8FOLD/HCC: Journey Into # 23, "The Required Elements" [reformat]

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Sat Aug 22 16:07:30 PDT 2015

 _|     |.-----.--.--.----.-----.-----.--.--.
|       ||  _  |  |  |   _|     |  -__|  |  |
|_______||_____|_____|__| |__|__|_____|___  |
                             [8F-148] |_____|
 __         __                 ______ ______
|__|.-----.|  |_.-----.       |__    |___   |
|  ||     ||   _|  _  |    #  |    __|___   |
|__||__|__||____|_____|       |______|______|
            ~BY TOM RUSSELL~

It is not so much that Herb Hettinger pretended to be an only child,
as that implies a kind of deliberate deceit quite alien to his
character. Even if he were inclined toward such skullduggery, where
would the profit be in pretending to be an only child? An orphan,
perhaps, all alone in the world and completely abandoned, that will
engender all sorts of sympathy, but only to a point; somewhere around
twelve or thirteen, most people get rather tired of orphans and their
sniffling and their big doe eyes. Herb tired of them rather sooner
than most, and found himself in a spot of bother when he told off a
particularly weepy four-year-old whose parents had perished in a freak
umbrella accident. No, no adult would profit from pretending to be an
orphan, for any innate sympathy would have sloughed off long ago. Nor
would they profit from pretending to be bereft of siblings, for
siblings are an endless font of inconvenience and injustice, sure to
solicit immediate condolences from even the most jaded of passers-by:
oh, you have two brothers?, and a sister?, oh, you poor thing,
there-there. The loneliness of an only child seems a petty trifle
compared to a lifetime of borrowed money, broken promises, and having
to share. Not to mention that an only child, like an orphan, has to
purchase significantly fewer gifts. (They also receive significantly
fewer, but to be fair, siblings never get you what you really want,
and it's insufferable to have to pretend that you liked it when both
of you know very well that you didn't.) So, if Herb were the sort to
connive and conspire at ginning-up the sympathetic glances of his
peers, he would if anything have invented a whole score of sibling
malefactors, rather than subtracting the one he had.
   Herb did not pretend his sister did not exist, nor was he unaware
of her; it was more that he simply forgot about Rhonda, in the same
way a person might forget temporarily about Liza Minelli or the
Jacobite Rebellions, only to be reminded of them unexpectedly.
(Rhonda, for her part, frequently forgot that Herb existed, though in
her case it was more deliberate.) This tendency to mentally misplace
his sister as if she was a wool knit cap left absent-mindedly on a
chair in a guest bedroom was not due to any fault in her character,
which was for the most part quite exemplary, if admittedly overly
inclined toward kindness. It probably came down to the fact that Herb
was six years old when Rhonda was born and that Rhonda was, at that
time, an infant, and that Herb had never much liked children, even
during the time when he himself was a child (arguably; he never
conceded that he had ever been a child, and there existed no
photographic evidence to the contrary). As a general rule, he ignored
children, and often forgot they existed until one of them had the
temerity to wipe its nose-grease on his cheek. Far from softening,
this tendency had only calcified once Herb was put in charge of the
Toddler Story-Time and Nap Jamboree at the Leon Czolgosz Memorial
Library. Rhonda had gotten older and become an adult, but he hadn't
taken much notice, for he was above all things a creature of habit and
had already set into a general and quite unbreakable pattern of
forgetting her.
   Rhonda Finlayson (though they were born to and raised by the same
parents, she had always had a different last name; there was some
reason for it that involved a rotary phone, but if he often forgot
that she exists, one can hardly expect him to remember the reason!)
for her part liked children very much, though just as a person might
be fond of shoes and have no desire to be a cobbler, she possessed no
great inclination toward having any of her own. Separately and
secretly, both Rhonda and her brother had sworn never to share their
living space with anything that needed assistance after voiding its
bowels, which in Rhonda's case ruled out both babies and boyfriends,
but left room for that most eminently sensible of God's creatures,
felis catus.
   Rhonda's cat was named Diocletian, and though like all cats he
possessed something of the regal greatness and the sense of destiny of
that celebrated pagan, he did not share his namesake's inclination
toward quartering his domain. His empire comprised all of Rhonda's
apartment, and his imperium extended into every aspect of her life.
For example, when she determined by accident that he much preferred
whole milk to skim, she began to buy the former exclusively, despite
the fact that it made her extremely nauseous. The ailurophiles among
my readership will see this as the most natural thing in the world,
while those who prefer dogs will think otherwise. The latter are
entitled to their opinion. Their opinion is wrong, but they are
certainly entitled to it. Consider: if Rhonda had a medium-sized dog,
it would curl up more-or-less out of her way at the edge of her bed at
night, much to her consternation. Whereas Diocletian, though being a
very small cat, would stretch and splay across the bed in such a way
that Rhonda would be forced to curl up more-or-less out of his way at
the edge of her bed at night, much to her delight. And if you still
can't see it, then there's no hope for you.
   Rhonda doted on Diocletian utterly, and as the convenience store in
which she had worked (rather conveniently) had several expensive toys
carefully engineered to promote feline happiness, health, and mental
acuity, she often brought these home so that he could ignore them
while he played with an old piece of cardboard for several hours. When
Rhonda's employment was terminated (rather inconveniently) due to some
minor indiscretions involving her use of the broom closet, she was no
longer able to supply him with things to ignore, and, it seemed to
Rhonda, he noted their unforgiveable absence immediately. The
reduction in income also resulted in Rhonda resorting, if only briefly
and disastrously, to a significantly less prestigious brand of cat
food. This, it became quite clear, was completely unacceptable, and in
order to remedy the situation, Rhonda began to skip meals with
alarming frequency, leaving her withdrawn and sickly: prone to
headaches, prone to stomach aches, prone to feeling faint and, as a
result of the latter, prone to being prone. In short, she had all the
usual drawbacks one associates with starvation and malnutrition,
including a general state of confusion and dulling of the wits, but
none of the positives: that is, even when she went days without
eating, she never seemed to lose any weight, a fact that made her
exceptionally cross. (In one particularly egregious delirium, she
declared herself Holy Roman Empress, and put her hips under the
Imperial Ban.)
   Her generally unhealthy appearance, along with, one, several
charming peculiarities of her character which she shared with her
brother but which were perhaps acquired tastes, and two, certain
unkind remarks about that broom closet, made it increasingly difficult
for her to find new employment, which of course meant that she had to
more frequently set aside her own dietary needs so as to better meet
Diocletian's, which then of course further exacerbated the qualities,
both physical and temperamental, which made her job search so
difficult. It was around this time that Rhonda, for the first time in
a long time, decided to remember that she had a brother, and also to
remember certain incidents in which, in her opinion, he had not acted
with the requisite kindness due to one's immediate relations, rather
quite the opposite, and she came to the conclusion that the smallest
token he could offer toward recompense would be to take her out for
dinner for her birthday. Said anniversary was actually not for another
six months, but she did not think he would remember this, and it
likely would not surprise my reader over-much to learn that he did
not, and so the next evening they went to the Chinese restaurant.
   The owners and staff of said restaurant were Italian in origin.
Ethnographically, the northern extremities of Michigan's Lower
Peninsula are not well-known for dense populations of Chinese descent,
indeed, they're well-known only for not being particularly well-known
for anything at all. Given the heritage of the ownership, the decor
was predominately concerned with paintings of olive oil and
photographs of Frank Sinatra, Alfredo Pacino, and other worthies, and
not with fish tanks, dragons, and gongs. It didn't really bother
anyone in town that the decor was insufficiently Chinese, as the
cuisine in Chinese restaurants generally bears no resemblance to the
authentic article in the first place.
   The two siblings immediately intuited that the other didn't really
have much to impart of any import, and each felt the burden of
entertaining the other quite acutely. And so, in turn, each began to
talk of their life, the up and downs, those ups being just rewards for
their many virtues, and those downs being unjust maladies on a scale
with those inflicted on some long-suffering saint, and met with the
same deep humility. Occasionally, one would be interrupted by the
other who would go on interminably about something or another, they
didn't really pay much attention. As the evening pressed on, however,
Herb began to detect a recurring theme in his sister's bizarre,
increasingly frequent, increasingly lengthy interruptions, elements
that coalesced into something very much like a narrative, and though
he didn't really pay all that much attention to the details or
incidents being related-- he was, after all, trying to remember where
he left off, so that he might resume his engrossing librarianssaga
when his sister's unwelcome interregnum had concluded-- he was able to
determine that there were considerably more downs than ups. This gave
him cause for concern; he got the distinct impression that if her
unhappy situation was not bettered that she would begin to depend upon
her family (that is, upon Herb) to provide sustenance and/or financial
assistance, or if neither of those, then at the very least emotional
and moral support, which was infinitely more horrifying. It occurred
to him that the surest way to prevent this would be to foist her off
onto someone else, and since they were generally bereft of other close
relations (at least, he could not remember any), he would need to find
her a husband. “So,” he said, clearing his throat magnificently,
“how's the love life?”
   She glared at him horrifically. “How's the what?”
   “I mean, any prospects? Settling down? You're not getting any
younger, you know.” He mumbled into a spoonful of fried rice: “Quite
the opposite, actually.”
   “I'm approximately thirty,” she said a little icily.
   Herb then said something in response to this, but I am not quite
sure of what precisely this was. Attempts to reconstruct it from the
police reports afterwards were unsuccessful. While there were several
witnesses to what happened next, none of them save Rhonda actually
heard what her brother had said, and Rhonda herself plead the fifth on
that point (and, oddly, only on that point; she was quite happy to
describe the incident for which she was being charged in graphic and
gleeful detail), while Herb, as a result of his injuries, while minor
enough to result in his sister's swift acquittal, was completely
unable to recall much of anything about the evening other than the
discovery that he wasn't particularly partial to the duck.
   Whatever it was that her brother had said to well and truly earn
his braining, it stayed with Rhonda throughout the night like a
particularly irritating earworm. She had had her share of suitors, but
they had all of them proven to be quite unsuitable. Some of them were
the sort of fellow that becomes deliberately attracted to women they
consider unattractive; this stratagem is meant to increase their odds
of success, as it avoids competition from “shallower” men, and the
object of their affections, being quite unused to such attentions,
will be so flattered as to overlook his own failings. Being fully
confident in her own gorgeousness, she would have none of that
nonsense, thank you very much. Other suitors suffered from some
glaring defect, sometimes physiological and sometimes psychological.
The most common instance of the latter were men who had the gall
(quite unmitigated!) to hold an opinion contrary to her own, despite
the fact that all of Rhonda's opinions on all things were uniformly
well-informed and completely correct, so much so that they could not
really be considered opinions at all, but statements of clear and
unassailable Fact. Rhonda had long ago decided that she was far too
awesome for the men of Earth, who were themselves obviously
insufficiently awesome and lacking in the required elements. She was
pondering this the morning following her Chinese restaurant
misadventure while waiting for her breakfast, reheated egg foo young,
to cool, and wondering if she might not conspire to be abducted by
aliens, sexy aliens, sexy aliens who did what they were told, when,
out of the corner of her eye, she saw Diocletian leap up onto the
countertop where her egg foo young was cooling, then immediately leap
down, them scamper off with something that looked suspiciously like
her egg foo young in his mouth.
   By the time she caught up to him, Diocletian had eaten pretty much
the entire thing, save for a rather long and gnarly bean sprout that
had lodged itself between two of his back teeth, protruding from his
mouth like some kind of mutant ingrown whisker. Diocletian seemed
fully cognizant of its presence, and of the affront it posed to his
poise, and was at present attempting to dislodge it with his tongue,
without very much success. Rhonda quite naturally began to weep
inconsolably at the indignity he suffered. She reached out with one
trembling hand, intent on removing the offending sprout with a swift
but gentle tug, but he would have none of it. Clearly, there was no
other course of action but to seek professional medical help.
   Rhonda opened the door to his carrier and, as he always did,
Diocletian immediately and calmly walked inside it and settled himself
down so that Rhonda could close the door. Diocletian had no qualms
about entering his carrier, and indeed would sometimes sit inside it
for the better part of an hour, completely contented. Even when Rhonda
picked up the carrier so as to convey him regally from one part of the
apartment to another, he made no noise of protest, for indeed, what
could be more natural than to survey his domains from the comfort of
his lectica? But once they got to the car, he would become quite
displeased, and express his displeasure via a panicked sort of
yodeling. Once he would get to the animal hospital-- Rhonda always
found the name misleading, as she expected it to be staffed by hamster
surgeons and cockatoo nurses-- he would be quite himself again, all
purrs and flops and scratch-my-tummies, but as soon as they started
back home, he would launch right back into a terribly unkind if not
entirely inaccurate impression of Mary Schneider. And then, right as
they were arriving back safely home, just as the car was pulling into
its designated parking space, he would void his bowels in the most
horrific fashion imaginable. The smell made her eyes water, induced
retching, and on at least one occasion caused her to lapse into
unconsciousness, falling face first with unfortunate ramifications.
Once, for a visit scheduled well in advance, she had deliberately and
cruelly delayed his breakfast until after the appointment, and had
waited until he had completed his morning toilet to depart, so as to
prevent the dread occurrence upon their return, but he managed to draw
on some hitherto unknown faecal reserve, completing his unholy unction
with unexpected magnificence. Rhonda had long ago resigned herself to
the fact that every time they consulted with the royal physicians that
she would spend the better part of what was left of her morning
decontaminating his carrier. En route to the animal hospital on this
particular morning, it occurred to her that this was just the sort of
task that one might delegate to a husband, if a husband was a thing
one had, terrestrial or otherwise. Indeed, there were a great many
things that she found irritating that were eminently husband
territory: the picking out and changing of the box, the lifting of
heavy objects, the live capture and release of hideous insects, paying
for things. The more she thought about it-- or tried to; the yodeling
was quite high-pitched and tremulous this morning-- the more she came
to the conclusion that marrying an equal, that is, marrying someone
that she could love or respect or even tolerate, was quite a recent
invention and a wholly unrealistic one at that, especially for someone
as unequaled as she, that way only led to disappointment, and that it
made more sense to find someone, anyone really, anyone at all, who was
at bare minimum gainfully employed and capable of properly sanitizing
a liberally-splattered cat carrier.
   By the time Diocletian was admitted into the operating theater and
the delicate sproutectomy was underway, Rhonda had decided that it
would be to her advantage if she could be married within the next two
weeks. She figured this would give her a good seven days to find a
likely candidate, ten if she was pushing it, with the balance of the
fortnight dedicated to allowing her chosen beau enough time to work up
the courage to propose. There was no doubt that he, whoever he was,
would be completely and utterly smitten with her, as she had not only
her excellent character to recommend her, but also several skills that
she honed to perfection within the confines of that broom closet.
   So deep in thought was she that when the surgical team left the
theater so as to allow Rhonda to return Diocletian to his carrier, she
quite forgot to open the door for him, instead scratching his chin
absent-mindedly, and as a consequence when the door leading out of the
room was opened, Diocletian made a bee-line for the lobby. This was
disconcerting enough to jar Rhonda from her pensive mood, and she went
after him in a panic, with complete disregard for her own safety, or
more to the point, that of the nurse who had been standing in the
doorway, the anxious nine-year-old who was on her way to see her
miniature St. Bernard, the receptionist carrying two cups of coffee,
or the technician who had the misfortune to be transporting stool and
urine samples. They were not at all obliging or understanding as
Rhonda knocked them prone and scrambled over them in a rough
approximation of parkour.
   At last, she came to the lobby, and found Diocletian standing upon
the back of a turtle, his nose high and pointed, the fur on his chest
bristling and handsome, his tail swatting and thumping. Presently, the
great one's tail stopped swatting and thumping as he lifted one of his
forepaws and gently, almost tentatively, batted it atop the turtle's
head. The turtle looked faintly bewildered, but it only took a second
whack with Diocletian's big right paw for his erstwhile Bucephalus to
get the point. Slowly, arduously, the turtle began to crawl forward.
Diocletian swatted and thumped his tail anew in approval.
   It took a moment for Rhonda to perceive the turtle's human
companion, a man of approximately thirty who had a habit of nervous
blinking which was presently on grand display. He opened his mouth
slightly, as if to say, excuse me, but I believe your cat is riding my
turtle, and I would appreciate it very much if he wasn't doing that,
uh, that is, unless you feel it would be better for him to keep doing
that, that's fine, I'm sure my turtle doesn't mind as he is a turtle
and not a cat after all and therefore being not a cat is probably
dumb, probably all turtles are dumb because they're not cats, so never
mind, sorry to have bothered you, gulp. But nothing came forth. He was
clearly uncomfortable with his turtle's new lot in life, but did not
seem to have it in him to actually say or do anything about it. Rhonda
found this weakness to be utterly repulsive.
   "What kind of person are you," she reprimanded him, "to just let
someone's cat ride around on your turtle? Why don't you say
   "Well," he squeaked, "I don't know if it's causing any harm, and I
didn't want to cause any sort of fuss..."
   "Don't want to cause a fuss!" she said, causing a fuss. "Don't want
to cause a fuss! Who is going to stand up for your turtle, if not you,
sir? He certainly can't stand up for himself. That's not the way it's
supposed to be!"
   "You're quite right."
   "Of course I am."
   "I demand that you remove your cat from my turtle's person."
   "Demand! How dare you demand anything!" said Rhonda, taking
umbrage. My readers might recall that when Rhonda's brother Herb
Hettinger suffered any kind of indignity that he somehow became
taller, and taller still, with an infinite capacity both for umbrage
and tallness, and it will not surprise those readers to learn that
Rhonda shared this curious biological quirk. It may, however, surprise
you to learn that by a strange twist of fate, Simon Colman (for that
was the man's name) suffered from the inverse, becoming shorter and
shorter with each new abuse, until he almost disappeared like a
collapsing star into a single, infinitesimally insignificant point in
time and space.
   Regardless, the matter was resolved when Diocletian suddenly lost
all interest in the turtle. With another fierce slap on the noggin he
commanded the turtle to stop, and then scampered gingerly into his
carrier. Taking three extra inches of umbrage for good measure, the
now-statuesque Rhonda closed the door to the carrier and went for the
door, quite "forgetting" to pay her bill. As she left, she heard the
nurse call out into the waiting room: "We're ready to see Constantine
   Simon scooped up his turtle, tucking him under his arm and carrying
him like a British general with a swagger stick, and then disappeared
from view as the door closed.
   "Constantine!" said Rhonda breathlessly to Diocletian, as if to ask
what the cat made of his fellow emperor. She had assumed that the
turtle would have some stupid turtle-sounding name, or perhaps been
named for a Renaissance painter, as was the fashion with turtles. But
Constantine was something else altogether, a sign of intelligence and
culture on behalf of the rather handsome if shy young man who was so
considerate as to allow Diocletian a harmless little turtle-ride. With
only a little bit of effort, Rhonda was able to determine that Simon
was, in addition to being a successful trial lawyer with a lucrative
practice, he was the coach of the boys' softball team, the
Slaughterhouse Nine, sponsored of course by the local slaughterhouse.
Quite naturally upon learning this she conspired to become coach of
their distaff counterpart so as to meet him under less stressful
circumstances. There was some difficulty in that the girls' softball
team, the Blowouts, sponsored by a local tire shop, already had a
coach, but this obstacle was quickly removed due to an unfortunate
(and suspiciously timed) llama rampage.
   And readers who live near or around the environs under discussion
will of course realize that all of the above was but a prologue to the
infinitely more important and interesting story of the now-infamous
First Annual Inter-Gender Softball Exhibition Game of 2010, better
known as the Last Annual Inter-Gender Softball Exhibition Game, and
sometimes, though quite inaccurately given the singular lack of
serious injuries or fatalities, as the Sunday Softball Massacre. I
have nothing of substance to add to the mountains of scholarship
already existing in regards to those twenty-seven fateful hours, and
so will not embarrass myself trying. I know that this is a little like
talking about what Julius Caesar did on the fourteenth of March and
then glossing over the Ides themselves, but such are my limits as a
   At any rate, it was the first (and, due to judicial mandate, the
only) softball game that was attended by Rhonda Colman (nee
Finlayson), and I think we can all agree that that was for the best.


More information about the racc mailing list