21 April 2008

Since you liked the old Tigger story, here's another from that era. In 1980, I wrote "Honk If You Think She's Jesus," which was published in Pulling Our Own Strings, Feminist Humor& Satire, University of Indiana Press, Gloria Kaufman and Mary Kay Blakeley, eds., which was picked up by the Book of the Month Club. MP


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.