Cursed with youth and handsomeness, blessed with the soul of a charming eccentric, I wake each morning and polish the cold pewter knob of my walking stick with what some would call excessive care before choosing my wig of the day.
Next thing you know, I’m out on the square in my seersucker suit, arousing the wonderment of all present, strolling blithely about with my skunk, Horatio P. Fuddlesworth, on a sapphire-studded leash. The lively sapphire is Horatio’s birthstone, as my faithful readers will know! Have I mentioned that I am not wearing pants?
I nod and tip my hat to ladies and gentlemen alike, which is odd, because I do not own a hat. Admirers are thus encouraged to keep a polite distance. In this matter, Horatio proves to be a great help as well. While many skunk owners have the so-called “stink glands” of their pets removed, I have taken the unorthodox step of fitting HPF with several extra “stink glands.” The last administration was not as open to certain kinds of biological experimentation, so I was obliged to send Horatio to the former Czech Republic with his nanny, where the operation could be undertaken in a completely aboveboard manner.
It is often asked why Southern eccentrics such as myself are the most reliable concoctors of folksy wisdom. I never hesitate to credit it to the “alone time” afforded us by what I call the “Eccentricity Bubble.” Every personage who is dissuaded from “coming near” represents a quantum increment of aphoristic possibility. In fact, when one wakes in the dead of night, screaming in one’s endlessly solitary bed, there can hardly be a better time to dash the empty laudanum bottle angrily against the floor, grab a notebook and quill, and start jotting aphorisms, one after another. Aphorisms are just like peanuts! (If you will take care to note it, the former sentence was, in fact, an aphorism upon the unusual subject of aphorisms. Surely, then, the mind is a broken jewel, refracted infinitely on the tragic surface of its own shattered eye—is that an aphorism? I want to say yes!) At such moments, the psyche is keen and receptive to the little voices that are always trying to tell one what to do.
But the life of an aphorist is not all business. No stroll around the square is complete without a stop in front of the courthouse, where a number of quaintly grizzled old-timers are sure to be congregated in a tableau vivant.
Here, among my own kind, men as quick to hike up their overalls or snap their gaily striped suspenders and share a “chaw” as a wry, well-seasoned quip on worldly matters, I am free to let down my guard and engage in an innocent game of checkers. I invariably lose, because I have never learned the rules of checkers, which appear to be baroque beyond comprehension.
No matter! The tables are turned when I “shoot” the victor with my little toy gun. There are no bullets, just a bright red flag with the word BANG! imprinted on it. Afterward, all is forgiven, though my opponent is required to lie on the ground “playing dead” for the remainder of my visit.
Regrettably, such respite cannot last forever. There is a chill in the air and I am not wearing pants. I remove my timepiece from my vest pocket and open it with an elaborate gesture. “Fellows, it’s about that time,” I say. This is my private joke, because little do they know that the gears and face have been removed, and the pocket watch contains only a likeness of Tyne Daly.
Once a month, the day concludes with a visit to the university’s department for the study of the paranormal. Scientists observe through a two-way mirror as I place myself in a deep trance and dictate this column in a voice utterly unlike my own. The resulting transcript is sealed immediately and sent by courier to the offices of the Believer magazine. All tapes or written records of the incident are destroyed. Meanwhile, my skunk enjoys the best of care, being stroked and fed candy bars by solicitous undergraduates in white lab jackets and go-go boots.