A Tuscan Treat

Marcia and I returned have just returned from a ten day trip to Italy, booked and built around the “Tuscan Treat” package offered by Back-Roads Touring, a London-based company specializing in small group tours. Here’s the itinerary, and we added an extra night at the front and back ends in Florence. We had done a similar small group tour last year to Spain and Portugal with a different provider, and had a great experience, so came into this trip with high expectations.

I’m delighted to report that the actual experience was even better than what we had hoped for. We had an utterly delightful group of travel companions, all of them from Australia or New Zealand, so it was a wonderful extra cultural exchange bonus to be able to spend time and break bread and experience Tuscany with all of them. Thank you Beth, Alison, Judith, Sue, Bill, Kerrie, Greg, Max, Robin, Karen,Di, Glen and all three Johns for your delightful warmth and companionship and perspective. We enjoyed our time together very much, and hope that our paths will cross again.

Our guide, Luis Cardoso, is a native of Portugal and long-time resident of the United Kingdom, and he was also a wonderful traveling companion and facilitator of group cohesion and spirit, with good humor and great tales and perspective about what we experienced. “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story,” he noted several times, and as a writer and storyteller myself, I couldn’t be more fond of that philosophy. I would be very, very happy to tour with Luis again, so I’ll be monitoring the Back Roads Touring schedule next summer to see what he’s up to, and whether we might be able to go along for the ride. So thanks to you too, Luis: you are a gentleman and a scholar and jolly good guide.

As is often the case on trips like this one, the things that we like the most are unseen and unexpected in advance of the journey. My favorite stops were Pienza, Lucca and Volterra, none of which I’d known anything about before we booked this trip; we saw a wonderful, intimate opera performance in Lucca, had one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in Volterra, and just relaxed and absorbed the beauty of Pienza. We had a great time in Siena learning about their legendary historic Palio, and I have decided to root for the Bruco (Caterpillar) contrade in future runnings of this spectacle. We stayed for a couple of days at a wonderful villa next door (the term is relative) to Sting and Trudie Styler’s place in Chianti, and we visited the Cinque Terre, which my sister cites as her favorite place in the world. I could see why.

As always, I merrily snapped photos along the way, and you can click the sample photo below to see the rest of them. I was going to cull and sort and organize and order and explain them all, but I am actually just enjoying experiencing them as a big bloc of imagery jumbled all together, aptly capturing the overwhelming sensory experience of spending time in this magical, historic, alluring part of the world.



Ye gods, he blogs! Or at least he stops by his website to unload some piffle and tripe for your reading pleasure (?) until June’s Short Story of the Month appears . . .

On The Stereo #1: I’ve had Tsarskoye Selo by Che Guevara T-Shirt on heavy rotation for the past couple of weeks. The group formed circa 2005 in Albany, New York with a standard guitar(s)-bass-drum rock configuration, but around the time of their outstanding 2012 album Everyone That’s Dead Was Obviously Wrong (see #6, here), the front line of Keith Sonin and Matt Heuston both began playing baritone guitars, creating a truly distinctive sound and feel for their music. They’ve continued with the double baritone approach through three more albums since then (picking up new drummer John Olander along the way), and the low end remains front and center on the fabulous Tsarskoye Selo. The seven-track album combines knotty melodic and rhythmic figures with impressionistic, claustrophobic lyrics that are rich in word play, and delivered with a sharp urgency by Sonin (mostly) and Heuston (on “Revenge”). While the challenging musical patterns might casually shoehorn these songs into the “math rock” genre, Che Guevara T-Shirt manage to make their intricacy far more engaging than most other examples of that form, and the rumble of the baritones creates a sense of inexorable force that grabs you and holds you and shakes you in potent, resonant ways. Album highlights for me include “Un Jou” (fantastic use of multi-lingual sounds to tap hidden layers of meaning), “I Break Women” (the most rumbling of rumbles) and “Conrad” (which combines powerful music with dark, self-referential words to create a paean to the frustrations of the independent artist). What makes Che Guevara T-Shirt’s work most special to me is the blend of their unique instrumental attack with the excellence of their texts, credited in the album’s liner notes to one “Scott Koenig,” who I suspect may be the equally mysterious “S. Connick,” who wrote an interesting “20 Years Later” review of this disc on his blog, here. Having followed Heuston and Sonin’s musical activities for many, many years (well before Che Guevara T-Shirt existed), I’d be delighted if Connick’s future visions for this album came true. These guys are great songwriters and musicians, and they deserve to be more widely heard and respected.

A Pet Peeve: I’m very mobile these days, doing a lot of travel for work, or taking multiple buses and trains each day when I go to and from my office. I carry all the things I need to make it through the day in a satchel (okay, it’s probably a man purse, technically) that hangs around my neck. As I go to stores and buy coffee and other sundries necessary throughout the day, I’ve become increasingly bugged by the habit of retail cashiers to leaf large paper  receipts in with bills, then put coins on top of the whole mess, when making change. First off, I don’t want a huge paper receipt for a $2.50 cup of coffee. Secondly, when you give me change that way, I can no longer slide my bills into my wallet with one hand, then easily slide my wallet into my man purse satchel. It becomes a two-handed operation that involved setting things down on the counter, creating the opportunity to walk away without something. Before computers became ubiquitous, I think we all envisioned a far more paper-free world that they might have created. But now, the amount of useless, incidental paper generated seems to be rising, and cashiers are being trained to hand it to customers in the most inconvenient way possible. A big deal? No. Annoying nonetheless? You bet. That’s pretty much the definition of pet peeve isn’t it?

Road, Rail, Plane Warrior: I mentioned that I’ve been traveling a lot lately. How much? Here’s a map of the places I’ve been since August:

map thru may 13I’ll be returning to Iowa and Florida in the next month, but before then, I leave this map entirely for a trip to Italy with Marcia. Watch for the usual photo essays around that trip in early June.

Beloved Royals, Up Close and Personal: We had a perfect spring day here on Sunday, and Marcia and I spent it on the first base side of U.S. Cellular Field, watching my Beloved Royals play the hometown Chicago White Sox. It was a good game, though it didn’t end quite the way I would have liked, with the Sox winning, and two Royals players being injured in a foul ball chasing collision along the third base line. But it was still a joy to see them play, since it’s been a long time since I’ve had the chance to do so. Our seats were excellent, per shots below:

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On The Stereo #2: I was thrilled to learn a few weeks back that New Jersey’s dälek were back in musical action with a fantastic new album called Asphalt for Eden. My “Top 200 Albums of All Time” list features not one, not two, but three albums from this crew, and they are played very regularly in our household. At bottom line: I find their work be aurally, lyrically, and conceptually as ambitious and impressive and original as music comes. Ostensibly an underground rap act on paper, dälek actually mine an ambitious lode that sits on a tiny sweet spot where the industrial, noise, hip hop and avant garde genres overlap. Their beats are insistent, but they are often shrouded in dense loops of squall and squeal and static that don’t quite sound like anything else I’ve heard anywhere else, from anyone. Atop the tumult, MC Will Brooks delivers choice line after choice line in a perfectly cadenced, powerful voice, supplemented by some of the smartest and most thought-provoking spoken word samples you’re even likely to hear knitted into a musical tapestry. Asphalt for Eden is a powerful return document, and it’s wonderful to hear dälek maintain their sonic attack with a new lineup, who bring new things to the mix, but deploy them in order to extend the unique musical legacy that the group have forged over the years. The trio is coming to Chicago in July, and I look forward to hearing them live as they deliver cuts from this and so many other favorite albums.

Avail of Two Cities: An interesting memo from Mercy Health Network a couple of weeks ago contained the news that the hospital system had named a new Vice President and General Counsel: Marcia Brom Smith. It’s a wonderful and well-deserved career step for my bestest of bestests, and I’m proud of and pleased for her to the highest of high degrees. Huttah! And Huttah Again! You regular readers who are actually familiar with Mercy Health Network might correctly observe that it is based in Iowa, not Chicago, meaning that Marcia will be traveling regularly between here and there for work. Last week, we acquired and furnished (thank you, storage unit) a second one-bedroom apartment in Des Moines’ East Village so she doesn’t have to be a hotel regular when she’s there. So we are now officially stateless (in the good sense of that word) with a small base of operations in Chicago near my work, and a small base of operations in Des Moines, near Marcia’s work, and where Katelin still lives. Despite having two addresses, we still have fewer bedrooms than we did in our last house, not to mention no driveways to shovel, no grass to cut, no gardens to mulch, no roofs to replace, no furnaces to break, and no general worries about leaving an empty house when we travel. It’s a new chapter, a new adventure, and a new approach, but we’ve never shied away from those in the past, so I expect this phase to as exciting as all those that have come before it. Did I say Huttah? Huttah!

Short Story Of The Month #6: How Do You Know?

Once again, I’m not being a very good blogger when it comes to frequency of posting here, but I must admit that the Short Story Of The Month project is having something of its desired result in getting me to spend mental energy on creative endeavors that might have a bit more more heft and bit longer legs than my usual periodic piffle and tripe. So that’s what working for me here these days, and I’m gonna run with it.

I’ve finished my May story, the sixth of thirteen planned. It didn’t have quite the same genesis as the others in the series, in that I didn’t push the random word generator to pick four seed words to inspire a story. This one took something more like my usual weird creative process: I woke from a complicated dream one morning with the phrase “How do you know?” resonating in the afterglow of a good night’s sleep.

As I rose and tried to remember and retain the general gist and flavor of the dream, it dawned (no pun intended) on me that those were, as it turns out, four words randomly selected by my sleeping brain instead of by a computer, so I decided to use them for this month’s story instead. I trust the lizard in my skull when it comes to stuff like this: my favorite poem from the 2004 Poem Of The Day project — Jefferson Water — was also direct deposit from a dream state.

I don’t know if I will like “How Do You Know?” years from now as much as I like “Jefferson Water,” but the only way to test it was to write it, so I did.

As always, if you want to catch up on prior installments, here are the links:

December 2015: The Research Assistant

January 2016: Eadwig Espinosa, Ealdorman of Daud

February 2016: Fleming And The Food Fluffers

March 2016: Veronica Bugdoctor

April 2016: Blackthorn

And here’s the new one . . . enjoy!


By J. Eric Smith
Copyright 2016

How do you know?

Know what?

What you know.

Well, I learn things, I guess. I read. I listen. I study. I talk. I assimilate. I process. Once I learn something, then I know it. Is that what you mean?


Can you tell me what you mean in a different way, then?

When I took your ship, I tried to know you in the way that knowing beings know each other, but I could not know you, and you could not know me. I found a cup on the outside of your ship and when I knew the cup, the cup knew you. How?

You began speaking to me through my ship’s communications feed. I heard you, which means you caused a membrane in a speaker to vibrate in a way that caused membranes in my head to vibrate sympathetically, and the signals those membranes created were transmitted to my brain, so in hearing you, I learned you were there, or I knew you were there. I use another organ in my head to create other vibrations that move other membranes in other speakers, which apparently you can understand via the communications dish on the outside of my ship. The dish, or the cup you know, is a communications link that broadcasts these vibrations to my home world. So I know you are here, and I can hear you, and speak to you, but I do not know who or what you are. I know that you are directing my ship and that I cannot override your direction. I know that you have taken my ship away from the ships of my companions, and that I cannot communicate with them. I assume that this is because you have overridden my communications dish, and are using it to navigate my ship, communicate with me, and perhaps communicate with others of your kind?

I do not have a membrane. I do not vibrate. I know. But you know me without me knowing you, and I do not know how you know. 

I suppose, yes. I would say that I know of you, but I do not know you. Who are you?

I am the one who knows me most knowingly.

Are there others like you?

There are ones who know themselves most knowingly, and know others.

Are you a machine, or are you a living being?

I am a knowing being.

Well, yes, I understand that, I think, but are you a living being, or something else, like a thinking machine, a device that can know? This ship is a machine. The communications dish you are using to speak with me and guide the ship is a machine. But a machine is not alive. I am alive, a living being. Organic. Birthed by other living beings, not made.

I know the cup on the ship. The cup knows you. I cannot know you. I am a knowing being.

Okay, but were you manufactured or were you born?

I became. 

I don’t know then. I cannot see you, only hear you, so I don’t know if you are a machine or a living being. I suppose it doesn’t matter. Why have you taken my ship?

It is why I became.

You came into being to take my ship? Or ships in general? Are you a pirate? An explorer? A scientist? Why do you want to take my ship in a direction different from the one that it was traveling with the others of my kind? The direction that me and my people picked. That we know, I suppose, as you would say.

I know many ships. I know many knowing beings who know ships. It is why I became. I know your ship through its cup, but I cannot know you. I have never known a ship that did not contain a knowing being that I could know.

My fellows and I are the first of our people to travel to this star system. We are on a journey of colonization in advance of the likely decimation of our world to environmental disasters made by our own kind. We have never been this far from our home sun. We have never known other living beings which have shown the intelligence you have shared with me. I feared my ship had malfunctioned when it suddenly went off course and I was unable to communicate with my fellows. But apparently that is when you began to know my ship, and your intelligence, your knowing, is apparently greater than ours. Or at least very, very different. And powerful.

I cannot know you. You are a non-knowing being. Non-knowing beings are not normally found alone on ships. They are normally transported only to feed knowing beings that have yet to shed their husks.

You do not have a husk?

I could not know your ship in open space if I had a husk.

Do you feed, then?


On what?


And what do you normally do with the knowing beings inside the ships?

Know them.

I don’t understand. What happens to them after you know them, but before you feed on their ships?

I know them. Then they know me. Then we become.

Become what?


And you cannot know me?

I cannot know you.

And you are going to feed on my ship?

I am going to feed on your ship.

So you are going to feed on me as well, then?

I feed on ships.

Then what is going to happen to me?

Open forward hatch. Open mid-ship hatch. Open aft hatch. Open missile bay. Open communications tunnel. Open bridge wing. Open refueling bay. Open cargo bay. Open. Open. Open. Open. Open. Open. Open.

Short Story Of The Month #5: Blackthorn

Holy Moly, where did April go?  The last time I only had one blog post in a month was September 2013, when I was coming out of a writing sabbatical. Not a conscious choice like that this month, I was just apparently busier than I realized elsewhere as the days flew by. “In the time that it takes to write about doing it, it could be done.” (TM: Shriekback). While not writing much here, I did spend a fair amount of time mulling this month’s story before putting it down for posterity. It grew from an idea I had last summer, and there’s probably more research into it than the final text would indicate, though hopefully that helps with tone and tenor, if not actual explication. It’s a dark one, I have to say. You’ve been warned.

Here are the prior installments of my Short Story of the Month series if you’d like to catch up:

December 2015: The Research Assistant

January 2016: Eadwig Espinosa, Ealdorman of Daud

February 2016: Fleming And The Food Fluffers

March 2016: Veronica Bugdoctor

As in prior months, the story is seeded by using a random generator that provides me with four cornerstone words. Here’s what I started with:


And here’s what I did with that . . .



1. My sports loyalties are a matter of public record, so when the usually sad collection of teams I most avidly follow have their occasional great seasons, I can’t be accused of bandwagon jumping. 2015 was a remarkable year for me on this front, as the Beloved Kansas City Royals took home a World Series Crown for the first time in 30 years. Huttah! Navy football also capped a remarkable season, with the stellar Keenan Reynolds ending his four-year career as starting quarterback with the best Heisman Trophy finish for a Navy player since Roger Staubach won the thing in 1963. Double Huttah! So now it is 2016, and it looks on the surface like I could be on a fandom roll, as the Washington Capitals just captured the President’s Trophy in the National Hockey League, securing home ice advantage for all four rounds of the playoffs. Note well, though, that they key words in the prior sentence are “looks on the surface,” as the Caps are among the most heart-breaking of my favorite franchises, with a long history of awesome regular season play being undone by shocking chokes in the post-season. How did their last President’s Trophy season end, you might ask? With a first round, seven-game loss to #8 seed Montreal. They say that pessimists are never disappointed, so I’m preparing for the post-season accordingly. Harrumph!

2. Around our three month anniversary in Chicago, I’d written a piece about some Mysteries of Chicago that we’d experienced in our early days here. Five months later, a couple more have emerged for us:

  • What’s with all the bad mouthing of Navy Pier in both the traditional and hipster media? Sure, it’s a big tourist destination with a lot of the expected plastic cheese factor that goes along with that, but it’s still a nice walkabout with some great lake views and pretty unbeatable people-watching opportunities, right? And what’s wrong with that?
  • Why are locals obsessed with regaling newcomers about the horrors of the weather here? While we recognize that this past winter was quite a mild one, we’ve endured the horrors of Idaho, Upstate New York and Iowa winters for the past quarter century, so when people give me the “Oooo, just you wait ’til next year, it’s going to be awful” pitch, I just sort of shrug in an unimpressed fashion, and it seems to offend some folks that I would dare to suggest that other places’ weather is more vile than ours is here.

3. Over a year ago, before we knew we were moving to Chicago, we purchased a pair of tickets in Des Moines for this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship first and second round games. We had seen had seen an epic collection of Women’s Hoops teams during their tournament a couple of years before (including Baylor with Britney Griner, and Tennessee in Pat Summit’s last year with the team), so were optimistic that we might get something similar for the men this year. We traveled back to Des Moines two weekends ago for the games, and the draw didn’t disappoint, as the second round games we attended featured four legendary programs with Kentucky, Connecticut, Indiana and Kansas taking the floor. We gave two of our first round tickets to Katelin and John, but we did get to see Stony Brook (SUNY represent!) play their first and (for now) last NCAA Tournament game. I’d have preferred to see their conference rival Albany Great Danes play, of course, but it was good to have an American East team in the house, however briefly. We didn’t get to pick seats, so were also nicely surprised at how good they turned out to be. Here’s the free throw that ended Kentucky’s season, as a sampler of the view:

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4. From Des Moines, I flew on to Knoxville, Tennessee for a conference, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the Convention Center is built on the grounds of the Worlds Fair, which I attended in 1982 on my high school Senior Class Trip. The Sunsphere  features in many blurry memories that I have of that trip, and it’s still there, so it was nice to have some fresh, unblurry views of it, all these years later. If you know much about what happened during that earlier trip to Knoxville, feel free to fill me in at some point. Ahem.

5. We celebrated Katelin and Marcia’s birthdays this year in Chicago together, with Katelin and John visiting from Des Moines, and three of Katelin’s college friends from New York flying in to make things extra festive. The weekend featured two exceptional meals, one with all seven of us at Emilio’s Sol y Nieve (tapas ’til the cows came home), and one with just The Family at Sepia (delicious creative organic/sustainable fare rooted in traditional American fare, with modern International twists). We highly recommend both destinations if you’re looking for a special night out.

Short Story Of The Month #4: Veronica Bugdoctor

Another month, another short story. Here are the prior installments if you’d like to catch up:

December 2015: The Research Assistant

January 2016: Eadwig Espinosa, Ealdorman of Daud

February 2016: Fleming And The Food Fluffers

As in prior months, the story is inspired by using a random word generator that provides me with four cornerstone words. Here’s what I started with:


And here’s where that took my imagination . . .


By J. Eric Smith, Copyright 2016

“Veronica Bugdoctor,” that’s what we call her. She cares for the insects who live on our block.

She’s a dumpy old lady who shuffles around the neighborhood in her dumpy old lady dress, with flowers and stains all over it, looking for all the spiders and beetles and praying mantises and other bugs and making sure that they’re doing okay. She picks up wooly bears and worms off the sidewalk and puts them in the grass so they don’t get squished. If there’s too many beetles in one flower and not enough in another, she’ll move them around so they all get their fair share. She puts out pop cans for the yellow jackets, which is nice because then they don’t come after us so much. Kevin is allergic.

Sometimes Veronica Bugdoctor rescues flies from spider webs and sets them free, and sometimes she puts flies into other webs to help the spiders. That’s how nature works, you see, so it’s natural and that’s okay, although we all feel sorry for the flies that have to be the food. There’s a bee hive in one of her trees, and they really seem to like it that Veronica Bugdoctor doesn’t cut her grass, so there’s lots of clover flowers for them. If you stand in just the right spot and look up, you can see the honey combs inside the tree. We sometimes talk about climbing it to see if we can get some of the honey, but then we think that Veronica wouldn’t like that, so we don’t want to interfere with her work or cause the baby bees to go hungry. Plus, like I said, Kevin is allergic. Also to peanuts.

Ramona thinks that Veronica Bugdoctor has crickets living in her curly old lady grey hair because when you get close to her it sounds like they are singing in there, but I haven’t seen them myself. Just heard them. Mom says she’s from France. Dad says she’s simple. She might be both, I guess, since she doesn’t talk much or pay people much mind, just shuffles around muttering to herself while she does her bugdoctor work. Mom and Dad both say her house is an eyesore, and that her messy yard hurts their proper T values, but none of us really know what they mean by that. It looks fine to us. Sort of natural, and that’s okay.

Veronica has curtains in her windows with flowers on them like the ones on her dress (fewer stains, though), so we don’t really know what the Bughouse looks like inside, the way you can see into other people’s houses on the block, especially at night. We saw Mrs Grayson getting undressed one time in the room in her house with the blue sofa and the painting of a big red flower over the fireplace. Me and Jimmy and Kevin and Dale wanted to watch more, but Ramona said she’d tell on us if we didn’t leave right away, so we did, because she’s the oldest, and also a girl. I still think about that sometimes.

You know how animals do the mating on television where one gets on top of the other one like going for a ride? Well, bugs do the mating by getting stuck together at their butts, and sometimes they fly around like that. One day we saw Veronica following some dragonflies that had their butts connected all around her yard. Kevin said she was perverted for watching the mating the way, but Jimmy thought that maybe Veronica had helped them to get together like on the television dating shows. Did you notice that mating and dating rhyme with each other? That’s funny. I just noticed it myself.

Me and Jimmy and Kevin live on this side of her house (not together, but in different houses, all on this side), and Ramona and Dale live on the other side (they do live together, since they’re brother and sister), so we are always cutting through Veronica Bugdoctor’s yard when we are going to one place or the other. We see her there in her yard a lot, of course, but also sometimes in other yards. “Hello, Veronica Bugdoctor,” we always say, very polite, and she always looks at us and mutters but she seems to like the nice way we address her. One time Ramona tripped over a root in her front yard and skinned her knees up bad and was crying and Veronica brought her a pop and stood there and watched her until she was done crying. So that was nice of her. We teased Ramona afterwards that Veronica must have thought she was a bug, and so it’s a good thing she didn’t get fed to the spiders instead.

Since Veronica Bugdoctor is an old lady and all of us are in elementary school (Ramona is in fifth grade, Dale is in third grade, me and Jimmy and Kevin are all in fourth, which is the average of us all), she has been here on the block doing her bugdoctoring for as long as any of us can remember, and probably for even longer. She is just one of the things that make our neighborhood feel like our neighborhood, just like the swings do, or the little alley between Dale and Ramona’s house and the church that you can climb by putting your hands and feet on each side and pressing yourself up, or the paths in the woods between here and school. Those things never change, they’re just always there, always the same.

So that’s why my ears perked up one night when Dad said he had seen Veronica Bugdoctor going through our recycling bin and taking a bunch of newspapers and magazines back to her Bughouse. (Even Mom and Dad called her that, but I don’t know if they learned it from us or if we learned it from them). Veronica didn’t seem like much of a reader, and she also didn’t seem like much of a trash picker (well, I guess her dress looked like it could have been trash picked), so Dad telling that story seemed like a weird thing to me, and I told Ramona and Dale and Kevin and Jimmy about it, just because it was different. Like a news report. Flash!

A few days later, we were on the swings and we saw Veronica coming down the street, and do you know what? She had some newspaper sheets in her hands, and a couple rolled up under her arm, headed back toward her house. We pumped our swings up high and jumped off as far as we could (Jimmy went the furthest), acting like we were just playing and going to get back on the swings, but then we followed Veronica Bugdoctor from a little ways behind, and saw her take the newspapers up the back steps into what looked like a mud room at the back of the house.

Very interesting, we all thought, and then we decided that we would be spies and keep a very careful eye on Veronica Bugdoctor to crack the case of the stolen recycling bin newspapers. A few days after that, the case expanded when we discovered that Veronica was also behind the case of the stolen trash can magazines, and the case of the stolen cardboard boxes from outside the church office, too. Also the case of the stolen trash that blew up against the fence around the park where the swings were. It was a full crime spree!

The only mystery that remained to be solved was for us to figure out what Vernonica Bugdoctor was doing with all of her loot. It took us a few days more to work up the courage, but the next time we saw her return with a hot load (this time it was from the case of the stolen shoe box next to the dumpster), we waited until she had gone into her mudroom and crept up very, very slowly and quietly to see if we could peek into the Bughouse and see what was going on. There was a little space in the flowery curtains on one of the windows, so Kevin got in close and put his hands on the sill to lift himself up to peek in and give us the report.

A minute later it happened. He threw his hands up and let out a yell and fell backwards away from the window. Jimmy and Ramona and Dale took off like lightning grease and I started to run, too, but then I heard Kevin say “It stung me!” There had been a yellow jacket on the window sill, and it had got Kevin good! And Kevin was allergic!

I ran to try to get Kevin up so we could get him back to his house so his mom could jab him with the Peppy Pen that cured the allergic, but he was already moaning and crying and wheezing and I couldn’t get him to move. I thought about running to his house and then running back, but I didn’t know how much time I would have before the Peppy Pen wouldn’t do the job, and I decided that I needed a grownup’s help to do the right thing, so I just ran up and banged on Veronica Bugdoctor’s back door, and then ran back to Kevin and told him “Hang in there, buddy!” and “We’ll get through this, pal!” and “It’s only a scratch, chum!” and other things to cheer him up and make him pay attention.

When I looked up the next time, Veronica Bugdoctor was on her way down the back stairs. She walked over to where Kevin was laying on the grass and she bent down and picked him up, very gently, like a gramma who didn’t want to hurt her back, or hurt the person she was carrying. She looked at me and muttered something, and then she carried Kevin up the back stairs of the Bughouse. I followed of course, still saying “It’ll be okay, Kevin!” and “Chin up, lad, Veronica’s here to help you!”

We walked through the mudroom area and a messy kitchen and into the living room of the Bughouse. There was no furniture in it at all, just piles of shredded newspaper and cardboard and magazines spread from wall to wall to wall, with bigger piles in three of the four corners of the room. Veronica Bugdoctor carried Kevin to the fourth corner, where the pile wasn’t so big, and she gently set him down there. He was very pale, and moaning a lot.

Veronica stepped back from where Kevin was laying, and then she reached down with both hands and she lifted up her frumpy old lady dress with the flowers and stains on it. Underneath the dress, she had six skinny, hairy legs and six little feet, each one wearing a clunky black child-sized corrective shoe, like the ones Dale had to wear when we were younger because of his club foot.

I didn’t start screaming, though, until the jiggly green eggs began dropping out of her.