Bewildering Stories

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My Amusements, cont.

Steven Utley

It has been my good fortune to be injected occasionally into the society of a well-heeled, well-connected lady who is of an excitable and superstitious disposition, and who evidently has never seen a single Marx Brothers movie — circumstances that work almost entirely to my advantage in an acquaintance chiefly characterized by tumult and squawk. Early on, not only did she patently not expect me to say the things I said to her, she never paused to wonder why I said them, but simply reacted, most entertainingly, I thought, to my saying them. And why did I say them? Frankly, nothing compares with having a Margaret Dumontish foil at hand for putting a fellow in touch with his inner Groucho.

A case in point: we were having lunch in a Chinese restaurant; when the check and fortune cookies arrived, I picked up the former and dispensed the latter; she, squinting at the slip of paper bearing her fortune, said, “I can’t read this, I don’t have my glasses,” so I took it from her and read aloud, “‘Today is a bad day to get hit by a truck.’”

It was worth buying lunch, first, to see her expression of credulous alarm, and then, when she realized that her leg was being pulled, to watch her ascend thunderously into the heavens on a column of flame and smoke. Once in orbit, she radioed to Earth that she was Never Speaking To Me Again. Eventually, though, she got down safely and resumed our dialogue, somewhat after the manner of one who has stuck a fork into an electrical socket and wants to confirm the startling result of that first experiment.

Now, this is no idly rich nitwit, but a Stanford graduate and multi-degree’d lecturer on medical arcana. Besides being excitable and superstitious, however, she seems to have cut an awful lot of her English classes, possibly because she never foresaw engaging in verbal duels with a professional writer who would return her e-mails with all the spelling and syntactic errors helpfully pointed out. That was good for an especially spectacular lift-off, 47 more Earth orbits, and another declaration that she was Never Speaking To Me Again. She concluded her transmission with the words, “You’ll just have to bare with being deprived of my company,” and I duly responded, “That’s ‘bear with being deprived,’ you illiterate trollop.”

She has become warier — again, after the manner of one who’s stuck a fork into an electrical socket five or six times — and nowadays just assumes that, whatever I may be up to, I am, Loki-like, up to no good. In fact, even if I’m not up to anything at all, just to be safe, she is Never Speaking To Me Again again.

Copyright © 2004 by Steven Utley

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