Some years back, avid readers will recall, I mentioned that one of the “Personal Bests” in my life was teaching my friend’s 5-year-old to eat flies. A few days later a mother accosted me in Safeway stating with some certainty, “That is the most horrible thing I ever heard of.” I was a bit nonplused because there are a lot worse things going on out there. It wasn’t like I murdered a whale by stuffing a baby Harp seal down its blowhole or anything.
And actually I wasn’t teaching the child at all unless you consider leading by example as teaching. What I did was merely wait until the child was watching and grabbed an imaginary fly out of the air with a raisin tucked between my fingers. Slowly I opened my fist, picked out the raisin and ate it with exaggerated relish. After a couple of repeat performances, the child rushed off, armed with the flyswatter I had lent her, to show her mom her new trick.
And besides, that wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever done. Not by far.
My wife’s father, Adolph, was the most fastidious individual I have ever met. Everything had to be “just so” or he became decidedly uncomfortable. You’ve met the type; he outlined his hand tools on the pegboard. If you do that yourself, discretely let me know and I will include you in my prayers. My own sense of order falls somewhere short of that as I struggle with the eternal question, “Shall I spend 10 minutes putting it away, or shall I spend 10 minutes looking for it?”
We visited my father-in-law at his home in Lincoln, Neb., some years ago. We had our 6-week-old hound named Wicker Basset with us. The puppy frolicked about our feet as we relaxed on the patio. That is to say, I relaxed while Adolph fretted about how to handle a potential dog “mess” on the floor. My editor has begged me not to use the word “poop,” so I promised her I wouldn’t. Finally, fortified with a pooper-scooper, plastic bags, paper bags to hold the plastic bags, two nearby garbage cans, some kitty litter, a broom, a scrub brush, a garden hose, and finally, a plenitude of a good Kentucky Bourbon, he too began to relax.
As Adolph stepped inside to freshen his beverage, I seized the moment to unwrap a Tootsie Roll I had purchased earlier for just such a moment. I twirled it in my palms and fashioned it into an astonishingly realistic dog “mess.” Then I placed the “mess” on the floor where Adolph was certain to spy it. He sat down and we resumed our conversation. After a few moments he noticed the offending pile and cried in alarm, “Uh-oh! Look what the dog has done!” and he turned to fortify himself with his armaments that he gathered there for just such a catastrophe.
“Heck,” I said, “Don’t worry about it, Adolph. I’ll take care of it.” Whereupon I bent over, plucked the tootsie roll and popped it into my mouth, chewing lustily. I had never seen Adolph at a loss for words but at that moment, his jaw was down, his mouth was open, but there was nothing coming out but a strangled little gurgling noise. Fearing for his health, I quickly let him in on the gag, but I somehow got the feeling that he never again saw me in the same light.
It was a great summer.