I believe it was in November when the thing occurred. No, strike that, I'm quite sure it was October as I seriously considered taking to the neighborhoods come Halloween night, dressed, as it were, like a racing greyhound dog. You see, the greyhound dog part is what I'm getting at. I've always been a horse man myself, putting out a bet here and a bet there since I was an awfully young chap. After a spell, you get to looking at these things with a knowledgeable eye. One picks up on how a horse looks, or even how the owner looks the day of the race. I recall once having to change a bet after catching the owner of a horse shrug his shoulders about something or other. No winning man shrugs his shoulders in conversation.
So there I was, talking to a good friend of mine over a cup of coffee, or a cup of joe as some of my American friends call it, when this good friend of mine Benson begins going on and on about this racing of dogs thing that apparently is a rather large deal here in the United States. Benson went on to say, "They only use greyhounds, which are incredibly fast dogs, like cheetahs, but without all of the problems of being a feline, and they race them about the track like horses do." I didn't know what to say, I was dumbfounded firstly and then went headlong into being thoroughly appalled. Who had ever heard of such a thing? I mean to say, it is entirely possible that some such sport has been going on in jolly old England for a good spell, but certainly not to my knowledge. I pictured these poor groaning beasts attempting to make their way around the track with those proud, snooty jockey fellows in all of their glory with pressed silk shirts and flashy hats and real glass racing goggles and whatnot, riding atop them. Horrific to say the least! This was certainly akin to the cockfighting that I had heard of in my younger years wherein some member of the dregs of humanity take two roosters or chickens or something of that nature, and puts them in a sort of battle to the death in a ring surrounded by thugs and bookies and thug bookies and those sorts, all betting on the duck or bird or whatever it is that they think will escape with their feathery life in tact. Absolutely horrid thing, this business.
"So the next dog racing is coming up in a few nights, would you like to accompany me down to the track?" Benson asked. I imagine my face must have turned a shade of green, or at least a sea foam hue, when Benson said, "Are you alright mate?" I said that I was feeling a bit on the queasy side and informed Benson that I would have to pass on the dog racing bit, but thank you very much. After a quick "Have it your way." Benson began on with a totally different subject, spiders.
You see, Benson is one of these blokes that is an absolute grain of wheat blowing in the wind, this way and that as the wind blows. He has these monomanias, as I call them, wherein he will absolutely latch on to a topic like a starved tick, and talk about the item until one might think his jaws incapable of going on, and yet, miraculously, they do. They absolutely do! He gets one of these obsessions or monomanias and before you know it, is a card carrying member of the group.
I remember quite clearly that not too very long ago, Benson was very big into depression glass. I had no idea what the stuff was at the time but, as it sounded like it might make one withdrawn and sad, I really wasn't too very keen on hearing about it. Well as it turns out, it's this spiffy kind of glass that was made a while back and much of what I saw was fashioned into various kinds of fauna in every color of God's own rainbow.
I'll have to admit, however, that it did not help the old cause when the first piece of depression glass I fixed the peepers upon was a jar made to look like a sad puppy. I inwardly thought that it was awfully bizarre that a group of glassmakers would get together and start making a bunch of sad animals and call it depression glass. Then I thought of how odd it was that there was ever a market for it in the past, much less now! Well once Benson showed me a pink chicken, which looked, not really sad, not particularly happy, but possibly only mildly content, I had to ask, "Benson, why on earth does this bird not look sad or even fatigued if this is supposed to be depression glass? Just over there you have that little pup doing a bang up job on the sad bit now don't you? I think you've been taken on this purchase Benson. This carver must be second rate!" It took Benson a few moments to compute what I was getting at, but once he came 'round, he did so with a hearty bang. The laughing that ensued was deep and seemingly endless. Once the mirth subsided old Benson tipped me off to the true information behind this collectible product. Come to find out, it had everything to do with the glassware being made during the years of The Great Depression and not a spot about sad animals.
I believe Benson had acquired what some would call a complete slew of depression glass. There were cobalt blue deep dish lambs and pink covered plate sleeping cats and green butter dish hens which all added up to looking like a formidable army poised in readiness all about his flat. One received the feeling that numerous translucent beasts of the field were eyeing you, if not sizing you up, waiting to hear if you were either for them or against them. Then, without notice, for some unknown reason, the fire of that monomania flickered out.
So Benson left the topic of the dog racing and picked up his latest monomania, spiders, and did not stop for some time. I believe he went on for a solid 15 minutes about the jumping spider - Sitticus palustris (if memory serves,) and it's keen eyesight as well as it's ability to spot it's prey from some distance and jump on top of the poor thing with stunning precision. This description began to remind me of a cousin who was not as distant as I would like him to be, with very similar tendencies. I, the prey item, could be a hundred yards away and Timmy, as we would call him, could spot me, hunt me down, and bleed my billfold for all that it was worth, and then a bit more. What was worse than the begging, however, was the boy's speech. Now when I say speech, what I mean is grammar, vocabulary and all the rest rolled up together like a damned burrito. Timmy, you see, was what one might call a butcher of the English language, if one felt like being so kind. Allowing my ears to wade through such muck was quite worse than the parting with bills bit, which always followed. As a matter of fact, if I could find a way to get this jumping spider of a relative onto a payment plan in order to keep him from attacking me for funds whenever I was within a rifleman's range of him, that would have been top notch in my plan book.
A day can become absolutely dreary once you are introduced to a mass of poorly constructed sentences peppered with ill chosen and horrifically spoken words. You see, fellows like Timmy the jumping spider do not navigate the waters of language but paddle from here to there on whatever detritus floats by. Like I said, a butcher that boy is, which says nothing poor about our good meat butcher Mr. William Younghusband, mind you. A fine fellow who knows his trade incredibly well and whom I would recommend to even the most discerning of meat purchasers, whether they were buying beef or bird.
After Benson filled my head with more facts and figures on jumping spiders than anyone should ever really need, unless they were either an entomologist specializing in jumping spiders, or they were someone possibly courting an entomologist specializing in jumping spiders and wanted to look incredibly well versed to their possible potential mate, he then began on the topic of tarantulas. Now, I don't know about you, but when I sit down for a relaxing cup of coffee and a chat, that chat should be of something equally relaxing. Spiders of all sorts, whether they jump or are completely unable to jump, do not fall into the, talk which relaxes me category. Even so, I acquiesced and he filled me in on the distinct and not so distinct differences between New World and Old World tarantulas.
I felt like giving old Benson a few minutes to talk as lately, he had been a bit down about his new neighbor. This new neighbor fellow was apparently from Cambodia or Cameroon or some such exotic place, and had been giving Benson a real hard time. It seems that everything Benson did irritated this Kiri fellow to no end. Now Kiri is this chap's first name, which he insisted everyone use. I am told that Kiri means mountain or mountain peak in Cambodian or Cameroonese or whatever, and if that's the case, his folks were spot on with this name as the fellow scuffs the tallest of door frames with his noggin each and every time he attempts passage through them. It is because of this sad fact that I've always felt bad for dear Kiri as he could never wear a decent hat without roughing it up first night out.
Kiri's objections were apparently ever-present in the world of Benson. If Benson played a bit of music, Kiri would declare it much too loud. If Benson had a few friends over, Kiri would state that the group was too very large. If Benson leaves for work earlier than normal, Kiri questioned him as to why, the list was simply unending. Poor old Benson tried to invite him over a few times to smooth out the edges, but to no avail. He had gone to even combing the papers for other flats to rent just to get away from Kiri. In short, Benson was beside his old self. This Kiri fellow was the thorn in Benson's side, hat, shoe, sock and goodness knows what else!
Benson eventually finished his bit on the tarantulas, looked at his wristwatch, and informed me that he had to be leaving if he was going to get to baking tonight. Baking was not a monomania of Benson's but a long time hobby. He was very good at it and the cakes and tortes and whatnot that this fellow could produce from his little stove were nothing less than magical. "Ah yes." I said. "I too have an appointment I simply can not miss." This was not entirely true as Mr. Hinckley of The Bow Tie Club wasn't exactly expecting me at his shop. It was true, however, that if I did not get 'round to The Bow Tie Club, I would have certainly missed the treat. So Benson and I parted ways for the moment, he towards his night of baking and I towards my favorite club.
Now, if I haven't told you, The Bow Tie Club was, at it's inception, a shop that sold the best bow ties that money could buy. Mr. Hinckley, who was the proprietor, was the kind of fellow who would allow nothing but the best pass through his establishment. The product was top notch and the service was even better. Before accidentally stumbling into The Bow Tie Club, I really had no idea just how important a good bow tie was. I remember those days of simple naivete. I will have you know that since becoming a bow tie man, my journeys and adventures have become ten times more thrilling and twenty times more dangerous. This is a clear and true fact. Looking back on my pre-bow-tie days I almost get sad for that fellow who was me, living the much more dull and dreary life, comparatively speaking.
Over the years regulars began frequenting The Bow Tie Club so much, that Mr. Hinckley installed a small bar, some handsome little tables, and a stock of his favorite pipe tobaccos. If you were a member, the drinks and tobaccos were on the house. I have always thought that this was the perfect place for them. If you weren't a member and you had even an ounce of style within your blood and knew a good bow tie when you saw one, you would soon be shamed into becoming a member. It was the perfect spot to, tie one on while tying one on, if you will.
John Jacob Belsome was the first one to greet me as I walked through those hallowed doors of The Club. "KES! If it isn't old Karl Eric Stanwell in the flesh! You are just in time K fellow, as our dear Mr. H. here has just broken open a fresh bag of the newest English blend from G.L. Pease. It's going to knock your socks clear off, friend." To this I volleyed, "Don't mind if I do." and produced with something like a magician's hand, my current pipe in rotation, a lovely billiard shaped pipe by the brand name Ardor, made in Italy by a certain Rovera family. I am not much at prestidigitation, however, I do what I can to keep things lively. The Rovera family of Italy make absolutely incredible pipes of which I am more than fond. This one in particular was getting to be an all time favorite very quickly.
Besides myself, and JJB, there was of course Mr. H. and about a dozen others there at The Bow Tie Club. Most of the occupants had a pipe in hand and were conversing with the others on this or that, often going in and out of discussions on tobacco blends or pipe carvers or companies. I ordered a scotch on the rocks as I normally do at these little gatherings and began to, shoot the breeze, as they say.
I brought up the fact that my good friend Benson had asked me to the dog races and asked JJB what he thought of races in general and possibly dog races more specifically. What was said next completely took me off guard...
"Oh I go to the dogs all the time." he said. "You do?!" I questioned. "Then maybe you can explain a bit about it to me." John Jacob went on to say that each of the dogs in the race wore a little jacket of sorts with number on it and that's how you knew which dog you were betting on. I was puzzled. "How on earth," I began "do these dogs manage to run a track length with one of these little blighters, these jockeys, on their backs? It's got to be nothing less than grueling for the poor things." JJB let out a, not entirely small, chuckle that I did not particularly find kind, and explained that there were no jockeys in these dog races. "Well don't go running around and telling everyone that!" I told him. "There's bound to be repercussions to the tune of lawsuits brought about by some jockey union somewhere. Keep it down will you?" "Right." John Jacob said, this time in almost a whisper. He must have known I was serious.
"So you've been attending these dog races have you?" I asked JJB. "Sure thing. Loads of fun too. Do you know they sell beer and pretzels and hot dogs there?" John Jacob's eyes had an undeniable gleam in them which accompanied a small smile. This told me he delighted in these specific aspects of the event. "I did not!" I honestly said. "Say, the next race is tomorrow night, you should go." he said. My mind was made up. I was going to talk to Benson as soon as possible and arrange to duck back in to the invitation to the dog racing. I relaxed for a bit longer with my Ardor pipe puffing on the newest G.L. Pease English blend and my scotch warming my soul. Once time had seen these two luxuries to a current close, I bid JJB a hearty farewell, and did the same to some number of other kindred spirits at the club. Before leaving I put in an order for an absolutely smashing new tie that Mr. H. recommended. He is a god among men, that Mr. Hinckley.
It may come as no surprise that my next stop would be good ole Benson's flat. I might even pick up some fresh baked goods if my timing was right. Upon arriving Benson greeted me at the door with a bit of a hurried, frazzled look on his face. "Come in, come in, I'll be right with you." "What gives Benson? What's the matter? Is it anything I can help with?" I asked. "I'm afraid not Karl, not unless you're a born spider hunter, and I'm wagering you are all but that very thing." I was beginning to see the whole picture here. "So what you're telling me is that you've got a spider on the loose? You've got an eight legged member of your army gone AWOL?" "Karl, I'm afraid you've got the front and back, top and bottom of it in the shell of a nut." "Good heavens!" I exclaimed. "Good gracious!" I exclaimed. "Good..." "Enough with the goods already mate, help me look or else start a new topic!" Benson was an even keeled fellow most of the time, but I could see he was getting right upset. "And what's more is that in a last dash effort to reconcile differences with neighbor Kiri, I've asked him over to try out some of my baking. He'll be here any moment!"
"Well old friend, I just wanted to pop in and see if I could snake back into the dog racing bit with you coming up shortly." "Sure, sure, you're on." said Benson. "I'll help you look for the beast until Kiri gets here, then it might be best if I made myself scarce and you did your best with the pastries or muffins or whatever it is your cooking." "Well if you're going to help look, just know that the item in question is large, brown, furry, and has eight legs." "Right." I said. "I'm on task, on the job as a spider hunter. Here we go." I began a line of questioning not unlike Mr. Sherlock Holmes might have used. If I were a spider, where would I hide? Then I realized, why would he hide? He might just be out for a stroll. Aha! This got me to comb all the hallways and passageways within the flat while looking into the open places, which was, as far as I could tell, the exact opposite of what Benson was doing. He was in corners, lifting pillows, moving bookcases and the like.
Then, I heard it. It was as clear as a bell, but more dull like a knock. As a matter of fact, it was a knock. It was Kiri no doubt at the door ready to be served some special baking delight by Benson. Benson looked at me and I at him. We both were waiting to see what the other might say about the predicament. Finally, I began. "Just act naturally, the spider probably won't even show up the entire time he is here." "I'm afraid that's going to have to be the line." Benson shot back. "Well then, I'll be seeing you come race time if not sooner. Good luck with Kiri and the baking."
I let Benson see his guest in, we shook hands and said a few words when Kiri sniffed the air. "Oh my goodness, what is it that you're cooking Benson? It reminds me of home somehow." "Well it's a special pastry I've made that I think you'll really enjoy. It's actually about ready to come out of the oven." As Benson pulled the baking sheet out of the oven, I had an gut feeling that I should pause my exit and I'm glad I did. What came next no one could've bet on.
Benson let out an "Oh my God!" which was followed up by Kiri running over to the oven and saying "Oh my God!" This led me to mutter, "Oh my God!" under my breath as the phrase was apparently incredibly contagious.
Then Kiri belted out "It's wonderful Benson! How did you know?!" Benson turned to me, eyes half opened, white as the best sheets I own, and in a voice that told me he was near to fainting, said, "How did I know?" In front of Benson I saw the baking sheet topped with two ceramic bowls with some kind of pastry covering the tops of each. In the dead center of one of those pastries was a large brown blot of a thing. It took me only seconds to realize what this was. It was Benson's missing spider, baked to a crisp, curled up on top of one of the pastries.
Kiri went on to say that Benson must be a great man of the world to know that back in Kiri's home they ate spider just like this all the time. I have greatly misjudged you Benson. You are Kiri's good friend and have gone out of your way to make me feel at home here. I am in your debt. Now let us sit and eat this marvelous food you have prepared for us." Kiri's speech left both Benson and I in a kind of short trance which one goes into headlong when amazement overpowers all other senses. Slowly, the blood came back into Benson's face. I said my farewells and escaped while things were still on the up and up hoping they would stay that way.
The next night was dog racing night. I popped by Benson's flat at a prearranged time so that we could set off to the track together. He informed me that the mishap with the spider was the best thing that had happened to him in a very long time and that Kiri was now his good friend. He went on to say that he would now most likely not have to move at all and that things were all on the up and up, thanks to the sacrificial spider.
Once at track, Benson explained the ins and outs of the betting and racing to me. It was all similar to horse racing, but there were certainly a few things that were unique to the sport. I carefully eyed the dogs prerace each time. Since they allow bets all the up until just before the race, I decided to put money on any four legger that had the nerve, the guts, and the initiative to relieve itself in any way just before the race. I imagine this would make the beast lighter and full of newfound energy. I was mostly right and came out ahead of the game at the end of the night.
Benson, unfortunately did not do as well. He placed his bets based on the odds, but also on the names of the dogs and owners. The name of a dog or owner that stuck out always trumped odds, therefore, most of Benson's bets had nothing whatsoever to do with the calculated odds at all. A dog named Spider was chosen one race. On another race, an owners last name was somewhat similar (in Benson's mind that is) to Arachnid. On another, a dog named Terrance made him think of Tarantula, and the list went on and on like the writings of a mad man until the races, and in Benson's case, the betting money, was no more.
I have learned from all of this that the divinities can step in and make a thing right if they see fit. I've also learned that the seats nearest the snack bar at the dog races are superb.
Baron, International Oom Paul Society of Non-Typicals