Once Upon A Time, in a small village in Norway, there lived two cats named BooBoo and NotBooBoo. They worked in an ice factory sawing up the fjords into little cubes suitable for cooling tall drinks that the locals enjoyed while sitting on high bar stools, staring at large color televisions imported from Japan showing images of other cats in other lands doing odd things that would pass for entertainment, but was really just a diversion from the more mundane attributes of everyday life and couldnt be considered entertaining in even the broadest possible definition of the term. However, it satisfied the cats who preferred to spend their spare time sipping iced drinks in dark bars watching the insipid trash until their brains were incapable of individual thought.
BooBoo thought the whole idea a supreme waste of time. Why, he asked aloud one day to no one in particular, which was just as well because the saws made so much noise as they chewed through the fjords that no one would have heard him anyway, do I continue to follow along with the mindless majority and spend my time staring blankly at those damned color televisions imported from Japan, doing neither myself nor the general public, except the Japanese consumer electronics conglomerates, any good?
He watched the huge silver blade cut through the white-blue ice spewing fountains of slush across his denim jeans. The roar and squeal of the machinery was overwhelming. His mind wandered through his head, opening cupboards and peering down dark holes looking for an answer but it was so irritated by the general din flooding into it that it eventually gave up and sat in a corner, sulking.
NotBooBoo, who was cutting fjords not far away, looked over at BooBoo and saw him lost in thought. At least, he assumed his friend was lost in thought. BooBoo often had a distant look on his his face and more often than not it was the result of too many tall iced drinks the night before and his mind was actually vacant. NotBooBoos mind began to wander as well, floating along the sea of noise in a small paper boat. The shores were covered with aluminum foil and tall spires made of popsicle sticks reached heavenward as far as the eye could see.
Damn flashbacks, he mumbled, looking over his shoulder and trying to focus on the sign posted next to the first aid kit on the south wall that read Do Not Read This Sign. He read it again, trying to figure out if he'd read it right the first time and, deciding that he had, read it again out of spite.
The hours dragged on. It seemed to both cats that the days of the week were longer than the weekends through some ironic twist of fate, or was it that the clocks ran slower at work? BooBoo checked his own wristwatch, observing the second hand click from digit to digit and counting each tick. NotBooBoo leaned against his saw with renewed vigor thinking of the tall iced drinks and color televisions at the local hang out that awaited him. He could feel the cold, sweating glass in his paw already. He could see the flickering images play across the 27-inch screen mounted some distance up the wall so that he had to crane his neck to see it. He loved to sit as close as possible to the screen so that he could see each individual dot of color before they combined to form a picture. He was stupid that way.
Finally the bell sounded signaling the end of the workweek. The saws wound down until the silence was deafening. BooBoo merely stood and stared at the saw, dreading the coming evening. He was determined not to spend any more time as a slave to television and tall, iced drinks. NotBooBoo approached him, pulling the heavy gloves from his paws.
Ready? he asked, putting one arm across BooBoos shoulder.
Im not going.
BooBoo turned to look NotBooBoo in the eye. Im not going out tonight. Im going to the forest.
What for? The forest? NotBooBoos voice was so full of incredulity that the words fell to the floor, bounced once and sat in soft lumps against his shoe.
Im sick and tired of doing the same damn thing every night, night after night. Its Cheesemas Eve, you know? I cant believe theres nothing better out there than than sitting on high bar stools, staring at Japanese color televisions and drinking tall iced drinks.
Are you sick?
No, Im not sick. Havent you ever wanted to do something else besides...
No, I havent, he retorted. I like sitting on tall bar stools. I like watching Japanese color television. I like drinking tall, iced drinks. Its traditional. What do you think we do in here all day? Where do you think these little cubes of ice go?
Thats my point. We spend all day in here cutting these little cubes of ice out of the fjords and spend all night sticking them in tall glasses and watching them melt. Doesnt that seem a little pointless to you?
Like I said, I like it.
Well, Im tired of it.
But... the forest? Whats in the forest?
I dont know. So Im going to find out.
Tonight? Cheesemas Eve?
BooBoo removed his gloves and hat and started toward the door. NotBooBoo watched him go for a minute, shook his head and trailed after him.
The night was crisp. The stars hung close to the Earth and the sky was as black as something really, really black like, oh, maybe a car or a pair of shoes, only much blacker than that. Really, really black in other words. A full, round moon sat against the curtain of stars and a breeze blew in from the sea as the cats wandered along the gravel road leading to the forest. They passed several other cats along the way, each one pointing out that they were heading the wrong direction. BooBoo replied only I know and NotBooBoo shrugged helplessly.
The forest loomed before them. The trees swayed softly, rustling like well-starched clothes. They reached toward the sky and spread their limbs wide. The moon shone down like a blue beacon, filtering its light through the branches and sparkling on the forest floor. BooBoo stopped at the aperture to the forest, sniffing the wind. NotBooBoo stood nearby, kneading his paws open and closed.
This is dumb, he said. BooBoo merely glanced at him and started ahead into the glade. His mind was full of anticipation and curiosity (which is often the case where cats are concerned). The trees bent ominously as the darkness swallowed them up.
BooBoo heard the sounds first, as he was more alert than NotBooBoo and hadnt spent the last few hours carping about all the drinks he was missing and what an impossible lame idea the whole thing was.
Shut up a minute, he told NotBooBoo, and motioned for the other cat to be still. It was a small chirping sound, like a cricket. But it wasnt repeating itself at a normal rate and seemed to come from everywhere at once.
What? asked BooBoo.
That clicking noise?
The one that sounds sort of like a cricket?
Coming from everywhere all at once?
I dont know.
The clicking became more distinct, moving about the forest like moths around a patio light on a moonless night in the summer in a place where there are lots of moths. BooBoo had never actually seen this phenomena so he didnt make the connection and simply thought the clicking noises were like clicking noises since he had never been very good with metaphors. Perhaps a roving band of marauding barbers was roving toward him, preparing to cut his whiskers to tiny, useless nubs. He swallowed hard and looked at NotBooBoo.
NotBooBoo was staring at a pair of conifers standing to one side of the glade. Rather, he was staring between the two pines.
Shh! warned NotBooBoo, whispering needlessly. Somethings out there!
Well, duh, responded BooBoo.
Will you shut up?
Suddenly, the trees erupted as a bevy of Norwegian quail suddenly took flight. The forest silence was shattered as birds and beasts from every corner suddenly began bellowing, chirping, hissing and making an assortment of beast noises. BooBoo and NotBooBoo grabbed each other and watched in horror until, at last, a tall figure emerged into the glade carrying two long, sharp, shiny blades. It held one knife in each hand and it was continually passing the edge of one against the edge of the other like a chef might do. There is probably a precise word for this action, but I dont know what it is.
The cats cowered closer together as the figure approached, the sound of the knives ringing through the night air. NotBooBoo closed his eyes and shivered uncontrollably, visualizing his own death at the hands of this blade-wielding assassin. BooBoo tried to focus through the darkness, squinting at the figure until a wash of overwhelming relief allowed him to unclench his sphincter and untense all his cat muscleswhich one might have described as cat-like in manner but since he was a cat, it wasnt cat-like but catand relax all at once.
The Cheeseman, he whispered.
What? asked NotBooBoo.
The Cheeseman, he repeated, a bit louder.
NotBooBoo, like all cats who worked at the ice cube factory, as well as their fathers and mothers, and their fathers fathers and mothers and their mothers fathers and mothers and so forth until it becomes insanely repetitious had heard of The Cheesemana fabled being who roamed the world during Cheesemas passing out raw eggs and small cubes of cheese to the good little kittens and bits of tar-smeared burlap to the bad little kittens. BooBoo and NotBooBoo, like most cats, had stopped believing in The Cheeseman after they were a year old. There were still foolhardy souls who had maintained that The Cheeseman was real, but they were mostly stupid cats who also believed that cars were living things and that one may foretell the future by hitting oneself over the head repeatedly with a sock filled with peanut butter.
The Cheeseman approached, a wide grin on his jolly face. On his back was his fabled Sack Of Unlimited Cheese from which he would pull large wheels of hard, medium and soft-ripened cheeses and slice small cubes and wedges to leave beneath the Cheesemas Tree on Cheesemas Eve, or pour puddles of extremely runny cheeses into representations of the Great Lakes. Around his waist he wore The Belt Of Burlap and a small, foul-smelling pot smoldered at his hip.
The Tar Container! exclaimed NotBooBoo.
The Cheeseman! said BooBoo.
The Cheeseman stopped in front of the cats, hoisted a large brick of edam from his sack and cut the cheese. And we're talking literally, not figuratively.
The cats grinned like foolish kittens and hungrily devoured what The Cheeseman had offered. The Cheesemans face brightened with a wide grin of his own as he helped himself to a wobbly dollop of cold brie.
Good evening, he said. His voice was warm and deep. Like Charleton Heston, only without the guns.
Good evening, Cheeseman, greeted the cats. BooBoos eyes were wide with awe, and NotBooBoo bowed regally.
Nice night. Though a bit warm for this time of year. The cats nodded in agreement. What are you fellows doing in the forest? The question was one of curiosity, not blame.
I was tired of our nightly routine."
Tall iced drinks and Japanese color television? asked The Cheeseman.
Exactly. So I decided to come into the forest. My names BooBoo. He offered his paw which The Cheeseman accepted with friendly ease.
NotBooBoo, said NotBooBoo, and he too shook the previously imaginary mans hand.
Where have you been? Where did you go? Everyone said you were a fake and then you stopped coming. I tried to believe in you, but when I started to think about it, the whole tale did sound rather fishy.
You mean the bit about me living deep in the earth making cheese all year long sos I can carry it around in my Sack Of Unlimited Cheese to give to all the good little kittens?
Yes! And your magic sleigh pulled by eight flying weasels! And your helpers, The Exceptionally Near-sighted Formica Flooring Tiles, who work for you in your underground factory to produce your marvelous cheeses, separating the curds from the whey and compressing the resultant mixture with varying degrees of salt and spices until the consequent food can be called cheese. And Mrs. Cheeseman, who melts the wax to encase the cheese.
And, added NotBooBoo, how you emerge from your cave each Cheesemas Eve, your sack filled with unlimited cheeses, and you climb into your magic sleigh, hitch up the weasels and call them by name; 'On Sidney! On Melvin! On Wilma and Reg! On Barbara! On Kevin! On Blind Lemon Pledge!
Blind Lemon..? The Cheeseman looked dubious.
You know! Blind Lemon Pledge! From the song! NotBooBoo cleared his throat and began to sing:
Then one dusty Cheesemas night,
Cheeseman came to say;
Lemon with your tail so soft,
wont you dust my cheese bag off?
Then BooBoo joined in for the chorus.
Then how the weasels loved him
as they shouted out with glee!
Lemon, the sightless weasel!
You'll go down in history!
Not familiar with that one? BooBoo was squinting curiously.
Not really, although it sounds intriguing. Probably a marketing blitz. Did they sell little stuffed Blind Lemon Pledge dolls?
Yes! With tails that would clean even the dustiest tables!
Hmm. What else do you know about Cheesemas?
BooBoo cleared his throat and began to tell the tale of Cheesemas. NotBooBoo and The Cheeseman sat on a nearby log eating Monterey Jack and Feta.
In the olden days, before Japanese televisions, cats lived huddled together in tribes that roamed the land in search of food and warmth. Often, the rains would come and make their fur wet and slick and they would groom each other for many days without relief.
In those days, cats would often go for many days without nourishing food, subsisting instead on chemically altered food-like sponge cake substances colored brightly, brightly and with cancerous dyes, then wrapped in individual cellophane envelopes and packaged in groups of eight or twelve. Often, the sponge cakes were filled up with a creamy substance that was made of chalk and Elmers glue, sweetened with more chemicals and churned to the consistency of spacklewhich was unknown at that time.
While the cats found these foods, marketed under playful and somewhat embarrassing names, to be filling, there was an unmistakable void in their diet. They yearned for something morea deliverance from this unspeakable, but still tasty, evil.
Then one day, a group of cats had a vision. They had been laying in a sunny spot, napping in the warmth when an angel appeared.
NotBooBoo leaned over and said, This part always gets me.
After a narrowed gaze at the interruption, BooBoo continued. And the angel said Fear not! For I bring you tidings of great joy! The cats were confused. Then after explaining what tidings were, the angel said, On this day, in the refrigerated section of the supermarket near the lunch meats but before you get to the eggs, shall be produced a food. And let this be a sign unto you...
You will find it wrapped in plastic, lying in the dairy section, exclaimed NotBooBoo, his eyes alight with wonder. It shall be priced per pound like meat, though it not be meat. Lo, and it shall be in many styles and flavors, ranging from nutty and sort of runny to salty and as hard as the earth on which you walk.
And the cats were sore afraid, continued BooBoo, and cowered their heads and licked each other. And the angel said, Go now. Be not afraid, for this food is given unto you as a token of affection. And this food shall be called... Cheeses! So three cats...
The Three Wise Cats of the Orient; Meow-Meow, Poofie and Darrell, corrected NotBooBoo.
Oh, yes! The Three Wise Cats went to the store and found the cheeses just as the angel had foretold. And the cheeses were good.
They took unto themselves many styles and sizes of cheese, as many as they could hold, to the holy checkout counter, passing each package reverently over the laser-lit, glass-topped appliance that would chirp happily at the sight of each cheese. Poofie spaketh, saying unto his companions see how thine counter top doth chirpeth? Tis a sign that the angel, Bob, spoke truly. And the other two Wise Cats, who could not recall the angel ever giving his name, simply nodded knowing that Poofie was merely extemporizing in hopes that his words would be marked down and repeated in days hence.
Which they have been, added NotBooBoo.
Then it came to pass, as many things in those days did time and time again, seemingly, that The Wise Cats did take the cheeses and go forth unto the world. The first cat they met was a shepherd abiding his time in the fields. The sheep were particularly happy that he was abiding his time in the fields, and not with them.
The cats approached the shepherd, whose name was Mr. Scruffy, and spoke unto him...
Shepherd! they said, interrupted NotBooBoo, hast thou been abiding long? No, truly, answered the shepherd, My abiding has been wondrously short thus far and I intend to keep abiding for a bit longer if thou must know. The Wise Cats saw that here was a surly and uncompromising cat, prone to sarcasm and cynicism of the worst sort, since those practices were still fairly young and no one was really good at it yet. Since that day, as you probably know, it has developed into a very dangerous weapon in the right hands, and the mystics of the East preach that sarcasm must only be used in times of threat or bad television.
So, continued BooBoo, Darrell pulled forth a cheese and gave it unto Mr. Scruffy. He placed his paw next to his mouth and said, It is not recorded what particular type of cheese was given, and entire religions have developed based solely on this salient point.
The shepherd examined the cheese warily, believing it to be a door stop. At last he said unto Darrell; Why hast thou presented this door stop unto me? Dost thou see a door on yon meadow, good cat? As NotBooBoo has already pointed out, sarcasm in its infancy was not very entertaining and widely misunderstood. Darrell, who was not yet learned in the way of sarcasm, thought Mr. Scruffy was being literal and said, It is not a stopper of doors, but a cheese!
Well, obviously Mr. Scruffy had no idea what a cheese was, but he would soon become one of the first converts and The Gospels according to Mr. Scruffy have become some of the most enlightening and cynical tomes in our language. It is written that Mr. Scruffy was the first cat to ask, No shit?, and this is the actual occasion on which he asked it.
Darrell answered in the affirmative, entreating Mr. Scruffy to taste of the fromage. From the first bite, Mr. Scruffy has hooked, and he gave up sheep-herding, since they were so much bigger than him anyway, and became the fourth Wise Cat.
It is said, remarked NotBooBoo, that there was in fact an entirely different fourth Wise Cat who tasted of the cheese before Mr. Scruffy. However, scrolls revealing the reactions of this cat, who may have been called Pete or Petey, were completely stupid and humorless and he was rejected some time later by the original three Wise Cats and replaced with Mr. Scruffy, who has always been called The funny Wise Cat. Pete, the legendary fifth Wise Cat, is rumored to have become a podiatrist and has forever rued the day that he could not think of anything more pithy to say than What?
Now we celebrate the first day and call the celebration Cheesemas. And the holiest of cheeses, the Swiss, is sliced very thin and served on rye bread with a nice hot mustard and maybe some salami.
And now, said BooBoo, we come to the story of The Cheeseman. HeI mean youmakes all the cheeses in your factory beneath the ground. With the help of your band of Exceptionally Near-sighted Formica Flooring Tiles, you process the milk fats in giant vats, several miles long, salting the curds and gathering them in huge cheesecloths made by The Cheesecloth Fairy.
Your wife, Mrs. Cheeseman, is in charge of dipping the wheels and balls of cheese into thick, red wax to seal the flavor. Then, just before Cheesemas, you hand-pick some cheeses to be blended and processed. These cheeses are molded into logs and balls and rolled in sliced almonds or other nutmeats and are given as gifts on Cheesemas.
On Cheesemas Eve, you gather all the cheese into your Sack and pile it into your sleigh. You harness the magic flying weasels and travel around the world that night, leaving cheese underneath the Cheesemas Tree.
And on Cheesemas morning, said NotBooBoo, rising from the log to join BooBoo in the glade, we all get up and share the joy of Cheeses, and sing its praises.
Yes, agreed BooBoo, we sing Cheesemas Carols!
The Cheeseman scratched his chin and said, Like Lemon the Sightless Weasel?
Yes. But most of them are very old and tell about the birth of cheeses.
Or the Three Wise Cats. Or the dairy section of your grocers freezer.
How do they go? asked The Cheeseman. Are there any about me?
And then the cats began to sing the songs of Cheesemas...
BooBoo began, raising his voice in song:
It came upon a midnight clear
That glorious song of old
Of Angels bending near the Earth
To tell of flavorsome mold
Piece on the plate, good sliced on bread
With mustard and ham on rye
Theres nothing better than melted cheddar
With spicy apple pie
Then it was NotBooBoos turn.
Here comes The Cheeseman
With his sack all filled with cheese
But his burlap belt where the tar does melt
Will be giv'n if hes displeased
Here comes The Cheeseman
In his magic flying sleigh
Bringing wheels of joy to each girl and boy
On this wondrous Cheesemas Day!
And so they went, each cat offering another Cheesemas Carol...
Joy to the world!
The cheese has come!
Let ev'ry cat rejoice
Eat Swiss and Cheddar eagerly
Spread Brie on crackers meagerly
Stick toothpicks in the cubes
And suck some cheese from tubes
And sing, and sing, with phlegmy voice!
Silent cheese, holey cheese
Serve with wine, if you please
Good in celery, great by itself
Find it on your grocers shelf
Eat each lovely piece...
Savor each lovely piece
Dashing to the store
Running down the aisle
Looking for some cheese
With a happy smile!
Shopping cart is filled
Making spirits bright
What fun it is to eat some cheese
On every single night
O! Cheddar cheese! Cheddar cheese!
Good with thin-sliced ham
Serve it to the Japanese
Eat it with some Spa-am!
Danish Bleu, Camembert
Swiss and Jack and Brie
Feta, Gouda, Muenster, too
Parmesan and me!
We three cats of orient are
Baring cheeses bought at the store
Not bombastic, wrapped in plastic
Slice it and eat some more
Cheese of wonder, Cheese so fine
Eat it with your favorite wine
Spread on crackers all you snackers
Cheese makes you feel so good
God rest ye merry cheesemakers
Let nothing you dismay
Remember that The Cheeseman comes
On every Cheesemas Day
To gift us with our favorite cheese
So we dont have to pay
Oh, oh, tidings of cheddar and brie
Cheddar and brie
Oh, oh, tidings of cheddar and brie
The Cheeseman clapped and laughed, his belly rolling like a bowl full of cottage cheese, and the cats came to sit down before him on the pine needle-covered ground.
Tell us your real story, asked NotBooBoo.
My real story?
About how you came to be the Cheeseman...
And Mrs. Cheeseman!
And the weasels!
And your Exceptionally Near-sighted Formica Flooring Tiles!
They shouted gleefully at him until he silenced them by placing large wedges of white cheddar in their paws. They happily stuffed their faces, for they were still quite hungry, and listened intently as he spoke.
When I was young, which was many, many years ago, I lived among my kind in a land of mystery and magic called California. It was a strange, haunted land where people starved themselves to look more attractive and applied oils and unguents to their skins to accentuate the effects of the suns rays in order to make themselves appear darker. This was the fashion, and no one thought it odd in the least.
There were so many people in that land that even the simplest tasks became torturous. People began accosting each other with deadly weapons for the merest personal affront. I was shot three times when I accidentally put a postage stamp on an envelope upside-down. You had to plan on going to a movie that wouldnt be out for three years by purchasing tickets via phone in order to assure yourself a seat. Half the time the movies entire plot had changed and your favorite star was hawking beer on Korean television by the time... But I digress.
Suffice it to say that I had grown weary of that life, and my job did not compensate me sufficiently to continue purchasing ammunition in order to survive trips to the Laundromat. I resolved that I would go into the mountains and find a better life away from the gray skies and glowing, surgically altered bodies of California.
I had planned on living in a commune that raised ecologically-friendly bedding materials made from recycled tires and Men of Chippendales calendars, but by the time I arrived it had been taken over by The J. Paul Getty Museum and was being plowed under to make room for a new wing dedicated to a collection of erotic bronzes from the 5th Dynasty and a selection of paintings by some new artist made from his own dung. The commune members were all working for DuPont, researching new things to do with all the unwanted defense parts in Lancaster. Last I heard they were constructing a radio signal telescope in hopes of contacting intelligent life on a newly discovered planet made entirely, according to NASA scientists, of green shag carpeting.
I traveled north, then, toward Canada. Have you ever been to Canada?
Both cats shook their heads.
Its fairly dull, but dont tell the Canadians that or they'll start spouting French at you and calling you things you dont understand. I spent a few years there, learning how to knit and staying with a girl in Calgary at the Stampede with the biggest set of... saddle bags I ever had the pleasure of... Anyway, she turned out to be a lesb... a less than amiable partner and we parted ways not long after we met.
The Cheeseman paused with a look of remembrance in his eyes and sighed before continuing.
I decided that I enjoyed the colder northern climes and began to sport a beard all the time, both because I thought it looked becoming and because I was growing fatter by the minute and wanted to hide my growing collection of chins. I arrived at Hudson bay in the dead of winterFebruary, I believeand set myself up in a cabin at the edge of the giant inland sea to await the spring thaw.
It was here that I would begin my journey to become the man you see before you.
The cats leaned forward eagerly, fully engrossed in The Cheesemans tale.
As the winter waned, the melting ice began encroaching its way into my living room. I attempted to patch the roof with pine sap and lichen, but that was wholly unsuitable. I subscribed to the Time-Life Book of Home Repair series and took their recommendation to use another substance... He reached behind himself and pulled forth a wooden-handled tool smeared at one end with hot, black pitch.
Tar! shouted the cats in unison. The Cheeseman grinned and nodded.
Yes. I had to order it by mail also, since there were no Home Depots in those days. L.L. Bean had a special in their catalog for tar, and I ordered what I thought was enough to patch my roof. Evidently, the clerk at the 800 number misinterpreted my order and in four to six weeks, three tons of tar arrived at my door. At first I was going to send some of it back. Then I thought, 'Why, there must be millions of uses for tar!' and decided to keep it. Turns out theres actually very few uses for the damned stuff, apart from roofs and driveways and such... Live and learn, he concluded philosophically with a shrug, replacing the smearing tool in his hip flask.
So, there I was fixing my roof when what do you suppose I heard? He paused, raising an eyebrow, waiting for an answer.
A Ray Stevens Medley? BooBoo asked. The Cheeseman shook his head.
The sound of one million light bulbs being simultaneously dropped into a vat of eggnog from a height of approximately 47 feet by the entire population of Montana? Again, The Cheeseman shook his head.
The cats took turns suppositioning the holiday figure:
The agreeable tapping of a finger on cardboard as the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle in put in place?
The loud scream of a hedgehog who has inadvertently cut his tongue on the edge of an envelope he was licking in order to seal it so that it may be promptly delivered to his ailing Aunt in Pensacola?
The annoying thumping caused by the bouncing of a knee owned by an overly anxious young suitor forced to meet the parents of his date while eating creamed corn fritters against the underside of a table?
The unique and somewhat unusual squeal of Perellis on a rain-slicked road as a 1993 Ferrari Testarosa comes to a sudden stop at the unexpected sight of a small urn of human remains on the outer lane of the turnpike leading to Reading, Pennsylvania?
The scratching of insect feet on onion skin following the accidental crash of an entire Ant Farm from the top shelf into the vegetable crisper?
Each time, The Cheeseman indicated the negative until the cats had exhausted their queries. I heard something overhead.
That was going to be my next guess, protested NotBooBoo.
I looked up, and what should I see but a collection of weasels flying in a V-formation toward the South. Im quite sure I dont have to tell you how surprised I was.
Flying Weasels, nodded BooBoo, knowingly.
Oh, no. I'd seen flying weasels before after drinking a whole bottle of Jaegermeister. I had never in my life seen the V-formation though! Very majestic, it was, and as I stood up to get a better view I caught my heel on a loose shingle, losing my balance and tumbling toward the edge of the roof and a broken limb of some sort, as I impacted with the frozen tundra.
How invidious! cried NotBooBoo, looking up from his pocket Thesaurus.
I cried out, Help! Help!, knowing that there was no one around for many miles. But when one is tumbling headlong toward the edge of a roof, flailing tar all about, one does not consider such things.
Suddenly, just as I was dropping over the side toward certain pain and numerous insurance claims, I felt myself being lifted up and realized that the flock of weasels had grabbed me in their little weasel claws and were flying me down!
The cats eyes grew wide in amazement. The Cheeseman retrieved another slice of cheese for each as he continued his tale.
When I reached the ground, already somewhat surprised by this turn of events, I was doubly surprised when one of the weasels spoke. Now, understand, speaking weasels are not all that unusual, as you know if you've ever visited Washington D.C. But this weasel spoke with a clipped British accent, sounding almost entirely but not exactly like Sir John Gielgud!
You will be all right now, he told me in that butlerish voice, adding, You were lucky we happened by. I, of course, agreed with him and invited the entire flock inside for tea and ham sandwiches.
We introduced ourselves, and Im sure you've guessed by now what their names were...
The cats nodded vigorously, realizing that these were the famed seven flying weasels minus the marketing blitz known as Blind Lemon Pledge.
The leader of the group, or at least the one who did most of the talking, called himself Sidney, for that was his name. The others you already know about so I wont repeat them. I asked Sidney where they were going and he said they were migrating to the U.S. because they had just signed a deal with Sid & Marty Krofft for a Saturday morning TV show based around them. I informed him that the Kroffts had long ago fallen from grace and had not had a hit since the hey days of HR Pufnstuf and The Banana Splits.
This troubled him greatly, especially since they had a Pay-Or-Play contract with riders for a cut of all the tie-in merchandising which, he was assured, would include everything from the inimitable poseable Action Figures to birthday party paper goods and artificially Weasel-flavored popsicles. He was perturbed about his deal and wondered why his agent had never mentioned the Saban connection.
I offered to let him and his troupe stay over in my cabin, which was the least I could do considering that they had very probably saved me from a lifelong nickname of 'Gimpy'. He agreed, intending that they would return to their ancestral home in the North in April.
We formed a quick friendship and, as you know, they are still with me.
He paused a moment and BooBoo asked, But what about the cheeses? And Mrs. Cheeseman? And the Exceptionally Near-sighted..?
The Cheeseman motioned with his hands to remain calm and added, Be patient. We'll get to that. He rubbed his chin, looking up into the clear, starry sky and continued. After a few months, the weasels said they were going home and asked if I wished to join them. Since I had no pressing engagements, I accepted.
They flew on ahead and I made travel arrangements with my agent in Moose Bluff. The only airport near the weasels home was still a goodly distance off so I rented a snowmobile for the journey across the Arctic wastelands.
The weasels lived on a vast estate shrouded by a glacier in a secluded valley.
The Cheesemans Castle, murmured BooBoo reverently.
I asked Sidney how they had managed to acquire such a place. and he explained that he had bought Microsoft short in the middle 80s after Barbara got a hunch about the market for AT clones and read about the DOS licensing agreement Gates had wrangled. Anyway, they invited me to stay and I agreed.
Things went swimmingly for a time. Cheesemaking was just a hobby back then, and the weasels let me use a small shed they had previously kept gardening tools in since they couldnt abide the smell of the fermenting cultures. I had a variety of mammals that I milked and used for horticultural experiments best left unmentioned. One summer, Ken decided it was time to re-tile the kitchen. Wilma, I think it was, suggested using marble or slate, but the installation costs were prohibitive and marble is so cold anyway.
We phoned up ColorTile in Toronto and placed the order. The tiles arrived along with the installer who turned out to be a womanmy future wife Caroline whom you know as Mrs. Cheeseman.
He reached into his back pocket, standing slightly as he did so, and produced a worn, black leather billfold, flipping it open for them. Inside was a ragged picture of a young woman with brown eyes, her hair teased to its limits, dressed in an off-shoulder red velvet top with white fur trim. Its one of them glamour shots, he explained. She got it at the mall in Ontario City a couple years back.
The cats ooh'd and aah'd over the false, sluttish beauty portrayed in the photo before The Cheeseman refolded his wallet and stuck it back in his pocket.
The moment I saw Caroline, I was hooked. Nothing for it. The way she handled a spackling blade... her knowledge of grout... He sighed contentedly. She began installing the tiles that same day. It was a sort of Arabesque inlaid design in cream and brown. I protested that it would make the kitchen look dingey, especially after Wilma had just resurfaced the cupboards in beech. And, in the long run, it wouldnt matter a whit.
Caroline worked very quickly, but it was dark when she was done and the weasels and I invited her to stay. The following morning, we all realized that a miracle had occurred.
Now when I say miracle, that is just what I mean. Not a miracle like you might read about when Christmas lights are screwed in at a particular angle in relation to the particular pattern of plaster on a wall resulting in a shadowy figure that could just as easily be the silhouette of a yak eating an artichoke while playing a banjo as it resembles the profile of the Blessed Mother of some savior you happen to believe in. His voice grew hushed. No, Im talking major Hollywood movie special effects miracle. And no cheap one eitherthis was a top-o'-the-line ILM miracle!
The cats mouth hung open in anticipation. The Cheeseman lowered his voice to a whisper and said, The flooring tiles were gone! All of them! Vanished! And do you know where we found them? Both cats shook their heads slowly, like animitronics from Its A Small World. In the tool shed, making cheese!
The Cheeseman clapped his hands and his eyes shone with tears as he remembered that morning.
There they all were, lined up along the edges of the trough, raking the curdled milk and pouring in salt. The room stank to high heaven with the joy of their processes.
How did they do that?
BooBoo repeated, How did they do that?
How did they do what? asked The Cheeseman.
How did the flooring tiles make cheese?
The Cheeseman knitted his brow. Why, just like anyone else in the world. You heat the milk until it curdlesnever boil it. Then you let it sit until it smells really horri...
No, I mean, how did they do it without hands?
Yeah! And how did they walk over to the shed and stand there and make cheese? They're flooring tiles! Flooring tiles dont have limbs! added NotBooBoo.
Or eyes! included BooBoo.
Or brains, even! They're just, well, flooring tiles!
Look, I said it was a miracle, didnt I? You always go around questioning miracles?
NotBooBoo pointed his thumb at BooBoo and said, He does, to which BooBoo nodded.
Well, these flooring tiles were very Disneyesque, personified like animals in a cartoon so that you might, if you were gullible enough, go home and begin talking to your floors like idiots, expecting them to respond in kind. As if the flooring tiles were alive, when we all know they cant possibly be...
This is very discomfiting, said BooBoo, replacing his pocket dictionary.
Imagine my reaction! I was standing there watching it for real! You're just hearing me tell it and making up parts you cant see in your heads!
I picked up a flooring tile and examined it. It looked like any flooring tile you might find at a... uh, flooring tile store. It didnt move or talk or anything. But when I placed it back in line, it took its little place and resumed its cheesemaking.
Shut up. Anyway, after a time, I saw that the curds were not well-positioned and concluded that the flooring tiles, through another random act of universal peculiarity, were all exceptionally near-sighted.
So they had eyes?
Shut up. The outcome of this happenstance was, for whatever reason, that the resulting cheeses were exceptionally tasty and full-bodied. By the way, did you know that cheese makes any meal better? You can melt it and pour it over broccoli! You can put it in the hollow of celery stalks! So, next time you're looking for a quick snack...
Dont forget the cheese! they all screamed loudly, succumbing to yet another Madison Avenue brain-washing.
It was not long after, continued The Cheeseman, that we became aware that the exceptionally near-sighted Formica flooring tiles were making far too many cheeses for me, Caroline and the weasels to consumeespecially since the weasels werent big cheese fans in the first place. Even if we had made cheese the only item on our diets, which would have killed us in a short time by clogging our collective major arteries and would have been quite dull anyway, there was no way we could have eaten them all. Caroline couldnt stand the smell of the resting cheeses after a short time and devised a method of using the gallons of floor wax she had with her to encase the untouched cheeses.
One day, Sidney came to me and said, Look, if you dont do something about those God damned flooring tiles and their cheesemaking, you'll have to leave and take them with you.
Oh my, said NotBooBoo, How troublesome!
But who could blame him? By this time we had cheese stored in every nook and cranny in the houseand cheese does not freeze well.
The cats began salivating as they imagined the towers of cheese. This was entirely unattractive and The Cheeseman gave them some creamy Muenster to appease them.
It was Carolines idea to load up her truck with some cheese and give it away. Coincidentally, the U.S. Government had also begun to load up trucks with surplus cheese which was of poor and inedible quality and everywhere he went, no one would take our cheese thinking it was governmental surplus. Plus the floor wax covering lent an odd taste after a while...
Imagine! said BooBoo.
The Cheeseman nodded sagely. We returned to the weasels home and were resolved that we would have to pack up and leave when Ken had an idea. He had previously worked in the marketing department at McDonalds Corporation and knew how to package unsavory foods in agreeable packages that would make people crave the most horrible... But I digress.
He said, Lets encase the cheeses in colored waxes, red or something, and load it into something besides a truck so that the consumer doesnt confuse our cheeses with the governments. I said, What could we load it in? Of course you know, it was a sleigh. And, contrary to popular belief, its not a Magic Sleigh. When not in use, it just sits there.
Anyway, Sidney volunteered the weaselssome of whom were far from enthusiasticto pull the sleigh that first time to save money. We packed some of the cheeses, and off we went.
It was quite exhilarating to fly through the air with the greatest of cheese, I must say, added The Cheeseman. The cats groaned audibly. Now, every year I load up the sleigh again and the weasels and I fly all over the place leaving gifts of cheese under Cheesemas Trees in every living room, except when we come to a house where bad little kittens live, in which case we trash the place.
And from that day to this, we have all lived happily on the estateme, my wife, the flying weasels and the exceptionally near-sighted flooring tiles, making cheese and inventing new ways to air out the cheese factory in the Arctic circle without wasting valuable BTUs.
After telling his story and to thank them for serenading him with the Cheesemas Carols, The Cheeseman dug into his bag and withdrew a wondrously beautiful cheesethe likes of which the cats had never seen.
What is it? asked BooBoo, his eyes wide.
This is the most precious cheese that I carry. It is rare and delicious!
Its so tiny!
Its made from the milk of bees.
Bees milk? I didnt know bees had milk!
Thats because, explained The Cheeseman, nobodys ever tried milking them. But this is the result. This small cheese is made from the milk of 100 entire hivesover a million bees!
Golly! exclaimed BooBoo.
Gosh! exclaimed NotBooBoo.
Yes? the cats said in unison.
It is said to have magical powers.
Who says that? asked NotBooBoo.
I did. Didnt you just hear me. You were standing right there when I said it.
It is said...
...that if you make a wish and eat some of this cheese, your wish might come true.
Might come true?
How lame! Any wish might come true.
No way! I could make a wish on that pile of pine needles and it might come true. I could wish for a new car while sitting on the toilet, and it might come true. I could...
I get the point, said The Cheeseman.
Might come true. Sheesh!
Well, I was going to give it to you, but if you feel that way about it...
BooBoo cupped his paw over NotBooBoos mouth and said, We'd be most appreciative of such a gift, regardless of its dubious wish-fulfilling nature.
The Cheeseman handed the Bees Cheese over to the two cats. Then he slung his sack across his back, gave the pair a smile and a wink and disappeared back into the forest. They heard him whistling Here Comes The Cheeseman for a long time, the tune drifting through the night until it faded out completely and they were once again alone.
So, concluded BooBoo. He looked at the small cheese in his paw, considering it carefully. NotBooBoo gingerly removed BooBoos other paw from his mouth and started to speak, but BooBoo interrupted. I know what you're going to say.
Cant I say it anyway?
What would be the point?
I like the sound of my voice. It has a lilting, Bing Crosbyish croon about it.
'Bing Crosbyish'? Is that a valid adjective? Could I say this cheese is Bing Crosbyish?
Of course not. Bing Crosbyish only applies to certain things like hats, haircuts, golf tournaments and voices. On the other hand, if the cheese was shaped like Bing Crosby...
Which is very clearly is not.
Unless Bing Crosby was actually much rounder and wheel-shaped than I remember.
BooBoo considered that for a moment and said at last, All right. Say it.
That, said NotBooBoo, pointing toward the direction where The Cheeseman had disappeared, was the most asinine man I have ever met.
Actually, I didnt expect you to use the word 'asinine'.
It fits though, doesnt it?
Mostly. BooBoo looked at the cheese again. A heavenly aroma was seeping into his nostrils, and he assumed it was the cheese. He lifted the small wheel to his face and breathed deeply, letting out a long, contented sigh afterwards. Even if it doesnt grant wishes...
He said it might.
...it smells wonderful.
Lets eat some!
No, lets put it on the ground and stare at it for a while.
BooBoo carefully broke off two tiny bitefuls. Should we make a wish anyway?
What could it hurt?
Should we wish aloud, or keep it to ourselves?
Aloud. That way if the wish comes true we'll both know it.
Okay. Uhhhh, I wish... Um. Lets see. I wish...
Make it good, advised NotBooBoo.
BooBoo stood staring at the cheese for a few moments before NotBooBoo asked, "Whats wrong?
Im bad at this.
How is that possible?
Its just a thing. Like an allergy.
Its nothing like an allergy! Thats a horrible analogy!
Its the standard 'allergy analogy'. Im surprised you havent heard it before.
Whats analogous to an allergic reaction?
Lots of things. Plane crashes...
Uh, grilled cheese sandwiches.
So, two things are analogous to an allergy. And from this I should infer a standard allergy analogy?
Arent you going to ask me how a grilled cheese sandwich and a plane crash..?
No. And in answer to your next question, because I dont care.
And if you crash a plane into a grilled cheese sandwich...
Would you just shut up and wish for something?
The cat stared at the cheese slowly melting in the warm palm of his paw until his reverie was interrupted again by NotBooBoos voice. I cant believe you cant think of a single thing to wish for! Dont you want anything?
I wish I knew what to wish for...
Dont! But it was too late. BooBoo popped the Bees Cheese in his mouth, slapped his forehead and knew exactly what he should have wished for.
Shit, he summarized. Then his eyes went wide as he slowly understood that his wish, as stupid as it was, had come true.
Was it good?
BooBoo looked at his friend quizzically before realizing that he was asking about the cheese itself which, in fact, had been perhaps the most delicious morsel he had ever tasted. He was saddened that he had not relished it at the time as he nodded forlornly.
And your wish..?
He sighed, his shoulders sagging. It came true.
What would you have wished for?
I would have wished that Bob Hope would've awoken tomorrow to find that he had turned into a ficus.
I hate Bob Hope.
NotBooBoo looked at the remaining piece of cheese in his paw with amazement. BooBoo said, It could have just been a coincidence, too. I often wish that Bob Hope was a large house plant. Maybe I just sort of remembered it after I ate the cheese and it wasnt the cheese at all.
But if it was...
Then what The Cheeseman said was true.
But, added NotBooBoo, he only said it might grant wishes. Maybe it'll grant yours since it was so stupidsorry, but it wasand it'll just ignore mine.
Only one way to find out.
NotBooBoo grinned and nodded, saying in a reverent tone, I wish...
Be careful! admonished his friend.
Im not gonna wish I knew what to wish for, so dont worry. And Im not gonna wish for Bob Hope to turn into a leaf-dropping tree, which I also consider vacuous in the extreme.
Just... be careful.
NotBooBoo motioned to BooBoo placatingly and looked upon the hypothetically magical cheese again. He took a deep breath and said, I wish for peace on Earth, good will toward cats.
He ate the cheese.
What was that? asked BooBoo.
Peace on Earth, repeated NotBooBoo, moving his mouth around the cheese as he spoke, good will toward cats.
I thought you said Peas and soup, bread mill warden, fat.
What the hell does that mean?
I dont know! You said it!
I did not!
Well, it sure sounded like it.
Regardless of what it sounded like, that is not what I wished for.
BooBoo twisted up the corner of his mouth doubtfully, then asked, Now what?
The two cats stood there awkwardly staring at each other for a while in the dark, cold air of the glade before NotBooBoo said at last, Are you finished with this odd obsession? Can we go back and have tall iced drinks and watch Japanese color television now? He glanced at his watch, adding, I think I have time to squeeze in one last Screwdriver before last call if we hurry.
BooBoo nodded in resignation and began moping out of the clearing, re-entering the dusky deciduous forest. NotBooBoo watched his friend for a moment before following after. I dont know what you're so glum about, he said, we had an adventure just like you wanted...
That wasnt an adventure, he protested numbly. We just met a here-to-fore imaginary non-trademarked holiday character, sang a few songs and heard a few stories. Whats adventurous about that?
Would you have preferred to sit on the high bar stools watching reruns of 'Cheers' all night?
Of course not.
Its justI wanted something remarkable to happen! I wanted to be involved in something totally unbelievable! To see something extraordinary!
I think it was... began NotBooBoo, but his voice trailed off and he stood quite still on the makeshift trail leading back toward town.
What..?" asked BooBoo.
Shhh!" commanded NotBooBoo, I hear something!
BooBoo stopped and listened also, hearing a tuneful whistling coming from their left, back toward the glade.
Do you think its The Cheeseman?
I dont know, answered NotBooBoo.
The whistling grew more distinct as the whistler approached.
What should we do?
I... Look!" NotBooBoo pointed through the trees toward an approaching figure. A very large shadow passed between the branches and brambles, walking purposefully toward the cats. It was was huge and moving with a steady, shambling gait.
What the hell?
Run!" advised NotBooBoo sensibly as panic overtook him, and he illustrated this point by suddenly dashing off down the trail. BooBoo stood dumbfounded for a moment before speeding off after him.
They ran along the trail, glancing back to see if the figurewhatever it waswas following after. It was difficult to penetrate the gloom of night between the trees and they could not tell if what they saw was the threatening figure or merely a trick of the shadows and moonlight, but fright had overtaken them and they ran heedless of direction.
Can you... see anything?" asked BooBoo when at last they paused to catch their breath.
NotBooBoo glanced back and wiped his brow as if he was sweating. But since I dont think cats sweat, this seems to be a really odd gesture. But seeing as how it fits here... I cant tell, he answered. BooBoo started to run again but tripped over an exposed root and collapsed to the forest floor, his chest still heaving.
What was it?" he yelled, his eyes hugely round.
I dont know, NotBooBoo said as he wandered down the trail to help his friend up. But it was big and I think it had a knife.
I didnt see a knife.
I did. A big, shiny knife. I could see it glinting in its hand.
BooBoo closed his eyes and swallowed hard. His breathing grew less labored and he turned, looking past NotBooBoo into the forest darkness. Can you hear anything?
NotBooBoo held his breath and closed his eyes, straining his feline ears to hear anything. The night was nearly silent except for the rustle of leaves on the path and the sound of insects in the trees. No, he whispered.
BooBoo relaxed and began laughing, thinking about how idiotic they had probably looked running heedlessly down the trail. NotBooBoo joined in then, throwing his arm over BooBoos shoulders.
Hey! Stupid cats! called a voice suddenly. They both froze and turned to see a man standing where NotBooBoo had fallen into the mulch just moments before. He was hugely fat, wearing a dark uniform of some sort. There was white powder on his outfit and a long-bladed serrated knife in his hand. Whatd you run away for?
The cats stared open-mouthed at the apparition. The man shook his head and walked toward them. He had a gun belt around his ample waist. Stupid cats, he said again.
BooBoo and NotBooBoo held each other and shuddered as the man approached, fearful that he was a homicidal maniac or something worse, although what could be worse that a homicidal maniac packing a gun and carrying a knife in his hand was hard to imagine at that point.
Wha... What do you want?
Me? Nothing. He stood before them now, with the distinct scent of flour emanating from his person. Which one of you guys is, uh... He reached in his jacket pocket producing a small piece of paper, unfolded it and read. NotBooBoo?
NotBooBoo raised his paw meekly.
Here. The man shoved the can he held in his other hand toward the cat. NotBooBoo merely stared in horror at the man and his can. Well? Take it, he said, nearly shouting. I have work to do and I cant stand around here all night!
NotBooBoo reached out tentatively toward the man as he shoved the can into the cats open palm. Hell, he concluded, you guys are really weird.
What is this?" NotBooBoo asked. And who are you?
My names Twigg. Im the night guard at the bakery.
Isnt the bread scared with you not around to protect it? asked BooBoo.
Very funny, wiseass. He placed his hand on the holster of his gun, his fingertips caressing the weapon tenderly. Its a very important job. You'd be surprised at how often bakery burglaries occur.
No doubt, answered BooBoo. Why, I have often awoken in the middle of the night craving a pumpernickel or seeded rye and contemplated robbing a bakery. But somehow I always knew there was some loyal, brave bakery guard at the ready to blow my brains out the minute I set my hand on a loaf...
What, repeated NotBooBoo, holding up the can, is this?
Its a can, answered Twigg unnecessarily.
What, responded NotBooBoo with the utmost patience, is inside?
Split pea soup, answered Twigg.
Why, asked NotBooBoo, looking at the can and knowing the answer to his next question before he asked it, are you giving this to me?
The bakery guard shrugged. Some weird guy smelling like tar gave it to me and said I should give it to you. Said it was some sort of joke. Gave me fifty bucks and promised to watch the bakery while I was gone.
So, concluded NotBooBoo, you are a bread mill warden. Correct?
And he is fat, added BooBoo.
Hey! No need to get personal!
And this, continued NotBooBoo, indicating the can now in his possession, is peas and soup.
Pea soup. Yeah. Twiggs face twisted into a look that clearly illustrated that he was done with this interrogation, then he simply turned and walked back into the forest, disappearing through the murk.
Shit, said NotBooBoo.
I told you thats what you said.
I did not!
Then explain this, BooBoo said, pointing at the can of soup.
Shit, NotBooBoo repeated. He shook the can lightly, listening to the gurgling liquid slosh thickly inside. This is embarrassing.
A gentle snow was beginning to fall. The feathery flakes drifted softly through the tree limbs and began dusting the dark forest floor like powdered sugar. Lets go, suggested BooBoo, placing his paw on his friends shoulder and leading him back up the trail.
Some Cheesemas this turned out to be, resolved NotBooBoo.
At least you got some soup out of it.
And we both ate a lot of really good cheese, added NotBooBoo hopefully.
It was good, wasnt it?
They walked in silence through the forest toward the glowing lights of the city. The snow continued to drift earthward as the sound of Cheesemas Carols floated through the night toward them. It was now well past midnight.
Merry Cheesemas, BooBoo.
BooBoo smiled and looked at NotBooBoo. Merry Cheesemas. Still want that drink?
All of the sudden, answered his friend, I have this craving for pea soup.