Prufrock Hunts a Squirrel
By James Brody
A True Story
An imposing Irishman wanted a squirrel to eat from his hand. "Rocky is in my tree, therefore, he's my squirrel."
Rocky disagreed. He approached the Irishman but stopped about eight feet away. Rocky then flicked his tail, cocked his head left and right, and scurried off.
One solution: Put the food eight feet away, let Rocky eat several times, and then move closer in small steps.
Another solution: shoot Rocky.
A Somewhat True Story
A crowd churned through the displays at a psychology convention. A redhead tried one of the gadgets on sale, a computerized measure of concentration. Al was fascinated by the restless jiggle of her breasts and by her doing the test at the same time that she talked nonstop with everyone around her. The test ended.
The clerk was busy but Al had used the test many times for his patients and it was easy to open the scoring page. Red's numbers were beyond the 99th percentile, all in bad directions.
"If this is typical, you should have been put on Ritalin 35 years ago and never allowed in public without it. How about lunch?"
His brass got him a smile, twin jiggles, and "My sister is visiting with me here, I can't."
He dropped his card in her purse so that she would have it even if she never found it.
"Call me if you ever come back to Hartford."
Several months passed. The phone message was fast but clear: "I don't know if you remember me, but I was the one..."
Al decided to remember her. He picked her up at the airport, gave her a yellow rose, and took her to dinner in a yuppie restaurant that was also a converted schooner.
Candles made her hair darker red, her lustrous eyes never left his, and two glasses of wine slowed her speech and softened her voice. There were no jiggles and he discovered someone very smart and very warm and not at all cheap.
Her other assets included A $100,000 executive position, a lakefront house, a sports car almost in league with his own, and a cranky, often absent husband who earned less than she did and drank too much beer. She also wrote poetry.
Al took her back to her hotel but felt naughty. What to do at the elevator? He didn't want to risk her saying "yes" to his coming upstairs to her room. Neither did he want to hear a "no." He stopped with Squirrel at the elevator, gave her a soft kiss on the cheek, said "goodnight," and noticed her relief. He had chosen well.
They had another dinner on her second night in town. It was less magical and a smaller adventure than the prior evening but still animated. She paid the check and kissed him in the car rather than the lobby. A light rain made the asphalt and city glisten and he listened to soft rock rather than a talk station while he drove home. She flew back to Atlanta the next day.
Al Forgot About Her
She called him every night for two months for at least an hour and often for more than two and, once or twice, for three. They talked about her husband, upbringing, job, and poetry and she had an orgasm whenever Al quoted Tom Eliot. She also shared Al's quirky fascination with human evolution, especially the fundamental attractions between men and women. Al moved Eliot's verses to his headboard and Squirrel decided that they should get together again.
Hartford and Essex
Squirrel came north for a weekend to visit not only Al but her parents and school chums.
Her best girlfriend, X, was a psychopathic hair dresser with flat blue eyes, equally flat long blond hair, and 14 facial operations that left no scars, a provocative, cool Michael Jackson outcome but pasted on a Swede. X also had a brother, O, with AIDS and Al wasn't sure about X.
Squirrel and X met him in a bar 12 feet wide, 30 feet long, and 200 years old. The ladies had tequila and bawdy humor. X hinted that Squirrel and Al could leave but Squirrel would have none of it, shouting to the crowd: "Should two people have an affair if one of them is married?" No one answered and Al couldn't be sure that he was one of the partners in her question.
They drove south to Essex. X went to find her brother and visit other friends after depositing Al and Squirrel in a bar in the loft of a barn where they shared old beams, old scotch at high prices, bad paintings, and a table with another couple. The woman was a little pregnant and Squirrel, standing out like Terra seen from Luna in October, drew more than one nod from dad-to-be. Pregnant soon hauled him out of there.
Al decided to hold out his hand, offer Squirrel everything, and step back and see which direction she ran.
"I love you."
She called for a double vodka, chugged it, and ordered another. She then glowed that luminous pink that follows orgasms and alcohol and the increases in estrogen they cause. She also changed the subject. He stayed eight feet distant, neither repeating his gambit nor hearing a rejection.
X found O and came back for them.
X drove with O in the passenger seat, Squirrel and Al sat in the rear, his one arm around her neck. What the hell. He slid his hand down her neckline and inside her right D cup and stroked her nipple.
A dumb statement in a soft whisper: "Your hand is on my breast."
A second dumb statement in a soft whisper: "I know."
Al moistened his index finger and rubbed the appreciative nipple some more.
Flat blue eyes watched them in the rearview mirror, O was oblivious. Al was having fun.
X parked and Squirrel insisted on walking Al to his car and saying good night. She kissed open and tender and did not arch her back and pull away her stomach but neither did she press it into his own. He could have folded her into the front seat and disappeared with her, but, a coward masquerading as a Puritan, he sent Squirrel home with X and O.
When Al said, "I love you," he intended to change their game to a short-term encounter. He expected, perhaps wanted, their contest to end soon. Squirrel, perhaps undecided herself, surprised him and wanted to see him for New Year's Eve. She gave him a map to her girl friend's house, an upscale split in the north woods. Her friend was divorced, a gracious blonde with two huge dogs and a drunk boyfriend who leered at Squirrel before Al arrived.
Al took off his jacket, shook hands with 3 people, pulled a cork and poured himself a glass of the wine that he brought.
Squirrel: "Let's get out of here."
He considered the receipt still in his pocket but abandoned his wine, put on his jacket, shook hands with the same three people, and apologized to Squirrel's tearful next best friend who, either losing her own marriage or siding with Mr. Squirrel, "really needed to talk to her." Squirrel wanted to leave anyhow. The dogs got out with Squirrel and Al. Her six school chums chased the dogs and perhaps would have chased her instead of watching Al drive her away. He downshifted and spun gravel towards all of them.
Al took her to dinner rather to a motel. Maybe he wasn't lying when he said "I love you" in Essex. He wanted to be in love but was sure that she didn't; she would commit for a screw but not a lifetime together. They eventually turned each other down one more time and perhaps each did the other a favor--if for selfish motives.
They drove for hours after dinner and visited the moonlit shadows of her high school haunts. He heard of her past conquests, her streaks in the park, her motel hopping with X, her talented parents, and her expensive, perfect wedding. The same people who followed them out of the house had also watched her marry and rather than whisper failure to her buddies separately, she used Al and announced it to all of them simultaneously.
They found a place to dance and trade New Year's kisses and he dropped her off at 2 a. m. at her mother's house, waited and memorized her every movement until she was inside, sure that he would never see her again. She looked so damned lonely just before opening the door and disappearing.
He had done an honorable thing or a stupid thing, depending on which voice he heard, gambling for a long-term outcome with a short-term player, a tactic that he had abandoned in his thirties and forties but one that returned from his teenage days, unwelcome, to dog him in his fifties and sixties when he no longer had time in which to be a long-term player. And Squirrel knew that Al wasn't long-term material but would have given him a friendly roll, perhaps to reach closure herself. After all, she had put a lot of time into Al.
She flew back to her large house, large job, and besotted husband and called Al that same evening.
"So, when are you going to leave him?"
She said: "When I was younger, my parents told me to 'be smart.'"
Al heard: "You're not rich enough." And she was right.
Al told her about Rocky and she had a complete change of opinion about squirrels. They became soul mates that she fed from her table rather than nuisances that chewed her Tudor eaves. "Nice squirrel! Cute little squirrel!"
He pressed her for a different decision.
She countered: "If this is how it's going to be, there's no point talking."
"You're right" and he hung up.
Several days later, a squirrel got into his sun room. Al trapped it against the glass with a plastic trash can, carried it outside, and turned it loose. It bounded in a long straight line for his back property line and he considered shooting a few of them but never did, but still lets them chew his own eaves.
Al would not change one memory. And he misses that crazy redhead although he could neither keep up with, nor trust her. Al, ignoring all her high school stories, still wants to believe that she could fuck as sweetly as she could kiss and that she would do it with just him. I understand that he sometimes glances at his phone in the late evening and knows that she is also near one, still talking nonstop at midnight. He might pretend there is some chance of her punching his number and imagine touching her through the wires, just the once that would lead to a hundred more times.
There is still no point.
A Postmortem on Rocky
Neil Miller analyzed approach-avoidance conflict in the '50s. He noticed that rats, when given food and electric shock at the end of an alley, will run halfway to the goal and stop. Miller reasoned that approach motives are stronger than fear when the rat is distant from any goal that both rewards and punishes him. The rat also runs faster as he gets closer to food when there is no punishment. Punishment, however, creates separate avoidance motives that are weaker at a distance but also increase strength with proximity to punishment. Fear, however, increases faster than desire, eventually overpowers it and Rattus stops: "I'm hungry but that dish will fry my lip." Survival depends on stopping and going to eat somewhere else, and the grass really seems greener on the other side of a fence.
I recall these same conflicts in my disco adventures: lock-in radar on a dimly lit blonde, 30 feet away. I initiated pursuit but my control tower awakened: "She's drunk, dumb, diseased, bleached, in debt, and has six children by seven different illegals all of whom use cocaine." I aborted my approach, veered away and listened to voices from my second control tower: "She's brilliant, wealthy, sensitive, and a possible scientific collaborator. You both need to talk." I continued pursuit-escape until the time was three bloody marys past eleven, and I eventually wove home without her.
There's substantial history behind these conflicts. My three uncles lived in a tree. They scampered down one day to locate food but were chased back up the tree by a long-toothed cat. My one uncle remained in the tree and starved. My second uncle forgot the cat, scampered down, and was eaten. My third uncle scampered down the tree but remembered the cat and made a left turn, seeking food elsewhere. He also found an aunt for me. Thus, nature first gets us moving, but if we next consider risks and change our plans, we neither starve nor become a snack.
If someone had put a blonde eight feet away from her depleted credit cards, Al would never have met Squirrel...
Of course, none of this resembles anyone except by coincidence.
Copyright by James Brody, 2003. All
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