21 April 2008
HONK IF YOU THINK SHE'S JESUS
Susan Pasteur Caanan watched Colonel George Armbruster cut his steak while her husband, Lt. CoL. Harry B. Caanan, beamed under George's 467th retelling of Harry's brilliance in the cockpit. "If," Susan wondered, "ole Harry can find Hamilton Field in the middle of the night with a 4-1/2-ton jet, why can't he ever find my clitoris?" Like many of Life's Compelling Questions, this had no apparent answer.
George's wife, JennyMarie, smiled and squeezed Susan's hand. George was now pounding on the table to emphasize points in what Susan called his "America: love it or go shoot yourself" speech when the California earth began to shake.
Susan looked up at the Sears five-arm chandelier, and she realized it meant to loosen itself and plop itself firmly on her head. She considered whether a coma might be a viable alternative to her life as an Air Force wife, and as she wondered, the chandelier came loose and plopped itself firmly on her head.
When the 5.7 earthquake ended, an Enlightened Susan found herself still alive and still awake. JennyMarie said, "This happened to my Aunt Bernice once. . . such a lovely woman, too!"
"JennyMarie, living next door to you is like living with Dale Evans," Susan said.
"Oh, you're so sweet. She's always been one of my favorite thinkers."
Susan immediately found herself driving across the Golden Gate Bridge in her little green MG. She then found herself at the San Francisco Women's Halfway House and Enlightenment Parlor. Susan was very pleased to find herself. She'd been looking for 28 years.
Enlightenment, in any case, is as great a burden as naturally curly hair — and in Susan's, the chandelier was so heavy, she immediately reached that State of Being in which one says absolutely nothing Unenlightened. Small talk, of course, doesn't have to be dull. But this is America, after all. You can't just go around dropping Universals in people's tea.
So when Andiron L. answered the Halfway-Enlightened door and Susan said, "The impact of truth is a direct factor of the length of time during which it is disclosed," Andiron spent considerable time pulling on her earlobe.
But, seeing no guns, knives, or other threatening characteristics, Andiron finally said, "Say, listen, Sweetheart, why don't you just come inside and rest for a bit?" Andiron L. made one of two assumptions people normally make about Enlightened people — that Susan must be completely stoned out of her mind.
Susan put her pack down in the room with a 15-foot ceiling, 11 windows, 27 women, 2 cats, 3 kids, and a large overstuffed Indian print pillow on the floor in the corner next to the marble fireplace. A stained glass window above the fireplace announced, "My consciousness is fine—it's my pay that needs raising."
After watching for a few minutes, Susan smiled mystically and got up to stand in front of the blackboard on which were written Shana Alexander, Caroline Bird, and Rita Mae Brown's latest books and the editorial address of WomanCabbie, a magazine about the capitalist/sexist/bullshit/oppression of women driving cabs. Susan wrote:
Truth = Impact/Time of Disclosure
Then she sat down on the pillow and resumed reading The Further Fattening Adventures of Pudge, Girl Blimp, a comic book she found on the mantle.
"Hi," a woman squealed. "I'm Janelle."
Susan ran her fingers through her short-cropped auburn hair and looked at Janelle. Then she looked at the other happy, bright, smiling faces. "Sound off, Mouseketeers," Susan said.
No one could think of anything to say that was supportive, so Andiron poured Susan a ceramic mug full of Red Zinger tea. Andiron was white with a dark brown Afro. She wore jeans and a long-sleeved dark print shirt under a the-shirt advertising the First Annual Handicapped Gay Eskimo Small Press and Beer Can Recycling Conference.
The women decided to rummage through Susan's daypack to discover who she was, a process she watched in bemused silence. "Strangers are only friends you haven't misunderstood yet," she told them.
Andiron said, "Well, Susan Pasteur Caanan, apparently you are married and live in Bel Marin Keys, CA 94934. So are you leaving your old man or what?"
"Probably beat her," Janelle said. "Look at that bump on her head." Susan blinked.
"Would you like to stay with us?" Susan didn't know what forces deposited her in the Halfway House in the first place, but as any Enlightened person could see, she would stay until she left. So she blinked again.
"Listen," Andiron L. suggested, "she's apparently blown away by whatever just came down, and she is bumped on the head, so why don't we give her a couple of organic aspirin and let her space for a while?" Everyone agreed this made sense, since it did. They returned to raising their consciousness so they could understand why Janelle's woman lover and new role as an independent leather craftsperson made her feel like the same piece of shit her husband and five kids had.
A woman named Cassandra suggested it was because there wasn't much market for leather Tupperware or soap dishes, but this was shouted down as nonpositive support.
"Eventually one discovers one should not necessarily do those things one believes will make a real difference in one's life," Susan finally said.
"Why not?" a tearful Janelle asked, cosy from an evening of gratuitous hugs and attention.
"Because there is no external which can make a real difference in one's life. However, this possibility is often the positive force which helps one deal with the daily realities," Susan answered.
The women, notebooks in hand, had begun scribbling. They actually had no idea what Susan was talking about, but it sounded Important.
"So I shouldn't have fucked Maria," Janelle said, looking up from her notes.
"I guess that's what she's saying," Andiron said.
"Bullshit," Maria said.
"Bullshit is sexist. Cowshit?" Cassandra offered.
"No, then you'd have to say 'roostershit,' 'ramshit,' and 'eweshit,' " Andiron L. said, pouring Susan another cup of tea. After the meeting, she took Susan to a bedroom on the second floor. It had a poster that read: Those who spend their lives in closets smell of mothballs.
Susan stared at the poster, then let her daypack fall wearily to the floor. Andiron sensed Susan's loneliness, so she brought her sleeping bag in and slept next to Susan on the floor. Susan was beginning to like Andiron L.
When they awakened, Susan asked Andiron, "How many feminists does it take to change a lightbulb?"
"Dunno," Andiron grinned.
"Six," Susan said. "Four to discuss the political ramifications, one to provide daycare, and one to change the lightbulb."
Days passed, as they will whether or not we manage them, and Susan became the guru of the SFWHHEP. Wednesday nights became the time to gather at Susan's wisdom welL. Though things she said often seemed strange and out of con, they made the women feel better. Soon, Wednesday Nights were moved to the Unitarian Church, where it was easier to accommodate four hundred persons.
Lt. Col. Harry Caanan eventually found himself in Dr. Luther Sang-Freud's office in Mill Valley. He, unlike Susan, had not been looking for himself, so he didn't really notice. Dr. Sang-Freud was saying, "Vell, my boy, you zee, often ve cure cases of amnessia, the affliction your voman zeems strugglink mit, by recreating ze circumzdances in substance identical mit doze vitch caused ze original difficulties," and puffed on his briar, wondering if this yahoo would finish paying for the redwood hot-tub.
"Sir, I don't really follow what you're saying," Harry said, knowing a great deal more about the outside of a jet than the inside of a thought.
"My boy, you obviously don't watch many 'B' movies."
Harry shook his head.
"Look, Bozo, what you do is, hit her on the head with a chandelier."
For this, Harry paid $150.
The May Seminars began with "Susan on Friendship." From the Indian print pillow, she was staring at her Birkenstocked feet, stroking her auburn hair, and saying, "A real friend is someone who loves you in spite of your shortcomings. An enemy is someone who tells you they love you in spite of your shortcomings. And then catalogues them for you. Sometimes in a crowded room at the top of their lungs. Always for your own good." She paused to give the 3,000 note-takers time to catch up.
"There are men who are unwilling to pay for their lover's abortions unless they are absolutely sure the pregnancy was 'their fault.' In the vernacular, such people are referred to as 'assholes.' Many times, women pay for other women's abortions. They do not ask, 'Are you sure it's mine?' These are referred to as 'friends.'"
The crowd cheered. The cameraperson zoomed in for a close-up. This entire guru role embarrassed Susan, for she had the humility of a truly Enlightened person. But the SFWHHEP was taking care of her, so she continued.
"Sometimes assholes and enemies move out of town. And sometimes friends move out of town. I don't know where enemies and assholes move to. But friends move to Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, or Sacramento. None of these is San Francisco. When enemies and assholes move, this is called 'Far Out.' When friends move, it is called 'Far Away.' These are not the same."
Susan noticed a young Mark Twain type in a white suit and Earth Shoes sitting next to Andiron L., who looked pissed. This was because Mark Twain was Media Venture, her ex-old-man, who knew damned well men weren't allowed in Parlor Seminars. (This wasn't Susan's decision.)
No one noticed the other man there, Harry Caanan who was hiding behind a light boom in back of the auditorium. This was unfortunate, for Harry fully intended to hit Susan firmly on the head with the Sears five-arm chandelier he had cleverly concealed in a Safeway grocery bag.
Susan continued, "When you are angry and yell and throw things, people say you are acting like a Child. When you are angry and talk calmly and drink alcohol and can't sleep because your stomach hurts, people pat you on the shoulder for being Adult. When you act like a Child, people you don't like go away and they do not come back. When you act like an Adult, you get an ulcer and a sore shoulder, and people you don't like adore you. So you get angry all over again and again. This does not make you feel Better. Adults do not normally live as long as Children for this very reason."
Harry, meanwhile, was hiding in the curtains at the side of the stage. No one was paying any attention to Harry, which is how he managed this.
Media Venture leaped to his feet exuberantly. "I can sell her, I can sell her!" Media was not a pimp, though this was precisely what every person there thought. Even Harry.
But finally Media escaped the pile of screaming, kicking note-takers long enough to explain that he was a public relations man who owned his own counterculture advertising agency, which employed 52 percent women in executive/creative levels of power. And that some of his best friends were lesbian. Media explained he had a new slot for a guru account, since the U.S. Department of Silly Awareness Groups had created 175 new licenses for Silly Awareness Groups in 1979, over the dead bodies of Nalf Rader and his Citizens Against Silly Awareness Groups (CASAG).
While everyone was shouting at Media, Harry saw his chance. He aimed the chandelier straight at Susan's head, and as he was about to launch it, harpoon-fashion, Andiron decked him with a karate chop. Then she deposited him on the auditorium steps with a broken chandelier and a good deal to think about.
Susan watched these proceedings from a brown study atop her pillow. She was not pleased. She knew, given the opportunity, this was not the most fun she could have on a nickel.
In fact, it took her two days, back at the urban ranch, drinking tea and eating 9-grain wheat toast—while Media outlined his Plan for Susan Pasteur Seminars, Inc.—to quit trembling. She had watched so many "B" movies since marrying Harry that she had won Dialing for Dollars eleven times, and she knew exactly what Dr. Sang-Freud had told Harry. Eventually she relaxed.
In six months Susan became an overnight sensation. Media told her that Pasteurized Wednesday Nights, now telecast nationally from the Halfway House, brought in $83,000 a week in donations alone. And Susan was the only person in history whose name Barbara Walters actually pronounced correctly. The Pasteur, Inc. offices at Ghirardelli Square on San Francisco Bay employed 43 men and persons. Pasteur owned seven white Dodge vans with drop-down side doors to display "the line." School kids wore little gold-plated chandeliers around their necks and carried ring-binder notebooks full of Pasteurized quotations. There was a TV tape, a cassette, a ten-minute DVD, and a full line of jogging wear. Bumper stickers, posters, and buttons from Maine to San Diego pleaded for the Pasteurization of America. The Lt. Col. Harold Caanan Fan Club in Georgia was composed of retired Air Force officers whose wives had left them for Susan, the Rev. Sun-Moon-and-Stars, or other Silly Awareness Groups.
Indeed, the masses, looking for packaged answers, found Susan Pasteur the Kraft cheese of their precut world. They paid through the nose to see her (dressed in white fisherperson's clothes imported from Greece, sitting cross-legged in front of a portable fireplace) speak from her giant Indian print pillow. Fully half the country was hitting itself over the head with chandeliers in search of Enlightenment. No few wanted to sleep with her, too.
Susan, Andiron, and Media were on a PSA jet to LA to meet with an agent who wanted to do a movie of Susan's life, starring Joan Baez, Golda Meir, and Candice Bergen, when Susan said, "Knowing when to end something is the hardest thing in the world."
"Certainly," she thought, "it's too bad I can't just say I want out of this fucking zoo. She continued, "Once, an art teacher told me I had overdone a watercolor and ruined it. He said, 'It takes two people to do a good watercolor—one to paint and the other to shoot the artist when the work is finished.' A good deal of living is like this."
She was staring at the beautiful girl sitting across the aisle from her, next to a tall New Englander. The girl's head was swathed in bandages, with blond tufts of hair, clear blue eyes, and an angelic smile.
Media said terrifically, "Susan, that would make a great quote for the new steno pad line. 'Knowing when to quit' —no, that wasn't it. Or how about the new promo brochure?" He whipped out his pen.
Susan continued looking at the beautiful girl. This was because the girl had hypnotized her with the crystal pendant she wore—quite deliberately.
Andiron said to Media, "Shut up, Asshole." Andiron, being a true friend, had figured out how to tell what Susan actually meant by what she said, no matter how Enlightened it sounded.
"Some things go on," Susan said. "This is because they are Good Things. Why some things are Good and some Bad, no one really knows," she continued. Media scribbled. "Andiron," she said, taking the woman's hand, "do you know Janelle has taped everything I've said since I came to the SFWHHEP? She has an entire closet full of everything I've said, including 'pass the maple syrup' and 'wonderful, but a little higher and to the left.'"
Media said, "No shit, really? That's terrific!"
Andiron said, "Steady, Big Fella—before you start toting up interest and capital gains—I rewired Janelle's tape recorder so the 'play' button is the 'record' button, and the 'record' button is the 'play' button. So every time she plays one of those tapes, she erases it."
Susan said, "Isn't she beautiful?", looking at the girl across the aisle and holding Andiron's hand. The stewardess, wearing an "I've been Pasteurized" button, asked them if they wanted anything to drink for the 23rd time. The young girl sat down in the aisle when the stewardess left and put her head in Susan's lap.
"What is she, about fifteen?" Andiron guessed. Andiron thought she was another of the thousands who were convinced that Susan could heal them just by touch. Susan nodded, stroking the girl's head. "Sixteen in November, a Scorpio," Susan said. The middle-aged New Englander turned out to be her father, and he button-holed Venture in hushed tones. They went off to the bar together.
Susan said, "Sometimes people say 'it didn't Work,' or 'it did Work.'" She stroked the girl's head. "People do not say 'it Played,' or 'it didn't play,' unless they are talking about a phonograph record." The stewardesses sat in the seats behind her, taking notes in their Pasteur steno pads.
"This is interesting because it tells us people think more highly of work than of play. People who think more of play than of work are called 'Children' or 'Artists' or 'Hippies' or 'Crazy.' There is not a lot of difference. People who think work is more important than play are called 'Adults.' This is another reason Children tend to live longer."
"My name is Meredith Hyding," the girl said.
"I know," Susan said.
Meredith explained to Susan, "The reason things often end badly is because the communication to take them through ending well is not there. If the communication still existed, things probably wouldn't end at all."
Susan smiled. "I was wondering about that."
Then Meredith, who had recently been hit by a falling lighthouse in Braintree, Mass., hit Susan over the head with her carry-on bag, in which there was a Sears five-arm chandelier. Meredith told Susan it was time to quit the business and seek personal happiness, since being happy was the only truly Revolutionary, Enlightened thing anybody could do. She told Andiron and Susan to spend the next month or so gnoshing hotdogs and watching Winnie the Pooh movies at Disneyland. Susan soon became convinced that Meredith was far more Enlightened than she had ever been.
By the time PSA landed in LA, Susan had appointed Meredith her successor, the father had hired Media to take care of business, Meredith agreed to see the agent about Susan's movie, and the stewardesses forgot to bring their drinks because they were too busy writing down what both Meredith and Susan said.
When Susan and Andiron walked through LA International, they passed two security guards hand-cuffing Harry to a row of Fiberglas chairs. Susan told them to release him. Then she told him she was in love with Andiron and wanted a divorce. Harry hit himself over the head with his chandelier and immediately accepted the wisdom of this. In fact, he became so aware that he left the Air Force, married Janelle, hit her over the head with his chandelier, and became an organic carpenter in Taos, New Mexico—where he donated all his above subsistence earnings to the Pueblo Indians. They, being already Enlightened, graciously accepted them.
Susan and Andiron opened a restaurant overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Big Sur, California. The dining room is dominated by a very large, framed poster of Meredith Hyding in a hot, steaming bubble-bath. The slogan says, "Anybody who pays $250 to be told they're okay really isn't."
They remained happy for quite some time.
Copyright © 2008 by Mugsy Peabody. All world rights reserved.
15 April 2008
THE CAT, THE POTTED PALM, AND THE NAKED LADY
Thirty years ago, I wrote a story called "The Cat, The Potted Palm, and The Naked Lady," published in Issue No. 4, "Straight from the Gut," Ken Kesey's "Spit in the Ocean" Magazine (Winter, 1978, Lee Marrs, ed.). In honor of that anniversary, I open my blog here with that story. I liked the story well enough, but of course could have had no idea that three decades later, one line of that story has spread throughout the world, and has even been translated into Arabic, Serbo-Croatian, Chinese, Japanese, and Tibetan. There are calendars and bumper stickers, coffee mugs and posters, buttons and catfood bowls. Tigger was a real cat/person, with a large following of her own, and all this attention would have pleased her. I brought her home at six weeks on a Greyhound bus, tucked inside my jacket, and she honored me with her presence for 21 years. She remains one of the best people I've ever known. MP
"After all, a dog is a dog, and a bird is a bird, but a cat is a person."
I never figured out why they always die. I brought them home immediately, brought them belatedly, repotted them, left them in their original pot, watered them, droughted them, put them in the sun, in the shade. In desperation, I even put them in the refrigerator, put them in the shower (light cream rinse only), and under the bed. No matter what I did with the 6" Potted Palm, it died dead at once.
After changing my toothpaste three times, I decided they must be Scorpio loners, so I put them on the top shelf of the closet and ignored them. If possible, they died more quickly. Eventually, I had a tiny graveyard in the garden, Arlington Local. The neighbors began complaining about zoning, driving me to the People's Law, Dope & Free VD Test Library to research the plantricide laws of the state of california in and for the county of san francisco. I found out a good deal about victimless crimes, and in the course discovered that most of my complaining neighbors' waterbeds were not only x-rated, but illegal, immoral, and that wasn't oregano growing in their back yard either. But still I found nothing pertaining to my systematic genocide of an entire species of Palm.
When my landlord filed his position paper on Arlington Local, I screamed, "You know what you are, you're a cunnilinguist!"
He smiled. "I didn't know you knew, French and Latin, San Diego State," and returned to vacuuming the hall, whistling.
There never was an Annette Funicello/Bobby Darin movie without palms. Thirties and Forties movie stars always draped themselves around such greenery. You never saw Joan Crawford/Bette Davis/Lena Horne without the proverbial potted palm belching in the background. So when I migrated to california, naturally, I had to have one. I actually had about 34, to the amusement of friends and interested others. I am presently convinced that there are only three in california, two of which are 68 years old and owned by Living Plant Rentals, Inc.
(If you've been wondering what happened to all those kids who migrated to san francisco barefoot in the wake of the flower child, well, a number of us are still here, working and not working; living and dying; getting stoned and staying straight, and trying to raise suicidal palms. Those who stayed collected everything everyone else left when they went back to wherever after the diggers quit digging and governor raygun suggested the solution to the logging companies/sierra club feud was to cut down all the trees except those along the scenic highways.)
I was one who stayed. I collected a drafting table, a hamster tank, three pairs of tennis shoes, a doll's house, two televisions and several boarders who didn't work, and TA DA, a potted palm with a will to live! ! ! !
Which doesn't make me Joan Crawford. But if you think about it long enough, you know why Tigger and I live alone, having gotten sick of six consecutive communes and several dozen collectives, all doing Good Things for at least three weeks. And I ran out of room for yes to, "Say could you use a genuine fill-in-the-blank . . ., at least until I get back from. . . ."
Well, Aunt Martha, Tigger is a cat. (She's sitting out there in Watercress, Iowa, asking, "Who's this Tigger, who's this Tigger . . . , because my Midwestern relatives are totally convinced that I am Living in Sin. Oh, lord, if they had any idea just how hard Good Sin is to find! Especially in San Francisco, where 70 percent of the men not only could but often do look better in your favorite dress.)
Tigger is a cat, although she wouldn't like me saying that. As the lady on the tube said, people are so silly about animals. After all, a dog is a dog, a bird is a bird, but a cat is a person.
Tigger has her own sense of things. I put newspaper beneath her kitty litter and under her food bowl. Now she carefully covers up her food dish when she's finished eating. She likes music, often sitting on the Surrealistic Pillow and riding around, though she doesn't think much of the Fountains of Rome. And she likes to sit on my shoulder like a parrot (which is fine as long as she keeps her mouth shut). But, more than anything, she likes to eat Potted Palms. Which she says is her caviar (and my interior decorator's waterloo). Which is how she got into show business, and I nearly ended up in a strait jacket.
Slouching toward Bethlehem one day, she evaded my Maginot Line and ate an entire leaf of P. Palm. (I name everything, according to F. Fern.) P. Palm was howling and swearing a green streak and F. Fern was dialing the SPCP when I decided something needed to be done. I took a terribly frightened P. Palm off to the plant hospital around the corner: Theda Barr's Psychic Parlor and Plant Hospital. She promised me Palm would recover, especially if I paid her $43.00 (food stamps accepted). I mentally added $30.00 for an hour with my shrink, which would follow the worrying I was doing about where to get the money and/or stamps, and went home, where I finally ordered Tig up against the wall. She may be the famous one in the family, having modeled for underground comix, but that didn't give her the right to bully the others. Especially not $43.00 worth.
"You've sponged off me long enough! Goddamn it, I'm not made of money, you're going out and get a job!" I had saved that speech from my Haight-Ashbury daze.
"Doing what? You know how hard it is to get modeling jobs."
"Well, do something, cat food ads, maybe. But you've got to come up with $43.00 by Thursday."
Her sense of integrity was mortally offended. "I'm an Artist," she sniffed. But I explained that I didn't like working either as I packed her portfolio and her dr. dentons. We hopped on the Sacramenna bus down to the J. Walter Thompson Agency, who, it turned out, was only doing radio cat food ads these days. But Tigger showed them her equity card and did her stuff. The entire swimming pool production number from Footlight Parade and a complete Judy Garland concert. Then, wringing wet and high on reds, she recited "The Owl and the Pussycat" and the "Cremation of Sam McGee." They said they'd call us. But the receptionist told us it was because of the Equal Opportunity Employment people being on their case lately. So they had to get a siamese, manx, or Persian. It's tough to be a WASP in show biz these days, she confided.
But we no sooner got in the door when she called us back. Dyna-kitty was doing a whole new promo and liked Tigger's headshots. So I packed her into a cab and she chased back down there with a whole case of stage fright. I suggested a joint would be easier to carry, but she felt she had to do it straight, muttering about Artistic Integrity and The Method. So I muttered back about Paying the Rent and Buying Catfood.
I'd finally managed to relax into a hot tub of old confession magazines ("Lucy Tells the Truth about Liza and Desi, Jr.," "Did the best Seller Win? Or just Peter out?") when the phone rang.
It was my friendly neighborhood friend from Fresno with her annual entry into our Worry Contest (a traveling trophy).
"I think I've got you this time," she said. "I was just sitting here worrying about what to do with the siamese in case of nuclear attack. . . should I take them with me to the shelter, or just open all the cans of cat food. . . "
I wrapped the trophy while I told her about my problem with Tig. She said she'd been planting wild birdseed and the cats like that better than house plants. It was the first viable solution anybody had presented, so I immediately dashed down to the pet store.
"Do you have wild birdseed?" I asked.
"Birdseed, that's all we have, parakeet, finch, or canary," the man said. "And you might want to put some clothes on."
"Canary's fine," I said, "and do you have some potting soil?" "What the hell you going to do with the birdseed, lady?" he asked.
"Grow canaries," I said, rushing out. Buying dirt always bothered me anyway. Something about paying for something you can find anywhere. If you have a jackhammer.
I ran upstairs past the landlord who was now spackeling the holes the piano movers had left in the wall and collected an old pan and spoon and charged back downstairs with a sign from my last demonstration that said: "Free dirt and all political prisoners."
"You might want to put some clothes on!" he shouted.
The nearest thing to a tree on my block is a gas pump with a sign that says "post no bills," so I ran on down the street until I came to a concrete tub with a tree in it. I don't know where they captured said tree, but they had him all tied down with wire and rope so he couldn't get away. I straightaway filled the pan.
"Put it back."
I looked at the tree. Probably an out-of-work actor from Wizard of Oz, I thought.
"Put it back, okay?"
I told him about trying to buy steer manure at sears for my boss so he would understand that I knew BS when I saw it, showed him my sign and told him about Tig and what a brotherly thing it would be to do for P. Palm, but about that time the pet store man came chasing around the corner which was when I remembered I hadn't paid for the birdseed. I looked over my shoulder as I turned the corner to see the pet store man untying the tree. Soon they were beating feet behind me. . . da da da, da da da, da da da da da • • • (think William Tell Overture) da da da, da da da, da da da da da. . .
After I bolted the door, I resumed my meditation in the tub. Lucy never did say why Peter was the better Seller, but the story had a lot of nice pictures of Fred and Ethel Mertz in it.
Then I decided the birdseed was priority, since the box was already sprouting from being dropped in the tub when I got the spoon for the dirt out of the draino can. I wandered out to the kitchen and gathered up an old tv dinner tray and the dirt and planted the burgeoning seeds before anything further could happen to them. The doorbell rang then, and I was so nervous I spilled the remains of the box all over me. I answered the door before I realized I still had no clothes on. Oh, hell, if it was good enough for the Emperor, it was good enough for me. Of course it would be my landlord at the door instead of those guys from Palestine selling The Robe.
I have to admire san francisco chinese landlords for their composure. Even though he was backing through the window across the hall, spilling spackle from his trowel. "Look, you've got to get rid of that old refrigerator on the back porch," he said, standing-on the fire escape. "The public health was just here and they say it's got to go or they're going to fine me $200."
"Can I finish planting my birdseed first?" I asked. He ran down the stairs, muttering to himself in Cantonese.
Tigger came wandering up the stairs with a check for $300 and four cases of cheese-and-liver-flavored dyna-kitty. I helped her carry the check in. We locked the door and I finished planting the seed, which had now grown a full two inches, including the half box spilled all over me, making me look like a soon-to-be Birnham Wood. Tigger stored her royalties in the pantry and opened a can for herself. "Here," I said, putting the birdseed next to her food. "Salad. So don't you ever touch P. Palm again. Understand me? I've got enough trouble with the health department and the landlord right now without the SPCP on my back."
"Is there any thousand island?"
"Only if you paw in blood to leave Palm alone."
She was in such a good mood, she gave in. It seems she'd also been offered a role in Deep Coat, an x-rated movie about a Persian with her claws in her ears – although the cosmetic transformation from Maine Coon to Persian would have her in make-up for hours each morning. "I do have to let my hair grow," she said, "but otherwise I can fake it."
She tossed her National Organization of Cat Women card down the trash chute before I could discuss the ethics of the part with her, but we do have to make our own mistakes in life, and besides, the doorbell rang just then.
Tigger answered it, hoping for her first autograph seekers. "Just a minute," she said, and came back to the kitchen. "Look, I have a feeling you might want to hide. The landlord and some tree and another guy are out there, and I don't think they're going to be too impressed with you standing there looking like the Revenge of the Canary Seed Grass Person." She handed me a blanket, although at the rate the grass was growing, bark might have been more appropriate.
Tig went back out and stalled 'em, letting them scratch her ears while I hid. Finally they gave up their searching, searching, and decided to use the tree's willing branches while available to remove the old refrigerator. Which is how I ended up bruised, naked, and out of breath at the Good Will.
"Nothing in here but a tree with an old blanket on," I heard a voice say.
"No, it's moving. Probably not a tree."
Why the police believed any of this, I'll never know. But they took me to a greenhouse where I was striped of my foliage and then taken home in a big green garbage bag with holes cut in for head and arms.
Tee martoonies later, I sat Tigger and all the houseplants down for a good ole heart-to-heart-to-stem talk. Tigger decided we might go for relationship counseling, but I thought perhaps Theda Barr might help us learn how to get along. I thought P. Palm would be more open with a Palmist as a counselor. It was always so hard to get a plant to open up -- although I'd had considerable practice with some of the losers I'd been dating.
So we trundled down to the California Street Psychic Parlor & Plant Hospital, and I explained the situation to Ms. Barr, with a minimum of clumps of potting soil being thrown at Tigger, and she suggested a medium session. We pulled the drapes and dimmed the lights. Eventually, with paws, branches, and hands on the table, we began to hear strange noises. "I'll be calling you-ou-ou-ou-ou-ou-ou." It was coming from P. Palm. Tigger, looking amazingly Northwest Mounted Police-ish astradle the chair, was echoing this madness. I stared at Ms. Barr in amazement.
"I'm going back to being an honest stock broker," she said. I just nodded, wondering if such a thing were actually possible.
"Oh, Nelson," P. Palm sobbed, "It's what you always do. You always get on that darned horse and upstage me!"
"But, Jeanette, what do you want me to do??? It's in the script," Tigger protested.
"You always have an excuse for what you do, don't you? And you say you love me…"
I suddenly felt so alone, sitting there with a medium who gave massages and my two best friends, a cat and a plant who turned out to be Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in their former lives. I might not be Living in Sin in San Francisco, Aunt Martha, but there were worse things that could happen.
Honestly, I must say, things have somewhat settled down now. It's a good deal noisier in the apartment, what with Tigger and Palm singing duets all the time, and the poor landlord wandering the halls talking to himself, but Palm gave a concert last week at the Boarding House with a cameo appearance by Tigger, and I can finally get some writing done, since they're now able to pay my rent.
Copyright © 2008 by Mugsy Peabody. All world rights reserved.