Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Prestidigitator and Croquette

Prestidigitator: An instant finger-making machine, not to be confused with a prestoagitator, which is an instant annoying person, not to be confused with a depressedagitator which is an unhappy annoying person. The prestidigitator is useful for creating fingers for things that don’t have them such as televisions and glasses of orange juice.

Juan cried, “¡Ay caramba!” when the prestidigitated finger rose like Excalibur from his bowl of steaming burrito soup. Guacamole splattering, corn chips clattering, Juan burst through the nearest mosaic-covered mud brick wall as if it was one of those swinging doors in a fabled western saloon. No one ever returned to El Gordo Sombrero, considered until that tragic day the finest Mexican restaurant in Uzbekistan.

Actual meaning: an expert at prestidigitation, which means sleight of hand.

Croquette: A psychological condition in which the subject is only capable of flirting while playing croquet.

From the age of two, Helga cried foul over the name her parents chose for her. Why oh why couldn’t they have named her something pleasanter, like Babette or better yet, Bala Cynwd? She tried everything in her power to destroy the grim image her name evoked. Instead of dark, practical clothing, she wore frilly dresses. Instead of short, practical straight hair, she wore her hair in artfully arranged ringlets. Instead of a stern, uncompromising expression, she wore something decidedly inane and vacuous. Her attempts at base flirting, at the normal coquetry of feminine youth, failed utterly and completely until one day while visiting her fourth cousin’s mother in law’s best friend’s neighbor twice removed (no one knew why), she took up the ancient and esteemed game of croquet. The men who played that day, the Italian count, Garibaldi Garbanzo and his sycophantic associate, Garlic Gorgonzola, found themselves fascinated, charmed and captivated. Helga, who despaired of ever marrying, used her new-found croquetry to land both, living happily ever after at the conjoined Garbanzo-Gorgonzola estates until one day a prestidigitated thumb appeared in her linguini. The unfortunate result was the sudden disappearance of her remarkable abilities as the world’s most famous croquette, thus ending a chapter in Heinz Uberburgerschnitzel’s classic tome, Psychotomimetical Psychosomatics.

Actual meaning: a croquette is a cake or pastry filled with diced meat and vegetables, coated with breadcrumbs and fried in deep fat.

A Writing Family Pt.1 – My Father, Basil Burwell

Basil and Fred Burwell and Friend

Where did my passion for words come from? I think back to my childhood and find many sources, from the intriguing typeface and old-paper smell of a 1920’s hardback book to a dog-eared copy of the mysterious Dr. Strange Marvel comic left around by my brother Jeremy, to the fresh ink glow of a Dell paperback bought at the local department store. As much as I loved reading words, I also loved the sounds of words and so I became a listener. Every night my father read to me as I slurped up Cheerios and scraped sugar from the bottom of the bowl. When I pull The Phantom Tollbooth off the shelf today, I half hear the echo of my father’s booming voice merging with the bell-like clink of spoon on ceramic bowl.

Basil Burwell reading to Fred and Jeremy

Or we’d be out driving, my father at the wheel, my mother beside him, me in the back, gazing through the window at the passing scenes, then –

“Flug!” my father would say.

My mother would wake out of her reverie. “What?” And then she’d look out the window as we rolled past a busy Gulf station. “Oh, Basil!”

A block later he’d intone, “Deeps Timil,” in his rich actor’s baritone.

My mother would present him with one of her patented scowls. “Oh don’t be ridiculous!”

I’d pinch myself, trying not to burst out laughing when I realized that “Deeps Timil” was “Speed Limit” backwards. My father adored backwards words. A father in one of his novels – probably an alter ego – named his daughter, “Devorppa Klim,” which of course was “Approved Milk.” Magical backward words appeared everywhere, even in our own names. Sometimes, his blue eyes twinkling but with a straight face, he’d introduce himself to strangers as “Lisab Llewrub.” I learned that if I ever felt bored with plain old Fred Burwell, I could always switch it around to Derf Llewrub and pretend I was Welsh.

If you wonder where my Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary comes from, it’s the spirit of Basil Burwell perched on my shoulder, whispering into my ear.

My father once confessed to me that he thought of himself as an unsuccessful man. That surprised me. How many fathers did I know who could say they’d acted professionally for more than a decade and appeared in films with such oddball names as Park Avenue Logger and I Was a Captive of Nazi Germany? But in the 1940’s he left the world of Hollywood and summer stock and became a master teacher, both of the theater and of English literature and creative writing.

He’d always loved to write and he couldn’t resist telling stories. How many times had I bugged him for the further adventures of “Georgie Kleenex?” Especially after the beloved, flimsy character had somehow floated all the way to the moon? He liked to point out that one of his first published stories, “The Flag that Set Us Free, published in the famous Story magazine in 1944, was based on one of his schoolboy stories that had received a C+, possibly due to his incorrigibly bad handwriting. Story editor Whit Burnett urged him to “think long” and in 1954, the historical epic, Our Brother the Sun, became his first published novel.
A Fool in the Forest
, which appeared in 1963, was his personal favorite. It was an autobiographical novel about a young man fresh out of high school in 1929, experiencing a wild summer with a troupe of actors at a summer theater set in an old fashioned amusement park.

When I first became interested in writing, Dad would take my penciled rough draft and cover it with red pen corrections, comments, and suggestions. Then we’d sit down and talk about it. I knew I was getting somewhere when less and less red marked up my work.

Perhaps Dad had so many strong passions he couldn’t simply hue to one path. To my mind he was an extremely successful man – a fine actor and director, brilliant teacher, published author, delightful storyteller, and a warm and generous father and mentor.

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Kloof

Kloof: A mechanical attachment used to provide dexterity to sentient ungulates.

Urko visited the Kloofeteria, where an assistant helped him try on four varicolored neon kloofs, which fit front and back hoofs perfectly. At last, instead of kicking away unwanted tennis balls, he was able to pick them up and eat them. Instead of leaving angry hoof-marks on books, he could actually turn pages and read the stories. The kloofs were an utter delight – he never had to trim them and he never had to coat them with hoof cream in winter, unlike his hoofs, which became brittle and cracked. There was no such thing as “kloof cream.” You didn’t need it.

One day, while perusing his favorite volume of encyclopedia (the “U” volume of course), Urko discovered that somehow, without consulting them, dinosaur-obsessed scientists had deviously replaced the name of his type of mammal, once euphoniously known as “ungulata” with either “perissodactyla” or “artiodactyla.” – they couldn’t seem to make up their minds which. As a proto-beatnik type of ungulate, Urko naturally preferred “artiodactyla” which got him pondering about art, a subject he often pondered his deepest ponders about. Urko had noticed the unusual mosaic of tracks that kloofs left in the mud he liked to cool off in. After experimenting with a variety of patterns and creating his own personal style, Urko invented an entirely new art form, at first known as “Art Urko,” but after it caught on with other artist-ungulates, as “Art Kloof.” Unfortunately, within days, Kloof manufacturers underwent major nuisance lawsuits from several individuals named “Art Kloof.” Tied up in litigation for years, “kloofmania,” as the media referred to it, underwent severe decline until now no one is sure if kloofs ever truly existed.

Its actual meaning: “a deep glen: ravine”

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Biramous and Whaup

Biramous: an unusually intelligent, two-whiskered mouse. Several whisker strands fuse together into horn-like projections from each side of the mouse’s mouth. Because of their tensile, metallic-like strength and conductivity, the fused whiskers act like radio antennae, drawing broadcasts from around the world directly into the mouse. Because of their keen minds and sponge-like absorptive abilities, the average biramous quickly becomes conversant in a multitude of languages, especially that of advertising. The enlarged biramous speech box provides startling resonance, allowing many biramouses successful careers as radio announcers, deejays, and voice over artists. No doubt you’ve heard them advertising cheese.

Legend has it that Amos was the most famous biramous of them all, although cantankerous cranks groused that he was a louse, except when most sonorous, which brought down the house. Vain and snooty (but never snouty), Amos always wore a sunny yellow mouse-blouse featuring glamorous photographs of himself posing at the microphone. Some say that only a blasphemous ignoramus would frown at such a vainglorious biramous as Amos.

Actual definition of biramous: having two branches, as those on the appendages of crustaceans.

Whaup: A particular sound produced by members of the obscure religious sect known as “Burpers” at the exact second they reach their daily moment of enlightenment.

Franklin was a recent convert to the Burpers, swayed by their promise of enlightenment – deep and soulful riches beyond imagination. However, try as he would, meditating for hours on end by himself and in large groups, he’d never emitted more than a tiny “uhp” which reminded his fellow Burpers of the sound one makes after swallowing an under ripe grape. Castigated for his failure, reviled for his undeniably weak belching ability, thrown out on his own devices, (etc. etc.), Franklin dragged himself to the nearest mountain (some ten thousand miles away), planning to end it all. He sat in an old shepherd’s hut, high above a darkling plain and gave it one last try. He’d consumed a cucumber steak with watermelon gravy and found it too rare for his liking. His stomach, however, seemed to be speaking to him and he felt insistent, mystical words rising up, clamoring to get out. He opened his mouth and felt the “whaup” coming, but only a stray “wherefore” slipped out. Steeling himself, he tried yet again and this time, at long last (he thought), the whaup tumbled down his chin, only to turn into a “wherewithal.” In despair, he rose swiftly, stepped forward to pitch himself down the steep slope…and then that most lovely and rare of words, “whaup” slithered out of his mouth and swirled in the mists of the canyon below, echoingly brightly (or was it damply?) from peak to peak, wall to wall, finally settling on a radio tower where it became part of an international broadcast listened to with delight by every biramous near and far.

Actual definition of whaup: “a European curlew.” A curlew is a species of bird.

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Scripsit

Scripsit: In the golden days, perhaps as far back as Shakespearean times (if indeed Shakespeare existed – some literary scholars believe that his plays were actually written by someone named Marlowe’s ghost – an early example of ghostwriting) a playwright would finish his script and then sit on it for awhile, waiting until it was truly ready for producing at the Globe or one of the many other English theaters such as the Hoot or the Catcall. Of course some of the more superstitious playwrights took this literally and actually sat on the script. Eventually finding the process eminently impractical and ridiculously tedious, the playwrights hefted themselves up and ambled down to the Fowle Guild, thinking that if chickens and Cornish game hens and other fowl had the leisure time to sit on eggs, why not scripts? So the guild masters formed an auxiliary and christened it the Scripsit Guild. They allowed only the most patient birds to act as scripsits, since, unlike silky smooth eggs, the parchment felt rough and the ink stained their feathers – plus nothing ever hatched, not even an idea. Playwrights utilized scripsits well into the 19th century until the industrial revolution, when an enterprising inventor created a mechanized scripsit, which eventually evolved into a theatrical agent.

Makepeace Voltaire was the most famous playwright from Devonshire, Piznitz-on-the-wold, Merry-in-the-pigsty, England, although local publicans liked to remind visitors that Makepeace was the only playwright ever to have come from Devonshire, Piznitz-on-the-wold, Merry-in-the-pigsty, England. Renowned for his tragicomic dramaturgy, praised for his facility with what critics even in those days referred to as the English language, Makepeace felt justified in calling himself Makepeace. Sadly, however, come 1642 he fell on hard times. To critics and the public alike, his plays seemed half-baked, regurgitated and spit out. Something was seriously wrong with his dialogue (‘Alas!’ seemed to be repeated every other line). Something was seriously amiss with his stage directions (men with spears kept tripping over each other and bumping into walls). His closest friend, the Dutch poet, Hans Moo (umlaut over the first o) urged him to either give up or give in – “Ach dermitzich nurdengammer fichiflachtifechtidammerung,” he said, which loosely translated (Makepeace believed) meant, “Go to the guild and get yourself a scripsit, goshdarn.”

So, Makepeace visited the Scripsit Guild and returned with a rather taciturn peahen named “Elizabeth” who, after carefully arranging her feathers, sat on Makepeace’s latest creation, a play about a farmer who has a problem with too many leeks, entitled, The Farmer Who Had Way Too Many Leeks. Hours passed, days passed, and Elizabeth sat stolidly and stoically, never allowing Makepeace even the tiniest peep at the script to see if it was ready. She just stared balefully at his nose and occasionally took a nip at it. Finally, two weeks later, she stood up, ruffled her rump, and stepped away from the script. Makepeace was astounded to discover the play renamed Elizabeth of Devon, now a romance about a lonely woman with a rather bird-like face, pining for her lost love, a young ne’er-do-well. Finally, a rich baron whose serfs were world-renowned for their ability to grow the finest leeks, sweeps her off her feet and they live happily – or perhaps not – in a castle full of leaks. Needless to say, the play was a roaring success and the envy of every playwright, even that Shakespeare, or whatever his name was.

Actual meaning: he (or she) wrote (it): placed after the author’s name on a manuscript, etc.

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Vizard

Vizard (rhymes with “wizard”): 1) a rumored species of South Pacific island lizard featuring oversized eyes with an unusual far-seeing ability. 2) [Slang – archaic] an unusual cast of the eye, especially in those who purport to do magic or are deeply religious.

In 1526, the infamous Dutch explorer, Willem de Vandergeertdervandervander, accidentally landed on a previously undiscovered South Pacific island (he was searching for Hoboken, New Jersey). While planting the Dutch flag, and after watering it, he felt a chill tickle up and down his spine like a friendly ship rat nuzzling for food. Someone – or some thing – was watching him. He looked right and then left and glimpsed nothing but palm trees, lapping blue waves and broken coconut shells. It was only when he looked right in front of him at the peak of an immense heap of seashell midden, that he observed a large sparkling green lizard with remarkably bulbous eyes. “Rotmensen, come quickly,” he shouted to his ship scientist, Rotmensen Naaktgeboren (translated loosely his name means “rotten people born naked” but don’t ever mention it to him).

Naaktgeboren rushed over, scattering white sand every which way. He eyed the lizard and the lizard eyed him. “Ach!” he said (his favorite word). “Ach! Ist neu lizzarde de groot.”

“I don’t understand you,” said Willem. “Remember to speak normally please.”

Of course Naaktgeboren was used to this. One of Willem’s quirks was that although born in the Netherlands to Nederlandish parents and having grown up in the Netherlands, immersed in Dutch culture and language, he spoke only in English. “It is undoubtedly a unique species of lacertilian sauria, and most astonishing indeed,” Naaktgeboren said.

“Name it.”

“I will call it a vizard, both because of the monstrous size of its eyes and because it seems able to see a great distance. Do gaze at the reflection in its eyes, my friend.”

Willem stared in amazement at what appeared to be his elderly parents sitting at their kitchen table slurping Flemish stew. He immediately decided to obtain as many vizards as possible, both as additions to the ship’s mascot menagerie and because of the obvious potential for untold riches. Think how the Dutch royalty and aristocrats would clamor for such unusual creatures!

However, catching the vizard proved next to impossible, as it was fleet of foot and no matter how fast a Dutch sailor armed with a net tried, the vizard was far faster, and with reptilian zeal, seemed to delight in the chase.

Two years later, after several shipwrecks in which he lost all of his crew except hard-as-lice Naaktgeboren, Willem returned home laden down with an unpleasant-smelling spice no one wanted and vivid tales no one believed. The word vizard, however, gained brief currency as slang describing a person noted for a ‘guru-like stare.’ Deeply humiliated, Willem lived out the rest of his life in disguise as a gondolier, although he refused to live in Italy and never learned Italian, continuing to speak only in English.

Naaktgeboren, who managed to sneak in several heavy gold bars on their return trip by hiding them in his stockings (although it made walking difficult), holed up in his mist-filled castle, conducting unmentionable scientific experiments (because he couldn’t see anything) and wrote puffed-up treatises on his past discoveries, including one on the mysterious lizard he’d once dubbed a vizard.

Centuries later, brave explorers still attempted to find this legendary lost, probably extinct, species, searching from nameless island to unmapped atoll on and on and on around the world. There were numerous reports of single sightings, as well as rumored colonies of electric-green lizards which upon further investigation proved to be nothing more than the obscure but not unknown “dizzard,” a much more excitable yet easy to catch species of lizard. In 2012, rather blurry photographs purporting to show a vizard running went viral on the internet. However, analysis by photo-detectives proved that the tantalizing photographs actually depicted an old man from Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, vigorously brushing his teeth. The search continues…..

The actual meaning of vizard: 1) a mask or visor for disguise or protection. 2) disguise, guise

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Saprobe

Saprobe: There are two kinds of saprobes, discovered independently in the 18th century; although some scholars posit that a Woodland Indians tradition hearkens back one or two minutes earlier. The odoriferous Vermont variety of saprobe comes from (or one might say, “gloms” from) the congealed sap of the sugar maple tree, while the Georgia variety, a much stickier yet more durable resinous robe, derives from the coagulated sap of the Georgia pine tree. Adopted by trappers, loggers and syrup makers, the saprobe provided warmth and protection during frosty winters and served as mosquito, gnat and fly attractants during the sultry months. Unfortunately, bears, cougars, hawks, crows, and skunks found the clothing unspeakably gorgeous, which eventually led to its discontinuance, however for a time North America featured some nattily dressed animals.

Lemuel Bassington began his life as a fur trapper. Let me back up. He didn’t actually begin his life as a fur trapper. As an infant he was unable to trap fur-bearing animals, although he had good luck with grasshoppers. But by the age of ten he was a working man, complete with matted beard, coonskin hat and more than a pinch of snuff. This was back in the olden days, sometime around 1750. He roamed the colonies, trapping furs (the actual animals got away), subsisting on bitter berries, stringent barks and stump water, but by the time he was twenty years old, he needed a change. He’d discovered the benefits of pine gum and spruce gum and abandoned snuff for gum, which wasn’t too hard on his teeth since he no longer had any (he was begummed). He decided to set up a chewing gum business and began harvesting Georgia pines for their copious sap. One bright morning, after rolling the gum out in sheets, he allowed it to sun dry. Wrapping the finished product around his torso, he found it both flexible and malleable and then extremely difficult to disrobe. Experimenting, he fashioned a pair of trousers, only to find himself attached to the stump he was sitting on, unable to move. He sliced the trousers off with his long knife and tried again, this time creating a warm and completely unfuzzy robe.

Wandering through the forest, he collected gum samples and other fruits of the trees, and the robe collected acorns and pinecones and seeds, slowing him down considerably. Still, he thought he was onto something. One day he met an old man traveling in the opposite direction. He was startled to see that the geezer was wearing an almost identical robe, only it exuded a flavorful sweet smell. “Howdy, old fella,” Lemuel said. “Where in tarnation did you get that thingamabob.”

“I ain’t tellin’ you, youngster. I ain’t tellin’. I made this thingamajig myself back yonder a ways in Vermont.”

“I thought you ain’t tellin’.”

“Well I ain’t. I ain’t tellin’ you where in Vermont. It’s back around Prattleboro in the Green Mountains nestled in a forest grove where they tap sap for maple syrup.”

The old man passed by, but not before hurling a newfangled waffle at Lemuel, which stuck to his robe. He’d heard awhile back from an old fur trapping buddy, via passenger pigeon, that there was a lot of saps in Vermont. Since that was the entire message, he wasn’t sure if his pal meant the goo from trees or that there were a lot of sentimental fools living there. He decided to mosey on over to Vermont. Moseying meant that it took him a couple of years to arrive there, laden down with pine saprobes and assorted tree detritus. One day he came upon a grove of maple trees and people with wooden buckets attached. Let me back up again. These buckets hung from the trees, not the people. Each person, however, wore a sweet smelling saprobe. Lemuel thought and pondered and then pondered and thought. Could he combine the best features of the pine saprobe and the maple saprobe to create an even more effective saprobe? After days of experimentation, this proved to be true. But the new and improved super-duper saprobe, which was both a feast for the eyes and nose and even stomach, depending on your digestive system, attracted numerous fashion plates among the animal kingdom and Lemuel spent the rest of his life captive in a rabbit burrow deep in the woods of mountainous Vermont, only a saprobic legend to the wider world.

Saprobe actually refers to a saprobic organism, one which dines on deceased or decaying organic matter, tending toward an environment as free from oxygen as possible.

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Scumble

Scumble (archaic): 1) a stumble, intentional or otherwise, into scum-filled liquid. 2) a regional pastry briefly unpopular in fourteenth century England.

The word originated in Olde England, circa AD 1153, when residents of Least Plover of the Peckling-Farrows were constantly slipping into the local castle moat – sometimes intentionally – in order to escape stray crossbow bolts and, if near the castle drawbridge, rivers of boiling oil cascading down from the battlements. The moat resembled water to those who thought of water as only partially liquid. Many varieties of castle detritus, from fire-hearth soot to incorrigible pageboys, ended up in the moat, gradually filling it with a reek of wrack and wreckage. Locals dubbed an unfortunate stumble into the seething morass of murky muck, a “scumble,” although the verbose Francophone denizens of the castle referred to it as “ezcumble boucoup je suis merci a la moat.”

Four hundred years later the townspeople scavenged the ruins of the castle for building-stones and rusty maces because no one had the foresight to turn it into a tourist trap. An enterprising baker, William d’Rye, discovered that, as a measure of economy, if he mixed aged silt from the filled-in moat with flour and sawdust sprinkled with cinnamon, he could create a hunger-filling “jumble” which also doubled as cannon fodder when rolled into balls. After ingesting one of d’Rye’s confections and after losing several teeth in the process, town sage Bryan d’Sage-Plantagenet declared the dingy pastry a “scumble.” To be more precise, here are his now legendary words, orated while thrusting into the air a scumble pierced on the tip of his sword: “Fie on thy most wicked new hatch’d calamity! Bare bodkin or scumble? Wouldst thou bear the whips or scorns of time, or perchance the bellyache of scumbles thine?”

Although scumbles never caught on as food, they proved extremely puzzling to archaeologists of the future, who discovered remarkably well preserved specimens holding up the crypts in Least Plover of the Peckling-Farrows’ ancient stone cathedral. Frederichastrausen “Fritz” Noodlegammer, noted authority on antiquarian organic material, precisely carbon dated the petrified scumbles, which after soaking in a fragrant combination brine/lye/acidophilus potion for several days (the scumbles, not Frederichastrausen “Fritz” Noodlegammer himself, who preferred bubble baths) delicately placed a sliver of scumble on his tongue, chewed for half an hour, ruminated for another half an hour and finally declared it “delicious, but needing a soupcons more silt.” Newspapers misprinted “silt” as “salt” and the ancient recipe discovered in the cathedral archives proved a failure in households around the world. However, the revived scumble provided a triumphant boost for the bowling ball industry.

Scumble actually means: 1) softening the colors or outlines of a painting by rubbing or via an opaque film 2) in writing, to blur the outlines.

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Chatoyance and Chatoyant

Chatoyance: When someone endures incessant chatter, despite wanting peace.  Chatoyant: Someone primed to chat, someone who lives for chatting and when chatoyant, is unable to refrain from chatting, no matter how inconsequential the subject.

Roland and Brisbane were brothers.  As children, Roland was the silent, austere, studious one.  He wrote well, with never a word out of place or in excess.  From infancy, Brisbane was gregarious and loquacious.  At first, other babies seemed to understand him, but after a few minutes of Brisbane’s incessant babble, they crawled away.  By the time he was in school, he loved words and when writing, used as many as possible.  Five page paper assignments never satisfied.  He had to write ten.  Ten page papers quickly became twenty.  His diary filled his room and his parents had to rent storage space.

For many years, Roland listened to Brisbane politely.  They never fought, because Brisbane didn’t want to take the time away from talking.  But Roland only listened.  He never responded to Brisbane’s curious questions, other than non-committal mono-syllabic answers. He liked to spend time in his room, at peace with himself.  Behind a locked door, he found refuge from Brisbane’s constant comment.

Brisbane, however, kept close watch on the young chestnut tree growing beside the house.  By the time the brothers were teenagers, the tree had grown strong and tall and Brisbane was at last able to climb it to the second level of the house where he built himself a tree house with a platform outside Roland’s window.  From his perch he was able to resume talking during those hours Roland kept to himself.  At first, Roland was mildly amused.  He had made a great study of various species of monkeys, as well as Buddhist theology and decided that his brother Brisbane accurately fit the mold of the “chattering monkey.” However, he soon grew weary to the point of chatoyance. Even in his sleep he imagined his brother’s barrage of words.  “Please stop” had no effect.  “Go away and leave me alone” didn’t last.  When Roland secretly tore down the tree house, Brisbane simply hammered it together again.  Then two things happened.  One month in summer, when Brisbane was off at public speaking camp, Roland took his father’s power saw and cut down the chestnut tree.  He dug out the stump, smoothed out the ground and planted grass seed, which grew thick and luxuriant.

Brisbane was devastated when he came back.  He’d lived in that tree for the last year, even during blizzards and torrential downpours.  He loved its strength, its beautiful flowers and nuts, and the opportunity it provided for him to have a personal speaking platform.  It soon became apparent to Roland and the rest of the family that Brisbane was no longer chatoyant.  He gave up speaking.  Oh, he’d nod or shake his head in reply and occasionally utter a grunt, or when pressed, some sort of mumble, but he’d entirely forsaken his former eloquence.  He ignored Roland, who sometimes saw what he perceived as a mysterious gleam in Brisbane’s eye.  The brothers graduated from high school and Brisbane left town and did not return. Roland continued to live in the house, long after his parents died.  As an old man he hired a detective to search for Brisbane, who was rumored to have immigrated to Australia, but the detective was unable to confirm anything.  The only Brisbane he found proved to be a seven year old girl fond of ballet tutus.

One fine fall day, Roland was raking leaves when he turned the corner of the house and below his window, found a scattering of chestnuts on the grass where the chestnut tree once stood so many years before.  He felt the prick of fear and looked around him. There was no one in sight.  Was this a practical joke?  He threw the chestnuts down the hill behind the house, along with piles of leaves.

That night, as he pulled on his pajamas and lifted the covers off his bed, about to crawl in, he spotted a chestnut, still in its spiny case, smack dab in the middle on his pillow.  “Hello?’ he called.  “Who are you?  Why are you doing this?”

No one answered.  He threw the chestnut out the window.

The next morning, while pouring his Special K cereal, out plopped a chestnut.  This time, instead of throwing it out, he took it outside, scratched away a swath of grass underneath his window, and planted the chestnut, along with a great quantity of rare fertilizer, known as “guanaco” he’d obtained on one of his European trips.  The tree grew quite well and within a couple of years was already reaching the level of his second floor window.  He’d had no other chestnut experiences.  A second detective had failed to turn up any traces of Brisbane, save for some graffiti in a marketplace in New Delhi, India, which read, “Brisbane talks,” although it might have been left over political sloganeering.

Then one night around three a.m., Roland woke up.  He heard something scratching against the side of the house.  “Branches,” he thought.  He closed his eyes.  “I’ll trim them in the morning.”  Then he heard the sound of tapping, which grew louder and louder until he recognized it as hammering.  “I must be dreaming,” he said to himself.  The hammering continued for another hour and then he woke up again as he heard his window being lifted up from the outside.  And now there was a familiar voice, one he hadn’t heard in decades and oh how he’d truly missed it.  The voice grew in volume. The words began to flow.  The sentences built into paragraphs.  The paragraphs became full blown oratory.  He listened to the words of someone who over the many years had at last become not a prodigious bore, but a brilliant chatoyant.  “Brisbane?” Roland said.  He thought he heard a whispered “yes” amidst the endless river of words.

Chatoyant actually means: having a changeable luster or color with an undulating narrow band of white light. Chatoyance is the quality or state of being chatoyant.

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