Home from the Vinyl Cafe: A Year of Stories

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Overview

These tales of everyday struggles and triumphs introduce Dave, owner of the Vinyl Cafe, a tiny record store, and his wife, Morley, and chronicle their valiant attempts to rise to the unpredictable challenges of modern life. In these hymns to common foibles and absurdities, nothing ever quite goes according to plan.

In the hands of internationally bestselling author Stuart McLean, host of the popular CBC Radio show The Vinyl Cafe and a master storyteller often compared ...

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Overview

These tales of everyday struggles and triumphs introduce Dave, owner of the Vinyl Cafe, a tiny record store, and his wife, Morley, and chronicle their valiant attempts to rise to the unpredictable challenges of modern life. In these hymns to common foibles and absurdities, nothing ever quite goes according to plan.

In the hands of internationally bestselling author Stuart McLean, host of the popular CBC Radio show The Vinyl Cafe and a master storyteller often compared to E. B. White and Garrison Keillor, Home from the Vinyl Cafe (A Year of Stories) captures the melodies of daily life and the harmonious sounds of pets, family, friends, and neighbors.
 

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Colloquial, interlocking stories chronicle the ups and downs of a suburban Toronto couple in this warm-hearted latest by Canadian author and broadcast personality McLean (Stories from the Vinyl Caf ). "Holland" considers the courtship and marriage of Dave, the owner of the eponymous record store, and his wife, Morley; early differences in perspective (she thinks eating raw onions is gross; he can't stand those frou-frou chive snippets in his eggs) lead them to a spontaneous skating trip to Holland to cement their romance. "Sourdough" concerns what happens when a neighbor asks Dave to baby-sit the starter for his precious sourdough bread; the sweet, charming "Burd" charts the consequences of Dave's decision to feed an unlikely avian visitor. Dave's daughter and niece enter the picture in subsequent stories, and McLean includes funny scenes about holiday dinners and road trips as well as poignant thoughts about the inevitable failing of Dave and Morley's parents. McLean's natural flair for storytelling helps overcome the limitations of the Lake Wobegonesque conceit, and while he reaches for overly cute, contrived humor in several entries, the overall package is highly enjoyable. Agent, Melanie Jackson. (May) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Amusing domestic tales from the guy's viewpoint by a Canadian Garrison Keillor. The central figure in these 19 stories is Dave, a former rock-band road manager who now runs a tiny record shop called the Vinyl Cafe. Wife Morley is the sort of woman who begins preparing for Christmas in May; Dave is the kind of guy who forgets that he is in charge of the turkey until the night before Thanksgiving. So he sneaks out of the house at 4 a.m. to an all-night store, buys the last remaining turkey (a frozen, 12-pound, grade-B, slashed carcass with a ripped right drumstick that he names Butch), defrosts Butch with a hairdryer and an electric blanket; and when he can't figure out the automatic oven timer already set for the vegetables, checks into a hotel where room service cooks the turkey for him-all without Morley ever knowing the difference. McLean's laconic approach makes situations that are not exactly fresh seem rip-roaringly funny. For example, the $563.30 bill for Dave's unnamed guinea pig, who spends three days at the vet because he's losing his hair. Or the cat Dave's sister leaves in his care with a set of instructions that he promptly loses. Or the sleepover birthday party for which he rents Night of the Zombies, scaring prepubescent son Sam and his buddies half to death. Or the friends who leave Dave in charge of periodically "feeding" a spoonful of flour to their sourdough bread starter while they are away; he mistakes Spackle for the flour and has to start another from scratch. Or the time teenage daughter Stephanie accidentally sends her parents the letter intended for her best friend and Dave starts reading her raves about the boys at summer camp: "His eyes flicked down at the pagein front of him; he thought he saw the word 'tongue.' "A cozy, meandering, often laugh-out-loud treat.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743270007
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 4/26/2005
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Stuart McLean writes and hosts the popular CBC Radio show The Vinyl Cafe. He is the author of the bestselling books Vinyl Cafe Diaries, which won the short fiction award from the Canadian Authors Association; Welcome Home: Travels in Smalltown Canada, which con the CAA's award for nonfiction; Home from the Vinyl Cafe; and Vinyl Cafe Unplugged, both of which won the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. He lives in Toronto, Canada.

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Read an Excerpt

The Pig

The guinea pig was losing hair. Not shedding it; losing it. Morley said, "You better take her to the vet." Dave said to his wife, "I know."

The neighborhood vet said she didn't do pigs. She told Dave he'd have to take her to a clinic that specialized in small animals. Dave wasn't sure how to move a sick pig across the city. He settled on the bus and a wooden fruit basket filled with wood chips. The pig didn't seem to mind the excursion. Neither did Dave.

The pig was Dave's job. He cleaned her cage, he fed her, and since she was sick, he accepted that it was up to him to make her better. The pig was his son's pet, but when he bought her, Dave knew that caring for her would eventually fall to him. He didn't enjoy cleaning the cage two nights a week; often he resented it, but he never expected it to be any other way. The pig, after all, was his idea. Why shouldn't he look after her? Once it occurred to him that he did a better job caring for the guinea pig than he did for anyone else in his life — not that he cared for the pig more than his wife or kids; just that looking after her was clearer. He could see when her cage was dirty, and when it was, he knew what to do about it.

When he got to the vet, a young receptionist asked him questions and typed his answers into her computer. When she asked for the pig's name, Dave said, "Doesn't have a name."

Not liking the look that crossed her face, he added, "We call her, the Pig...sometimes just Guinea." Dave, who had always felt naming animals was a questionable practice, thought naming a rodent was foolish, and he hadn't encouraged the idea. But standing in front of thereceptionist, he felt shabby about owning an unnamed pig. As if that told her all she needed to know about him and his family and the way they cared for animals. As if it were suddenly obvious why the pig was sick.

Dave is foggy about the rest of the visit. But he can remember snatches of it. He remembers the receptionist ushering him into another room. He and the pig. He remembers being left alone until another young woman walked in. In his memory, she is wearing a white lab coat. She looks much too young to be a doctor. When she plucks the pig out of its basket and holds her up confidently, he thinks, Must be just out of school.

The young woman is asking him questions. She is poking the pig, petting her. She is taking her away. Dave waits in the front room with the receptionist.

When the young vet, whose name is Dr. Percy, calls Dave back into the examining room, she tells him that she suspects the pig has a tumor. Suspects. She can't be sure. Not without tests.

"We don't see a lot of guinea pigs," she adds.

Then she hands Dave a yellow piece of paper that he still has in his wallet. He has been showing it to everyone who lingers by the cash register at his store. At the top of the page it says:

ESTIMATE

GUINEA PIG — UNNAMED

What seized Dave's attention the moment Dr. Percy handed the estimate to him, and why he has been showing it around, is the figure at the bottom of the page.

ESTIMATE TOTAL: $563.30

The ESTIMATE is carefully itemized:

Guinea pig examination and assessment $37.00

4 days hospitalization exotic level 2 @ $21.50/day $86.00

Vitamin C injection $12.00

Fluids, Reglan injection additional @ $6.00 each $12.00

Exotic anesthesia induction fee $30.00

20 mins. Isoflurane anesthesia @ $120/hr $40.00

15 mins. Surgery minor category @ $200/hr $49.95

Radiograph split plate $62.00

CBC — done with profile $25.00

Clinical chemistry 1 profile $47.50

Cortisol (3 tests) $75.00

Miscellaneous charges if needed (medication at home, etc.) $50.00

7% GST to be added to final bill. Estimated to be $36.85

The figure that galled Dave was the $21.50 a day for hospitalization. How could it cost $21.50 a day to feed and lodge a guinea pig? He himself had stayed in motels for under $21.50 a night. How much could a guinea pig eat, especially after surgery?

At first he thought the estimate was a joke. Or maybe a mistake. Then he realized it was neither, and he felt trapped. If he signed the estimate and handed the pig over to the vet, he could imagine what they would have to say about him at closing time. What kind of person, he could hear the receptionist ask, would spend five hundred dollars on a guinea pig? A four-year-old sick guinea pig. A guinea pig that was going bald and could soon look like a worm with legs. A pig that was clearly playing on the back nine of pigdom. On the other hand, if he were to walk out, wouldn't that confirm everything that the receptionist had thought about him?

He asked if he could phone his wife. She wasn't home. "I have to speak to my wife," he said as he left with the pig. "I'll phone you tomorrow."

Everyone he has asked says he did the right thing. Brian, who opens the Vinyl Cafe on Saturday mornings, said so. Morley said so, too. "Are you crazy?" she asked. At supper she made hair-replacement jokes. She said if the pig lost all its hair, she would knit her a little sweater.

Dave's friend Al suggested he take the pig for a walk in the rain. "That'll fix her," Al said.

Dave didn't try to explain what he was feeling. He knew it was crazy to spend $563.30 on a balding guinea pig that had cost $30. But when you are standing in a vet's office holding a life in your hands, it is easy to imagine yourself spending the money. It was, after all, a life. And it was, after all, in his hands.

The next evening, after everyone else was in bed, Dave poured himself a beer and sat down at the kitchen table. He began writing a list of animals whose deaths he had already caused.

l. One hamster. Not really his fault. She had died from chewing the wood in her cage. Dave's grandfather had built the cage. And it was his grandfather who had painted it yellow. It was the lead in the paint that had killed the hamster. Dave remembers the night the hamster died. He remembers his mother feeding his hamster brandy from an eyedropper. What he can't remember is whether the hamster had a name.

2. Frogs. Too many to count. He had never actually killed a frog himself. But he had been present when frogs were killed. He must have been twelve when his friends had found the swamp. They went there and killed frogs in all sorts of fiendish ways. They tied rocks to the frogs' legs and threw them into the water so they drowned. Dave remembers watching one frog, weighted down, its front legs pawing at the water, trying desperately to swim to the surface. He couldn't remember whether he had said anything. Whether he had stood up for the frog or not.

Years later, he went to Honolulu and toured the wreckage left from the attack on Pearl Harbor. The guide explained that the destroyer the glass-bottomed boat was gliding over had flipped during the Japanese raid, trapping hundreds of men in air pockets when it sank. The guide said that for one week, rescuers could hear the trapped men tapping on the hull of the sunken boat. The guide said there was nothing anyone could do for them. Dave squinted into the Hawaiian sun and remembered the way the frog's front paws had worked the water.

3. Starlings. When he was duck hunting. He went duck hunting only the one time. All morning there were no ducks. Nothing in the water. Nothing in the sky. Just heavy gray clouds, a smudge of sun at the end of the lake. Just before dawn, a flurry of starlings flew overhead. Dave can't remember who was the first to shoot into the flock. He remembers lifting his borrowed rifle. Remembers the wonder he felt as the starlings tumbled out of the sky. They hit the water like stones.

4. One groundhog. It was summer. He was a university student. He was working on a dairy farm in the Ottawa valley. He loved the job. He was driving tractors and cows. Every night after supper, he took a .22-caliber rifle and walked through the fields. He watched the sun go down and smoked an Old Port cigarillo. He had the gun because he was supposed to shoot groundhogs. They dug tunnels in the fields, and the tractor might tip into the tunnels. It made Dave feel important. The evening he saw his first groundhog, she must have been a hundred yards away. She was sitting up in her hole like a prairie dog. The sun was behind him. He dropped to his knees and brought the rifle up to his shoulder. He squeezed the trigger. He was mortified when the groundhog dropped out of sight. She was lying on the ground when he walked up to her. There was a small red puncture in her side as if someone had driven a nail into her. Every time she breathed, an awful sucking sound came out of the hole. Dave fumbled with the rifle. The bolt jammed. He couldn't get another bullet into the chamber. And the groundhog wouldn't die. Dave started to cry. "Die, dammit," he yelled as he turned the rifle upside down and hit the groundhog with the butt. It was the last time he had ever shot a rifle.

5. One baby raccoon. Maybe two. It was night. He was driving his family back from a week's vacation by the ocean. They had just crossed the Appalachian Mountains. They were in a valley, on a two-lane highway. He was driving too fast. He saw the eyes glint in the darkness well ahead of him.

"Watch out," his wife said in the seat beside him.

"I see it," he snapped, impatiently.

Saw with plenty of time to slow down. Instead, he veered to the right. He still remembers the surprise, the shock, when he heard the thump on his right bumper.

He had seen the flash of the mother's eyes in his headlights; what he hadn't seen were the babies following her across the highway. He plowed right into them. He wanted to stop, but his wife told him to keep going. The kids were in the backseat.

That was as far as Dave got on his list. It was after midnight. Everyone was asleep except for the pig, who, not accustomed to having the lights on at this time of night, began to whistle from her cage on the counter. Dave got up and took a carrot out of the fridge and dropped it through the door on the top of the cage. The pig sniffed the carrot and settled down to it.

"Pig," said Dave out loud with great affection.

"Pig," he said again quietly to himself on his way upstairs to bed.

Copyright © 2005 by Stuart McLean

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Table of Contents

Winter

Dave Cooks the Turkey

Holland

Valentine's Day

Sourdough

Music Lessons

Spring

"Be-Bop-A-Lula"

Burd

Emil

The Birthday Party

Summer

Driving Lessons

Summer Camp

Road Trip

Autumn

The Pig

Labor Days

School Days

A Day Off

Winter, Again

On the Roof

Polly Anderson's Christmas Party

The Jockstrap

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First Chapter

Winter
Dave Cooks the Turkey

When Carl Lowbeer bought his wife, Gerta, The Complete Christmas Planner, he did not understand what he was doing. If Carl had known how much Gerta was going to enjoy the book, he would not have given it to her. He bought it on the afternoon of December 23.

A glorious day. Carl left work at lunch and spent the afternoon drifting around downtown -- window-shopping and listening to carolers and falling into conversation with complete strangers. When he stopped for coffee, he was shocked to see it was five-thirty. Shocked because the only things he had bought were a book by Len Deighton and some shaving cream in a tube -- both things he planned to wrap and give himself. That was when the Joy of Christmas, who had sat down with him and bought him a double-chocolate croissant, said, I think I'll stay here and have another coffee while you finish your shopping. The next thing Carl knew, he was ripping through the mall like a prison escapee.

On Christmas Eve, Carl found himself staring at a bagful of stuff he couldn't remember buying. He wondered if he might have picked up someone else's bag by mistake, but then he found a receipt with his signature on it. Why would he have paid twenty-three dollars for a slab of metal to defrost meat when they already owned a microwave oven that would do it in half the time? What could he possibly have been thinking when he bought the Ab Master?

Carl did remember buying The Complete Christmas Planner. The picture on the cover had drawn him to the book -- a woman striding across a front lawn with a wreath of chilipeppers tucked under her arm. She looked like she was in a hurry, and that made him think of Gerta, so he bought the book -- never imagining that it was something his wife had been waiting for all her life. Carl had been as surprised as anyone last May when Gerta began the neighborhood Christmas group. Although not, perhaps, as surprised as Dave was when his wife, Morley, joined it.

"It's not about Christmas, Dave," said Morley. "It's about getting together."

The members of Gerta's group, all women, met every second Tuesday night at a different house. They drank tea or beer, and the host baked something, and they worked on stuff. Usually until about eleven.

"But that's not the point," said Morley. "The point is getting together. It's about neighborhood -- not about what we're actually doing."

But there was no denying that they were doing stuff.

Christmas stuff.

"It's wrapping paper," said Morley.

"You're making paper?" said Dave.

"Decorating paper," said Morley. "This is hand-printed paper. Do you know how much this would cost?"

That was in July.

In August they dipped oak leaves in gold paint and hung them in bunches from their kitchen ceilings to dry.

Then there was the stenciling weekend. The weekend Dave thought if he didn't keep moving, Morley would stencil him.

In September, Dave couldn't find an eraser anywhere in the house. Morley said, "That's because I took them all with me. We're making rubber stamps."

"You are making rubber stamps?" said Dave.

"Out of erasers," said Morley.

"People don't even buy rubber stamps anymore," said Dave.

"This one is going to be an angel," said Morley, reaching into her bag. "I need a metallic ink-stamp pad. Do you think you could buy me a metallic ink-stamp pad and some more gold paint? And we need some of those snap things that go into Christmas crackers."

"The what things?" said Dave.

"The exploding things you pull," said Morley. "We're going to make Christmas crackers. Where do you think we could get the exploding things?"

There were oranges drying in the basement on the clothes rack and blocks of wax for candles stacked on the Ping-Pong table.

One day in October, Morley said, "Do you know there are only sixty-seven shopping days until Christmas?"

Dave did not know this. In fact, he had not completely unpacked from their summer vacation. Without thinking, he said, "What are you talking about?"

Morley said, "If we want to get all our shopping done by the week before Christmas, we only have..." She shut her eyes. "...sixty-two days left."

Dave and Morley usually started their shopping the week before Christmas.

And there they were with only sixty-seven shopping days left, standing in their bedroom staring at each other, incomprehension hanging between them.

It hung there for a good ten seconds.

Then Dave said something he had been careful not to say for weeks. He said, "I thought this thing wasn't about Christmas."

Which he immediately regretted, because Morley said, "Don't make fun of me, Dave." And left the room. And then came back. Like a locomotive.

Uh-oh, thought Dave.

"What," said Morley.

"I didn't say that," said Dave.

"You said 'uh-oh,'" said Morley.

"I thought 'uh-oh,'" said Dave. "I didn't say 'uh-oh.' Thinking 'uh-oh' isn't like saying 'uh-oh.' They don't send you to jail for thinking you want to strangle someone."

"What?" said Morley.

Morley slept downstairs. She didn't say a word when Dave came down and tried to talk her out of it. Didn't say a word the next morning until Sam and Stephanie had left for school. Then she said, "Do you know what my life is like, Dave?"

Dave suspected -- correctly -- that she wasn't looking for an answer.

"My life is a train," she said. "I am a train. Dragging everyone from one place to another. To school and to dance class and to now-it's-time-to-get-up and now-it's-time-to-go-to-bed. I'm a train full of people who complain when you try to get them into a bed and fight when you try to get them out of one. That's my job. And I'm not only the train, I'm the porter and the conductor and the cook and the engineer and the maintenance man. And I print the tickets and stack the luggage and clean the dishes. And if they still had cabooses, I'd be the caboose."

Dave didn't want to ask where the train was heading. He had the sinking feeling that somewhere up ahead, someone had pulled up a section of the track.

"And you know where the train is going, Dave?" said Morley.

Yup, he thought. Off the tracks. Any moment now.

"What?" said Morley.

"No," said Dave. "I don't know where the train's going."

Morley leaned forward over the table. "The train starts at a town called First Day at School, Dave, and it goes to a village called Halloween, and then through the township of Class Project, and down the spur line called Your Sister Is Visiting. And you know what's at the end of the track? You know where my train is heading?"

Dave looked around nervously. He didn't want to get this wrong. He would have been happy to say where the train was going if he knew he could get it right. Was his wife going to leave him? Maybe the train was going to D-I-V-O-R-C-E.

"Not at Christmas," he mumbled.

"Exactly," said Morley. "To the last stop on the line -- Christmas dinner. And this is supposed to be something I look forward to, Dave. This is supposed to be a heartwarming family occasion."

"Christmas dinner," said Dave tentatively. It seemed a reasonably safe thing to say. Morley nodded. Feeling encouraged, Dave added, "With a turkey and stuffing and everything."

But Morley wasn't listening. "And when we finally get through that week between Christmas and New Year's, you know what they do with the train?"

Dave shook his head.

"They back it up during the night when I'm asleep so they can run it through all the stations again."

Dave nodded earnestly.

"And you know who you are, Dave?"

Dave shook his head again. No. No, he didn't know who he was. He was thinking maybe he was the engineer. Maybe he was up in the locomotive. Busy with men's work.

Morley squinted at her husband. "You're the guy in the bar car, Dave, pushing the button to ask for another drink."

From the way Morley said that, Dave could tell that she still loved him. She could have told him, for instance, that he had to get out of the bar car. Or, for that matter, off the train. She hadn't. Dave realized it had been close, and if he was going to stay aboard, he would have to join the crew.

The next weekend he said, "Why don't I do some of the Christmas shopping? Why don't you give me a list, and I'll get things for everyone in Cape Breton?"

Dave had never gone Christmas shopping in October. He was unloading bags onto the kitchen table when he said, "That wasn't so bad."

Morley walked across the kitchen and picked up a book that had fallen on the floor. "I'm sorry," she said. "It's just that I like Christmas so much. I used to like Christmas so much. I was thinking that if I got everything done early, maybe I could enjoy it again. I'm trying to get control of it, Dave. I'm trying to make it fun again. That's what this is all about."

Dave said, "What else can I do?"

Morley reached out and touched his elbow and said, "On Christmas Day, after we've opened the presents, I want to take the kids to work at the Food Bank. I want you to look after the turkey."

"I can do that," said Dave.

Dave didn't understand the full meaning of what he had agreed to do until Christmas Eve, when the presents were wrapped and under the tree and he was snuggled, warm and safe, in bed. It was one of his favorite moments of the year. He nudged his wife's feet. She gasped.

"Did you take the turkey out of the freezer?" she said.

Dave groaned. He pulled himself out of bed and went downstairs. He couldn't find a turkey in the freezer -- in either freezer -- and he was about to call for help when the truth landed on him like an anvil. Looking after the turkey, something he had promised to do, meant buying it as well as putting it in the oven.

Dave unloaded both freezers to be sure. Then he paced around the kitchen trying to decide what to do. When he went upstairs, Morley was asleep. He considered waking her. Instead, he lay down and imagined, in painful detail, the chronology of the Christmas Day waiting for him. Imagined everything from the first squeal of morning to that moment when his family came home from the Food Bank expecting a turkey dinner. He could see the dark look that would cloud his wife's face when he carried a bowl of pasta across the kitchen and placed it on the table she would have set with the homemade crackers and the gilded oak leaves.

He was still awake at two A.M., but at least he had a plan. He would wait until they left for the Food Bank. Then he would take off to Bolivia and live under an assumed name. At Sam's graduation one of his friends would ask, "Why isn't your father here?" and Sam would explain that "One Christmas he forgot to buy the turkey and he had to leave."

At three A.M., after rolling around for an hour, Dave got out of bed, dressed, and slipped quietly out the back door. He was looking for a twenty-four-hour grocery store. It was either that or wait for the Food Bank to open, and though he couldn't think of anyone in the city more in need of a turkey, the idea that his family might spot him in line made the Food Bank unthinkable.

At four A.M., with the help of a taxi driver named Mohammed, Dave found an open store. He bought the last turkey there: twelve pounds, frozen as hard as a cannonball, grade B -- whatever that meant. He was home by four-thirty and by six-thirty had the turkey more or less thawed. He used an electric blanket and a hair dryer on the turkey and a bottle of Scotch on himself.

As the turkey defrosted, it became clear what grade B meant. The skin on its right drumstick was ripped. Dave's turkey looked like it had made a break from the slaughterhouse and dragged itself a block or two before it was captured and beaten to death. Dave poured another Scotch and began to refer to his bird as Butch. He turned Butch over and found another slash in the carcass. Perhaps, he thought, Butch had died in a knife fight.

Dave would have been happy if disfiguration had been the worst thing about his turkey. Would have considered himself blessed. Would have been able to look back on this Christmas with equanimity. Might eventually have been able to laugh about it. The worst thing came later. After lunch. After Morley and the kids left for the Food Bank.

Before they left, Morley dropped pine oil on some of the living room lamps. "When the bulbs heat the oil," she said, "the house will smell like a forest." Then she said, "Mother's coming. I'm trusting you with this. You have to have the turkey in the oven -- "

Dave finished her sentence for her. "By one-thirty," he said. "Don't worry. I know what I'm doing."

The worst thing began when Dave tried to turn on the oven. Morley had never had cause to explain to him about the automatic timer, and Dave had never had cause to ask about it. The oven had been set the day before to go on at five-thirty. Morley had been baking a squash casserole for Christmas dinner -- she always did the vegetables the day before -- and until the oven timer was unset, nothing anybody did was going to turn it on.

At two P.M. Dave retrieved the bottle of Scotch from the basement and poured himself a drink. He knew he was in trouble. He had to find an oven that could cook the bird quickly. But every oven he could think of already had a turkey in it. For ten years Dave had been technical director to some of the craziest acts on the rock-and-roll circuit. He wasn't going to fall to pieces over a raw turkey.

Inventors are often unable to explain where their best ideas come from. Dave is not sure where he got his. Maybe he had spent too many years in too many hotel rooms. At two-thirty P.M. he topped up his Scotch and phoned the Plaza Hotel. He was given the front desk.

"Do you cook...special menus for people with special dietary needs?" he asked.

"We're a first-class hotel in a world-class city, sir. We can look after any dietary needs."

"If someone brings their own food -- because of a special diet -- would you cook it for them?"

"Of course, sir."

Dave looked at the turkey. It was propped on a kitchen chair like a naked baby. "Come on, Butch," he said, stuffing it into a plastic bag. "We're going out."

Morley had the car. Dave called a taxi. He shoved the bottle of Scotch into the pocket of his parka on his way out the door.

"The Plaza," he said to the driver. "It's an emergency." He took a slug from the bottle.

The man at the front desk asked if Dave needed help with his suitcases.

"No suitcases," said Dave, patting the turkey, which he had dropped on the counter and which was now dripping juice on the hotel floor. Dave turned breezily to the man behind him in line and said, slurring only slightly, "Just checking in for the afternoon with my chick."

The clerk winced. Dave wobbled. He spun around and grinned at the clerk and then around again and squinted at the man in line behind him. He was looking for approval. He found, instead, his neighbor. Jim Scoffield was standing beside an elderly woman Dave assumed must be Jim's visiting mother.

Jim didn't say anything, tried in fact to look away. But he was too late. Their eyes had met.

Dave straightened and said, "Turkey and the kids are at the Food Bank. I brought Morley here so they could cook her for me."

"Oh," said Jim.

"I mean the turkey," said Dave.

"Uh-huh," said Jim.

"I bring it here every year. I'm alone."

Dave held his arms out as if inviting Jim to frisk him.

The man at the desk said, "Excuse me, sir," and handed Dave his key. Dave smiled. At the man behind the counter. At Jim. At Jim's mom. He walked toward the elevators, one careful foot in front of the other. When he got to the polished brass elevator doors, he heard Jim calling him.

"You forgot your...chick," said Jim, pointing to the turkey Dave had left behind on the counter.

The man on the phone from room service said, "We have turkey on the menu, sir."

Dave said, "This is...uh...a special turkey. I was hoping you could cook my turkey."

The man from room service told Dave the manager would call. Dave looked at his watch.

When the phone rang, Dave knew this was his last chance. His only chance. The manager would either agree to cook the turkey, or Dave would book the ticket to Newfoundland.

"Excuse me, sir?" said the manager.

"I said I need to eat this particular turkey," said Dave.

"That particular turkey, sir." the manager was noncommittal.

"Do you know," said Dave, "what they feed turkeys today?"

"No, sir?" said the manager. He said it like a question.

"They feed them..."

Dave wasn't at all sure himself. Wasn't so sure where he was going with this. He just knew that he had to keep talking.

"They feed them chemicals," he said, "and antibiotics and steroids, and...lard to make them juicier...and starch to make them crispy. I'm allergic to...steroids. If I eat that stuff, I'll have a heart attack or at least a seizure. In the lobby of your hotel. Do you want that to happen?"

The man on the phone didn't say anything. Dave kept going.

"I have my own turkey here. I raised this turkey myself.

I butchered it myself. This morning. The only thing it has eaten..." Dave looked frantically around the room. What did he feed the turkey?

"Tofu," he said triumphantly.

"Tofu, sir?" said the manager.

"And yogurt," said Dave.

It was all or nothing.

The bellboy took the turkey and the twenty-dollar bill Dave handed him without blinking an eye.

Dave said, "You have those big convection ovens. I have to have it back before five-thirty P.M."

"You must be very hungry, sir" was all the bellboy said.

Dave collapsed onto the bed. He didn't move until the phone rang half an hour later. It was the hotel manager. He said the turkey was in the oven. Then he said, "You raised the bird yourself?"

Dave said yes.

There was a pause. The manager said, "The chef says the turkey looks like it was abused."

Dave said, "Ask the chef if he has ever killed a turkey. Tell him the bird was a fighter. Tell him to stitch it up."

The bellboy wheeled the turkey into Dave's room at a quarter to six. They had it on a dolly covered with a silver dome. Dave removed the dome and gasped.

It didn't look like any bird he could have cooked. There were frilly paper armbands on both drumsticks, a glazed partridge made of red peppers on the breast, and a small silver gravy boat with steam wafting from it.

Dave looked at his watch and ripped the paper armbands off and scooped the red-pepper partridge into his mouth. He realized the bellboy was watching him, and then he saw the security guard standing in the corridor. The security guard was holding a carving knife. They obviously weren't about to trust Dave with a weapon.

"Would you like us to carve it, sir?"

"Just get me a taxi," said Dave.

"What?" said the guard.

"I...can't eat this here," said Dave. "I have to eat it..." Dave couldn't imagine where he had to eat it. "Outside," he said. "I have to eat it outside."

He gave the bellboy another twenty-dollar bill and said, "I am going downstairs to check out. Bring the bird and call me a taxi." He walked by the security guard without looking at him. "Careful with that knife," he said.

Dave got home at six. He put Butch on the table. The family was due back any minute. He poured himself a drink and sat down in the living room. The house looked beautiful -- smelled beautiful -- like a pine forest.

"My forest," said Dave. Then he said, "Uh-oh," and jumped up. He got a ladle of the turkey gravy, and he ran around the house smearing it on lightbulbs. There, he thought. He went outside and stood on the stoop and counted to twenty-five. Then he went back in and breathed deeply. The house smelled like...Christmas.

He poured himself another Scotch and looked out the window. Morley was coming up the walk...with Jim Scoffield and his mother.

"We met them outside. I invited them in for a drink."

"Oh. Great," said Dave. "I'll get the drinks."

Dave went to the kitchen, then came back to see Jim sitting on the couch under the tall swinging lamp, a drop of gravy glistening on his balding forehead. Dave watched another drop fall. Saw the puzzled look cross Jim's face as he reached up, wiped his forehead, and brought his fingers to his nose. Morley and Jim's mother had not noticed anything yet. Dave saw another drop about to fall. Thought, Any moment now the Humane Society is going to knock on the door. Sent by the hotel.

He took a long swig of Scotch and placed his glass by the paper napkins that Morley had painted.

"Morley, could you come here," he said softly. "There's something I have to tell you."

Copyright © 2005 by Stuart McLean

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2014

    Give fellow writers tips and advice!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2008

    A reviewer

    Reading or listening to Stuart McLean is truly a pleasure. He's funny, witty and always provides a good laugh. Dave, Morley and the rest of the characters are certainly human and one can easily relate to them. Wonderful writing that touches me deeply and makes me laugh out loud.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2006

    hilarious

    This book is so funny that I actually felt myself snorting and laughing a bit outloud. Usually I do not like short story collections, but this collection follows a husband and wife as they grow up and have kids. It is so funny. The 1st story alone is worth the price of the book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2005

    Entertaining

    this book with make your sides ache with laughter. i had a very fun time reading this book and it is exteremly entertaining.

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