Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Firetruck, Ball, Dictionary

This is the third incarnation of this post, each published on the eve of that phenomenal event known as the "annual physical." Tante Louise, though gone, lives on in the spirit of every citizen in Tête de Hergé and this jot marked her début as elle est belle la seine la seine elle est belle's first Official Greeter, Docent, Porter, and Grande Dame.  The custom died out, unfortunately, largely due to her absence, that void of steely graciousness so difficult to emulate.  The genetically indentured Manor Staff, as you likely foresaw, found this change in its generational routine assignments as a violent upset to the Marlinspike Hall apple cart.  

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The official motto of Syldavia: 
Eih bennek, eih blavek 
 If you gather thistles, expect prickles (roughly translated)

These days, when you see the Physician's Assistant for the 5-minute cursory exam that has replaced your family doctor's annual physical, she is likely to include a simple test of your short term memory.

 "I'm going to say three words.  In a few minutes, or at the end of this cursory exam, whichever comes first, I will ask you to recall these three words."

Then she will say something like "firetruck, ball, dictionary."

After giving you prescriptions for a new anti-depressant, maybe a statin or two, some thyroid hormone, and a recommendation to lose weight, as your PA is leaving the examination closet, hand on the doorknob, she'll ask you, over the shoulder and not slowing one bit, what those three words were.

Try to be ready.

Sad to say, that's my best approximation of the prevailing ambiance here at elle est belle la seine la seine elle est belle, with its lopsided equivalencies, all those adverbs for ballast, my subordinate clause. Unrhymed but metered tercets, I write strings of words that I repeat to strangers in the hope that they will remember, and speak them back.

Just because I have problems with words doesn't mean I've the right to sour the whole experience.

Sensing a looming depression settling over his beloved valley, The Captain recently sent us a team of motivational speakers, the ideal long distance gift from an absentee Manor Lord.  During a cold lunch that featured a perfect mound of tuna salad rising from a Botticellian shell of Boston lettuce -- surrounded by pale green, slightly mottled frozen grapes that were, themselves, punctuated with watermelon and sour cream quenelles -- 

During *that*, we listened to our Plenary Session guru, a self-styled Cicero who could sell Ginzu knives and Veg-a-matics to desert ascetics.

After changing into the Haddock Corporation's new line of  70% bamboo/30% spandex Ye Olde Sea Salt athletic wear, The Manor's indentured-unto-perpetuity Domestic Staff spent the afternoon doing team-building exercises, often blindfolded, sometimes with various legs lashed together.  At one time or another, each employee fell backward -- full of faith -- into the extended arms of their waiting coworkers (relatives, mostly), in whom they already knew *exactly* how much to trust.

Times are tight everywhere, even in Tête de Hergé. We think that's what is fuelling The Captain's new love of all things corporate.  It's not that he doesn't have almost infinite resources -- good Lord, just look around you!  It is more a question of liquidity.  For years, we ran Marlinspike Hall with the proceeds from collectible comic books and by selling off coveted domaine names, snatched up back in the days before Spielberg had his eye on Hergé's Tête.  Shoot, we used to make payroll thanks to a horse stall full of pristine Bengali editions of King Ottokar's Sceptre, carefully packed in hay.  

The bottom line is that we are opening almost the entire Manor and Haddock family land holdings to the public in an effort to make Marlinspike Hall a self-sustaining endeavor.  The Captain wants to be, forgive the pun, a captain of industry, among other things, and so we find ourselves scheduled to host a series of BigSpeak SpeakEasy MiniTraining Camps, sort of an Outward Bound experience for the buttoned-down world.  Not just for at-risk youth, our outdoor adventures!  

It's kind of a test.  That's right, we're beta testers.       

Fred has been in close consultation with the Garden, Grounds, and Outbuildings Guild, trying to achieve and maintain a level of preparedness that would rival any scouting organization.  Their first obstacle, of course, was  access to toilets -- just what the forward-thinking Fred had predicted.  But because they had money to throw at the issue, the solution was fairly simple, and would also help us attract people to other events, such as ManorFest and our fledgling 3-Day Substance Abuse Intervention Program for Carnies and Sideshow Freaks (Born and/or Made)*.  Not having a decent place to go would no longer be reason enough to stay away and certainly no longer an excuse to refuse help.

* I know you must be wondering about our work among these talented folk.  It all began when some Cirque du Soleil people escaped from the Lone Alp Rehab.  Lost and high, they were drawn to the various riggings and natural performance venues of Marlinspike Hall.  We found them swinging like inebriated monkeys from the hefty hemp rope that connects the Manor Stables to the Computer Turret. The only way in or out, up or down, that pesky turret is via this thick rope ladder, dyed caution yellow, that extends down (but mostly sideways) out to the Stables. (It's more bridge than ladder, Fred always says.)  Anyway, with the help of our Cistercian monk neighbors, almost everyone got sober, and the word spread.  Lots of our ManorFest vendors have carnival connections, and it turned out that Abbot Truffatore and Father Anthony, Guest TaskMaster, offer a special Retreat twice a year for Sideshow Freaks.  And you thought all those monks did was peddle ink and toner supplies!

Fred waved this Toilet brochure under my sweaty nose as he ran off to tackle some other pressing Guild issue.  

It *is* exciting:

• "Green System" uses minimal water and Green Manufacturing. 
• Warm Fireplace in Women's restrooms. 
• Hot and cold running water. 
• Black Onyx Decor counter tops. 
• Self contained water tank (up to 800 uses). 
• Holding tank allows approximately 2,000 uses before servicing. 
• Ample exterior lighting. 
• Marbled patterned walls. 
• Diffused sconce lighting throughout. 
• Heated and air conditioned. 
• Fully enclosed individual stalls. 
• Sanitary Hands-Free pedal flush toilets and urinals. 

They had me with the sconces!

It's not the sexiest part of Hergé Manor Maintenance, but I know that Moat Conditioning is going to be a terribly divisive topic, what with so many first time corporate visitors arriving by submarine. It's a tenuous ecological balancing act -- on the one hand, we can flood the Submariner's Mooring area with Commercial Grade Bacterial Enzyme Treatments to transform industrial-grade sludge and out-of-control nutrients ("Up to 1,000 Lbs Per Day!") into Essential Angel Farts;  on the other hand, we can quietly, efficiently, and cheaply drown out our problems with algaecides (copper sulphate, iron salts, rosin amine salts and benzalkonium chloride). 

Fred has a dream.  He wants to press The Manor's Miniature Families into special service, such as Moat Maintenance.  I don't know that this is the time for such forward-thinking measures, but you try calming down an excited Fred.  "For only the cost of toothbrushes!" he crows.

I am limited by a pesky Non-Disclosure Agreement, and had to have even this little bit of blog copy pre-approved... but I am pleased to announce that these BigSpeak SpeakEasy MiniTraining Camps mark the first event use of our new Class IIa Abbreviated Wilderness Trail and Bird Sanctuary.  It's an amazing piece of artifice made, seemingly, of concentric oak hammocks and dense coastal pine woodland looping around a central marsh, that is, itself, carefully maintained and divided by a system of unobtrusive dykes.  The fake marsh is host to seven tiny -- and very real -- nesting islands.  Weirdly enough, the comment we hear most often from the BETA specialists on site at Marlinspike Hall, as they gaze down from its rarefied heights?  "Nice... but no waterfalls."

Having enjoyed a Power Nap or two, the motivational speakers were excited to herd us mild-mannered mid-management types through the Stable, over the rope bridge, and into the Computer Turret, where we were sequestered for a special brainstorming session. Fred was a little miffed. He kept reminding everyone to send thank you notes to The Captain, our absent host ("...and don't stop at one, send five!").

This whole "corporations are people, too" concept is new to us, what can I say?

The only idea, bright or otherwise, to emerge from our forced meeting of minds was the decision to post some of our older, semi-retired Domestic Staff right beside the blog titles, so that visitors can be properly escorted and supported as they read.  It can be vertiginous, the experience of reading around here. Plus, these sweet old farts absolutely insist on being scheduled for a few shifts each week -- devoted old men, consecrated old women.

Walmart got the whole "Greeters" gimmick from us, you know.  Initially, we thought ourselves quite clever, tapping into such a great resource as Marlinspike Hall's kind and wizened live-in elders.  Weren't we grand, weren't we magnanimous, providing the Old Folk with a routine and some physical and mental enrichment to stave off dementia?! Still, the twinkle in their milky eyes was disconcerting: Fred broke out in guilty psychic rashes; I took to wearing Evil Eye jewelry. (But La Bonne et Belle Bianca Castafiore laughed and laughed!) It took a few years but we finally learned that our bent and rheumatic greeting squad was happily fulfilling the final act of their lifelong (and genetic) dedication to hospitality.

We've caught several of our Cistercian neighbors trying to horn in and cover Greeter shifts. It turned out to have been suggested by Abbot Truffatore as impeccable adjunct training for those monks eyeballing the monastery's Porter or Gatekeeper position. A curious identity, the Porter spans the division between worlds, introducing one to the other, and when perfected to the job, absolutely refraining from judgment.   There's even a quiet tradition of sainthood being bestowed upon these keepers of the welcoming flame.

It's as a reflection of the Porter's mythos, then, that we publicly post our Greeters next to every bolded blog title. Maybe we're a smidgen too proud of our wrinkled Greeters but they've guided us well, without judgment, even in the brash early days when we never thought we'd be anything but Manor Squatters, never thought to make a real home here.  It's those same kind, wizened  folk who wait to show you life in Tête de Hergé, at least how it is west of the Lone Alp, and the way things are done here, in Marlinspike Hall, the Haddock family's humble ancestral abode.

Thomson and Thompson (Dupont et Dupond)
by Hergé

Serving as Honorary First Blog Guide and Greeter, you have no doubt noted, is Tête de Hergé's most famous nonagenarian, Tante Louise. Together with three cell phones, a bull horn, and her panoptic beady brown eyes, she is our first, and best, defense against fire, theft, and trauma of all sort. 

She will be hosting this post for its initial minute inside your skull, at which point Gervaise will step in as Greeter.  

I've just been notified that Gervaise wants to be called "Miss Madame Docent."

We still have a few problems to iron out.  

© 2015 L. Ryan

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