent, “We’re so sorry” to Bert.

“Would you like a lukewarm apology milkshake?” Kenny asked Bert.

“Jamocha?” Bert asked.

“Chocolate,” Kenny said.

“Pass,” Bert replied.

Calls It How He Eats It

“This is the life,” Woodruff said.

“We needed this,” Bob replied.

“No doubt,” Woodruff agreed.

Woodruff reached into a small Styrofoam cup and pulled out a muddy, wriggly, worm.  He quickly expanded a fish rod and caught hold of the hook dangling off the end of the line.  With the hook in one hand and the worm in the other, Woodruff sought to join the two by force.

“That’s barbaric,” Bob said.

“It’s nature,” Woodruff argued.

“Nature?” Bob said.  “So, hooks are the natural predators of worms?”

“Fish prey on worms, I’m just the middle-man,” Woodruff said.

“It’d be more natural if you ate the worms and left the fish alone,” Bob said.

“Fishing goes back to the dawn of human history,” Woodruff said.  “There are cave paintings depicting fishing, and archeologists have found stone age fish hooks made of bone.”

“Yeah, barbaric.”

“You’re just mad because you can’t bait a hook.”

“Could too!”

“Uh huh, sure you could Grandma knits-a-lot.”

“How dare you!” Bob exclaimed.  With crotchet hooks in hand, he swiveled on the boulder to turn away from Woodruff, carefully balancing the balls of yarn in his lap.  Bob rapidly weaved red and blue yarn together with sterling silver crotchet hooks, purposefully blocking his work from Woodruff’s view.

When Woodruff had properly baited his hook, he stood up on top of the massive rock and held the pole over his head and behind him.  He surveyed the body of water and looked for a calm spot between their shoreline and the banks of the not-so-distant island in front of them.

“I choose to use my hooks to create not to kill,” Bob said, holding up a long sock shaped creation.  “I’m making this for you, worm murderer.  Maybe it could warm your cold heart.”

Woodruff lowered the pole and pivoted to look at Bob, who had already turned his attentions back to his project.

“You’re making me a heart cozy?”

“It was going to be an oven mitt, but that was before you forsook the sanctity of life.”

“The sanctity of life?”

“Hashtag worm lives matter, Woodruff, worm lives matter.”

“You’re being very dramatic.”

“Woodruff the wormslayer!”

“When I said I wanted to go fishing, what did you think was going to happen?” Woodruff asked.

“I thought you were going to catch them with your bare hands like a gentleman,” Bob said.

“And then what?” Woodruff asked.  “Don’t fish lives matter?”

“You’re going to kill the fish too?!” Bob shouted.

“I’m not going to eat a live fish.”

“You’re going to eat them?!”

“What else would I do with them?”

“I don’t know, return them to the water with a light taunting for getting caught.”

Woodruff stared down at Bob with his mouth agape.  The rod in his hand wobbled from the movement of the worm on the end of the line.  The moment past with only the sound of a gust of wind between them.

“I need to know that you know where food comes from,” Woodruff said.

“I’m not a child,” Bob replied.  “I know where you carnivores turn for sustenance.  That’s why I gave up fish and chicken and lamb, oh, and hot dogs.  Gross.”

“You had a hamburger last night,” Woodruff said.  “What do you think that was made from?”

“Beef.”

“And where does beef come from?”

“Uh, the store, obviously.”

“Before the store.”

“Beef farms?”

“Bob, beef comes from cows.”

“What?!”

“Beef, hamburgers, steak, it comes from cows.”

“Then why don’t we call it cow?” Bob asked, incredulously.

Woodruff put down his fishing rod and rubbed his forehead with both hands.  He drew in a deep breath and watched Bob stare off at the shimmering waters.  Bob’s head slowly tilted to the side and his lips began to quiver slightly.

“An orange is an orange, an apple is an apple, lettuce is lettuce, chicken is chicken, and beef is cow?” Bob muttered.

From the look on Bob’s face, he was clearly grappling with the new reality.  Woodruff picked up a canteen in a camouflage pouch and walked over to Bob.  Crouching down he unscrewed the lid and offered it to his befuddled friend.  Bob took the canteen and mindlessly drank from it.  Swallowing the cool refreshing liquid, he pulled the canteen away from his mouth and looked at it suspiciously.

“Water is from water, right?” Bob asked.

“Yes, water is from water,” Woodruff said.  “Bob, are you going to be okay?”

“What other food doesn’t go by its animal name?”

“That’s not important right now, you need time to process this.”

“That’s exactly what you said to me when I asked if Vincent died in the LOST finale,” Bob accused.  “What aren’t you telling me?”

“Nothing,” Woodruff said.

“Woodruff,” Bob demanded.

Woodruff drew in a deep breath, and exhaled slowly, “Bacon.”

“No.  No.”

“Bacon, Bob.”

“But, but bacon comes from pork.”

“Why do you think the pig on Looney Tunes is named Porky.”

“No…no.  It’s can’t be!  That’s not true!  That’s impossible!”

“Search your feelings.  You know it to be true.”

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!  NOOOOOOOO!”

 

Four hours later Bob was still hunched over the boulder in the fetal position, with Woodruff fishing quietly by his side.

“Woodruff?”

“Yeah Bob.”

“Is there a turg or a wild pirkey out there that we get turkey bacon from?”

“I think it’s just turkey that’s made to look like bacon.”

“That’s awful.”

“No argument here.”

Bob sat up and wiped at the tear stains on his cheeks.  Woodruff set his pole down softly and turned to face his friend.

“You all right?” Woodruff asked.

“I don’t know,” Bob said.  “You know, you think you are a certain kind of person, but then you have to look yourself in the mirror and tell that person that you love bacon and you don’t care who it hurts.  It’s hard.”

“I know, amigo, I know.”

“We were supposed to come out here and chillax, disconnect, take a break, get off the grid.”

“We did, we’re off the grid,” Woodruff said.  “We’ve disconnected.  We’re out in nature.  Look.”

Woodruff gesture out at the beautiful vista, a lake surrounded by evergreens with a wooded island near the center.

“What else out there have I been eating?” Bob said, glumly.

“Honestly, none of the animals you eat were ever in the wild,” Woodruff said.  “They were most likely raised on farms to be slaughtered for food.”

Bob burst into tears and threw himself back on top of the boulder, “I’m a monster.”

“You’re not a monster.”

Woodruff’s fishing pole shot off the rocky shore and went skipping across the top of the water.

“Whoah!”

Bob sat up and they both watched the rod dancing in the wake of a fleeing fish.  The wake turned parallel to the shoreline as it approached the island.  In a flash, a giant hairy blur exploded from behind the cover the trees and ripped the fish from the water.  With wide-eyed wonder, Woodruff and Bob watched the towering creature retreat, back through the trees with fish in hand, dragging the fishing pole behind it.

“Did you see that?” Woodruff asked.

“I sure did,” Bob replied.

“Was that…?”

“Yep.”

“A Yeti.”

“A Bigfoot.”

“Break is over,” Woodruff said.

“Things just got real,” Bob said.

“You know where we’re going.”

“The island.”

“Most definitely.”

Bob collected his balls of yarn and Woodruff picked up his tackle box.  With their supplies tucked underneath their arms they looked across the lake toward the island.

“Hey, Woodruff?”

“Yeah Bob.”

“You wanna get something to eat before we head to Bigfoot Island?”

“What’re you in the mood for?”

“I could go for a PLT.”

“A PLT?”

“A Pig, Lettuce, and Tomato Sandwich.”

“Sounds hamtastic.”

“Don’t be insensitive, Woodruff.”

“I’m sirloin, um, sorry, I’m sorry.”

Woodruff grinned wryly and Bob shook his head.

“We have a Sasquatch across the way, but you’re the real monster.”

Horseplay

Woodruff strummed his fingers against a wooden countertop and looked listlessly out the front window at Bob twirling an arrow-shaped sign in a circle.  A cold breeze blew in through the door that was propped open by a giant horseshoe.   Bob tossed the sign in the air and tried to catch it behind his back.  Quickly, he scooped it off the ground from where he dropped it as a car zoomed by.  Woodruff sighed.

“Bob!” he called.

Bob continued to spin the sign while he jogged across the tiny parking lot.

“What’s up, partner,” Bob said, as he poked his head through the front doorway while keeping the sign spinning just outside.

“It’s been three days.”

“Technically, it’s been two business days and five hours.”

“Nobody’s coming,” Woodruff replied.

“Don’t lose faith,” Bob said.  “You’ve got to believe.”

“Oh, I believe,” Woodruff said.  “I believe nobody’s coming.”

Bob stopped twirling the sign and stepped inside the lobby.

“Do you think we need a new sign?” Bob held up the blue arrow-shaped sign.  The white letters read ‘SHABBY MARES THIS WAY’.  Bob looked down at the sign and back to Woodruff.

“It’s not the sign,” Woodruff said.  “It’s the service.”

“Our service is first rate,” Bob said.  “The best in the world.  That’s what our website banner says.”

“We’re the only ones in the world.”

“That’s why this is going to work.  We’ve already cornered the market.”

“There is no market!” Woodruff threw his arms in the air and gestured to the empty lobby and parking lot.

“Every visionary entrepreneur has had moments of doubt,” Bob said.  “You think Alexander Graham Bell didn’t worry about his new lightbulb store?  You think when Papa John invented pizza that he didn’t wondered if people would like it?  Fact, when Apple was founded in 1976 Steve Jobs didn’t sell a single iPad in his first three days, not one.”

“We’re not Steve Jobs or Papa John…”

“You’re darn right, we’re Woodruff and Bob,” Bob interrupted.  “And we paint horses!”

Bob stood triumphantly with his hands resting on his hips and looked up into the far corner of the lobby.  Woodruff followed his gaze quizzically and turned back to his friend’s unearned victory pose.

“We haven’t painted a single horse,” Woodruff said.

“Not yet.”

“Bob, nobody wants their horse painted.”

“We just need to get the word out,” Bob said.  “They don’t even know they want it, that’s how revolutionary this idea is.  A Horse of a Different Color LLC is going to change the world, one horse at a time.”

“You’re literally just quoting our website.”

“Well it’s true.”

“Unsubstantiated claims on the internet is not a business model,” Woodruff replied.

“Excused me,” a frail voice called from the doorway.

Woodruff and Bob turned their attentions to a short woman with curly gray hair, wearing a lavender dress and a matching shawl.

“May we help you?” Woodruff asked.

“Yes, I found you on the Google,” the old lady replied.  “I have an antique horse I would like to have painted.”

“Antique?” Bob asked.

“Yes, it’s an old rocking horse,” the old lady shuffled into the lobby with her purse cradled close to her bosom.  “My mother’s grandfather made it for her mother.  It’s been in the family for generations.”

“Please, come and have a seat,” Woodruff replied warmly, and hurried around the counter with a chair.

“I’ll handle this, Mr. Doubting Thomas,” Bob said.  “Why don’t you look back behind the counter and see if you can find your faith.”

Bob stepped next to the old lady and took her gently by the arm.  Very slowly, he turned her around back toward the front door.

“I’m sorry,” Bob said.  “We don’t do antiques.  We paint real live horses.  Why don’t you try asking the Google for a hobby shop?”

He gave her a gentle nudge beyond the threshold and the old lady turned around with a confused look on her wrinkled face.  Bob removed the giant horseshoe from the door and waved as it slowly swung shut.

“There,” Bob said proudly, as he placed the giant horseshoe against the wall.

“What did you just do?” Woodruff asked incredulously.

“Uh, I protected our brand.”

“That was a customer.”

“That was a confused old lady.”

“She wanted us to paint her horse.”

“Her toy horse.”

“What’s the difference?”

“We can’t just paint whatever gets brought in off the street,” Bob said.  “We are a horse painting business.  If we paint that old rocker, we’ll be no different than any other paint shop in town.”

“Every other paint shop in town has customers!”

“Exactly,” Bob said.  “We’ve just got to find ours.”

“We just had one!” Woodruff shouted.  “You literally just looked a gift horse in the mouth.”

“An antique gift horse,” Bob muttered.

“That’s it, I’m done.”

“Hold your horses, we had a plan.”

“You had a plan,” Woodruff said.  “I didn’t want to do this.”

“I’m doing this for you,” Bob said.

“What are you talking about?”

“Your bucket list.”

“I don’t think I had horse painter on my bucket list.”

Bob pulled a crinkled piece of paper from his back pocket and flattened it out on the counter.  With his finger, he tracked down the long list until coming to a stop beneath the first entry not crossed out in crayon.  He pointed to it emphatically.

“There.”

Woodruff leaned over the list and trained his eyes on the words above Bob’s finger.

“Become a philanthropist?”

“That’s right, become a philanthropist.”

“How is this becoming a philanthropist?” Woodruff asked.  “Other than the fact we are definitely not going to profit off this venture.”

“That was the whole point,” Bob said.  “We just needed a never-before-thought-of innovation that would make us rich and famous.  Then after we’ve been interviewed on talk shows and in magazines, and after we got tired of yachts and lavish parties, we would have the money and fame to become world class philanthropists.  This was supposed to be phase one.”

Bob slumped onto a stool and hung his head.  Woodruff looked down at the well-worn list and back to his sulking friend.  He reminisced about all their adventures and all they had accomplished together.

“Maybe we just need an adjustment,” Woodruff said.

“An adjustment?” Bob asked.

“Yeah, you know, try something different.”

“You mean like horse racing?”

“Or something else.”

“Horse dancing?”

“We don’t have to decide that right now,” Woodruff said.  He came around the counter and took Bob by the arm.  Bob stood up and Woodruff walked him toward the door.  “Whatever it is, we’ll figure it out together.”

Woodruff pushed open the door and Bob picked up the giant horseshoe and followed him out into the parking lot.

“Horse dentistry,” Bob declared, excitedly.

“It doesn’t have to involve horses.”

“We could call it Straight from the Horse’s Mouth.”

“Let’s talk about it over dinner,” Woodruff said.  “You hungry?”

“I’m chomping at the bit.”

“What sounds good?”

“Anything really,” Bob said.  “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.”

Ain’t No Party

“We’re here talking to an unusual political candidate,” the blonde newswoman spoke into the camera.  “This first of its kind political team is running as a single entity for a seat in the state assembly.  Woodruff and Bob, thank you for being here.”

“Thank you for having us, Janice,” Bob said.

“It’s Suzanne.”

“Of course you are,” Bob replied with a wink.

“How did you come up with this unique idea?” Suzanne asked.

“Well, I’ve had political aspirations since losing out to Melissa Pennyberry for treasurer in the third grade,” Woodruff said.  “It was a total popularity contest.  I didn’t stand a chance again her sweet headgear and her wicked cool cross-eyed corrective lenses.  It was a landslide.”

“When Woodruff told me he was running I threw my hat in the ring as well,” Bob said.  “We have very different political ideals and I wasn’t about to let this country go to smell like a ham basket.”

“Do you mean, go to hell in a hand basket?” Suzanne asked.

“That doesn’t even make any sense,” Bob replied.

“Anywho,” Woodruff continued.  “Things got tense between us after that, so we decided we’d flip a coin for the sake of our friendship.”

“The coin landed in the gutter, straight on its side,” Bob said.  “We took that for a sign.”

“And here we are,” Woodruff added, he sat up straight and adjusted his bright red tie.  “Woodruff and Bob for the 53rd Assembly District Representative.”

“Tell us how you resolve those political differences.”

“It’s simple really,” Bob said.  “We agreed to give each other an equal share.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well if I start something, Bob finishes, and vice versa,” Woodruff explained.  “For instance, we’ve got to put a stop to the war on…”

“…hashtags,” Bob said.  “Hashtags are not only useful at grouping topics, but are a hilarious device in conversation as well.  The mean strain media wants to limit them to social media posts and news scrawls.  #freethehash.”

“That approach seems a bit unpredictable,” Suzanne said.

“Not if you know your other half,” Bob said.  “Like if I say, we have to propose a bill with common sense reform on…”

“…potato peeler thumb guards,” Woodruff said.  “One in six hundred seventy-five thousand Americans cuts their finger on an unguarded potato peeler even month and a half.  Twenty-three percent of those are children.  Suzanne, do you want your children to lose the top layer of skin on one of their precious digits because your politicians failed to act responsibly?”

“Uh, no?” Suzanne replied.

“Exactly,” Bob said.  “And even though I’m fundamentally opposed to government regulation in any form, I’m fine with his proposition because I started the sentence.”

“That makes some sense, I guess,” Suzanne said.  “Do you confer at all before commencing a statement?”

“We find it better to just start down a path…”

“…and let the drips fall where they may.”

“You mean the chips?”

“Why would you let chips fall?” Bob said.  “Chips are delicious.”

With mouth agape, the newswoman shook her head and stared at Bob.  He smiled brightly back at her and pulled at the collar of his button-up shirt.

“At the end of the day, Suzanne, it’s our names on the ballot but this election is about the people,” Woodruff said.

“You two are clearly non-conformists,” Suzanne said.  “Is that why you started your own political party?”

“What’s that now?” Bob asked.

“Tell our viewers what the Yes, Please Party is all about,” Suzanne asked.

“Um, well,” Woodruff said.  “The application for candidacy had a blank next to party affiliation and Bob wrote ‘yes, please’.”

“We’re pro-party, all the way,” Bob added.

“Wait, so do you not know what a political party is?”

“Janice, the people are tired of the status quo in politics,” Bob said.  “This is a grass roots movement.  We used a tough blue-green Bermuda hybrid with shade tolerance and a wide range of mowing heights.”

“We’re pretty proud of our grassroots,” Woodruff added.

“Your opponent has said and I quote,” Suzanne looked down at her paper and read.  “The 53rd Assembly District has 99 problems and that campaign ain’t one, they’re two.”

“With all due respect to Mr. Z, who is a Sasquatch denier by the way, there’s actually three major problems in our district,” Bob began.  “First, low income households don’t have access to medicinal macaroons…”

“Medicinal macaroons?”

“Macaroons can treat a variety of maladies,” Woodruff replied.  “Irritable mom syndrome, chronic flat bottom disorder, not to mention the benefits to the gluten-free intolerant.”

“Nine out of ten dentists support our medicinal macaroon proposal,” Bob added.  “Secondly, this country needs to take seriously our mobile warming problem.”

“You mean global warming?”

“What’s global warming?” Bob furrowed his brow and squinted one eye at the newswoman.

“What’s mobile warming?” Suzanne returned a furrowed-brow stare.

“Mobile warmings is when your phone gets really hot,” Woodruff said.  “It’s fake news.”

“Denier!” Bob shouted.  “Ninety-seven percent of Americans carry tiny nuclear reactors in their pockets and it’s only a matter of time before we have a catastrophe.”

“Again, that’s not how phones work,” Woodruff said.

Bob shook his head and turned back to the confused newswoman.

“Janice, we need common sense cell control laws.”

“It’s Suzanne.”

“Right,” Bob said.  “If cell phone reform can save one life then it’s a no-brainer.”

“You’re a no-brainer,” Woodruff whispered.

“Yes, we can!” Bob proudly proclaimed, with a point to the camera.

“O-kay,” Suzanne said, with a sideways look at her cameraman.  “What was the third problem?”

“Migration,” Woodruff said.  “We need to build a wall.”

“You are in favor of building a wall to keep immigrants out?”

“No!” Bob replied incredulously.  “Why would we want to keep people out?  It’s awesome here.”

“We want to build a wall to keep residents in,” Woodruff clarified.

“Wait, what?”

“We lose eighteen percent of our population each summer to the Midwest and the Northeast,” Woodruff continued.  “Only to have them return in the more temperate months.”

“We propose building a wall around the district borders to keep people here year-round,” Bob said.  “If you want us at our best, you have to love us at our worst.”

“Polling shows that the majority of Americans don’t want to pay for a wall of any kind,” Suzanne replied.

“We don’t look at polling,” Woodruff said.  “Besides, voters aren’t going to pay for one single cent.”

“Then how do you propose paying for this wall?”

“It’s going to be made entirely out of recycled material,” Bob said.

“Recycled material?”

“Yep,” Woodruff replied.  “You know all that stuff that people list for free on Craigslist?”

“Yeah?” Suzanne answered quizzically.

“And when people put a couch or a dresser on the sidewalk with a sign that says free?”

“Uh huh?”

“Well, our friend Kenny has collected all of that stuff for years,” Bob said.  “He has committed to line the district boundaries with it, for free.”

“If his estimation is correct, he can build a wall six feet high and four feet thick by the end of our first term,” Woodruff concluded.

“You want to build a wall of trash around your district?” Suzanne asked.

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” Bob replied.

“That’s our campaign slogan,” Woodruff added, proudly displaying a red, white, and blue bumper sticker.

“Some estimates have you trailing your opponent by as much as ninety-four percent,” Suzanne said.  “How do you intend to close a gap like that?”

“We just received the endorsement of the local chapter of the International Lawn Care Society, who are a big fan of our grassroots,” Woodruff said.  “And our message seems to resonate with housewives, sidewalk musicians, and Latino males 41-42 years old.”

“It’s all going to come down to turn out,” Bob said.  “We’ve got one hundred percent of the vagabond American vote, so if they are all that turns out then we’ll win easily.  That’s just math.”

“I don’t know how to refute that,” Suzanne said.

“Why would you want to?” Woodruff replied.

“Do you have any parting words for our viewers?”

“Just two, Nutella toothpaste,” Bob winked at the camera and flashed a cheesy grin.

“Like I said to Melissa Pennyberry before the final results were read over the intercom,” Woodruff began.  “Win or lose, I’m probably gonna to cry.”

“Well, thank you for speaking with us today, Woodruff and Bob,” the newswoman turned to speak directly into the camera.  “I’m Suzanne Newsworthy and this has been a Naptime Network exclusive, you can now take your pills and drink your prune juice, Geemas and Geepas.”

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.”

“Your looks aren’t everything,” Bob muttered.

“What was that?”

“I said your 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 pickles wouldn’t pop?”

“Precisely.”

“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.”