First published in 2019, The Catcher Goes Awry...and Other Odds and Sods is Book Two in Charles Berkoff's late-life writing career. "I had to wait this long," he insists. "It was the only way to acquire all the necessary wit and wisdom." His critics say he should have waited longer. Much longer.
In this collection of short stories, the ex-Brit finds humor (and humour) in the most unexpected places: PreMedicated Murder (postview), London's Bloody Blitz (preview), Florida Fauna, Tennis with a Twist, September Happenings, Science, and Medicine. Forty-four short stories, both fact and fancy, published and not, to bring a smile, perhaps even a chuckle.
"A fun read"..."Refreshingly different"..."Humor and humour, shaken and stirred"..."The author goes for the chuckular vein"..."Creative"..."Entertaining."
The Catcher Goes Awry is currently available on Amazon's Kindle.
The lead story follows below. Try it. You'll like it.
The Catcher Goes Awry
Not a creature was stirring, not even—a rat?
"Charles! Charles! Come quick! Come quick!" she screamed.
It's not "Come Quick," I thought, as I hurried to her from the other side of the house. It's "Come Quick-ly!" An adverb. What's the language coming to? I guess I shouldn't end a thought on a preposition either.
By then I'd reached the bedroom. I opened the door.
"Quick," she said, "Come in and close the door." She was wearing a simple but fetching nightgown. I then noticed her ashen face and knew that, whether it was quick or quickly, a quickie was obviously not something she had in mind.
"There's a rat in the bathroom. And it's gigantic!"
"Are you sure?"…thinking, yeah, right...a mouse, maybe?
"It's by the toilet," she said, ignoring my question and my thought.
"Wait here. I'll be right back," I said, trying hard to convey what I had very little of, confidence in handling potentially rabid and vicious wildlife.
In my search for some kind of weapon, I hurried into the garage. I grabbed my fishing net and a nearby fly swatter. A note saying: "Dear Rat. Please jump into this net," might have been just as effective as a fly swatter, but panic-driven necessity can clearly be the mother of poorly conceived invention.
Back in the bedroom, she elaborated: "I was sitting on the toilet, peeing, when I felt something splashing underneath me. I stood up and this humungous rat jumped out of the toilet...dripping wet...ran around the bathroom, and is now behind the toilet."
Wow, I thought, this could have had a very different ending. Boggles the mind—could have boggled other body parts too. Hers.
"OK. I'll...go look," I said. With net in one hand and fly swatter in the other, I cautiously opened the bathroom door and peered in. A pair of angry, beady eyes looked back at me from behind the toilet pedestal. I closed the door. Quietly. I didn't want to disturb him.
"It's a huge rat" I announced to my wife.
"Yes. I know."
"All right. Well…er…I suppose I’d better go back in," although ninety-nine percent of me was convinced we should just wait, and starve him out.
"Close the door quickly behind you," she instructed, as I reentered the bathroom. I nodded, knowing that I needed to keep the rat contained; unfortunately, I was contained with him.
I inched towards the monster. Or, more accurately, brimming with reluctance, I millimetered towards him, net outstretched, as if I were offering him a treat.
"Here boy," I heard myself whisper.
When I was about three feet away, the rat hunched up, propelled himself out from behind the toilet, and with lightning speed, flashed round and round the tiled floor of the bathroom like a proton beam whizzing around The Hadron Particle Accelerator looking to collide with something. In the rat's case, I didn't want that something to be me.
On the third cycle around, I was released from my paralytic state, when the rat took a sharp turn into my wife's walk-in closet leading off the bathroom.
He was indeed gigantic. Of prehistoric proportions, I thought. Three feet long and another three feet of tail. Or close to it. And close to it was where I certainly didn't want to be.
I quickly closed the pocket door of the closet and went back into the bedroom to report on my extraordinary bravery.
"That was quite a struggle," I announced.
"I'm sure it was. Now what?" she asked.
"Well, it's nearly midnight. Can't do much more," as if I had any intention of doing anything more.
"We'll just keep him in there and get the rat catcher over in the morning. He has the proper equipment to handle jobs like this." Equipment like courage, I thought.
The gap at the bottom of the pocket door was only about a quarter of an inch, but I'd read stories of monster rats crawling through holes the size of the eye of a needle. So I sealed the door with duct tape. Twice.
That'll hold him, I thought. And I hope he likes shoes because the lucky bastard has access to at least a thousand absurdly expensive pairs: every conceivable style, shape, color, and designer, all neatly boxed, stacked, and grossly underused. Shoes to match every possible type of dress, every possible occasion. Glass slippers for the big ball? Shelf 8. Section IIB. Location 29R.
Lying in bed, we both pretended to sleep. But oh, that incessant scratching, nibbling, and gnawing...and that was my wife! Mr. Rat was, I imagined, fully occupied checking out the Mefistos and the Weitzmans, chewing one pair, tasting another. If my wife had the same vision I had, I'd be forced back in there to protect her treasure. I decided not to share the thought.
At 3:46 a.m. she turned towards me and asked: "Are you awake?"
"No," I replied.
"Is it too early to call the rat catcher?" she persisted.
The pest control people finally answered their telephone at 7:58 a.m. Big Al would be right over.
9:07 am. Al, obviously Big Al, filled the doorway. Six feet five, two hundred and fifty pounds, jeans, cowboy boots, rippling muscles and, under the sleeve of his black T-shirt, a pack of cigarettes. Camels. Unfiltered. His massive arms were covered in tattoos. No "Mom," "hearts," or "love." Just symbols. Strange, threatening symbols. Glad he was working for us.
"Hi. You must be Al," I said.
"Yeah. I'm Al," he grunted in a deep, gravelly voice, shrugging twice. "Tharathota Petht Sythtemths thent me."
I smiled. Boy, either this guy's got a great sense of humor, I thought, or else he's working for the wrong company.
It was the wrong company.
"Tho. What thort of petht you got?" He scowled and shrugged again.
"Er, it's a rat," I said.
"A rat?" Big Al sneered with obvious disappointment. "They thaid it was thomethin' big: a gator, or a monthter thnake." Shaking his head, he went back to his truck and returned carrying a small black sack with a drawstring opening.
Seeing the tiny sack, I smiled as I recalled Chief Brody’s comment in the Jaws movie. "You’re gonna need a bigger bag," I said.
He sniffed dismissively. "Right. Let’th go get thith little thucker."
"It's a very big rat" I protested, as I led the way to the closet.
"Uh-huh," he shrugged.
"In here," I said.
He ripped off the duct tape, slid the door open, and swaggered in. I was right behind him but stayed on the bathroom side of the door. The big man was about to say something when suddenly the rat leapt from a shelf near the ceiling on one side of the small closet to a lower shelf on the other side, a seven-foot leap. Big Al grunted a surprised "ooh!" and quickly stepped back—but not quickly enough. I was already pulling the pocket door shut.
"Don't clothe the door! Open it!" he yelled in sheer panic. "Quick!"
Quick-ly, I thought to myself, as I hesitantly slid the door open.
Out came Al. Not Big Al…just…Al. He seemed smaller. His shoulders had narrowed; his tattoos had faded. Swagger—gone.
"That'th one big mother!" he conceded.
At that moment, the mother in question suddenly scampered out of shoetown, and returned to his spot behind the toilet. He appeared to challenge Al with come-near-me-and-I’ll-rip-your-face-off defiance written all over him.
I had a thought. "You stay on your side of the toilet," I suggested, "and I'll go round the other side and shoo him to you"–with my fly swatter?
As I approached the rat's rear end, the monster suddenly turned and glared at me. I lurched back. The rat then turned again, this time to snarl at Al. He too recoiled and, back to back, we clashed. Giving away a hundred pounds, I came out a poor second and went sprawling across the tiled floor, back towards the rat. As my head struck the toilet, my temporary front tooth, placed only twenty-four hours earlier, flew out of my mouth and skidded across the floor towards Al. He was unaware that his size fifteen boot crushed it. As I slowly rose to one knee, minus a front tooth, the rat turned to face me again, but carelessly allowed his long tail to stick out the other side of the toilet. Although shaken, Al stirred. Instinctively perhaps, but in obvious triumph, he grabbed the rat by his tail.
With a throaty "Aaaah. Thuccthess." Al pulled the rat out and dropped him headfirst into his patiently waiting black sack. He quickly pulled the drawstring—but not quite quickly enough. The rat poked his head out of the bag and bared his teeth angrily at Al—who promptly dropped the bag.
What looked like some kind of grotesque animal sack race, the rat, with head out of the bag and the rest of his body within, began to hop, jump, and tumble around the tiled floor. Al was transfixed. In a moment of reckless abandon, I grabbed the bag, pulled the drawstring very tight, and tied a knot in it. Then a second knot. Then a third—before I ran out of string. With the rat continuing to kick, I handed the sack to Al, who took it with a curt nod.
"That wath thome ecthperienth," I said.
Al glared. Hard. Belatedly, I realized what I'd said. Or rather, how I said it.
"Thorry," I added, further compounding my embarrassment. I pointed to the gap in my front teeth. But Al had already turned away, missing my excuse for my apparent poor taste in humor. He shook his head in obvious disgust, and returned to his truck and, I wanted to believe, back to his Big Al persona. I felt awful but decided to leave bad alone. Perhaps I could write some kind of apology/thank you note later.
I cleaned up the powdered tooth and went to report to my wife, who by then, was waiting outside a neighbor's house, three hundred yards away.
"The rat'th gone," I declared. "Tho ith Big Al."
"Well, I'm not using that toilet ever again," she declared.
I lost the exclusive use of my bathroom for the next two months before she reluctantly returned to using her own. But now, when she's not using her toilet, three of her heaviest cookbooks sit on top of the closed lid.
After all those seat-up-seat-down arguments, it's satisfying to realize that the peeing position of Man is decidedly superior to that of Woman. From the rat's point of view, however, I'm not sure that it makes a great deal of difference: he’d be both pissed on and pissed off regardless.
So, dear reader. Wajathink?
Copyright © 2018 Charles Berkoff - All Rights Reserved.