A.M.I. (Adverb Mass Index): 45.74% (last reading, till it blew)
James Thrurber’s Birthday
I was at my desk avoiding my latest work of innovative genius by attempting to see the world the way James Thurber must have–with one eye shut and the other peering through a monocle devised from the punt of an unwashed pint. A childhood accident blinded Thurber in one eye; soon after sympathetic ophthalmia set in and slowly drained the light from the other. Yet before darkness fell for keeps, Thurber became almost as well known as a cartoonist as he was a writer.
Someone pushed open the office door. The monocle showed a fantastic, multi-segmented eye-squiggle slithering toward me; I removed the lens and there was Daisy the Pygmy Goat, meekly peeking in. Daisy’s a Barnyarder and a Fictional Character (FC) who acts in my productions (although not always in the role of a Pygmy Goat). Barnyarders have wonderful faces. They are the only creatures whose mugs appear to have been co-designed by Mother Nature and Dr. Suess.
“Happy Thurber’s Birthday, Daisy.”
“If you say so, Miss Leila.”
“Come in and graze a spell?”
Like most cute animals (actual or otherwise) and all my FC’s, Daisy is a charming pain in the ass. Oh, she can be meek and shy and illegally adorable and all that–but within that short space between her ears very little arises that isn’t Daisycentric. Like me, she is a member of the Union of Pennames (yes, one word there, just like “goddammit”), Imaginary Friends and Fictional Characters (UPIFFC). I’d say that she is a card carrying member if I hadn’t seen her eat her card upon issue; regardless, Daisy’s a regular little teamster who knows her rights. For example, because of Daisy, the Union recently ordered me to leave my office door ajar during “business hours.” They said you can’t turn a doorknob with a hoof. I said “You can still knock with a hoof, right?” They said my attitude marginalized the thumbless.
Daisy trotted over to the Pygmy Goat-sized trough in my office (there are three troughs in my office; think Papa, Mama and Baby Barnyarder to aid in visualization). Other than reluctantly participating in the eating the union card gag (admittedly a joke most likely eligible for Medicare), Daisy refuses to give CPR to hackneyed yuks involving Goats devouring tin cans or granny boots. Thus her actual/virtual diet is comparable to that of a spoiled, uptalking yoga princess–microbiotics, whole grains, organic fruits, vegetables–and similar atrocities that civilized people never put on pizza.
“No bean sprouts?” Daisy asked, all charming and pain in the ass-like.
“Nope,” I said, leaning back in my chair. “They’re teeming with E Coli,–which, ha ha, sounds like a good first name for a Culkin brother–right?”
(Do you have a pet “jest” of your own invention that only you get? A brilliant bon mot that popped into your head while you were in the shower one morning and caused you to laugh so uncontrollably hard that you nearly drowned like a turkey in the rain? Yet every time you attempt to share this Funniest Ever you get the moonlit field of crickets in response–Right? But you still trot it out at dinner parties, because Hennesy makes you do stuff like that. Yeah, you keep working it, undeterred by the awkward silences, heedless of the dark “Captain Howdy” glint in Other Half’s eyes that you should have taken very seriously. Sound familiar? Well, don’t feel bad, I’ve got one myself, and mine isn’t even a joke. But, goddammit, the “name” E. Coli Culkin is hell funny. So I shine it on like a demented Diogenes in Groucho glasses searching for an appreciative audience.)
If Daisy “got” E. Coli Culkin, she kept it to herself. Her little tail twitched, but that was most likely due to a fly.
“How’s everything out in the barnyard, Daisy?” I sighed, setting aside the monocle, once more squinting disdainfully at my latest work of innovative genius in progress, wishing I had an innovative genius handy to write it for me. “Ducks in a row? Pigs in the poke? Comrad’s Goose and Gander getting equally screwed by the politburo? And what about zee hay, sweet Miss Daisy? If life ain’t about rollin’ in zee goddam hay, then I know nothing about life. Way I see it, everyday you gotta ro ro ro in zee hay.”
“I’m sure I wouldn’t know as well as you, Miss Leila,” Daisy said with a little burp. She then came over and clambered onto my lap, as is her habit when she has something important to tell me. I was about to speak myself, but she placed a hoof on my mouth and gazed over my shoulder at something out the window. After a minute or so she glanced at me and shook her head.
I gently removed her hoof from my mouth, trying not to think about where it had been. “Please say it will fill me with happiness to look out the window, dear Miss Daisy.”
She thought about it and shrugged. “Dunno…but it is kind of interesting.”
I’m one Penname who has seen too much interesting. The way I see it, the cause of every physical and mental disaster is an overload of interesting. I steeled my innards and slowly spun the chair until it faced the window; Daisy climbed off me and onto the desk…
Breaking News: Here to present it is Ms. Allison’s Employer:
Suddenly, this narrative switches from hand to hoof, from Penname to Barnyarder. Daisy Cloverleaf the Pygmy Goat assumed control of this story (aka, “innovative work of genius in progress”) from here on out in the Chromebook Leila emptymindedly left open on her desk. It’s a little known fact that the Pygmy Goat is considered Nature’s Stenographer. And much in the same spirit that James Thurber’s disability somehow enhanced his drawings, Daisy’s typing away on a Chromebook with thumbless little hoofs was superior to the “Columbus*” method of keying employed by Ms. Allison (aka, “Discover and Exploit”).
*James Thurber hailed from Columbus, Ohio. Although it has nothing to do with anything it seemed a shame to waste the opportunity to waste time mentioning such a meaningless coincidence.
End of Breaking News: We Now Proudly Present the Literary Stylings of Daisy Cloverleaf
“Bugshit on the birthday cake,” Leila muttered, obscenely. “What the hell’s that thing?”
Miss Renfield (the lead human FC in this realm, and a close personal friend of mine) breezed into the office. She saw me at the helm of the Chromebook, as planned, smiled and we fist/hoof bumped before she went to further confuse the confused Penname at the window.
“Pretty cool, right?” Renfield asked.
“Oh, yeahhh,” said Leila, sarcastically.
The mere sound of an adverb being keyed into her Chromebook drew Leila’s attention to me.
“Dude, whatchoo doin’?”
“I say we let little Daisy take this thing to the finish line,” good Renfield said. “You’ve been on it for three months. Time to bring in a closer.”
“It takes time for the images to unfold properly,” said Leila, lamely.
“Aw, c’mon, shheeze so cooooot…and industrious.”
“All right, Fine. whatever,” said Leila, all rightly, finely and whateverly. “All yours, ‘cooooot’ Daisy. Don’t forget to send it RTF or to become charmingly elusive if you blow the three-grand word budget…And keep an eye on the A.M.I.”*
(*Ah, dear reader, you sure stumbled into this realm on the right day; for we Pygmy Goats are sticklers on matters of clarity. “The A.M.I.” refers to one of Leila’s “innovations”–by name “The Adverb Mass Index.” It’s arrived at by dividing the amount of adverbs, adverbial phrases and various other “verbal dingleberries” into the word count. Anything below ten is indicative of a healthy A.M.I.)
Leila attentively returned her attention to the window. Renfield and I exchanged winks, winkingly.
“Tell me, Renfield,” Leila asked, searchingly. “Who’s the quarterflounder in the fedora?”
The erroneously described sea creature in a porkpie hat was sitting in a hay wagon drinking beer with Pie-Eyed Peety the PDQ Pilsner Pigeon and Mab the Photobomb Fairie. Whilst Leila had been goofing off instead of industriously writing this tale, the vista she had created in this Chromebook, which also took shape out in the barnyard (for it is the virtual “stage” for all our productions), took on a mind of its own. The story originally starred Renfield, Mab and me in a tribute to James Thurber. We were going to recreate one of his Fables For Our Time–something involving a Unicorn and how claiming to see one can get you carted off to a “booby hatch.”But Leila has found every excuse possible to avoid working on it. And as you can plainly see at the beginning of this piece, she had clearly forgotten that she had cast me in the role of the Unicorn. Tired of all the delays, Renfield and I took a three-month lunch, while Peety and Mab got liquored-up and went on an extended road trip. Somewhere they came across the sea creature in the porkpie hat and added him to their boozy company.
Renfield feigned surprise. “I’m stunned. Certainly you recognize Dark Lord FishStyx, Tyrant of Tunatown?“
“ShitStyx,” Leila blurted, scatalogically. Then sighing sighingly she sighed, “Man I thought I’d canned that mackerel ages ago.”
(This dutiful, industrious correspondent was within earshot the night Leila chased a half dozen pints of Camelback IPA with two shots of Smokehead and blurted the outline of “The Legend of Dark Lord FishStyx the Tyrant of Tunatown” at Google Assistant. Upon sobering up, however, she had to abandon the project when it came to her attention that “FishStyx” is googled an average of five-thousand times a day by people who wonder if they are the first to think it up. Nobody is. It’s one of those almost-clever-enuff-to-be-funny-but-really-isn’t word groupings that you see at the mall. There’s even a fishing pole company of the same name.)
“The Union says you need to get out there and regain control of this little production as well as assign a role in it to Dark Lord FishStyx, who’s been feeling blue ever since that starring vehicle you had planned for him capsized and dove to the bottom faster than Crisco sinks to the butt,” said Renfield. “They also asked Daisy to take the narrative helm as to prevent you from becoming disengaged from the task, thus frittering away more work hours watching that hella annoying French Bulldog wig out on YouTube.”
“Oh man,” Leila groused, oh man-nishly. “Fine. Let’s stick a fork in this turkey since that seems to be the only way out of this debacle,” she added, seethingly.
The “A.M.I. Indicator” the great authoress had installed in her Chromebook began to flash a red warning light. There’s an obnoxious noise which accompanies the light show, but I’d disabled it when I took the helm. A nagging little alert popped-up on the screen: DANGER! DANGER! A.M.I. approaching 40%. To put it in context, an A.M.I. of 40 is like a cholesterol reading of 900. I ignored the advisory and wrote onward.
Renfield turned and smiled at me as she had thousands of times during our three month lunch. “Are you ready for us to finish the show, Miss Daisy?”
“Sure am.The lines are flowing,” I said, “all flowingly,” I whispered to myself. That irritating pop up
happened again; I X’d it to pop up hell.
“Action!” I called out. Leila squinted at me, narrowly.
It’s intoxicating when the words I key into a reasonably cheap machine turn into the words spoken and actions taken by “actors” on stage. Better still, it’s even more empowering to know everything the actors don’t know–like redlining the A.M.I., for instance–no good reason to do it, but as Renfield (who has been on the con a few times) told me thousands of times during our long, long lunch, attaining absolute power has a way of making all your ideas good ones. “Just look at the little dude who owns North Korea.”
I had Renfield and Leila leave the office and enter the “barnyard” just outside the backdoor. Being Thurber’s Birthday the barnyard was vivid white save for two-dimensional shapes drawn
In blacklines–as it goes in a Thurber drawing; but the action flowed like one of those weirdly out of sync early animations (“Gertie the Dinosaur ” comes to mind). Everyone and -thing who entered the barnyard that day was “Thurberized” for as long as he, she or it was out there. PieEyed Peety, Mab and FishStyx were already that way, Renfield and Leila immediately transformed into the same.
The Union had been clear. It wanted a “The End” to the debacle, ASAP, so each Union brother, sister and unclassifiable could get back to his, her and it’s life. Coherency was no longer an issue.
The way I saw it, of the three drunkards out in the barnyard, Mab the Photobomb Fairie needed to be dealt with first. Mab is a standard FC Welsh Meadow Fairie, extravagantly winged, four inches long and she leaves a contrail of pixie dust everywhere she goes. I love Mab dearly and admire her strength and talent, but, frankly, Mab’s an insufferable little twat when she’s had too much liquid recreation. The main trouble there lay in her wand. Responsible Fairies leave their wands at home when they drink. Although it’s not my wish to cast aspersions on Mab’s character, the fact that both she and her wand were loaded and out in the barnyard could not be overlooked. After much cooing and placidly absorbing a profane stream of insults, which Mab just as soon tearfully regretted saying, Renfield dewanded the little Fairie and tucked her to bed in a fancy humidor. Renfield briefly returned to the office to lock the wand in the wand cabinet and place the humidor containing Mab up high on a shelf. “One down, two to go,” she said with another radiant smile on her way back out into the barnyard.
Although good Renfield is almost always right, there was really only one to go when you consider that PieEyed Peety was involved. Peety was already in his milieu and could not behave any different wherever he was. Peety is a two-dimensional single black line advertising cartoon mascot for PDQ Pilsner, a company and product that has been out of business since the late 1940’s. True to his name, Peety is perpetually “pie-eyed” and is as mute as Harpo Marx.
Leila accidentally brought him into our world from a parallel Earth and has yet to figure out a way to send him home. Despite it all, Peety seems happy enough, and since the can of PDQ he carried everywhere is bottomless and instantly replaced in his wing when he gives one away, he doesn’t require a lot of narration to dispense of. All Renfield had to do was go up to him and say “So long, Peety old pal. Lookin’ forward to our next caper already.” This caused Peety to come as close as he ever comes to catching the drift. He laughed silently and bowed deeply before he wandered off toward his latest adventure.
Dispensing Dark Lord FishStyx required more effort. I checked out the only file he appeared in and discovered that Leila had created him as an anthropomorphic Coelacanth, which explains much to anyone with any knowledge of that ancient species thought to have been extinct for millions of years until one was captured off the coast of Africa in the 20th Century. The triple whammy of initially believed to be dead, then rediscovered just to be described as profoundly ugly by any standard, then suddenly promoted to royalty just to have it pulled out from under him had been awfully hard on FishStyx’s self esteem. I decided that Leila ought to be the one to do something for him.
“Dude,” she said, ingratiatingly, “you can’t just sit around and mope because the shitty end of the stick seems to be a compass needle that considers you true north.”
FishStyx listened as he drank some more of an endless PDQ Pilsner that Peety had given him. Best described as a porkpie wearing cross between a lumpy eel and a four-year-old’s worst nightmare, FishStyx bemoaned his failures in a voice precisely like that of Colonel Blimp.
“Oh dude, dude, I know disappointment,” Leila said, commiseratingly, “but at the end of the day you have to look in the mirror and ask yourself ‘Am I a Coelacanth or a CoelaCAN?’”
Incredibly, FishStyx laughed long and heartily.
“That’s a good fella,” Leila said, happily. Then a look crossed her face that all of us in the realm know well.
“Oh, Jesus, Leila,” said Renfield, “we’re here to cheer him up.”
As always Leila, blockheadedly, ignored sound advice. “I’ve got me a Big Idea. Since the FishStyx thing didn’t work out, how does the name E. Coli Culkin the CoelaCan strike your fancy?”
To everyone’s amazement, he began to laugh and laugh and laugh until it seemed he’d spring a gill. The dark malaise of winter had left his heart and he gratefully took the name as his very own.
I took note of a historically high reading on the A.M.I. and had to quit this thing lest it explode.
Yours Every Truly,
Daisy Cloverleaf the Pygmy Goat