Friday, September 24, 2010
Some of you who know me well may recognize this little guy as Leroy. He is a character I have been drawing for some years now and he has proved very popular among my friends and family. I for one have grown very fond of him over the years, which is why I decided to introduce his story to this collection. Now, obviously, this isn’t exactly a “fairy tale” in the strictest sense, but I don’t think Puss in Boots or Red Riding Hood will mind letting Leroy into the club. Because if the Dreamworks movie Madagascar has taught us anything, it’s that nothing saves a mediocre story like penguins!
do not know if you have ever been to Antarctica, but if you have not, I have some advice for you: Do not go to Antartcia. Trust me, you will not enjoy it. There’s just nothing to do there. I mean, like, really. Nothing. There’s nothing there! I don’t mean like all the bars and hangouts and stuff are lame or you can’t get good Chinese food, I mean there is literally nothing there at all!!!
Well, no, I guess there are two things: Ice and penguins. But that’s about it.
I can tell you about ice, it’s cold it’s hard and it’s easy to slip on it and fall on your butt (which hurts). It’s white and boring and, I don’t care what they say about global warming, it’s not getting’ any toastier down there. Which means that Antarctica has only one thing going for it as a tourist location, and, to be fair, it’s a pretty good draw:
And what’s not to love about penguins? Cute and cuddly, yet dignified and noble. Classy in both dress and demeanour, and, as you can see, possessed of an excellent sense of humor:
I never get tired of that!
Not only hilarious pranksters, penguins are dreamers. Oh yes, for, you see, deep within the heart of every young Antarctican penguin, there is a single, burning desire. A most sincere wish. A great passion and a dream which guides us through the dark nights of our native Antarctica.
And it’s this: To get the heck out of Antarctica!
As I said, it’s no fun. And for an ambitious young penguin with dreams that don’t fit on an ice floe it’s darn near intolerable. No libraries, no cinemas, no bookshops, no coffee bars, not even a Wal-Mart for flip’s sake! If it weren’t for those guys who came down to work in that weather station, I may never have even seen a book! I mean, they were real nice to me, they…Oh, I’m sorry. I think I forgot to tell you something:
I’m a penguin.
My name is Leroy, and this is my story. I guess, to look at me, you wouldn’t think I was too remarkable. I’m kinda short, maybe a little chubby, black, white, birdlike. But if you took the time to get to know me, I like to think you’d be able to tell how special I am. All my life, I’ve felt different from other penguins. Not just because I don’t like fish. Not just because I’m not a strong swimmer. Not even because of my asthma (which we just called the “Wheezing Sickness” cuz we had never heard of it before). It was something else that set me apart from my fellow birdies. True, we all would have liked to see something besides Antarctica, but I felt there was something bigger out there. But whenever I tried to explain what was in my heart to the other penguins, they just looked at me like I was crazy.
Heck, for all I knew, I was!
But then those weather station guys turned up and shared their books and music and we even had movie night every Wednesday. I’ll never forget the first movie we ever watched, mainly because it was the first movie I ever watched…like ever. You probably know it: It’s about a girl in Kansas who goes over a rainbow and ends up in another world. I was transfixed! Here I was, a simple penguin, dreaming of a world that I had no proof even existed, and this movie comes along and says everything I’m thinking more clearly than I ever could say it myself. Now, granted, at the end she goes back to Kansas, but that doesn’t realy help the point I’m trying to make, which is this: I had to get away.
I begged Carla and Abrams (the weather station guys…which, thinking about it, I guess was a little misleading, cuz Carla’s more of what you’d call a “lady,” but I always called them “the guys,” so, ya know) to take me with them when their experiments were over, but they said no. They said they had a job to do and it was done and they had to go home. They couldn’t exactly take back souvenirs, they said, but they did leave me one. Carla’s a doctor, you see, and she noticed I had trouble breathing when I got too excited, so she used some of the medical supplies to make me a crude inhaler, and taught me how to use it.
So, for the record, I had no hard feelings toward Carla and Abrams. They were good friends and I understood their position about not taking indigenous persons (penguin or otherwise) back with them. How could I hold a grudge against such nice people? Letting me hang out and watch movies in their station, making me the inhaler, lending me the paper and pen with which I ultimately wrote my tearful goodbye letter to my friends and family before zipping myself in Abrams’ duffel the morning of their departure.
Looking back, I totally get why they were so mad at me.
Of course, by the time they noticed I was there, we were in the air, past the point of no return. They yelled, I yelled, they yelled louder, I yelled as loud as I could, I couldn’t catch my breath, I passed out for a few minutes and when I woke up, Carla was cradling me in her arms singing my favorite song from my favorite movie and we were all friends again. But now the question became what they were going to do with me. I mean, they would have gotten in trouble just walking me through airport security. Although, I maintain it would’ve been pretty funny:
TSA AGENT: Do you have anything to declare?
ABRAMS: Just this penguin.
Still, in the interest of simplicity, I snuck back into Abrams’ duffel and stayed as still and quiet as possible until the heat was off. As I write this, I admit being slightly ashamed of how I came to America. I mean, I was, for all intents and purposes, an illegal alien. All I can say is that, at the time, it seemed like my only option. You see many penguins applying for green cards?
Anyway, when Abrams finally unzipped his duffel, we were in his apartment in Chicago, Illinois. “Welcome to your new home, Leroy,” he said as he led me to the window. And there, for the first time, I saw the United States of America. The tall buildings, the fast cars, the lights, the sounds, the music, the people. I felt how Dorothy must’ve felt when she and her friends saw the Emerald City for the first time. And in that moment I knew that Abrams had been right: I was home.
I stayed with Abrams for about a month. In hindsight, I think it’s fair to say that I was not a great roommate. In my defense, let me just say I was kinda cooped up. I mean, I was used to the wide open spaces of Antarctica. Now I had to spend my days in a one-bedroom in Lincoln Park. I couldn’t leave because, A, I was too short to reach the doorknob, B, didn’t have any money or identification, and, C, I was a penguin, so I had to stay inside all day every day. I mean, I tried to keep myself occupied. I read, I watched TV, Abrams gave me free run of his Netflix account, if I ever felt homesick for the ice and snow, I would just climb into the freezer. Nevertheless, I got stir crazy! I actually started to miss Antarctica, if you can believe that. What I thought was going to be my new home turned out to be just another boring place that I had to get away from.
So, one day, when Abrams had left for work, I put my plan into action. I pushed a great big chair up to the door and climbed on it to turn the knob. It was hard, especially for someone without fingers, but I finally managed to get the door open. I had found an old fanny pack of Abrams and had filled it with a few things I thought might come in handy. A spare key to the apartment, a map of the city, a Swiss Army Knife, a digital watch and about four dollars in loose change I found in the sofa cushions (and my inhaler, of course). I slung it over my back like a knapsack and headed out into the world.
I figured I’d have a quick look around the city and be home before Abrams even noticed I was gone. I managed to get out of the building easy enough, but once I was on the street, things changed. You see, looking down on a city from seventeen flights up is one thing…looking up at it from two feet above the ground is another. The fact that I was a penguin and they were humans didn’t seem to matter when I was with Abrams or Carla. But now, for the first time since I left the South Pole, I saw things the way they truly were. I realized the risk my friends had taken helping me sneak into the country and why it was so important that I stay inside. As giant strangers passed me on all sides, I felt for the first time like what I was:
I didn’t belong in this world and I never could. This was a world made for human beings. There were a few animals, but they were either on leashes, under policemen or scavenging in the garbage. Even the birds could fly away, something I certainly couldn’t do. I began to think about going back to Antarctica. But then I remembered how miserable I was there. The fact is that, even though there was no place for me in this world, I still loved it. I loved the diversity and the wonders and, of course, the movies. And unless Netflix could deliver to my old address, I knew I’d never be happy back there either. But how could I be happy in a world where I would be forced to live as an outcast?
I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried.
Of course people saw me. Lots of people who passed did cartoonish double takes when they realized that I was a penguin wearing a fanny pack on his back and using an inhaler. I can’t pretend to know what they were thinking, but I’m sure they were pretty freaked out. I assume what must have happened is someone took out their cell phone and called the police, because as I was walking aimlessly, trying not to panic, suddenly remembering why Dorothy decided she wanted to go home to Kansas as the end of the movie, I noticed a policeman coming toward me. Now, remember, I was an illegal immigrant who was under a great emotional strain and basically having a pretty traumatic day all around, so I hope you’ll understand what I did next:
I ran like I’d never run before (which, actually, isn’t saying much cuz, when you live on ice, you don’t do much running) and somehow managed to stay ahead of the policeman for about a block and a half. Then I ducked into an alleyway and hid until I saw him run past me. I had gotten away from the authorities, but for how long? I went back out into the street to try and get my bearings. You see, in the throes of my anxiety, I had sort of lost my way and wasn’t sure how to get back to Abrams’ apartment. After a few minutes, however, I knew I was hopelessly lost. There was no other alternative: I had to call Abrams and tell him everything.
Though I didn’t know this yet, Abrams had already arrived home and seen that I was gone. He called Carla right away. They called the police and explained everything. The officer who took their call, Sergeant Hanratty, was very understanding and promised them that he would personally do whatever he had to to bring me home. He called it in and was told that another officer had been called in to pick up a penguin wandering the streets but that he had lost me. Now, still unbeknownst to me, every available police officer in the area was looking for me.
Unfortunately, it would still be a while before I knew any of this. You see, it was getting dark and, being seventy-five percent black, I was becoming very hard to see. And being so small, my voice couldn’t carry over the sounds of the city, so nobody who I tried to ask for help could hear me. It was getting dark quick and I was scared and alone. I had to find some kind of shelter, and fast. So when I saw a young girl walking out the front door of her brownstone to drop the garbage on the curb, and noticed that she left the door wide open, I made a break for it. I didn’t like going in without permission, but I figured these were extenuating circumstances.
This home happened to belong to the Freeman family, the first of whom that I met was the youngest daughter, Moira. She was on her way upstairs to bed, judging by her pajamas, when she spotted me, shivering in the corner.
“Hello,” she said. But I was too scared and upset to answer. I had lost my inhaler when I was running from the policeman, and was having a hard time breathing, let alone calming myslf. Moira must’ve been able to tell that I was having trouble and, looking around to see that her parents weren’t looking, she picked me up and carried me to her room. She laid me down on her bed and pulled the covers up over me. It reminded me of the way Carla cradled me on the plane and sang to me. It made me think of my home. My real home.
“Thank you,” I said, finally able to speak. “I’ve had a very bad day.”
“Did you lose your mommy and daddy?” Moira asked.
“Actually, I…I sort of left them.” And as soon as I said that I started to cry again. You see, this was the first time I had really thought about what I had done. How much it must have hurt my family when I left. I never felt so bad in my life. I was homesick, and scared, and ashamed, and miserable. So I cried like I never cried before. And Moira held me very close. Unfortunately, I must’ve cried louder than I meant to, because a minute later there was a knock on the door.
“Moira?” said the person who knocked. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, Ginny. My friend just misses his mommy.”
“What friend?” and the door was opened by Moira’s big sister, Ginny, the one who had unwittingly let me in her house. When she saw her little sister cradling a sobbing penguin, she…well, I guess she reacted pretty much the same way you would have reacted. “Where did it come from?” she said.
“I don’t know,” said Moira, and she turned to me and asked where I was from.
“My name is Leroy,” I said through my tears. And I told them both my whole story, everything from the day Carla and Abrams arrived in my neighborhood to the moment I ran inside their house. “I don’t know what to do or where I go from here. All I know is I wanna go home, but I have no idea where that is anymore.”
“We’d better tell Mom and Dad,” said Ginny.
“No!” I said. “Please, if you tell your parents they’ll just want to call the police or animal control or something and there’s no telling what will become of me!” Of course now I know that if I’d let her tell her parents, everything would’ve gone much smoother for me. At the time, however, I was clearly not thinking straight. “Just let me stay here for a while. Just until I work things out. I won’t be any trouble. Please?”
Ginny and Moira took very good care of me. They made sure I had plenty to eat, they gave me baths (very shallow baths cuz, again, not a strong swimmer), we played games and Moira and I read stories to each other every night. It’s remarkable to think that we lived like this for three whole days without their parents noticing…of course their parents leaving town for a long weekend probably didn’t hurt.
“Leroy,” Ginny said to me one afternoon while bathing me in the kitchen sink. “Have you given any thought to what you want do?” I had. I had grown very fond of Ginny and Moira and very much liked living with them. But I knew their parents would be home soon and I wouldn’t be able to stay there. Anyway, I was being selfish. My family in Antarctica and my friends in Chicago were worried about me, and I needed to make things right with them. I figured the best thing would be to get in touch with Abrams and Carla and see if they could help me get back to where I belonged.
Luckily, Abrams had written his name and telephone number in the fanny pack I was using, so I was able to call him that very day.
“Hello?” He sounded somewhat shaken when he answered, and I felt a pang of guilt.
“Hi, Abrams. It’s me.”
“Leroy? Oh my God, where are you? We’ve been worried sick!”
“I’m okay, Abrams. I’m somewhere safe, with friends.”
“Friends? What are you talking about, Leroy? Who’s there with you?”
“Moira and Ginny Freeman. I’m at—”
But just then we heard the unmistakable sound of a car pulling up. The girls’ parents were home! If they came in and saw me, it would just lead to trouble. I told Abrams I had to go and would call him back, then hung up the phone. Ginny helped me repack my bag and she and Moira both kissed me goodbye and wished me luck. I hated to leave like that, but I knew I couldn’t be seen. Besides, they’d done enough for me already. It was time to move on.
Of course, Abrams hit *69 almost immediately, but by then I was gone. Mr. and Mrs. Freeman, however, heard the phone and had a very confusing conversation when they picked it up. Though, once again, I wouldn’t know this for a long time, the police arrived shortly thereafter and questioned the girls. They told the truth about everything, and Sergant Hanratty was that much closer to finding me.
In the meantime, I was once again lost and alone on the streets of Chicago. But this time I wasn’t scared. My stay with the girls had reinvigorated me and now that I had a specific goal to work toward, I was much more confident. Granted, I was still uneasy about returning to Antarctica, but at the time I felt that there was no other place for me. Anyway, I was trying not to think that far ahead, for fear of being overwhelmed again, and instead focus on my immediate goal: to get back in touch with Abrams and Carla.
I rounded a corner and heard a strange yet familiar sound: It was music. And not just any music. Someone was singing about troubles that melted like lemon drops and I knew it was my song! My favorite song from my favorite movie! I ran toward the source of the singing and found myself outside a place called Barry’s Pizza. A tall, lanky, loose-jointed kinda guy was outside singing the song and dancing, presumably to attract customers into the pizzeria. There was a sign next to him that said “No tips, please, just come in and order a slice!” But I just stood there and listened to him sing the song. Toward the end of the last verse, he looked down and saw me for the first time. He smiled at me, and even though it was kind of a goofy, lopsided grin, it made me feel good. Made me feel like I had found another friend. After he was done singing, I tried to clap, but, let’s face it, flippers aren’t great for applauding.
“Thank you, little man,” said the singer. “Always nice to play for an appreciative audience.”
“That’s my favorite song!”
“Mine too, little man, mine too. My name’s Elijah. And how may I address you, my new friend?”
“I’m Leroy! And I’d like to come in for a slice like your sign says…but I don’t know if I can afford it.”
“Don’t you worry about that, Leroy. You’re friends with Elijah now. I’m sure we can come to an agreeable arrangement. Why don’t you come on in?”
So Elijah led me into the pizzeria. He and I went halfsies on a large slice of pepperoni while I told him my story (which, I don’t mind telling you, I was starting to get kind of tired of telling at this point)…actually, if I can just sidetrack the narrative just briefly here, I want to explain that this was the first pizza I’d ever had and it remains the most delicious thing I have ever eaten. I have since tried pizza with all different kinds of toppings, including anchovies, which I like, which is odd when you consider that I don’t normally like fish. Anyway, I just wanted to mention what an important experience this was for me…So, once my story and the pizza were done, Elijah said, “Man, oh man, little man. That is some kind of tale of woe you got right there. But, don’t you worry. Cuz, it’s like I told you: you’re friends with Elijah now. And when you’re friends with Elijah everything just seems to work out for the best. Ain’t that right, Barry?” he added, calling out to his boss, the owner of the pizzeria.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever you say, Elijah,” said Barry, who wasn’t really paying attention.
Elijah took me over to the counter and helped me dial the phone. I called Abrams’ number again, but this time Carla picked up. “Leroy?” she said, “is that you?” She sounded as upset as Abrams did, if not more so.
“Yes it’s me. Where’s Abrams?”
“He’s out looking for you, Leroy. You need to come home now, sweetie.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t. I’m kind of lost.”
“That’s okay, honey, we’ll come to you. Can you tell me where you are?”
“I’m in a place called Barry’s Pizza,” I told her, and Elijah helped me give her directions.
“I’m on way, Leroy. But please don’t go anywhere.”
“See?” said Elijah, grinning lke a Cheshire Cat. “What’d I tell you? Everything’s gonna work out for the best. I’m kinda what you’d call a good luck charm, little man. Take Barry here, for instance. A year ago he couldn’t give pizza away in this neighborhood. I come out of a clear blue sky and his profits go through the roof. Barry, tell my little friend how lost you’d be without me!”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Barry, “why don’t you start singing again. At least when you were outside I didn’t have to—” But just then, he looked up and for the first time saw that Elijah’s friend was a penguin. I smiled and waved politely to Barry, but he didn’t return the sentiment. “What’s that filthy animal doing in my place? Get it out of here! Go on, shoo!” Elijah tried to talk Barry down, but he wasn’t listening. He picked up a big broom and swung it at me. Elijah pulled me out of harm’s way at the last minute and ran me outside. He hailed a taxi and put me inside, then gave some money to the driver.
“Take him to Pablo’s on Kowalski Street,” he said to the driver. Then he turned to me and said, “Sorry about this, little man. But don’t you worry. Elijah’s friends are always welcome at Pablo’s. Just tell ‘em I sent you and wait for me there.” Before I could even thank Elijah for all his help, the cab pulled away.
Well, as you’ve probably guessed, I managed to just miss my friends yet again. Sergent Hanratty and Carla arrived soon after I departed (I had no way of knowing that Barry’s Pizza was actually across the street from Abrams’ apartment. I got pretty turned around that night) only to see that I was gone. Elijah told them what had happened and where I’d be. Carla called Abrams (who was driving around town with Moira and Ginny, looking for me) on his cell and told him where I was headed. Then she and Elijah (who, I’m sorry to report, got fired from Barry’s because of me) piled into Hanratty’s car and they all headed toward Pablo’s on Kowalski Street.
Oblivious to all of this was me, sitting in the backseat of the taxi on the way to a place I’d never heard of where I would have to sit and wait heaven knows how long for Elijah to show up and help me find Carla and Abrams again so they could help me go home to a place I didn’t know if I ever wanted to see again after being lost, chased, yelled at and attacked and all this in the space of just under five days. I was so exhausted, both physically and emotionally, that I fell fast asleep.
“Leroy? Leroy? Wake up, sweetie.”
I opened my eyes and there was my mother standing over me. I looked around and I was back in my own room again. “What happened?” I asked. “Was it all a dream? Like in the movie?”
“No, sweetheart,” said my mom. “This is the dream.”
“Oh. I’m sorry I left Mom. I promise I’ll come back as soon as I can.”
“That will make me very hapy, Leroy…but what about you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Will it make you happy? Is it what you really want?”
“Well…to tell the truth, Mom, I don’t know what I want. I wasn’t happy in Antarctica, but I don’t belong here either. Where do I belong? What should I do, Mom?”
“Leroy, my love,” she said, and held me in her flippers like she did when I was just a hatchling, “You should do whatever makes you happy. That’s all I’ve ever wanted for you.”
“What if I never find a place where I belong?”
“What do you mean? You’ve already found several places where you belong. Here with me and your friends and family, back with Abrams and Carla, up in Moira’s bedroom, Elijah’s pizzeria. You’ve made so many friends, and you have such a big family now. That’s where your home is, Leroy. Home isn’t a place. Home isn’t ‘where.’ Home is people. Home is ‘who.’ Home is family.”
“Hey! Birdie! Wake up! We’re here!”
I awoke to find the cabbie poking me with his index finger. I thanked him for the ride and got out of the cab.
When Elijah said I was going someplace called “Pablo’s” I didn’t quite know what to expect. A diner, a bar, a hotel, maybe. Certainly not a nightclub. A long line of people were waiting at the front door hoping to be let in by a bouncer the size of an elephant seal. Now I didn’t like the look of that long line, but I didn’t think it was right to cut either. So I just kind of waited outside on the curb. I was thinking about the dream I’d just had, when I noticed a lot of the people in line were staring at me. I was starting to feel nervous again and since I still didn’t have my inhaler, I tried to calm myself down in another way. I started singing my favorite song. Just softly, to myself. I closed my eyes and imagined opening the door of the farmouse and seeing brightly-colored toadstools and munchkins and a nice lady in a pink bubble who would help me get home…wherever that was.
Suddenly it got very bright. I opened my eyes and saw two cars had stopped right in front of the club and their headlights were blinding me. I squinted and saw lots of people climbing out of the cars and running toward me. by the time I could tell who they were, they were already hugging and kissing me and telling me how happy they were to see me. Carla, Abrams, Moira, Ginny, Elijah and Sergeant Hanratty (who I was meeting for the first time) all took turns holding me and telling me how worried they were.
And I cried again. But this time, in a good way.
That night I was back in Abrams’ apartment with him and Carla. It seems I had missed quite a lot since I’d been gone. Most importantly, things had changed between Carla and Abrams. I guess they had discovered some kind of feelings for each other back in Antarctica, but weren’t ready to act on them. But when I went missing, the shared experience of looking for me brought it out in them. In a weird way, my taking off was a good thing because it brought two people together. Not just two people, come to think of it. Elijah, The Freemans, Hanratty. All of my new friends. That’s when I finally realized what my mom was telling me in my dream. Here I thought I had no home, but really I had lots of homes. One home for every friend.
Speaking of my mom…well, it turns out she and the other penguins were as resourceful and determined as my human friends. When they got my note they all banded together as a team. They went to the now abandoned weather station where Carla and Abrams worked and somehow (to this day I’ve never understood how) got the communications back up and sent a message. It got relayed to a sister station in New Guinea, then was routed through Beijing, Moscow, London, New York and finally to the lab where Carla works in Chicago. The message, which she read on the very day that Abrams came home to find me gone, went like this:
DEAR LEROY, WE ALWAYS KNEW YOU WERE TOO
GOOD FOR ANTARCTICA. DON’T FORGET TO WRITE.
WE LOVE YOU.
Do I miss them? Of course I do. But they’re still with me in other ways. And it’s not like we don’t keep in touch. Besides, a lot of them have left Antarctica and now live in zoos all over the country, and I visit them all the time. In fact, that’s my life these days. I travel all over this great nation of ours visiting friends, making new ones. I figured Carla and Abrams were gonna want me to move out so I wouldn’t cramp their style (not to give away too much of their personal lives, but little baby Leroy is expected in March), and it just so happens Elijah has a friend at the San Diego Zoo, so that’s where I live when I’m not traveling. But even when I am traveling, as long as I have friends and family near me, I know I’ll be okay.
And, after all…there’s no place like home.
If you enjoyed Leroy’s story, let him know:
Friday, September 10, 2010
This is a story about seeing worth in unexpected places. It is NOT a story about lying and cheating and getting away with it. It’s also one of my favorites, and it remains largely unchanged throughout history. The cat is usually depicted as sly and crafty. I prefer to think of mine as a hustler, a would-be con artist with a heart of gold. Not unlike Top Cat in my opinion. A few Italian stories predate the famous version by Charles Perrault, but his is the version we know today and that I have adapted. I have even reworked the master’s own last lines to end the story with.
nce upon a time there was a miller who had two sons and one daughter. When the miller died, each of his children inherited something. The eldest son inherited the mill, which he worked and made a lot of money with. The younger son inherited a horse, which he used to work and make a lot of money. The youngest child, his daughter, Jennifer, got her father’s old boots, and a cat.
Needless to say, Jennifer was pretty upset by this. Her father, though a fine man in many respects, was very narrow-minded about girls in general. He was one of these types that think girls can’t do all the things boys can do. In truth, he had never wanted a daughter in the first place, so he had always sort of overlooked Jennifer, never more so than in his will.
Jennifer figured she could make a stew with the cat and make mittens from its fur, but after that she would starve and/or freeze to death. This, however, did not sound like a good plan to the cat, but then you’d be surprised how seldom cats are consulted about this kind of thing.
“No, no, no, mistress,” said the cat, who had never been particularly liked by the miller and, as such, had never been given a name other than the rather ordinary ‘Puss.’ “Don’t kill me, please. I can make you a very wealthy woman. I’ll make you a bigger success than both of your brothers put together. Stick with me and you’ll go places, sweetheart.” Jennifer was slightly disconcerted at being called sweetheart by her cat, but had nothing to lose so she agreed to give the cat a chance to save his life. “All I need,” said Puss, “is a large sack and your father’s boots.” And when Jennifer asked him why he’d need the boots, Puss simply said, “One cannot appear before the king with no shoes on, can one?”
Well, Puss turned out to be one clever cat. He took the sack out into the forest and waited until he met a large wild turkey.
“Good morning, Turkey Baby!” said Puss.
“Good morning, Cat,” said the Turkey Baby, I mean,
“Say, do you know where I could find a smaller, thinner turkey than yourself?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, I mean no offense, my good man, but I’ll bet you are so fat that you couldn’t even fit inside this sack.”
“Oh yeah?” said the
. And just to spite Puss, walked right into the sack without a fight. Puss caught ten birds this way, none of whom seemed too upset by it. But, then again, turkeys are not renowned for their intellect…they are however great at gin rummy, a fact which very few people know…sorry, I’m off on a tangent here, aren’t I? Turkey
Returning, rather clumsily, to the story, Puss then took his sack-o-turkey to the palace. “I have a gift for the king,” he told the guards. “From my mistress, the…er…Marquis of Carabass!” This title—which Puss had made up on the spot—impressed the guards, so Puss was admitted and he got to see the king. “These wild turkeys,” he told his majesty, “are a gift from my mistress, the Marquis of Carabass!” (That’s pronounced “Care-uh-bass” and rhymes with “
, Mass” In case you were wondering. Also, you don’t pronounce the “s” in “Marquis” so that would sound like “Mar-KEE” Sorry, tangent). Salem
“Mistress?” said the king, surprised. “Doesn’t ‘Marquis’ usually refer to a man?”
“Oh, okay, then,” said the easily convinced king. “Well, I’ve never heard of this Marquis of yours, but her name is most impressive. And she must be a wonderful woman to give such a fine gift. Tell your mistress that I thank her for her generosity and look forward to meeting her in person one day. Oh and here,” he added, handing a bag of gold coins to Puss. “For your trouble, young…cat.”
On his way out of the palace, Puss spoke to one of the guards. “I am told that other kings,” he said, “will take carriage-rides through their lands. Does our beloved monarch do this?”
“Oh, yes,” said the guard. “Every Saturday. He leaves the palace at nine in the morning and gets into one of his three traveling coaches, designed for just such outings. He takes the main road, passes through the woods, around the lake and circles back to the palace. After which he usually enjoys a boiled egg with a bit of salt and—”
“Yes! Thank you, very informative,” said Puss and he went on his way, wondering why a guard had so much information at his disposal.
On his way out of the palace, he happened to pass the king’s son, Prince George. Of course, the cat had never seen the prince in person, but you know how some people look like exactly what they are? Well, George had one of those faces that just said to the world “I am a prince.” Just then, a thought popped into Puss’s agile mind and he turned to address the prince.
“My liege!” he said, bowing low. “Have I the honor of addressing the king’s only son, good Prince George?”
“Er, yeah, I guess,” said George. “You can stop bowing now if you want.”
“Your majesty is most gracious. I will not delay you further, for I must return to my mistress, the Marquis of Carabass.”
“The Marquis of Carabass? Sounds important.”
“Oh, very important, my good princey,” said Puss. “She is a wealthy landowner of the highest esteem. She has acres of rich, fertile land, a magnificent castle, two hundred head of cattle and a really big fountain!” (Rich people always have fountains, it’s like a rule) “And,” said the cat, now that he knew he had the prince’s interest, “she is a famed beauty to boot.”
“A famed booty to beaut?”
“No, no. The other way around. She’s a—never mind, she’s pretty, okay?”
“Oh yes. Quite the loveliest girl you will ever have the good fortune of laying your royal eyes upon. And young, making her accomplishments all the more impressive if you ask me.”
“Yes, that is impressive. Well, I’ll let you return, fair…cat. Give your mistress my regards and tell her that she is welcome in the palace any time.” Puss thanked his majesty and ran on home with his newly adapted plan bubbling over in his brain. As for George, he was mildly impressed with the Marquis of Carabass’s résumé, but the truth is, being a prince, he saw dozens of wealthy, beautiful young women every week. Each one wanting to marry him and become a princess. Beauty didn’t really impress him the way you might think it would. All he wanted was to meet a nice girl who he could have a conversation with. Cuz, let’s face it, your average beautiful damsel doesn’t have much going for her above the neck, if you follow me…you don’t? Oh, well never mind. Let’s get back to the story:
Jennifer was delighted by the bag of gold Puss managed to procure, but was amazed when her cat told her that there was more to come. So, at his insistence, the following Saturday, Puss and Jennifer made their way to a lake near the forest road. Once there, he told Jennifer to take off her clothes, get in the lake and start bathing. After Puss had repeated himself a sufficient number of times to satisfy his mistress, Jennifer did this (while Puss was looking the other way, of course) and was alarmed when she saw Puss throw her clothes into the woods. Puss assured her it was all a part of his plan. “Just stay right there,” said Puss, though Jennifer assured him she had no intention of getting out of the water any time soon. “Everything will be all right if you just go along with everything I say, baby.”
“Stop calling me ‘baby’,” said Jennifer.
“Right, sorry. Now, I must leave you for a moment, but when I return, it will be to make you prosperous beyond your wildest dreams.”
“Wait!” cried Jennifer before Puss left. “I have to ask…why are you doing all this for me? You’ve already won your life. Why are you still helping me?”
“You don’t know?” Jennifer shook her head. “Well, it’s not easy to explain. I know your father never wanted a girl. I know he treated you poorly because you were his first daughter and not his third son. The truth is he never wanted me either. None of them did. Your father and brothers never treated me with any kindness. They never even bothered to give me a real name. Not like you, the way you would rub my belly and scratch my ear. You were always the nicest and the smartest in the family. And when your father died and left you the only thing he cared less about than you…”
Jennifer wiped a tear from her eye, which proved a pointless effort because her hand was wet. “My friend,” she said to her cat. “I promise that if you can do all the things you say you can, I will give you the grandest name any cat has ever had. Now hurry. I’m getting cold…and pruny.”
So, with a brand new spring in his step, Puss ran to the road and waited. He didn’t have long to wait because the king’s carriage approached soon. Inside, the King and Prince George were surprised to see Puss standing in the road in front of them, jumping up and down, waving his paws and shouting “Help! Help, oh help please!” They stopped the carriage at once and asked what the matter was. “It is my mistress, the Marquis of Carabass!” said Puss. “She was bathing in the lake—as is her wont—when someone stole her clothes. It’s my fault, sire. I looked away for a moment! Oh, woe is me!”
Of course, the king was only too happy to help the overdramatic cat. He had not forgotten the gift of the Very Surprised Turkeys the Marquis had made. Of course, the king had no ladies’ clothing in his carriage, but, since he always kept a packed trunk in the carriage in case of emergencies (Yeah, it’s weird, but that’s royalty for you), he offered to let Puss take the trunk to his mistress and allow her to find something suitable. Puss thanked him for his generosity and (with great difficulty) dragged the trunk back to Jennifer. Between them they were able to fashion the king’s clothing into an outfit which made Jennifer look every bit the Marquis of Carabass…which is when Puss told her about the lies he had told to get them this far.
“WHAT?!?!?!” said Jennifer at the top of her voice. “You told him I was a…what the heck is a ‘Markey’ anyway?”
“I don’t know, I just made it up. But it sounds good, no?”
“No! It doesn’t. Puss, when you said you were going to make me rich and successful, you never said you were doing it by lying!”
“Well, where did you think I got the gold from? Rumplestilskin?”
“That’s not the point. You’ve dragged me into your lies and I won’t have any part of it. I’m going home.”
“You can’t! The king is here, right now! As is his son, Prince George! They’re expecting you.”
“No, they’re expecting the Marquis of Wherever! I’m just a miller’s daughter! I don’t have money, power or huge…tracts of land. All I have in this whole world is you!”
“And you’re all I have, Jennifer!” said the cat. “You gave me a sack and a pair of old boots and in less than a day, I gave you a bag of gold and a standing invitation with the royal family. I’m just asking you to trust me a little bit longer.”
“I don’t want to pretend to be something I’m not,” said Jennifer.
“I’m not asking you to. In fact, I insist that you be yourself. I promise, they may have been taken in by the Marquis of Carabass, but by the time we’re done, it will be Jennifer who has won their trust.” Jennifer looked in Puss’s eyes and found the reassurance she needed.
“I must be out of my mind!” she said, walking toward the road trying to look…Marquisy.
“It is very good to finally meet you,” said the king. “Would you like to join us in our ride? I can give you a lift to your castle if you like.”
Jennifer was not used to this kind of deceit, so Puss stepped in before she could answer. “Of course, she would be delighted to. If you don’t mind, mistress, I shall proceed to your castle now and ready everything for your arrival.” So, Jennifer allowed Prince George to help her into the carriage. Meanwhile, Puss was giving the coachman very bad directions which would (eventually) lead him to the Marquis of Carabass’s castle. So doing, Puss waved a fond goodbye to the passengers on the coach…and then set to work doing something very dangerous and slightly insane.
You see, the wealthiest and most powerful landowner in the area was actually a Giant Ogre. He had farmlands stretching all over the countryside, a castle on a hill, not to mention the ability to change into any kind of animal. A skill which he regularly abused by turning into a mouse or a bird and spying on his workers to make sure they were working hard enough. Anyone found not to be working to the Ogre’s satisfaction would be summoned to his castle and promptly eaten…with fries, usually, which were invented much longer ago than you probably thought.
So it was pretty dangerous (and, again, insane) for Puss to walk up to servants working in the Ogre’s field and say, “Attention! Those in the employ of the ogre! I have this announcement:” here Puss unrolled a blank piece of paper and pretended to read: “The ogre who owns this land will now be referring to himself as the ‘Marquis of Carabass.’ You will refer to him as such or he will grind your bones to make his bread.”
That’s just something ogres say, it’s another rule.
Puss repeated this announcement at every field along the route he had given the coachman, and he had to do it quickly as he had only a slight lead on the carriage, wherein a most stimulating discussion was taking place. Jennifer had been afraid that as soon as she tried to make conversation with the two royals, her cover would be blown. But, being a well-read, intellectually curious young woman, she found she was able to hold her own, and even impressed both King and Prince with her insight and intellect. As the carriage ride continued, Jennifer realized that she wasn’t playing a part, like she had thought. She was just being herself, and that’s what was making such a good impression on the king and his incredibly handsome son who hadn’t been able to take his eyes or ears off Jennifer from the moment she got in the carriage.
So, when the king stopped his carriage by a few farmhands and asked them whose land they were working, and they said “The Marquis of Carabass’” for fear of being eaten, that was just icing on the cake.
At the end of the road was the Ogre’s castle on a hill. Puss was here now, putting the last phase of his plan into action. He entered the Ogre’s castle and said to him, “Hey! Ogre-Baby! How’s it goin’, man? I am an admirer from a distant land. I have heard that, in addition to being a great landowner, you have magic powers. Is this true?”
“Certainly,” said the Ogre, always eager to brag to someone he planned to eat. “I can change myself into any animal. Look:” and with that he turned himself into a lion, a bear and a bull elephant within a few seconds.
Puss was frightened, but tried not to show it. It’s difficult to keep the upper hand in negotiations if you’re in mortal terror, you know. “I guess that’s impressive,” he said at last in his most Ooh, What Do I Care Voice.
“Guess?” said the incredulous Ogre.
“I mean, turning yourself into something big’s not all that impressive. Could you turn into something as small as, say…a mouse?”
“Could I? Just watch!” And the ogre turned into a tiny little field mouse. No sooner had he done this than Puss leaped on him, grabbed him and gobbled him up. Thus the Ogre was gone and the last thing he thought before he was devoured was, “Well, I really should’ve seen this coming, huh?”
The King’s carriage arrived shortly thereafter and if you thought the king was impressed before it was nothing to how he felt now. He saw the Marquis of Carabass living in this giant castle, with throngs of loyal servants (who were confused, but generally happy to be rid of the ogre) and more land than the king himself. So he was more than pleased to grant his son’s request, and allow him to marry Jennifer.
And this might have been where our story ended, but there were promises to be kept. Puss and Jennifer came clean to the king and prince about the whole thing. Puss took full responsibility, insisting that he only acted in Jennifer’s best interests and she was a reluctant accomplice to the whole thing. Of course, the king was shocked at first, but after a moment of consideration he laughed and put his arms around Jennifer. “You are a bright, lovely, charming girl with a very impressive cat who has managed to rid my kingdom of a fearsome ogre. I say bygones. Son?”
Of course George needed no convincing, for he had been in love with Jennifer from the start, and never the Marquis of Carabass. Which is why, as she realized she didn’t need it anymore, she gave that name to Puss and from that day forth, he was known as the Marquis of Carabass! A far grander name than any cat has ever had. And he lived for the rest of his days with his mistress, Princess Jennifer and her husband, Prince George in their own castle, and he lived for many long, happy years, where he was cared for, well fed and never had to chase mice again…
Except every now and then, just for fun!
If You Liked My Story, You Might Enjoy:
- “Faerie Tale Theatre” (TV) Gregory Hines, Ben Vereen and Alfre Woodard star
- Shrek 2 (2004) For the record, I think that this movie, like its predecessor, sucks beyond the telling of it. But, there aren’t that many Puss in Boots movies I could mention, and I happened to think this character was pretty funny.
- Nagagutsu o Haita Neko (1969) Animated Japanese version which might have died in obscurity, had one of its key animators not been Hayao Miyazaki, who has since directed such films as Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away