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Enjoying the Finer Things, Like Good Fiction, 1 of 3

Enjoying the Finer Things, Like Good Fiction, 1 of 3

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Have you ever stopped to think about what it means to enjoy the finer things in life?  Most of us associate leisure with the finer things, such as flying in style on your own private jet.  But what is leisure?  It is the ability to enjoy what you want, when you want to.

Entertainment is a given in situations like that.  When you read a fine, evocative piece of literature, it creates a picture in your mind, and when you savor that mental picture, you are truly enjoying one of the finer things.  Take this quote from Betty MacDonald: “After splashing icy water on their faces and rubbing them fiery red with one of the rough sweet-smelling towels, they came in and took their places at the big kitchen table. This morning the table wore a bright red-and-white checked cloth and a pot of red geraniums. Mrs. Campbell handed the girls their plates, each with a slice of ham and half of a crisp, tan waffle.”  Isn’t that fantastic?

Inspired by the finer things in life, we thought we would share this very unusual short story, in three parts, here on the blog.  Consider it a nice distraction over the holidays.  what could be better than curling up on your private jet with a good book, or an entertaining story like this one?

Honey, I found a Penguin Outside, Part 1 of 3

As you can imagine, I was none too pleased the morning I found a penguin in the garden.

Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against penguins.  They’re really quite irresistible, in that way that odd-looking, odd-moving animals are endlessly cute.  My wife prefers dogs that look like, well, dogs – healthy animals with shiny coats and proud bearings.  I’ve always preferred small, odd-looking dogs whom nature or selective breeding have treated with arguable cruelty.  Short legs, pot bellies, exopthalmic eyes, squashed faces, stubby tails – how could you not like dogs like Pugs and Chihuahuas?  The penguin is the Pug of the avian world – an adorable, flightless, strangely dignified creature that toddles along as if the gait bestowed on it by Nature is the most natural, most unexceptional thing in the world.  When penguins swim, they extend their wings and glide like airplanes in a liquid sky.  How could you not admire such creatures?

This does not mean finding one in the garden was a welcome discovery.

Keeping one eye on the bird, I walked gingerly down the front walk in my bare feet, pulling my bathrobe about me.  I grabbed my newspaper, which the paperboy insists on leaving as far from the house as possible, and made my way back.  The penguin looked at me.  I looked at it.

Sighing, I dropped the folded newspaper on my front step and picked my way across the dew-damp lawn to Zachary’s house next door.

Zachary Waite is a nice enough neighbor, I suppose.  He’s generally quiet, doesn’t neglect his yard (too much), has never had a party – well, not in the five years I’ve lived on Dell Street – and is always friendly.  We’ve chatted more than once.  The first time he showed me the basement laboratory where he spends his time like a mad scientist from the 1950s, I thought it was quaint.  The second time, I thought he might be on to something big.  The third time, I was there to complain about the dead squid on my front step, which – don’t ask me how I knew – I was certain could only be there thanks to Zachary’s efforts.

I banged on the front door, ignoring the broken doorbell and disdaining the tarnished brass knocker.  “Zack!”  I bellowed, still rapping my knuckles on the wood.  “Zack, get out here!  You’ve turned on that damned machine again, haven’t you?”

I heard him shuffle to the door and waited as the deadbolt clicked.  He opened the door just far enough to reveal his face, looking sheepish as he did so.

“Zack,” I began.

“Please, Jeff.  I know.”

“Do you know there’s a penguin in my garden?”

“I can’t say I’m surprised.”

“You’ve done it again, haven’t you?” I demanded.  “You’ve fired up that machine.”

“Jeff, you must understand, I have multiple projects—”

“Unless one of them is Douglas Adams’ improbability drive,” I said angrily, “you’re again using the one machine that seems to delight in disgorging random objects and incongruous animal life on my front lawn.  Zack, you promised.”

“I did, I did,” Zachary sighed.  “You may as well come in.”

He opened the door the rest of the way and I entered his cluttered living room.  Zack is probably the closest thing to Einstein alive today, if the things he invents are any indication.  He holds several patents to things most people don’t realize exist or take for granted – components of artificial organs, processes used to make pharmaceuticals, certain portions of the newest wireless phone networks.

For every practical invention he produces, he has at least five bizarre pieces of experimental machinery that rival anything Jeff Goldblum had in The Fly.  To be honest it wouldn’t have surprised me on any given day to have Zachary show up at my door sporting an insect head or lobster claw hands, asking me if I could please help him sort out his latest “scientific setback.”  It was after what my wife still calls “the squid incident” that Zachary first showed me his Doorway Generator.

I followed Zack – all four feet, nine inches of him, dressed in gray sweats and sporting a curly-brown mop of “Caucasian Afro” hair – through the impossibly messy room.  Only a man living alone, my wife once pointed out, would have metal garage shelves in his living room, where he also kept the futon on which he slept.  I don’t know what he did with his bedroom, which he didn’t seem to use. I was never morbidly curious enough to ask.

We walked through the grimy kitchen, where the sink was full of pots and pans that, for all I knew, had been soiled since Zack first moved into the house.

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