Walter Mitty was a small man who peopled his life with big flights of fancy. I'm a big man (6'4" or thereabouts) who peoples his life with small flights of fancy. I realized this the other day when Jeannette made a comment about 'My Friend'. She wasn’t suggesting that I’m a sad old fart who only has one friend. No, sirree. I’m a sad old fart who’s got quite a lot of friends. The thing is, ‘My Friend’ is very far from being my friend.
We tend to keep ourselves to ourselves round here, exchanging with neighbours and passers-by greetings, observations about the weather and the like, but not plunging into relationships that we might want to plunge out of in short measure, seeing as how plunging out of relationships with people who live round the corner can be complicated. As a result, we 'know' our neighbours, but often only have the haziest notion of who they actually are. Hence, 'My Friend'.
For reasons that are as obscure as they are, without question, unwarrantable, 'My Friend' loathes me. Really, if I caught fire, he probably wouldn’t even take the trouble to piss on me. I don't know why and I don't really care, but after exchanging nods and the odd bonjour, he took against me and has since tried to pretend I don't exist. This is unfortunate because there’s a strain of mischief running through my family and I now take great delight in cornering 'My Friend' in situations where he cannot avoid saying hello to me. The squirming is quite exquisite. I wouldn't be all that surprised if he suffered an attack of the apoplexy one day. But he is not the only neighbour known by a soubriquet rather than a name.
There are, for instance, 'The Man Who Is Not A Pilot' and 'The Man Who Did Not Die'. These epithets could cover quite a lot of people, but in our household they designate very specific characters, the first a man whom we had mistakenly identified from somebody else's description as a retired pilot, the second a man whose reportedly moribund condition proved greatly exaggerated. Then there's the self-explanatory ‘Man Who Built His House In Front The Other House’ and 'The Old Boy', a blandly literal term for a guy who nearly became 'My Friend', as well, but who, for reasons best known to himself, thought better of it and decided my existence was something he could tolerate. We now trade waves that verge on the cheery.
The hamlet is also visited by 'Cookie's Staff'. Cookie is a Great Dane mongrel who plays with our dogs and who is brought to the beach by an elderly woman and her amiable but feckless son. She drives, he opens the door, so Cookie has a Chauffeur and a Doorman. He's also got a car. We point it out to one another when it passes, "There goes Cookie's car".
It should be specified that I'm talking about Big Cookie here, not Little Cookie. Little Cookie is a Beagle and he's got two cars and two separate chauffeurs. But we don't see much of him anymore.
Come to think of it, there's quite a lot of people we know by their dogs' names. Enzo is even more affluent than the Cookies, seeing as how there is ‘Enzo’s House’, which the dog generously shares with his human being.
The latest addition to the Dramatis Personae of St. Samson is 'Mademoiselle Hysterie'. We've crossed paths with 'Mademoiselle Hysterie' for some years. She's a woman of sixty or so who wants to stay sixteen, jogging every which way with a demented determination, doing her hair up in a manner that must cost a month's wages, dressing like a jeune fille, and generally skipping about the place with the studied insouciance of adolescence. This would be all very well, even rather admirable, were it not for the fact that the emotional rides in tandem with the physical, hence 'mademoiselle' rather than 'madame'.
Mademoiselle Hysterie has a small white dog, a Westie. We have a large white dog, a Great Pyrenean, and a large brown dog, a Labrador. Mademoiselle Hysterie's dog is frightened of other dogs; ours are not. As a rule, we make our dogs sit down when the Westie passes, often eliciting admiration from Mademoiselle Hysterie as to how obedient they are.
The other day, the Labrador rounded a blind corner on the coastal path and the next thing I know the peace and quiet were shattered by this frenzied screaming, not just a single burst, but sustained, "Aaaaghh! Aaaaghh! Aaaaghh! Aaaaghh!" again and again and again. Hastening to the rescue (I was damn near pulling my underpants on over my trousers, I can tell you), I found Mademoiselle Hysterie crucified against the hedge, shrieking . . . well, hysterically. It's not a word, I like. There's historical baggage to 'hysterical'. But there was no other word for it.
The reason? Our Labrador was jumping around her dog. Not 'at' or 'on'. 'Around'. Frankly, given the fuss she was making, I was a little puzzled. It was like something out of a Hammer House of Horror film. Such screams might have been appropriate if somebody was raping her daughter or she was obliged to watch her husband being disemboweled, though even then there are limits to these things. Control yourself, woman!
I called off the Labrador and she picked up the Westie, nuzzling it under her chin and sobbing, "He would have eaten my dog, he would have eaten my dog."
Not with his mouth closed, he wouldn't. Really, some people!
I admit, the Westie looked somewhat traumatized, but I suspect that had more to do with a lifetime of being tucked under Mademoiselle Hysterie's chin than anything else. Certainly would have traumatized me.
Anyway, I was a bit worried for a while. If Mademoiselle Hysterie got together with 'My Friend', we might have the local police knocking on our door inquiring after the Westie-gobbling-Labrador. But we've met Mademoiselle Hysterie again since that awkward episode (sans Westie, perhaps it got eaten elsewhere) and everything passed off very amicably.
It is a curious thing, though. I sometimes suspect that writing novels and inventing characters causes a kind of inversion. There are 'people' in my books who, when I am 'creating' them at least, are as real to me as anyone walking down the street if not more so. Meanwhile, folk I meet in the 'real' world can be reduced to caricatures with nicknames. Personally, I find populating my environment with comic book creations quite entertaining, but I can see that it might be a bit unhealthy. Perhaps I, too, should hang onto my adolescence and cultivate instead those dreams of daring-do in which I saved small children from certain death, defied humungous great bullies, and generally carried on in a way that would be creditable in the eyes of attractive young women.
I must ask Mademoiselle Hysterie what she thinks about this idea.
"Aaaaghh! Aaaaghh! Aaaaghh! Aaaaghh!"
Causes Charles Davis Supports
Oxfam, Amnesty International, Greenpeace