Name Calling at the Tall Tales Tavern

What a heavy burden is a name that has become too famous.” -Voltaire

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Public Domain in the US (created prior to 1923)

Public Domain in the US (created prior to 1923)

The Briar Patch was undergoing yet another normal day. Well, normal for the clientele. Sitting at the bar was Little Miss Muffet. She sat with her curds and protein whey, keeping an eye on her spoon. The last time she had dined at the tavern the spoon had smooth-talked the dish into running off with it; complete with Muffet’s dinner. Still, Muffet never felt that she could complain because Br’er Rabbit stocked curds and left it on the menu just for her.

Br’er Rabbit sniffed the air, noted its perfect balance of wood, beer, and that undefinable “old” quality. Across the room a dog stood up on a chair, its hind legs standing on the seat while the front paws rested firmly on the tabletop. The dog had been growling at its cup of water for over half an hour. The dog was convinced that the mongrel that stared back at him from the glass was the same mutt that had stolen his bone when they had last met at a lone pond. But as Br’er looked on from behind the bar, one eyebrow raised; all he saw was a crazy canine snarling at its reflection. Br’er grabbed a carrot from under the counter, knowing that neither of the patrons was likely to order more anytime soon.

Just then, the heavy wood door swung open and an unmistakable figure shuffled hurriedly in the door. His short and gnarly legs struggled to keep up with his temper. The little fellow was hardly any bigger than the stools that were scattered along the bar. Br’er Rabbit sighed and waved the arrival closer.

“Alright Rumpelstiltskin. I can see that you’re wound up about something. Let’s remember the last time you were this antsy, okay? I had to have Geppetto come in and patch that hole in the floor. There’ll be no stomping your foot today.”

“Yes, yes; fine”, Rumpelstiltskin replied. He pulled of his long cap and held it by the balled-top as he took in the tavern. “Have you seen a woman looking for me?”

Br’er turned his head to one side and considered the question. “Do you mean a human woman?” The idea of a non-grotesque creature making a date with this odd little man was a hard tidbit for Br’er to swallow.

“Oh shut your furry yap. Have you seen one or not?”

“No, not unless you’re here for Miss Muffet. I kind of think you’d scare her worse than that spider ever did, though.”

“Next time you come out from behind that counter; remind me to stomp on those big feet of yours. I’m going to wait at that table over there.”

Br’er started to shout that customers in his establishment usually ordered something, but he then realized that would involve greater effort than he was willing to dole out. He had his carrot, the place had plenty of open seats; why raise a fuss. Also, Rumpelstiltskin had chosen the darkest seat that he could have, the corner table by the entrance; the one that often gets a customer hit by the door opening if they scoot their chair back too far.

For the next ten or so minutes things continued as they had. The dog stopped growling at its glass for a moment. Br’er was beginning to think that maybe the crazy pooch had finally figured it out. But then the growling came back, now with intermittent pauses. Br’er listened and after a bit, figured it out. The dog had the hiccups. He didn’t think it was possible for the growling to have gotten any more annoying. But, in one of those rare moments, the rabbit had been proven wrong.

Slowly, almost perceptibly, a new noise echoed through the tavern. Br’er lifted his ears to their full height and tuned them in. Sure enough, the new thump thump thump sound was coming from the corner. Br’er looked to Rumpelstiltskin and saw him tapping his foot impatiently.

“What did I say about stomping?”

“I wasn’t stomping, I was tapping. A guy can’t have a nervous tick anymore?”

“How about you control your feet, unless you want to crush some grapes for me?”

“I’m waiting for the woman”, he replied in a clearly irritated tone.

“I mean, you’d have to take your shoes off”, the bartender said as he scratched under his furry chin with one ear and looked at Rumpelstiltskin’s feet.

“Not now. I’m busy”, he growled.

“And let’s be honest, you’d have to wash your feet first. I can smell those things from here.”

“Listen Br’er, if you don’t ease off—“

“I can’t exactly have whatever it is growing between your toes as part of my wine. Although, it might add a certain flavor.”

“Look—“

“Help me out here, would you describe the stench of your feet as pairing well with fish? Or maybe there’s a cedar-y or oak-y smell we could sell to the rubes?”

The door opened, ending Br’er’s taunting inquiries. In walked a woman with a traveling cloak. She doffed the hood, letting her auburn hair breathe in the atmosphere. Standing in the middle of the room, she exuded a confidence that showed she was entirely comfortable in this place that she’d never before set foot in. She looked around and took everyone’s measure, even the tar baby display near the back. The woman finished her surveillance sweep by turning slowly to examine the area behind her. As soon as she saw Rumpelstiltskin, she started towards him.

“Rumpelstiltskin, I take it”, she said as she removed her cloak and draped it over her arm. She looked at the seat in front of her and was less than pleased. Removing a few napkins from the middle of the table, she unfolded them placed them on the seat, and nodded in satisfaction. She made a move to lay her cloak over the back of the chair, but changed her mind. The woman sat down, her cloak folded neatly in her lap.

“You the one I’m supposed to meet?”

“It would appear so”, she said. “Why don’t you call me Lizzie?”

“What sort of name is Lizzie?”

“It’s one that’ll do”, Lizzie replied; “at least for today.”

“Wait, haven’t I heard of you?”

“I rather doubt that”, Lizzie replied.

“No, I have. That Mother Goose lady told me all about you.”

Lizzie groaned. “You know that old busybody? She really does love to share everyone’s stories, doesn’t she?”

“Yeah”, Rumpelstiltskin said, becoming more confident. “I’m sure of it now. I remember.

‘Elizabeth, Elspeth, Betsy, and Bess,

They all went together to seek a bird’s nest;

They found a bird’s nest with five eggs in,

They all took one and left four in.’

That’s you, ain’t it?”

“In the flesh”, Lizzie replied. “Let’s not spread that around, hmm? After all, a lady must have her secrets.”

“Well why didn’t you take all the eggs? Why only make off with one?”

“You don’t get it, do you little gnome? Stealing all the eggs would have been thievery. And the knights around here simply adore punishing thieves. However, if only one egg disappears? Why, no thief would leave all those eggs behind. One egg missing is a miscalculation; a misunderstanding. Even if they had caught me, no one would press charges against me for a misunderstanding.”

“I guess that makes sense”, Rumpelstiltskin admitted.

“What you should really focus on are all the names. Who would be the main culprit? Who’s the master thief and who are the accomplices? That’s where I really shine; identities. No one can catch you if they don’t know who they’re looking for.”

“That’s what I wanted to hear. I don’t want anybody to know who I am.”

“Yes, that whole miller’s-daughter affair.”

rumpelstiltskin-anne-aderson“Yeah”, the little fellow said with a growl. “Somebody must have snitched, that’s all I can think. I didn’t think anybody knew my name outside of this turf. One of these days I’m going to find out who talked and they’re going to answer to me”, Rumpelstiltskin said as he punctuated his point by pounding the table with his fist.

“Hey!”

Rumpelstiltskin and Lizzie turned towards Br’er Rabbit.

“What’d I tell you about stomping?”

“That wasn’t a stomp, ya oversized keychain. That was a punch. Like my fist’ll do to you if ya don’t ease off.”

“You keep telling yourself that”, Br’er replied. The rabbit was quite confident that his powerful legs would be more than a match for Rumpelstiltskin, but he’d give the little man one last outburst before he tossed him out. He almost felt sorry for the insufferable grouch. Almost. Not to mention it was almost time for The Titans to come in for their weekly Brag-a-Bout Beerfest Gathering. Any of those powerful figures would happily smite Rumpelstiltskin for free. Br’er thought he might have to offer them a few dishes of dragonwings (served extra spicy) and barbeque sauce, but that would only be to show his gratitude. Br’er looked back at Rumpelstiltskin and smiled, his front teeth showing even more than usual.

“So”, Rumpelstiltskin continued. “What sort of proof can you offer? Word is that your services are a little pricey.”

“That’s because I’m the best. I can’t really discuss my previous clients in too much detail. It isn’t likely that I’d have you meet with them. However, I can offer up some samplings of truth.”

“Like?”

“Surely you’ve heard of Prince Charming.”

“Yeah, I guess. Not really in my crowd though. Word is he’s one of them high-falutin’ types.”

“Have you seen him lately?”

“No. But he’s gotta be around.”

“Really? When was the last time you heard a maiden say, “I’ve found Prince Charming.” Or, “Isn’t he just the best; a regular Prince Charming!”

“Not recently, but I don’t see your point.”

“If you did venture out into such circles, you would find that Prince Charming is no more. I have taken care of him.”

“Where’s the ol’ prince at now?”

Aerial_Hollywood_Sign“Oh, we set him up in Hollywood. He makes a killing with each movie.”

“Wait, you gave him a new identity but let him be famous?”

“Plastic surgery does wonders. I highly recommend it if you’re open to the idea.”

“Sounds painful.”

“It’s worth it. Charming found it worked great for escaping all those women that kept looking for him. Now he’s only hounded by the agents and media. Much less emotional mess involved.”

“Okay, fine. You got one guy off the hook. Where’s that get me?”

“What are you looking for? That’s the question, isn’t it? You obviously don’t need money. Apparently you can create gold whenever you like. This, by the way, is the only reason I agreed to meet. In addition, it is the only reason I allowed for a conversation in this… place.”

Br’er Rabbit overhead the comment but said nothing. That Lizzie person had essentially called his fine establishment a hole in the wall. And not the good kind. Maybe he’d toss in plenty of beer nuts with those dragonwings; really get them in a party mood…

“I want respect”, Rumpelstiltskin answered.

“Respect? And your name is Rumpelstiltskin?”

“What’s wrong with that name? It’s the name my mother gave me.”

“Let’s break it down, shall we? Rumpel, or rumple means crumpled, crushed, or wrinkled. And often the Brits refer to a stilt as a cane. So really you’re a wrinkled man with wrinkled skin who walks funny. Why not just call yourself Uglyhobblesleg?”

“Yeah, well doesn’t ‘Elizabeth’ mean something about oaths and God? Why should I believe you when your name is all about promises and oaths and you’re all about deception and lies?”

“You’ve done some reading. I’m impressed.”

“Names are a specialty of mine. Besides, I’m older than I look.”

“Somehow I doubt that”, Lizzie said as she took in his drooping ears, long nose, and prune-like flesh. “Look, the thing is to create a name that is easy for you to remember but still different enough that nobody guesses it.”

“Exactly, that’s why I already have a name in mind. I only needed you to advise me, maybe move the paperwork along.”

“Uh huh. And what sort of identity change of greatness did you have in mind?”

“Festerskulklout.”

Lizzie thanked whoever was in charge up above that she hadn’t had a drink in her mouth to spit out. “I’m sorry…, what?”

“Festerskulklout. I think it has that certain amount of temerity to it while still feeling like that’s the name of a standup kinda guy. C’mon, tell me the name Festerskulklout won’t make the ladies swoon.”

“I’m sure it will have a very powerful effect on them, yes. Rumpelstiltskin, I’m the expert. Maybe you should hear my ideas. I was thinking Richard Stillman.”

“What?!?!” Rumpelstiltskin tried to leap onto the table in a rage, but his efforts produced only scrambling as he huffed and clamored to climb. “Hey now missy”, he said exhaling with frustration and sitting back down. “No one in my family has ever had two names. That’s…. well, that’s now how things are done. The idea is crazy. Who do you think you are?”

“That’s the brilliance of it. Who would ever suspect that you’d have such a name? Richard; or go by Dick if you still want to be an off-color little man, I don’t care. It’s a solid ID, easy to remember, and who’s going to guess it?”

“No. Not going to happen. Festerskulkabout or nothing.”

“Fine”, Lizzie said as she felt her forehead tighten. The dog growling at the other side of the room was not helping her newfound headache. She needed some encouragement to continue this consultation. “Tell me one thing though; you can make gold out of anything, right?”

“Oh sure. Gold, diamonds, opals, amethyst; whatever you want.”

“Okay”, Lizzie replied. “I’m going to go get a drink and we can work out the details.” She walked to the bar, feeling much less chipper than when she first entered The Briar Patch. This was going to be a very long day.

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A Shoe-In Plan from the Tall Tales Tavern

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” -Dr. Seuss

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To any visitor unfamiliar to The Briar Patch, an old man and a woman in a corner booth with sketches and pictures in front of them would be the least abnormal thing in sight.  The left over hairs from the Jabberwocky’s last that lay loosely from the rafters made strangers stare with wonder.  The rabbit bartender usually raised a few eyebrows to the uninitiated crowd.  Those curiosities were in addition to the standard assembly of trolls, the ageless nymphs, and the talking farm animals.  Yes, The Briar Patch was always a place of wonders, so it’s no wonder that these two normal looking elderly people didn’t draw much attention.

The old oak table that the two occupied was still loose from the last time Calamity Jane decided to kick off her cowgirl boots and dance on the make-do stage.  An assortment of pages ripped out of fashion magazines were placed in the middle of the wood surface.  Closer to the two people were pictures of the nearby woods and architectural sketches.  As they sipped their hot tea and cold ale, the two talked excitedly about the woman’s plans.

“I keep telling you Myrtle”, the man exclaimed.  “You could get what you want for much cheaper.  I’m no slouch at such crafting matters, but it’s going to take me years.”

“What’s time?  We both have plenty of time left and you darn well know it, Horace”, the woman replied.  “I want it done to my specifications and I think you’re the right one to do it.  Even if Cinderella says otherwise.”

“Wait, Cinderella?  Is she still telling that same old story?”  Horace pulled at the hairs in his head.  He had been going bald for the last three hundred years.  Happily, whenever he pulled a few wispy strands out, he found that they grew back the next morning.  It was handy being an immortal creature of fairy tales.

Pic from Wikipedia

“She says that no matter how many times she took her shoes back to you, they kept breaking.  She said you should have offered her a higher-quality product.”

“It’s glass!”  Horace shoved the papers away from him and grumbled into his ale.  “I told her every time that she came back to me with those impractical things that they were going to keep breaking.  If you wear glass shoes on a rock path, the glass is going to break.  If your prince steps on your feet while dancing, his boots are going to crack the shoes and possibly cut your skin with the shards.  And no, wearing glass slippers up close to a raging fireplace is probably not the best idea.”  Horace sighed.

“I don’t know what kind of enchantment her godmother claimed she put on them, but it has apparently worn off.  Those shoes will never last.  I tried to get her little feet into a sensible pair of wooden clogs.  But no, she wouldn’t have it.  Cinderella decided that she was living the royal life now and needed the attire to go with it.  Silly, fashion-hungry, nutjob.”

“Now, she really is a perfectly nice girl”, Myrtle offered.

“Nice, sure”, Horace admitted.  “But the girl is still a child.  Her prince found her when she was, what, seventeen?  They were married a month later.  Why, my Estelle was a good deal older than that when we tied the knot.  She must have been at least nineteen or twenty.”

“Truly, those three years imbued her with boundless founts of knowledge”, Myrtle said sarcastically.

“Look, I think she’s delightful to be around, so long as you don’t get her started on fashion.  She’s impractical.  And Myrtle, you’re being impractical too.  I talked the idea over with Estelle.  It’s not just me.  You should give up on this whole idea.”

“No.”

“Tell me again why you won’t go to a giant?  You could buy anything you wanted off them from all the money you’ve made off of tourists.”

“Have you ever been around a giant for any extended amount of time?”  Myrtle shivered at the thought.  “They claim that they can only get clean in a waterfall, so whenever we see them in the towns or in the densest forests they smell like you wouldn’t believe.  Now imagine what sort of unholy stench must emanate from their shoes.  I don’t want to even think about it, let alone live inside one of those.  Besides, I have high standards.”

Public Domain in the U.S. due to age

Horace laughed.  “The old woman who has lived in a shoe all these years has demands?  Your sense of style has really grown that much since your children moved out?”

Myrtle watched her tea bag as she dipped it slowly and methodically into the cup.  The water rose and fell with each dipping motion.  The lighting in the dim establishment was just bright enough that the old woman could see her wrinkled face in the reflection of the drink as little waves of liquid came and went.

“Do you know how many years we have left, Horace?  I don’t.  I doubt that know-it-all wife of yours does either.  I say, if we’re going to stick around until all stories come to an end, then we might as well enjoy ourselves.  I’ve spent centuries in that tattered boot.  No more.  I want a nice one-story, fashionable dress shoe as my retirement home.”

Her hand stretched to the other end of the table and brought the pictures back between her and Horace.  Page after page depicted the newest fashions, the hottest trends, and the longest lasting footwear that money could buy.

“I want a nice pair of sensible flats”, Myrtle described.  “Give me something that will let the sun in when I lounge about by the heel.  Also, I want the home to have high sides to keep the rain out when it starts to flood.  If I could have some sort of garden in the toe area; maybe some sort of open point at the end?  Come now Horace, I know you have more help up your sleeves than you let on.”

“What exactly are you getting at, Myrtle?”

“Those elves of yours.  I’ve seen them about town.  Offer to buy them a few honey-glazed cookies and they’ll give away all your secrets.  I think you should take advantage of them.”

“How so?”

“I want a house the size of a giant shoe.  You have a crew that can work wonders overnight.  Imagine what sort of productivity they could manage if you put them into different shifts working around the clock.  You’d be rich and I’d have a nice new home for my retirement.  A woman can’t climb up stairs forever, Horace.”

“Myrtle my friend”, Horace said as he paused to take a sip from his ale.  The drink was starting to go flat and the old man knew he’d probably need a fresh serving to get through the conversation.  He held up his cup for the bartender to see as he continued.

“Have you ever seen the contracts involved in elf employment?  Once I figured out those guys weren’t going anywhere, I tried to branch out into shoeing horses.  With all the carts and animals around it seemed like a guaranteed get-rich plan.  To shorten my tale of woe, I’ll only assure you that Elf Unions know exactly how to get what they feel is due to them.  Your shoe-home would cost a fortune.”

By this time the bartender had hopped over to their table.  He held out his paw expectantly.  Horace placed his empty container at the edge of the surface.  Br’er Rabbit shook his head.  Horace nudged the cup closer to the brim.  The vest-wearing critter only shook his head again.  Horace tried once more, watching as the vessel almost teetered over onto the floor.  Br’er Rabbit took his mighty right foot and tapped it impatiently on the dusty floor.  A low booming sound echoed with each tap of his paw and a small cloud of debris was gathering under the tabletop.

Seeing the bartender’s arms folded in defiance, Horace capitulated and placed five gold coins on the table.  Br’er Rabbit’s eyes lit up and his front two teeth showed.  He eagerly snatched the payment, put it in his breast pocket, and grabbed the cup from the table.  Whistling a merry tune, the bartender jumped and bounded back to the bar.

“As I was saying”, Horace persisted as he rubbed his temples.  “This house of yours is going to be a pain for us and will cost you a fortune.  Even if we don’t use the elves, I’m going to have to hire some outside help.”

“That’s fine by me”, Myrtle said, unrelenting.  “Hire those birds and squirrels that helped Sleeping Beauty.  I don’t care.  I want my house made to my specifications and I’m willing to do whatever it takes.”

“Wait”, Horace said as a notion in his head started to take shape.  “Those children of yours; I can’t even recall how many you have.  It’s at least a dozen, isn’t it?  How old are they?”

“Oh Horace, how old are any of us.  We’ve stopped keeping track.  No one really knows.”

“No, no.  I meant by normal standards.  What’s their perceived age?”

“Ah”, Myrtle replied as she thought back to the last time she had seen her offspring.  “I imagine they’re probably all in the twenty-five to thirty-five range.”

“Perfect”, Horace replied.  “I was hoping you’d say that.  How long has it been since they gave you a Mother’s Day gift?”

“What, that silly trend people are trying to push?  They’ve never subscribed to that, the little ingrates.”

“Maybe”, Horace said as some of the weight started to fall off of his shoulders, “just maybe they can be convinced to do their sainted mother this one favor for all she’s done for them.”

“And if I convince them?”

Horace grinned with joy.  “Then, Myrtle my friend, your labor worries are over.  We could have that shoe-house built for you in no time at all.”

The King (Kong) of Skyscraper Cleaning

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

The King (Kong) of Skyscraper Cleaning

Good things never last Mr. Dehnam.” –King Kong (2005)

King Kong sat at the window of The Briar Patch and sipped from his bucket-sized shot glass.  The piña colada was much too small for his tastes, but it was all that Br’er Rabbit had in stock.  Unfortunately there was a giants’ family reunion not too far away.  The behemoths had not only taken up all the extra-large, reinforced stools inside the tavern, but they had helped themselves to all the super jumbo glasses as well.  Terrific, Kong thought to himself.  One more surprise in my stinkin’ life.

Br’er Rabbit couldn’t stand having his curiosity unrequited.  In what appeared to the other patrons to be a rare show of kindness, Br’er Rabbit closed up the bar and walked outside.  He looked at the giant gorilla seated on the dry ground.  A few stalwart blades of grass grew here or there, but most of the landscape was as dismal and depressing as Kong’s furrowed brow.  That’s the way things are when our dreams don’t quite go our way.  The rain may fall and grow our hope for another day, but in the meantime we’re left sitting outside and squinting at the harsh sun.

Kong took another gulp of his drink and looked down at Br’er Rabbit.  Normally, a creature so small would have been beneath his notice.  But Br’er Rabbit was not just any animal.  As the host, and with a following that gave him presence, Br’er Rabbit cast a shadow as big as Kong’s; perhaps even bigger.

Finally, Kong stared the rabbit right in the face.  The bartender let his hind leg scratch behind his ear as he looked at the massive mammal quixotically.  Seeing Kong focusing on him, Br’er Rabbit put down his foot, tilted his head to one side, and twitched his nose.

“What?”  Kong was never known for his patience, even on his better days.

“Now I don’t mean no disrespect.  If a critter wants to drink itself into a stupid, I can certainly accommodate that.  I was only wondering what’s got you all worked up today.  You’ve been throwing back drinks like I haven’t seen any man or creature do in quite some time.”

“I feel like drinking.  Is that so wrong?”

“I reckon I just told you that I was happy to provide drinks.  Only I can’t seem to figure it all out.”

“What’s so hard to understand”, Kong asked.

“I don’t quite know how to ask this.  I mean, I’ve seen you ‘round here several times.  Now it’s gotten to that point where it’s a little awkward to ask, if you follow my drift.”

“Spit it out!”  The gorilla slammed his massive fist onto the ground as a show of his impatience.  Br’er Rabbit was tossed up twenty feet in the air from the blow, but he landed comfortably enough.  Being surrounded by larger-than-life creatures who liked to drink had only quickened his reflexes.

“The thing is”, Br’er Rabbit continued.  “I heard it told that you were dead.  You went and made your debut as the Eighth Wonder of the World and all that, and then you fell off a skyscraper.  Splat.  Isn’t that how it happened?”

The gorilla handed Br’er Rabbit an empty bucket and shook his head.  “You of all people should know that dead never really means dead for us.  They want to tell our story again, so there we are.  If we aren’t alive in their story, then they won’t retell it.”

“Now I’ve certainly found that to be true”, Br’er Rabbit conceded.  “I still think there might be a little more to your tale.”

King Kong only grunted and snorted out of his two gigantic nostrils in response.  Br’er Rabbit ducked and tried to avoid the gust that flew towards him.  Snot blown on a forest creature was immensely disgusting, no matter how big or small it was.

“I tell you what”, Br’er Rabbit said after he checked himself over and found he was still clean.  “I’ll get you five more pina coladas if’n you’ll just tell me what’s depressing you so much today.”

“Make it six”, Kong declared.

“Fair enough.”

“You heard my story more or less correctly.  I fell.  The story itself is nothing new.  A woman led me to get carried away, caught me up in a worthless feud, and then I ended up with nothing.  Word is that she’s doing fine for herself.  Hurmph.”

Kong began to motion for a drink, but Br’er Rabbit just stood there.  Apparently payment would wait until after all services had been rendered.

“I, of course, took that mighty tumble”, Kong continued.  “What they didn’t mention however, was that I didn’t die.  The darn fools didn’t know how to check a heartbeat properly, even though I would think it would have been pretty easy for them”, he shrugged.  “Turns out my injury only left me with a concussion.

“Those humans and their logic said that it was my fault.  I was the one that had climbed all those buildings.  I was the one that had caused all the ruckus, so I should have to make amends.  Also, they knew they didn’t have any jail cells or warehouses big enough to hold me.  Plus they could never manage my food bill without a public outcry on ‘wasteful spending’.  This government official told me that I would have to work off my debt to society.  ‘You like to climb buildings so much’, the man said.  ‘You are now sentenced to wash every window on every building for the next ten years’.

“That’s how things are now.  I can’t swim home because it’s too darn far.  I can’t get a day off because they keep raising more and more structures every day.  As soon as I’ve cleaned off a building and made my way around town, the first few are dirty again.  It’s an endless cycle, Rabbit.  Plus, I always have to start at the top and work my way down.  If they catch so much as one toe-print on their fancy windows, they make me clean the whole thing all over again.”

Pic from WPClipart

“How long can it really take you to clean one skyscraper?”

“If I were doing it my way, I’d be done in a matter of minutes”, Kong answered grouchily.  “The landlords; they won’t let me scurry up and climb how I want.  They say their buildings weren’t made to support my weight. The higher-ups complain that if I make dents in their cheap concrete that the bill will have to come out of my salary since their insurance doesn’t cover giant gorilla feet.  I tried to get them to submit their claims as an ‘act of god’, but apparently the agencies all updated their policies for New York City.  I have my very own exemption”, Kong said with a sigh.

“Instead I have to rig up a series of ropes and safeties for every building.  I’m faster than any other window washer, but I’m not an authentic gorilla.  A real gorilla wouldn’t stand for this”, Kong protested.  “A real gorilla would be set free and allowed to swing by vines, not safety lines.  I’d be free to mate and growl, not tethered up in some ugly harness that rides up and pulls on my fur.  Stupid city people”, Kong snarled.

“How many years do you have left?”  Br’er Rabbit was already forming an idea in his mind.

“Five”, Kong answered.  “It wouldn’t be so bad if I could just get a vacation.  I’d like to go out by the ocean and splash in the water.  Maybe make my way down the seaboard and live up the Florida scene.”

“So why don’t ya?”  Br’er Rabbit rubbed his ears together excitedly.  “Why don’t you hire someone to clean windows for you?”

“Go on now”, Kong growled.  “Who can possibly cover me?”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but they’re not interested in your size.  It’s your speed that they really cherish, right?”

“Yeah”, Kong answered.  He took his hairy fingers and scratched the top of his head.

“What you need is someone who is an expert climber; someone who likes a challenge.  You, King Kong, need a guy who is crafty.  A person who is willing to help you out for a little bit and is already rich enough that money is not important.  Your substitute has to be a guy who likes a thrill every once in a while.”

“Br’er, you’re talking funny.  What sort of thinking are you working on down there?”

“I’ll tell you King Kong, but I gotta do two things first.  Oh, and of course there’ll be a minor finder’s fee for my services”, Br’er Rabbit said with a grin.

Public domain in the U.S. due to age

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.  First, I’m gonna go in and make you a few of those piña coladas I promised you.  Then I’m going to call up a regular customer of mine.  He gives me a great bargain on goose eggs.”

Br’er Rabbit headed inside.  He rubbed his paws together and chuckled with excitement.  “Yes, I think ol’ Jack is just the man we’re looking for.  Surely he can climb ropes just as well as stalks.”

Therapy Time at the Tall Tales Tavern

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Therapy Time at the Tall Tales Tavern

(Not so very long ago, I wrote about the Tall Tales Tavern.  I’m kinda taken with it so we’re returning there.  You shouldn’t have to read the first one to follow along, but it is linked just in case.)

Every tale is not to be believed.” –Aesop

“All right everyone, if you’ll all settle down.”  The old man ran his fingers through his thick white beard and stomped his walking stick on the hard wood floor.  “Okay, I think we’re all here.  Welcome old friends and new to Therapy Time.  As always, I’d like to thank the operator of The Briar Patch for letting us meet here in his fine establishment.”  The man raised his arm in appreciation and the rabbit bartender nodded in return.

Pic from Wikipedia.

“For those of you who are first timers, I bid you welcome.  My name is Aesop and I’m here just to facilitate the conversation.  Why don’t we go around the room and introduce ourselves?  After all, ‘No one can be a friend if you know not whether to trust or distrust him’.”

“Oh great, he’s quoting himself again”, an overweight pig muttered from the table across from Aesop.

“Now pig, why don’t you wait your turn?  After all, ‘One cannot be first in everything’.  ”Chicken Little, why don’t you start?”

“All right.  Well, like the man said, I’m Chicken Little, and I’m here because I’m a coward.”

“Hi Chicken Little”, the voices from the table all said in monotone.  Many of the creatures seated reached for a drink from their cups and slurped noisily.

“Well”, the small bird began as he shook nervously and a clump of feathers fell to the floor.  “It all started back when I thought the sky was falling.  The whole thing just sent me into a series of worries.  I mean, no the sky didn’t fall.  But now there are so many other things to be afraid of.  I mean, bird flu for example.  I’m a bird.  What if I get the flu?  Logic dictates that I’m the first to go, right?  So I’ve been bathing four times a day and washing my wings with sanitizer.  That’s why I wouldn’t shake any of your hands or paws.  Plus, there’s a wolf here.  What if he gets hungry?  I can’t fly very fast, so he’d probably come after me first.”

“You make an excellent argument”, the wolf said as he grinned.  He made a point of showing all of his sharp teeth.  They all looked ready to tear the chicken asunder.

“See!  This is what I mean!  There’s danger everywhere!  I can’t sit on the comfiest stool because it might tip over and send me falling to the floor where I might break my leg.  I can’t sit by the window or underneath that swinging light because there could be an earthquake at any moment.  We don’t know!  Danger is all around us!”

Chicken Little continued to cower.  He had worked himself up into a frenzied state and Aesop quickly moved on.

“Thank you for sharing, Chicken.  I know that wasn’t easy.  Keep in mind that there’s always hope.  ‘Time and place often give the advantage to the weak over the strong’.  Next?”

“My name’s The Youngest Billy Goat Gruff and I’m here because I use others as a shield.  I’m ashamed to admit it, but it’s true.”

“Hi Youngest Billy Goat”, the collective responded.

Pic from Wikipedia.

“You can just call me Youngest.  It’s cool.  Mom never really believed in short names.  Anyhoo, I use others to get me out of trouble.  When this troll guy wanted to eat me, I didn’t stand up to him.  I didn’t even have the guts to tell him off.  I sent my older brother after him.  It’s a cycle that most of my family goes through.  Even the Second Billy Goat Gruff does it.  Really, only Oldest has been brave enough to stand up for himself.  I mean, Second and I pretend that it’s all part of a big plan.  Y’know, we say that we’re getting into trouble so that oldest can feel all heroic.  But really, we’re just cowards.  I’m ashamed of what I’ve become.  No wonder there’s no Mrs. Youngest Billy Goat Gruff.  Who could ever love an animal that can’t stand up for himself and walk with his goatee held high?”

“Now Youngest, ‘Some men underrate their best blessings’.  There’s more to you than you think.”

“Some men?  I’m a goat.”

“Who’s next?”  Aesop did his best to gloss over the questioning tone that was always present with Youngest.  “Come on now, let’s all have a sip and take the nerves off.  It is often necessary to ‘Stoop to conquer’.  Anyone?”

“Yeah, well I got brothers too and I work together with them.  I wouldn’t put ‘em in danger like some sad sacks of fleece.”

“I’m a goat, not a sheep.”

“Whatever ewe say, Sheepy.  My name’s The Second Little Pig, but my friends call me Sticks.”

“Hi Sticks”, the crowd responded.

“Not you!”  The pig slammed his hoof on the table and yelled at the woof.  “I said my friends.  You aren’t any friend of mine, wolf.”

“Oh c’mon, you’re so tasty.  You’re looking good and plump today.  I could just eat you up.”

“That’ll be enough of that, wolf.  Remember, “Those who cause evil are the first to be overwhelmed by its ruin’.”

“Please, I would overwhelm you in three bites.  Four, if I have to use utensils.”

“Oh, shut up you big hairy monster.  It’s supposed to be my turn.  Anyways, people get mad because I’m bitter. And y’know what?  I am.  Pigs are clever, look it up.  Houses are still made of wood every day.  There are other countries that use bamboo for scaffolding.  Why wouldn’t I make a home for myself out of twigs and branches?  It’s better than that flimsy straw hut my brother built.”

“But it wasn’t enough to keep me out, was it?”  The wolf jeered at the pig.  He laughed so hard that beer came out of his nostrils.  The pig slammed his drink on the table in anger.

“This is what I’m talking about!  This; right here.  I made a perfectly sound structure, and this creature thinks it’s funny to tear it all down with a few huffs and puffs.  Do you know how hard it is to construct with cloven hooves?  How tasking it is to hold a hammer and bundle up a stack of lumber?  It’s almost impossible!  And yet, he laughs at me.  I’m especially bitter that this jerk is even allowed here tonight.  What moron invited this guy?”

“I did”, the swan said.  “I’m trying to be nice to others.”

“Oh please”, Sticks snorted.  “Why would you be that naïve?  C’mon, if there’s anybody a wolf is going to eat before a pig, it’s gonna be you.  Fresh fowl?  That wolf is gonna gobble you up as an appetizer.”

“Hey guys”, Chicken Little peeped.  “Could we keep it down a little bit?  I’m afraid of confrontations.”

“Oh hush.  You’ve had your turn, we’re done listening to your silly little problems”, the swan said dismissively.  “I’m here because I’ve been told that I’m too vain.  Oh, I suppose I should introduce myself properly.  I’m Reginald the Majestic, Regal, and Grandiose Swan.  You may address me as Reginald, if that is acceptable.”

“Hey Reg”, the creatures responded.

“Actually, and I don’t mean to be a bother, but I really do prefer Reginald.  It has more of the air of perfection which I feel I’ve attained.”

“No three guesses as to why this joker is here”, the wolf snickered.  “I shoulda eaten ‘em.”

Public Domain in United States due to age.

“I’m not entirely sure what thoughts the gentle-wolf is trying to convey, but others around me have begun to insinuate that I may not have the humblest of personalities.  Honestly, I just don’t think that they understand.  I started off so humbly.  I was the ugliest of all the feathered fowl in my family growing up.  But, when I finally hit puberty?  I found out that I had been adopted.  I took a good look at myself and suddenly it all made sense.  My early years of being insecure were washed away, and instead I learned to fully embrace this gorgeous creature that you see before you now.”

“Be slow in your own praise, Reginald.  ‘False confidence often leads to danger’.  Also, ‘Beauty is only skin deep’.”

“But Aesop, is it really false confidence if I light up any room that I come into?  Clearly you must admit that this dingy dump is only improved by my being here.”

The rabbit bartender’s ear twitched with annoyance.  He quickly grabbed the swan’s tab and added a few miscellaneous charges to the bird’s bill.  How much can charge for napkins and table service, the schemer thought as his revenge came across in exorbitant fees.

“My stomach will be much improved by you if ya don’t shut up”, the wolf growled.

“All right wolf, just relax”, Aesop said with a strained amount of patience.  ‘Do nothing without a regard to the consequences.’  Now what’s your story?”

“I don’t have a story.  I eat when I’m hungry.  Some say that it’ll get me in trouble.  Me, I don’t really believe it.  I just see all you silly critters running around like a to-go menu.  Swanny here figured I might not eat him if I just got to know him better.  Right now, if I weren’t so full of beer, I’d eat ya all up.”

“I told you!”  Sticks looked to the others at the table.  “I told you he doesn’t belong here.”

“Yeah, whatever”, the wolf replied.  “But speaking of ‘here’, that reminds me.  Hey bartender!”

The rabbit looked up from his glass cleaning with an innocent look on his face.  An angelic expression of innocence was on his furry face.  He pointed at his vest and bowtie-clad self as if to say, “Me?”

“Yeah, you.  I wanted real beer, not this cheap stuff.  If I ever see you again you better make amends.  Next time I’m served this swill I’m shoving your head into that tar baby.  Oh, and my cousin Br’er Fox says you owe him for what you did to him.  He says you know what that means.”

Br’er Rabbit only blinked a few times and went back to cleaning the glasses.  As the creatures turned back to their therapy session, Br’er Rabbit ducked under the counter, fell on the floor, and rolled over in silent laughter as the memory of his past escapades tickled him with delight.  Meanwhile, the wolf was done being polite.

“By the way Aesop, what’s the idea of getting us all together to talk things out?  I mean, are we supposed to be giving each other advice?  ‘cause I thought you yourself warned to, ‘Beware of the counsel of the unfortunate’.  Didn’t you once say, ‘Every man should be contented to mind his own business.’?”

“Perhaps you should heed this; ‘He is wise who is warned by the misfortunes of others’.”

“Or you’re just mad that I’m on to you”, the wolf said with a sneer.  “’Hypocritical speeches are easily seen through’ y’know.”

“I try to welcome all, wolf, but it apparently in your case, ‘Evil companions bring more hurt than profit’.”

The wolf laughed at the group, left without paying his tab, and set out for his long walk home.  He had a date tomorrow with a tasty young girl he’d been following.  Maybe she has some relatives I can devour, he thought to himself.  The wolf hoped that there would be much less talking and much more eating in his future.  The wolf walked through the starry night.  He grinned wickedly as he thought about the very full belly he might end up with tomorrow.

“I think this was a very nice session”, Aesop said as he tried to end on a positive note.  “Things didn’t go as planned, but I feel like we really explored some deep emotions here.  I want to thank you all for your bravery in participating today.  Now, before we go, what’s our number one moral to remember?”

“Contentment with our lot is an element of happiness”, chanted the group in an unenthusiastic grumble.

“Very good.  And number two?”

“Be sure that there are others worse off than yourself.”

“Excellent.  Let’s go out there and be on the lookout for those poor souls, shall we?  After all, ‘Gentleness and kind persuasion win where force and bluster fail’.  Be careful walking home!”

———————————-

(Many, many thanks to Google, Wikipedia, and especially Together We Teach for the Aesop assistance.)

Tuesday at the Tall Tales Tavern

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Tuesday at the Tall Tales Tavern

There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern.”  -Samuel Johnson

If one travels out to the middle of the middle of the middle of the country, they’ll find a small little tavern.  It’s an easy enough tavern to miss, what with it being surrounded by dead ends, detours, and dirt roads.  However, if a person manages to find this tucked-away place, they can step right on inside.  There are no bouncers, no scary security creatures, just a place to cool off in the sun.

The Briar Patch came along quite a while ago.  Nobody can really recall when it started up, but everyone can agree that there was a time when it wasn’t there, and it’s certainly there now.  The place has always been run by a rabbit.  He’s a nice enough fellow, though apparently a little sketchy.  He’s as friendly a rabbit as you could ever hope to meet, but one always gets a feeling that he’s trying to pull a fast one.  In particular, there’s a display in the corner that causes people trouble.  Unsuspecting folks walk up to admire the tar baby and notice a sign that says, “Shake hands!”  Whenever someone does, they find their hands inescapably stuck.  The rabbit will let you out; for a fee.

Now, any shadiness from the owner can be attributed to part of the place’s charm.  The Briar Patch is a tavern that tends to attract a certain type of clientele.  On the walls there are items that the regulars have either donated or left behind.  There’re a few strands of hair from the tail of a husky blue cattle animal.  Looped in a circle around it is a broken shoelace donated by Casey the ball player.  And by far the most scandalous item is Slue-Foot Sue’s garter belt from when she married.  Various items are strewn about, but only the bartender knows where they all came from and who the original owners are.  If you ask nicely, he may just tell you all about them.

On a quiet day like the one they had last week; when the sagebrush rolled by so quietly that even the air itself was taken by surprise, the tavern had two massive visitors.  The owner keeps a special seat for extra-large customers and he brought it out when Paul Bunyan showed up.  Much to everyone’s surprise, it wasn’t five minutes later that John Henry came bustling in and saddled up to the bar.

Bunyan had his keg of the usual and pulled the top right off.  He looked just like a fella trying to enjoy a cool beer; if the beer were served in a wood can instead of an aluminum one, that is. Henry drank his beverage that was so cold that the countertop underneath his tankard started to frost over.  Bunyan looked down at Henry, they nodded at each other, and then the two went back to silently enjoying their drinks.  It was the owner-slash-barkeeper who got the conversation started.

“So, Bunyan”, he said as he twitched his whiskers and dried out an empty glass.  “What do you think of all these new vehicles coming in across the plains?  Must make the outdoor life kinda different for ya.”

“That’s the plain truth”, Bunyan replied.  “I miss running around in the wide open spaces with trees on the edge.  Now these towns are popping up and these steam engines are nothing but a nuisance.”

“Now wait just a minute” Henry said as he slammed down his drink.  “Are you saying bad things about railroads?”

“I think they’re a pain”, the giant replied.  “They’re always underfoot and they cost me my job.”

“How do you figure that”, Henry asked.

“My ox and I were doing just fine taking down trees.  But along comes this fancy city fella and his mechanical saw and locomotive with cars and I’m out of a job.”

“A man ain’t nuthin’ but a man”, Henry answered.  “He shouldn’t need nuthin’ but his own two hands to get work done.”

“You on the side of railroads?”

“I should say I am”, Henry replied proudly.  “Why, I’ll bet I had a hand in most every track that was laid within twenty counties of this place.  I work the tracks, I do my best, and I can’t think of nuthin’ better than to die with a hammer in my hand.”

“Well your tracks are making this country a lot harder for animals and country folk.  Do you know how many big blue oxen there are in the world after all your trains?  One.”

“I’m guessing that’s exactly how many oversized, frostbitten, slothful oxen there were before the railroads.  Really now, a giant blue ox?  Where does a man even find a critter that messed up?”

“Are you making fun of my best friend?”

“I’m commenting that a man should be making a living and supporting his wife, not running around outside causing a ruckus with a farm animal.  I work the land to get some acres and you’re complaining that I’m wrecking things for you.  I don’t see how you can raise a fuss about me ruining the land when you and your buddy are tearing things up pretty good.  Or are you going to tell me that wasn’t you that made a mountain range with your whooping and partying?”

“Are you gonna take that from that fella, Bunyan?”  The rabbit knew full well that he didn’t need to egg on the lumberjack.  Enormous men have enormous tempers, and Paul Bunyan was no exception.

“You’re making fun of me, Henry?  Why, I could do more work in a day than you could in a year.”

“Well seeing as how you’re using tree trunks as legs for your bar stool, I should certainly hope so.  Maybe you should try to fight less and work a little harder, ya big oaf.”

“Gentlemen, please!”  The rabbit raised his hands in protest.  “I have an idea.”  The rabbit looked up to Henry, then turned and looked up, up, and up some more to Bunyan.  “We both know that you fellas can swing axes and bring down hammers.  But what about drinking?  Surely there’s some fun to be had with that.  Plus, we won’t have a brawl on our hands.”

“Now that’s hardly fair”, Bunyan replied.  “I have a keg in my hands and he’s got his flimsy little tankard.  Why, I could fill that think up with one spit.”

“Sounds to me like the animal-lover is afraid of a challenge!”  Henry took his cup and threw it up at Bunyan until it bounced off of his knee.  “Don’t tell me that big ol’ Bunyan is afraid of someone actually standing up to you?  Or do you have some steaming pile of ox dung to go shovel?”

“I think we can make this fair for both parties”, the barkeep replied.  He hopped on the countertop, wiggled his fluffy tail, and let one of his ears drop down to stroke his chin as he worked things out.  “Now, you’re both big, burly men.  One of you, clearly, is a bit bigger.  So why don’t we take ratios in to our figurin’?  I’ll give Mr. Bunyan here a keg for every tankard I give Mr. Henry.  The loser pays for all the drinks.  What do ya say?”

“Are you sure the little man can cover all the beer I’m going to drink?”  The voice from up in the rafters boomed and echoed with mirth.

“Don’t you worry yourself about that”, Henry replied.  “You make sure you’ve got enough coins in your pocket.  I’ll put in the hard work; you just start thinking up excuses.”

The crowds started to gather as the drinking got more exciting.  The first dozen rounds were nothing special.  The twelve drinks after that were a bit ordinary.  Around the fifty-fifth drink, the bystanders were choosing sides.  Neither folk hero showed signs of slowing down.  The bartender kept going to the back for more drinks.  Word has it that the rabbit put in a call to Pecos Bill to dig out an extra river behind the tavern so he could float all the empty containers away.

The shouts and the wages were flying back and forth.  Women three states away were covering their youngin’s’ ears so that they wouldn’t hear the cussing and the boasting.  The contest was not fit for the faint of heart or the weak of liver.  Bunyan got off his seat around the seventy-second drink so that he could sit on the floor and stare Henry in the face.  The two kept at it.  Every chug of alcohol by one was met in kind.  Extra beer was dribbling down their cheeks, dousing their whiskered faces as the liquid streamed onto their chins.

The crowd had done their best to keep track of the drinks.  They started to chant.  “Ninety-two!  Ninety-three!”  Ninety-four!”  The two men started to slow down.  Their moves to lift their respective cups were starting to get sloppy.  “Ninety-eight!  Ninety-nine!”

By now both men were sitting on the floor.  They slurped and gulped.  Finally, as they took in drink number one hundred and eighth, it happened.  The two caught each other’s gaze.  They looked intently and menacingly at the other.  And they both burst out laughing.

They couldn’t control themselves anymore and they spewed out their beer in the others’ faces.  Henry got a wetter than Bunyan, but at that point the whole tavern was mostly covered in beer.  Henry laughed and slapped Bunyan on the back while Bunyan chuckled and patted Henry on the head.

“You’re a fine drinker, Mr. Henry”

“As are you Mr. Bunyan.”

“So”, the barkeeper interjected.  “Does that mean that the competition is over?  You men are declaring a draw?”

“That’s right”, John Henry said.

“We’re all done”, Paul Bunyan agreed.

“No winner can be declared?”  The rabbit asked this one last time, wanting to be sure.

Bunyan and Henry nodded in agreement.

“Then as the officiator of this contest, I declare that since neither of you has won, we have two losers.  Therefore, you both owe me for all the alcohol.”  The rabbit rubbed his paws together and let his buck teeth show in a grin.  “How would each of you like to pay off the tabs today?”

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