Tag Archives: short stories

Don’t Punt, Coach!©

Coach  Nick Whitlow was sorting football equipment in the Leopards locker room when his cell phone buzzed.  He looked at the caller ID. Coach Whitlow  scowled and said, !@#$%^&*.  Then he pushed the answer button, smiled and said, “Coach Whitlow speaking.”

The caller was Dr. Ima Farseer, dean of  Letongaloosa Community Junior College’s School  of  Electromagnetic Communigraphics.

“Coach Whitlow, we need to talk,” said the dean.

“I’m real tied up right now, Ma’ am,”  he said. “Got football practice, comin’ up ya know.”

“That’s why I  need  to see you in my office.  Your football team has academic eligibility problems.”

 

“Whoa.   Whoa. Hold on.  I’ll be right there.”

Dean Farseer’s office door was open so Coach Whitlow   walked in and sat in the visitor’s  chair opposite the dean’s massive mahogany desk.  All four legs of the  visitor’s chair had been shortened.  And one leg had been cut shorter than the other three.  The visitor was forced to sit on a low, teetery  chair.  Advantage, Farseer.

“Ima,” pause, “Uh, I mean Dean Farseer, our atha-letes  work very hard on their academic studies. Very hard, in deed.”

“With little to show for it when grade cards come out,”  said the dean.

“Ma’am,   the Leopards are  ten and one on the year.  Our best season since 2012.”

“And  your athletes are  zero and 23 academically.  Not a single ath-lete (she pronounced the word  slowly and enunciated it pointedly) is on the dean’s list. On the other hand, 17 football players are in various after school detention programs.”

The coach teetered silently.  Then he said, “Let me get back to you on this,” said the coach.

“Please do,” said the dean.  “Soon.”

It had never occurred to Coach Whitfield to call up the dean’s list on his computer, but he did so the moment he arrived back at his office.

The names of students with four-point- oh grades led the list, followed by others in descending order down to the bottom of the list where he recognized the names of a number of his football players.

At the top of the 4.0 list was Tyler Kirby.  The coach remembered him. He had been an eager first-day-of- practice walk-on. Kirby weighed 187 pounds. His thick  glasses were held on by an elastic  band .

“Sorry, kid,” the coach had said, “We already got enough  managers.”

“I want to make the team, Coach.”

 

“Not  this team, you don’t  Go take a shower.”

“Gaaaa,” said the coach, as he remembered the encounter. He left the building.

On the sidewalk outside the  building he bumped into someone.

“Sorry, Coach, I wasn’t looking where I was going.”

“My fault. Say, aren’t you Tyler Kirby?”

“Yes sir.”

“ Son, I need to talk to you.  Could you come to my office?”

“Now, sir?”

“Yes, if you’re free.”

After the meeting, Kirby Tyler set up a team of his own—a group of academically high achieving students who tutored athletes. The athletes thrived.

Coach Whitlow put Tyler on his team, and  made  sure  that Tyler got to suit up for every game.  Toward the end of the season when the Leopards were leading the La Mancha Mongrels 47-6  the coach called:

“Kirby. Get in there at quarterback and heave a long one down field.  ”

-30-

Dr. Larry Day is a retired KU J-School professor turned humor writer. He is also the author of Day Dreaming: Tales From the Fourth Dementia, a collection of goofy and fun short stories that have nothing to do with old age,

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Do You Do the Jumble?©

 

 

Years ago I wrote a column titled “Code Blur.”  That story revolved around a World War II decoding device that I saw on display as “relics of technology,” at a local department store. As the story evolved, the feds thought I was involved in some  espionage plot. I had a  dicey time before it all got straightened out.

Welcome to déjà vu all over again

Emmaline and I have a mid-morning routine.  We sit in the living room and read the local newspaper.  Once we’ve noted the condition of the nation, the state and the community, we read the comics.  Sometimes we wonder which individuals are the comic strip characters and which are  our leaders, who are acting like comic strip characters.

Then we turn to the puzzle page and work on the word puzzle. That’s a grid with vertical and horizontal numbered boxes.  Printed opposite each box is a set of scrambled letters that spell

the answer to the clue if you put them in the right order.

Most days between us, Emmaline and I solve the puzzle without help.  Sometimes though, there’s a weird clue.  After we have tried the combinations of letters, I trudge upstairs to the computer  to try to unscramble the letters.  I type in the random letters from the puzzle trying to figure out a pattern.

There’s nothing sinister about that, right?  Wrong!  The other day while we were working on the puzzle, two black SUVs drove up in front of our house. The first SUV drove into the driveway. The other one blocked the driveway at the curb.  Four suits got out of the SUV in the driveway, and came to the door.

“Federal agents.  Open the door.”

I opened the door and they poured in.

“What’s this about?”

“We’ll ask the questions,” said the shortest suit—a bald guy with horned rim glasses.

“Show me some identification first.” I said.

Agent Horned Rimmed flashed an ID.

“Who are you?”

“We’re from the Department of Electronic Citizen Surveillance.  Our algorithm devices have detected coded messages coming from your computer.”

“I type random letters on a search engine looking for clues to the Jumble Puzzles in the newspaper,”

Agent Horned Rimmed ignored my answer and said, “Do you deny communicating with an alien who uses the code name KB 11.2?”

“KB 11.2?  “Kaybe,” are you kidding? Kaybe is the alien robot character I created for my monthly humor column?”

“There’s nothing humorous about espionage,”  said Agent Horned Rimmed. “Or aliens, either, for that matter.”

“”But Kaybe is fiction.  He’s a character in my book,” I said.  “Show them, Emmaline.”

“Don’t move,” said the tall suit standing behind Emmaline.

“I just want to show you the book,” said Emmaline.  It’s right here.”

Agent Horned Rimmed made a quick lateral move with his head, and said, “Get it.”

Emmaline crossed the living room and picked up my little book, Day Dreaming. She opened the book to a story titled “I Speak Alien,” and handed the book to Agent Tall Suit.  Agent Tall Suit leafed through the story, grimaced, and handed the book to Agent Horned Rimmed.

“It’s a humor book, Deke,” he said.

Emmaline handed Agent Tall Suit a page from the local newspaper.

“Here is the puzzle those words came from,” she said.  You can see that the letters in the grid match the written clues.  You solve the puzzle by putting the right words in the grid horizontally and vertically.  Sometimes we get stumped, so my husband types the letters into an Internet search engine to see  if it will unscramble them.”

Outside, the neighbors were beginning to gather in their front yards.  They were staring at the guys standing around the SUV that was blocking the driveway.

“It’s another surveillance network screw-up, Deke,” said Tall Agent.

“@#$%^&*,” said Deke. Then Deke gave his trademark lateral move of the head and the suits melted out through front door.

As they were running, one of them yelled,  “wrong address!”

Then they jumped into their SUVs  and sped away.

“Who were those unmasked men?” asked Emmaline.

-30-

Dr. Larry Day is a retired KU J-School professor turned humor writer. His book,  Day Dreaming: Tales From the Fourth Dementia is available on Amazon.

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Code Blur

 

            When a store detective tried to arrest my pal Sam Goldfarb for shoplifting, the guy had no idea that within an hour the FBI, the CIA, the White House, and the national news media would get involved in the case.
            Sam is a member of the our Maridos Club, a social organization for people whose spouses drag them to the mall all the time.
            As he plods through the department stores behind his wife Molly, Sam keeps his eyes open for interesting displays that the department store decorators prepare.              Decorators at our mall create displays with stuff they find in flea markets, second hand stores and yard sales.
           There are 1930-era gadgets, home appliances from the 1950s, and stacks of books with titles like, “The Economic Impact of Disk Plow Technology on Rural Platt County Kansas 1874-1876.”    The decorators arrange these treasures with swatches of fabric  or set them beside  sheaves of wheat  and  vases of pussy willow.
            While your spouse is trying on clothes, you can contemplate a gadget or  pick up a book from one of the displays and improve your mind.
            On the day of the incident, Sam and Molly Goldfarb were in Blevins Department store in the mall.  Molly was trying on clothes. While he waited, Sam wandered over to a pile of junk that the store decorator had artfully intertwined with some plastic bougainvillea.
            There was a beat-up electric iron, a telephone circa. 1937, and a gadget that looked like an old fashioned adding machine.  The device was about half the size of a shoe box and was sitting in a black metal case. On the top of the machine were rows of typewriter keys with strange symbols on them.
            “Sweet Matilda,” cried Sam when he examined the apparatus.  He couldn’t believe his eyes.  Lying there in plain sight was the top secret World War II Moncleef Cryptographic Codemaster.
            Sam recognized the device immediately.  In 1943, Sam, then a bright young Air Force  first lieutenant with a Ph.D. in physics, was assigned to work with Weird Wendell Montcleef, the inventor of the Moncleef Cryptographic Codemaster.
            Moncleef, who was Sam’s age, was a hotshot young professor at the University of Chicago before World War II.  He left academe for the corporate world, an during his stay with corporate America, Weird Wendell developed a prototype of the Moncleef Cryptographic Codemaster.   Then, before he got the thing working, Weird Wendell abandoned the project, quit the corporation, and moved to Kansas City to play in a jazz band.
            A couple of years after the war started someone in Washington—rumor had it that it was President Roosevelt himself—appealed to Weird Wendell’s patriotic nature, and convinced him to get back to work on the Codemaster device.  The Codemaster when it was perfected, was supposed to be able to encode, decode, slice, dice, fold, staple and spindle any message you threw at it.
Weird Wendall toyed with the government for months and months. He kept telling them he was days away from perfecting the Codemaster.  Then he’d say there was a snag.  Finally the government dispatched Lt. Sam Goldfarb to work with Wendell, and spy on him.  Weird Wendell knew that Sam was a government spy, but he thought, egotistically, that he could fool Sam as well as the government.
Meantime, Weird Wendell, a bachelor, got involved with Ernestine Duval, a Kansas City jazz singer of great beauty and charm.  Ernestine Duval was really Feda Von Gubler, one of Germany’s top undercover agents.
Soon after he began working with Weird Wendell, Sam Goldfarb discovered that the Codemaster would never work  Sam realized that  Weird Wendell had perpetrated on everyone.  Sam sent a detailed report to his superiors.  Two days later the government shipped Sam off to a remote weather station in Greenland where he spent the rest of the war.
A few weeks after Sam Goldfarb was banished to Greenland, Weird Wendell let it slip to Ernestine/Freda, his German spy lover, that the Codemaster was operative and was being deployed to all Allied commands.  That sent the Germans and the Japanese into a code-changing frenzy which fouled up their communications systems for weeks and hampered their ability to react to crucial Allied military initiatives.
Weird Wendell and his Codemaster device were a small, but significant footnote to the war effort.  The prototype of the Moncleef Cryptographic Codemaster that Weird Wendell used to fool U.S. government bureaucrats and, through Ernestine/Freda the German high command, was placed in top secret storage at a site near Kansas City.
Somehow, decades later, it turned up at a local flea market where a decorator from Blevins Department Store bought it and put it on display, surrounded by fake bougainvillea.
And that’s where Sam Goldfarb saw the device for the first time since the just before he was shipped off to Greenland during World War II.  When Sam saw the Codemaster  sitting there, he reacted instinctively and somewhat irrationally.  He grabbed  the machine, stuffed it into a shopping bag and covered it with a couple of blouses that Molly had just bought.  Then he hustled Molly out of the store and out of the mall.
A mall security man stopped Sam and asked him to open the bag.  Sam smacked the guy in the jaw, and ran.  Sam made it to his car and burned rubber out of the parking lot.  He led police on a merry chase through the neighborhood until they ran him into a cul de sac.
 When he saw he was trapped, Sam jumped out of his car, and, holding the Moncleef Crtographic Codemaster above his head,  threatened to blow the neighborhood to smithereens.  Then he jumped back into his car and slammed the door.
At that point the whole thing turned into a made for TV movie scene: police cars, helicopters, bullhorns.  The media from all over the area were giving feeds to national networks.
            Sam’s  cell phone rang.  He demanded to talk to the President.
            A few minutes later Sam’s cell phone rang again, and a familiar drawl said, “Hello Sam. This is the President.  Is it all right if I call you Sam?”
          “Yes, Mr. President,” said Sam.
         “Good. Now, Sam, what can we do for you?”
        “I want the government to apologize for shipping me off to Greenland to freeze my buns off for three years for just trying to do my job during World War II.”
        “Tell me about it, Sam,” said the President, “I’ll try to help.”
         Sam told him the whole story.
        A few minutes later the phone rang in the office of a gray-haired spymaster at the Central Intelligence Agency.
       “Wendell,” said the President, “We’ve got a situation.”
       “Tell me about it, Mr. President,” said Weird Wendell Moncleef,  director the
O.O.O., the CIA’s super secret Office of Oddball  Operations.
            The government opted for what is known as a modified hang out—a damage control initiative perfected by the CIA.
            That night the network news shows carried the story of a heroic World War II veteran who risked his life to save his fellow shoppers from a booby-trapped World War II device that had somehow turned up on display at a local department store. Print journalists crawled all over the story the next day, but the government’s version held up long enough for the next “barn burner news event” to show up on the media radar screen. After three days the Codemaster incident was old news even in Kansas City.
       Sam and Molly can shop at the mall again without being approached for autographs.
-30-
Dr. Larry Day is a retired KU J-School professor turned humor writer. He is the author of a collection of short stories, Day Dreaming: Tales from the Fourth Dementia available on Amazon.
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Friends We Meet Along the Way

I’ve written a humor column every month for the last 16 years. That breaks down to 192 columns—134,400 words. The columns go by many titles and most of the ideas for them come at times when I am not sitting at my desk,  vis. while I’m  walking the dog,  having lunch with my Emmaline. My, ideas–it’s a stretch to call it inspiration—pop up wherever I may be.  One of the most enjoyable aspects of my job is telling about some of my  adventures (real and imagined), and in letting you, the readers, meet some of the people who inhabit those adventures.

In many stories, from exploring the Cuban jungle with my colleague, Kate, to meeting with my long-distance pal from outer space, the robot KB-11.2 (Kaybe),  I have taken Life on some curious journeys. And I’ve share them with you. It’s never been boring, and as I write this month’s column, and  as I think about all my friends,  my pals, the little Dutchmen come to mind.

I haven’t really been out to the Smokies to see them lately. As a result, we’re thinking about making a trip there especially since St. Patrick’s Day is coming up. I first introduced the little guys in July 2014 in a column titled Man in the Mirror.  It was about my first encounter with a curious-looking gentleman, a kabouter. Most people would think a kabouter as a leprechaun.  Kabouters wear  long beards and antique Dutch-looking clothing including  tri-cornered hats.

I was standing in front of the mirror in a vacation cabin back in the Smoky Mountains where Emmaline and I  frequently stay. The Dutchman was staring at me from a mirror that hung in the bathroom. I was startled. After I calmed down and got my bearings, the Dutchman and his friends took me tubing down the stream that flows alongside  the cabin. We drank root beer from large steins, and had a rip-roaring afternoon.  I’ve written a couple of columns about our adventures with the Dutchman and his fellow Kabouters.  But I haven’t given you readers much detail about them.

Here’s some background:  The Dutchman in the mirror is named Jurriaan. It’s Jurriaan Lievin, as a matter of fact.  Jurriaan and his friends live in a mushroom village located in the woods just down the one-lane road from our family’s Smoky Mountain cabin.  These guys, according to Dutch folklore, are shy of humans. Stories say that they play tricks on people who try to catch them. For whatever reason these little Dutchmen men were more curious than shy when it came to me, Emmaline, and our family  well before wrote about them. They’ve been a part of our family celebrations ever since.

Folklore also mentions that some Kabouter love the off-stage limelight. They have been the focus of countless fairytales, but the stories always mention the tiny men slipping away after performing their good deeds. We  all  know the Legend of the Wooden Shoes.  And on television we’ve all seen the gnome in that travel commercial. That’s Jurrriaan’s cousin, Nicholaas. He, wasn’t shy like the other men in the forest, so Nicholaas decided  to head for Los Angeles and try his hand at acting.  He’s become quite successful.

Emmaline and I are planning to go to the cabin soon. We need adventure, and our friends the Dutchmen are all about adventure.  They always have been.  In that vein, I’ve decided it’s time my best friends meet each other.

I contacted Kaybe and Kate and told them to meet us at the cabin this spring. Kate is excited to get out of the jungle for a while and to meet everyone.  I asked Kaybe drop by and pick her up in his spaceship. It’s not out of his way.

Emmaline is excited, too. She’s planning a party and has already bought  root beer steins for everyone. And there’ll be plenty of inner tubes too for the river float.  Oh, that reminds me, I need to get some lubricating oil for Kaybe.   The humidity at the cabin sometimes plays hob with his metal joints.

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Shy Freddy and Salesman Sam©

Freddy was smart and looked handsome with his dark hair and his horned
rim glasses. But Freddy was so painfully shy that he almost never spoke. Some people
mistook Freddy’s reticence for wisdom and admired him for it.
Freddy grew up as an only child on a farm a long way from town. His father and
mother died unexpectedly when he was in his teens and Freddy came to live with an
elderly aunt in Letongaloosa.
After he moved to town Freddy hardly ever went out. Occasionally Mrs.
Chattermore or Mr. Buttinsky would see Freddy in the yard and force him into a
conversation. That made Freddy panic, and when he panicked Freddy spoke gibberish.
Freddy read a lot, and he watched a lot of television. He had vast amounts of
information from books and television stored in his head, but when he was forced speak,
Freddy’s shyness made him blurt out gibberish phrases. Some people thought he was
being clever; others may have thought he was high on something.
Freddy lived quietly and peacefully until Salesman Sam came along. Salesman
Sam was very smart, but he looked really dumb. His beady black eyes and his pug nose
were set smack in the middle of a big flat pumpkin-pie face. Sam was hulking and
rotund. His body sloped up toward his head and down toward his feet. He looked like a
toy gyroscope.
Sam was the kind of salesman that makes people put “no solicitation” signs in
their yards and on their porches. Sam ignored “no solicitation” signs and “Beware of the
Dog” signs. He even ignored “Quarantined” signs. Salesman Sam was pushy and
persistent. Once someone cracked the front door and Sam had inserted his number
fourteen shoe inside, it was all over. Sam had a sale.
Despite being pushy and persistent, Salesman Sam didn’t get into many houses. His
bulk and his ugly pumpkin-pie face worked against him. That hurt his sales, and he was
looking for a partner who could get him in the door.
Fate, or destiny, or the Native American trickster gods brought shy gibberishspeaking
Freddy and bombastic Salesman Sam together.
Salesman Sam was working in Freddy’s neighborhood and he was having a
terrible day. People yelled at him from behind locked doors but they wouldn’t let him in.
Freddy’s aunt was at her mahjongg club when Sam loomed onto the porch and
pounded on the door.
“Open up. It’s the F-I-B,” he shouted.
That scary door approach was one Sam saved for times when he was desperate.
It worked. Freddy opened the door and Sam clumped into the house.
“I have a really great deal for you, young man,” said Salesman Sam.
“Stocks were mixed in mid-day trading, and when used as directed Duodib
relieves symptoms within minutes,” said Freddy.
“What did you say?” asked Sam the Salesman.
“Foster told sports reporters he was keeping his options open with this marvelous
new double ply bathroom tissue,” said Freddy.
“Huh?” said Sam.
By this time Freddy was trembling noticeably.
“Okay, son,” said Salesman Sam. “Just take it easy. Everything’s going to be all
right. Can I sit down?”
Freddy nodded. Sam lowered his bulk onto a sofa and motioned Freddy to sit
beside him. Sam smiled. “You and me need to talk, kid,” he said. “I need a partner. Do
you want a job?”
Freddy nodded.
A year later Sam and Freddy were featured on the cover of Neighborhood Sales,
the industry’s leading retail door to door magazine. They had won the magazine’s
annual sales award. People couldn’t resist letting nerdy Freddy into their houses, and
once they did, Sam never lost a sale.
Standing behind a microphone at the awards banquet Sam the Salesman said, “I
couldn’t a done it without Freddy.”
A trembling Freddy said, “Side effects are mild and may include headaches, sore
throat, and much more sunshine over the next five days.”

-30-

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The 50-Foot Turkey Goes To Hollywood ©

Dexter Dolby had to confess. When he started writing the screenplay for Attack
of the 50-Foot Turkey he never thought he would end up here. How he got from
his own red carpet premiere at the Letongaloosa Fall Film Festival to being stuck
in bumper-to-bumper traffic along the Pacific Coast Highway was a blur. One
day he’s a writer and movie critic for the Letongaloosa Register-Journal-
Challenger-Sun Chronicle. The next, it seemed to him, he was here sitting behind
the wheel of his old blue Wrangler, a week before Thanksgiving, staring out at
the turquoise waters and waiting to begin life as a Hollywood screenwriter.
How a film gets made had always been incredibly important to Dexter. As a kid
he’d sit for hours absorbing every detail of every plot line, camera angle and
costume in movies like The Giant Claw, Dementia 13, and The Terror. He wanted
to be a film writer, and he knew if he was going to be taken seriously he had to
pay attention to every detail of the production.
It was that attention to detail that caught the eye of Paul Peterson, the CEO of
Talking Pictures Productions (TPP). The way the camera captured the detail and
movement of a giant 50-foot turkey as it toppled the tiny country town made
the hair stand up on the back of Paul Peterson’s neck. He prided himself in
being able to spot creativity and talent wherever he saw it—even in a
backwater town like Letongaloosa. Peterson wanted Dexter working for his
company.
For Dexter, thinking back to the events of that fateful night after Halloween was
better than a prize-winning movie. Incredibly, Dexter had said goodbye to the
small circulation newspaper and to small-town life. The turkeys at the wildlife
conservatory had changed is life and provided him with the future he had
longed for. With a firm offer of a job, Dexter bid goodbye to friends and family,
packed up his Revere 8Mm, and headed for Hollywood.
The weeks following the movie premiere had passed like a whirlwind. After “Mr.
Hollywood,” Paul Peterson showed up that night outside of the Cineplex, the
people of Letongaloosa had treated Dexter like a celebrity. The managers of
the burger stand told him he’d never pay for a burger and fries and shakes
again. The manager of the movie theatre assured him he’d have free movie
tickets. The president of the Wild Life Sanctuary presented him a certificate that
made him a lifetime member. He could visit the turkeys that turned him into an
up-and-coming filmmaker any time he wanted.
All of the attention at first mystified, then , humbled Dexter. He was delighted
that people liked his work. He was ecstatic about the attention Paul Peterson
paid him in the following weeks. They became friends.
The two discussed everything from to do with the creation of films and
screenwriting, to the nitty gritty of post- production editing. One day Paul talked
to about turning Attack of the 50-Foot Turkey into a one-day classic for the big
screen. All of those conversations resulted in an offer for Dexter to go to
Hollywood and make movies for TPP Productions.
I was a dream come true! Dexter loved his job as writer and movie critic in
Letongaloosa, but he was thrilled with his new life, even when he had to sit in this
traffic jams on his way to write and make movies. Slowly, the sea of cars began
to inch forward. Dexter felt a warm breeze on his face. He was on his way to
HOLLYWOOD. He was going to make movies. The cars started to move and
Dexter felt the Wrangler roll. It moved closer and closer to his future as a
Hollywood filmmaker.
In front of the offices on the TPP Studio lot, noted the palm trees. He sat and
marveled for a moment at the studio’s white stucco façade. Then he stepped
out of his sturdy old vehicle, grabbed his Revere 8Mm, and walked confidently
toward the studio. He was no longer that kid from a small town in the Midwest.
He was Dexter Dolby, Hollywood screenwriter and filmmaker.
-30-

 

Dr. Larry Day is a retired foreign correspondent turned humor writer. His book, Day Dreaming: Tales From the Fourth Dementia is available for purchase on Amazon.

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The Consultant

 

When I was a teenager, I was klutz. My klutziness—with everything from gadgets to girls—was a source of merriment for my friends, and despair for me. I shared my anguish in an interview with my kindly old Bishop.

He gave me some advice: “The Lord makes imperfect people with the hope that they will help other imperfect people with their imperfections.” That advice didn’t mean much to me at the time, but it does now.

It got me a job.

I was at a local hardware store when I met the headhunter who set up my job interview. I had gone to the store to return a faulty flashlight. The flashlight, it turns out, worked fine. Apparently I had put the batteries in wrong.

The salesman, Mr. Morales, turned the batteries around, replaced the cap, and flicked the switch. The light came on.

“It’s working now,” he said, and handed me the flashlight. He smiled, but he didn’t give me “the look.” That’s why I always look for Mr. Morales when I return merchandise at that hardware store.

Every time I hand faulty gadgets to other salespeople, they make the darn things work in an instant.

“You had the fragjibber in backwards,” they say.

Then they give me “the look.” You know what I mean, that surreptitious supercilious raising of the eyebrows that says, “If this guy is brain dead, shouldn’t he be on a respirator?”

It was while I was thanking Mr. Morales that the headhunter, Sandra Chang, came up and started talking to me. She asked me what I did for a living. I told her that I was retired and working my head off at odd jobs to make ends meet. After we had chatted a while, Ms. Chang asked if I would be interested in being a consultant. I said, “Sure I would.”

When she called some weeks later, she had set up an interview with Apogee Engineering. I’d never heard of the outfit, and Ms. Chang was pretty vague about what they do to keep their stockholders happy. She was also vague about which of my myriad talents Apogee Engineering was interested in. She said they’d explain in the interview.

Ms. Chang briefed me well. She said that first they’d go over my resume, and told me what they’d be looking for. She was right on target. She said that after the routine stuff, they’d want to ask me some different questions. She told me to be sure I answered all their questions truthfully.

“No problem,” I said. “My life’s an open book. I’m a professor emeritus from a small university, and I teach part time at a large university. I don’t drink, and I don’t do drugs. I don’t smoke and I don’t chew. I’m a very happily married man.

On the appointed day I went to Apogee Engineering. The interview was going great. They seemed completely satisfied with my answers to the routine resume questions. Then the assistant to president cleared his throat.

“Professor, as Ms. Chang may have told you, the project we’re considering you for is very important to Apogee Engineering. Because of that, you’ve been the subject of a rather extensive background check. Would you mind confirming some of our findings?”

“Not at all,” I said. “I’ll tell you anything you want to know.” Then I said to myself, “Bring it on.” I was secure in the fact that I have lived a solidly upstanding, if somewhat prosaic, life.

“Professor,” said the assistant, “a couple of weeks ago the local computer store sent someone out to your house. Why did you call them?”

“I inadvertently put a CD Rom disk into the B-drive slot instead of the CD Rom slot on my computer,” I said. “It got stuck, and I couldn’t get it out.

“I see,” he said. Then he went on.

“The folks at Triple A report that you have made extensive use of their emergency road service. In fact, you called last them last week. Can you tell us what happened?”

I paused. “Where was this guy going with this stuff?” I thought. “Oh well, what the heck,”

“I was driving to work and a car splashed mud on my windshield. When I turned on the automatic windshield washer, it squirted oil all over my windshield. I couldn’t see a thing, and I ran into a curb and blew out a tire.”

“And how did oil get into the reservoir of the windshield wiper?” asked the assistant to the president of Apogee Engineering.

“Lie,” whispered a little voice inside me. “Lie your socks off.” But I didn’t.

“A couple of days earlier the oil light came on, so I put in some oil. I must have poured oil into the wrong hole. All those darn caps under the hood look the same.”

I wondered if he was going to give me “the look,” but he didn’t.

“You’ve returned nine appliances to local stores in the last few weeks. How many of those appliances were actually faulty?”

“These guys are setting me up,” I thought. “They’re going to give me the old heave ho. Well I’ll save them the trouble.”

“All nine appliances worked perfectly when the store personnel adjusted them, I said with quiet dignity. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just be on my way.” I stood up.

“Professor,” said the assistant to the president, “please sit down.”

“You people are trying to humiliate me,” I said.

“On the contrary, we’re trying to hire you,” he said. “We’ve been looking all over the country for someone like you. You’re bright. You’re successful. You’re a solid citizen. And you’ve been blessed with a gift. World class athletes 2

are a breed apart. They run the 100-yard dash in 9.3 seconds. They bat .375 year after year. They shoot in the low sixties in high pressure golf tournaments.

“What does that have to do with me?” I asked.

“You are an extremely rare phenomenon. Industrial companies all over the world hire Apogee Engineering and pay us millions of dollars to help them idiot-proof their products.”

“So you’re looking to hire a blithering idiot,” I said bitterly.

“On the contrary,” he said. “We’re looking to hire a world class reverse mechanical engineering genius, and you are he. You’re one in a billion. If a consumer product doesn’t baffle you, it won’t baffle anyone. Please come to work for us and help make consumer products safer for people all over the world.”

So I did. -30-

 

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