L

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Lucas J. Weberley is a lad of 20 months. A wee lad. He commands a wee vocabulary, and can hold only wee amounts of things in his wee little hands.

The boy lives simply. He busies his days transporting plastic blocks of all colors, stacking them on tabletops and then swiping them off in a quick dismissive gesture, notifying the blocks they’ve exhausted their capacity to entertain. Lucas reveres bulldozers as monstrous mechanical gods that can move mountains. He pays no concern to the shift of continental plates, salary restrictions of professional athletes, or that whole eggs do poorly in a microwave. Neither does it matter to him if one shoe is untied, there’s a beet juice stain on his upper left pant leg, or that light rain is soaking his playhouse outside. Lucas demands little from life except lungfuls of clean air, nearby smooth surfaces from which to swipe blocks, and well-fitting shoes, tied or not. He does not insist on his apple pieces being peeled, does not aspire to be President.

Yesterday, sitting on the sunny lawn behind his house, Lucas conversed with a cricket. The two exchanged greetings, then relayed details of their day. They shared stories: Lucas told of an enormous metal monster that groaned as it pushed rubble around a construction site nearby. Mr. Cricket returned with an account of the delicious shiny green beetle that appeared practically at its jaws.

After sundown, Lucas’s day concluded in a Toy Story diaper. It kept his midsection warm, and would warm it further as the night progressed. The boy dreamed of a cricket, of red and white and yellow blocks, and of a bulldozer. Tomorrow will be a fantastic day.

M

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“Moonstruck”, in the opinion of a red paperback dictionary (the “foremost” dictionary, it reminds me) within my reach, means: 1. “mentally unbalanced”, and 2. “filled with romantic sentiment”. Upon learning this, my first instinct is to question why the word doesn’t also refer to a collision between an object and the natural satellite circling our planet. My second instinct is to scratch my head. My third is to scratch again, this time in a different spot, and wonder why “moonstruck” links two concepts seemingly at odds. My fourth instinct is to choose another “m” word as I’ve just exhausted the number of thoughts I’m apt to muster about “moonstruck”.

N

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Namibia to Niger flights are known for their turbulence. Airlines travelling between the capitals Windhoek and Niamey advise their passengers to wear extra-cushioned pants to tolerate the bouncing.

Nangolo, a Namibian boy of twelve years, missed this message. He was too excited about his first trip into the heavens to notice the corporate advisory finely printed on the bottom reverse of his paper ticket. He was finally headed to Niger to meet his long-time pen pal Boubacar, a lad with whom he’d been swapping scribblings for five years. In reality, Nangolo could have used a cushioned stomach prior to departure. He’d been vomiting profusely from the anxiety of leaving the familiar beloved dirt of Windhoek and handing control of his life to a captain of a flying vessel, a stranger in a strange costume adorned with curious pins and patches. During the flight, the rattling of the plane intensified Nangolo’s misery. Neither the complementary cranberry juice nor the flight crew’s words of comfort were enough to quell the nausea that gripped the boy.

Upon arrival in Niamey, Nangolo disembarked onto the tarmac with the other passengers. The whirling of his stomach had not yet subsided. Boubacar stood just outside the airport’s terminal doors. Recognizing his pal from photos, he ran up to Nangolo. The boys shook hands and embraced briefly. Nangolo, still nauseous, vomited promptly on his friend’s right shoulder. Boubacar had predicted an alternative greeting.

A fortnight hence, it was time for Nangolo to return to Namibia. Recalling his earlier aerial expedition, the boy’s stomach grumbled. Nangolo set out on the 2,700 mile journey. This time, he would stroll.

O

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Outfoxing your uncle can be a worthwhile pursuit, if you have the right kind of uncle. Seemingly no uncle is the wrong kind for outfoxing, yet there are particular characteristics that elevate one to a high susceptibility. Feeble-mindedness is one such characteristic. If there was a regional ranking of feeble minds, Uncle Garvin would place in the top three.

I like to call him U.G., which he dislikes on account of it sounding too similar to Eugene. He never clarified his opposition to being called Eugene. It’s more sophisticated than Garvin, and if ever there was someone in need of refinement, it was Eugene. U.G., I mean.

Uncle Garvin rarely fails to misplace his eyeglasses, but never his drink glasses. He subscribes to the theory that a certain quantity of spirits in his body brings about immunity from a swollen appendix, his greatest worry. More often, the booze shields him from clarity of thought, furthering his chances of being outfoxed. He proudly tells and retells the story of swilling three full glasses of Merlot just before bowling a lifetime high of 191. Whenever he recounts this achievement I feel compelled to finish it for the benefit of the listener by recalling that after the second frame, a bowler in the next lane went home with U.G.’s shoes. His friends concluded that he carelessly laid them under the neighbor’s chair when changing into the rented shoes. Uncle G. insisted he was the victim of a “scum thief ” born of unwed parents.

Uncle Garvin stops by uninvited on Sunday evenings to “keep a good eye” on me. His excuse never varies. I’m unsure what laws he fears I am apt to break if his supervision lapses. Though, the man does provide a level of mirth on the occasional sullen Sunday. He came by last week, wearing jeans that have seen bluer days. (There was a shirt, too). With a half-smile I informed him I had [better] plans for the night. Pretending not to hear, he slumped down into my light brown leather lounge chair which always pulled him like a magnet and developed a gentle crater from years of his not-so-gentle weekly impressions. Wanting neither to be outwardly rude nor to miss my night out, I reminded him of our conflicting agendas. He responded by suggesting a game of battleship. I responded by walking into the kitchen and out the back door.*

*I’m after an ending that makes me out to be less of an a-hole. Still, the man had it coming. And he’ll be back next week.

P

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Plunking a sack of potatoes on a hardwood floor may startle a sleeping parrot. Though waking a parrot may seem regretful, what if the parrot is a master potato peeler? If so, the loud plunk turns two tricks: it relieves your back of the sack’s burden, and alerts the parrot that work has arrived.

Peeling allows this particular parrot to clear his mind. Distant memories surface. He recalls his youth, when he arrived at a port in Lisbon in a wooden crate with three siblings. A burly merchant heaved the crate on the quay, seeking a buyer for its contents. Three days later the parrot—let’s name him already; not a “p” name, as that would be just too much for one day; how about Rodrigo? at least it’s close to “p”—had a new owner. Rodrigo perched on a carriage bouncing along a gravelled road through Portugal’s countryside, heading to his new home. Rodrigo that day took shelter in one-room wooden cottage with his lonely master Pablo. The soil surrounding the cottage was perfect for growing potatoes (but not parsley; such a crop wouldn’t suit this story so well, since parsley isn’t peelable, depriving the parrot of his main occupation). He couldn’t recall how he discovered his talent for peeling potatoes, but what a talent it was. The parrot’s adroitness with tubers drew villagers from afar, providing Pablo with steady cash: more than a few visitors was willing to part with some coins to witness the spectacle of a bird fervently engaged in culinary pursuits.

Ricardo’s daydream ended as he handled the last potato. Dinnertime approached.

On a cool spring morning 43 years hence, the parrot plunked Pablo into a shallow grave in the potato patch. (It was shallow since parrots aren’t by nature good hole diggers.)

Q

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Quays are properly pronounced “keys”. Less properly, but more popularly, speakers go with “cays”. This distinction may seem trivial, and of little consequence, but in can carry profound implications.

Let’s create a setting: the Caribbean island of Antigua. It’s capital, St. John’s. Redcliffe Quay, a wharf that groans under the strain of constant waves of cruise tourists. Now, suppose an Irish visitor, while strolling among the jewelry shops bespeckling the Quay, falls ill. Better yet, he was ill to start with, and then falls after tripping on a carelessly laid extension cord. Now he’s compounded his misery. More troubling for Robbie is that his travel companion, an equally Irish lady, is at this moment staring in awe at St. John’s Cathedral, a good six blocks up the hill and away from the harbor. Lucky for Robbie, his wife has a functioning cell phone. (And lucky for this entry, which really needs to get to the point). The store clerk gets her on the phone. She abandons plans to light an altar candle and scampers down the steps of the cathedral, into a taxi. She cries “take me to the quay!”, though uses the incorrect pronunciation. As a result, the cab delivers her to Kay’s, a food mart two miles from her husband. Robbie has to soak in misery alone, sporting a new bruise on each knee and a sore left wrist. He forgoes any purchase of jewelry. He sits on a bench outside of the shop, clutching his stomach and rubbing his knees for 45 minutes before his wife finally appears. An argument ensues. Neither tourist recalls St. John’s fondly.

R

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Rapscallions, like scallions, abound in the majority of U.S. counties. Despite the pleasing rhyme and apparent similarity of these words, it may benefit those speaking of rapscallions to know that the word lacks connection to scallions. Curiously, though (or, for some, not at all) the Roanoke-based Brotherhood of Scallion Growers reports in their 2009 year-end wrap-up that 4.1% of its members spotted uninvited rascals scouring their scallion patches for a few choice stems. The report does not conclude the farmers thought little enough of the intruders to curse them with the label “rapscallions”, but I will.

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