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An Eye For An Eye

Crumbs.  Two sequin-sized crumbs of what suspiciously resembled some sort of grain by-product.  Closer inspection and rather experienced micro-scrutiny revealed that they were most likely French, Sourdough or Bagel, not Whole Wheat, Pumpernickel or Rye.  Inconceivable!  Despicable, loathsome, revolting.  The words floated around David Grimsby’s head disruptively and he quickly compartmentalized them, diligently, systematically, methodically.   Where had these atrocious crumbs come from?

David Grimsby shifted creakily in the taut leather driver’s seat, uncomfortable, perturbed, ruffled.  He ran his hand over the smooth surface of his organizer, his lifeline, his bible.  He inhaled on a precise count of two and released an extricating exhale of exactly three seconds.  He fingered the pointy-corner of the carefully color-coordinated Post-it protruding from his creaseless organizer.  Yellow.  Yellow for “today”.  David Grimsby reveled in his exemplary organizational system.  A wave of satisfaction broke over the shores of his moral indignation and for a brief moment, he was able to ignore the alien crumbs in his otherwise immaculate vehicle.  He thought about how fastidious his scheduling was, and how he managed not only to carefully and accurately detail and report the events in his life, but to further categorize everything with colors, exact time reports and other complicated structure systems that would certainly elude most people he knew.  How on earth anyone else was able to go about their mundane and disheveled lives with their mediocre organizing, ungodly time-keeping and their abominable standards of cleanliness was a mystery to David Grimsby.

He gently flicked open the deliciously crisp, white sheets of the organizer and tracked back to two days earlier; the Blue Post It.  It was as he had expected.  Peter James at 2:22pm on Wednesday.  Peter James had been the last passenger in his car.  A grotesquely untidy man by David Grimsby’s standards, as most of his co-workers and the people he had met in his forty-two years were.  Peter James had asked for a ride from him after lunch, much to David Grimsby’s dismay, as he much preferred to spend his lunches alone reading, away from the scrutiny and cacophony of others.  Solitary, isolated, validated.  David Grimsby had felt compelled to oblige and this must have been the time in question, when the rogue crumbs were tracked into his car by Peter James.  He double checked the 2:22pm entry on Wednesday two days earlier, and his itemized report confirmed that he had been emphatic about explaining the “no food or food remnants” rule to Peter James and even detailed the eye-roll it had elicited from “Pete” as he pretentiously claiming to be called.  David Grimsby had always felt that it was taking liberties to abbreviate one’s birth name and he had previously concluded that “Peter James” was this heinous man’s given name, the name on all of his company documents and not some silly self-appointed pseudonym.

David Grimsby was delectably interrupted by the staccato summoning of his Tag Heuer wrist watch; the essential choice of precision-lovers.  He had to make haste in order to make ample time to arrive at Mrs E. Banbury’s residence.  The more timely his arrival, the sooner he could leave after all, and return to the comfort of his pristine cubicle.  He carefully removed his beloved Black and Decker 12V Auto- Dustbuster from her safe and designated spot in his glove compartment and extinguished the offending crumbs.  David Grimsby stole a quick and reassuring glance at the tidy, intently-gazed man looking back at him in his rear-view mirror. He traced a bony accusatory fore-finger along the dark, fore-boding and perpetually disapproving mono-brow held hostage on his elongated, sallow face. His deep-set, pious blue eyes scanned the pair of pale, underused lips, sunken cheekbones and the priggishly up-turned nose pointing vigilantly to the roof of his car.  With a sanctimonious nod, David Grimsby cleared his throat and pulled out of parking spot 3B.

Mrs. E Banbury’s little cottage was as in the “boonies” as David Grimsby had calculated.  Miles from the nearest little town and suffocated, he felt, by miles of meandering hoof-hugged, mud-mounded country roads. He navigated hatefully through them, the gnarled and sinewy branches of old oak trees mocking him, clawing out haphazardly to scratch his ergonomic vehicle, and shrouding the sun’s bright shine in their lumbering shadows.  Weird little birds sang ominously shrill songs and wayward squirrels darted in and out of the country road and the surrounding woods, seemingly as confused by the lack of urban planning and road structure as David Grimsby felt.  He hated these suicidal squirrels. He hated all animals for that matter, but felt determined not to squish one due to the additional “road kill” cleaning he would be compelled to fit into an already tight-schedule.

Upon arrival at Mrs. E Banbury’s cottage, David Grimsby felt both a wave of relief at his time-keeping precision and a shudder of uncertainty run up his spine like an invisible spider.  He carefully squeezed both hands into a pair of latex gloves for protection; one can never be too careful.  He exited his car and was immediately assaulted by the pungent, farm-fresh fusion of dusty haystacks, manure, horse dander and “eau de farm”. A steady, cool, fresh country breeze did very little to alleviate his discomfort. His olfactory system had never taken such a beating, so he pressed the monogrammed hanker-chief from his pocket to his face for damage control.  He scanned the premises.  The old rustic, stone cottage was quaint, surrounded by rogue trees and over-run by stalky weeds, soft wet earth freckled by patchy grass, mysterious little mud holes filled with captive rain-water and a quiet air of rural living. Birds twittered in between silent spells and a higgledy-piggledy mud-path led up to the old front door.  David Grimsby perused the old-wooden door, faded, dusty and cobweb-kissed.  The house-number, 66, hung neglected and sideways by a last, rusty nail. Apparently it had other place’s it would rather be. The door’s old splintery keyhole seemed to stare at him ominously, the house’s unblinking eye.    David Grimsby took a deep breath, made a quick silent prayer that she had no children inside, grand or otherwise, and knocked reluctantly on the old door, a thin veneer of latex skin away from touching its splintery, paint-chipped surface.

A gust of warm air escaped and rushed past David Grimsby as Mrs E. Banbury opened the front door, oven-hot and even dustier than the hay-filled country outside.  Mrs E.  Banbury smelled like hot cinnamon-apple pie, fruit-scented hairspray, and toasty laundry straight from the dryer with a slightly medicinal trace of a bleach cleaning agent.  Her hair was loosely fuddled into unruly silvery curls and a pair of warm smiling eyes un-nerved David Grimsby.  His horrified eye honed in on her apron first, a veritable quilt of stains, browns, reds, oranges and greens, all speckled with a snow shower of some mysterious soft white powder.  How old were these monstrosities? Why in God’s name hadn’t the apron been washed?  The piebald apron hugged her curvy figure snuggly, pressing her ample bosom forward, a hilly canvas for those ghastly stains.  Her sexagenarian face exuded a jovial friendliness and David Grimsby rapidly determined that if Santa Claus had indeed existed, this might well be his lesser-known wife.

“Well, you must be Mr. Grimsby,” chimed Mrs E.Banbury, with an English accent as smooth and rich as molten molasses. It quickly conjured images of Earl Grey served in porcelain china with a jammy scone and a dab of clotted cream.

“Do come in Mr. Grimsby,” she mused.

David Grimsby shuddered and his heart-raced as he stepped into her lair.

“Please excuse the mess, Mr. Grimsby, I have been terribly busy with my charities and rescue organizations lately, where does one find the time to keep up with the cleaning I wonder?  Ah well!  May I call you David?”

“Mess” hardly touched the horror that met David Grimsby’s eyes.  The inside of the small cottage resembled central Baghdad.  Ramshackle stacks of paper, each several feet high, bordered three sides of the living room, blocking what now looked like secret doorways to other rooms. Frayed boxes of clothes and tattered old shoes lay scattered in disarray.  Horribly puerile drawings of stick figures done by children in oily crayon were tacked to parts of the surrounding walls.  The walls were apparently desperately trying to shed a once brightly floral wall paper from their age-weakened grasp.  A pile of half-unwrapped (or half-wrapped) Christmas presents lay abandoned in another corner, confused as to the time of year. Layers of dust covered the surfaces of all the old antique furniture and cloaked an ancient grandfather clock; tall as a man, that struck each second with a lazy, heavy hand.  Enigmatic junk, unidentifiable garbage and trinkets smothered her chaotic habitat.  Mrs E. Banbury, he thought, was clearly a classic hoarder.   Perhaps most disturbing of all were the seven or so cats of various shapes and colors, slinking in and out of the debris; svelte and sphinx-like beings that occasionally omitted a sharp baby-cry that made David Grimsby’s teeth hurt.  He felt their amber, green and bright yellow eyes burning into his skin, taunting the intruder in their home, as they rubbed against furniture, spreading their stench, claiming, marauding. He felt dizzy; a wave of nausea crashing over him. David Grimsby began to perspire a little and made a mental note in CAPITAL LETTERS to include this atrocious character-flaw in Mrs. E Banbury’s final case report.

“Those are my rescued cats, David. I take on the one’s nobody wants, the sick ones; the orphans. I have so many at this point, I can’t remember all their names!” she laughed heartily.

David Grimsby made an addition to his mental note; not only was she entirely eccentric, but in all likelihood certifiably insane as well as a hoarder.  He had to get to business quickly so he could retreat from this hygienic war-zone.

“You can call me Mr. Grimsby, Mrs E. Banbury,” he started, curtly.

He was startled by the nasal sound of his own voice.  He suspected it must have been at least two days since he had spoken aloud, lastly to Peter James in fact, when Peter James had so rudely contaminated David Grimsby’s otherwise spotless vehicle.

“Oh, please call me Ethel dear,” Mrs. E Banbury smiled, a twinkle in her almond eyes that suddenly looked somewhat cat-like, no doubt from over-exposure to her unsanitary feline-friends, surmised David Grimsby.

“I will continue to call you Mrs E. Banbury,” David Grimsby quipped, “Here is a copy of my identification card, authority card, and repossession order issued by the banking institution – in future, you should ask for that first. I have brought the necessary paperwork for you to sign.  I am assuming you received my previous correspondence by mail regarding the repossession of your home, in lieu of your considerable financial debt to the bank. As the repossessor, it is my duty to close the paperwork pending your moniker and I will confiscate your keys today.  This property no longer belongs to you.”

Mrs. E Banbury listened, unperturbed, eyes glistening, with a calm disposition. David Grimsby studied her face for signs of a pending explosion, as so often occurred with his visits, but there was nothing. There was only a serene and Zen-like air; a noble and quiet grace about this woman.  Her skin was soft, smooth but contoured carefully by lines; an external map of an emotionally-opulent past.

“I did receive your letters Mr. Grimsby, but silly me, I have just been so pre-occupied with other affairs and I’m quite sure the papers are in one of these little piles over here. Oh my. What about all my things? My kittens? My memories? I have lived here for such a long time. I would be sad to leave.  Are you sure there is nothing else to be done?” Mrs E. Banbury said calmly.

“Sign these papers here.” David Grimsby retorted, thrusting a neat stack of papers towards her.  David Grimsby reveled in the knowledge that this was to be his last collection visit.  He had been offered a position working clerically and away from the “public at large” as it had been relayed to him.  This made him incontestably happy and suited him perfectly.  He savored the solitude, finding company overrated and intolerable.  He felt that people were not nearly as interesting or as sophisticated as they should be.  Controversially, David Grimsby was an island.

There was a pause; tangible and thick, and eight seconds too long, David Grimsby counted. The Grandfather clock’s strikes echoed loudly, sluggishly attempting to move time along and David Grimsby began to itch, mortified at the sudden thought that fleas might be contaminating his socks in this wretched place.

“Alright Mr. Grimsby, I understand.  I will sign your papers, but with one stipulation.”

Another pregnant pause ensued, heifer-heavy; weighted with discomfort.

“That you sit down and enjoy a cup of tea with me.”

David Grimsby’s heart sank and his skin crawled.

“I don’t think that is appropriate and I would rather not…” he started.

“Then I won’t sign your paperwork!” smiled Mrs E. Banbury playfully, and with a spring in her step, she disappeared into the direction he assumed the kitchen might be.

David Grimsby shuddered and gingerly maneuvered himself to a once-peach pastel-colored armchair, opposite a once-peach pastel-colored couch, and hand-dusted it vigorously before sitting down begrudgingly. He still felt nauseous and dizzy, intensely repulsed and once again thankful for the latex gloves.  The shabby walls seemed to be closing in on him, and he took several carefully counted deep breaths to gain composure.  David Grimsby put his hands on his knees, the safest place for them in this perilous abode.  His heart-rate quickened as he locked eyes with one of the predatory felines, its fiery-yellow eyes alight with sadistic intention. After a few painful moments and a blink-less stare-down, David Grimsby suddenly realized he was being stalked. The cat’s haunches slowly navigated the narrow gaps between the debris, its shoulder blades rising and falling decisively and deliberately, like a lioness through the cluttered squalor of this trash-laden Serengeti.  To his right and his horror, another pair of green eyes suspended in a mass of raven-black fur, were locked onto him, engaging the hunt.  Another fluffier, considerably larger and more mangy-looking specimen, launched itself up onto a nearby box to get a better look at the chosen victim, straining to peruse with its single, bulgy pearl-blue eye, like a pernicious pirate; a one-eyed ringleader.  David Grimsby found himself nearing a total psychological breakdown.  These silent and stealthy stalkers were closing in on him from all angles and he quickly scanned his immediate surroundings for a weapon.  An overflowing box of old dolls sat close to him, most of them eye-less with scratched, muddy, faded faces. To his right were more stacks of paper, tired books and a large disturbing statue of a wolf nursing a little boy.  To his left; Eureka!  An antique umbrella stand filled with a collection of walking canes of various heights and designs. David Grimsby grabbed a cane with a carefully fashioned brass-replica of an eye as its handle; the pupil a gaudy, over-sized emerald and began to swing the cane around him to deter these rabid beasts.  Several charged, backs arched, tails fluffed out like bottle brushes and more than a couple hissed at him, as he made cane-to-fur contact, shooing them away. All the while, that shivery invisible spider ran back up and down his spine and every hair on his forearms stood uniformly to attention.  His counterattack proved successful and a shocking nine of those gruesome cats scattered away in to the messy abyss.  Utterly disgusted, he threw the cane on the floor, but not too far away, in case the hoard maliciously merged for round two.

Mrs E. Banbury returned after what seemed like an eternity of frenzied feline resistance.  She shuffled along with a platter, a bright jolly-little teapot that greatly resembled its owner, two cups for tea and a smile from ear to ear. David Grimsby noticed the fat little sugar pot that was apparently secretly ingesting its own contents, and a ridiculous plethora of odd, pointy little teaspoons.  She sang some old unrecognizable tune about the “breeze whispering Louise” with a kooky laugh, as shrill as the silly little birds outside.

“Do you take sugar, young man?” she asked, and after acknowledging his icy silence and averted gaze, added, “Do have a gingersnap or some shortbread. Or both, you are much too skinny, my dear.”

“Mrs. E. Banbury, I would like to get down to business and back to…” David Grimsby protested…

“Uh, uh, uh!” she taunted, “The condition was for you to finish a cup of tea and a civil conversation Mr. Grimsby.  It seems like a small and pleasant condition before you take my whole life away from me.”

He did not detect even the slightest hint of sarcasm in her dulcet butterscotch voice.

David Grimsby let out a bemused sigh, followed by an indignant snort and started on his tea, the sooner he drank it, the sooner he could leave before the cat battalion returned or he contracted some horrible disease in this awful place.  The sooner he left, the sooner he would never have to endure these collection excursions and could process the cases from the unencumbered cleanliness and comfort of his own desk. Besides, he was absolutely certain it would only be a matter of time before the feline alliance reassembled and declared war. He tried hard to focus on the relief he would feel upon leaving, instead of the germs he would be ingesting by putting his lips to her bio-hazardous teacups.  He gulped the milky hot tea as fast as he could, his face an open, unabashed page in a book of total revulsion.  He spluttered, shuddered and grimaced, his esophagus scalded and his sallow cheeks flushed fuschia.  Mrs. E Banbury didn’t seem in the least offended.

“Did you know, Mr. Grimsby, that there have been others like you that have visited.  There was a tax man, who reminds me very much of yourself in fact. He was a thin man, tall like you, a little younger perhaps. Bright blue eyes like yours. Yes, agreeable fellow, he came to audit me of all things!  He didn’t stick around too long, I suspect he also thought it a little messy in here. You might have noticed that I am also a collector, Mr. Grimsby.  It appears we have that in common,” she smiled, the corners of her eyes turning slightly upward; her Cleopatra countenance.

She nestled snugly into the armchair as it hugged her back, entirely relaxed.  David Grimsby wondered if her own “self-soothing” voice wasn’t what made her so unflappable; so affable and nonchalant.   Her soft inflection made him feel drowsy and dreamy, it made him think of cotton candy at a carnival and delicate strawberries, half-dipped in creamy milk chocolate.  His eyelids felt heavy and the orchestra of her words reached a beautiful crescendo in his ears, as the room began to spin around him. He closed his eyes for a brief moment.

When David Grimsby forced his eyes open again, he caught the tail end of what he considered to be Mrs. E Banbury’s most ridiculous rant so far.

“…so many injustices in this world, Mr Grimsby, it just won’t do.  I do my best to correct these situations and right the wrongs, and I strongly believe in helping those in need…”

The rant continued, but David Grimsby could not concentrate on it and didn’t want to anyways.  Silly old woman, thought David Grimsby, clearly a lonely old bat who was at least partially losing her mind and hadn’t noticed her visitor couldn’t care less about her thoughts and conversation and was completely overwhelmed by the atrocity she called her home.  David Grimsby’s eyes shut themselves tightly and he no longer heard Mrs E. Banbury’s soothing voice.

David Grimsby peeled his eyes open again, disoriented.  Time seemed like a distant rain cloud on a foggy day.  Piles of clutter floated around him, collections of books, piles of dolls, a school of shoes, bunches of blankets, all in a dizzying cabaret, a slow dream-like dance.  He still felt dizzy and confused, but couldn’t articulate or form a single clear thought and for the first time in his forty-two years, David Grimsby was not in control.  Warm and fuzzy tingles crawled across his skin.  Had he fainted?  His arms felt as heavy as lead pipe, his legs, tingly and light, like squeaky runaway-red balloons at a circus.  A silvery mass moved towards him, deliberately, shaking slightly and shadowing the rest of his view.  In it’s oval face, a familiar object.  Where had he seen this before?  His thoughts formed slowly.  David Grimsby felt like he was swimming in gelatinous pudding, sticky, lost, sinking in its confectionary clutches. The silvery oval and its contents came closer and he began to piece things together.  He recognized the perpetually disapproving mono-brow, the sallow face, the pious blue eyes, the under-used lips, the upturned nose.  It was his reflection!  Upside down!   He giggled, giddy and amused to see himself upside down.  He wasn’t sure how long he rested in this narcissistic trance before he realized what he was looking at, a spoon!  He felt it’s cool, metallic little pointy tip touch the base of his left eye socket.

“It’s for my collection Mr Grimsby,” came the sugary siren’s voluptuous voice.

And everything was dark.

eyeball

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About a decade ago, I stared out of a bus window watching the runaway blur of trees and gyrating with the busy hum of the bus engine. The vehicle wheels were losing a fierce battle with a dusty, jagged and rebarbative road.   A shrill voice pierced through the air, unwavering and resonating at a frequency that is seldom attained by humankind, and I suspect is mostly only detected by select Canines.  She was all of about seven years old, and sat at the very front of the School bus.  My attention focused on the familiar tune that had been hijacked by such a young warbler.

“I can see clearly now the rain has goooooone….!.”

Sensing her newfound audience in the back, she turned to face me and flashed a toothless grin.

“I can see all Lobsticals in my waaaayyy.”

It soon became apparent that she didn’t know any of the chorus and was singing the same couple of lines “on loop” with puerile fervor.  I stopped her.

“You can see all what in your way?”

“Lobsticals,” she replied indignantly.

“What is a Lobstical?” I responded, inquisitively.

“It is one of those little creatures with the claws.” She emulated pincers with her tiny hands.  Ahh. The Lobstical; that edible marine crustacean, an elusive delicacy that is somewhat more difficult to catch and most certainly less known than its cousin, the Lobster.

Her imaginative rendition of the Johnny Nash classic reminded me of an example of my own lyric butchering when I was her age.  I sang along to Paul Young’s classic with all the ardor and gusto a little person could muster, while simultaneously causing my father to cringe, recoil in disbelief and howl with laughter.

(cue aforementioned ultrasonic squealy-singing)

“Everytime you go awaaayy….you take a piece of meat with you.”

So, let’s be real here – the English language is complicated as hell.  Inconsistent.   Sneaky.  Machiavellian at times.  Years of chattering in your native tongue might give you a false sense of confidence, bravado even – which is when it will strike back; all tooth and clause. You will be tripped up by a stealthy spelling error or toppled from your syntactical high horse by an evil malapropism.  Slandered by improper slang, mislead by misnomers, terminated for your terminology, jilted for your jargon.   I recently discovered, much to my chagrin, that I have been spelling “genius” wrong my entire life.  Hello! “Would you like a giant dollop of irony with your humble pie, Alice?”  The potential for anyone to fall into grammatical booby-traps is a real and sobering one.  In my formerly “genious” and now very humble opinion, it is not a stretch to surmise that conjunctive adverbs may give one conjunctivitis and by starting out Hooked On Phonics®, you just might end up Hooked On Crack®.

Perhaps the most dangerous pitfalls are the malapropism and the mondegreen.  Those stealthy, merciless and nondiscriminatory predators that invade our language, ferociously devouring intended meaning. Their victims are left exposed and humiliated, bewildered, perplexed and sometimes, in the most dire of attacks; proposing that a nearby village is missing their prize idiot.

My trusty Google-fingers have procured some information on where the word “Malapropism” came from. “Malapropism” is from the French “mal a propos” (which literally translates as “ill to the purpose”.  The word “malapropism” was coined by Richard Brinsley Sheridan in 1775 and came from the name of his character, Mrs Malaprop, a protagonist in his play, “Rivals”.  Mrs Malaprop frequently mispronounced and incorrectly named things, for comedic effect, solidifying the term.  Mondegreen refers to a type of aural malapropism and is a mondegreen in itself.  One of my favorite examples of a mondegreen is when you hear someone singing the lyrics to Jimmy Hendrix’s Purple Haze as, “Excuse me, while I kiss this guy!”  American writer Sylvia Wright established the term after her own childhood experience.  Sylvia had listened intently to her mother reciting from Percy’s Reliques and had remembered the poem as;

Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands,

Oh, where hae ye been?

They hae slain the Earl Amurray,

And Lady Mondegreen.

The actual line is, “and laid him on the green”.

Although it might appear that these afflictions are confined in solidarity to the years of childhood and derive directly from the mouths of babes, I have regrettably observed that these contagious maladies are not bound by age or demographic.  The desultory desolation of the English language is contagious, hugely inevitable and spreads like wild-fire from one unsuspecting individual to the next.

While at my former job, I was approached by a particularly gregarious male colleague, who often passed me by with a smile that might only have rivaled the Cheshire Cat.  Seriously – ear-to-ear business.  I always matched his smile politely to return the jovial gesture.  One morning, he stopped in his tracks, studied my beaming smile and approached me.

“Oh,” he nodded in an approving manner, “You have nipples.”

I was frozen solid by his audacity.  An icy grip of disbelief and total panic paralyzed me.  How in God’s name were my nipples exposed!?  How could this be happening?  I scoured through my memory for this particular morning’s entry where I had surely dressed myself as usual?  Perhaps a couple of buttons had obstreperously broken free?  Admittedly, I do enjoy the odd glass or five of Pinot Grigio – but what kind of a hellacious boozy-bender had I gone on last night that I arrived to work sans shirt and sunny-side up this morning?  Then it dawned on me: Dimples.  English being the second language of my mistaken colleague, he had said nipples instead of the lesser-used “dimples” to describe the characteristic indentations on each side of my erstwhile grin.  Either that, or I had sprouted nipples on my forehead.  He walked calmly away from me, smiling obliviously, following his familiar route towards the restaurant’s kitchen, entirely self-assured and completely unaware that he was totally lost in translation.

My Nana, as well as being one of the most inspiring, compassionate and magnanimous individuals I have ever known, was also perhaps the reigning Queen of Malapropisms. A refreshingly candid octogenarian from the North of England, she once issued my mother with a very detailed shopping list for the local supermarket. My mother diligently scuttled to the store, list in hand, and began to select each requested item from the supermarket.

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Juice
  • Mr Kipling’s teacakes (did I mention how English she was?)
  • Fish pie
  • Bread
  • Butter
  • Biscuits (American translation = cookies)

My mom checked each article off the hand-written list with ease until she reached the final item:

  • God in Parsley Sauce.

Apparently my grandmother had confused the Lord Almighty with a Northern Atlantic bottom-dwelling fish.

One character that played a prominent part and regularly featured in my Nana’s stories throughout my youth was The Old Melp.  I saw my Nana only once a year in the summertime, when I would get to enjoy her fantastic stories.  The Old Melp was involved in loads of adventures over the years, brought to life by Nana’s vivid and often side-splitting knack for story-telling.  Sometimes the Old Melp had been “up to no good” and other times she was committing some act of great heroism. I can even remember her being under police investigation for theft in one story.  She seemed to be either the hero or a total reprobate curiously enough, which lead me to believe she was a particularly unstable individual.  Having never met The Old Melp in person (unlike many of the other wonderful characters Nana associated with), I pieced together a mental image of her based upon a hazy collection of her many adventures coupled with a smattering of imagination run wild (and I do let it run…).  The library of stories from which to concoct this picture was brimming, and included stories of The Old Melp from long before my birth.  Here is what my warped mind came up with:  The Old Melp was female, though somewhat androgynous in appearance and most certainly a force to be reckoned with.  She was at least ninety years of age (at the very least to comply with the timeline of stories), with long, gnarly fingernails, yellowed with a profusion of experience.  The Old Melp had squinty little soul-searching eyes and a repugnant face; creased and worn with the deep lines of time. She had a hunchback, an encumbering limp and when my imagination permitted it, a small parrot on her shoulder that mimicked BBC news broadcasts.

I finally learned that when my Nana had been talking about “The Old Melp”, she had in fact been saying, “the Home Help” which referred to the workers that came to assist at the homes of the elderly.  I was later informed that almost each month, she had a new representation from the Home Help arrive to help out at her apartment. Somehow I had combined the stories of at least two decades worth of individuals into one ominous individual; The Old Melp.  Genious.

Delightfully humbling and generally hilarious, the complexity of the English language breeds these malapropisms.  Another colleague of mine once recommended that I go down to the cafeteria and try the, “Butt cakes.”  I will never look at another Bundt cake the same way again.  Perhaps the most amusing (and easiest to keep on record) are the malapropisms that sneak their way into student’s papers by the elephant of surprise.

I have heard that one young student announced to the class with particular zest that the “bowels” are A, E, I, O and U.  Another defiantly announced that the four seasons are “salt, pepper, vinegar and mustard.”

Below are some of my favorites for your reading pleasure (some are decidedly insightful).

  • Your education determines your loot in life
  • Arabs wear turbines on their heads
  • Charles Darwin was a naturalist who wrote the Organ Of The Species
  • David was a Hebrew King skilled at playing the liar
  • The doctor felt the man’s purse and said there was no hope
  • The dog ran across the lawn, emitting whelps all along the way
  • Finally the colonists won the war and no longer had to pay for taxis
  • The first thing to do when a baby is born is cut the biblical chord
  • The flood damage was so bad they had to evaporate the city
  • Flying saucers are an optical conclusion
  • Growing up the trellis were pink and yellow concubines
  • Having one wife is called monotony
  • Homer also wrote the Oddity, in which Penelope was the last hardship that Ulysses endured on his journey
  • In Spring, the salmon swim upstream to spoon
  • In the Olympic Games, Greeks ran races, jumped, hurled biscuits and threw the java
  • In the nineteenth Century, pheasants led terrible lives
  • Iron was discovered because someone smelt it
  • I suffer from a deviant septum
  • King Alfred conquered the Dames
  • Louis Pasteur discovered a cure for rabbis

Pale Biscuit

I have watched the magic transformation from afar. The bikini-clad figure contentedly stretches out on her prophetic Hawaiian Tropic© towel, a smug and waxy grin slowly creeping across her oil-slicked face. She lies perfectly still, imbibing the Suns hazy rays, coconut-kissed skin infusing a warm glow that delicately wraps her body in a blanket of exuberant color. I can almost watch her previously lackluster complexion becoming enhanced by a luminous veil, shrouded in a salubrious shine. Her enraptured countenance is perfectly peaceful as she engages in a subtle seduction of sunlight. It happens, that unmistakably exquisite blush, the Tan.

By contrast, I am a self-admitted Tanorexic. The times that I have attempted to gain even a shade of pigment have proved veritable disasters. I have painstakingly fastened myself to a sunscreen-sticky beach towel, like a flailing grub to a sheet of goo-gluey fly paper. Slippery, clammy and uncomfortable. I have then made a monomaniacal attempt to find my happy place as the Sun beats down upon my inner eyelids, slowly and mercilessly smoking my lily-white complexion. I try to lie still as my head starts to thump like a metronome, a beady layer of sweat burgeoning underneath the suffocating sunscreen (factor 50 no less, thank you). I can literally feel my skin stinging and baking in the sun as I feel about as sensual as a Baked Potato. The results are pitiful and usually a little disturbing. Over the course of the next week, I will develop my own unique color, not dissimilar to that of the Eunephrops bairdii of the Caribbean Sea, more commonly known as the Red Lobster. Often times the Sun has tainted my entire body a deep scarlet hue, except for, most cruelly, the two large circular areas surrounding my eyes that have been left their usual porcelain shade. As if in reprimand, I am left resembling a paralyzed Raccoon in bright headlights. This alarming transformation is swiftly followed by a most gruesome process in which my entire epidermis systematically falls off my person, usually in the most inconveniently public of places and mostly, in accordance with Murphys Law, when I have important events to attend (weddings, reunions, bumping into an ex and his supermodel squeeze). Sadly, it is a far cry from the sun-kissed individuals that grace the pages of Swimsuit Illustrated.

I have always been the palest. When my foundation runs out, Liquid Paper is a fairly adequate substitute. Someone once told me that a friend is someone who sees through you and still enjoys the view. I asked them if they meant that literally. The last time I tried to sunbathe with my sister, who incidentally inherited my mothers olive complexion, I ended up with a 2nd Degree burn (no exaggeration)and some matching emotional scars for good measure. When I was about 11 years old, my concerned mother trundled her translucent daughter to the dermatologist (its routine, she assured me). The imperious doctor, an Indonesian man in his fifties, took a skin-scrape from my pasty little arm. He poked and prodded, ummed and ahhed and eventually sat me down. Alice, he said, in a thick Indonesian accent, squashing the centre of his spectacles flat against the bridge of his broad nose superciliously. You have 100 times de chance of getting de skin cancer than anyone else. You must NEPER go in da sun. NEPER.

I thought for a moment. As the daughter of expatriates, I had grown up in various parts of the world, almost always near the scorching Equator. Neper would be difficult. I pressed him further for his expertise, What if I have to go in the Sun? A long pause ensued. I awaited his wise and learned answer patiently. He was a dermatologist with years of practice and a veritable plethora of certificates mounted haughtily on his office wall. “Alice, if you must go in da Sun, you must always, ALWAYS.

I anticipated the remedy, perhaps a new prescription or product was the answer? I was sure some revolutionary break through in the Dermatological world was about to be revealed to me.

“…….ALWAYS, he continued, “…..wear a suit. A suit in the sun? Did he mean Scuba or Armani?

I remember my first make-up purchase with equal astonishment. Having flipped through the pages of Seventeen and Teen religiously in my pre-teen fervor, I had admired the abundance of choice. There was a cornucopia of color to pick for a liquid foundation. The fresh-faced models who adorned the pages of these magazines had flawless vibrant complexions, miraculously matte, deliciously dewy and unbeknownst to me at the time; fastidiously airbrushed.

Upon arriving at the pharmacy I discovered that the choice of face make-up brands alone was overwhelming. I began to search zealously through the titles. The choice was vast. The hues were given the most tantalizing nom de plumes, conjuring images of an exotic paradise or mouth-watering refreshments. Cool Mahogany, Clearly Caramel, Cocoa Crisp, Tan Temptations, Cognac Caress, Mocha Magic, Heavenly Honey.

I started a lengthy quest. Brand by brand, I scoured the aisles for a suitable tint. Simply Seductive, Chocolate Kiss, Fudge Fantastic Finally I found it. Hidden away at the furthest end of the pharmacy where only the most esoteric group of melanin-challenged individuals would need to venture. My jaw dropped in horror. There was my shade. 000001: PALE BISCUIT.

Pale Biscuit. They didnt even try.

According to the findings of my rapid-fire Google-fingers, humans have had a long and varied relationship with the Sun. It was over 400 years ago that Copernicus declared the Sun the centre of the Universe. Societies all over the world have worshiped the sun, invoking it to aid crop growth (hardly a fruitless cause). In 1920, Coco Chanel made the tan popular (apparently accidentally) after some exposure to the rays on a trip from Paris to Nice. The tan became a symbol of wealth and leisure. Thanks Coco. In ancient Greece and Rome, however, it was desirable to be pasty-white and faces were smeared daily with lead-based paints and chalk (many died of lead-poisoning). Darker skin represented laborers and the lower classes from exposure to the elements while working in the fields. In the 10th Century, Arsenic became the whitener of choice (with apparently unfortunate consequences). In recent years, thank goodness, studies have shown the damaging affects of the Suns rays on our skin and more people are taking precautionary measures than hitting the beach with a bottle of oil to baste in for a good roast. I have noticed that the pharmacies in Western countries have shelves that are brimming with self-tanners, while in Asian pharmacies, the shelves are populated with skin-whiteners. Perhaps the message is clear; be happy with the skin you are in because it is better than being burned or dying of arsenic poisoning. I consider myself enlightened.

There are even a couple of advantages to being so translucent. For one, if I was ever cast in a Vampire film, I could cut back production costs with my natural opacity and a lack of need for white make-up to be paler. The odds of my pasty mug beaming at you throughout your breakfast from your milk carton are also decreased substantially. This is because I am less likely to get lost as I am usually spotted fairly easily from a distance as I provide my own lighting. I am my own beacon of light. Conversely, I can make myself scarce if need by means of camouflage against most walls. Probably the most advantageous aspect of being a whiter shade of pale or a paler shade of white is that it makes me unique. I am certainly the palest biscuit that I know.