Friday, February 25, 2011

Ralph and Minnie and Mr. P

This story is a lie. It is a lie because I cannot remember the detailed true separate stories I am amalgamating here into one, untrue story. Got it? OK.
Once there was a couple, who, for the purposes of this untrue story, were named “Ralph” and “Minnie.” They had lived good hardworking lives, and retired comfortably on Ralph's pension and their savings.
Look, I told you this story wasn't true.
In retirement they settled in the pleasant land of northern California, on the outskirts of an old Spanish town. They found a house that suited them, with neighbors close enough that they did not feel isolated, and far enough away that they did not feel crowded.
A creek flowed along the rear of their property. Over the years animals would walk up from the creek into their yard, stray cats and raccoons, mostly.
One autumn a peacock came bobbing up out of the creek. It was a gorgeous creature, and Minnie loved it. She bought some corn to throw to it, and whether it was the food, or for some slightly more skewed reason, the peacock stayed.
Minnie called him Mr. P, and all that winter he graced their back yard. They asked around to see if anyone had lost a peacock, but no one claimed Mr. P.
Minnie was an artist, and Mr. P was a flamboyant model. She sketched him as she looked through the windows, and in the spring she set an easel up in the yard to do a painting of him.
Alas, in the spring a peacock's fancy turns to thoughts of love, and he fell for Minnie, hard. His tail would come up in a spectacular display of feathers when he saw her. This was fine until Mr. P tried to mount Minnie, which scared her.
Now Mr. P became her jailer. She couldn't go out into the backyard to tend plants, or hang clothes out to dry, or throw the compost away, or paint some other subject than the peacock for Mr. P would immediately force his attentions upon her. The situation was untenable.
Ralph and Minnie found no help for their problem. No one wanted Mr. P.
But he had to go. Finally they heard of a bird sanctuary a few hours' drive away. They figured they had their solution, but how to capture and transport the large amorous bird? I don't know who came up with a solution, but finally they had a plan, and they put it to work.
They soaked some feed corn in bourbon. It might have been vodka, but this is my lie, and I like bourbon, so hush.
The morning came when they were ready to move Mr. P out of their lives. They put the soaked corn out in a pie plate, and Mr. P obligingly came and gobbled it down. And seemed fine. Just their luck to get a peacock that could handle his liquor. They put out more corn, and the bird didn't mind if he did, and ate all that. At this point he began to stagger, and wobble, and passed out.
Ralph and Minnie sprang into action. They ran out to the unconscious bird and put a t-shirt on him in order to keep his wings subdued should he wake up. Minnie knotted the hem of the shirt to make sure he was tightly held, and they loaded him in the back of their station wagon and set off for the sanctuary.
All was well for the first hour or two of the trip, and then they heard Mr. P stirring in the back. As they drove on it became obvious that Mr. P was a surly drunk.
Finally they arrived at the sanctuary – only to find it was closed. Minnie nearly burst into tears. Now what?
Ralph told her he had a plan, and this was it: he would carry Mr. P to the high fence of the sanctuary and drop him over the top. Minnie's job would be to remove the t-shirt at the last second. Would the sanctuary people even notice one more peacock?
As Ralph hoisted Mr. P to the top of the fence the bird began to struggle violently. Minnie tried to get the t-shirt off in vain. Mr. P pulled free, tipped over the top of the fence, and fell with a thud to the ground. Ralph and Minnie were horrified. But Mr. P. began to struggle, trying to get up. Ralph and Minnie looked at each other and their two minds were of one accord. They dashed back to the station wagon and lit out of there.
That summer they would go out to their peacock-free patio in the cool of the evening, have glasses of wine, and speculate on what the sanctuary workers must have thought, encountering a hungover peacock in a t-shirt in their enclosure, but of course they would never know. They wished Mr. P all the best, and hoped he had met the peahen of his dreams, but they never went back to find out if he had. That would have been silly.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Island Legends: the Secret Ferry

Drawing by Rick Tuel
Smart Aleck note: this column dates from 2003. Like everyone else on Vashon Island, I am sick and did not feel up to writing a new column this week, so here is a rerun that is a particular favorite of mine. Hope you enjoy it.

The story as I heard it went like this: a few years ago, one Sunday morning, a Big Important Business Man was having brunch at Sound Food. His cell phone rang. He answered it, and received a Very Important Business Call.
He needed to get to an Important Business Meeting off the island. He went up to the hostess and asked, “What's the quickest way to get off the island?” The hostess told him to head north on the road outside the restaurant until he came to the ferry dock, and then wait for the next ferry, and he should be able to get off the island in an hour or so.
The Big Important Business Man was distressed. An hour? That was much too long. He had Important Business and had to get to the mainland right away, and wasn't there a quicker way to get there than the ferry?
No, the hostess told him. The ferry was the only way off the island.
“OK,” he said. “I know how things work in places like this. Where is the secret ferry?”
“The what?” asked the hostess.
“The secret ferry,” he said, “the one only you islanders know about so you can get off the island any time you want to.”
The hostess was non-plussed. She explained that there is no secret ferry, only the public state ferries that come to the ferry docks.
The man refused to believe her. He insisted that there must be a secret ferry. She was concealing the information because we islanders were selfishly keeping it to ourselves and didn't want anyone else to know. He was too smart to be tricked, he said. He wasn't born yesterday, he said.
Finally, in exasperation, the hostess said, “OK, OK, you're right. I can't fool you. There is a secret ferry.”
He smiled in victory. “Where is it?”
So she told him how to drive down to Manzanita Beach.
He left, and did not return.
End of story.
A friend told me that story in the supermarket. She said she had heard it from the grand daughter of another friend. I called my friend, the grand mother, and asked her where she got the story. She said her son was working as a chef at Sound Food at the time of the incident, and he had told her the story.
Soon after that I ran into my friend's son and I asked him about the story. He confirmed that the story was true, although he wasn't sure if the hostess had sent the man to Manzanita or Point Robinson.
He said that for a while after that the staff at Sound Food joked about “bippies,” or “Big Important People.”
This island legend was fairly easy to track because I knew all the people in the chain of the story's telling. I wanted to track it down because when I heard it, it sounded like one of those urban legends, a fantastic story that is supposed to be true. These stories begin: “This is a true story! It happened to my cousin's step-brother's next door neighbor's dog trainer's niece...” and goes on from there.
Many of these stories circulate on the internet. I have learned to check with before believing anything I read, because I hate to pass on rumors, libel, and outright lies.
Island legends are easier to trace than urban legends. For example, I believe it is true that the late Joe Chambers set a ferry dock to ferry dock land speed record of 9 minutes. His friends have confirmed this. He did it late at night and had his friends posted at intersections to make sure no one would turn onto the highway and get in the way. This was a few decades ago. It was a different time, the island was a different place, that place I moved to 40 years ago. It doesn't exist any more.