Tag Archives: squiddy

2.34.a Kick The Can – Becker Style

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(Just a portion of the offerings from Family Feast Day!)

Other than six memorable hours spent helping Mr. Chen locate his lucky fishing lure, he swore he’d left in a rental boat at the bait shop at the lake – the rest of my week flew by in a blur of parking lots, newspapers, sandwiches, and thermoses of coffee. 

Even the Errant Orin encountered in Remembrance Park failed to cause even a flicker of electricity to arc across my toes. (Though unfortunately, that doesn’t mean as much as you’d think – as whizzing past the park at twenty-five mph on my way to pick up Mr. Fernandez, doesn’t provide the most reliable of reads.)

But never fear – things picked up again on Family Feast Day (Friday night) when I showed up at Uncle and Aunt Pearl’s wearing Squiddy (and grinned so hard I think I may have sprained a cheek muscle).

Aunt Pearl, inspired by Squiddy’s magnificence, decided an impromptu themed family photo was in order.

So following dinner (featuring bratwurst, baked beans, corn on the cob and potato salad – in case you’re curious), Aunt Pearl set about bringing her vision to life.

Her theme? International Cat Day.

Digging up from her treasure trove, that’s the envy of packrats everywhere, an array of cat-inspired outfits of varying mustiness. Jesse wore a headband with ears and a tail attached to his belt – leftover accessories from a Rye High’s production of Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. Dylan and Ian sported matching t-shirts embossed with glitter and frolicking kittens – samples she’d whipped up while subbing in a junior high Home Ec. class years ago. With some help from Jesse’s partner Tad and a palette of old Halloween makeup, Dwight got his face painted like Mister Geppetto’s cat Figaro from Pinocchio. And poor Robbie, who by virtue of being the only one who could fit into it without busting a seam, wore the tabby cat onesie. Aunt Pearl uses said onesie to keep her student’s tardiness in check (if you’re late more than three times in two weeks – you must don the onesie for an entire class. Thank heavens for Squiddy. Otherwise I’d have had to shimmy into it!)

Aunt Pearl motivated my reluctant cousins into donning their respective cat costumes by withholding dessert until after the successful execution of her photographic vision. Since she’d gone all out this week, making a dark chocolate cake and homemade raspberry ice-cream, we were moderately motivated to assemble in the back garden and model for her.

Aunt Pearl (waving her hands around in an effort to convey her meaning – which may or may not actually fall in line with her words): “Robbie, stop grimacing and give me a smile! Ian, turn a little to your left so we can see the front of your shirt! Jesse, your ears are crooked, straighten them, please!”

Jesse (hollering back at her): “Mom, if any of my students get ahold of this photo, it will undermine my authority in the classroom!”

Aunt Pearl (scoping us out thru her viewfinder): “Nonsense. This shows you have a sense of humor! Now straighten those ears!”

Jesse (growling good-naturedly at me while readjusting his headband): “If this picture makes it on mom’s holiday card this year….”

Me (finishing his sentence with a giggle): “…then you’ll never fail to consider placing your Black-and-Blue-Becker-Betting-Pool wager on me!”

I could practically feel my cousins roll their eyes in unison.

Aunt Pearl (looking thru her viewfinder): “Perfect! Don’t move! Now channel your inner feline and meow for the camera!”

*Click*Click*Click*

Aunt Pearl, pleased with her tableau, continued her documentation, while I felt several unexpected tugs on Squiddy. 

Me (thru stiff smiling lips): “Robbie, what on earth are you doing? You’re going to pull Squiddy off my head.”

Robbie (voice muffled): “I’m following Brando’s example and embracing my inner feline.”

Me: “What does that even mean?”

Ian (chuckling): “It means he’s nibbling on a tentacle.”

Me (placing one hand on Squiddy and using my other to try and detach my cousin): “Robbie, you brat! Stop that, I don’t want to smell your bad breath every time that arm comes near my face!”

Well, that was precisely the wrong thing to say. 

As one, my cousins turned towards me, each sporting the same impish glint in their eye, eliciting several squawks of aggravation from the direction of Aunt Pearl. Reading their intent – to nibble on and impart their own unique brand of halitosis into Squiddy’s yarned arms – I leaped forward to save my cephalopod friend. Thwarting Dylan’s initial attempt to prevent my escape, I deftly ducked under his bearhug and ran hell for leather across the yard – my cousins hot on my heels.

The boys may be quicker – but I’m craftier.

Plunging into the wilderness Uncle’s never gotten around to taming, I dodged and weaved around tree trunks and bushes, knowing their boughs would both slow the boys down and amplify the dimness of dusk. 

Hearing the closest pair of pursuing feet stumble, I took advantage of the split-second reprieve. Relying on muscle memory, I scrambled up my favorite tree, and into a bolthole, I’d used in my salad days. Though a hair snugger than I remembered, I still managed to secret myself into the heart of the tall tree where all the branches joined. 

Crouching ten feet above the ground, I strained my senses, trying to catch a hint of my cousins’ progress. While I did detect a shape or two moving slowly through the shadows below, I doubt I could have heard an elephant if it wandered on by. As the nieces and nephews – thrilled at watching us act silly and drive our parental unit to distraction – roared with laughter, called out encouragement, and shouted hints to the seekers.

We don’t see her dad! / Check around the shed! / You’ll find her Uncle Robbie! / Try by the rhododendron! / I’m guarding the bell for you guys! / Don’t think you guys are getting out of the family photo that easily!

That last one was Aunt Pearl if you hadn’t guessed. 

It didn’t take a mathematician to figure the odds of me ringing the dinner bell – with five seekers on my tail plus five pint-sized lookouts ready to rat me out – were not good.

However, this wasn’t my first rodeo.

2.33.a Fan-forking-tastic…

(Squiddy is so big I couldn’t fit him in a single frame! So here he is in pieces!)

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine. 

The Brownie Stealing Bench.

Man, I thought Josie Reville pulled an Ingrid Bergman (in Casablanca) and put Rye in her rearview mirror forever. 

Blotting out the riptide of after-images threatening to suck me under (Ogden Nash Middle School’s cafeteria, cotton candy pink nails against the rich brown of the pilfered brownie, Mrs. Sable’s index finger wagging in front of my nose). I used the split second before Josie descended on us to warn Leo instead.

Me (in a low tone): “No matter what, ignore her jibes and keep your answers short.”

Leo (arching an eyebrow): “Okay, Boss.”

Josie: I thought it was you when you walk in, but the tie and the tailored suit and all that black threw me! But when you pull that hat on, I knew! You’re the only person I know fearless enough to wear something that makes you look like a long lost cousin of the Coneheads!

Now you might be wondering: How do you deal with a Brownie Stealing Bench who holds Iago, Don John, and Lady Tremaine (Cinderella’s evil stepmother) in high esteem. Without spiraling into bad manners, worse language, and a series of rude gestures.

Well, over the six years of our enforced association, otherwise known as school, I fine-tuned three simple techniques to move along any conversation without descending into the aforementioned churlish behavior. Fun Fact: Pointing out the backhanded nature of her ‘compliments’ will invariably lead to a derisive laugh, hair flip, and assurances you merely ‘misunderstood’ her remark – and you end up giving her the bird anyways. 

Technique One: kill her with kindness. Slather on a smile and praise her on whatever triumph she will inevitably boast about during your chat. Helpful Hint: Taking the technique’s name literally gives school officials all the wrong ideas. So avoid naming any nearby fork, knife, pen, pencil, scissors, or other stabby object Kindness and brandishing it.

Gambit Number Two: the one I’d advised Leo to take, employ selective hearing. Simply stop listening after the superficial compliment is delivered. Warning! Sticking your fingers in your ears and humming a little ditty to block out the predestined dig is not recommended.

Third (and often the best option of the lot): take it on the chin. Deprived of a visible and/or volatile reaction, she’ll get bored and move onto more fertile ground. Originally called playing possum. This option was revised after pretending to croak every time Josie entered my sphere resulted in another month of mandatory sessions with the school counselor and Aunt Pearl despairing over dinner about my sense of humor. Uncle, however, bought me an ice-cream cone, took me for a walk in Nevermore, and helped me refine my methods.  

Taking a deep breath – deciding on a twofer – I plastered on a nearly genuine smile and tilted my chin towards her.

Me: “Well, Dan Ackroyd is a comedy legend. What brings you back to Rye Josie? Vacation?”

Please be a short one.

Josie (modesty): “Work, actually. Western Regional Bank appointed me as their Chief Lending Officer, and since corporate is headquartered in Rye, I moved back home.”

Me: “Congrats.”

Drat.

Josie (beaming): “You too! I heard you got a new job as well! I think FLYT’s a perfect fit for you. I know how much you love taking the Piggy Bank out for a spin.”

Dear lords above and below, I’d forgotten her nickname for the Princess.

Leo (the beer bottle hovering halfway to his lips): “Piggy Bank?”

Swiping my own and thankfully alcoholic drink off the table, I took a deep draw and waited for Josie to deliver the punchline.

Josie (letting out a merry laugh): “Phoebe’s car and a piggy bank are both pink, adorable, and when you smash them – worth the same amount.”

Man, I’d have been happy never to see the whites of her eyes again.

Leo shot me an apologetic look over the top of his brown bottle.

Josie (giving Leo a sweet smile): “Forgive my rudeness, Phoebe, and I have known each other forever! Hi, I’m Josie Reville.”

Leo: “Leo Wasinski.”

During Josie’s introductions, she held out her hand for Leo to shake – Leo picked up his beer instead. Josie, ignoring the slight, dropped her hand and plucked a pretzel out of our bowl instead.

Josie (eyes wide): “Nice to meet you!… Oh, wait, I’m not interrupting a date. Am I?”

Leo (ruminatively): “Not tonight…”

Me (pointing at my head): “He’s delivering my special-order.”

Josie (rewarding Leo with a dazzling smile): “Oh good. Monday’s not traditionally a hot date night, but Phoebe’s always marched to the beat of her own drummer, so I wasn’t sure.”

Regrettably, my remark recentered Josie’s awareness squarely on Squiddy again. Invading my personal bubble, Josie leaned in and rubbed one of Squiddy’s arms between her fingers. 

I managed to restrain myself from swatting her hand away – but only just.

Josie (looking thoughtful): “Though not my style, the craftsmanship of Phoebe’s….hat is excellent. Do you often take commissions?”

Distracted by Ruth, who delivered another two beers to the table (and reassured us our wings were only moments away), the question popped unbidden from my mouth.

Me (smiling my thanks to Ruth): “Why need help channeling your inner viper this Halloween?”

2.32 Brevity Is The Soul Of Wit…

2.32 Berevity is the Soul of whit

For the second time today, I managed to snag my favorite seat in an eatery. Only this time, my backside rested against the vinyl seat of the best booth in my favorite dive in all of Rye. 

Taking in a lung full of the wonderful smells emanating from the kitchen of the Rusty Hinge, my stomach reminded my mind the early lunch with Mrs. Lebondowsky was now a distant memory — gastronomically speaking. As today was Pie Day, or what the unenlightened call Monday, the sweet scent of apple and pumpkin spice swirled through the entire joint and proved impossible to resist. 

Ordering a cup of coffee and a slice of pumpkin, I basked in the warm glow of the neon beer signs and the musical lures of the surrounding pinball machines for a few minutes (in point of fact, I was borderline giddy at being anywhere but inside the Lavender Lady this evening). 

Tossing my chauffeur’s cap on the red vinyl stretching out next to me, I stopped reveling and took advantage of the forty minutes I’d stitched into my day. (Rather than heading home to change out of my uniform after my shift, I motored straight to the Rusty Hinge.)

Extracting my phone from my pack, I entered my code, tapped my recently dialed icon, chose the third number from the top, and dialed. Whilst listening to the ringing on the line, I pulled a pack of index cards and a pen out of my bag, then hung up a split second after the anticipated and ear grating first note of the out-of-service recording started playing.

Setting my phone aside, I slit open the pack of cards with my thumbnail, removed one, and started writing the message Mrs. Lebondowsky and I had crafted together over teriyaki.

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Just enough information to hopefully pique his interest and pithy enough to catch the eye. 

I’d managed to work my way thru a third of the pack, two cups of coffee, and my generous piece of pie before Leo joined me.

Leo (taking off his coat): “Hey boss, studying for an exam?”

Me: “Nope. Just part of my highly strategic plan to find Big Ben.”

Leo (flipping over and reading the top card of the completed stack): “Highly strategic? Wait, is this your real number?”

Me (finishing off the card I was working on): “No, I bought a burner phone…”

My explanation trailed off when Ruth, who’d apparently been keeping an eye out, popped by to take our order. Two local beers, three baskets of wings coated in tongue scorching sauces to split between us (maple-chipotle, sour-cherry habanero & lime, and gochujang-barbecue). 

We’d shared wings once or twice before. 

After Ruth moseyed out of earshot, Leo and I started speaking at the same time – I let him go first. So while I stowed my project away in my pack, he gingerly extracted a puffy plastic sack from his knitting bag.

Leo: “So what’s the grand plan?”

Me: “I know someone who knows someone who knows someone else, who put me in touch with a citizen of Silver City, and they’ve agreed to help us find Big Ben.” 

No need to out Mrs. Lebondowsky as my source and Tavi Blume as my Silver City Operative. 

(BTW – Tavi is an absolute stitch. As an avid reader of vintage gumshoe detective novels, Dashiell Hammett, in particular. Tavi admitted to yearning for an excuse to abscond with her husband’s fedora. Combine this craving with week four (of nine) of her vacation? Tavi was absolutely thrilled to help us track Big Ben down – after we explained the who, the what and the why behind our inquiry.

The fact our favor also allowed her to evade cleaning her classroom’s beakers, test tubes and graduated cylinders for another week might also have enlivened her enthusiasm for the endeavor. 

Her one condition? I refer to her as my Silver City Operative.)

Leo: “Sounds, Byzantine.”

Me (leaning back against the seat): “Not really, it essentially boils down to my Operative papering Silver City with this message. Plus, the personal ads, I’m placing in the two local papers and the University’s.”

Leo (arching an eyebrow): “Your Operative?”

Me (grinning): “My Silver City Operative to be specific, we decided code names made it more fun, I’m Ms. Pinkerton…Is that my hat?”

Leo (his eyes twinkling and holding it up): “What do you think?” 

Me (reaching for it): “It’s perfect!”

Remember when my five cousins and their significant others all failed to place a bet on me in the Black-And-Blue-Becker-Betting-Pool?

Well, I decided to commemorate their insulting lack of faith in my ability to ruin one of Aunt Pearl’s mortifying family photos with an exceptional hat. A chapeau so extraordinary unforgettable none of my cousins will neglect to consider placing a wager on me again!

So what one-of-a-kind confection did I commission Leo to crochet for me? 

Squiddy! 

The giant land squid concocted on the Island of Dr. Cousteau that I claimed dyed me purple the night I showed up on Uncle and Aunt Pearl’s doorstep covered in a bruise of epic proportions. 

Me (pulling it on, I laughed as Squiddy’s arms tickled my ears): “It fits perfectly! I love it! Thank you!”

A genteel voice called out: Phoebe? Phoebe Arden, is that you? 

Well crap, where’d she come from?

2.04 The Black-And-Blue-Becker-Betting-Pool

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Familiar Voice One: “Did you pick her?”

Click.

Familiar Voice Two: “Not sure I remember who I put my money on. Its’ been over a year since the last payout.”

Click. Click. Click.

Familiar Voice Three: “Someone’s going to get paid! She’s the dark horse.”

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.

Familiar Voice Four: “Can’t wait until Dylan gets here, and Dad opens the envelope.”

Click. Click. Click. Click.

Me (cracking my left eye open just a slit): “You are going to wear out the shutter on that camera.”

Robbie (unrepentant): “Morticia! Did we wake you?”

My cousins (in descending order Jesse, Dylan, Ian, Dwight, and Robbie) agree with Wood that the nickname Morticia fits me better than my given one of Phoebe.

Me (staring blearily up at four out of five of my cousins crowding around the bed): “Yes. What are you guys doing here? And why is Dylan on his way?”

Jesse (continuing to snap pictures of me): “Mom texted everyone that the Black-and-Blue-Becker-Betting-Pool was paying out today!” 

Fantastic.

The Black And Blue Becker Betting Pool is one of our clan’s seriously cracked institutions, inspired by Aunt Pearl and observed by my cousins, their spouses, and me. 

On Thanksgiving Day six years ago, while arranging us in that year’s woodland-inspired family photo, Aunt Pearl let out a gusty sigh and thanked us for finally giving her her-heart’s-desire. We were baffled. None of us had any announcements pertaining to grandkids, promotions, or winning a marathon. So what did we give her? Besides each of us wearing (with minimal grousing) a sweater sporting a cuddly woodland creature on its chest? (At least she’d given up making us dress up as the woodland creatures. I feel sorry for my nieces and nephews.) 

The Answer: A group photo unmarred by bruises, gauze, or plaster-encased limbs.

(Personally, I don’t believe the addition of crutches, slings, or the occasional brace really detracts from these tableaus of mortification she insists on and includes in her annual Christmas letters – but I digress.)

My cousins and I thought her claim pure exaggeration. During dinner, we went round and round with Aunt Pearl, until in a fit of exasperation, she pulled out every photo album in the house (there were a dauntingly large number of them) and challenged us to find single unblemished holiday, any holiday would due, photo. Which, much to my Aunt’s disgust (and due to her excellent pie, Uncle’s smooth bourbon and the overall level of tryptophan), evolved into a bout of reminiscing over all the stupid shirt we did which unintentionally mucked up Aunt Pearl’s carefully planned and themed snapshots. 

Idle speculation from Jesse’s partner Tad compounded her indignation when he wondered who’d be the next one to mess up a family photo. The question caused instantaneous Bedlam when we all pointed at each other and loudly declared why our chosen-one would be “The One” to complete the deed. 

Then Dwight came up with a brilliant idea. 

To prove who guessed correctly and therefore won – we’d write our predictions down, put them in an envelope, seal it up and wait until one of us showed for a holiday sporting a cane, band-aid, or splint. To make things interesting, each of us stuck in a hundred bucks in, thus establishing the Black And Blue Becker Betting Pool (in case you’re curious, Dylan triggered the first payout by showing up the following Easter with his left arm encased in a cast).

The crucial detail here? You must be present to win.

It doesn’t seem like Aunt Pearl totally bought whatever Wood’s explanation was last night – so she called in the cavalry. 

Me (struggling to untangle myself from the blankets): “But Chinese New Year isn’t until next week.”

Uncle refuses to celebrate New Year’s Eve or Day, claiming seven days isn’t enough time to recover from his Christmas hangover. (I think he got tired of the squabbling over who had to don Baby New Years’ diaper for the photo.) So we now celebrate Chinese New Year with our neighbors, the Lu’s, instead (much to everyone’s satisfaction). 

Ian (drily): “You think that shiner will be gone by then?” 

Me (mumbling): “Maybe if I put a steak on it?”

Finally prevailing over the blankets and stiff muscles I sat up, the collective hiss from the four boys cut off the rest of my reply. Jesse even stopped snapping pictures (we record every injury responsible for a payout, it’s not as weird as it sounds). Looking down, I realized the scoop neck tank I wore to bed last night gave them a fair idea of the sheer square footage my bruise covered.

Dwight (recovering first): “You’re going to need an entire cow to cover that sucker.”

Robbie (sarcasm dripping off his words): “What happened? Purple hair too passé now? Decided to dye your skin instead?” 

Me (rolling my eyes): “No. A colossal land squid engineered on the Island of Doctor Cousteau attacked me! The Doctor set the enormous invertebrate on my trail after I uncovered his dastardly plan to steal Rye’s entire water reservoir to create an aquatic inland base. Of course, I foiled Cousteau’s evil agenda, but not before he told Squiddy to ink me! Fighting him is how I got banged up and dyed.”

Several beats past while my cousins considered the merits of my explanation.

Jesse (laughing): “The use of a historical figure, a cephalopod, and transforming a classic science fiction story to suit was inspired! Nine out of ten stars!”

Aunt Pearl may have called in the calvary – but we’ve hurt ourselves enough over the years that we don’t fess up to how it actually happened – because it’s usually really dull. Walked into a bulldozer while texting. Tripped on our own shoelace, dog, or second base. Got punched in the eye by a three-year-old. None of these make good stories. So unless we lose consciousness or hospitalization occurs, we don’t fess up to how a payout worthy injury actually occurs.

That being said, I was pushing the limits of the acceptable non-disclosure range of injuries. 

Which explains my cousin’s current close quarters hovering.

Me (smiling): “Only nine? Well, then I’m not going to lift up my shirt so you can record the magnificence of Squiddy’s inking!”

This was met with a chorus of boos and laughter.