Westerly Bungling

27 03 2010

Below is the latest installment of my writing group submissions.

(With apologies to P.G. Wodehouse)


I’ve been nipping around this earth for a goodly amount of years now, and if there’s one thing I’ve always been willing to stake my entirety upon, one thing I’m absolutely rock-solid about, it’s this:  Don’t depend upon Charlie Broxton’s trousers.  I understand that you may be hesitant to take me at my word first thing and all, but let me explain a bit about Charlie.  He’s not the sort of man you just feel fraternally bound to upon first hello, if you know what I mean.  Put another way, he’s not the sort of man you just saunter up to on a weeknight and ask if he wants to help you steal a lawn fixture.  Oh sure, he might join in if you and the boys are all set to go from the outset, but he’ll find his way to getting entrusted with guard duty, and at the first sign of a rifle sticking out the window he’ll leg it faster than Jimmy Cullen from a church vestibule on Sunday at 12:01, hanging you out to dry on the off-chance that he’ll accrue a stain on that perfect record of his with Cassleton’s finest.  And while you’re at the police station being remonstrated by Sergeant Folk while trying to exchange pleasantries with the desk clerks, Charlie’s at home sipping his caffeine-free soda and folding socks in his room with a clean conscience. (Although I’ve no idea how one could really dirty it, as I’ve no evidence that it exists.)  Put simply, Charlie is one who finds contentment in stagnation and repugnance in the exhilarating.  Not the sort of man whose name you find on too many a last will & testament, if you get my meaning.

However, you know what they say about old school ties, and as he is still under the impression that our friendship is a thrice-woven cord, I had no real reason to sever the knot until last Wednesday.  For that, as you’ll presently understand, was when he destroyed my best and brightest hope for happiness in this sorry world.

* * *

“Westerly, you blighter,” I hollered, “put down the laser before Mr. Bungleton finds out what you’re up to and chews your leg off.  The poor dog’s been through enough for one day.”  Phillip Westerly simply tossed a patronizing grin at me and continued to hold the light aloft, provoking poor Bungles into another fit of frantic scratching at the cabinet hosting the offending red dot.

“It’s good for him,” he said. “How do you expect him to take a bite out of the morning mailman if he’s not kept in shape?”  I tried to explain to Phippy that that one simply doesn’t torture one’s dogs into shape these days, but he became tone-deaf as soon as I started with one of my famous “Phippy, old man” parts.  Lately I’ve noticed many of my friends encountering similar hearing difficulties in such instances, and quite frankly it’s getting on my nerves.  I bypassed the usual roundabout and got to the point.

“It’s no good, Phippy.  I’ve just received a note from Laurie, and her words are dark.”  This brought the lanky fellow ‘round.  We’d been looking ahead to this evening ever since the Cassleton Bridge Club called the police on Phippy’s birthday party last month.  To think that there are still people in this world who cannot hold with a good-natured gathering of humanity. Well, it deals the ever-optimistic Tiffin heart a blow, I can tell you.  One minute you’re in the throes of jubilation, breaking Jimmy Cullen’s record for Apex Reached by a Thrown Lawn Fixture, and the next you’re bolting haphazardly out of Ms. Garrouche’s garden, hotly pursued by a pack of middle-aged cardsharpers.  To be true, it’s almost more than the heart can bear.  But ever since Laurie Swellings had given word of her annual St. George festival, our spirits had began climbing steadily.  If you’ve ever been to a Swellings St. George party, little more need be said.  If you haven’t however, just be careful not to mention this failure in the higher circles, or you’ll find yourself being regaled with the tales of blindfolded rectors and loose tigers for hours on end.  Three years ago, I believe it was, Bobby Cronstile made a bit of a splash when he proceeded to scale the greater portion of the library wall before falling into a gardenia bush below.  I’d say he had a bit of the stuff, but the fact is he woke up the next morning, walked home in his shirtsleeves and still refuses to say a word about the event, so speculation is all the history books have as to the precise state of his mental lubrication.

With that in mind, to hear what I had only just been told was nothing short of devastating, and I could hardly fathom the effect it would have on poor Phippy.

“What?  Speak up man, what’s she say?  It’s not canceled?”  I looked at him somberly.

“Phippy, her family has invited the bishop to lunch that Sunday, and he’s to stay for the feast.”

Phippy just stared through me, barely able to speak.  He finally managed to gasp, in a mournful sort of way:

“But good Heavens, Roger, this is Laurie’s St. George Festival.  It’s no place for a bishop.”

“I know.”

“He’ll keel over in fervent and apologetic prayer before dessert’s been served.”

“Quite likely”

“Not to mention that Caroline Gregson is going to be there.”

“Too right.”

“How am I to make eyes at her with His Eminence there peering over any shoulder he can find?”

“I’m afraid it’s set in stone, Phippy.  Apparently Laurie’s Aunt Gladys met him back in Tankerville last week, and simply drowned him with simpering pleas until he consented to come.”

Phippy snorted.

“I should have done the same thing in his situation.  The woman’s got the persuasive powers of Attila when she has you cornered.”

I thought about asking Phillip if he was recalling the summer when he found himself driving Laurie’s Aunt around the countryside every Saturday as she recorded the number of wheat fields in the southern county for her Grand History of the Land, but thought better of it.  As I recall, his assenting to be her chauffeur came shortly on the heels of the incident with the old woman’s dog and the barbershop quartet, so there was really very little investigation left to do in the matter.

“I’m afraid there’s more, Phippy,” I noted, steeling myself against the words I had only just absorbed myself.  “There’s to be no cocktails at all.”

“No cocktails?!  But how are we to honor our good man George without cocktails?  You’re quite sure, Roger?”

“Laurie made that point most evident.  No cocktails at all.  Apparently the bishop finds them a repugnant representation of the decline in today’s society or some such twaddle.”

“Well that’s jolly good.  A festival without cocktails and his Holiness freezing each grin miles before its crescendo.”  Phippy disgustedly aimed the biscuit he’d been saving at Mr. Bungles, who was only too happy to collect his reward after absorbing the hit.  “If you see something swaying from the library rafters, Roger, don’t be alarmed.  It will only be my corpse saluting this earth after having my life extracted by want of cocktails.”

* * *

I was strolling through town on Tuesday morning having just gotten a fresh haircut and was beginning to feel a bit less downhearted about the upcoming frivolities when I heard a “What ho, Reggie!” and turned to see Charles Broxton bearing down upon me.  It’s situations like these that often aid one’s memory of imminent appointments and obligations, but my dejection had all but quashed my improvisational talents for the day.

“What what, Charlie,” I replied none too vigorously.

“Good morning, Roger,” Charlie piped.  The fellow clearly hadn’t quite found his bit of conversational impromptu yet either, so I stayed in the vein.

“Hello, Bronto.”  I felt this summed things up nicely, and prepared to continue on my way, when his eyes slowly lit up and he grabbed my shoulder.”

“I say, Reggie, you aren’t going to Laurie’s tomorrow?”

It was as I had feared.  The Tiffin atmosphere is widely known for its exuberant effects upon all surroundings, and the usually well-oiled attendees of the St. George fest were sure to experience the vivid pangs of excitement that came with being shown the real nature of a Proper Wednesday Night.  Charlie, however, saw himself leading the charge alongside Yours Truly to stake his place among the good names in the town.  Today, however, I had hardly the strength to keep my head from collapsing upon the barber’s razor as it brushed my jugular, so meeting with the full force of Charlie’s personality before lunch was a bit more than I could handle at the time.  I saw only one route: the polite dismissal.

“As a matter of fact, Charles, I don’t know that I can find my way to it.  I’ve simply so much to do, what with the end of term approaching, and I’m afraid it’s going to be rather a dull affair on all sides.  I hate to say it, but I fancy you’ll be finding yourself among livelier circles tomorrow night.  My condolences, old man.”

And such would usually have done the trick, but I found Charlie barely acknowledging that I had spoken.  He had come pre-loaded with questions for the first unfortunate soul he chanced to meet, and my name had come up.

“Oh, that’s too bad Reggie.  But I’m sure it’ll be quite the affair even without you.  I’ve heard the Bishop is going to make an appearance, and you know how well I’ve memorized my minor prophets.  I’m sure to make a killing with the Gregson Bird when the subject of prophet memorization comes up.”

I started.  Now here was a pitfall if I’d ever recognized one.  Broxton had apparently found himself enamored with the same girl that Phippy had all but slain himself for already.  But when one’s friends are involved, a modicum of respect for reality has to come into play.  Here was Bronto, a stout but oblivious young scholar with glasses thicker than the beard he had been working on for months, unknowingly going up against Phippy, the captain of the squash team who had gained something of a reputation for striking other players’ ankles in attempts to gain a point or two.  Surely there was only one thing to say to Bronto.

“That’s a man, Bronto, Found yourself a girl, have you?  Quite right.  Well, you know the standard op. procedure, then.  Play it slow and steady and keep your distance until she’s driven mad with affection and throws herself into your arms in a few months’ time.”

“Oh Reggie, I can see you’ve never met the girl.  If you’d only looked into her eyes one time, surely you’d be tossing your books aside tomorrow night as I am and throwing yourself at her feet.”

“Look here, Charlie, are you sure she’s really the girl for you?  After all, I’d think you’d want a girl with more muscle, someone who could really match your vitality in all aspects of life.  From what I’ve heard of this Gregson, she’s absolutely ethereal  with every breath she takes.”  Hopefully Phippy wouldn’t mind my stealing the third line of the sonnet he had been working on in his journal.  After all, he’d certainly have locked it better if he’d meant to keep it from the public eye.

“Oh, ethereal is just the word, Reggie.  She simply floats about, stealing your soul before your very eyes.  I tell you Reggie, I’d climb the library wall even with a hundred gardenias awaiting my descent if it would turn her head towards me.”

My efforts seemed to have only thrown fuel on Cupid’s inferno.  Like that one famous general said, there’s always a time to fall back upon the something and try again upon the morrow.  I bid Charlie a resigned good morning, and headed off toward Chesapeake Hall.  As I turned down the lane, a distant gunshot and a following epithet told me Uncle Travis was still as healthy as 78 years ever made a man.

* * *


26 03 2010

Why don’t we just admit that the “first day of (season)” should be the first every third month?  Sure, it would be a bit less accurate, but how wonderfully symmetrical would it be if winter started on December 1st, autumn ended right after Thanksgiving, and summer actually went from June to August?  “Oh, but Mr. Robert, that’s not scientifically accurate.  The seasons are based upon the sun’s distance fro”—SPLORT

Yeah, that’s right.  I throw mushy banana bread at people who try to invoke “science” into any argument.  You just try to tell me that I haven’t just come up with the best idea ever.

Swing and a Miss

19 03 2010

Wear your heart upon your sleeve for everyone

and everything

Keep your noble brow aloft to honor fallen kings

and things

Entrap yourself within the place you hide when you hide nothing

For the time being

With all of it draped down upon your cacophonous


Now scatter those ashes and pull out the diamond for

your wedding ring

Domesticating Animals

14 03 2010


I’ve been reading Lewis’s The Problem of Pain on my lunch break over the past couple of weeks, and I was struck by something when reading the chapter about animal pain that’s entitled “Animal Pain.”  It seems that the ideal life for animals in most humans’ perception is for them to live in a wide, expansive world where their habitat remains pristine.  Most people wouldn’t wish for the complete eradication of predators simply because we’re too attuned to the the “circle of life” necessity in nature.  However, I think most people would agree that an ideal world would be one in which no animals need prey upon others.  Nevertheless, my point here is that the idealized world for animals is for them to live in peace without human interference in their lives.  Lewis, as usual, makes an insightful point — that people are meant to be understood in the context of their relationship to God, and that likewise, animals are meant to be understood in their relationship to people, who were given dominion over them.  What it means, among many, many other things, is that making animals more “human” is a good and wonderful thing.  Teaching them to obey and do good (guide dogs come to mind, among other things)  is one way in which I confidently assert that we are fulfilling our role of ruling the beasts.

(Obviously we’re not doing this in the vast majority of instances, but it’s worth pointing out that humans can and should care for and tame animals.  Something being done wrong in most cases doesn’t mean we should stop trying to do it right when we can.  It’s not a comprehensive argument for invading rainforests, people.)

The main reason I thought about this is because it seems to parallel our sinful nature’s desire to be left alone in our natural habitat of sin.  Many people simply ask the “religious people” to leave them alone.  Live and let live, as it were.  But we can’t.  Leaving people alone in their sinful state, ignorant of God’s grace, is like leaving the junkyard dog alone to chew on a tire and wallow in filth.  The dog might be happier at first because he’s allowed to retain his sense of control over his environment, but we’re all designed to serve our Master.  We’re all made to live for others and the Only One, but our instinctive desire is to cling to our familiar filth and perceived dominion over our lives.  It’s not so much that we don’t want to be tamed — many people even suspect that they would actually be “happier” if they were to abandon themselves unto God, but the primal fear of losing their grip on their situation holds them back again and again.  So many animals are looking for a leader to follow, and it is our sin that has given them so few good masters to serve.  We, however, will always have our Good Master to serve, if only we can abandon our junkyards for His highway.

To the Fair

5 03 2010

Acquiescence to my wishes will preclude you from my favor

Resistance and some distance will allow us both to savor

the Presence and depressants that enable life’s endurance

And in the end of days we’ll both forbear from our forbearance.