It began twelve days before Christmas. That’s when Bernie gave me the bird. In a way, I can understand him. He fills out one of those “Win Your Holiday Turkey” contest slips at the neighborhood deli. Only who’s to know the prize was alive?

Of course Bernie turned to me. He knew I had experience slaughtering and dressing animals from my having grown up in New York City. So he leaves the big white thing tied with a shoestring to my front door knob, along with a bag of seed and a note wishing me merry giblets.

I let it in. What else can I do? But I have to tell you: I never knew turkeys were that big. I mean I’m used to them on a cutting board, in pieces. And this one is a real gem. At least a fourpoint tom. And the gullet:  a halfpound dewlap minimum. I figure it will last through two jars of mayonnaise easy. Only thing a little strange: the bird is white, from tail feather to top comb.

I’ve got a tiny balcony to my second story apartment.  So I stretch a little turkey wire around it, and bed the bird down.  I tell it my plan:  I’ll fatten it up, give it the life of Reilly for a couple of days, then kill it, dress it down and maybe even mount its rack…with plenty of time leftover to find the best recipes for poached poultry.

My cat, Anastasia, a Maine coon cat with a beautiful plume for a tail, is quite perplexed by the new lodger, but keeps out from under claw.

As I go to sleep that first night, something tugs the back of mind.  But I put it to rest, assured by the prospect of a Christmas feast, and knowing that the bird was still alive.

On the tenth day before Christmas, I am beside myself with glee.  The bird is eating everything in sight.  If he gets much bigger I’ll have enough to serve heart shaped turkey patties for a romantic Valentine’s dinner.

As I look closely at this huge awkward thing, I have this nagging feeling again…like I’ve seen it somewhere before.  Then it hits me.  “Baretta.”  Now some of you may not remember the television series of that name.  That’s too bad, because it was one of the great bachelor epics.  A bachelor police detective lives alone in a kind of fleabag apartment building.  To perk up his life a little, he had this bird, a kind of big white parrot named Fred.

When I look at the turkey, I can’t help but see the resemblance.  A little bigger, maybe, but resemblance nonetheless.  So I decide to call him Fred in honor of the TV show. I want us to be on a first name basis before our relationship is…severed, so to speak.

Meanwhile I sharpen my log-splitting maul.  I figure I’d do the deed out on the porch the next day.  The temperature’s dropping and if I’m lucky, I’ll have the bird flash frozen in no time.  I like to freeze all the turkey parts I don’t plan on using Christmas Day — all except the giblets.  I don’t like the taste — or even the idea — of giblets.  I’m not even fond of the way the word sounds.

But what the heck, Anastasia can tear ‘em apart, as long as I don’t have to deal with them.

That night, I fortified myself with a prune and rum yogurt fizz and girded my loins, figuratively, for tomorrow’s task, because, after all, the bird was still alive.

The next day began early.  At 3 AM I heard noises from the balcony, kind of a Morse code-like tapping.  It was Fred, freezing out there, pecking at the French door with his beak, asking to be let in.  I figure, why not?  A last request from the condemned…so I relent.

The bird snuggled up by my feet while Anastasia kept to the pillow.  I felt surrounded but kind of good, warm at both ends.  In the morning I felt closer to Fred, and I realized things were getting too friendly.  I needed to give the bird a new moniker, a name that would allow me to keep a slight hostility towards him, so I could perform the deed with detachment.  I change his name to Nixon.

As I whet the ax, I whet my appetite with visions of cranberries nestled on white meat.  Nixon is ensconced in the pile of logs near the fireplace, pecking on wood mites.  I see in his eyes that he’s definitely not going out on the balcony again…ever.

I wanted a meal, not a house guest, but I allow as he deserves one more day.  I plan the execution for first light on the morrow and let him enjoy the sound of crackling logs as long as he can before he gets rotisseried over them.  I sleep peacefully, ax by my side.  I knew that we are getting closer to that romantic moment when the cat knocks down every ornament I own just before she and I exchange gifts, and after all…the bird was still alive.

On the seventh day before Christmas, I learned a lot about poultry behavior.  I didn’t know turkeys could move that fast.  Turkey trot indeed.  Nixon was in the Argentinean tango league.

I was trying to explain that to Agatha, my 88-year old neighbor as I extricated the business end of the ax from the wall above her sink.  Luckily I missed the water pipes. Unfortunately, I missed Nixon too.

He holed up in the fireplace after that and wouldn’t close his eyes all day.  Which was all right with me — it took that long to let the plaster set and the paint dry.  I felt I owed Agatha something, so I promised her a drumstick.  Of course, Nixon was in no mood to talk drumsticks, because, after all, that damn bird was still alive.

On the sixth day before Christmas, I made the decision to hypnotize Nixon, and THEN commit the crime.  Of course, you are all familiar with this process with poultry.  Simply draw a straight line on the ground in front of a fowl, he looks at it for a while, and then, VOILA, instant catatonia.  The bird is immobile.

I guess it was the thud of the next morning’s newspaper hitting the front door that finally woke me.   I couldn’t figure out how I had fallen asleep standing up in front of a line on the floor.  Or how I had misplaced a whole day!  I mean it was the fourth day before Christmas, and the Bird was still alive.

But the new day brought new ideas.  Drugs.  I would drug the bird and place his inert neck across the block.  I hand painted some Valium capsules to resemble prime grubs and placed them strategically near the woodpile.  Nixon took the bait.  Limp as a sack of dew-laden grass, he folded easily across the upended log. I raised the honed steel…

Whether it was the cat’s scream or the sight of a turkey lurching up full speed at me while spitting out undissolved pills from under its tongue that caused my aim to veer, I’ll never know.  I finally found Anastasia’s tail on the coat rack.  She looks good as a Manx — anyway I got her retail in the first place.  But you couldn’t say I wasn’t worried.  I mean, after all, THE BIRD WAS STILL ALIVE.

On the second day before Christmas, I would have no more of it.  I hadn’t used the shotgun since boyhood, but who could miss at three feet?  As I pointed the muzzle at Nixon’s eyes, I couldn’t help but think of all the Bambis in all the forests all over the world.  Just as I was about to relinquish my feast to sentiment, the bird dove for my trigger finger.  The gun veered crazily and the last thing I recalled was the deafening roar of both barrels discharging at once.

Neighbor Agatha says there’s always something to be thankful for.  If it hadn’t been for the turkey, she says, I might have ended up eating alone.  Of course I had to invite her over.  You’ve no idea what buckshot does to a microwave, even when it’s slowed down by a couple inches of sheetrock.

So we chowed down together for a strictly vegetarian celebration on Christmas Eve.  Actually there was an advantage.  When we needed something I didn’t have, we could step right through the opening and get some of Agatha’s china, at least the pieces that weren’t shattered.

Of course, the landlord came by to assess the damage.  He kept yelling that he doesn’t allow barnyard animals…only the occasional pet.  Agatha and I wondered to whom he could be referring.  At table on Christmas Eve, there were just the four of us:  Anastasia, Agatha, me, and Fred, my albino blue heron.



After Agatha left through the hole, I sealed it as best I could with duct tape and junk mail, while the animals cleaned up the table.  A storm brewed outside.  I was waxing poetic, and decided to take pen to paper:

‘Twas the night before Christmas

and all through the flat,

Not a sound to disturb us,

Not one single spat.

Anastasia purred softly,

Fred by her side,

I whipped up dessert,

While underwear dried.

I felt selfindulgent and boring as hell;

When all of a sudden I heard the front bell.  It rang again.  Feigning indifference, I answered.

She must have been 80 years old.  She looked brittle and her skin was the color of burnt filo dough.  Despite the wind howling, I could hear her creak.  And she smelled like the bag lady of Hanford’s reach.

I figured she was OK though, since the animals lit on her like she was a prize fish carcass.

“Come in,” I offered.

“I am in,” she said, brushing past me.  She dumped herself and her load of paper bags on the living room couch.  “Could I have something to drink?”

I brought her water.  She took the tattered scarf from her mottled hair and removed her shoes.  Her feet were parched and leathery.

I was going to ask her to make herself comfortable  but by then, the question would have been redundant.  Not wanting to appear impolite, I explained that while I was only too happy to provide this momentary shelter from the ravages of storms, I was expecting company first thing in the morning and therefore…..I let the sentence glide to an extended landing.  I was more than a little startled by her response:  “So am I,” she said flatly.

She chortled through what appeared to be three good teeth in an otherwise cavernous mouth, and promptly nodded off, Fred perched on her arm, the cat serpentined in her meager lap.  Perplexed, I pondered the possibilities.  I could call the home for the bewildered. No, they might think I was just trying to get rid of a delinquent, ancient relative.

I could leave, take in a show and stiff drink and hope that she’d be gone by the time I returned.

I could wake her up and tell her my hovel had been invaded by killer wasps drunk on lutefisk and lefse.  Or that crazed penguins were ready to leave the cracked bathtub in search of human flesh.

The amazing thing was that I knew nothing about her, yet felt perfectly comfortable in her sleeping presence.  I rifled through her bags in hopes of discovering just who she was, and  God forbid  the ominous nature of the “visitors” she was expecting in the A.M.

One bag contained several dried fish, some bread and wine.

Another loomed empty.

A third bulged with the detritus of civilization.  She must have rummaged through the back alleys of the world. There was a guide to Uruguayan beers, a pamphlet outlining 98 uses dead circuit boards, a doityourself kit on doing it yourself, a conversion unit for turning tap water into wine, manifestoes, recipes, elk horn buttons, unfinished sentences, bottled screams and a bandolero from the Gaza Strip.

My consideration of these items was interrupted by the sharp crack of her guttural voice:  “So, what is it that Timmie wants for Christmas?”

First, let me tell you, no one, but no one, except my Mom on days when I was awful, has called me Timmie since early childhood.  Second, how did she know my name?  I had the bizarre feeling that happens to you when you first realize that thousands of eyebrow mites live out their life cycle on your face without your ever really feeling them.

“How do you know my name?” I demanded.

“Just a stab in the dark,” she retorted.

And then a wild inspiration hit.  I garbled, “Now wait a minute, you just didn’t guess  you knew who I was.  Are you S SSanta Claus  the real one?”  She said nothing, so I plunged ahead.

“I mean a lot of people think of Santa as male, fat and bearded, but that’s probably just some guy from central casting.  You’re really the one, right?”

I wondered if the reindeer were parked on the roof.  I could barely contain my excitement.

The hundreds of lines that marked her face crinkled in merriment, her liquid eyes sparkled with the knowledge of a thousand Christmases.  For an instant, a simple, radiant beauty poured through her wrinkled smile.  I suppose I could have stared at the depth of that smile forever if the door hadn’t quite suddenly opened.

Three ragged and haggard mudridden men entered and sat on the floor beside me.  They, too, had bags filled with the remnants of eons:  astrolabes and tool tables, fishing gear and stuffed hawks, pieces of eight and pieces of wit, sandy shells as tiny as drops of mist, a pharaoh’s footstool, bits of old dreams, leviathan teeth, an ancient slingshot, an ageless rose.

They smiled in acknowledgment and talked with the old woman in a language I once knew but have long forgotten.  They lit incense and offered her gifts of greeting.  All through the stormy night they talked, softly and with purpose.

At dawn they bundled up in long woolen topcoats, and with the woman, trundled off towards the East.  The bags of goodies were gone.  They left the empty one for me.  To fill.  I found Anastasia purring at the bottom of it.

The bird, the cat and I stood on the porch and watched them mount the hill.  To Bethlehem.  To Gethsemane.  Again.  I wondered how many times we would have to see them climb it before we found peace.  I closed the door and inhaled deeply.  Myrrh and frankincense cloaked the morning air.

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Directions and How Not to Give Them

When you’re on the road and you want to see countryside you’ve never seen and get to know wide, unfamiliar vistas just outside your windshield, all you have to do is ask for directions. Unfortunately, I have found that people are much better at asking for directions than giving them. And I’m not just talking about husbands and wives here. In small to midsize towns across this country, directions can be, well, fuzzy.

Me: “So how do I get to the reservoir park from here?”

Local: “Easy. Go straight down this road until you get to where the Dairy Queen used to be, then you make a hard left.”

Me: “I’m not from around here.”

Local: “Well, I won’t hold that against you.”

Me: “What I mean is that I don’t know where the Dairy Queen used to be because I wasn’t here to see it in the first place.”

Local: “You missed a good thing. Especially Wednesday nights.”

Me: “I bet. But for the left…is there another landmark?”

Local: “Hmm….usually you can see Butch Seeker’s dog, Diablo, out on the porch about a block before then.  You can’t miss him – big black lab/bear blend that runs right up at you frothing at the mouth ‘til he reaches the end of the chain, and then his feet just fly out from under him.  Kind of funny really.  After you see Diablo, make the hard left in about a block.  Can’t miss it.”

Me: “What if Diablo isn’t outside?”

Local: “What do you mean?”

Me: “Well, his owners might have him inside the house.”

Local: “That’s a good one. His owners won’t let Diablo inside the house. He’d tear it apart. You should see the yard. Come to think of it, you will see the yard. Diablo is one of the reasons the Dairy Queen moved. So after the torn up yard and your hard left, you just keep on goin’ until you….

Me: “Wait a minute.  What do you mean “hard left.”

Local: “As opposed to easy. Believe me, this left ain’t easy. You got to work it. If you don’t, if you arc real soft around that corner, your right front tire will hit a pot hole the size of a wagon wheel, and stay there.”

Me: “Got it. After the left?”

Local: “You can’t miss it.”

Now there’s a phrase I’ve heard a thousand times.  “You can’t miss it,” – the epithet of direction givers. Of course 90% of the time, they’re wrong.

And you can’t depend on GPS when you’re touring.  I was in Winnemucca once and was following the GPS directions to what I thought was the theatre, when all of sudden, the robot voice intoned: “I don’t know where you are now, Tim.  No one from Google has ever mapped this area.  Trip Advisor sent several scouts here in the late 90s, but none ever returned. Get me out of here.  Take three hard lefts and step on it. That’ll get you back to the hotel.  You can’t miss it.”


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I’ve lost my “brisk!”

The AMA recently declared that walking was a great way to get into and stay in shape and may add years to your life. However, in the report, they stipulated that “brisk” walking was needed to assure the best results.
In taking my daily walk recently, I discovered one unalterable fact: I have lost my “brisk.” If I ever had one. No, I would characterize my walking more as a “trudge.” Or perhaps a “plod.” Luckily I don’t believe I have reached the zenith of aging walks: the “shuffle.” I think, and hope, that “shuffle” comes later. I probably have to go through “slog” and “shamble” to get to “shuffle,” so I think I’m safe for a while.
My wife, Love, has put forth a perfectly simple theory. She says that slowing down is probably connected to the midsection of the body, and that you have to be able to see your feet in order to move them into the brisk gear. I have to admit: when I stand straight and look down, I cannot see my feet. At first this little test caused me quite a bit of consternation. I thought perhaps I had misplaced them, or left them at the foot of the recliner, as I do my slippers. Or perhaps my feet were still in my slippers, not wanting to come out of their warm morning abode.
I was somewhat mollified by the discovery that if I breathe in…deeply…and hold my breath, and look straight down, I can make out the occasional toe or three. Although I can’t distinguish at all what they’re connected to.
Love also suggests that the midsection in question has increased in girth as my eating has increased in speed over the years. She remarks that perhaps the expansion is due to my not chewing well, and finishing my meals in about ½ the time I used to take. I simply attributed the stomach growth to the natural process of losing the sharpness of my teeth over time, forcing me to absorb larger and larger pieces of food.
However, it now occurs to me what has really happened. I have simply moved my brisk from my walking to my eating. That’s where I put it. Well, time to trudge. Talk to you later.

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Say What?

Say What? I have just discovered that I am going deaf. No need to panic. Evidently it’s only selected frequencies I can’t hear any more. When I went to my otologist (Yes, that’s what ear docs apparently like being called) at Costco….I tend to do most of my medical examinations at Costco….he informed me about those frequencies.

Together, otologist Joe and I went through them one by one. Of course my wife was present….she would never let me go to Costco by myself, are you kidding. The one time I did go by myself, some 15 years ago, she made me return every item. Of course I had just unloaded the van, so I had to reload, and re-unload in the Costco parking lot. Not as easy as it sounds when you’re grappling with a 17 foot canoe, a 46-inch TV and a 12 piece stainless steel patio set with sunken pool.

You should know that I call my wife “Love,” not because I can’t remember her name but because once, in a moment of total exhaustion, I called her by my first wife’s name, “Lulabell.” (This was before I began calling my first wife “evil.”) Unfortunately the mishap occurred inside a Costco store across several aisles and my voice carries pretty well. Love sounds a lot better.

At any rate, Love was with me at the Otologist’s as he went over the results of the hearing exam. And lo and behold, as he began to listen to my wife’s questions about those missing frequencies, he determined they were exactly the same frequencies my wife used for speaking. Unbelievable coincidence! And what’s more he revealed that he had the same affliction….but the unheard frequencies were those of his own wife, Jezebel.

He also opened his file cabinets to reveal a drawer full of husbands suffering the same malady! This introduced me to a whole new world, so I began listening more closely to the couples and families around us and discovered that men can lose the frequencies of almost any women in their family:  mothers, sisters, wives and even daughters.  Who’d a thunk?

Love is not quite so convinced. As a matter of fact, since this episode began, I hardly see her anymore at all. She seems to spend a lot more time “out.”

When I ask where she’s been, she says I couldn’t hear her anyway, so why tell me what she was doing? Well actually, she didn’t say that last part…, she had it written down on a large whiteboard she has affixed to the refrigerator. The one that tells me what she wants me to hear each day.

Well, I gotta stop. Love’s iPhone just told me it’s time to go to Costco.

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The First Time (Conclusion from Blog #1)

April, 2012 Yikes, have I been remiss in my flogging. Actually my agent, Thor, now tells me it’s Blogging, not flogging, but then again, Thor doesn’t have to write them. I wanted to finish my account (Blog #1) about the first performance of a McManus show, in Sandpoint, Idaho, October 2, 1992! The theatre was packed, about 95 degrees, and Pat had his shotgun out in his van if I embarrassed him.

So I begin the show in less than ideal conditions, and a strange thing happened:  people laughed, laughed from the first lines, and then they laughed harder!!  They laughed so hard that it discombobulated me completely. Remember, I’m on stage alone, playing 15 different parts, and trying to recall the lines to a play that Pat had completed only a couple of weeks earlier.

So, the laughter comes over me like waves pounding on the shore.  And I was the shore! Pound Pound!  I was actually thinking to myself:  “Please stop laughing.  I’ve got to concentrate up here and I can’t think when you’re laughing so much.  Stop It!”

And in the middle of a story, 20 minutes into the show, that’s what I did.  I stopped.  Completely lost.  I was sweating because of the heat, I couldn’t think because of the laughter so I stopped.  I kind of bent over, held my hands up to my chest in a gesture of giving up and I said something like “This has never happened to me before,” and I then left the stage.  One audience member yelled out:  “Go take a break, look at your script, and we’ll still be here when you get back.”  That comment was both reassuring and terrifying.

Later people would tell me they thought I was having a heart attack, but they decided to stick around and see how it came out anyway.

Meanwhile I had moved to the parking lot behind the theatre where there was shade and I collapsed on the ground.  A nurse had run out of the theatre after me, apparently thinking I needed medical attention and she found me, sitting on the asphalt, propping up a brick wall with my back.  She blurted out:  “I’m a nurse and I don’t think you’re having a heart attack!”  Good news.

Then my director, Jack, and my wife, Leslie found me and ever the diplomats, questioned me:  “What do you think you’re doing out here?!  You’ve got a show to finish.”

I replied:  “Give the money back.  I’m not going out there.  Are you crazy?”

Jack:  “Tim, what’s the problem?  They’re laughing real hard!”

Tim:  “That’s the problem!  I can’t think of the words, because their laughter keeps interrupting me.”

Jack:  “That’s pretty much the point of comedy, isn’t it?”

Tim:  “I hadn’t thought of that.”

During the discussion, Jack and Leslie led me back to the wings of the stage, one on each side, pulling and pushing.  I begged them to refund the ticket money, and then a strange thing happened.

I felt a “presence” grab me by the elbows, almost as if it was directly behind me, and I was “moved” forcibly but gently onto the stage.  Then I felt a shove on my back. I was facing the audience.  I turned to look behind me to see who was there, and the space was empty.  Nobody.  Eerie.

I looked at the audience, they settled down, and I said:  “That’s the last time I eat lunch in Bonner’s Ferry.”  (Bonner’s is a neighboring and rival town.)

That got a laugh, and I went on with the show.  I have forgotten entirely what happened from that moment until I was bowing to wild applause some 90 minutes later.

In the weeks that followed I tried to reconstruct the rest of that evening.  No luck.  Just a blur.  I talked to some friends about this strange “presence” because it was powerful, calming and frightening at the same time.  One friend asked me what name came to mind when I thought of the presence.  I blurted out immediately “Emmanuel.”  Now, I’m not what you’d call a seriously well educated Christian, but after a little research I discovered that the name itself means “God with us.”  I took that as a good sign.

I guess it was then, with that touch, by that presence, that I really felt I was doing the right thing, at the right time in the right place.

Le me know if you have felt that?  Thanks for listening.



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