In Acknowledgement of Lester Bandicoot

Lester Bandicoot was drunk. He hadn’t slept in days. The moon was full. His biorhythms were a mess. And boy, was he mad!

He backed his rusty Ford Fairlane out of the driveway, sideswiped the neighbor’s garbage cans, careened wildly down the alley and sped across town. Within minutes, Peachtree Parkway slipped beneath the rusty Ford. And Lester headed south.

He was out for some unscheduled face time with George Maxwell Poots, Editor of Festival, the contemporary fiction magazine. Poots, you see, had rejected every story Lester had ever written.

Lester’s stories were awful, pathetic, rank. They sucked for air! Atrocious prose. Lame characterization. Hideous plots.

Poots felt so sorry for the guy, he began including constructive notes with the pink slips!

 

Lester:

Have received “Tall in the Saddle” and regret that it is not suitable for us at this time. As I’ve mentioned, please take care to avoid obvious mistakes. For example, Kate, who is executed by the Pod People, later appears as a check-out girl at the Piggly-Wiggly. And Bronco Muldoon, your stoic cowboy, is called Hop-a-Long Moody in chapter two. For the record: Nashville is in Tennessee; Pygmies are actually quite short; and Don Ho was an Hawaiian lounge singer. Have you read the books I suggested on plot, theme, setting, characterization, style, tone, geography, spelling and typing?

— George

 

Poots hated to bruise and bully. He knew every manuscript floating in the slush pile on his desk contained the hopes and dreams of some poor devil trying only to grasp a stitch of immortality via the printed word. But Lester’s work was unusually bad.

“The lout has sent me over 100 stories,” Poots told his wife, Molly, as they settled into bed. “Normally one’s work improves with practice– these actually get worse!”

“Why bother reading them, Georgie?”

George Maxwell Poots scrunched his pillow against the headboard, braced himself for another round with a Lester Bandicoot manuscript.

“I don’t know, Lambchop. After all these years, I must still believe in miracles.”

 

Lester Bandicoot hurtled through the night. He would seek retribution for the vanquished, the ignored, the rejected, those brushed aside, beaten down, those– God love ‘em!— unpublished nobodies who spill their guts on paper only to be slapped, pinched, spanked, and noogied by the likes of George Maxwell Poots and his big-time, hot-shot, whoremongering buddies who make their living by peeing all over decent people with undiscovered talent and unfulfilled dreams!

 

Hello again, Lester:

Have received “Adios, Cameroon!” and regret that it is not suitable for us at this time. Though Ramone may well have… dined with kings and waltzed with queens… and though he may have… blessed the quaking palms of the blind, syphilitic beggars of Istanbul…made love to a cannibal princess… and planted his pickax in the frigid blue cap of Kilimanjaro… it just seems like a lot of activity for an Arby’s assistant manager on holiday.

Did you receive the article I sent on opportunities in the building trades? I understand sheet rock guys are making a killing around here!

George

 

“You’re gonna pay, Pootsie. You, my friend, are gonna pay!

 

Lester combed the early morning parking lots and sidewalks of Atlanta, assembled a ragtag army of the residentially challenged, marched them over to the Varsity Drive-In. They mingled on the sidewalk along North Avenue until the famous eating establishment opened, and then Lester took them inside, tossed $500.00 on the counter and said, “Give these knuckle-heads whatever they want, put them in that room over there and keep ‘em happy. I’ll be right back.”

He was at wits end, looked terrible. Alcohol, rejection and lack of sleep had teamed to work their twisted magic on poor Lester. As he burst into the modest offices of Festival magazine, he came face-to-face with a neatly dressed older man who stared at Lester as if he, Lester, were a large, snarling rodent sliding wildly across a linoleum floor.

Lester handed the man a letter:

 

Good day to you, Lester:

Have received “Gutterball” and regret that it is not suitable for us at this time. This is, indeed, a startling glimpse into the world of clothing optional bowling; however, I couldn’t help but feel the premise of your story was simply a set-up for the double entendres, crude dialog and over-the-top descriptive passages which followed. If I may: seek beauty and truth. Humor will flow naturally. I think you’ll find it all the more rewarding.

—George

 

“Lester Bandicoot!”

“C’est moi!”

Lester pretended to have a gun. He marched Mr. Poots over to the Varsity and into a room where 58 grateful souls were devouring everything in sight. He spread his manuscripts on a table and told everyone to shut up. As Poots read aloud.

He made Poots read every story he had ever written, every lame-brained plot, contrived scenario, pointless anecdote, ill-advised turn-of-phrase, every pathetic bit of tripe he’d put to paper over the expanse of a decade.

And at the close of each story, as the one-dimensional protagonist waxed poetic on some sophomoric lesson learned, Lester Bandicoot looked out over his audience and hollered, “Gentlemen, what’s the verdict?”

And Lester’s audience, chock full of chili dogs, fried pies and good cheer applauded like crazy. They yelled, “Yeah, Baby!” and “Two thumbs up, dog!” and “Tell me somepin’ I don’t know!”

They applauded for Hold the Mayo! for Pipin’ Hot Love Doodles! and for Buddy’s Sticky Wicket. They cheered for The Archbishop of Dingleberry, for The Illegitimate Offspring of Jingles McCoy and for Hey, Look– it Wiggles!

And after each story, as the applause subsided, Mr. Poots was forced to apologize to Lester for a horrendous lack of insight in rejecting his work.

When it was over— after the cops had shooed the homeless guys away, after Poots had declined to press charges, after Lester had had a good cry behind a garbage dumpster— Lester attempted to explain himself to Mr. Poots.

“You see, Smarty Pants? I’ve got a following. I’ve got fans. And I’m somebody!”

 

Late that night, safe and warm in slippers and jammies, Lester Bandicoot decided to write a story. It was about a writer, as it happens, who takes on The Man, who makes a statement— who stands for something. He called it What’ll Ya Have! and he dropped it in the mail early the next morning and it wasn’t but a few days later when he received a cordial reply which began, “And a very fine good day to you, Lester. Have received your latest effort and am afraid it simply is not suitable for our magazine at this time…”

Remembering Roscoe Feeney

Tucked away in a closet at my father’s house is a 16mm film of a high school football game which took place many years ago. It’s the game in which we beat our cross-county rival for the first time in a decade, our last game of the season, senior year.

I haul out the old projector sometimes when I go back home, watch 22 players struggle on a torn-up field under dim lights in a drizzle steady now for three decades. I recognize every one of our guys– some by jersey number, others by body shape– despite the passage of time and the near darkness.

Late in the fourth quarter I watch myself– skinny, number 12, a boy younger at that time than my own sons are today– gather in a punt and take off through the rain like a chicken with its tail on fire. I make for the near sideline, pick up a block, cut… and run 72 yards for a touchdown.

Please: this was football in a school so small that some of our guys played in the marching band at halftime. We were one win and eight losses as seniors, winless the previous year. Every school our size within 200 miles wanted to schedule us for their homecoming game in order to ensure an easy victory.

But, as players, we got to wear our jerseys to school assemblies and pep rallies, and under-classmen and middle school kids admired us. They were impressed by our varsity letter jackets and manly demeanor. We were small-time, small-town big-shots in the microscopic universe of a tiny Catholic high school in northwest Illinois. Oddly, the painful and embarrassing thrashings we’d endure on Friday evenings in autumn were very quickly forgiven, forgotten.

And then a few weeks ago I opened an envelope from my mom, and inside was a neatly folded obituary which said Roscoe Feeney had passed away in Florida after an extended illness.

He was one of the guys on our team, and if you watch the film, you’ll see him in front of me as I field the punt– he’s the big kid with the curly blonde locks protruding from beneath his helmet, the only one out there in short sleeves. He charges ahead like a freight train and nails one of their guys in a full-out, shoulder-to-chest explosion.

That was Lawrence Archibald “Roscoe” Feeney… nose tackle, garage band drummer, pizza delivery guy and future Florida timeshare salesman… now dressed, blessed, burned and urned in Pensacola.

Roscoe ran with a faster crowd than mine. We had little in common other than that run that night. But it was enough. He came over to the house that year to watch the film, got a kick out of it when I hollered KA-BOOM! as he threw his block.

He took off on a motorcycle after high school, wound up in Texas. A few years ago my brother ran into him, said he hadn’t changed much, was still loud and obnoxious.

I called a friend, asked if he’d heard the news.

“Feeney…,” he said. “Stocky kid? Smelled like Elmer’s glue?”

“That’s him.”

“I’ll be damned. Feeney. Wow. Damn. Hey, do you still have my Weed Wacker?”

The obit was short on details, but it identified a sister, Deborah, living in Des Moines. I found her phone number, called to offer my condolences, told her I’d be happy to send her a copy of the game film. I had a few discs burned, sent her a couple and kept the rest.

There we are, young men in the rain at night under the lights, our long suffering friends and parents in the stands wrapped in raincoats, huddled beneath umbrellas and plastic tarps.

Late in the fourth quarter, Roscoe Feeney, in high-top black shoes, lowers his shoulder and hits this big guy, their number 59– nails him right between the 5 and the 9, annihilates him, launches him… and opens up the sideline for a skinny kid who, if you look closely, is clearly running for his life.

Points of Departure

So you slide into the big corner office to announce your intentions and you’re telling yourself you feel okay about this. It’s exactly nine months to the day that you and your compadres found yourselves milling around the hallway like lost lambs after the fateful email.

What the email had said was, hey, everything changes, you know, all creation—planets, stars, entire solar systems— everything incinerates sooner or later and you’d have to be some kind of subterranean dimwad to think you were immune. And, guess what? There’ll be some changes around here which you’ll hear all about from your personal personnel person… and you’d closed your eyes and envisioned the approach of Snead, the gaunt, chain smoking lifer from the second floor who’d corral you for an early lunch and deliver bad news while smecking tuna chunklets from between his teeth and staring somewhere just to the left of your right ear lobe.

You thought back on playground days and weren’t you always the last one picked for a game of hoops?

Somehow you dodged the bullet, but every Friday the jet from HQ would drop from the sky like the Angel of Death and some faceless little nabob with a short list would slither into Human Resources and it finally dawned on you that the sum of all the decisions you’d made to that point in your life had neatly placed your future into the hands of absolute strangers.

Then one day you talked it over with the spouse and you decided to do what you’d longed to do, yearned to do, which was to start a business of your own. It’d be dicey what with the kids in school but the plank was getting shorter every day and the stress was making your hair fall out.

So you slide into the big corner office and announce your departure and they ask you where do you think you’re going, Buster, and you say something about greener pastures and the next thing you know legal’s in there saying you’d better not be telling anybody and we mean anybody about Project Lonestar and words like hyperclustration, coplexic nanoarchitecture and maleolectronic acceleration better never cross your lips, pal, because we know where you live and accidents happen, right?

And then you’re really glad you’re leaving.

The old gang throws a little party in the big conference room and you wax nostalgic and they wish you the best and you slip out for a butt and watch a fat guy in a green jumpsuit wheel your credenza down the hall.

Well, you’ve thought this through, you truly have, your own business, and so you jump in with both feet as they say. And what happens is your working capital disappears faster than steam off a wet doggie, you trade down to a sensible Buick, juggle Visa and Mastercard and tap dance for bankers who stare at you as if you’ve just hatched from a large speckled egg and are frantically picking goo off your moist feathers with a long yellow beak. Big, splashy companies ask for bids which never come to anything and after a while they won’t even return your phone calls!

Along about the 1500th cold call panic sets in and you begin to question your judgment, your ability—a man’s got to know his limitations, doesn’t he? Weekends don’t seem like weekends and you like to say that clients are hard won and easily lost but you haven’t won or lost any and you can starve to death, you know, waiting for someone to consider a proposal which, with a thimbleful of insight, could make him a star!

Persistence and self-motivation are the keys and you admit you’ve always misplaced your keys and things get really shaky and you wonder what’s going to happen when the well runs dry, and you imagine yourself squeezed into one of those hoary luminescent orange chairs in the employee lounge at the Office Depot filling out a job application, and, no, you’ve never had diphtheria, rabies, hives or trench foot. And you just feel like quitting, you know?

You become inert gas in the bubbling cauldron of the human experiment and finally out of the blue somebody says yes and you really do almost say pardon me?

A gig!

And you speak glowingly of strategic initiatives and break-through creative and you labor nights and weekends and eventually some cash comes in and you take the family out for a little celebration and, even though you’re nowhere close to where you once were financially, it’s okay because something deep inside you has awoken, and your life is becoming something you can actually feel.

And, who knows, with a little luck, this whole goofy thing might just work out.

We Weren’t Soldiers

It was billed as an afternoon of chaos and carnage at Splatters ‘N Tatters Paintball Emporium out on old route 17 just inside the state line. We’d recently merged with another outfit, and the idea was to build esprit de corps among the troops– to help two distinct groups of employees bond– by dressing as soldiers and shooting one another with wicked little paintballs.

I didn’t know how such an exercise would help us sell more industrial compressors, but I’d always wanted to commit varied atrocities on certain of my fellow staffers… and I looked forward to testing the mettle of the newcomers.

So we split into four squads– the Vipers, Mayhem, Death on a Stick, and I Can’t Believe it’s an Army — and spread out across our field of operations, an unforgiving spit of Georgia countryside surrounded on three sides by thick woods and on the other by a strip mall featuring your Burger King, Planet Smoothie and Dollar General.

My boys lost no time in overpowering the accounting department with a full frontal assault. We shot their leader in the ‘nads, confiscated their weapons and sent them running for the clubhouse. We took pot-shots as they retreated. They shouted “Ouch!” and “Show-offs!” and “Stop it!” as they ran.

Our scout, Perry Gooberson, who’d asked us to call him Billy White Feathers for the day, found elements of Mayhem… engineers one and all… hidden in a fortified bunker in a desolate area known as Little Round Top. They were a formidable opponent… and they held the high ground.

We crept up on them through the woods, and then Tiny Boudreaux whipped out his cell phone and called Harlan Edgerson, a senior engineer. He told Harlan that the old man needed him back at the office pronto… something about Project Hemingway. When Harlan scampered out of the bunker, we shot him in the ‘nads and launched our assault.

Well, the engineers were certainly no pansy accountants. They fought us toe-to-toe…spanked us soundly… and forced our chaotic retreat to nearby Hill 529… where we regrouped… and paused to enjoy a lovely boxed lunch from Monique’s.

Oh, my!

Free-range chicken marinated in a delightful lemon sauce… bow-tie pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and raisins… home-style biscuits which absolutely melted in your mouth… and a magnificent, light-as-a-feather crepe with blueberries and cream which was to die for.

Chef Jean Claude himself toured the battlefield, handing out truffles and wet-naps. “Well done, Jean Claude!” we shouted. “Marveilleux!”

A messenger from the Vipers approached us under a white flag with a plan to join forces, encircle the well-fortified engineers and attack from all sides. We lowered our lattés and shot him in the ‘nads.

“You guys are such jerks!” he cried.

Billy Terwilliger, our otherwise mild-mannered PR guy, and now head of our psy-ops unit, hollered, “You tell your guys to surrender right now or I’m going to come over there, shoot you, have you stuffed and hang you over my fireplace!”

The Vipers — a ragtag collection of accounts payable drones, graphic designers, sales trainers, quality assurance nabobs and risk management loonies– launched an ill-advised assault on Death on a Stick… composed mostly of young guys from sales who gave them quite a shellacking… and then escorted them to the parking lot!

“Hey!” Tiny Boudreaux hollered. “Get back here!”

“Sorry, dude… four o’clock tee time!”

Just then the engineers swarmed out of their bunker like angry hornets… and so began the final, terrible skirmish which would determine the battle and, quite possibly, the war!

Oh, it was a terrifying swirl of flying paint… gooey Georgia clay… the ripe, surprisingly fruity smell of fear… and lots of mean little welts on our exposed skin!

I’m not sure how long that final, brutal assault lasted, but when it was over both sides, exhausted, claimed victory. The boss gave a little speech about the importance of teamwork, and someone took our picture for the company newsletter.

We talked some trash with the engineers; no doubt, a grudge match was in the offing. And as we pulled away in our cars, they ambushed us with a secret cache of ammunition, splattered our vehicles and chased us across the frontage road to the highway!

When I was safely out of range, I rolled down my window and hollered, “Let the babies cheat!”

And then, alone… hurting but alive… thankful for the day to end… scanning the horizon for signs of danger… I unclinched my Sam Browne belt… and took one last swig from my battered canteen.

His Many Unlucky Pets


Whoa!
This wasn’t a fish — this was sunlight, electricity, a flash of blinding orange, a jolt of brilliant yellow! And grace– athleticism, confidence– absolutely dominating the tank! I’d spotted him right away, observed, admired, coveted!

“That one– right there!”

“C’mon, kid. How’m I s’posed to catch that one particular fish? What am I, Houdini?”

I snatched the net and hauled him in myself, plopped him into a plastic bag, forked over a dime and ran all the way home. I couldn’t wait to show this lucky little fish the breathtaking seascape of gravel, shells and cat’s eye marbles in his new bowl.

I was bursting with pride. It was a place of water and light, dimension and intrigue. A paradise of color– the hues! A sunken pirate’s ship. Faux seaweed. And a wicked enamel skull– with black eye patch and polka-dot doo-rag tied in a foppish top-knot.

Imagine the adoring fans who would soon — today! — crowd this very bedroom, around this very fishbowl, in absolute and delicious awe. This would be SRO, the event of the summer.

Henceforth this creature of beauty and wonder, this creation of the limitless imagination of the one true deity– Yes, I am now certain there is a God! — would be named Chester! No– Zorro! No, no– Lightning! And he was mine!

Lightning darted here, there, testing, appraising… left, right, up, down… a zigzag… a figure eight!– before settling into a cool back and forth rhythm. A thoroughbred ready to run!

Then. Something odd. Barely perceptible. A… what was it?

A wobble! Yes, yes, a wobble! As if a short in his electrical system had– and– a list! This way… and that…. back and forth… teetering… wait… what? Before my eyes… nose first! … to the bottom!

“Mom!”

Bulbous, smoky eyes… a sickly dead… thing … drifting… bouncing! … across the gravel I’d so carefully– wedging! — between the shanks of the ceramic skin-diver and the fronds of a plastic palm tree.

Bereft…

“There’s a lesson here, you know,” my older brother said as he scooped out the gravel and emptied the bowl into the toilet.

I nodded solemnly. “I know,” I said. “No matter how much you love something, sometimes it just dies.”

“Nope.”

“You mean that such a creature was meant to live wild and free in its own natural habitat?”

“Negative.”

I thought for a moment. “What, then?” I asked.

He flushed the toilet and Lightning swirled downward, a little orange turd plunging head-first into the unspeakable horrors of the municipal sewer system.

“Save your receipt, pinhead.”

 

Lightning was simply the first in a long line of pets that just didn’t… work out. Fred and Ethel, my adventurous, ill-fated hamsters drowned in a sump basin and were buried with dignity out back of the garage.

Butch and Swede, my turtles… heck, dad just didn’t see them there on the driveway. And Mickey, my parakeet– dead before he’d finished his very first bag of Pretty Polly® Trill-Tone™ Mel-O-Dee™ Mix.

But, perhaps saddest of all, was Fritz, my proud little Dachshund. He crossed the yard on stubby legs one sunny day, his private parts dragging along beneath like the broken exhaust system on an old Chevy. He discovered a peach in the grass, gobbled, choked on the pit and was pronounced DOA by our now visibly uncomfortable veterinarian.

I blamed myself. For years I was convinced an evil energy– a curse!— emanated within.

As an adult, I was tortured with doubt, wracked with guilt. When long evenings with Johnny Walker and Jack Daniels no longer offered solace, I sought psychiatric help.

“… and what became of your lovely little fish?”

“Well… I flushed him down the toilet, Doc.”

“You sick son of a bitch!”

I’m a grown man now with a family of my own and, as mom used to say, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Small, fuzzy mammals continue their run of bad luck at our house. Amphibians wilt to odd shades of gray and yellow, reptiles devour their young, feathered things lose heart, grow morose.

But, on the other hand, I can relate one success story, a bittersweet page of hope and optimism in this tale of woe.

One day a cute little farm kitten showed up at our back door. Against my better judgment, we adopted him. Cats require little expertise, I’ve learned… they poop in a box, clean themselves, sleep most of the time. Just to hedge our bets, we decided he should stay indoors all of the time, so we had him declawed and neutered, named him Lollipop.

He’s harmless as the day is long, nearly hassle-free. He emits a mellow vibe and I think he likes me. I just hope his luck holds out.

Telephone Blues

You hate cold calling.

You’ve been teased, tweaked, pummeled and noogied over the phone for nearly a year. Grilled by secretaries. Toasted by purchasing assistants. Charbroiled by freshly minted MBAs. All in an honest attempt to tell people how badly—desperately!—they need your service. You’ve tried not to take rejection personally—you’re a big boy!—but still, it’s brutal!

You’ve put your faith in the numbers. Ten phone calls equals one appointment. Ten appointments equals one bid. Ten bids equals one sale. Ten sales equals goal. (10c = 1a) x (10 = B) x (10 = S) x (10 = G!) You see it in your sleep, it’s tattooed onto your eyelids. Okay, maybe the formula’s a little whacked, but who cares! Make the calls and you’ll make the sales!

Then your buzz-kill brother-in-law works it backwards and concludes that you’d better fatten up the database because at this rate, you’re going to run out of names way before you qualify for that little Cape Cod out in Buford. In fact, he tells you, you’d better get religion real quick because you’re most likely going to die here at your desk, face-first in your moo goo gai pan, before you ever sell anybody anything.

My God! You persevere—what else can you do?—until finally someone on the other end of the line says, “You know, I get a half a dozen calls a day from guys like you and you all sound exactly the same.”

Ping! Something snaps in your cerebral cortex—you actually hear it! You sit there at your desk—your late Uncle Al’s desk, the very desk that once launched Big Al’s Baked Beans of Youngstown, Ohio—and you vaporize. You drift up toward the ceiling and over to the window and out through the screen and you and the dust and the pollen and the fluorocarbons settle into the ozone and orbit Mother Earth.

Screw it! You invent every reason in the world to stay away from the telephone. You overhaul the transmission, convert the family VHS tapes to DVDs, adopt a stretch of highway, re-sod the lawn, cross reference the junk in the attic with the crap in the basement.

Then it hits you—awareness! Of course! You’ve got to let people know who you are before you make the calls! Fertilize the soil, so to speak. You call an advertising agency. You tell them you need an image campaign. Something cute. Something memorable. They ask you what your budget is. They put you on speaker phone and ask you to repeat that. “Six hundred dollars,” you say. They’re howling! Finally somebody says, “C’mon, really, who is this? Harry, is that you?”

You finally run a little ad in the local paper and imprint your logo on some ballpoint pens and then you’re back at Uncle Al’s desk with a butt in the tray and the phone in your ear, and you punch in some numbers and clear your throat and the operator says how may I direct your call? and you close your eyes and imagine yourself astride a magnificent stallion, galloping through hostile territory to save the wagon train.

“Stop! Don’t do it! They’re finished!”

“There are women and children down there, damnit!”

“You’ll never make it!” 

“That may be, but I’m taking some of those damn injuns straight to hell with me!”

And you dig your spurs into the trembling haunches of your jet black steed and he rears back on his hind legs, and there you are, silhouetted like a god against a perfect azure sky and you fire two rounds overhead and the Apaches, stunned, break from the wagons , turn their ponies toward you and with whoops and war cries come for your scalp. And you attack the whole bloody lot! And as you gallop toward your fate you picture a handsome woman in a blue gingham dress standing in a field of wildflowers above the modest headstone of a prairie grave as she whispers I love you, I love you, I…

“Sir? Sir, how may I direct your call?”

And from far, far away you hear your voice, strong, steady— bold and daring, “Morning, Ma’am, I’d like to speak with someone in purchasing.”

Snoozing and Schmoozing

All I wanted was to make it home unscathed.

I’d been humbled all week long– slapped, pinched, tweaked and noogied– by an endless parade of grouchy clients. And what I looked forward to now was to slip into my best flannel jammies, crawl into the sack, commandeer the remote control… and run a pair of white Fruit-of-the-Looms up the bedpost in a gesture of total and unconditional surrender.

I’m a simple man with simple needs, and I simply needed this airplane to take me home. I didn’t need to do battle with the man in seat 23A—Mr. Bud J. McIntyre.

Bud J. McIntyre was a tall drink of muddy Mississippi river water out of Quincy, Illinois, and he sold sheet metal or sheet music or something, and he was determined that I become schooled in the nuances of his tortured career.

In that there was no middle seat between us to serve as a buffer, I put on the friendliest face I could muster on a Friday evening 850 miles from home and did my best to appear attentive.

But, between the saga of his loyal service at Pickney Excavation and Grading (Pickney: Lowering your horizons since 1969!) and his untimely departure from Bandoo Fiberglass (“Those bastards!” ) I could hardly keep my eyes open.

I’d volunteer the occasional No kidding! or Imagine that! which got us through taxi and takeoff and on our way to our cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, but I was fading fast … and through a sort of low-wattage auditory fog I seem to recall him downshifting from the ins-and-outs of sheet metal into the predicament of his daughter or niece– Pinky or Babs— a girl down on her luck, pregnant, perhaps, by way of a clumsy second-story man who was currently serving three-to-five in Joliet!

But, by that time, I’d experienced a sort of pan-nodular synapse deep within my cerebral cortex, a gentle bathing, as it were, of the anterior ganglia in some kind of primordial sleep sauce… which nudged a psychoneurologic gateway, zapped a pulse to my vocalis apparendi and made me blurt, “Mommy, can I have a pony?”

And, from there, for me, my friends, it was if a magic carpet had arrived to whisk me away to dreamland.

Well, the next thing I knew, I was waking from a deep slumber… and, this isn’t pretty, but I sleep with my pie hole wide open– a classic mouth-breather, the dentist tells me– and… well, I’ve been rumored to pass a little gas here and there– and I began to surmise that I’d nodded off and snoozed on Big Mac’s shoulder, mouth breathing into his ear and ripping an array of close-quarter colon coughs into his wheelhouse across the Midwest!

And, judging by the fire in his eyes– and the Vicks Vaporub under his nose– he was none too pleased.

The flight attendant brought the supper I’d slept through, and Bud says, “I’ll take that right here!” And so he takes my supper– even though he’d already eaten— and proceeds to devour it right there in front of me! And I watch incredulously as my Salisbury steak, green bean almandine and instant mash potatoes disappear into his big, Midwestern corn-fed gullet.

He’s gnawing my croutons!

Hey, I’m not one to raise a ruckus, and, seeing that we were almost home anyhow, I decided to forfeit the meal uncontested, to turn the other cheek, as it were. Doesn’t the Good Book counsel sharing and caring?

Well, Bud whipped-out a toothpick from the pocket of the XXXL shirt that covered his big, gnarly Midwestern hide and began to dig contentedly between his out-sized yellow zoobies in a manner which conveyed complete satisfaction with his —my!— supper… and, well, with closing out the week, all scores settled.

Mind you, I’m a congenial and forgiving man, and, in hopes of establishing common ground, I turned to the ‘ol Macaroon and said:

“So, Carl, where ya from and whatcha’ do?”

Well, they finally pried him off me… and they tell me I’ll be feeling better once the neck brace is removed. There’ll be no litigation from this end, rest assured, what with my having inconvenienced ol’ Mack-‘n-Sack for a good part of the flight.

In fact, I was hoping bygones would further beget bygones… and we might become fast friends, airline amigos… and that I might even receive an invitation to Pinky’s wedding. But, as of this writing, not a card, not a letter– not a word from Bud J.

Some people, huh?