Saturday, June 26, 2010

With Hairy Legs and Un-brushed Teeth

Pete and Natalie, a young, childless couple, have just gotten up on a Saturday morning. Pete is looking for his tooth brush to complete his daily ablutions. Natalie has just stepped out of the shower. As they jostle for position at the vanity, this is their conversation:
“I don’t know what to tell you, Pete. I haven’t seen your toothbrush.”
“Are you sure?”
“Only fools are sure, Pete.”
“So you have seen it.”
“No! I have not. “
“Then what was that about fools?”
“It was a quip.”
“A what?”
“Never mind. Look, just use my tooth brush for now and I’ll pick up some new ones when I go to town later.”
“I’m not using your tooth brush, Natalie. That’s gross.”
“It isn’t any grosser than you sticking your tongue in my mouth when we kiss.”
“That’s different.”
“I don’t scrape plaque off your teeth with my tongue.”
“What does that mean?”
“I believe it means I see.”
“I know it means I see, Natalie. What I meant was what do you see?”
“I see your point.”
“And I believe that it means I won the argument.”
“We weren’t arguing.”
“Yea, but I was right.”
“Yep, Hon, you were right.”
“I can’t believe you’re conceding so easily.”
“There’s nothing to concede. I’m just agreeing with you.”
“I won. I won. I won.”
“Don’t be so puerile.”
“Speak English.”
“Have you seen my razor?”
“No. Use mine.”
“Yours is dull.”
“It better not be.”
“Well, it is. I used it yesterday.”
“You used my razor?”
“Is that a problem?”
“Tell me you didn’t shave your pits with it.”
“Just my legs.”
“Good, ‘cause I don’t want you shaving your pits with my razor.”
“It’s not like I’m scraping plaque off my teeth with it.”
“I should hope not.”
“Okay, where’s your razor?”
“In my shaving kit.”
“No, it’s not.”
“That’s where it’s supposed to be.”
“Well, it isn’t in there. Your toothbrush, however, is.”
“What’s my tooth brush doing in my shaving kit?”
“How should I know? You put it there.”
“I did not.”
“Well, who did?’
“That should be obvious.”
“I didn’t put your tooth brush in your shaving kit. Why would I do that?”
“I don’t know. Maybe you’re puerile, too.”
“Oh, brother!”
“Let’s go back to bed.”
“With hairy legs and un-brushed teeth?”

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Subtle Knife

It’s not like he had never seen a dead body before. He’d seen lots of them. But they were always laid out in fancy coffins, wearing their Sunday best and made up to look like they were sleeping. At least that’s what everybody always said, “Looks like he’s just gone for a nap, doesn’t it, Vinny?” Looked more like they dropped dead on a stage somewhere with all that makeup troweled on their faces. But Vince always nodded solemnly, the way he was supposed to, and then went in search of the cookie table. There was always a cookie table at a proper funeral.

This body, though, was not in a coffin, not wearing its Sunday best and definitely not made up to look like it was sleeping. This body was sprawled behind a dumpster with a look of shock on its face and blood all over its shirt. It stared blankly up at the sky with its mouth open and a knife sticking out of its neck. Before it was an it, while it was still a he, it must have made a feeble attempt to remove the offending knife, for its hand lay with curled fingers underneath the blood-soaked handle.

Vince staggered back and groped for his cell phone. He had spotted the body’s legs sticking out from behind the dumpster when he went into the alley to throw out a bag of garbage from Martinelli’s, his current place of employment. It took three attempts at dialing before a nasal voice informed him that he had reached 911 and asked how he could be helped. Before he could say he would like to report a murder, his lunch decided to vacate his stomach and he hurled the Martinelli’s special all over the body’s feet. The nasal voice waited for him to finish and repeated the offer of assistance.

Wiping his chin with his sleeve, Vince stammered, “There’s a dead body in the alley behind Martinelli’s. I think it was murdered.”

“Please stay on the line, sir,” the nasal voice directed calm as a cucumber.

An eternity passed. Then the nasal voice began asking rapid fire questions, most of which Vince answered correctly. The body was that of a male. No he didn’t feel for a pulse. Yes, he was sure the guy was dead. No, he didn’t know the victim. No, he didn’t think he’d seen him before. No, he didn’t see anybody else in the alley. He was there to throw out some garbage from the restaurant. He just arrived. No, he didn’t touch anything – he wasn’t sure if vomiting on the body counted, so he left that part out.

The sound of sirens filled the air and suddenly Vince found himself surrounded by cop cars and cops. The nasal voice wished him a good day and disconnected.

“You the guy that called it in?”

Vince spun around to face a large man with a grey crew cut, grey eyes, grey suit and brown shoes standing in the alley. Several uniformed officers were bustling about, erecting barriers to the alley and stringing crime-scene tape like streamers at a wedding. A short man in khaki pants and a blue polo shirt started snapping photos of everything but the body, including Vince.

“Yes,” Vince said.

“You know the guy?” the large man asked.

“No,” Vince said.

A balding man in a white lab coat, carrying an enormous metal case, sauntered up from behind the large man and passed Vince on his way to the body. The photographer greeted him with a smile and a click of the shutter. “Emergency tracheotomy gone real bad,” he said. The bald man was not amused. He muttered something that rhymed with duck and doff and proceeded to shout orders to the uniforms to move the damned dumpster so he could get to work.

The large man motioned Vince to follow him. His grey eyes never rested on anything for more than a second, but Vince had no doubt that he had been thoroughly examined and every detail had been neatly filed away in some memory bank for later total recall. He followed the man away from the body and the cursing bald man, who was now demanding to know who had wasted a perfectly good lunch special all over his crime scene. Vince blushed, but did not confess. He decided he felt safer with the large man in the mix-matched wardrobe.

“Name,” the large man grunted.

“Vince Hemmingway,” Vince grunted back.

“Tell me everything,” the large man said.

Vince described in as much detail as he could how he had come out to the alley to throw a bag of garbage away, how he noticed the legs sticking out from behind the dumpster, how he thought it might have been a homeless guy passed out and was going to tell him to move along and how he was shocked to see that it wasn’t a homeless guy and how he wasn’t going to move along anywhere of his own accord. He told the large man that the body had not been there two hours ago. He would have noticed it on his way in to work. He always entered the restaurant from the alley. Martinelli didn’t like his employees using the customer’s entrance. He didn’t mention the lunch special’s reappearance.

Speaking of Martinelli, it was at that point that he emerged on the scene, ripping mad and screaming at Vince to get his ass back inside and quit doing terrible things to dogs. What was he paying Vince for anyway? Obviously it wasn’t doing dishes!

The large man approached the irate restaurant owner and, steering him back toward the door, spoke a few quiet words to him. When the large man returned, he assured Vince that Martinelli was okay with Vince taking as much time as he needed. No problem.

“Now what time did you get to work?” The large man asked.

“Ten o’clock.”

“And you came in the alley from which way?”

Vince pointed east toward 33 Avenue. “That way.”

“Is that the way you always come?”

Vince nodded. “I live on Denver. It’s the shortest route.”

“Of course. And did you see anyone? Anyone at all?”

“No, sir,” Vince said. “The alley was empty.”

“You’re sure, now?”

“Yes, sir. There was no one here. I got here at ten o’clock like I said and the alley was deserted.”

“Very good, Vince. I think that will do for now. We’ll be in touch if we need anything else.” He large man patted Vince on the shoulder, turned and walked out of the alley.

Vince watched him go. That’s odd, he thought.

Just as he was about to enter Martinelli’s Restaurant and get back to work, he was stopped by a stocky man in a battered fedora and a tall woman of Amazonian proportions wearing a stark and ill-fitting business suit. They, too, both wore brown shoes.

“I’m Detective O’Donnell,” the man said, “and this is Detective Warshanski. Are you the young man who called this in?”

Needless to say, Vince quit his job, moved out of his apartment on Denver and failed conveniently to leave a forwarding address.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Crossword Routine

“What are you looking for?” Duncan snapped from behind his morning paper.

“I need a pencil.” Hillary said as she rummaged through drawers and shifted papers around the phone on the kitchen counter.

“There’s a pen right beside the phone,” Duncan pointed out.

“I need a pencil. I’m doing the crossword in the paper and a pen won’t do.” Hillary continued to rummage.

“It would if you had any idea what the clues meant,” Duncan mumbled behind his paper.

“What did you say?” Hillary asked absentmindedly as she opened the silverware drawer for some unknown reason. “Aha! Found one.”

Duncan peeked out from behind his newspaper and frowned. Only Hillary could find a pencil among the spoons, he thought to himself. “Before you lose yourself in your puzzle, would you mind pouring me another cup of coffee?”

Hillary didn’t respond. She already had the paper in her hand folded to expose the blank crossword puzzle and was tapping the bent eraser band against her teeth. She put the pencil in her mouth as she poured Duncan’s coffee. “Utt’s a or-le’er urd or ha’y?” she said around the battered writing utensil.

Duncan sighed. He hated it when Hillary did the Sunday crossword. More accurately, he hated having to do it for her. “I can’t understand you with that thing in your mouth,” he admonished.

Hillary returned the coffee pot to its stand and removed the pencil. “I only have two hands,” she defended herself.

“Well I have no idea what you just said, so I can’t very well respond properly to you,” Duncan said.

“What’s a four-letter word for happy?” Hillary repeated her question.


“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“As are you.”

“For what?”

“For the coffee.”

“Oh, er, yes. Thank you, my dear.” Duncan raised his newspaper hoping it would be a strong enough barrier between him and Hillary and her crossword puzzle.

Several minutes passed in silence. Duncan could hear Hillary’s pencil scratching against the newsprint. He tried to concentrate on the golf scores in the sports section, but kept bracing himself for Hillary’s next request for assistance. He read the same score over and over, unable to concentrate.

After a while he peeked out again to find Hillary hunched over the crossword, tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth and brows furrowed in deep absorption. Must be an extra, extra easy crossword this week, he thought, and, relieved to see his wife of thirty-six years finally able to do a simple puzzle on her own, returned to his sports scores. But as the time passed on without Hillary asking for help, Duncan grew increasingly irritated. He folded his own paper and plunked it down on the table.

“So, how’s it going?” he asked.

“Hmmm?” Hillary did not look up from her furious scribbling.

“The puzzle. How’s it going?”

“Oh, almost done,” Hillary said with such confidence that Duncan was stunned.

“Really?” he asked.

“Yep. Just need one more word.”

Duncan leaned forward in his chair, waiting for Hillary to tell him the clue, but she just tapped the eraser band of the pencil against her teeth a few times until at last the answer presented itself and she wrote it down.

“There,” Hillary said with satisfaction. “I love the Sunday crossword.” With that she pushed the paper aside, got up and left the room.

Duncan couldn’t help himself. He reached across the table and pulled the abandoned paper towards himself. Amazingly the crossword was indeed complete. There were a few eraser marks, but it was done. And it was right.

“By golly,” Duncan said aloud. “I think the old girl’s finally getting it.” He smiled and pushed the paper back to the spot where Hillary had left it. When he finished his now cool coffee, he decided to go out to the garage to putter for a while.

The following Sunday, Duncan and Hillary sat as usual at their kitchen table. As Duncan settled into the sports scores, Hillary started searching for a pencil. A few minutes passed before her rummaging annoyed him enough to ask what she was looking for.

“A pencil for the crossword puzzle.”

“There’s a pen right next to the phone. Use that.”

“I can’t do the crossword with a pen. You know that.” This time she opened the cereal cupboard.


“Did you just find a pencil in the cereal cupboard?” Duncan asked, incredulous.

“Yeah. Weird, huh?” Hillary returned to the table and read the first clue. “What’s a three-letter word for mischievous child?”

Duncan sighed. “Imp.” He shook his head.

Just like the previous week, Hillary filled in answers without asking for help and Duncan read the same scores over and over, waiting to be interrupted. Whenever he peeked around his paper, Hillary was either writing or tapping her teeth while she reasoned out an answer. After fifteen minutes, Duncan couldn’t stand it any more. He put down his paper and was just about to ask Hillary how she was making out with the puzzle when the phone rang. Hillary jumped up to answer it and was instantly lost in a deep conversation with the neighbour over another neighbour’s dog.

Duncan reached across the table and pulled the crossword closer so he could check her answers. The puzzle was a little more than half done and two of her answers were incorrect, leaving a couple of blank spots where her mistakes made the next answer impossible. Duncan retrieved the pencil, erased the errors and inserted the right answers. He didn’t mean to keep working on the puzzle, but before he knew it, all the answers had been filled in. Except 108 across. And Duncan had no idea what the answer was.

He was tapping the eraser band against his teeth when Hillary swept back into the room. “You didn’t finish my puzzle did you?” she asked, a little alarmed.

“Uh, well... Not quite.” Duncan put the pencil down and picked up the sports section again as Hillary approached the table.

“Duncan! How could you?”

“I didn’t do it all! I didn’t get one-oh-eight across; a six-letter word for a monarch who’s coronation took place in 1937.”

Hillary sighed. “George,” she said.

“Hmph,” Duncan said, training his eyes on the golf scores. “Before you sit down, could you please pour me another cup of coffee?”

Thursday, June 3, 2010

An Effigy of Taste

“So, show me what you got for your birthday,” Joyce demanded as she swept into my kitchen in a flurry of pink cashmere and silver spandex. Her newly dyed and viciously back-combed do was as stiff as her freshly botoxed smile. She wore more make-up than I bought in a year and her stiletto heels were leaving little dimples in my linoleum. “Well, come on. I’m dying to see this precious antique Sam’s been going on about.”

I beckoned her to follow me through to the front hallway. As we entered the foyer, I stepped aside and gestured with a flourish at a raised plinth next to the door. Joyce gasped.

“What the hell is that?” she wheezed through lips so augmented they could be used as floatation devices.

“That,” I said, “is the precious antique.”

Joyce, frowned as much as her botulinum brows would allow. “It looks like the head from an ancient Greek version of a blow-up doll. What are you thinking displaying it here where everyone can see it?”

Her perma-pout looked like it was about to burst. I had to get her away from the granite bust that my beloved husband, Sam, had bought at an auction for three thousand dollars. I wasn’t sure I could stand nursing her through another recovery if her face cracked. And if her jaw dropped any further, it certainly would.
I grabbed her arm and dragged her back to the kitchen. “I tried to convince him it would look good out back on the far side of the pond, but he insisted that it had to go where – as you say – everyone can see it.” I poured us each a cup of coffee and served Joyce’s with a straw.

“Danielle, honey,” Joyce said in deep sympathy, “what are you going to do?”

Joyce was my best friend and had been since grade school. She had married money. Lots of money. Three times. And her taste was both expensive and flamboyant. Sam was, sadly, jealous of her and did things – like buy hideous antique busts at auctions – in a vain attempt to keep up with the Jones’s. Or the Joyce’s as the case may be.

“This is all your fault,” I said.

“My fault? How is this my fault?” Joyce was incredulous.
The one thing that Sam failed to realize was that Joyce’s grandiosity had nothing to do with hubris. She simply had tons of money and loved to spend it. Her only concession to pride was the myriad plastic surgeries she had undergone in order to achieve her goal of becoming Sophia Loren’s doppelganger.

“He’s jealous of your money. And he thinks I am too, so he buys this stuff to impress you. To make you think that he’s as rich as you are.”

Joyce laughed. I could tell because a distinct ha-ha-ha sound emanated from between her the thickened appendages (they could only be called appendages) of her lips. “That’s ridiculous.”

“But it’s true.” I sipped my coffee the normal adult way.

“But that thing out there is... is... God, Danielle! What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to give it to you.” I smiled, because I still could.

Joyce nearly choked on her coffee. “Jeeze, Danielle. Couldn’t you just accidentally knock it off the pedestal and be done with it. What am I supposed to do with it?”

“You are going to donate it to charity.”

“I am?”


“Why would I do that? When I donate to charities I tend to give nice things. Like cash.” Joyce sipped a bit of the hair of the dog to clear her throat of the lingering tickle from her recent brush with death.

“I know. But Sam thinks that bust is beautiful. And valuable. If I tell him that you all but did back flip when you saw it, he’ll think that he was right about it and giving it to charity would put him in the same league as you as a philanthropist. He’ll be thrilled. And everyone won’t have to see it in my foyer.”

Joyce’s eyebrows moved the entire fraction of an inch that they were able. I sensed more than saw the look of surprise she endeavoured to project. “But, Danielle, wouldn’t it be kinder to just tell him the truth? Wouldn’t this plan of yours just cater to his fantasy?”

“Mmm. I suppose, but I just can’t break his heart like that. He really does mean well.” I tried to look contrite, but my lips just couldn’t pout with the same enthusiasm as my friend’s.

“You’ve given this a lot of thought,” Joyce said. I could see the wheels spinning behind her wrinkle-free features.

“I have,” I agreed. “And it’s the best solution. It really is.”


I waited.

“Okay. But I’m doing this under protest. I don’t like manipulating Sam that way. It’s not right.”

Sam bought the story, hook, line and sinker. He was so excited about the idea of donating something valuable to charity that Joyce approved of that he could hardly contain himself. He insisted that he be the one to make the donation and even delivered the bust to the hall where the auction was to take place.

“They were ecstatic when I gave it to them.” Sam was vibrating as he spoke. “They even said that Joyce herself had only donated a thousand dollars. After the auction, they’ll send me a tax receipt for the amount it sells for. Isn’t it great to be able to give such a valuable item to charity?”

“It truly is,” I concurred.

Two weeks after the charity auction, a letter arrived addressed to Sam. He tore it open and looked at the enclosed receipt. He mouth dropped open and he staggered, having to support himself with a hand on the counter.

“What is it?” I asked.

Sam passed me the receipt and I took it with some trepidation. Then my own mouth dropped open and I had to brace myself against the counter to keep my own knees from buckling.

The receipt was made out for one hundred thousand dollars.