Catching up with my readers with a fable and a warning

I used to write a column for this newspaper a while back, and so much has happened recently that this seemed like the time to catch up with my (14) former readers.

It’s been a busy week: Changed my jeans. Thought up 10 rhymes for “constipation” (instigation, suffocation, mortification …), counted the buttons in my button jar. And, if you have a hand-held hair dryer, you know that little metal grate at the back where it pulls in the air? I picked the lint out of it with a safety pin. Took a whole afternoon. What’s new with you?

Things can be a bit slow for some of us in Northeast Michigan but that does not mean the rest of the world has followed suit. That phrase, “As Alpena goes, so goes the nation,” might not actually be true.

And, in terms of what is true, it’s getting harder to know.

Here, in the USA information jungle, we have the chimps chattering, the baboons grunting, the orangutans whispering, the gorillas hollering, the parrots squawking and swearing, the lions roaring, the giraffes chewing, and, once in a while, that idiot Tarzan swinging through with his “ahh-eeee-yodel-yodel-yodel-ohhhh,” which is actually just a long, drawn-out “uh-oh.”

Then again, “uh-oh” might be the truest summation of our collective situation.

I am worried, and, when that happens, just as in my childhood, I read myself a story:

Once upon a time in a nondescript jungle full of jackpine lived three little rabbits — Sloppy, Moppy, and Cutofftail — and their mother, Mother.

The little rabbits were very anxious, because, over in Mr. MacGarble’s garden, a big rhubarb was brewing over just where, exactly, lay the property line between the farmer and his neighbor, Mr. MacGaffe. Mr. MacGarble said the whole garden was on his land, and Mr. MacGaffe said the whole garden was on his.

At first, the little rabbits didn’t care which way it went, as long as they had enough to eat, but, as they listened to the constant bickering between the two humans and their friends, they began to take sides. Farmer MacGarble was crude and brutish and didn’t care much for vegetables except for lettuce, which he liked a lot. Sloppy and Moppy, who also liked lettuce, favored him, because he was tough and wily as a coyote.

Farmer MacGaffe, on the other hand, was nice, and planted a few rows of vegetables over in the woods for the animals, which Cutofftail liked, because he’d already been buckshot in the backside by MacGarble when he strayed over on his side of the plot.

It was up to the humans — MacGarble’s and MacGaffe’s friends and neighbors — to decide who would have the garden, and they were arguing like cats and dogs. The more heated the humans became, the more heated were the rabbits, until finally they dropped all civility.

“Farmer MacGarble’s a terrible human!” shouted Cutofftail. “He tells lies, cheats, and brags. He doesn’t grow good vegetables, he just digs up what Farmer McGaffe planted and pretends those are his!”

“We think that’s funny,” Sloppy and Moppy giggled. “If he did do that — and we aren’t saying he did — it’s because Farmer MacGarble knows how to take advantage of suckers and losers like Farmer MacGaffe. MacGaffe may be a nice guy, but nice guys finish last. Farmer MacGarble is mean, like a big bull, and MacGaffe is like a weak little rabb–, er, chicken.”

“MacGarble’s an old goat!” hollered Cutofftail. “Things are worse since he moved into the neighborhood. What has he ever done for us little guys? And what about the locusts? They buzzed in, mowed down a lot of plants, and now they’re coming back for a second helping!”

“The locusts aren’t Farmer MacGarble’s fault,” countered Moppy. “Bugs will be bugs.”

“That’s right,” twitched Cutofftail, “but he didn’t do anything to help. Some people, including Farmer MacGaffe, covered their plants to protect them so all would have enough to eat, but Farmer MacGarble just said, ‘Locusts? What locusts?’ And, when humans and animals died off from too little food, he said, ‘Oh well. They were old, anyway.'”

“Well, most of them were,” Sloppy said. “You can’t argue with that. And, besides, who cares? I feel fine. What matters is having a garden run by a guy who will keep order and talk turkey. And that’s MacGarble.”

“Did you ever listen to him?” asked Cutofftail. “One day, he was out in the garden and said, ‘I have planted the biggest, best garden, no one has ever seen anything like it. The locusts will disappear. I am a success.’ He also said, ‘The kidney has a very special place in the heart.’ What does that even mean?”

“Farmer MacGarble may not know hearts from kidneys, but he knows his lettuce,” Sloppy said. “Farmer MacGaffe doesn’t know beans. And he st-st-stutters,” added Moppy. “Farmer MacGaffe was out at his shed one day and said, “I-I … was talking at this gar-garden party, but it wasn’t exactly there, it was next — it was — I don’t know where in the heck it was …’ He may be a pigeon, but I guess he’s not the homing kind. Haw!” and Sloppy laughed so hard carrots came out his nose.

“OK, so neither of them is as eloquent as a rabbit,” Cutofftail said. “But why would you want someone who lies, cheats, and doesn’t care about growing food for people and animals to be in charge of the garden? What kind of a future will we have? Besides, he shot me!”

Moppy shrugged. “You were slow.”

“I can’t help it! My legs are short!” cried Cutofftail.

“Farmer MacGarble doesn’t like short legs. Or no legs. Or slow animals. He likes things to be just right, and I heard him say that he has a plan to outfox MacGaffe and get the whole garden for himself and, once he does, he’ll make it perfect,” Sloppy said smugly.

And then, one night, a giant grizzly bear moved into the neighborhood, ate a bunch of people, trampled everyone’s crops, killed and swallowed all the animals — including Floppy, Moppy, Cutofftail, and Mother — and even gobbled up Mr. MacGaffe.

The next morning, Mr. MacGarble, clambering out from under his bed, surveyed the damage and said, “Great job, bear! Now I have the whole garden, and I don’t even care that it’s in shambles! That MacGaffe, what a loser! Now, no more Farmer Nice Guy, no more growing stupid vegetables, and no more lousy animals trying to eat up my lettuce. I see there’s just enough for me.” And then he threw out a big steak for his friend, the grizzly, who snagged it with his fierce, pointy teeth, swallowed it in one bite, then ate Farmer MacGarble for dessert.


Oh, dear. That wasn’t a good story. I am more worried than ever.

But here’s truth, if you’re looking for it: Take care not to invite catastrophe. It comes with an enormous appetite.


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