Saturday, August 27, 2016

Chicken Every Saturday

© By Jack Bogut

            It was very apparent she was upset!
Her bottle-bottom glasses magnified the anger in her eyes.
In her wildest dreams she could not imagine such a thing. She had been violated. No one ever changed a contract or altered a handshake agreement with Mabel Clift just for convenience or profit. No one she respected anyway. But this man was doing it to her and she was livid!
            The reason she was so upset was that it complicated things. Life was simple for Mabel and her husband, Frank: Be careful what you promise; do what you say you will do; and always give more than people expect. They were as good as their word, generous to a fault and dependable beyond belief. That’s why this came as such a shock.
            When he was in his twenties, Frank had a heart attack that was severe enough for the Railroad to give him early retirement and a lifetime disability pension. He counted his blessings because he felt good enough to live a full and active life and had the money to do it—as if he had any choice, being married to Mabel.
            Frank remembered her telling him they weren’t going to just sit around and spend his pension, they were going into the chicken business.
            “Chicken business? What the hell do we know about chickens?” Frank asked, knowing full well that Mabel would take exception to his language.
            “We know people eat them!” Mabel said. “And don’t talk like that. Somebody might hear you and think I married a ruffian.”
            “Why chickens?”
            “Because chickens are the perfect business for us. We can hatch and raise them together and, when the time comes, you can dispatch and clean them, and I’ll take them to town and sell them. We’ll make an honest living and earn our place on this planet.” Mabel said. And that was that. From that point forward they were chicken farmers.
            They really did raise the best chickens in the county, and Mabel sold them for a premium price to the biggest butcher shop in the city.
            This went on for years until the day the butcher told Mabel he was going to have to pay her ten cents a pound less.
            “Why in the world would you do that? Are you going to lower your prices? Are you going to charge less for my chickens?” Mabel asked.
            “Nope. I don’t have to charge less. My customers will pay the same price they always have. I just need a little more profit for buying all your chickens. I’m really doing you a favor. There is no other butcher in town that will pay your prices. Besides, I can buy good chickens from other suppliers for less money and the customer won’t know the difference.”
            “But you know these are premium quality birds.” Mabel protested. “There’s not a pinfeather on them. They’re clean as a whistle. Why, there are no finer… “ Her voice trailed off into a whisper as her anger mounted.
            “Well, there’s no need to argue about it, Mabel. That’s it. Take it or leave it!” The Butcher said, smiling, knowing that he had painted her into a corner.
            Mabel thought about his offer for just a fraction of a second.
            “Well, yes. You are absolutely right. That’s it then. Thank you very much and goodbye.” She said as she spun on one heel and headed for the door.
            “We have a deal then?” The Butcher asked.
            “Over my dead body!” Mabel answered, politely, but with a definite edge to her voice.
            “You’ll be back.” He called confidently after her. “You don’t have any choice, Mabel. Besides, it’s only ten cents a pound less. Where else ya’ gonna’ sell ‘em?”
            Little did he know.
            Mabel was always a very social and likeable person. Sometimes after selling her chickens to the Butcher, she liked to stand around and talk to his customers, particularly the people who told her they came in just to buy her chickens. She even remembered some of the names of these customers, looked them up in the phone book and called them. She offered to deliver her fresh chickens right to their door every Saturday at the same price they used to pay at the Butcher Shop. It wouldn’t cost them a penny more and she could start as soon as tomorrow. They would never have to make another trip to the butcher shop again if they didn’t want to. And to a person, they all said yes.
            After a couple weeks of delivering door to door, Mabel asked her new customers if they had any friends who might like her chickens delivered to their door and before long, Mabel had enough of the Butcher’s old customers that he wrote her a very unfriendly letter, which she chose not to answer. Then he wrote her a very friendly letter and offered her old price back. She ignored that letter too. Then he sent another letter offering her a few cents more money than he was paying before. Mabel smiled as she dropped that one in the wastebasket.
            About a month later, Mabel went out of her way and deliberately drove by the store with her load of chickens. The Butcher recognized her car and waved frantically as she drove slowly by. He shouted as she passed:
            “Mabel, Mabel, pull over. We need to talk…! ”
            She slowed to a maddening crawl but never quite came to a stop as he trotted along her rear fender, out of breath, panting and perspiring, shouting at her through the open passenger-side window. When she smiled at him in the side-mirror and abruptly sped away, he looked like he was going to either cry or suck his thumb. When Mabel merrily tooted her horn and waved in the rear view mirror, the butcher jumped up in the air one time and waved his fist.
            Mabel Clift delivered premium quality, fresh, chickens to her customers for more than 25 years, and she never spoke to the Butcher again. She did honk when she drove by his store. Every time. He didn’t even have to look up, he knew who it was when he heard the horn.
            And if Mabel saw the butcher in person, she always smiled and waved.

            He never did.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

"The Pipe and the Pendulum"
© By Jack Bogut

            It had been a tough week.  Life in the city can be tough every week. In rural areas and small towns, people are happy to see each other most of the time.  They're even happy to see strangers.  That's because everyone has their own space.  It may not be much to look at or worth too much on the open market, but each person has their own place to be. 
TO BE: unfettered, all by yourself or with others, dressed up or undressed, cheerful or surly, busy or lazy, on time or late, brilliant or stupid, but with enough of your own, non-competitive space to be whoever you are at the moment with just enough loneliness thrown in the mix to make you happy to see other people, even unexpectedly.  This is something taken for granted in small towns but sometimes impossible to get in the city.
            He had been competing all week, for everything.  He vied for space in traffic, wore out tires and patience circling in parking garages.  Then he worried all day about someone stealing or breaking into his car.  He waited in reception rooms for his chance to sell something one of his competitors was trying to sell first.  He waged a contest against his peers for promotions and advancement.  He even had to line up to get something to eat.  Things weren't all bad.  This was just the way it was.
            As he turned up his driveway, the weekend task of trying to make his yard look at least as good as the houses around him stared him in the face. (He suspected that all his neighbors had relatives in the landscape contracting business who worked in their yards in the middle of the night so they could deny they had outside help.) He shut the garage door in a hurry and escaped into the house.
            At that point, all he really wanted was a martini from the pitcher in the freezer, some Friday night pot roast (cooked all day and so tender he wouldn't even have to chew it), a hot shower, maybe a little TV and a good night’s sleep so he could get up and compete with the crabgrass, burdock, chickweed, dandelions, grubs and moles for possession of his yard.
            Life seemed to ease up a bit as he took off his suit and tie.  He grabbed his sweats and proceeded to look grubby enough to make the statement that he was home and safe!  And that's when things started going not so well.
            The pitcher of martinis had meat juice in it. 
His wife had stopped at the school on her way back from the market and the pot roast had gotten warm in the car. When she got home the juice was running out of the package so she had put the whole thing in the freezer with the leaky end right over the pitcher.
            The Swiss steak on the evening menu had only cooked for half-an-hour and was like canvas - a sneaker with gravy on it.  The only things missing were the shoelaces.  Two of the four kids had report cards that merited a death sentence, the family dog had bitten the tire on a moving car and was walking with his head tilted to one side, drooling all over everything. He felt like going into the closet and standing there until Monday, but that was where the hamsters lived.  So, he put both hands on the edge of the counter, leaned until his elbows locked and let all the air out of his lungs.
            "Have a bad day, honey?" His wife asked. 
            He was so busy chewing on his lower lip he couldn't answer.  She took that as an unwillingness to communicate and whispered in a voice that could have cracked plaster,
            "Well, mine hasn't been so HOT either!"
            Aaaaah.  That was the word!   HOT!  A hot shower. He could hide in there.  A hot shower, a little TV, fall asleep and die until morning.
            He undressed like a Ginkgo tree shedding its' leaves in the fall, dropping his laundry in a pile around his ankles. Everything but his underwear.  He just had the water temperature adjusted in the shower when he heard that plaster cracking voice from the kitchen.
            "The sink is plugged up!"
            "I'll fix it in the morning," he shouted back.
            "Then you'll do the dishes at the same time because I'm ready now."
            So he closed his eyes, grabbed his bathrobe and put it on, only to discover it was fingertip length.  The sleeves hit him at the elbow.  Then he caught his reflection in the mirror on the dresser.  Sure.  This was the robe that looked like an Indian blanket with a rope that tied around the middle, the one that belonged to his twelve year old son, the child who never liked to wear anything that was his own.  Well, what the hell.  Only family members in the house anyway.  And if he kept his arms down and the rope tied....
            When he got to the kitchen, Mrs. America handed him the plunger, spun on her heel and left him alone with a sink full of dead suds and dirty dishes.        He reached down into the opaque water, felt for the drain, put the rubber cup over it, pushed down, and the sound echoed through the house:
Kachung, foop, kachung, foop, kachung, foop. 
He pulled the plunger out of the water and the sink belched on him.  One of the kids in the doorway volunteered, "Yuk, poooey, Dad!"  And left before pleasantries could be exchanged.
            "What the ---- did you put down this sink?" He shouted.
              Dead silence!
              He could have been living in a funeral parlor; there apparently was not a live human being left in the house.
            Kachung, foop, kachung, foop.  Nothing.  The trouble must be in the elbow under the sink. 
            "Honey, where is my pipe wrench. I can't do anything without my pipe wrench.  If I don't have my pipe wrench this'll have to wait until morning.  I tried!”
            "It's on the cupboard," came a sweet sounding voice from somewhere the house.
            Sure enough.  There it was, dammit.  So he got down on his hands and knees and went to work loosening the elbow. 
(Have you ever reached high over your head while wearing a shirt or a jacket?  You know how it rides up?).
            He put a plastic bucket under the gooseneck to catch any spills, only to discover it was impossible to use the pipe wrench inside the bucket.  Besides, it was too dark to see under the sink and difficult to rest his elbows because of all the bottles of stuff on the floor.  Maybe that's why he wasn't aware of what his position had done to his son’s too-short bathrobe.
            Now you have to understand, that old tom cat had been in the family for years and had never, never even come close to sticking a claw in a human.  It had never scratched, bitten or abused anything.  Not even a mouse.  It was the friendliest, most lovable, affectionate cat in the world.  It would never, under any circumstances put its claws in a person.  Period!  However...
            The kids had tantalized and played with that cat by dangling ball of yarn on a string in front of him, waving it back and forth, and letting him take swipes at it like a punching bag, claws out about four inches.  The feline thought he was Sugar Ray Tiger and would take a swipe at anything that resembled a pendulum.
            That's why, when it ambled through the kitchen and took one look at the scene at the sink, the cat thought it was his favorite game.  And maybe it was because he was just getting old or his eyesight was failing that he missed the target the first few times. 
            The reluctant plumber worked under the sink, totally unaware of the cat's presence.  He didn't even feel the wind from all the missed blows as the cat swung from its heels again and again.  Finally, both of them gave a massive effort at the same time.  The elbow in the drain pipe came off and water gushed down through the pipe just as the four inch claws on the family Saber- tooth found the waving target.
The extremely tender, personal, target!
The house was filled with three primeval sounds: A human scream, a muffled "Clonk" and a startled "MEEOOUUUW."
            When his wife ran in and found him he was out cold in a puddle of suds.  The cat was under a bed somewhere and the kids were struck dumb, their eyes as big as doughnuts, watching from the doorway.
            The house was on the high side of the street with steep steps leading up to the door.  When the ambulance arrived, the paramedics came in, loaded the man on the stretcher and asked what happened.  When his wife told them they started laughing so hard they dropped him off the stretcher and skinned his elbow. 

            Life's a war sometimes.