Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Gourd Jamboree

Scandal rocked the Midwest Gourd Society's Harvest Jamboree. The Fall event is normally a joyful time when gourders (that's what we call ourselves) get together to share their wares and show off year-long efforts at beetle-plucking, pollinating, and general tilling of the soil. This is not a group afraid to get their hands dirty or forgo gratification if it means harvesting a champion gourd or two. Weldon Neebles makes the extreme sacrifice and eschews dating during the pollinating season. He says it's like when prizefighters aren't allowed to have sex before a match. And who can argue with his techniques when year after year he takes home the Blue Ribbon in the Musical Gourd Competition, and as a bonus, serenades the club with his dipper-gourd flute. This year's tune, "It Ain't Me Babe," was especially rousing, causing several gourders to get jiggy and spill their beverages.

Like any industrious gourder, I spend many a summer night in my garden, meticulously distributing pollen to a closely-guarded crop of Lagenaria gourds. The flowers of this particular species open at night, and being a conscientious gardener, I do everything possible to ensure the completion of the pollination process. I've endured many taunts from neighborhood busy-bodies like Pat Humpel who stays up late, peeking out her curtains to watch me going from flower to flower with a flashlight and a Q-tip, transferring pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers. Sometimes, after a successful pollination, I turn towards her house and shout, "Another champion's on it's way!" and her curtains snap shut, but not before she calls out, "Fruitcake!"

Certified judges, who have completed the Gourd Appreciation Seminar in Griggsville, Illinois, have the responsibility of handing out awards in the following categories:

--Best birdhouse gourd.
--Swimsuit competition.
--The gourd that most resembles Ed Asner.
--Most musical gourd.
--Best gourd hat.
--Celebrity look-a-like gourd.
--Most utilitarian gourd.

The troublesome scandal brewed in the Celebrity Look-Alike competition when Lucille Erks snapped up a Blue Ribbon for her William Shatner gourd. Later in the day, Lucille was stripped of her ribbon when close scrutiny by another contestant (the finger-pointing was unnecessary; I don't make the rules) revealed the same gourd won in a previous year in the Ed Asner division. Lucille initially threw a fit but broke into a fake crying jag when article 3 section 17 of The Midwest Gourd Society By Laws was read out loud to her. It states that "No gourd, however re-decorated, may be used twice for the purpose of competition. A gourd, once submitted for competition, must be retired from said contest and used for display purposes only." Nobody was fooled by her spectacle of phony tears, especially me.

My entry in the celebrity gourd competition was a tribute to the Ronnettes, a trio of pear-shaped gourds decorated like each Ronnette: Ronnie, Estelle, and Nedra, only Estelle kept leaning over. Lucille Erks, a sore looser if there ever was one, pointed at them and said, "Those are too chubby to be the Ronnettes, they're like the Ronnettes with big asses, and that one there, she can't stand up straight; she's drunk. You should have called them The Three Big-Ass Stooges." Because of Lucille's weaselry, my second place ribbon was moved to first, and upon transferring the ribbon, Lucille gritted her teeth and vowed to sully my character in the next issue of the Gourd Newsletter.

As Seed Acquisition Manager, it's incumbent on me to obtain samples of seed from every winning contestant. The seeds are labeled and filed in the Gourd Society's seed bank (a corner of my basement, behind the snow globe collection). A great many of the seeds are from Susan Topping's Peruvian gourds. She wins every year in the Utilitarian Gourd Competition. Normally, the gourds in this category are helpful gourds that perform a useful function like a pencil holder or bowl. But Susan's gourds, cylindrical and rather plain, about ten inches long and undecorated, receive high accolades from the women attending the Jamboree. There's always a buzz around her table, and her stock is in great demand, and her seeds command a pretty good price. Her creations are called "A Girl's Best Friend," and honestly, I don't understand the attraction but am required to collect the seeds every year and draw an accompanying illustration for identification purposes.

The nice thing about gourders is their willingness to share their growing tips. Susan says part of her secret is to grow her "Girl's Best Friends" on a trellis, insuring a smooth, unblemished appearance. "A Girl's Best Friend never touches the ground" is her motto. Though I remain puzzled by the attraction of such an unremarkable gourd, next year I'm going to give the trellis strategy a try. I'm shooting for growing The Dave Clark Five, and it'd be nice if they stood erect without falling over. After all, who doesn't like a little buzz around their table.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Party Thief

We called it a movie masquerade party, and a thief showed up. Everyone arrived wearing costumes depicting a character in a movie. It was a chance for the party-goers to live out their silver-screen fantasies as well as mingle with other stars-for-the-evening. Most of the characters were readily apparent except for Mimi Bunt's Olive Oyl. Mimi buys her clothes at the Salvation Army store, rendering her regular appearance to be a mismatched grab-bag of Bohemian hip. To those who know her, it was apparent she made no effort to wear a costume and really conjured up the Olive Oyl thing on the spur of the moment. This is one of the benefits of the truly off-beat; they keep us all guessing.

Lu Lu Gilkey, undoubtedly the most popular of the party-goers, came dressed as Daisy Duke from The Dukes of Hazzard (or barely dressed if you overheard the whispered, catty remarks). However, the always-gracious Janet Cupples, decked out like Mary Poppins, took one look at her and commented, "Lu Lu, if I had legs like yours, I too, might risk wearing those short-shorts in public." Lu Lu laughed at the compliment, tossed her hair back and gave her one of those fake Hollywood hugs that aren't really hugs at all, more like half-hearted efforts at saying howdy. Still, most of the men in attendance would have been quite appreciative of the howdy gesture if it was practiced on them.

My costume was the irascible Yosemite Sam, while my wife's was the beguiling Glinda the Good Witch, a couple of characters drawn from our historical plays where characters from varied venues allow themselves to travel through time in a quest to find true love. Essential to each of these characters was Yosemite Sam's stage-pistols and Glinda's two-foot long acrylic wand, tipped with a glitter-encrusted silver star. After a brief showing, the pistols and wand were set in a corner of the dining room, forgotten, while we doted on the whims of our guests. Towards the end of the evening, the party took a turn to the dark side when the pistols and wand disappeared. It was a queasy feeling knowing a thief lurked among the masqueraders.

The pistols and wand were cumbersome items but could be smuggled out the door if stuffed in someone's pants. There were plenty of suspects, lots of baggy pants as well as a few limps, both real and character-driven. After scrutinizing the crowd for guilty looks, the whole lot of costumed pillagers appeared suspect. I reminded myself to check each and every one of them off any future party list.

It was clear the only trustworthy person was Lu Lu; her outfit left no room for smuggling anything but a couple of M&Ms. So I took her into my confidence and asked for help. Her quick reply was, "Leave it to Lu Lu." As the guests were leaving, she positioned herself near the door and began giving each person one of what she calls her special "remember me, goodbye-hugs." It was more of an embrace, with her leg doing some provocative exploring in and around the pant-leg area. There were no objections to Lu Lu's departing gestures, and in fact, many of the men casually dawdled near the door, ensuring their turn at a special goodbye.

When all the marauders departed, Lu Lu presented me with a list of seven people scrawled on a cocktail napkin. "Here's your suspects," she said with pride.
-Dr. Spock
-Indiana Jones
-Poncho Villa
-The Tin Man
-Daffy Duck

"There was something hard in the pants of each and every one of these characters," she said.
The question begged to be asked, "No female suspects?"
"I don't know where you got your guest list, the library maybe; a bookish bunch of gals, not exactly the pilfering type. The men, on the other hand: very suspicious, possibly secret lives; satellite families in Brazil, off-shore accounts. Not a straight-shooter among them, except maybe Daffy, if he'd learn to keep his feathered paws to himself."
" How," I asked, "could there be seven offenders when only three items were taken?"
"Maybe," she paused, "there's other stuff missing. Maybe you've been robbed worse than you think by those tinsel-town-fakers."
"Well," I said, "there was a roll of dental floss missing, wintergreen flavored. Did you happen to notice if anyone's breath seemed extra minty?"
Lu Lu appeared a little indignant. "I wish you'd told me that sooner; I have a special good-bye smooch that would have closed this case."
I thanked Lu Lu for her efforts and walked her to the door. Upon parting, she turned and said, "Be careful around that bunch. They just might be in cahoots with one another. I'm a good detective. I've watched every episode of Murder She Wrote, and like Angela Lansbury, I know a thing or two about exposing concealed evidence."
Not even a cunning sleuth like Ms Lansbury could argue with the techniques of a seasoned, helpful gumshoe like Lu Lu.