(Ponsie and Carolyn, intrepid as always, have finally reached their destination, the Mortimer Mansion, with limbs intact and hearts of steel. They are, they believe, ready to face whatever dangers await them in their attempt to purloin the purloined Needle Knockers trophy snatched by the evil Letitia Mortimer right out from under the outraged nose of Ponsie’s Aunt Harriet. Finding the enormous footprints of a hound that must be the size of an elephant to have feet that big has, it must be admitted, somewhat dampened Ponsie’s enthusiasm but he is nevertheless bravely prepared to march into the future – provided Carolyn hasn’t forgotten to bring her doggie knock-out drops. They stand now at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the front porch like Hillary standing at the foot of K1.)

“It’s a long way up, isn’t it?” I said doubtfully.

In fact, standing at the bottom of the stairs and craning my neck just to see the top left me reeling with vertigo. Head spinning, I felt like Howard Carter must have felt the first time he stood at the bottom of the Cheops pyramid and thought, “There better be a Pizza Hut on top of this or I’m outa here.”

Carolyn took the first step in stride, of course. “What’s the matter with you?”

“Wait! Don’t we need crampons and safety belts? And those shoes with spikes in them?”

“Ponsie -”

“What if I fall?”

“Ponsie,” Carolyn snapped in frustration, “it’s only a porch for gawd’s-sake, it’s not the Eiffel Tower.”

“The Eiffel Tower has an elevator in it. I’d prefer that. Come on. Fly to Paris with me. I’ll pay.” At the time that seemed like a perfectly rational suggestion. I was already reaching for my credit cards.

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(As we rejoin our heroes, they are on the last stretch of highway to Brewster, where they will meet for the first time their archenemy, Letitia Mortimer, the fiend who stole Aunt Harriet’s treasured NKC Needle Knockers trophy, and make their plans for stealing it back. Isn’t this getting exciting? Finally? Or not.)

Neither of them had much to say after that. Carolyn seemed to feel that I had done the dirty to her erstwhile inamorata by getting him involved in wrestling, a sport of which who knew she wouldn’t approve, and I felt that I had helped a friend out of a ticklish financial situation with panache and daring. We were at an impasse. Silence reigned.

She shifted in her seat from time to time.

I held the wheel sometimes with my right hand and sometimes my left.

She crossed her legs and filed her nails with a high, whiny rasping that sounded in the otherwise tomb-like quiet of the car as if a dozen midgets had taken a dozen lumberjack saws to a forest of parking meters.

I retaliated with a wheezing nasal exhale that whistled “The Volga Boatmen” off-key.

She frowned and gnashed her teeth. “You know I hate that whistling thing you do with your nose,” she growled.

“And you know I don’t like that grinding noise you make when you sandpaper your fingernails.”

A grim silence descended on the Turd Furdus like a ballpeen hammer on the rigid skull of a Republican echo chamber. Carolyn seethed. I glowered. The road shimmered. A fog thickened. Overhead an owl screeched and was lost in the tall green pines. Then, finally, when the end was surely near and Brewster loomed blackly beneath the arch of the last violent Catskill, Hemingway relinquished control over my story, saying he couldn’t do a thing with it.

I knew how he felt. Read the rest of this entry »

(Our Story So Far: Having gotten himself trapped by his Aunt Harriet into an attempt to steal her knitting club’s trophy, the Champion Knockers Award (get your mind out of the gutter; the club is called the Needle Knockers), back from the evil Letitia Mortimer, and then dragooned Carolyn Emblehoff, ex-flame and current Dragon Lady of the Tort Courts to help take Brutus the Wonder Pit out of the equation, Ponsie finds out that he has to pretend to be married to Carolyn as the price of her co-operation so that she can foil the attentions of ex-suitor Mike McCoy, a wrestler known as the Pukin’ Nuke. They have paused to eat in a diner on the way to Letitia’s party, and during the interval Ponsie has explained his history as McCoy’s erstwhile creator. As we rejoin our tale, already in progress, Ponsie and Carolyn are once again on the road to Brewster, Letitia’s ancestral seat in upstate NY.)

Carolyn slouched in the passenger seat as I turned onto the highway, apparently unaware that her skirt had ridden up so high that the only thing preventing total exposure of her, um, nether regions was a shadow not quite as wide as wheat thin. Not that the skirt was all that wide to begin with (see pic).  “So you’re the one who turned that nice boy into a circus monkey?” she asked with all the old prosecutorial tone I hadn’t heard for nearly an hour.

“You make it sound like a Bad Thing,” I complained reasonably.

“Puking on muscle-bound morons in front of thousands of screaming fans, none of whom have enough IQ to power the flashlight on my key ring?” she drawled sarcastically. “You don’t see anything even faintly degrading about that?”

“Hey, he’s made a nice living out of puking on morons. Morons got a right to be happy too, you know, and if puking on them does it, what’s so wrong about that? Besides, I was just trying to help him out. As a friend.”

“A friend.”

“Exactly.” I was proud of myself for coming up with that one. It was, I thought, unanswerable.

I was wrong.

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(The Story So Far: Ponsie and Carolyn are still in the diner where Ponsie is telling the story of his role in turning mild-mannered Mike McCoy the Tampon salesman into Pukin’ Nuke McCoy the wrestler. Carolyn is wolfing down her asparagus au gruele like a longshoreman while Ponsie attempts to nuzzle his cheeseburger in between her karate kicks to his shinbone every time he stops talking to chew. We have just reached the point where professional Mafia Nephew and would-be crooked wrestling promoter Johnny Jenkins Bellamy-Beauregard the IV (also known as J2B2-4) has broached the topic for the first time.)

“Have you ever considered becoming a wrestler?”

Mike blinked. “Wrestler?”

“Yeah. You know. Like on teevee. You’d like to be on teevee, wouldn’t yah?”

“What would I want to be on teevee for?”

J2B2 the IV looked stunned. “For money, dopey. And fame. And chicks. And money. Lots of money.”

“Oh, I don’t know….”

“You’re out of work, Mike,” I said. “You need the money or the next time the Old Coot kicks you out, you’ll stay kicked.”

“So I’d have to swing people around over my head and then slam them down on the mat and break their arms and throw them out of the ring into some poor old lady’s lap in the third row and stuff? I don’t think I could do that.”

J2B2 the IV glared at me. “What’s wrong with him? Is he some kind of fruit?”

“He’s sensitive,” I countered defensively. “He has feelings.”

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(The Story So Far: Our hero, having been dragooned by a dreaded aunt into purloining the sacred knitting trophy annexed by a jealous rival when said aunt wasn’t looking, has enlisted the aid of Carolyn Emblehoff, an old girlfriend with some surprising skills. Carolyn has agreed to help but in return she wants Ponsie to pretend he’s married to her so she can discourage a hard-to-discourage ex-boyfriend named Mike McCoy, a wrestler who, it turns out, already has a history with Our Hero. As this week’s episode begins, Ponsie is telling her how it was he who was responsible for turning Mike, previously a tampon salesman, into the fearsome Pukin’ Nuke.)

It was an accident, I tried to explain to Carolyn. I didn’t mean it. It wasn’t even so much an accident as a bad joke that got out of hand. It was one of those times when the Universe hiccups and then coughs up a hairball where no hairball should exist. Not that I mean to call Johnny Jenkins Bellamy-Beauregard the IV a hairball. Not even if that turned out to be what he was.

It was like this: I kind of liked McCoy. If you could get over the fact that he could, if he felt like it, crush your tibia between his toes, you eventually realized that he was a really sweet guy. The type who opened doors for elderly ladies even when they clocked him with their metal canes because they had no particular desire to enter the door through which he then hustled them. The type who would save a puppy from a burning building even if it bit him in the ankle. The type, in short, who believed in Good Deeds the way other people believed in the Dow Jones or the Kinsey Report.

He seemed to like everybody, even his dry cleaner. Hanging out with him was an exercise in loving thy neighbor no matter how obnoxious he – or she- might be. He even liked his landlord despite the fact that the old coot regularly locked Mike out of his apartment for imaginary rule infractions. Playing Barry Manilow, for instance, was strictly forbidden except, for some unexplained reason, on Thursdays, and whistling in the stairwell was good for an instant eviction notice. Mike tried to understand where he was coming from.

“You can see it,” he would muse. “Manilow’s tough. Classical music isn’t everybody’s cup of tea.” Read the rest of this entry »

Once we got all that straightened out and Diego introduced us, we got on fine. I even liked him, the way you might like a big dumb puppy who, yes, blunders around breaking the furniture, but you can tell even while he’s doing it that he means well. As a matter of fact, I was the one who got him into wrestling.

“You?” Carolyn squealed. “Why, that’s wonderful, Ponsie!”

“Why?”

“Because he’s undoubtedly grateful and fond of you and he’ll think you’re worthy and it will all be over. Gad, I’m one lucky broad. Fancy you being his mentor. He must love you.”

“He must, must he?”

“Oodles and oodles.”

I didn’t say anything. There was nothing I could say.

“Doesn’t he?” There was a warning tone in her voice that suggested she was beginning to suspect that all was not quite as chummy between myself and the Puker as it had at first appeared. I wriggled uncomfortably on the seat and pretended I hadn’t heard her. “I’m sorry. What was the question?” Read the rest of this entry »

I had no idea at this point, of course, what had happened. My whole response to the snippet of conversation that had felled Mike like a mighty sequoia after Paul Bunyon got through reading it its rights was “Yuck.” It would never have occurred to me that somebody that big could be knocked for a loop by something that…ordinary. Gross, certainly, but gross in an ordinary, everyday, “Look Ma, there’s wooly bears in the egg cream” sort of way.

I thought he was having a heart attack.

At first I was going to rush over there and apply emergency CPR. Then I came to my senses. I’d have to climb on top of him and jump up and down with both feet to have any effect at all, and if he woke while I was doing it, he’d swat me like a fly.

On the other hand, I couldn’t just let him lay there, could I? Potentially breathing his last honking gasps of air as his life oozed away in the park like melted ice cream from a 2-yr-old’s cone? Could I?

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Carolyn donned a long wooly sweater as she got out of the car, this despite the heat of the day. It hung well below her knees and was so bulky that even on a specimen like her it wasn’t entirely clear which gender was hiding under its lumps and folds.

“You’re punishing me, aren’t you?”

She sniffed. “It’s to protect me from the rats and roaches, since you won’t take me to a reasonable dining establishment.”

I didn’t bother to argue. The 5-star rumbling in my tummy would have done it for me had Carolyn been listening. She wasn’t. She was too busy crinkling her nose at imaginary spots on the table and demanding that someone in authority sandblast the bench she would have to sit on.

“Carolyn,” I said wearily, “you’re making a scene.”

She smiled that ghastly sweet smile again. “Nothing to the one I’ll make when I collapse from breathing the fumes of anthrax that are wafting from whatever is beneath this…seat.”

I groaned. “It’s just a diner, Carolyn, not the pestilential core of a New Jersey landfill.”

She glanced at her surroundings, a nice little chrome-and-wood diner from the age of art deco. “You could have fooled me.” Read the rest of this entry »

If I could have sunk any lower, my butt would have been dragging like the anchor on a sinking ship. Through the pall of gloom that surrounded me like a gang of loan sharks on payday, I sensed rather than saw that I was missing something. There was something there, something just beyond the edge of the waiting scaffold, something that had flown by me like a snake with wings. Then…I had it. “What about the bet?”

“What?”

“You said you lost a bet.”

“Now don’t try to change the subject, Ponsie. I want to know everything. You and Mike. Give, son, or I’ll pull my skirt down.”

I sighed. In this mood, Carolyn was not to be trifled with. She smelled dirt, and with Carolyn, that’s like waving a fat haddock in front of a seal that hasn’t eaten in a month – you will hand it over or suffer a bitten ankle for an appetizer.

In any case, her threat was enough. The thought of being denied the sight of her streamlined thighs for the remainder of this endless drive – the only possible source of pure, guiltless, adolescent joy one could hope to be exposed to (as it were) on this senseless trip up the Amazon in a leaky boat with the nearest crocodile repellent three countries over – was enough to send my reticence into Sleeping Beauty mode for the duration.

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“Yes, that.”

“Not much to tell, really,” she said, closely examining her scimitar-like fingernails for smears of the Braithwaite blood. “It was sort of a bet. I lost.”

“Your bet somebody on something and if you lost you had to marry me?” I regarded her with the objective scientific curiosity for which I am so well known and inquired politely, “Are you insane, Carolyn? Is that your problem? There is a certain trembling around the lower thorax–”

That's a lower thorax?“Never mind my lower thorax,” she snapped. “My lower thorax is none of your business. We will leave my lower thorax out of this, if you don’t mind.”

“Very well, if you insist. You may consider your lower thorax officially extinguished.”

“Thank you.”

“I won’t mention it again.”

“Please don’t.”

“The subject of your lower thorax is closed forever.”

“I’d appreciate that.”

“It’s a very nice lower thorax, though–”

“Ponsie….”

“I’m just saying. I have a right to say you have a nice lower thorax, don’t I, what with our impending nuptials and all? I mean, if I’m going to be your husband, it seems to me that your lower thorax is the very least I may expect to be presented with. As it were.”

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