Saturday, March 24, 2012

I'm sorry, darling, but the part of Nana is already taken.

A true and wondrous shaggy dog story. Secundus's fifth-grade play is the musical version of Peter Pan, a hugely accomplished and enjoyable production, in which all the children in the grade take part. (S is the pirate Starkey.)

Having watched the first evening performance from the front, I had happily volunteered to help wrangle the large cast of ten- and eleven-year-olds behind the scenes for the next night's performance, a role that principally involves saying "Shhhh!" a lot. We're about halfway through the show, and the long corridor that runs past the stage entrance is momentarily devoid of pirates, Indians, or Lost Boys, who are either onstage or shut in the gym. It's a rare moment of peace.

I look up and see a dog, padding along the corridor toward us. A Golden Retriever. Alone.

Dogs are not allowed in school. Not even during theatrical performances. Even Nana, the Darling family's nursemaid Newfoundland, is played by a boy in this production.

A couple of us intercept the beast, who is docile and friendly and seems pleased to have some attention.

And then one of the girls recognizes it. "It's Hilary's dog!" she cries, referring to the talented young student who is that night's Wendy. An examination of the dog's collar reveals that it is indeed the redoubtable Scout. But how did he get here?

"Shall we tell Hilary?" another girl asks. "No!" the grown-ups respond quickly, not wanting to distract her from her performance. Nor, we decide, should we tell Hilary's mother, one of the two hard-working and inspirational moms who were the guiding lights of the show, now contentedly sitting with the rest of the family in the audience, unaware that she should have saved a seat for a late-arriving canine member.

One of the mothers backstage finds a necktie to use as a leash, and I keep Scout distracted while she tries to telephone the family's neighbor, who is able to come to the school and take him home. The play continues to the end, and Hilary -- unaware of the backstage drama -- gets to enjoy the well-deserved standing ovation, along with the rest of the cast and her mom.

Here's what we think happened. Hilary's family lives in a house next to a pathway that runs into the school grounds. Scout must have have gotten out, taken a fairly familiar route, and finding the cafeteria doors open to let in some air on this warm evening, trotted into the school looking for company.

Of course, we could be fanciful and believe he knew mighty things were happening that night, and he was determined to share in his family's triumph. (After all, if he'd chosen the previous evening for his escapade, he'd have seen a different Wendy.) So he took the second star on the right and went straight on till morning. Yes, that must be it.

Ah, but there's an even spookier aspect to this story. Because the cafeteria was set up for the cast party, which immediately followed that night's performance. And Scout managed to walk all the way across the room . . . without pausing to eat the cake!

(Cue Twilight Zone music.)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Alan versus Retail -- A New Hope

I've finished my shopping in Target, and I notice that my cart has only about ten items in it, ranging in size from a Kit-Kat bar to a big box for my goddaughter's third birthday. So I join the express lane.

Halfway through checking me out, the sales assistant says caustically -- at a level designed to be heard by the people waiting on line -- "I don't know if you can read, sir, but the notice says '10 items or less.'"

"I don't have more than ten items," I answer, slightly thrown by her rudeness.

She's not letting it go. She checks the register. "It's six already . . . " she says, and looks back at the belt, "and you have one, two, three . . . oh . . "

"Four more, which makes ten," I say, at a level designed to be heard by the people waiting on line. I crank up the English accent. "And I do know how to read, thank you for asking." The woman who's behind me suppresses a smile. I'm on a roll.

Ah, but how far can I take this? The famous Alan Bennett line, when reminded that the word "knickers" begins with a k, not an n: "Yes, I was at Oxford, it was one of the first things they taught me"?

Or even: "In fact, I can read well enough to know that sign should say '10 items or fewer.'"

But then the sales assistant mutters that she's sorry, so I guess there's an end to it. She even wishes me a pleasant day as I depart, so I don't even complain that her idea of bagging is to slide a packet of raw ground turkey into the same bag as some children's books. It's not as if I envy her job.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A judgment for the plaintiff.

It was the annual Westchester Young Authors Conference this week, the fourth time I've had the privilege to run a couple of workshops on mystery writing for the cream of the county's ninth, tenth, and eleventh grade creative writers. The usual great audience. (Well, I'll maintain that until I see their evaluations.)

A touching moment at the end. A young man, who had been an active and enthusiastic participant in the workshop, came up to me as the students were leaving, and asked me if I'd heard of Perry Mason. Of course, I said yes, but didn't mention that I'd even referred to the sublime literary lawyer in a blog just a few days earlier.

"The author is my great-uncle," the young man tells me, with noticeable pride, and I spot then on his name-tag that his family name is Gardner, although his parents had the good taste not to burden him with either Erle or Stanley as a first name. (Apologies to any current high school kids who rejoice in those given names, and my sympathies for the times you had your hair washed in the toilet.)

He leaves, clutching my reading list. Ah, if only his uncle's name was on it, an unforgivable oversight.

I even used to own a first edition* of The Case of the Cautious Coquette, complete with this wonderfully erotic dust jacket, very daring for 1949. (That was long before Psycho, when all women in America stopped showering for ten years.)

*Lost it in a divorce.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Alan versus Retail, the struggle continues.

It was said of the Divine Leila that her gullet was never darkened by a kibble.

So I check out at Petco with my two 33-pound bags of Solid Gold dry food -- she's particularly partial to "Barking at the Moon," but then aren't we all? -- and I take the receipt.

"Thank you," I mutter.

"No problem," replies the sales assistant.

No problem? Whatever happened to "you're welcome"? I may have disturbed your texting about the secret sex life of gerbils and insisted you drag yourself halfway across the store to open one of the deserted cash registers, just so I could selfishly, oh, leave sometime before midnight, but seeing as I've just ratcheted up the equivalent of the Gross National Product of Benin, you bet it's no effing problem.

Since when did doing your job become doing the customer a favor? I'm not begging for a "Oh no, thank you, guv'nor, and that's a very nice jacket, if I may so so, Milord, how much did that cost, eh?" -- if I want that, I could go to the Bloomingdale's menswear department -- but a simple grunt would do.

 * * * * *

And call me old-fashioned, but I do think it's up to the management to make sure a new employee knows the word "butter" before he's put on the counter of a bagel store.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

You should-a heard him round about one-thirty.

One consolation of doing the grocery shopping in the Harrison A&P: hearing Keith's opening riff to the Stones' "Brown Sugar" over the store speakers.

And oddly enough, I was in the baking needs aisle at the time.

Three minutes of bliss. Glad I didn't die before I got old.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Wisdom of Tertius

 . . . explaining a convenient short-term memory discrepancy:

"When you're eating a brownie, it's hard to think about anything other than brownies."

Friday, March 9, 2012

To everything, there is a season.

Good to know it's not just Buicks . . .

I drove several miles along Route 127, following a Porsche Boxster, whose driver was clearly unaware his right turn signal was flashing. ("His?" "Yes, of course, 'his,' it's a Boxster in Westchester.")

Monday, March 5, 2012

How cordiale was my entente.

Prolific conservative commentator Paul Johnson, on a recent edition of the BBC's "Desert Island Discs," asked how many words he can produce in a day, now that he has reached his eighties.

"I can write up to 5,000. Jean-Paul Sartre, whom I knew when I lived in Paris, could write 20,000 words in a day!" [Beat.] "Of course, he was writing in French."

Friday, March 2, 2012

Life with Tertius

I'm sliding a freshly filled ice cube tray into the freezer when I find something blocking it. Reaching in, I extract a roll of socks, nested like a matryoshka doll and frozen solid.

No need for an inquisition to locate the culprit. "Did you do this?" I demand, for form's sake, dangling the icy evidence in front of eight-year-old Tertius.

"Awesome!" he exclaims.

(It's hard to be stern in the face of such cheerful enthusiasm.)

- - - - 

"Go and brush your teeth," I tell Tertius, before leaving for school.

"I have already," he says.

"I don't think you did -- you haven't been upstairs long enough."

"I did!" he maintains.

"No, he didn't, Dad," comments Secundus, the Adjudicator. "He just wets his toothbrush, without using any toothpaste."

"I don't!" wails Tertius.

"I've seen you do it."

"You can't have done, I haven't even been in the bathroom!"

Perry Mason would have a field day.