Extra Schmitz, Please

I like to think I’m some sort of shape-shifting bon vivant, when in truth I’m just a guy who fixes his own toilets, who plants zinnias in the yard and thrills when they somehow grow.

The other morning, I bent to leash the wolf – the one I’m married to – and accidentally stuck my fingers in her huge Siberian yammer-mouth.

It was only for a split second, but it was intimate, know what I mean? My fingers brushed her mid-mouth, somewhere between the canines and the pre-molars. And then there was that massive tongue, like a slab of liver you left out in the sun.

In short, in this hard and mischievous world, we shared “a moment.” Like when a pretty stranger kisses you suddenly in an elevator – that kind of moment. (For the record, that’s never happened to me. But I’d like to think we still live in a time where such things are possible. Forget the scolds and the internet prudes. Random kisses are not the worst thing.)

Neither is putting your fingers in a wolf’s maw, her carburetor, her slobbery schmitz. Don’t regret it one bit, and I think she liked it too, in that strange way that dogs like you no matter what.

I’m one of those slob writers with powdered sugar all over them, so at the very least she benefitted from that. I know she licked her lips a little when we were done.

Look, I always have powdered sugar on my fingers and shirt … on my keyboard too. And I have fingers so huge they hit two computer kleys at once.

At best, when I really have a rhythm going, I type about 4 words a minute. Not great words either, like Cheez-Its or boysenberry. Ordinary words. Scrub. Truck. Paperclip. Or words I totally make up. Like fruppy. Or schmitz.

I write on a cheap keyboard made by small forest creatures in some remote Cambodian province. At full speed, the keys bounce out of their sockets, go flying in the air sometimes, as if I’m popping popcorn at the movie theater.

Know what I liked? My old IBM Selectric 2. Now that was a writing tool. It was stronger than me. It had a throbbing power train…a muffler. Used up more fuel than an Apollo launch.

No telling how many books, movies, ransom notes and threats to my neighbors I would have written had I held onto that old workhorse. Once retired, it sat in the basement, tarped like a boat. I eventually hired three strong Russians and an ox to help me drag it to the curb.

Sure could use it now, as I prepare to shove Smartacus out the door and off to college. I’ve been keeping little scraps of ideas. The other day, I wrote: “He’s all yours now, Eugene, him with his shoes just everywhere and those fast-food wrappers he never throws away.

“Lemme warn you: My son, this freshest of your freshman, is the sort of person who goes to a hotdog joint and orders the burger. He did just that the other night, and the only reason I didn’t divorce him was because he had the good sense to order the tater tots ‘angry,’ with lots of schmitz (extra chili, too much cheese).”

So, yeah, I’m going to be quite wry when he eventually leaves. To mask any heartbreak I might accidentally be feeling.

See, I don’t write essays so much as I pull on little threads to see how they’ll unravel. The short story version of that, the one Ray Bradbury might have penned, would be about a writer who yanks at little threads and sees himself start to unravel as well, yet can’t help himself because he feels like he’s on some sort of literary roll.

Love Bradbury, love short stories. Wish I could do more of them, but I fear there’s no market, that you’d be better off climbing a hill and just screaming into the clouds. Certainly healthier. At least you’d be outside, venting. You could take a light breakfast.

People seem worried about me, ask me what my plans are for the post-Smartacus era. So far, the only possible plan is to visit every sassy, judgmental girl I knew in high school and college, to see if they missed me much.

Knock-knock. They’d look out on the porch, in Milwaukee or Sioux Falls, and think to themselves: “Who’s that? Captain Kangaroo? Same mustache. Same faux military coat. Perhaps a fallen dictator of some kind?”

I’d talk them into lunch, or maybe take them for a picnic in an old canoe, where strangers would wonder: “Why’s Bob Keeshan rowing that pretty lady across the lake? Why’s he singing a polka?”

Somehow, that whole plan intrigues me. I think I could get a serious book from it, a study of America in the moment, as I checked on my old girlfriends to see how their own lives worked out, to be sure I didn’t ruin them for other men and stuff.

Honestly, I’d feel bad about that.

At this milestone in my own life, I’d inquire into their own milestones. What turned out well? What wisdoms would they share? What sense of mirth? Would they still believe in romance and random kisses? Would their 65-year-old smiles still offer traces of the girlishness — the light — they had when they were 17?

No question.

Gawd, I knew some great girls. The ones I grew up with in suburban Chicago are still the baseline for everyone else.

Listen, I’m pretty good about hiding it, but I’m really such a dweeb, such a believer in happily-ever-after. It’s kind of a religion with me — a shaky moral code crafted by a man who makes plans that never quite pan out. But still he makes them…this fool on the hill.

Hope to leave that to my kids. I want them to believe in storybook endings. In the power of good words and kind gestures. In happily-ever-afters. And the sense that each one of us can make a difference.

Without that, whataya got? A garage full of crud and two tickets to a Dodger game?

Hey Smartacus, aim higher than that, OK? Schmitz a wolf. Moon the stars.

If sales at the company store don’t pick up a bit, I may have to abandon these twice-weekly sessions and move on to a real career, as a card shark or an encyclopedia salesman. My grandbaby needs a new pair of shoes, as they say. My books are for sale here, and t-shirts and caps. The bestsellers are these gin glasses that hold their gin a lot better than you do. Like British rock groups, they come in sets of four and make for striking company on a late summer evening. In any case, thank you for your support, your friendship and your good humor. Best always, Chris.

13 thoughts on “Extra Schmitz, Please

  1. Oh my. This one hit me in the heart in many ways. Nostalgia: Selectric typewriters, Captain Kangaroo, Ray Bradbury. Short stories. So few great short stories are published anymore. Maybe that is why I love you and your dweeby columns. Your wry, pithy, sometimes sad but ultimately always hopeful columns are unique and so needed. Never stop writing, please. I will buy more shot glasses, caps and books! Just please keep writing for us!

    1. What Carroll said. All of it.

      Love the good Captain. Love my old Selectric. Still have it, though it no longer fully functions. I keep thinking about paying the big bucks to get it repaired. Then maybe I’d finally write that long overdue fan letter to Sela Ward. My version of schmitz.

  2. I am a single parent and I flew my princess daughter out to Santa Clara from Chicago for school. When it was time for me to fly home, I was sobbing so badly the gate attendant let me pre -pre board and walked me on. I sobbed most of the flight. Walking through the tunnels at O’Hare to the parking garage, there was a busker playing Rhapsody in Blue on his sax. It was just the right moment and just the right song and a good beginning for my drive home.

  3. Life is funny, but doesn’t always pay well. We live for our kids, go hungry so they won’t, walk with goose bumps from the cheap seats at Dodger Stadium because someone forgot their sweatshirt. Then they just leave, for college, a job, a marriage, no thank you, and barely a jumpy see ya.

    Then one day it happens. My son who experienced birth for the first time, wrote in my first Grandmother’s Day card, Happy Mother’s Day Mommy, I finally understand why you always say “you just don’t know how much I love you”. I now understand why you always say that.

    Life happens and thank God for it all. I have already purchased from the store, but if you like I have tons of girl clothes (three girls under 5 years) that we like to recycle. I think we might be able to find a pair of gently used shoes.


  4. …and in Fall, a mid man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love. Actually, it’s never been about anything else. So here we go, as Kim Addonizio so eloquently says, “trailing a hand in canonical water”. How swell, that the dog days of Summer turn out to be about a love affair, the bard of the intimate hitching and gamboling along, pouring love like water on everything in his mind. How swell, indeed.

  5. Ah, Chris, so much to ruminate on, and there I go, like a goat, thinking you are one. The GOAT of touching, feeling, heartbreaking, heart stopping, hilarious and poignant column writing. I’m not a big Arrowsmith fan, but still when I recall our lunch, I ask myself, why the heck didn’t we pick a restaurant on the second floor? We could have used the elevator, and … who knows. I think I’m going to need a few more rock glasses (I use them for Dubonnet cocktails or Bailey’s and cognac on ice, not gin, but they work just fine) think I’ll leave this one with a Simple Minds song from the Breakfast Club “Don’t You Forget About Me” (Maybe someday Chez Jay will reopen for lunch…)

    1. Red Dubonnet on the rocks with a twist! The most uncool drink ever-and so completely cool now. At least in my tiny mind…

  6. For some reason or another, I thought I had to retire my Selectric when the COMPUTER with its word processing skills came barging into my life. It was time for some repair work and I just abandoned it. Dropped it like a hot potato. Fickle heart o’ mine to fall for the new gadget sitting on my desk. I loved the sound of the keys clacking but my desktop is as quiet as a mouse. OK. I’m done. Oh, and I love your short stories.

  7. Come on! Let’s form a group to bring back short stories…the best! Heck, you have the hiking club, the martini club, why not? A beautiful literary genre that needs a rebirth. Shoot, cocktails came back. Why not? The twitter generation might be amazed.

  8. I was not a real fan of Captain Kangaroo growing up but my older sister was I think. I thought as a kid it was kind of silly. Maybe I was too cynical as a 5 year old?

    I too cried like a baby when I had to leave my daughter at Boston University in 2006. I cried and she cried. It was hard to leave her and trek back to LA again.

    But she thrived and met her love there and lived there for 7 years.

    In the meantime my Husband son and adult son left the LA area for Snohomish Washington in 2013.

    Now, My daughter and her love turned husband moved to Washington near us and now we have an almost 4 year old granddaughter to enjoy as well. It all turned out pretty good for our version of a happy ending.

  9. You make me laugh out loud even though I know what you’re foing with your unique words and the wolf for entertainment. Been there. Turned out to be lovely. Thanks for making my hubby say, what’s so funny? And I only had to say, Chris and his typewriter. Yeah, I read that one, too… You keep these old folks from the “home.” Keep on keeping on, friend. (We think of you as a friend–met you once at a book signing. :);

  10. Captain Kangaroo! Oh my gosh, that brings me back, but you know, I only vaguely remember him, although I am sure it was a staple in our house of many kids. I’ve made it this long without reading Ray Bradbury, not sure if that has changed the course of my life or not. I don’t have kids, but missed my nephews greatly when they went away to college, still miss them & so very much enjoy seeing them when they return home to our western Chicago suburb. It’s good that you haven’t much lost your Midwestern roots!

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