people were what they were, and they were called what they were.
if a guy had big feet he was called big foot jackson.
if a guy spit on the sidewalk he was called sidewalk spitting jones.
if a man was fat he was called fatso or five ton and if a woman was fat she was called butterball or two ton or wide load.
if a man was thin he was stick or invisible man and if a woman was thin she was bony maroney.
if you spent too much time at the barroom you were suck em down simmons.
if you fell down drunk on the sidewalk one time you were old soak carter.
if a woman had more than one boy friend - in her life - she was sleeparound sue.
if a man did not have a job he was lazy smith or no account johnson or worthless williams.
some of the names might be a little obscure to outsiders. like down dress dawkins, who was always looking down women’s dresses.
others were more self explanatory. like bottom pinching barnes, or penny pinching polly parker.
if you had a pet phrase or one that you used more than once or twice, you were that phrase forever. like who knows adams, or what do i know walker, or that’s life lewis.
if you did one thing you did it forever. one woman dropped a bag of groceries when she was coming out of the general store and they spilled all over the sidewalk snd she was bag dropping betty baker.
a fellow walked into a telephone pole once and he was telephone pole martin forever.
children were not spared. many names were fixed on in childhood and it was easier to get elected president of the united states than to shake the name.
the only way to lose the name was to move out of town. but if you ever came back to town, even for a visit, there was no statute of limitations. and once again you were big nose bob or itchy mcguire or misremembering smith or graveyard harris.
you might say that people in my town were more honest than people in other, more polite parts.
or you might say that they were just jackasses like the rest of the human race but in their own way.
humbo and his tribe were left off at the fourth planet of the emigration run.
there were thirty-one members of the tribe, five elders including humbo himself, eleven fullgrowns, and fifteen younguns. there were twelve males and nineteen females.
judged by the size of the reception area, the planet was not a very large one, but this was not always a reliable indicator, so you never knew.
some of the younguns looked around the reception area wonderingly, but the elders and fullgrowns had seen it all before.
an orderly came by and gave them some food, in a sandwich form, and little bottles of water made from an unfamiliar substance.
the sandwiches were pretty tasteless, though a few of the younguns turned up their noses at them, but the water was not too bad, though warm.
humbo had a ticket with a number on it, and he held on to it tightly. he knew from experience that losing such a ticket, or having it stolen, was one of the worst things that could happen.
after a few hours the number was called and humbo made his way to the front of the room where a functionary sat behind a desk.
the tribe’s papers seemed to be in order, and the functionary had only a couple of questions.
what have you people done? what can you do?
we were fisherfolk on our home planet, sir, and have been that also on other planets when we could.
there are no fish in this planet. we will have to find something else for you.
i understand, sir.
i like your attitude. the functionary looked down at his form. there is just one other matter.
and that is the attitude of the other tribes toward you. we have three categories - indifference, hatred, and contempt, or laughter. there are no slots open for indifference, so your choices are hatred and contempt.
come, fellow, i have not got all night. which is it to be - hatred, or laughter?
this is a sad story. I do not know if it is the saddest story I ever heard, but it is pretty sad. If you read it, you can decide for yourself how sad it is.
walter smith had a pretty good job, as a dispatcher for a medium sized trucking company, but he did not have any friends and led a pretty boring life.
he did not really make enough at his job to afford owning a house, but he did not like living in an apartment and so he bought a house and led a frugal existence to keep up the mortgage payments.
most of the other guys - and a few women - on the same pay level as walter at the trucking company were younger than he was, and lived in apartments with roommates or significant others, or lived with their parents and spent a good chunk of their paychecks going out at night and drinking.
but walter could not afford to do this because of the mortgage payments on his little house. and he was getting too old anyway to go out drinking, and the other guys at work, younger than himself, would not be too enthusiastic about his company, and walter was not the type to strike up conversations with strangers at bars.
why, you ask, did walter not join a gym where he could meet other people, or engage in some sort of activity at the ymca? or maybe join a church? i do not know, he just didn’t. maybe he was just too tired after working all day.
so he mostly sat at home by himself watching television. he was bored, and lonely.
he considered getting a mail order bride from russia or turkmenestan or someplace, or getting a cat or a dog, either from a pet store or a shelter. but he heard bad stories about all these activities. the brides would divorce you and want alimony, the pet stores charged ripoff prices, and the shelters wanted you to sign your life away with promises to observe a hundred rules about the new pet. and the brides might murder you, and the pets, especially the dogs, tear your house apart.
one day at the trucking company, one of the other dispatchers, a woman named cindy, announced that her cat had had kittens, and asked around if anybody would care to take one or two of them.
on an impulse, walter told her he would take one. cindy seemed a little surprised, and asked him if he would like to take two of the kittens, so that they could keep each other company.
“um - i think i will start out with just one,” walter told her.
so it was arranged, and after a few perfunctory instructions from cindy on the proper care and feeding, etc, walter took a ltitle tomcat kitten home.
walter named the kitten wallace. wallace seemed a quiet sort, much like walter himself, and when he was not sleeping, or eating, with no great enthusiasm, the dry cat food walter provided him with, he spent most of his time at one of the back windows of the house, looking outside and occasionally perking up at the sight of a bird or squirrel or other living creature. he seemed particularly excited one day at the sight of a chipmunk, and scratched at the glass.
when walter was home he would place wallace beside him on the couch when he was watching tv, but wallace showed little interest in the images on the screen, and would climb down from the couch and resume his spot at the back window, or sometimes some other window.
walter decided that wallace was eager to explore the great outdoors, and although he knew that it was frowned upon in today’s world to let a cat roam free - though they were not subject to leash laws like their unfortunate canine brethren - he decided to start letting wallace outside when he went to work in the morning.
things worked out well the first few days. wallace was waiting for walter the first few days - it was summer, and it was still bright day when walter got home. wallace then attacked his water and dry cat food with a little more gusto than previously.
on the fourth day, wallace was waiting for walter with a small dead snake. walter was not totally unprepared for this, and tossed the snake in the plastic trash bin he kept beside the house. wallace gazed at the trash bin for a few seconds before following walter into the house.
one day in the next week, wallace was not waiting when walter came home. walter was prepared for this, too, but he felt kind of worried, and was very relieved when wallace came scratching at the window when walter was watching a movie about zombies on hbo.
the week after that, wallace was again not at the door when walter came home, and this time, he had not returned when walter left for work the next morning.
walter mentioned this to cindy when he saw her in the cafeteria at work. she seemed mildly surprised by his tale.
“so you let the cat out?” she said. “that’s what they do when you let them out like that. sometimes they go away for a week or more before they come back.”
a guy named jeff overheard the conversation. “he wants to get laid,” he announced.
“he is still just a kitten,” walter protested.
“they grow up fast. he wants to get laid.”
walter did not argue. but wallace was at the door when he got home that night.
but the next week wallace was gone again and this time he did not return.
after almost a week walter resigned himself to the fact that wallace had probably run afoul of a wheeled vehicle or a coyote or some other predatory force.
walter considered asking cindy if she had another cat to dispose of. but he felt a little foolish about the whole thing and could not make up his mind to do so. she had probably gotten rid of the whole litter by now anyway, he told himself.
and then one evening, after arriving home, walter found he was out of the cans of doctor pepper he consumed while he was watching tv. the weather was pleasant, and he decided to walk the three blocks to the supermarket instead of driving.
he was returning home with the twelve-pack of doctor pepper under his arm, and was passing the house three lots down from his own, when he saw a cat sitting placidly on the house’s lawn.
it looked like wallace. he was sure it was wallace!
he stared at the cat, and the cat stared back at him. walter had no idea what to do, or say.
the front door of the house opened, and a heavy set man with a big gut stepped out.
“what’s up, my friend?” the man asked walter in an easy manner.
“that’s my cat,” walter said.
“oh, really? i was wondering if he belonged to anybody. he’s been hanging around, like he was lost.”
“he’s my cat,” walter repeated.
“hey, i don’t doubt it. take him, if he’s yours. i wouldn’t steal your cat, man. i’m not that kind of person.”
walter picked wallace up. he squirmed a little, but offered no real resistance.
“his name is wallace,” walter told the man.
“oh yeah? i’ve been calling him mike pence, but i guess that’s not his real name. my name is aaron barksdale, by the way.”
“i’m walter smith.” walter shook aaron barksdale’s hand awkwardly while barely managing to hold on to wallace with the other and keeping the twelve-pack of doctor pepper under his arm.
“i’ve been feeding him a little bit,” aaron said. “i hope you don’t mind. he seemed lost.” what aaron did not mention was that he had not fed wallace any kind of cat food, but scraps and leftovers of his own food - fried chicken, burgers, ham and eggs, salisbury steak tv dinners.
“that’s all right,” walter assured him. “thank you, that was very neighborly.”
“i let him come in and sleep a little bit. but not all night. i wouldn’t pull an allnighter with somebody else’s cat.”
“yes, well, thanks again.”
walter took the unresisting wallace back with him to his house.
he considered not letting wallace out any more, but the next morning wallace made it very clear that that was not an option.
two days later wallace disappeared yet again. after waiting for three days, walter decided to ask aaron barksdale if he had seen him. he didn’t have his phone number or e-mail, so he walked over to his house. night was falling.
walter knocked on the door, and aaron barksdale’s wife answered.
she looked at walter suspiciously. “yes? can i help you?”
“my name is walter smith. um - i wonder if you’ve seen my cat… i was here a few days ago…”
“hey, come on in, man,” aaron’s voice boomed from behind his wife.
“oh yes,” the woman said. “i remember the cat now.” she stepped aside and let walter in.
aaron listened to walter’s brief account and shook his head. “i’m sorry about that. but we haven’t seen him. the little guy probably just has adventure in his soul, you know. i was the same way, when i was a lot younger. he’ll probably be back.”
“thank you. i won’t take up any more of your time.”
“no problem, i’d be glad to help if i could.”
walter went back home. he popped open a doctor pepper and watched the second episode of "a new fantasy epic” with a lot of flashing swords and flying hair.
he never saw wallace again. he did not get another cat, or a mail order bride, or any kind of bride, or a dog.
he felt he had learned something, but he did not know what.
they were midget basketball fans, and mud wrestling fans, but the midget basketball season was over, and mud wrestling had just been outlawed by the supreme court.
they needed something else to talk about,
bob brought up the subject of harry, another friend of theirs.
harry can be a real soap dish sometimes, bob said.
maybe, jack agreed, but he has his good points too.
like what? bob asked.
i think he treats his dog good.
harry doesn’t have a dog,
but he has a cat. i know for a fact he has a cat and that he treats her right.
how do you know that? bob asked sharply.
i saw him in the pet food aisle at the supermarket last week and he was looking at the various brands of cat food and seemed to be really considering them carefully, so he must think highly of his cat and treat her right.
in that case, bob agreed, maybe he is not such a bad fellow after all. what was the cat’s name again?
of course. pandora. how could i have forgotten?
jack checked his watch. jack was an old-fashioned guy and still wore a watch, even though his phone kept more accurate time.
i have to get going, jack said, or i will be late for my tae kwon do class.
all right, bob said. let’s get together again some time.
how about next wednesday morning, at nine o’clock?