Gordon Pickles’ Lunch

Gordon Pickles’ lunch–a ham sandwich and not much else–glared at the man with open and aggressive disdain that can only germinate over time from disappointment, disgust and despair.

“What the hell are you looking at?” clamored Gordon, nettled, but also vaguely menaced, holding his sandwich at arm’s length.

Of course, we all know that in general, most lunches don’t bother making reply to churlish feeders, but this déjeuner, in particular, had had enough.

“What am I looking at?” it growled back at Gordon Pickles, not to be intimidated. “You bet I’ll tell you what I’m looking at. I’m looking at a chawbacon slob who, first, has no self-respect for his own digestive system; second, has no notion at all what a real ham sandwich is; and third, pretends that it’s even food.”

Shocked at this sudden outburst, Gordon blurted, “What’s wrong with it?”

“What’s wrong with it? You think I’m delighted looking, not to mention feeling, like a scanty scallop of palmitic acid au naturel tossed between two pieces of hebetudinous bleached bread?”

“Stop using fancy words I don’t understand,” whined Gordon.

“Then stop insulting me by having no self-respect for what you prepare, pretending it’s food, then demanding what the hell I’m looking at! And, while I’m at it, what about how you’re denigrating the hapless pig who’s sacrificed its very life to sustain you? Have you no shame at all?”

Thus abased, Gordon Pickles changed his vile ways, fixed lunches thenceforth fit for a king, and got no more carping sass from his damn lunch.

Steve Pulley © 2019
11/21/2019

gordonpickleslunch

Note: Just so readers know, these are the ingredients of the ham sandwiches I prepare for lunch:

2 slices of toasted 7- or 12-grain wheat bread
oleo or real butter slathered on the lower slice of bread
mayo, hummus or guacamole on the upper slice
1 slice of Jalsberg cheese (kind of a Swiss cheese)
1 slice of uncured Black Forest ham (sans nitrates and nitrites)
1 glob* of horseradish
1 glob* of spicy mustard
1 glob* of salsa
*(a glob can be any size that appeals to you; mine is usually teaspoon size or a bit less)
4 thin slices of jalapeño
1 or 2 slices of bell pepper (red, yellow, gold)
2 to 4 slices of tomato
a bit of freshly ground pepper
2 slices of kosher dill pickle
green leaf lettuce
1 sharp knife to cut the sandwich in half
2 or more toothpicks to hold the behemoth together
1 side order of tortilla chips
1 glass of water or juice
1 novel and/or crossword puzzle book (not advised if you are eating with family or friends)

Posted in Stories | 2 Comments

The Raptures of Backscratching

rapturesofbackscratchingAs one grows older, there’s a tendency toward acquiring generally undesirable peculiarities in one’s constitution, as well as mien, which may or may not bedevil oneself, not to mention bedevil those associated with said oneself. These may be in the form of irritable bowels, crochety opinions, forgetting to bathe frequently, urinating on toilet seats (bad aim, not in any way intentional), breaking wind in public (purely unintentional and, all the same, uncontrollable), incessantly repeating old and well-worn stories from one’s past, or even someone else’s past, mistaking the respective order of buttons to button holes, purchasing groceries that one already has in abundance in one’s larder, subscribing to all nature of magazines one has no intention of reading afterwards, accumulating junk in one’s garage which only a recycler might find use for, championing causes about which one, in all honesty, has not an iota of understanding, and the like.

Take for instance, itchy back.

I can’t speak for the general public, of course, but I, for one, can and do suffer incessantly from Itchy Back Syndrome, and I expect you already well know that that pretty much tops the list of human torture. I don’t wish that upon anyone, trust me, except maybe for all and sundry arch enemies, and perhaps a few misbegotten relatives, not to mention a vicious dog or two I know…God forgive me. I didn’t always have Itchy Back Syndrome. As a boy I recall fairly wallowing in any and everything considered itchable without effect, but over the years it has gradually taken precedence over all other infirmities, frailties, maladies and valetudinarianisms that flesh is heir to. Balsams, cerates, salves, unguents, unctions, ointments, holy oil, poultices, incantations, ardent prayer…none have any lasting effect upon chronic Itchy Back Syndrome (aka IBS among the acronym-hoarding herd, and pronounced “ibs”, as in, e.g.: “I got the ibs, dammit, and colloidal oat extracts just ain’t doing it for me”).

I know of only two instruments that offer instant relief, as well as a bit of deliciously painful ecstasy that only a masochist and any itch-infested mammal might appreciate, to wit: Fingers and backscratchers.

What could be more sublime than extended claws, fingernails, a fork, the tines of a backscratcher (be these of wood, whalebone, tortoiseshell, horn, cane, bamboo, ivory, baleen, or narwhal tusks–even a garden rake for the truly desperate–applied either lightly or vigorously to the dorsal surface of oneself or a loved one?

It has been theorized by some scientists, and not just a few theologians, that the original establishment of the family unit came into being back in the mists of time when it was discovered that family compatibility rested solely upon the ability to share one’s scratchy appendages upon the spines of our itchy fellow kith and kin.

My father, an amiable sort with a dry sense of humor, once shared with me an anecdotal story of his childhood, which I would like to pass on to readers as a source of inspiration for others, and perhaps change the attitude of those who might pooh-pooh the above as the mere ravings of a scurfy lunatic:

Back in the late teens/early second decade of the twentieth century, the Pulley family lived in the city of Denver, Colorado. According to my father, the family although poor, was not destitute, but could rarely afford many of the usual outside pastimes of the day, and so they often made do with the resources at hand. Among these, naturally, was familial backscratching. Allow me to explain:

My grandfather, my grandmother, my father, Uncle George, Aunt Lois, and Aunt Bernie would gather in the living room and form a circle, each facing the back of the family member in front of them. Then, as something that to outsiders might appear to be the pagan ritual of an eldritch Pacific island tribe, they would begin to move forward slowly at first, following close behind whomever happened to be parading in front…stretch out their respective arms and begin to scratch the respective back of the person directly before them. This was followed by an escalated tempo of unorchestrated dance steps resembling something between a rumba and a conga, accompanied with grunts, growls, squeals, and cries of ecstasy, along with solemn oaths of fealty to the Pulley tribe, come what may. The family dog, a gimpy German Shepard, insisted on squeezing into the circle and joining the festivities. Needless to say, they were a rummy lot.

Years later, when my father was in his early nineties and pretty much the sole survivor of his generation of Pulleys, the two of us lived together in the home where I’d grown up. There we would look after one another and enjoy each other’s company, activities, and one another’s peculiar humor. And from time to time he would beckon, turn his back to me and command, “Laddie, lower your claws.” I would then oblige by scratching his back with filial vigor, to which he would reciprocate with transports of rapture and delight, holloing, “Take the money!”

Steve Pulley © 2019
11/15/2019

Posted in Anecdotes | 4 Comments

Wisdom Teeth

I often wonder why wisdom teeth are called wisdom teeth, since I can never figure out what is so wise about their existence in the first place, rarely appearing at all before one is an adult. Presumably it’s because at that age we’re supposed to be wiser—a patent fallacy, of course—though I see no exceptional wisdom at all in the appearance of impacted wisdom teeth. To wit, the following experience:

In early June of 1969, after I’d been living in the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia, for scarcely eight months (which would subsequently extend over a period of twenty years), third molars on either side of my lower jaw made themselves painfully present. It was clear to me that they were not going to go away of their own volition, and so I made an appointment to see my first Bolivian dentist—one recommended to me by a friend—a doctora Alicia Quiroga, DDS. By phone, I explained to doctora Quiroga in my still spotty gringo-ized Spanish my growing discomfort, now near wailing-point for attention. She expressed warm sympathy, which I could feel even over the phone, and invited me to pay her a visit the very next afternoon at her office so she could take a look.

For most of you, I imagine you would expect to arrive at a dentist office and find yourself initially in a cozy waiting room, perhaps with soothing background music, a half dozen chairs, some of these occupied by perhaps three or four other mournful souls awaiting their turn at the drill. In doctora Quiroga’s waiting room, however, there were a minimum of fifteen chairs, all but one—mine—occupied by a fluttery flock of frolicking Catholic nuns! I’m not sure if they were Franciscans, but if so—and to carry the alliteration to a disgraceful extreme—I would guess that might have made them a fluttery flock of frolicking Franciscan sisters!

Nonetheless, whatever their Orders, the nuns, evidently as impressed to see me, the solitary male in the establishment, as I to them, turned their attentions to titter instead at my unexpected arrival. I, scarcely recovering, managed to bade them a “muy buenos días”, to which they, pressing fore and middle fingers to lips, settled down, bowed slightly, and reciprocated in kind. Feeling altogether uncertain I was in the right office, or that I’d somehow been punked (this long before the expression “punked” had been coined), I then tentatively inquired, “Disculpe, ¿pero es ésta de hecho la oficina de la doctora Quiroga?” They all nodded, smiling: “Sí, señor, efectivamente lo es.” “¿La dentista?” I further inquired. Again, they nodded in unison, several of them giggling helplessly. I nodded, and slowly sank into the sole unoccupied chair in the waiting room, wondering at what hour of the day or night it might finally be my turn to be attended.

Barely a half dozen minutes had transpired, however, when an interior door swung opened, through which passed yet another nun, accompanied by a lovely woman dressed in white tunic, quite obviously doctora Alicia Quiroga, my dentist-to-be. All the other nuns came to their feet, greeted her effusively and, together with their companion, bade her goodbye and proceeded to file out of the the office, each nodding to me with an amused smile, leaving me the sole patient in the room. It then dawned on me that they were only there to animate their companion in her moment of dental woe.

Doctora Quiroga then turned to me with a warm smile. “¿Señor Pulley? Mucho gusto, y bienvenido. Pase, por favor.

After gathering a bit of information about me and about my problem, she got down to business and determined after a couple of x-rays that I had, in fact, two impacted wisdom teeth—that is, these were growing out horizontally rather than vertically—and definitely needed to be extracted. She said she could remove one of them now, if I liked, and the other at a later date, after I’d re-girded my loins, so to speak, for another go.

With unfeigned sympathy for my pain, together with several healthy doses of procaine hydro-chloride, she got me through the ordeal. She apologized for the length of time it took her to extract the molar, but she wanted to avoid at all costs breaking sections of my jaw bone which might come back to haunt me later, which required from her a greater degree of careful and delicate extraction. At one point I was shivering uncontrollably such with nerves that she paused her work to tranquilize me, presumably with Demerol, to help calm me down. By then, she, as well as I, was sniffling, cooing her regret over the state I was in. When it was all over, I thanked her, paid her, and we parted in tears.

Imagine, both patient and dentist weeping together. It was a Hallmark moment.

I don’t know for sure, but had I not already been betrothed come November to another even more remarkable woman, I think perhaps I might have fallen to one knee and proposed to Doctora Quiroga right then and there.

A day later, I looked like a chipmunk with a walnut in my right cheek.

wisdomteeth
Me in June 1969
                            Steve Pulley © 2019
                                 11/11/2019
Posted in Anecdotes | 4 Comments

Curmudgeons at Play

curmudgeonsatplayYou know, of course, how it is with us curmudgeons at play: the urge to yodel off key (on purpose) in public places, for better or worse, snip at dogs and growl at pampered children in parks and their harried mothers, rail at policemen, local officials and grocers, pontificate at barbers, librarians, car mechanics, and the medical profession in general, whether or not they’re doing a good job…in other words, the usual horseplay at someone else’s expense just to while away the time before we finally drop dead and give a little respite to those who’ve suffered our slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, real or imagined.

And just in case you don’t know, a curmudgeon is by definition “a crusty irascible cantankerous old person full of stubborn ideas.” Some people prefer to sugar the term by calling us “golden agers,” “senior citizens,” and the like. I shake my head in pity. Let’s call a spade a spade: if we’re true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool curmudgeons, we’re bat-crazy old farts who take pleasure in some small or large degree making otherwise happy humans and their pets miserable and wishing desperately for our speedy natural demise, before in desperation they finally decide to take the law into their own hands.

When I finally arrived at a wizened curmudgeonly age, however, I wasn’t fully trained for it, me being by nature the good-tempered, quiet, shy, retiring, nondescript, easily swayed type that I am. But my irascible cantankerous senior mentors emboldened me, bolstered my confidence…urged in me the old college try: “You can do it, Pangborne!” they advocated. “You got the chops. Just lay into them younger whipper-snappers with your ill-humored bonhomie! Give it time, but not too much time…given your waning years, mind…and after awhile it’ll come to you like second nature.”

Stuff like that. It finally became kind of a clarion call for me to curmudgeonous arms. All I needed to do was practice at the game. And the more I practiced, the better I got.

Okay… So, for example, today in the mail I received an invitation from some outfit that wanted to feed me a “FREE Gourmet Dinner”, but only if I suffered from Nerve Damage Symptoms (with ANY of these symptoms: Numbness, Balance Problems, Sharp Electric Pain, Neuropathy, Cramping, Burning Pain, Muscle Weakness, Hurts Walking, Prickling/Tingling Feeling, Arthritis, Diabetic Nerve Pain, and Difficulty Sleeping From Leg/Foot Pain), and if so, they wanted me to enjoy a great dinner on them and learn the very latest about neuropathy. Well, hell, at my age I suffer from all of the above, plus several others not listed which would knock your socks off. What self-respecting curmudgeon doesn’t? The interesting thing, though, is that while they provided me with two RSVP VIP tickets, a voucher for $10 toward fall flowers, and a phone number to call to reserve a “limited” seat at this alleged food fest (pictured with a minuscule photo that required a magnifying glass to see the promised fest: a plate of two pieces of roast chicken, five small boiled potatoes, and two sprigs of mint), in no place did they identify themselves or what enterprise they represented.

Is it any wonder with mail like this the fun one might have with a little curmudgeonous creativity? I dialed their number: 555-2368 (not their real number, by the way; this is, in fact, a fictitious phone number used by Jim Rockford in the TV series The Rockford Files).

“Good afternoon. This is VIP Complementary Dinner Event. How may I help you?”

I feigned a raspy old voice. Well, I didn’t have to feign it; I naturally have a raspy old voice. I’m seventy-five, for crying out loud, so I’m entitled!

“Yes,” I rasped, “this is Mr. Elija Frederick Pangborne speaking. This afternoon I received an invitation from your outfit to a free gourmet dinner exclusively for people with nerve damage symptoms. Is this on the level?”

“Ah, yes, it is, Mr., uh, Pangborne. Thank you for calling. Umm, but before we can process your request, would you please tell me your RSVP code that appears on your invitation card?”

“I don’t need an RSVP code to tell you that I think it’s disgraceful that some unnamed outfit try to con old people by way of a free dinner of two over-cooked pieces of chicken and a puny bunch of boiled potatoes into subscribing to some expensive falderal you’ve concocted to dupe us out of our hard-earned pensions. You oughtta be ashamed of yourselves.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Pangborne, but that is not at all our intention. We are trying to help those with neuropathic disorders return to a more comfortable, less stressful life.”

“Who said I had any neuropathic disorders?”

“You don’t have any?”

“Of course I don’t, you twit. That’s the whole point of my phone-call. Why would anybody be offering gourmet dinners to a bunch of sick people? Moreover, why are you annoying perfectly healthy people with your phony propaganda by mail? Isn’t there a Federal law against your type? Misuse of the country’s postal system? What gave you the idea that I had neuropathy? Are you trying to convince me that I have prickling/tingling feelings? What business is it of yours whether I do or I don’t?”

“E-excuse me, Mr….uh, Mr. Pangborne, but what makes you think we are misusing the country’s postal system?

“Isn’t it obvious? No return address on the envelope. What legitimate business neglects putting a return address on its envelopes?”

We went round and round for a couple of minutes or so until the man finally hung up on me, but not before he shared with me a few meaty swear words. I must write these down for further study.

Of course I called him back, and berated him for disconnecting a potential customer. A couple of more phone calls like this, and the guy blocked my phone number.

For better or worse, life is good, my friends. Life is good.

Curmudgeons of the world…UNITE!

Steve Pulley © 2019
11/10/2019

Posted in Other Writings | 1 Comment

The Curse of Fluffy

You may remember Fluffy. You do, don’t you? No, Fluffy is not a dog. Good grief! She’s my girlfriend! Was my girlfriend. We’re kind of on the outs just now. She blames me…of course. I’m always to blame. This time it was over an outer-space traffic violation. I know! No such thing, you say, right? I thought the same. Au contraire, mon ami. I got busted trying to squeeze my Phrigofax Mark V Hogantwanger into a restricted parking space on Dejah Thoris Drive in Barzoom City, Hellas Planitia. It’s a real bummer trying to find a spot on Friday night. Yes, Mars… Where else do you think we’d be going on a Friday night? To the Carthoris of Helium, naturally—that nightclub “for members only, satisfaction guaranteed” and similar malarkey, all very posh, hoity-toity, highfalutin, and so on and so forth. We weren’t in there but five minutes, however, when we were summarily booted out. That’s right. Booted out on our very heinies. But it wasn’t my fault at all. It was Fluffy’s. She had this cockamamie idea that “it’s free today,” and convinced me to buzz on over. No, I’m not trying to pin the blame on anybody; just reporting the facts. Every time she and I go out on a date, something weird always happens, and I usually get nailed for it. And I’m not trying to cover my own tush.

But, listen, Fluffy, for all that I cherish the dear—albeit with gritted teeth at times, I openly admit—she’s a curse! That’s right. A royal curse. Sweet as all get-out on the outside, but on the inside a menace to human society, here and abroad, including the Red Planet. I’m not kidding! Last time we went there, a year ago in June, the whole damn planet became enveloped in a dust storm. I swear, it was Fluffy’s doing! It’s uncanny. I have no other explanation for it. I could cover a litany of examples since I’ve known her. Just for instance, remember the recent earthquake in Ridgecrest, California? Yep. We were there, hoping…Fluffy hoping, that is…to see her Hallmark movie idol, Ray Watters*, who lived there for thirty or forty years. Turns out, he swims with the alligators in Florida now. That’s right.

“It’s all your fault,” she cried.

“How so?” I asked. Can I add, nonplussed?

“You have a negative attitude about everything,” she asserted, looking both hurt and disgusted.

“What?”

“You’re a jinx, buster! A-a Joe Btfsplk! I’m through with you!”

Me, a Joe Btfsplk. Said the kettle to the pot. All the same, I can’t help it, I’m nuts about Fluffy, no matter what she says or does. But, hands down, she’s a bona fide curse.

Steve Pulley © 2019
11/8/2019

*Note: For those who might not know Ray Watters, he and I have been good friends for ages, and we spend an inordinate amount of time pulling one another’s leg, each trying our best to out-chaff the other. He’s a movie and TV actor, and he does, in fact, only walk beside, not swim with, the alligators in Florida.
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My Old Chevy

DSCN3633_CER30I own a 1996 Chevy Beretta, which I have been driving for the past twenty-two years. Although it only has 45,800 miles on it (which makes me sound like the proverbial “little old lady from Pasadena”), it looks older than my own seventy-five years. You may think this is a non sequitur, and I won’t dispute the point. It’s not. It does look older than my own seventy-five years. That said, and in spite of the torn bucket seats and the rusted roof and a coughing fit when it first starts on a hot day and the air conditioner no longer works and the warning lights turn on and off randomly and a few other aches and pains of its own which out of chivalry I won’t mention here, it has still bested me in durable functionality.

I must confess, though, I have shamelessly not given the Chevy a nickname. My old 1967 VW was called the “Blue Bug”. And years before that, my folks’ 1952 Chrysler was known as “The Clop Six” (thanks to its hydrophobic transmission…well, actually, hydramatic transmission, though given the “thunk” effect it had when shifting gears, it did sound, with some imagination, like something a mad dog might make when annoyed), while my brother’s used (very used) 1950 Hillman Minx convertible was dubbed (by me, at least) the “Beast from Hell” (the passenger seat was unbolted and could have doubled as James Bond’s Aston Marton DB5 ejector seat in “Goldfinger”, and whenever my brother braked hard, I had to hold onto the seat, the dashboard and the car door so’s not to be launched into the void). We also had at one time a 1954 Mercury station wagon, which may have been known informally as “The Faux Woody” (i.e., fiberglass siding instead of real wood), though I will not swear to it, this followed by a light jade green Rambler station wagon known as “Wayfaring Roxy”. No, not really. I just made that up. I can’t recall now what it was nicknamed; maybe my brother remembers.

But my Chevy, for sure, never received a sobriquet of its own. Will it be too late now?

After my mother passed on in 1996, my dad was keen to get rid of their current car, then a white AMC Matador station wagon, which he’d come to despise, notably for it costing him a fortune in frequent repairs, not to mention the fact that it steered like an ocean liner, requiring frequent adjustments of its course on the highway to keep it from drifting either to starboard or to port into another lane on its own or into oncoming traffic. I know this for a fact, because I drove it once, and swore never to do so again. My dad would have sold it ages before, but Mom loved the thing as if it were one of her own children.

So, one fine day in mid-January of 1997, my dad said to me, “Laddie, (God knows where he picked up that sobriquet; possibly because of our British ancestry stretching back to the Scotch-Irish, and eventually all the way to William the Conqueror of Normandy, though I’m only guessing), what say we take a little ride over to Alhambra and look at new cars? Now, pay close attention: I’m not saying we’re going to buy a new car, at least not yet, just a little eyeballing expedition. That okay?”

I, being perfectly game, said, “Sure.”

“We’ll take the Matador,” he said.

“Not the VW?” I asked, surprised.

“Not this time,” he replied. I failed to note then a peculiar glint in his right eye.

Now, Alhambra at the time was crawling with automobile dealerships and with hungry salesmen keen to sell cars—nay, pining, resolute, perfervid and starved—and there must have been at the very least a dozen at our immediate beck and call at each of these outfits. We drove past Ford and Toyota and BMW and Dodge and Honda and Toyota and Volkswagen and Volvo and Mazda and Chrysler enterprises, and I was beginning to wonder if we were simply cruising Main Street for a joy ride down memory lane. After all, we had once lived in this town.

And then Dad spotted a Chevy dealership and slowed down. “Let’s check this place out.”

He drove “The Migrator” (my dad’s nickname for the Matador; see also above why) into a parking area, and out popped as if by magic a desperate-looking, portly salesman, greeting us with such toothy effusion and bonhomie that I thought he might have been one of our long-lost relatives.

Cutting to the chase, we moseyed over to the car lot, and the very first vehicle before us awaited a sparkling 1996 silver two-door Chevrolet Beretta. My dad circled round it slowly, peering through its windows—the salesman, with bated breath, and I following closely behind. Dad opened a door, leaned in and looked inside for a moment, then closed the door, and turned to me.

“What do you think, HD?” HD was his pet name for me. I won’t get into that now, however, since it’s irrelevant in this story. Or any other, for that matter…

Okay, if you really must know, it stands for Högsta Domstolen. ‘Nough said.

“Uh, well, it looks pretty nice,” I said, frowning slightly.

He nodded, then addressed the salesman. “We’ll take this one,” he said.

The salesman blinked, then looked puzzled, as though he could not have possibly heard correctly. I was too surprised to even look dumbfounded. Nonplussed, maybe.

“I beg your pardon, sir?” said the salesman, cocking his head, certain he’d heard wrong.

“This car. I want to buy it.”

“Dad…,” I began. “I-I thought we were just going to look around today.”

“We did. I like this car. You said you liked it.” He addressed the salesman. “I’ll buy it, but on one condition.”

“Condition, sir?” His face fell slightly.

“Yes.” And here he pointed toward our Matador in the customer parking lot. “That you take this miserable beast off my hands today.”

The man’s lower lip quivered. I thought I detected tears forming in both eyes and feared that he might break down completely right in front of us. But he managed to maintain a stiff upper lip, despite the unreliable lower one. “Sir, you’ve got yourself a deal!” he cried.

With the trade-in, my father bought the Beretta for fourteen thousand dollars, and let me drive it home.

He virtually gave me the car. I don’t recall him ever driving it afterward.

The 1996 Chevy Beretta, a surprisingly peppy four-banger (not one of the earlier souped-up six-cylinder models), was the last of this automobile’s production.

I had a classic…alas, without a nickname.

Still, James Bond had a Beretta—a Beretta 418, that is—so that should count for something. Shouldn’t it?*

Steve Pulley © 2019
11/7/2019

*When the General Motors company named this Chevrolet a Beretta, it got into trademark trouble with the Fabbrica d’Armi Pietro Beretta, the Italian manufacturing company that produces Beretta firearms. It was amicably settled, however.
Posted in Anecdotes | 2 Comments

Sometimes Things Just Happen

sometimesthingsjusthappenMarguerite MacPherson sat alone at her kitchen table before a dish of warmed-over lasagna. Now on the third day still working on its leftovers, all she wanted was to be done with it forever rather than save it for yet another meal! It had been one of her rare extravagant fancies. But three days of lasagna were two days too many. Enough!

That’s when the doorbell rang.

Marguerite, though better known as Maggy, glanced down on her plate of limp lukewarm lasagna, balanced the options, and decided that answering the door had the edge. Against the odds that a home invader stood on the other side–yet even that more alluring than the vapid leftovers–she opened her front door halfway and peered through the screen door beyond.

“Yes?” she inquired.

“Madam, I’ve come to save your soul,” were, after a clearing of the throat, the first raspy words out of the mouth of the nervous-looking fellow in a burgandy-colored suit, standing diffidently on her porch, bible and accompanying literature in hand, at the other side of her screen door.

“Have you, now?” she replied, one eyebrow arched, peering the man up and down.

Normally, she would have slammed the door in the man’s face, perhaps including an epithet or two. However, this time instead she weighed the pros and cons of his invitation to salvation against her three-day-old lasagna. As well as the fact that the fellow was, in spite of his alleged biblical intentions, not a total loss in good looks. In fact, a bit of engaging eye candy.

“Well, by all means, come on in, then,” she invited with a grin, widening her front door.

The man, whose name was Gabby (short for Gabriel) Gulliver, blinked at her with undisguised wonder. Up until now, “eye candy” or not, no one, absolutely no one, neither man, woman, child, nor beast, had ever once exhibited so welcoming an invitation once apprised of his mission, the vast majority being those who either directly said they weren’t interested, suffer politely through his spiel, then thank him claiming they belonged to some other faith they were already comfortable with, or throw caution to the wind and, along with a few derogatory words, slam the door in his face.

Ergo, wary of this woman’s latent true intentions, he hesitated. After all, had he not been strictly enjoined by his heavenly instructors to never, never, ever, never! enter a home unless, one: accompanied by a companion, and two: even more so if the resident potential seeker of redemption was of the opposite sex without a requisite spouse or other family member alongside? Which, of course, narrowed considerably the number of latent converts eager to be saved. In a word, Gabby Gulliver, without a companion (there being a dearth this day of willing comrades), basically restricted himself solely to front-porch deliverance of alleged errant souls from the nethermost fires of perdition. No easy task for the meek, in spite of the Lord’s promise they’d one day inherit the earth.

The man was about to inquire discretely if the woman was married or with another family member, when she pushed open the screen door.

“Listen, I’ve got one royal heap of leftover lasagna,” she announced, hope after hope, “and I wager you haven’t eaten lunch yet. You have that peaked look.”

“I do? Uh, well, thank you most kindly,” he said, bowing slightly, “but I don’t wish to disturb you and, uh, your family during mealtime. I didn’t realize the hour.”

“Hell, ‘tain’t no bother ‘tall. Fact is, I’m here all by my lonesome, an’ I really do need some assistance to finish off the lasagna, or I’ll simply hav’ta toss it out. It’s be a sinful waste.”

“I don’t wish to impose…,” he began.

“No imposition in the least. You are a godsend, believe me.”

“I-I am?” This was a first.

“Oh, absolutely!”

“B-but I don’t know if this is the appropriate thing to do.”

“Trust me, brother, it’s appropriate. Tell you what: while we’re eating, you can get busy with this soul-saving game of yours.”

“I can?”

“No question! After all, that’s why you’re here, ain’t it?”

“Well, yes, but…”

“No buts. If you want to save this here gal’s ever-lovin’ soul, now’s your big chance…lunch included. What more could a wayfarin’ preacher ask for?”

“Well, I-I guess in that case, I…”

Maggy grabbed the man’s sleeve and pulled him through the doorway. She then led him to the kitchen, having now attached herself firmly to his arm so he wouldn’t get away. By gum, she’d be rid of that final hunk of lasagna, come hell or high water, or she’d be a monkey’s uncle…or an aunt at any rate. She sat him down at the table, all the while bantering along to keep his mind off any possible means for a getaway.

Strangely, the leftover lasagna wasn’t half so bad sharing it with another. And Gabby, to his own surprise, found the direct weirdness of Maggy strangely irresistible.

“So, tell me, how on earth did you get talked into this door-to-door gig, anyhow? I mean, honestly, you don’t look at all like the hellfire and damnation type. No offense intended, mind.”

Maggy waited for the man to swallow first, who, at the moment, was trying valiantly not to choke on the combination of lasagna and her banter.

“More?” she suggested.

He waved his hand, index finger raised, wagging a panicked no.

“Suit yourself. Water instead?”

“Whew,” he gasped afterward. “Thank you.”

“No problem. You was goin’ to answer my question. But before you do, I didn’t get your name. Mine’s Maggy.”

“Gabby…short for Gabriel.”

“I see. Well, are you?”

“Beg pardon?”

“Gabby.”

“Ah.” He blinked. “Uh, not so much, no.”

“Then?”

“The name? Oh…well, one of those school things. Because I was the quiet kid in class, one of my teachers, to be amusing, called me Gabby. And of course the nickname stuck.”

Maggy nodded. “In my case, as a child, school kids somehow thought Marguerite too highfalutin, so I ended up with lowfalutin Maggy. Though if I’d had my druthers, I would have opted for Scruggs.”

“Scruggs?”

“Uh-huh. After Earl Scruggs.”

“The banjo player?”

Maggy’s eyes lit up. “You know Earl Scruggs?”

“Uh, well, no, not personally. Anyway, he’s been dead for years. B-but I loved his Bluegrass banjo playing.”

“Good for you! You ain’t a total loss after all.”

“I’m gratified you think so.”

“So, Gabby, getting back to my original question, how’d you become a street preacher?”

He stared at her a moment, closed his eyes, took a deep breath, opened his eyes. “Bluntly?”

It was Maggy’s turn to blink. “Well, yes, I guess that’ll work.”

“I got the call.”

“The call?”

“Yes. The call.”

“I’m not sure I’m following you, Gabby. Do you mean the call of God?”

“Uh, not exactly.”

Maggy waited. Gabby squirmed.

“Then?”

Gabby closed his eyes a moment, then opened them, taking a deep breath.

“May I call you Maggy?” he suddenly asked.

She started, somewhat surprised. “Well, sure you can. That’s the name I been usin’.” She paused. “You were about to explain…bluntly…what you meant by ‘the call’.”

“Sometimes, thing just happen.”

“Sorry?”

“God spoke to me.”

“What! Get out!”

“Figuratively speaking, I mean.” He paused, then blurted, “In truth, I was chosen…no, cajoled really.”

“Cajoled? As in sweet-talked, blarneyed, wheedled, inveigled, arm-twisted?”

“All six…yes. Plus soft-soaped.”

“Why, you poor man! Who did this terrible thing to you?”

“It’s a long story, I’m afraid.”

“I got all afternoon.”

“Really, I…”

“Listen, Gabe… Mind if I call you Gabe? Somehow ‘Gabby’ just doesn’t seem to fit you.”

He blinked. “You want to call me Gabe?”

“I do…but I won’t impose if you’re truly stuck to Gabby. Just remember, though, I’m lettin’ you call me Maggy.”

“Uh, well, of course, then, it’s only fair.”

“Ah… wonderful. Gabe it is, then. That’s one obstacle out of our way. You see, every time I hear Gabby, I think of Gabby Hayes.”

“Gabby Hayes?”

“Yes. You know, the bewhiskered, cantankerous, woman-hating, but ever-loyal and brave comic sidekick o’ them cowboy stars Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers.”

“Ah, that Gabby Hayes. A bit before my time.”

“And mine, but he’s still out there on the TV re-runs. And you are no Gabby Hayes. No offense intended, mind.”

“None taken.”

“Good. Let’s see, where were we?”

“I, uh, was…well…I guess you could say, to put it mildly, sweet-talked into becoming an itinerant preacher.”

Maggy’s eyes widened. “Sweet-talked, you say?”

“Yes.” He paused, then added, lowering his head, “Waylaid might be more precise.”

“Really? How so?”

“By my God-fearing Aunt Maud. She was determined that one of her nephews become a preacher before she died, come hell or high water, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” He blushed then. “Sorry. I got carried away.”

“Don’t be. Sometimes things just happen we can’t help.”

“Yes, I suppose they do, don’t they? Anyhow, my aunt didn’t die–she’s still around, actually, and all too healthy for a woman her age–and here I am an itinerant preacher, out to save people’s souls by hook or by crook, whether they like it or not. Aunt Maud’s words, not mine. If anything, she’ll be the death of me. She’s a formidable woman. I’m afraid to cross her, you know.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Me becoming a traveling preacher is, all the same, an extravagant fancy. My aunt’s, not mine. I’m not really cut out for the call.”

“I can see that,” Maggy said, nodding slowly.

The two sat looking at one another quietly for a moment.

“I-I should probably get going,” Gabby said at last, standing up. “Thank you for your time, and I apologize for taking so much of it.”

Maggy got to her feet as well and walked him to the door. “Not at all. And, listen, should you ever be back in my neighborhood, drop in.”

“Thank you. I’d like that. You’ve been very nice.”

They shook hands. As he began to leave, Maggy cleared her throat. “Gabe?”

He turned. “Yes?”

“Sure you don’t want some more of this here damn lasagna before you go? There’s still a ton of it to finish on my own if I don’t have some help.”

Afterwards, Gabby Gulliver invited Marguerite MacPherson to the movies.

They were married in the fall.

Steve Pulley copyright © 2019
11/4/2019
Note: Just so you know, I am a Korean drama addict to the marrow, and in virtually every romantic comedy the guy and the girl get married in the final episode. I feel duty-bound to follow that code in this particular story.
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