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A parable that should explain everything

Enchanted on November 18, 2012.

“Why are you washing those paper towels…?” Ravna shot me a bemused glance.

“Because I found them in a dog’s butt! I retorted, nearly in tears. And so began yet another week-long installment in the inexpiably inexplicable assemblage of causes and effects, goings-on and happenings-to, and gonads and strife that some people loosely refer to as my life. (Still others call it my “primitive state of neurotic irresponsibility,” but that is a discussion for another day.)

Ravna Olegg-Thorssondóttir, my loveliest, hoosie-fessed little skeetch-truncheon (and girliest friend), quickly gave up trying to comprehend what I was up to this time, shook her raven-haired head, and left me to my own devices. I continued washing the paper towels over and over—washing and washing them—until nothing remained but a pulpy mess clogging my sink drain. Fortunately, being an amateur plumber (along with being many other amateurish things), I was able to fix the sink with nothing more than a pipe wrench, a sledgehammer, an axe, twenty feet of new PVC drainpipe, a handful of new PVC fittings, and the appropriate solvents and adhesives. My scaly ol’ kerfrumpt had molted again, and her shed eating-snout skin also proved to be invaluable in making these repairs.

Tuesday squiffled head-first into my week, and by noontime it seemed that I was amiably toadstooling up a storm of inimicable (yet easily imitable) blimpfisters and fisticuffs, all in time with the hysterical fisting of Pfiesteria by a man named Peter Pfister-Fassbinder. Airily I was toadstooling up the storm, too—and toasting it merrily, with more miffious mirth and alacritous alabaster than an ungrulious latrine full of stinkspar could ever hope to achieve. (Most geologists called the fetid fluorite all over my bathroom floor, walls, and ceiling “antozonite”; others called it incredibly dangerous and carcinogenic. I just called it stinkspar.) I wasn’t sure where I was going with this paragraph, but there was nothing new about such uncertainly in the life and times of Phillip Norbert Årp. Indeed the whole day—if not my entire life and times!—seemed to be the same dumb joke repeated over and over until everyone threw their hands up in exasperation, gave up, got up, and went home.

Wednesday made its way down the street in order to darken my doorstep, and indeed I quickly found myself darkening the step right back at it. “You… nincompoop! You… you… nincomboob! I shouted at the bemused and befuddled mailman as he tried to hand me a parcel through my open front door. The bubonic plague came to mind suddenly. “You—nincombubo!

“Mr. Årp, I have a parcel for you to sign f—” The postman tried to get a word in edgewise—always a dangerous thing to attempt in my presence.

And indeed I would have none of it. I thrust my pudgy paw in his face, admonitory index finger wagging. “Now, you listen to me, you… you… you… nature faker! It’ll be a cold day in eastern Westphalia before I ever—”

The mailman, clearly not wanting to take any of my guff, turned around and plodded off in a disgusted huff, leaving my finger in mid-wag and my mouth in mid–em-dash. I resolved to finish venting my spleen the next time Ravna made an appearance, but for now, I had a parcel to open. I turned my attention to the brown cardboard parcel which the postman had left sitting on my unwelcome mat.

Was it the set of fluorescent orange flip-flops that I had bought for Loquisha, and the purple set for Ravna? Or was it the new electric toothbrush, electric razor, and electric comb that I had purchased from an old Sears catalog? Did it contain the free sample of Asgard™ Buttwash that I had ordered off of the Internet last week? Or did it hold the carton of certified organic mubbleduck eggs that I had bought from Mr. Smuthabupple’s Organic Farm? Only time—and viciously tearing the parcel open with the wildest of abandon—would tell.

The parcel—or perhaps “the package” I should say now, in order to liven things up like any good writer would do—was smaller than a breadbox but bigger than my head, and just about as boxy as both items. I picked it up; it weighed next to nothing… so now nothing was what I began to believe it contained. It was made out to my full name and address in all their gorgothine glory, but the sender’s name was covered over with a piece of gray-silver tape of the duckiest of natures. Before opening the package, I tried to peel the duck tape back in order to see who was sending me empty parcels, but all I succeeded in doing was getting myself into such a sticky pickle that it took Ravna two hours, a pair of scissors, both her feet, and finally a straight razor to get me out of it.

Bald down one side of my head and with clumps of hair and duck tape strewn about me on the floor, I finally succeeded in opening the box—by handing it to Ravna and having her use the pair of life-saving scissors to carefully cut the packing tape from one end to the other. She even folded back the cardboard flaps—daintily, I might add—in order to reveal the contents to me, lest I hurt myself further while trying to accomplish that simple task. Ravna then thrust the box in my face and sauntered off on those lovely feet of hers, back to doing whatever it was she was doing (painting her toenails puce perhaps?) before I had bellowed for her in my most puerile and helpless voice.

Tensely and slowly I peered over the edge of the cardboard box and found within it… a single sheet of white paper, 8½″ along one side and 11″ along the other. (I measured both before proceeding further.) Upon the paper was typed one single word, centered both vertically and horizontally: Ничего. I breathed a sigh of relief: How could a simple 8½×11″ sheet of paper—a nearly blank sheet, no less—possibly cause me any harm?

On Thursday evening I was discharged from the hospital, after receiving 137 stitches and a stern admonishing from Dr. Bumgardner warning me to never again handle a piece of paper all by myself. Ravna was charged with my care for the next two weeks, to which she assented, as I would need at least that much time to recover from the forty-five deep paper cuts about my head, hands, and upper and lower body. (Only my buttocks were unscathed.) I was personally charged $53,897.53½ for the 137 stitches, the six litres of plasma, the sixteen yards of gauze, the finger-wagging lecture that Dr. Bumgardner had prepared specifically for me, and the four new toilets that the fifth-floor restroom required after I had “rested” in it as only I know how. I was able to pay the hospital the ha’penny on the spot but had to owe them the rest. I didn’t worry though: My gnomes and their endless treasure would more than cover the costs of my latest lacerational and lavatorial adventure.

Friday morning began, bright and early, with a question posed to my dearest Rav, as she sat in bed sipping her coffee and I sat beside her guzzling a certain vile slop which I had accidentally invented a year ago and which I had acquired a taste for ever since. I asked: “Can I grow my own pasta? Does it grow up from the ground, like a tomato? Or down below, like a potato? Or does it grow on trees, like lemons, limes, and cougars?” Before she could answer, I added, “I’ve always wanted to grow my own ziti, you know—ziti with lines, that is,” and did my best to look like a petulant child whose hopes and dreams would be summarily dashed upon discovering that he could not grow his own pasta.

Rav sighed and rolled her eyes and curled her toes, a sure signal that my question was preposterous: I couldn’t grow my own pasta no matter how hard I wished that I could. (I could probably have a pony for Christmas, though!) My crests fell to an all-time low, but I endeavored to put on my stiffest upper lip and moved on to more abstract and abstruse topics. Moments later, while I was deep in thought about the oddly self-contradictory nature of the word “ones,” my Icelandic skeetch-truncheon posed a question of her own: “Are vegetables really… vegetable? I mean, can you actually veget them? Or, do you in fact vegete them?”

My eyebrows and brow ridges furrowed. I pondered audibly, scratching the bald stripe down my head and doing my best to look like a pseudo-intellectual twit. I had to hand it to her: It was a good question! But I had better ones: “Do bumblebees actually bumble? And do hummingbirds actually hum? Do sunfish actually sun themselves in the Sun? And do moonbats actually moon passing motorcars? Do—”

“But the gostak—whom does she narfle?” Rav shot back. I rocked back slightly—then thought even harder.

“Why, Rav… your inexpiable self, of course!” I zinged at last in return, the tawdry shatterings of voices unbound spelunking through my brain and its encompassing pan. I wasn’t sure how many degrees were in 2π radians, but I knew the answer was close to wrapping tampons in toilet paper and hurling them out the nearest window. I then realized that the last two sentences, while composed entirely of real words, contained almost no semantic value whatsoever—and certainly no semantic value relevant to the vegeting or gostak-narfling questions—but such details didn’t matter now. The sentences were carved in stone: Stinkspar, to be precise. I plowed forward unfazed. “And moreover, by Peebuddle’s name, I turd-bore surely that—”

“The gostak distims the doshes, doesn’t she?” Ravna smiled sweetly.

Глокая куздра! I swore, conceding the point. She was right. I wanted to sink through the floor, or at least build a fort out of the bed cushions and hide under them for a few hours.

Ничего, Ravna smirked.

“But…! But…! Butt…! Buttocks!!” I spluttered. Suddenly that sheet of paper in the box made an awful lot of sense.

“Petulance abides.” Patting me on the head, Ravna got up and left me to my own devices once again. Hopefully they wouldn’t try to strangle me with their power cords like they did on Monday.

Friday evening revealed that Wikipedia had lied to me wholesale last week. There were no barefoot and pantsless peasants living in the land-locked, water-logged nation-state of “Ungabuganda.” The country hadn’t suffered a natural disaster, its biggest export wasn’t mule manure, and it wasn’t founded in the year 1825-B as a result of a bar brawl between four drunken deadbeat dads and three British tourists. In fact, Ungabuganda didn’t even exist. Wikipedia and its dastardly editors had made the whole thing up.

Once again I had trusted the free encyclopedia that even a hen pecking at a keyboard could edit, and once again I ended up with more egg on my face than what an entire platoon of egg-laying hens could catapult at my boxy head over a 24-hour period. This was almost as bad as that time that I had used Wikipedia in place of a visit to the emergency room and ended up with my broken leg stapled upside-down to my forehead. (At least that mishap hadn’t cost me $53,897.53½.)

“Molotov on Wall Street!” I cursed mightily. Poor old Vyacheslav Mikhailovich. If there had ever been a greater blasphemy in the ears of a Marxist–Leninist, I surely could not think of it.

That day ended. And the next day thoroughly disproved that old adage, “The future will be better tomorrow.” Indeed, the future isn’t what it used to be.

Saturday splined itself down my driveway like a divine tragicomedy—an olivine pestilence wrapped in a serpentine horror not seen since H.P. Lovecraft had brought back to living memory the dread fish-headed gods of the old Old Testament.

It began with the discovery of a large yet headless doll left lying on my doorstep—the very doorstep to which the package containing a blank sheet of paper had been delivered. People had left curious things on my doorstep before, but this was different. The doll reminded me of the 1980s My Buddy doll (for boys), or even the earlier Buddy Butts (for girls) from the 1970s. If there had been one doll that had defined an era—and propelled world-famous buttstar Jada Fire to fame and fortune—it was Buddy Butts.

But I digress. Sourly I looked down again at the decapitated doll lying on my unwelcome mat. At first I suspected that my vile, curmudgeonly neighbor Mr. Van der Woobie might be trying to send me a death threat, in doll form. Or Samuel Dreckers, trained assassin, may have come back to town to buttbuttinate me in my sleep, and perhaps he first wanted to put the fear of doG into me (but was all out of severed horse heads). But then I remembered that Mr. Van der Woobie had died on Monday in a cassette-rewinding accident and Mr. Dreckers was serving twenty-to-life in prison for attempting to assassinate the recently reelected President of the United States Llama Appreciation Society. So that ruled those two miscreants out. Who was left? Mrs. Farnston? Richard Dreckers Sr.? One of the many McBorbleys living in my unctimonious little town? A Harshbarger? Any one of the other thousands of residents that hate my guts and hope I die?

“Great greasy feces!” I cursed mightily. “Who would leave a headless My Buddy Butts doll on my doorstep? And why?!” Ravna, upstairs, shrugged. A dog, off in the distance, shrugged too. Distraught, I wondered if the Relief of Goes or the Diet of Worms would apply to this situation. Probably not, I concluded after some time.

My clock continued to pinch out minutes and hours, and I continued to theorize about why someone would leave a headless doll (for boys) upon my doorstep. I came up with nothing, nothing, and more nothing. Ничего indeed.

Saturday afternoon arrived one second after high noon, and 137 minutes later, the mailman—a different mailman than Wednesday’s—arrived to deliver a letter. I nearly yiffed with glee when I saw that the letter, unlike Wednesday’s parcel, contained a clear and complete return address in the upper left-hand corner of the envelope: If this mailpiece caused me any trouble, by jingo, I could easily take revenge upon the sender!

No longer caring about the doll, I picked it up and chucked it like a grenade through Mr. Van der Woobie’s window. I tittered like a schoolgirl at the satisfying smash! it made as it impacted the glass and kept right on going. If only Mr. Van der Woobie were still alive, he would’ve been in for quite the shock when he arrived home!

After coaxing Ravna into opening the envelope with her toes and then handing it back to me (also with her toes), I proceeded to read the letter—with gusto and glee. The missive had been sent to me by one Peebuddle McForsterbaster, a man from a town called Peeaquawk in a state that didn’t exist prior to 1825-B. Peebuddle was his name, and the brother of Parndiddle McForsterbaster was he. In fact, he was writing to me to inquire if I possessed any knowledge as to the whereabouts of his missing brother, since I had apparently been the one to last see dear old Parndiddle alive.

Alas I had no idea where the man who lived his entire life on the head of a pin had gone. Parndiddle had lived his entire life on the head of a pin until, one day, he went forth searching for his missing bottle of groinrinse. That search had led him to his surreal and uggluithine encounter with yours truly, which had in turn somehow led to the tiny man’s sudden and unexpected disappearance from the face of the Earth with nary a trace. Not even a fart upon the wind remained. The whole situation was odd in the extreme, Peebuddle asserted verphantly, but oddest of all was that ever since Parndiddle had vanished, not a single soul—living, dead, or undead—was able to utter his name without immediately breaking out with a severe case of the heebie-jeebies and running off in mad, unthinking terror. At least six men who attempted to pronounce the name “Parndiddle” hadn’t even made it to the second syllable before they had taken flight. Two had jumped off a bridge. One had drowned himself in a toilet. And four had eaten banned incandescent lightbulbs until their lungs burst.

A quick examination of these facts led to the conclusion that a flock of shuggoths was responsible for both the disappearance of Parndiddle and the ensuing madness of anyone uttering the mini-man’s name. However, that explanation struck me as too facile—too obvious. I thought about the bizarre state of affairs a bit more, and so this morning I penned a response to Peebuddle that I prayed would be more helpful than simply blaming eldritch bubble congeries. My mind distractedly daydreaming about Ravna’s feet gently wrapped in those new flip-flops (and Loquisha’s, too!), I wrote back to Peebuddle McForsterbaster:

I think this odd state of affairs is best explained with a fable my dear old Mamårp told me when I was but a Pnårpling.

A long, long time ago, in a place far, far away, there lived a young prince. One day, his old, old grandmother told him they needed a new oven, so he went to town to get one. On his way back, he crossed over a bridge and, looking into the water below, saw another prince with another oven! Being the greedy bastard he was (did I say he was an evil prince?), he jumped over the side of the bridge in order to claim that oven, too. But unfortunately, with the 300-pound cast-iron stove that he had just bought from an oven broker still strapped to his back, he sank like a stone… and died. The industrious ants went to work dragging his waterlogged corpse back to their underground hives, while the grasshoppers partied like it was 1399. The evil prince’s grandmother’s plans were frustrated and Hansel and Gretel lived happily ever after.

The moral of the story is: Never trust a Frenchman to sell you an oven. (I told you that the oven broker’s name was Jacques, right? Jacques le François d’Arbeaulanglois. Wait, I didn’t? Damn it, I never tell this story right…!)

And there you have it. A parable that should explain everything. The only thing that it’s missing is Alyssa Milano with a red riding hood on (and nothing else!).