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“If” is the middle word in “life”

Horrified on September 11, 2022.

A wise man living in the jungle once told me, “if” is the middle word in “life.” I retorted that “eat” is the middle word in “death.” He was horrified and didn’t know what to say. I went off and found something dead to eat.

He was doubly horrified.

“Nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and shrieking noises, cobbled together into a semblance of sentences, piled into paragraphs, and sandwiched between HTML tags, altogether purporting to form a weblog,” is how someone once described my docile & perfunctory blog. (I think his name was Borb.) I was appalled at his trite description of my masterpiece of elegant scrivening—how dare he ignore my babbling along with the incessant shrieking? So, after much shrieking and babbling, I stabbed Borb with a fork. I then went off and found something else dead to eat.

Alongside my ceiling clock there was now a piñata hanging. I wasn’t sure how it got there. Mind you, I do randomly suspend a lot of things from my ceilings—but I do not remember hanging that up there. I chalked it up to the Coahuilan Candying Gnomes I found tucked in my underwear drawer on Tuesday, and tried to leave it at that. But I couldn’t: The damned thing’s gay colors and festive, asinine shape filled me with a nameless dread. It would move—swaying from side to side or rotating slowly—first to the left, then the right. And oftentimes its happy, grinning donkey face appeared to be staring directly down at me—sneering.

I chalked all of that up to simple air currents, the opening and closing of doors, a particularly skillful cartonerista choosing a pair of googly eyes that would follow you around the room. Nothing supernatural, no not at all—it’s only a stupid, hollow, papier-mâché jackass full of candy, isn’t it? Isn’t it?

And then I ran out of chalk. I fled my living room in terror and boarded up all its doorways and windows. Damn those Mexican gnomes and the vile, sinister tricks they play on me!

On this day in 2001, a band of nineteen rabid mushroom terrorists crashed an ornithopter into Rory Calhoun’s summer cottage and changed the world forever. I remembered that day well. Everyone else just plain forgot about it—but I never did. And now, at last, the anniversary of this momentous event was old enough to drink. I cracked open another Elkwater Ale and saluted.

“Actually a goat got most of the hotdog,” my neighbor finished his tale of weekend barbecue woe. It was Wednesday morning; I had emerged from my palatial abode to fetch a newspaper off someone’s doorstep, and he waylaid me mere moments before I was able to scuttle back through my front door like a fleeing cockroach. Truly he had come out of nowhere. He hadn’t noticed the missing newspaper on his stoop, nor that the newspaper in my hands was the same one. He was such a silly, stupid man. (I think his name was Borb, too.)

I listened intently to his story, feigning interest and pensively eating a stick of butter as I considered how to respond. I had plenty of other food in the house (like blue cheese–flavored ice cream!) but a stick of butter really hit the spot right now. I bit off another chunk of butter and asked my neighbor if he needed any replacement hotdogs—I had both the edible kind and the inedible, inflatable kind on hand. He gave me a quizzical look, then slowly demanded his newspaper back.

“What newspaper?”

“The one in your hands.”

“What newspaper!?”

“The one… in your hands.”

“I’m not holding any newspaper!” I began trying to eat it on the spot. The butter would make it go down easier.

“You’re trying to eat it now!”

“I’m just eating a stick of butter! Yummy, delicious butter—unsalted, too!”


“I thought we were talking about hotdogs and goats!”

Another quizzical look. “No, Phil, I just…”

And that’s what made me comprehend that the big, dumb piñata hanging from my parlor ceiling was harmless after all. And it was full of sweet, sweet candy. My terror and hatred for those gnomes slowly gave way to gratitude. But the week was still young—many more terrors were possible. I ran off before my neighbor could steal my newspaper.

“What’s your damage?—Don’t make me hurl!”

Lady Dugong and the Crotchrockets’ “Dame’s Rocket” was playing on the radio when that petulant whine suddenly interrupted my reverie. I put down my second stick of butter and frowned.

As is too often the case, as to the source of this sudden interjection, I was as clueless as I am often hapless or feckless. (My readers will remember I lost all my feck in a teetotalling accident back in 1997. My hap joined my feck in a floppy-disking mishap a year later.) But that didn’t stop me from getting worked up into a high dudgeon, launching myself from my Hopeless Slack-Ass® recliner directly through my front door, and pumbling about, circumambulating my palatial curtilage, demanding to know which of the local fauna had suddenly learned how to speak—and chose to mimic a petulant twelve-year-old girl, no less.

The squirrels (yes, they were back) denied all knowledge. The birds all flew off. My neighbor watched intently as I interrogated the oversized lawn gnomes in my front yard. No one would admit anything. Among the wildlife and gnomelife around 229B Bouillabaisse Boulevard, omertà was the rule.

“Mad as a hatter, red as a beet, dry as a bone, blind as a bat.” That’s what they called me when my dudgeon ran too high. And this wasn’t even my final form. My dudgeon knew no bounds. Not even the sky was the limit.

On a wholly unrelated note, birds kept flying into my living room windows all week. To raid that piñata and peck out all the delicious, succulent candy within, I surmised.

Much to my dismay, I once again confused a summer sausage with Sumner Snausages. Off in the distance, a dog barked. It probably wanted those Snausages. But I was eating them, so nuts! to the dog. I continued reading my copy of the General Catalogue of Trigonometric Parallaxes—a truly riveting read from cover to cover!

Earlier that day, I had finally tracked one of the silithicine creatures to its lair, in a cave behind the paperclip factory on Zubenelgenubi Street. No one knew where it had been hiding, no one knew, but I did, I did all right. I trapped the slimy, black thing in its cave, blocked the entrance, I did, and I set it on fire. And now it’s dead and we can have paperclips again. The thing was the only thing keeping Elmot from reopening the paperclip factory, and now it’s dead, dead, burnt to a crisp in a smoldering hole in the ground, and we can have paperclips again. Oh, yes, yes we can have paperclips again.

We need paperclips or we will all die.

But there were more of these creatures, and more caves in which they hid as they plotted our demise. Not just on Zubenelgenubi Street but everywhere else. Everywhere else, oh yes indeed. I realized I would need a lot of gasoline, a lot of lighters, a lot of matches.

President Piggy-Man was rambling about something on television again, senescing steadily before my very eyes. The dementocracy continued unabated. But that was its strength, not a weakness.

Over the years, things had changed so little, even when they had changed so much. Up until just recently, President Piggy-Man had been a tangerine and blond blowhard, insisting each night on national television that hand sanitizer could be taken internally for a longer-lasting effect and that garden gnomes were behind his falling approval ratings. Before that, he had been some random guy from Indonesia who got lost in Hawaii as a boy and then lodged himself in Washington for eight years, with little explanation. And before even that, he had been a smirking chimp in cowboy boots and matching cowboy hat—a smirking chimp who pigmannishly watched (and smirked) as those nineteen rabid mushroom terrorists flew their ornithopters into Rory Calhoun’s summer cottage.

I only had vague memories of his existence from the late 1990s—something about using Monica Lewinski’s splayed toes as a cigar holder came to mind. I think he also claimed responsibility for the fall of the Soviet Union, the reunification of the three Germanies, and the rise and demise of the Spice Girls. But I also claimed responsibility for the Spice Girls, so who knows?

One thing was assured, though: He had been president since at least the Carter administration… or perhaps even Eisenhower. President Piggy-Man was our president for life.

Right then, a horse flew into the living room window, startling me out of my reverie. “There’s still a lot of candy left in this piñata,” I sighed and picked up my football bat.