Saturday, December 24, 2011


Claude Hinkey's been really upset because their house doesn't have a chimney and he's worried that this means his new baby brother Otto will not have a proper relationship with Santa Claus. So all this week I worked on my latest invention, the Claus-o-Fred, a self-installing, roof-drilling, temporary chimney.

To be sure nothing would go wrong, I tested it last night on Mrs. Smocksputter's house since she's old and if Santa Claus doesn't visit her, she'll understand. Her niece Gladiolus always visits her on Christmas Eve anyway and a visit from Gladiolus is enough to discourage other visitors.

I didn't think Mrs. Smocksputter would notice the test run, but unfortunately the Claus-o-Fred had to be launched onto her roof with a giant slingshot and it fell a little short. Mrs. Smocksputter seemed a bit peeved about having a chimney in her bathtub. (Actually my mother may be a bit peeved too once she notices that I used her shower curtain to make the slingshot.)

On my second attempt, I successfully landed the Claus-o-Fred on the roof though Mrs. Smocksputter may have to re-plaster her bathroom ceiling. Not to mention fixing the roof. But at least the hole is big enough for Santa to fit through (along with five or six of the reindeer). I just hope it doesn't snow before the roofer can come.

Anyhow, after Mrs. Smocksputter chased us around the block, hurling Michigan Rock cookies, Claude decided that maybe it would be easier if he and Otto just spent tonight at our house. Otto can sleep in my room while Claude and I stand guard in the living room to make sure Blitzen doesn't manage to open the cookie jar again.

In the meantime I'm re-arranging our outdoor Christmas lights. We'll be the only house in Wampler flashing a red-and-green "Merry Otto Hinkey's over here!" sign.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Raccoon in the Hand Is Worth Two in the Trash

This fall my mother's had a problem with a local raccoon who has opened his own trash service in our neighborhood. He carries away all the chicken bones, bread crumbs, and moldy tomato slices. This would be very helpful except that he scatters the rest of the trash everywhere from our front porch pillar to the lower branches of the persimmon tree in Mr. Wompsniffle's yard across the alley.

My father got so tired of telling my mother, "Watch your language!" that he finally bought a new trash can he swore no raccoon could possibly open. Unfortunately neither could my mother. One day last week, she pulled on the lid so hard she fell backwards, got her sleeve caught in the flag on the mailbox, and was nearly swept away by Mr. Henbottom's 1938 Packard. To top it off, she was pretty sure she heard the raccoon chuckling behind the gooseberry bushes.

Naturally I sprang to her assistance and began work on the Lid-o-Lure, an anti-raccoon trash container that my mother could open. As usual, there were a few tiny snags. With Version 1.0, the trashcan rolled down the driveway and spilled trash all over Mumgarden Road. Officer Peepshift happened to be driving by just as three bean cans, a discarded feather pillow, two broken spatulas, and a rotten rutabaga hit the asphalt, so my father got a ticket for littering.

The second version worked better except that my father was pretty annoyed about the bubble gum on his beard. But after what the Forest Service said about the third version (even though the game warden was no longer Super-glued to the raccoon), I decided to try an entirely new approach. It was my best idea in months: a vacuum funnel that enabled my mother to throw trash out the bedroom window. She liked it a lot until the clock radio and her nightgown got sucked into the garbage.

At that point my father - in what I think of as his anti-invention voice - remarked HUMPF! and stormed out to the driveway. What I actually invented, it turned out, was a way to persuade my father to carry the trashcan onto the screened-in porch. Now I just hope the raccoon doesn't have a wire-cutter.

P.S. A final piece of exciting news. My life story, FLAT LIKE FRED, is now available in ebook format for the Nook, Apple i-devices, and most other kinds of ereaders. You can check it out here.

P.P.S Mr. Henbottom said he's finally decided to buy a modern, up-to-date car only he can't find a 1940 Packard anywhere.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

No Moos Is Good Moos

Aunt Millennia's cat, Rover, reminded me this morning that I haven't been posting any cow news here. (In case you're wondering how Rover reminded me, he got another stink bug caught in his throat.  And when he mewed, it sounded more like a moo. Or like Aunt Millennia singing an aria from Carmen.)

As you know if you've read my life story, Flat Like Fred, my best cow friend, Moovine Baley, and I use my invention the Whiz-o-Fred to exchange news between Earth and the planet Bovine. According to this week's moos from Bovine, the cows held a big party in honor of the Moolitzer Prize awarded to Hayward Bucket, the famous cow poet, for his book, Leaves and Grass. 

It was quite a Hay Day. A team of lawn mooers cleared an extra meadow for the event.Anton Checked Cow, the famous cow playwright, wrote a new play for the occasion, The Cheery Orchard, and Moodrian, the famous cow artist, created several new paintings. (When we were on Bovine, my dog Barf spent a happy afternoon viewing Moodrian's paintings at the Barns Mooseum. Most of them were yellow rectangles that looked a lot like bales of hay. "That artist's good," Barf said. "I wonder if he ever painted any fire hydrants.")

Moovine said that Hayward was all dressed up in a three-piece vest. (It was a one-piece vest to begin with, but it burst into thirds and sailed into orbit over the North Pasture when Hayward took a deep breath in the middle of reciting a poem from his new book, The House on Farmland.) Moovine himself had the honor of offering a toast to Hayward. As he lifted his mug and recited:  "The thirst that from the cow doth rise/Doth ask a drink Bovine," Jack Cowerack sprang to his hooves and held up his mug too. "Milk, man," he said.

I could tell from the bits of hay scattered in the envelope that everyone must have had a good time (except, apparently, two of the lawn mooers who had upset stomachs from eating too much meadow).

My friend Mooreen Barnsworthy added a little hoofnote at the bottom of the letter, saying that there may be a special Moolitzer awarded this year, one that will interest me very much. It's being discussed now by the Third Awards Committee. (The First Awards Committee met to discuss the Moolitzer that was awarded to Hayward, and the Second Awards Committee met because Zilla, the High Cow Chairman, likes committees.)

Now I must close this post and write back to tell Moovine about my anti-raccoon trash can invention. I'll post about it here too, but at the moment it's still not quite perfected.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Time Flies and So Do Lunch Boxes

Another week's gone by, and I guess it's time to discuss the long, checkered history of the Tweet-o-Chomp, the flying lunch box that I invented for my best friend, Claude Hinkey.  It all began the day his mother announced that if he forgot his lunch box one more time, she was going to chain it around his neck with a padlock.  (That was also the day Claude shared my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and ate the half that had all the jelly.)

Now it's not hard at all to build a flying lunch box, but somehow some little thing always went wrong.  One lunch box flew through the front window of Wickelfitter's Hardware Store and tried to force its way into a wren house.  Another one built a nest in the steeple of St. Swithin's church, and Claude's chocolate milk almost drowned the boy who rang the bells on Sunday morning.

Even when the lunch boxes actually arrived at school, there were minor difficulties.  Like the time I used pigeon feathers and Claude couldn't get his lunch box down from the school roof.  Or the time I tried warbler feathers and the lunch box chirped all morning outside the window of the home economics room.  Ms. Snafu-Fuba kept mistaking it for her tea kettle and turned the stove on and off so often that the knob fell apart.  She had to leave school early with a headache.  (I suppose I should invent a knobless stove for her, but I've been a little busy lately.)

For two weeks I invented a new lunch box device for Claude every day, but something always went amiss.  Finally Claude pointed out that he'd spent his allowance for the next seven years on lunch boxes and hadn't managed to eat lunch once.  The only remaining option was to build in a homing function so that Claude could blow a whistle and call the lunch box.

As you know if you've read my life story, Flat Like Fred, whistles can be risky.  It was, after all, a whistle that led to the arrival of alien tadpoles in Wampler, Wisconsin (not to mention its leading to Mr. Rugby, our principal, being trampled into a petunia patch by a truckful of stray dogs).  Well, what happened this time was that the lunch box with the homing device summoned all the other lunch boxes.   They gathered on the courthouse lawn (where a traffic clerk who was fond of over-ripe bananas had a memorable lunch).  And then they flew south for the winter.

To speed their flight, the lunch boxes ditched their lunches enroute, and it rained jalapeno pickles and cottage cheese in Elephant Foot, Kentucky.  The last I heard, the lunch boxes had arrived in Oglewarts, Florida, where ornithologists from all over the world were gathering to observe them.  I worry what might happen next spring when the flock migrates north, but for right now, Claude (whose name and address were on his original lunch box) has received a citation from the Audubon Society.

And his mother refuses to pack him any more lunches, so he's still eating half of mine.