Tonight’s Episode: The Toastman Always Brings Mice
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. These are also the same jokers who haven’t mixed rotgut scotch and cream of wheat.
I threw back my glass of breakfast and put out my stogie in a bowl of oatmeal when my associate, Sassy Gunsel, flounced into my office.
“Hay, Don. Some hard number just stepped in. Wants to see you. Says he’s got a job for you.”
Yeah, Gunsel was a little light in the loafers. But he kept my files tidy. And he had great taste in throw pillows. I took another drink, and a bite of oatmeal. “S’matter, kid? You sound down.”
He sighed. “Yeah, me and my boyfriend, Rock Ravage, had a fight last night.” He took the doily my scotch was sitting on, dabbed the tears from his eyes, and blew his nose in it. He took the wet doily and folded it into a nice boutonniere for my jacket.
I jerked to a standing position, nearly knocking Gunsel into a crate of Quaker Oats. “Whoa, wait a sec. Rock Ravage? THE Rock Ravage? The bronze-skinned ubermensch who was trained from birth to fight evil? The physician, surgeon, scientist, adventurer, inventor, explorer, researcher, musician, and ghost writer of Beezus and Ramona? That Rock Ravage?”
He let go of a heavy sigh. “Yes, dear. That Rock. Not the other one. Everybody thinks Ravage is so dreamy. But, lemme tell ya something for nothing, Don. I think those pretty gold-flecked eyes of his have been gobbing at another set of pecs, if y’know what I mean. Like, he spends all his time with those five ‘friends’ of his.” His sad puppy eyes hit the floor like a plastic shopping bag full of tomato soup.
On cue, Gunsel let loose with the waterworks. Feeling sorry for him, I gave him an awkward, one-armed man-hug and a chuck on the shoulder. “C’mon, Kid, buck up. Go ahead, and send in the dope in the waiting room. Maybe we can get a paying gig out of this, and your paycheck can pass through the bank this time.”
Gunsel dried up and laughed. “Don, none of my paychecks have cleared the bank. If it weren’t for the fact that my rich dead uncle left me a huge trust fund, I would totally be on the nut.” He danced out the room like Alyssa Edwards AND Coco Montrese performing Cold Hearted Snake. Not long after that, he escorted the potential client into my office.
Gunsel was right. This palooka was a side of beef. A bad side of beef. Beef so bad, it always came back, like those over-scrambled eggs at Sam ‘n Ella’s, the hash house around the corner. You know the place. Got a waitress, Della, whose hair is as big as her heart, and a body as hot as the coffee.
But, I digress. Every chance I get.
But this pug that Gunsel lead in…he was big, and he was hot. Hot under the collar, that is. He flings a job jacket on my desk with all the panache of a sumo wrestler escaping quick sand. “Gerund,” he barks. “Word on the street is you know a lot about words.”
I lit the filter end of a cigarette, took a slow drag and gagged like a bad joke. “It is conceivably feasible that the derivation of your hearsay has voluminous tenability. So what’s it to you?”
He blankly stared at me, like Khloé Kardashian looking at the Voynich Manuscript. “Gerund, quit chewin’ yer chin. I got a proofing job for ya. A catalog, as it were.”
I took one look at the name on the job jacket, and I instantly knew who this mug was. Percy the Participle, the hardest advertising bindle punk in the business who left a lot of people hanging. He finally settled down at Truculent Advertising, an ad joint on the outskirts of the city. This place was ruthless; a lot of good eggs saw their careers get the Broderick treatment at Truculent. It was an ugly place.
I picked up the jacket, and got a nasty paper cut on that webby part of my hand right between the thumb and index finger. Lucky for me, I had some lemon juice and salt nearby to stanch the bleeding and kill the pain. “Alright, Percy, I’ll play your little game. But, it’ll cost you some jack.”
Again, he looked at me like a comic book convention attendee confronted by a tomato with a hot set of pins.”Whadda ya mean…jack?”
“Jack! You know, spinach. Spondulix. Sugar. Kale. Elephant ears.”
“Still not following you,” replied Percy.
Gunsel stuck his head in my office. “Haay, sweetie, can I have my Hardboiled Noir Dictionary dramatic back now? And, by the way, hon, the slang term ‘elephant ears’ actually refers to the cops.”
I handed him the book. “Here ya go, nance.” I turned back to Percy. “Now, where were we?”
Percy huffed, “Geez, I dunno, either you gave me some sort of bizarre grocery list, or you’ve taken up Chaldean numerology.” He shook the cobwebs out of his melon, and gave me those pleading, quivering eyes. You know, the ones that vibrate like an off-kilter tire that needs balancing, while you’re barely holding on to that cup of hot McDonald’s coffee, driving down the highway and end up spilling it on your johnson, incurring an expensive and embarrassing trip to the ER, pondering the possibility of legal action. Not that I’d know anything about that.
“Whadda ya say? Will ya take it, Gerund? Please? Look, my job depends on this going out right. If we lose this account, heads will roll, and my career gets flushed down the crapper. I got a wife and seven cats depending on me. C’mon, Gerund!”
To add to the drama, his lower lip quivered like a bowl of tomato aspic, and his eyes watered up like a Mississippi floodplain. I was such a sucker for tears that I couldn’t watch a Visine commercial without falling apart. “Alright, alright. I’ll take a flutter at it.”
He smiled big, and walked to the door. He paused, and said, “I don’t care what the rest of ‘em say about you, Gerund. You’re all right.”
I glanced down at the comps in the job jacket, and stopped dead. “Wait just one minute there, Participle. I can’t proof this. It ain’t in English. It’s a foreign language! It’s like…there’s a different word for everything! What am I supposed to do with this malarkey?”
Before slamming the door to my office, Percy yelled over his shoulder, “Not my problem, Gerund!”
Gunsel sashayed through the door and handed me a hot cuppa joe. He pointed his thumb over his shoulder to the jasper making tracks down the hall. “What’s her problem?”
“It’s not her problem. It’s mine. Take a gander at this.” I handed him the papers.
He gave it a look, then cried out, “Honey, you can’t proof this. It isn’t English. It’s…Maltese!”
“The hell you say!”
“No, sweetie, I said Maltese.”
I chewed on end of my pencil, and got splinters in my tongue. I spit them out, and put a tourniquet around my neck to stop the flow of blood. “This only means one thing,” I said before passing out. “I’ll need…The Maltese Dictionary!”
After I passed out, Gunsel girly-slapped me back to life. I got up, grabbed my coat and hat, and made for the door. “Don, where are you going?” Sassy cried.
I snapped my head back over my shoulder, and stifled a cry of pain. “I gotta go talk to the Uruguayan. He’ll know how to coordinate this.” I moved my head back around, and rubbed out the charley horse. “Don’t wait up.”
As I marched down the hall, I heard Gunsel yell out, “Dammit, Don! You are such a Drama Queen!”
What happens now? Will Don always have a pain in his neck? Will Sassy Gunsel get miffed that Don didn’t finish his coffee? Who is the Uruguayan? And how much bad Photoshopping can any one reader stand? Tune in again next time for Don Gerund, Proofreading Investigator!
All photos and Photoshop illustrations courtesy of Allyson Brooks and Don Rosenzweig.