I guarantee if you chase them down...
(which shouldn’t be too hard to do - A&P
carts full-up with old newspapers and discarded left-foot shoes... and
only three really working wheels... are not that easy to run the sidewalks
with, believe me)
...and offer up enough loose change and,
if you’re smart, a bagged 40-ouncer (if it’s all you have, a can of Sterno
will, also, do)
...you will STILL not get the God’s-honest
truth about it out of them.
Because, really - it doesn’t matter how
many CIA transmissions their back-teeth fillings accidentally intercept...
nor that, after sharing secret recipes
for Hungarian goulash (“...take one cleaned Hungarian...”)
and reciting memorized soliloquies from
garage door opener manuals...
the King himself - Elvis - croons them
to sleep about it from where he’s been hiding these past twenty-five years
(that little balding spot right behind their left ear).
Regardless all that - the straight skinny
on this kind of thing is: just because a person happens to be a blood relation
doesn’t mean they have the actual dope on the inner workings of anyone
Not even if one of the side effects of
the new meds DOES turn out to be visitations from angels and/or X-ray vision.
So, take it from ME, the “horse’s mouth”
herself: the actual reason I say host of television’s “The Price
Is Right” game-show, Mr. Bob Barker, himself - will be my husband some
day, is NOT that if he had thirty less teeth...
and a three-day growth...
and a ten-strand comb-over...
and a beer-keg gut...
...he’d be the spitting image of my Third
I mean, I liked Third Grand-Poppy and all
- that I cannot deny. During the seven weeks and two days he was
Third Grand-Poppy he was always very nice to me. In fact, I don’t
think I’ll ever forget the “good old days” stories about his youth:
the exciting adventures he’d had (of which
he could never recall the details, right this second)...
in colorful, exotic places (the locations
of which were just on the tip of his tongue)...
with very best friends in the whole world,
better pals a man never had (whose names escaped him for the moment)...
with which he would, nightly (once the
after-dinner dessert six-pack was polished, of course) regale me.
The purpose of which endeavor being to silence the Bogie Man muttering
under my bed.
(I’m afraid I never got over him as “Queeg”
in “The Caine Mutiny.” Such was his exquisite attention to presenting
the details of power-madness and, perhaps, even clinical insanity.
To the extent that, even now, on particularly “Queeg-ish” nights, if I
press my ear tightly to the atmosphere I can hear him gloating:
“Ahh, but the strawberries that's... that's
where I had them.”)
Third Grand-Poppy, bless him, understood
my night-time terrors (he had, after all, his own silver-screen nemeses.
Only his ran amok on the twenty-four/seven plan, so it was not at all unusual
to find Third Grand-Poppy suddenly running wild-eyed and shrieking through
the apartment, calling to arms both family and neighbors against the “giant
tentacled eyes” which were creeping up - courtesy of 1958 Forrest Tucker
big-screen vehicle, “The Crawling Eye” - just on the (don’t it figure,
though?) New Jersey horizon.
So he’d come to me every night as I cowered
there, red-eyed and sniffling in fear, and sit next to me on the cot, and
I’d smile and he’d chuckle and we’d touch jelly-glassed toasts to Under-Bed
Bogie in Third Grand-Poppy’s special-for-me strawberry Kool-Aid flavoured
and then I’d snurfle and he’d laugh and
we’d clink jelly-glassed toasts to Under-Bed Bogie and strawberry Kool-Aid
in Third Grand-Poppy’s special-for-me Budweiser with a touch of strawberry
Kool-Aid flavouring “toddies”...
and then I’d giggle uncontrollably and
he’d guffaw and we’d smash our jelly-glassed Budweiser toasts to all flavours
of Kool-Aid, God bless ‘em, and Bogie’s second wife, Mayo Methot, God bless
her, too, whomever she was...
and then I’d pee the bed and, what the
heck, he’d pee the bed, too, and we’d solemnly wave our empties in as close
proximity to each other’s general direction as we could manage (not easy,
being that neither of us would just stay still, stop moving around so much,
for chrissakes, you’re making me dizzy) and then try to suck out their
non-existent last drops in toast to the departed souls of jelly glasses
and hops and malt and blueberries and breweries and, for some reason we
never could figure, but it seemed appropriate at the time, so what the
heck - mentholated mayonnaise.
And then everything would go black and
I’d be awakened by Third Grand-Poppy’s shrieks as he bolted from the room
to warn the next-door neighbors about the giant, tentacled eyes creeping
toward us this very three a.m. second from, (of course, where else?) New
(as Mama told the divorce judge when -
eleven months, three weeks, and five days later - she was making Third
Grand-Poppy into Fourth Ex-Poppy)
...that kind of thing was awfully sweet
and all, but it really wasn’t anything to MARRY a man over.
(To which point the judge noted - quite
correctly, I recall thinking at the time, despite my tender, sluggish,
hung-over, years - Mama really should have considered THAT before she bumped
Third Poppy down to Third Ex-Poppy so she could turn around and make his
Poppy - Third Grand-Poppy - into my Fourth Poppy.
Mama, of course, just shrugged and grinned.
Like always. And the judge just sighed and shook his head and banged
So, no - the reason I say Bob Barker will,
some day, make me his blushing bride has nothing at all to do with any
affection I may feel for Third Grand-Poppy.
What it HAS to do with, however, is...
...Bob Barker’s pockets.
Yes, his pockets.
Bob Barker’s pockets. I am absolutely
fascinated by them. And not just any pockets - I am fascinated, in
particular, by his suit jacket pockets. Those suit jacket pockets
and how, during taping of “The Price Is Right,” every now-and-again Bob’ll
make one of the heavy-set, hot-pink spandexed, lady contestants quit jumping
around, screaming like Banshees, long enough to shove their hand into one
of his suit jacket pockets and dig around.
And it is that point which fascinates me.
Dig around for WHAT, exactly?
Yes, yes, I know - they always SAY it’s
keys. Keys to a dirt bike...
or a mid-size car...
or a riding mower...
or some other type low-end vehicular gizmo.
And, invariably, the heavy-set, hot-pink
spandexed lady contestant quits jumping around, screaming like a Banshee
and shoves her hand into his suit jacket pocket and digs around and comes
out with a set of keys to a dirt bike...
or a mid-sized car...
or a riding mower...
or some other type low-end vehicular gizmo...
and starts jumping around even more, screaming,
now, like a Banshee being run through a wood-chipper.
And, apparent evidence notwithstanding,
I just don’t buy that. That the thing in Bob Barker’s suit jacket
pockets which causes heavy-set, hot-pink spandexed lady contestants to
whirl around the “The Price Is Right” sound stage in jumping, screaming,
dervishes is simply a set of low-end vehicular gizmo keys.
No sir. I think there’s more in there,
in those suit jacket pockets, than just keys.
After all, Mickey Rats had more in HIS
pocket than just keys.
Yes, Mickey Rats. Basement apartment
in the Hell’s Kitchen pre-war Mama and I lived in with Fifth Poppy.
I never knew for sure Mickey’s real last
name, but something tells me it was either Rochefoucauld-Eisenstadt, III...
It could also have been Finklestein.
Either way - Rochefoucauld-Eisenstadt,
III or Finklestein - no one in the neighborhood called him anything but
Because he carried a rat around with him.
In his pocket.
Not in his suit jacket pocket, like my
Bob, though, like my Bobby. My baby Bobby. My Snookums.
Um... no, Mickey Rats never wore suits.
During the three years, nine months, six weeks and one day Mama and I lived
there, four floors above him, before Sixth Poppy U-hauled us up to his
lime-green double-wide with flamingoes, black-face lawn jockey (out front)
and neon-blue inflatable pool (out back) half a mile down-wind of Dannamora,
I don’t recall Mickey Rats ever wearing anything but short-sleeved white
Post Office-issue drip-dry shirts and high-water, navy blue Post Office-issue
And it was in the right-hand pocket of
those high-water, navy blue Post Office-issue wash-‘n’-wear trousers where
he kept his rat - his “trouser rat,” as they, for some reason that always
eluded me, sniggeringly called it.
But “they” didn’t, actually, know anything
about it, really. Those stories about Mickey Rats and his “trouser
rat” were just idle, back-fence, gossiping. Only whispered in front
of lobby mailboxes and hollered across airshafts.
I wasn’t gossiping, though. I actually
DID know. I knew because we were pals, Mickey Rats/Rochefoucauld-Eisenstadt,
III/Finklestein and I. Whenever Fifth Poppy would come home early
from work with a headache and stomp into Mama’s and his bedroom, yelling
to Mama over his shoulder how all he wanted was to just lay down for a
and Mama would drop everything and rush
into the bedroom after him and start yelling in there about how that morning
she’d come into the kitchen to find “conga-lines of cockroaches dancing
on the table with last night’s leftovers”...
(the thought of which always made me giggle,
even though I could never recall seeing more than one or two cockroaches
at a time milling about Mama’s leftovers, and when I saw them they never
appeared to be dancing as much as staggering. Staggering and gagging
and retching and, once, when I looked real close, actually dictating and
notarizing each other’s “Last Will and Testaments.”
Such was the nature of Mama’s cooking.)
and then come out of the bedroom in just
her brassiere and underpants, with her pocketbook on her arm, and open
it up and dig around in it while she told me to go outside and find something
to do and don’t come back in for a few hours, Mama and Fifth Poppy are
going to fumigate the apartment and it’s too dangerous for little girls
to be hanging around while they do it, here’s a quarter, go to the bodega
and buy yourself a soda while you’re at it, strawberry, you like strawberry,
right? well, go get yourself a strawberry soda and don’t come back
for a few hours, Mama and Fifth Poppy are going to be getting rid of these
...and the moment Mama clicked the lock
behind me I’d run right down to the basement and back under the stairs
across from the boiler-room and knock on Mickey’s door.
And he’d open it and his eyes behind those
thick, thick, glasses would get even bigger and rounder than they already
were, and he’d smile his toothy, Mama called it “Post-lobotomy Mr. Ed”
smile real big and whisper, “Well, Henrietta Louise, isn’t this a nice
surprise” and stick his head out into the hall and look around quick and
pull me in and shut the door and take the sweaty strawberry soda quarter
out of my hand and put it in the top drawer of his dresser...
so I wouldn’t lose it...
and, then, turn the television sound control
up, because the neighbors got mad when they heard him having too much fun
- which he always did when I came to visit, he said, he always knew how
to make me smile - and then we’d sit on his old, brown, leatherette couch
and call each other “Old Maid” and tell each other to “Go Fish” until we
got cross-eyed bored and then Mickey would slouch back into the old, brown,
leatherette couch and I knew exactly what was coming, but I pretended I
didn’t (because that was part of the game), and Mickey would peer at me
through his thick, thick, glasses and say, well, Henrietta Louise, what
do you want to do now? and I’d laugh and jump up off the old, brown, leatherette
couch and dance around on his worn, green-speckled linoleum and scream:
“Stroke the Rat! Stroke the Rat! Stroke the Rat!” (I really
loved screaming that) - and Mickey would slouch even farther back into
the old, brown, leatherette couch and kind of drawl: Oh, well... OK, Henrietta
Louise, if that’s what you really want, then I don’t want to stop you,
so go ahead...
“STROKE... THE... RAT!”
And I’d shriek with delight and dive back
down next to Mickey Rats/Rochefoucauld-Eisenstadt, III/Finklestein on his
old, brown, leatherette couch and reach my sweaty hand deep into the right-hand
pocket of his high-water navy blue Post Office-issue trousers and...
Mitzi the Rat. Not a “trouser rat,”
like the neighbors were always sniggering, but an African Sand Rat.
The rat Mickey always kept in his right-hand
trouser pocket. Because - long and thin and used to living underground
in the hot African deserts - almost blind and completely hairless, Mitzi
needed to be kept warm and away from light.
And, so, I’d spend the next half hour or
so (till it seemed Mama and Fifth Poppy had had enough time to kill every
cockroach on the block and it would be, finally, safe for Mickey to give
me my now un-sweaty strawberry soda quarter and shoo me back upstairs)
- with my hand stuck deep in Mickey’s right-hand trouser pocket, petting
long, thin, hairless, squeaking, squirming, Mitzi Rat.
Which brings me full-circle back to my
future husband - my Bobby-Wobby - and his suit jacket pockets.
For, if there is ONE drawback to keeping
a rat in your right-hand trouser pocket (though I’ve never had opportunity
to properly test this theory - left-hand, too, I imagine) - it is that
rats, like every other of God’s creatures... poo.
(Well, every other of God’s creatures except,
perhaps, Grand-Poppy Two. Who I recall Grand-Mama Two frequently
characterized as “full of poo.”
Though “poo” wasn’t, exactly, the word
But, then again, Grand-Mama Two would also
characterize Grand-Poppy Two as a “God-less heathen”...
so, maybe that explains it all.)
In any case, Mickey’s right-hand trouser
pocket was always a bit of a... mess.
Sometimes enough of a mess that...
(I guess depending upon what Mickey was
feeding Mitzi; she seemed to live - and do fine - on M&M Peanuts from
which Mickey had sucked the colour, but he would, occasionally, decide
she needed to expand her epicurean horizons a bit and, so, shove little
rips of his daily “brown-bagger”: headcheese and Swiss on Wonder Bread
with Miracle Whip into his right-hand pocket with Mitzi...)
I would find myself having to pull my hand
out of his right-hand navy blue Post Office-issue trouser pocket and jump
around a lot and yell “yuk” real loud a lot (sometimes in English, sometimes
in Banshee - whichever seemed most expressive of my position on the care
and feeding and, consequent, intestinal vicissitudes of right-hand trouser
pocket-boarded African Sand Rats.
Which, of course, reminds me of my Bobby.
Or, more to the point, reminds me, once
again, of his heavy-set, hot-pink spandexed, lady contestants. And
how - after shoving their hands into his suit jacket pockets they, also,
jump around and yell, sometimes in English, sometimes in Banshee.
Which, of course, once again, makes me
What, exactly, DOES my baby, Bobby Barker,
have in those suit jacket pockets? I mean, outside of “the official
And the only way for me to find that out
is to, as I said, make him a husband. There really is no other way
for me to get close enough to him to shove my hand in ANY of his pockets.
I’ve actually tried to get on “The Price Is Right,” but it seems - while,
physically (in terms of breadth and height and heft), I very much more
than fit the role of “lady contestant”...
and there are any number of shady underground
storefront operations where, for a price, I can get ahold of enough hot-pink
spandex to choke a giant, tentacled, crawling eyeball...
my inability to quickly figure numbers
past thirteen (twenty-one and a half if I am allowed to remove my shoes)
is, apparently, a deal-breaker with the producers.
(Though I’m sure it will not be with my
Bobby. In fact, I’m quite sure he’d find that little... quirk of
nature... as endearing a quality of mine as any of the other husbands,
in their time, did.)
So, unless I can get Hubby Albert...
(wait... is it Hubby Albert, now?
Or Hubby Samarjit? OK, yes, Hubby Albert. Hubby Samarjit was
the foreigner. I don’t think this one is a foreigner, at least, right
off the top of my head I don’t recall him having an accent...)
to float me enough cash to get me to Hollywood,
where Bobby lives...
I guess I’m going to just have to figure
a way to get the money to go there myself.
Which reminds me.
I wonder how Mickey Rats is doing?
I mean, since Mama divorced him.
“Mrs. Henrietta Louise Blodgett-Tidewater-Zarosum-Simms-Rouchefoucauld-Eisendstadt/Finklestein”...
I think that definitely has a certain “ring”