Saturday, November 27, 2010

Larry The Football Fixer

By John McDonnell

Blinky and Mushy were two of the patrons at Murphy’s bar. You may wonder why they had those nicknames. Well, Blinky was a man who tended to blink a lot whenever he got excited, and Mushy got his name because he could get misty-eyed at anything, including the sound of a clock ticking or the taste of buttered toast.

One day when Larry came to work in the form of Michelangelo, and he was up on a scaffold painting a replica of the Sistine Chapel ceiling in Murphy’s bar, Blinky and Mushy came to him with an idea.

“You’re an expert at time-traveling, right?” Blinky said.

“Si,” Larry said, putting the finishing touches on a cherub.

“The man’s a genius!” Mushy said. He was starting to tear up.

“Well, we were thinking,” Blinky said, “that it would be a small thing for you to influence the outcome of the Wagstaff State game this week. You could ah, travel forward in time and maybe do something that would allow our team to win.”

“Change the future?”

“That’s it,” Mushy said, tears brimming in his eyes. “Gosh, Larry, it would be the most beautiful thing. Wagstaff hasn’t beaten Crusher Tech in 30 years.”

“I dunno,” Larry said. “It’s not really permitted. It’s against the rules, like eating store bought pasta.”

“Aw, Larry, just this once,” Blinky said, blinking furiously. “One time, that’s all. You’d be making so many people happy, especially if you could arrange for Wagstaff to win by three.”

“Okay, maybe just once,” Larry said.

“I knew you’d do it!” Mushy said, sobbing with joy.

Larry got down from the scaffold, wiped off his paint spattered hands, and closed his eyes. The air shimmered and he disappeared. In a matter of seconds he was back.”

“The deed, she is done,” he said. “Now, I have to finish this ceiling. The Pope wants me to paint his bathroom next.”

The Saturday of the big game Murphy’s bar was packed. The word had gotten out, and there was a rumor that a lot of Murphy’s patrons had taken a financial interest in the outcome. As the game progressed the mood quickened, because Wagstaff State was actually holding its own. It seemed that Crusher Tech’s best players were coming down with a stomach virus that required them to spend a lot of time in the locker room, and the second stringers who replaced them were not doing as well. Larry intimated that he had placed a small colony of viruses in the team’s Gatorade.

By the fourth quarter the game was close, and the excitement was palpable. Mushy had had several crying jags by now, and Blinky was blinking so much he could hardly see the TV set. The game came down to one big play, with Wagstaff State lining up to kick a field goal that would win the game for them.

“This is a historic day,” Blinky said, blinking three times in succession.

“I can’t believe I’m here to witness it,” Mushy said, choking back tears.

You could hear a pin drop in the room when the players lined up. The ball was snapped, the kicker strode forward, swung his foot, and --

the ball disappeared.

There was a gasp from the crowd and then a shout, as a football appeared on the bar and the crowd realized it was the same ball that the kicker and his teammates were searching frantically for on the field.

“Larry!” Blinky said, jumping up and down, waving his arms, his eyelids moving like hummingbird wings. “What’s going on? Is that the game ball?”

“This is terrible,” Mushy said, tears streaming down his face. “Oh, this is horrible!”

There was pandemonium in the bar, with people yelling directions to the kicker, others cursing, Mushy crying, and Larry turning into an 8 foot ostrich and running about madly in search of a hole to stick his head in.

Then the ball disappeared from the bar and reappeared on the field 25 yards from the kicker. He ran after it as it bounced crazily down the field, followed by the other 21 players.

Then it reappeared on the bar, and the crowd screamed, groaned, cursed.

Then it disappeared and reappeared on the field, this time in the lap of a Mr. Charles H. Hungadunga, who was sitting at the 50 yard line, and the teams charged into the stands after it.

Then it was back on the bar.

Then it was back on the field.

“Folks, this is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,” the TV announcer was saying. “In all my years of doing the Big Game, I’ve never seen a disappearing football.”

Finally it ended up on the bar again, and the gun sounded that ended the game. Crusher Tech fans rushed the field, the Wagstaff State fans sat in shock, and the mood in the bar was funereal. Mushy was sobbing, Blinky was staring into space (his eyelids seemed paralyzed) and Murphy watched in horror as his patrons lost their thirst and started filing out of the bar.

“You know, the first official football game was between Rutgers University and Princeton, in 1869,” Larry said, from the ice bucket where he’d stuck his head. “It was played under soccer style rules. Rutgers won, by a score of 6 runs to 4.”

“Interesting,” Murphy said, pouring himself a beer. “Do you think they had a  disappearing ball in that one?” 


Friday, November 19, 2010

Turkey And Organza -- A Larry Thanksgiving

By John McDonnell

“I love Thanksgiving,” Edna said. “It’s important to be grateful for what we have. I mean, what would we do without game shows, talk radio, organza ball gowns and White Elephant sales?”

There was no answer to that, of course, so the rest of the people around Dolores’ dinner table went on with their Thanksgiving dinner.

“Horst says this is a stupid holiday,” Willow said, holding up her fork for emphasis. “He says the Indians were stupid to give the Pilgrims their food, because the Pilgrims were only here to take their land. It was a setup.”

Horst nodded his head while attempting to stuff a whole turkey leg in his mouth.

“I had a rooster as a pet when I was a girl,” Edna said. “Father bought it for me. I called him Herbert. Father let me keep him in my bedroom, although he caused a tremendous racket every morning with his crowing.”

Dolores was going to ask Murphy to comment on Willow’s statement but it was obvious from the way Murphy was gulping his food that he wanted to get the dinner finished so he could go watch a football game on TV.

“Larry,” she said instead, “what do you think of Thanksgiving?” Larry was in the form of a Ming Dynasty Chinese guardian lion, and he smiled toothily and said, “Actually, Thanksgiving as we know it was the invention of a 19th century writer named Sarah Hale, who did a lot of embroidery of the facts to make up the whole Pilgrims and Indians myth. We don’t know much about the first Thanksgiving.”

“Huh,” Horst said, through a mouthful of food. “Myth or no myth, the Indians got the wrong end of that deal. They should have wasted those dudes, instead of giving them corn.”

“Well, we could verify that,” Larry said. The air shimmered and all of a sudden there was a Native American chief sitting next to Larry at the table. He was naked from the waist up, and wearing a bead necklace, feathers in his hair, and white paint on his face.

He blinked, looked around at the table, and said, “I knew I shouldn’t have taken that last round of the pipe. That was a definite mistake.”

“Not to worry,” Larry said. “We’re all friends here. We just wanted your opinion of the American custom known as Thanksgiving. Is it true you started this custom when you offered the starving Pilgrims some corn and other food?”

The chief laughed. “I get it, this is a dream. Okay, I’ll play along. Thanksgiving? You mean that dinner we gave to that pitiable lot of Englishmen who tried to make it through a New England winter without basic skills in woodcraft, animal husbandry, and agriculture?”


He laughed again. “They were so inept, we felt sorry for them. I still feel sorry for them.”

“Dude, you’re so wrong,” Horst said. “Those losers took your land, slaughtered your families, and herded you all onto reservations. Seems you don’t have much to be thankful for.”

The chief smiled. “Two words -- Black Friday. Oh, and how about shopper rewards cards? Or those stacks of catalogs that come in the mail? The return line at Macy’s? December layoffs? Mince pie?”

“I think he’s made his point,” Larry said.

“But I like mince pie,” Edna said. “My mother made the most delicious mince pie. Do you know the secret is to soak it in brandy and then keep it in a tin for a year? It will make your hair curl when you eat it.”

The whole table looked at her in silence.

“I’d like to wake up now,” the chief said.

“Certainly,” Larry said. The air shimmered and the chief disappeared.

“Well, I for one am thankful for organdy,” Edna said. “Such a lovely texture it has! I’m also thankful for olives, champagne, handsome doctors, and, oh, all of you lovely people, even if I don’t know all your names. I’m glad the Indians gave the Pilgrims corn, because, my goodness, if they hadn’t -- well, I don’t know where we’d be.”

“Amen to that,” Dolores said.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Larry And The Wombat

By John McDonnell

Things slowly settled into a pattern at the Murphy house. Larry watched a lot of TV with Edna, Murphy spent most of his time at the bar, and Willow explored the higher levels of body piercing and tattooing with her boyfriend Horst.

Dolores was the only one who didn’t seem happy with her life. She felt a restlessness, a discontent. The fizz had gone out of her days.

“You need a craft,” Edna said. “That’s what’s always kept me going. Learn how to make something pointless and tacky, and you’ll feel better.”

“But I don’t like crafts,” Dolores said.

“Neither do I, dear,” Edna said. “But they keep us from listening to the voices in our head.”

Dolores thought maybe she was right. Maybe a busy mind would keep her from thinking about how dissatisfied she was with, oh, the entire last 20 years of her life.

“What type of crafting should I take up?” she asked Larry one night.

“How about a miniature proton beam collider?” Larry said. “You could make one that would fit on a keychain. You never know when you’re going to need to smash a few protons together. I think people would love it.”

There was a prolonged silence while Dolores stared at him.

“What?” Larry said. “You don’t like that one? Okay, then how about a subatomic--”


“Okay, let’s see,” Larry said, scratching his head. Which, by the way, was hairy. He had come down for breakfast this morning in the form of a chimpanzee, and he was scratching himself a lot today and pooching out his lips.

“How about stuffed animals?” Larry said, wrinkling up his face and scratching hard. “Everybody loves them. You could make them cute and cuddly, and give them names like ‘Smoochy’ and ‘Cutiepie’ and ‘Huggums’.

“That might work,” Dolores said. She went to work immediately, and in no time the house was filled with a collection of cute, cuddly animals stuffed almost to bursting, and all of them complete with full biographies of their lives, written by Edna. The biographies were very long and went on tangents to discuss 1950s TV trivia and recipes for stuffed olives and mince pie, and although Dolores didn’t know how that would appeal to 8 year old girls, she didn’t have the heart to tell Edna to edit them.

Dolores set up a Web site to sell the animals and it was a big success. Before long Dolores had a staff of illegal alien workers in her basement sewing stuffing into the animals, and the money was pouring in. The most popular stuffed animal was a wombat named Huggsie, and the kids just loved it.

Then one day there was a knock at the door. Dolores opened it to find an official looking man in a black suit, wearing sunglasses, who said, “Is this the headquarters of the Huggsie operation?”

“Who wants to know?” Dolores said, eyeing him suspiciously.

“My name is Edwin Kibosh, and I represent the Walt Frisby company,” the man said. “Your Huggsie the Wombat doll is a copy of our Cuddles the Sloth product, and this is a cease and desist order. You must stop production at once,” he said, handing a sheaf of papers to Dolores, “or we will be forced to burn your house to the ground and destroy your family down to the tenth generation.”

“This is outrageous,” Dolores spluttered.

“Quite true,” Larry said, coming downstairs in a tweed jacket, bifocals, and a pipe, looking very much the professor. “Wombats are completely unlike Sloths. For one thing, wombats are marsupials, crepuscular and nocturnal, found in southeast Australia and Tasmania, while Sloths are arboreal mammals who live in South America. They both have extraordinarily slow metabolisms, however.  Did you know that it takes a wombat 14 days to digest its food? They also have distinctive cubic droppings. Now the sloth’s droppings--”

“That’s enough Larry!” Dolores said.

“Sorry,” Larry said.

“I repeat,” the Walt Frisby lawyer said. “You must stop making the wombats at once, or my company will be forced to --”

There was a shimmering in the air, and he disappeared.

Dolores turned to Larry, who was studying the weave pattern in a nearby set of drapes.

“Larry,” she said. “Would you by any chance know what happened to that man?”

“Me?” Larry said. “Just because I’ve had a passing familiarity with discontinuities in the space-time continuum, that’s no reason--”

“Bring him back, Larry.”

There was another shimmering, and Mr. Kibosh reappeared, his tie askew and his sunglasses sitting at a jaunty angle on his head. His hair was standing straight up, and he had the look of a man who had seen a charging mastodon head on.

“We’ll stop making the wombats, Mr. Kibosh,” Dolores said.

“That won’t be necessary,” Mr. Kibosh said, trying to stop the tremor in his voice. “N-not necessary, n-not nohow.”

He left abruptly, and Dolores turned to Larry.

“Larry coughed and tugged at his beard . “What?” he said. “I’ll be in my room solving Waring’s Prime Number Conjecture. I’ll be down for dinner.”

Dolores just smiled. 

Copyright John McDonnell, 2010. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Edna Saves The World From An Alien Takeover

By John McDonnell

The pill that Horst gave Larry had the effect of sending his metabolism on a roller coaster ride, and Larry crashed on the down cycle. He fell asleep on the sofa with his head in Edna’s lap, snoring loudly. Edna didn’t seem to mind that she had a large pink rabbit snoring in her lap while she watched her favorite TV shows.

Dolores peeked in at them, and since everything seemed quiet, she tiptoed off to bed.

About 3 AM the TV set started glowing bright green. At the same time it began emitting a series of high frequency beeps, and then a pattern of pulsating multicolored circles. Edna thought it was grand how these new TV shows had so many delightful special effects.

Then there was a high, tinny voice coming from the TV set. “Transmission for Agent Z9 Double Six Click (followed by a few glottal stops). Give us your coordinates.”

“Why, I’m right here,” Edna said. “Although I’ve never been called that name. You may be confusing me with my friend Blanche. She had the most ridiculous last name, with a whole string of x’s and z’s in it. You couldn’t pronounce it at all. It came with that horrid little man she married, and I always thought she should have divorced him because of it. I like a good short name, like ‘Smith’.”

“Agent Z9,” the voice went on. “Please give a report on the last 100,000 years of human history, and your recommendations.”

“Poor Blanche died years ago,” Edna said. “Do you know, I remember when you could buy a ticket to the movies for 25 cents? I think Roosevelt was president then, although I don’t remember if it was Teddy or Franklin. I was quite the dancer in those days -- I don’t suppose you remember the Black Bottom? My mother said it was too risque, but I was a wild girl and I used to hike my skirts up and -- well, now you’ve got me telling naughty stories,” she said, giggling.

“Is this planet worth colonizing, Agent Z9?” the tinny voice said.

“Do you know, I’ve often wondered why my acquaintances on the TV don’t stop in for a visit,” Edna said. “I’ve invited them many times, but they haven’t taken my offer yet. There’s a nice young doctor named Brad, or Brent, or something like that, he has the most stunning blue eyes, and I’m sure he could cure this ringing I have in my ears, but so far he’s been too busy chatting up blonde secretaries and I haven’t been able to get his attention.”

“We won’t be visiting this quadrant of the universe for another hundred million years,” the voice said. “Do you have anything to add to your report?”

“I do try to watch my diet, of course,” Edna said. “I used to like sweets, but now it’s nothing but sugar-free this and low-fat that for me. My daughter means well, but she has no appreciation for a couple of slices of chocolate cake, or a pudding with whipped cream on top.”

“Very well,” the voice said. “We will take this planet off our list of places to colonize. This will be our last transmission for another million years. Goodbye, Agent Z9.”

“Oh my, so soon?” Edna said. “Well, it was nice chatting with you. Call again sometime.”

The TV screen flickered, the green light disappeared, and the screen resolved itself into a game show, which Edna happily began watching.

In a few minutes Larry stirred, then sat up.

“I had the strangest dream,” he said. “It was as if my home planet was trying to contact me. You didn’t hear a transmission where they were calling, ‘Agent Z9 Double Six Click (followed by a few glottal stops)’, did you? That’s my official title.”

“What’s that, dear?” Edna said. She was trying to remember the name of that nice host on “Family Feud” years ago, the one who was so friendly with all the contestants, especially the young female ones.

“I said--”

“Richard Dawson!” Edna said.

“What?” Larry said.

“Richard Dawson was the host on ‘Family Feud’. Now, what was it you wanted to know?”

“Never mind,” Larry said. “It was probably just a dream.”

“I always say there’s nothing wrong with dreaming,” Edna remarked. “It takes the edge off reality.”