Sir Jake, Knight of The Realm

“Take that, varlet! And that! Mayhaps, thinketh twice thou wilst, ‘ere crossing blades with Sir Jake, Knight of the Realm, Defender of the Innocent, Cleaver of Cowards, Vanquisher of Villains!”

  “That’s got him on the run, Jake. I think a good tongue lashing was all it took! Looks like you had him pretty confused there at the end.” Ralph suppressed a chuckle as he stowed his ‘knightly gear’ and headed in to wash up before dinner.

  “Mock me not, Sir Ralph, lest thou feeleth the sting of mine sword. The day is long, I am weary, my patience is worn thin. Were it not for my strong right arm and this enchanted blade, the kingdom would surely fall. We are beset by vile villains, foul miscreants, and dastardly dragons on all sides, and none, save myself, may stem the tide that lapeth at our feet.”

  “Jake, first let me say that you don’t have a right arm. Or a left arm. You’re a snake, buddy. And I have my doubts about how much damage you can inflict with that stick. And lastly, we’re hundreds of miles from the nearest body of water. If anything is lapping at your feet, if you even had feet, it would most likely be that mud puddle over there. Now let’s go in and get something to eat. Do you have any of those lemon jellied spiders left? Or maybe some candied flies? I love those with just a sprinkle of sea salt…”

  With a sigh, Sir Jake, Defender of the Realm, Slayer of Dragons, and lots more stuff too numerous to list, slithered up onto the back of his trusty steed, McRuff. “Okay Ralph, Spoiler of Sport, Dasher of Dreams, climb on up here and let’s go see what Brother BudPie has for us to eat. Ho McRuff! On boy!”

  Jake loved make believe. One of his favorite games was Knight of the Realm, featuring Sir Jake in the starring role. And anytime Ralph was over, that’s what Jake wanted to play. Even if Ralph, at times, found it difficult to stay in character. “Methinks he doth lacketh the heart of a dreamer” thought Jake, as they clung to Ruff’s back. “Ware, Sir Ralph, lest thou be scrapethed off whilst passing through yon doggy door” said Jake, with a huge smile. “Is something wrong with your face, Jake?” “No” said Jake, “why?” “Never mind” said Ralph.

  This was going to be a fun weekend. Ralph was staying over for a couple of nights, and if Jake had his way, there was little doubt which game they would be playing. But dinner first, which was delicious, a toasted bug salad, buffalo spider-legs, and for dessert, a piece of fly pie, drizzled with a simple lemon reduction. “Ohhhh” groaned Jake, “I am so full! But not too full for a little K of the R. What say you, knave?” Jake couldn’t keep the wide smile off his little snake face. “I say you’d make a much more convincing hero without that spider-leg stuck between your teeth” quipped Ralph, pleased with his cleverness.

  With some help from Brother BudPie, Jake’s handsome, creative, strong yet compassionate sidekick, the young snakes had transformed the living room into a medieval realm that would make Camelot cry with envy. And with the war-steed McRuff stabled close at hand, they were well prepared, should any emergency arise.

  “Forsooth” said Sir Jake, “be there not fair maiden to rescue, nor dragon to slay? When might this enchanted blade quench its thirst?” “I fear not Sir Jake. No reports of dastardly deeds or distressed damsels have arrived by Royal Courier” replied Sir Ralph. “Drat! Double drat! What good a damsel not in need of rescue? What purpose hath a dragon, but to receive the kiss of Longtooth, mine mighty sword?”

  But at that moment, unbeknownst to the two knights gallant, a damsel was indeed in dire danger, and, as fate would have it, the source of that danger was, as you might have guessed, a fire breathing, damsel eating, trouble making dragon. As word arrived by private courier, the knights made ready. Armor was donned, swords were sheathed, shields were slung, and saddlebags filled with lemon jellied spiders. “Take heed Sir Ralph, yon spiders, if not properly stowed, can causeth one heck of a mess. Experience hath bestowed upon me this knowledge” warned Sir Jake. “Ho, McRuff, to me! Our destiny awaits!” And with that, in a cloud of carpet fibers, they were off!

  “No! Please! Eat me not, for though I am young and toothsome, the taste of fear would be a bitter pie. And right now, I’m scared as all get out!” The damsel, who was indeed pleasing to the eye, with fiery red hair, and a smattering of freckles across her perfectly shaped, if somewhat long nose, was currently backed up to a huge boulder. Before her towered a dragon, complete with horns, wings, smoking snout, and everything else that fits our perception of dragon-kind.

“Ha!” snorted the dragon, “You’d be surprised how a flambé can mitigate the bitterness of fear. And though you be but a morsel, a mere bite, hardly enough to whet my appetite, eat you I shall, and with obvious relish! I’ve tried all the others, but obvious is the best, hands down.” It occurred to the damsel, who, for the sake of anonymity, we shall call Lady Gloria, that this particular dragon liked to talk, and maybe even considered himself to be a bit of a comedian. “If I can keep yon lizard flapping his gums long enough, mayhaps a brave knight might arrive in the nick of time, saving the bacon, and my slender, attractive neck along with it.” And that’s exactly what happened!

  Just then, riding up in a cloud of dander, Sir Jake arrived on the scene. Unfortunately, Sir Ralph was unhorsed when McRuff made a hard right to avoid Brother BudPie, who was just coming out of the bathroom. “Boys!” chuckled Brother BudPie, in his warm, affectionate, hypnotic, downright foxy voice. A couple of quick sprays of Febreze, and he retired to the den, newspaper in hand.

  “Back foul beast! Let yon maiden go, that we may be joined in battle!” Puzzled, the dragon replied “You want to do battle with yon maiden, little man?” Nay, ‘tis thee I shall trounce, and forthwith. Let us engage, for this land hath not roometh for the both of us!” “I’m getting mixed signals” said the dragon. But before McRuff even had time to come to a complete stop, Sir Jake was leaping to the ground, and in one swift motion, with sword in hand, interposed himself twixt Gloria and the dragon. “Oh little man, so spic and span, you look like a snack, still in the can.” It’s possible that the dragon fancied himself somewhat of a poet as well. “Nay, mine armor this is, and I shall polish it with a piece of dragon hide, then send the rest of you back from whence you came.”

  Growing bored with the witty repartee between knight and dragon, the Lady Gloria, with her back to the rock, slid down to a more comfortable, seated position and began nibbling on a BLT from her bag. “Methinks ’twas the bacon what caught the attention of the vile wyrm” she mumbled, as a piece of tomato escaped her delicate mouth, sticking to the lace collar of her favorite gown. “Prithee, Sir Knight, spanketh him well, for ruineth my gown, he hath!”

  Squared off, circling one another, probing for weaknesses, knight and dragon exchanged insults, each hoping to gain a psychological advantage. “Step closer, puny human, that I might squash you like a beetle.” Not to be outdone, Sir Jake quickly replied “Say dragon, hast thou perchance a piece of gum? If so, “twould be well appreciated were you to chew it. When, pray tell, didst thou last engage in oral hygiene?” Feeling like he was definitely one up in the insult department, Sir Jake quickly attempted a bold move. “Your name, dragon, that I might know who I slay this fateful day.” It was common knowledge in that time, in that land, that to know a dragon’s true name was to have power over it. And with that power, a dragon may be defeated, and banished from the realm.

  “Oh, nice try pipsqueak. Like I would divulge my true name. Any dimw…” “HOMER! HOMER! You get back to this cave this instant! And leave those humans alone. If your father finds out you’ve been harassing the locals, he’ll tan your hide!”

  “Homer, huh?” said Sir Jake. And with that, the dragon, with a poof! vanished, leaving behind an amused knight, and just a hint of a not-too-great odor. And Sir Jake, smiling broadly at the Lady Gloria, offered her his hand. “Sir Knight, doth thy suffer from some form of facial affliction?” she queried. “Nay fair Lady, why asketh you?” “Heed me not” she replied. And with a shrug, Sir Jake called out to his trusty stallion, “McRuff, to me! Take a knee, brave steed, that the fair Lady might more easily gain perch upon thy lofty back.” And so he did. McRuff, that is. And as they rode away, into the setting sun, Sir Jake could be heard to say, “My Lady, wouldst thou perchance have another one of those sandwiches?”


Ruffing It

It isn’t always easy being a dog. Oh, I will admit, it has its good moments, which surely outnumber the bad. The obvious ones that come to mind are a warm bed, plenty of food, and people who love me. The occasional bone, brought home by Brother BudPie, from the butcher, just for me, and anything else I manage to scarf up from the floor, well, those also are perks worthy of mention. In regards to the floor, anything edible is fair game. No silly five-second rule applies. It’s first come first serve. If you’re fond of your fingers, you’d better be pretty quick on the draw, or get out of Dodge.

The flipside of that coin, just to name a couple, include a very limited ability to vocalize my thoughts, and non-opposable thumbs, indeed, no thumbs at all. These two limitations alone rule out about ninety-nine percent of all the things I would love to be able to do. Also, it would great to be able to read, although getting into the library might be a challenge. I could always fake it guess. If I could score one of those service-dog get-ups, I could walk up and down the aisles pretending to look for my owner, while perusing the book selection. But then, were I successful in getting one down from the shelf, and I could read, how would I turn the pages? Using my nose or my tongue, either one, would make a huge mess. And if I were going to do that, I might just as well chew the heck out of it from the get-go. As a side note, that has happened, once or twice, when Jake’s left one on the floor. As you may have guessed, he spends the majority of his time on the floor.

But I couldn’t read, and I didn’t have one of those fancy outfits. It would be fun, if Jake or Brother BudPie, in a moment of forgetfulness, would accidently leave the front door open every now and again. I’m sure the opportunity to meander through the neighborhood on my own would present many enlightening opportunities. For instance, just wandering around, I might pick up a few words here and there, of practical value. But Brother BudPie was in the Amazon, and Jake was pretty good about making sure the door was closed. Ah well, I don’t have a bad life. Maybe I’ll just take a nap right here in front of one of Brother BudPie’s surplus space heaters, until kibble is ready…..

Ruff jumped up from a deep sleep. Something didn’t feel right. The house was cold, and had an empty feeling. Rushing from room to room, he saw no one, heard no one, caught no one’s scent on the air. Trotting back into the living room, he saw the front door, wide open. “How did I miss that?” he thought, as he walked out onto the front porch. He caught a lingering whiff of Jake’s particular smell, there was no mistaking that, but there was another, more subtle scent mixed in, vaguely familiar, but nothing he could put his paw on. His keen dog mind, shifting into overdrive, could only imagine the worst. “Jake is gone, someone has abducted him, I must find him!”  Following his nose, his best asset in his opinion, he trotted down the steps, up the walkway, out to the sidewalk.

“Man, cars everywhere! I think I’ll stay on this side up of the street.” Trotting on down the sidewalk, he continued to follow his nose, which could only be expected. “If I were been trotting backwards, my nose would be following me” he thought, proud of his quick wit. Just ahead, he was brought up short, in front of a funny looking yellow post, of a type with which he had previous experience. But this was the first time he had noticed the lettering it bore. The letters were: H-Y-D-R-A-N-T. “Ah!” He thought to himself, making the obvious connection. “Restroom. This reading stuff isn’t so tough after all.”

Continuing on his way, doing his best to stay focused, he came to a large, round, green container, sending forth a very tantalizing aroma. “T-R-A-S-H. “Hmmmm! Deli! That must say Deli!” And with a self-satisfied doggy smile, and a wag of his cute little tail, knowing that he might just stop in at this deli on his way back, he headed on down the street. “I might need to stop at that restroom too” he thought. “When ya gotta go…..”

Ruff was beginning to enjoy himself a bit more than he probably should, given the circumstances. He was on a mission, one of great importance, but dang! there were distractions everywhere, beckoning, calling, promising adventure, offering up choice tidbits of food. And speaking of tidbits, what was this? Oh, he had a vague idea, but it was not of a variety he’d previously encountered. “Hmm” he thought, as he circled it, wanting to view it from all angles. A quick sniff and investigatory taste confirmed his suspicions. And congratulating himself for not stepping in it, he continued on his way.

Jake’s familiar scent, in the breeze, but not on the ground, only confirmed his original suspicion of abduction. Someone was carrying him. And mixed with that was what he now recognized as lemon, vague to be sure, but still identifiable to his well-tuned sense of smell. But that wasn’t all. Along with the lemon scent was another, even more subtle, almost recognizable one. He’d smelled it before, but he couldn’t pin down the where or the when. “When I find Jake” he thought, “I’ll find the answer to that little mystery too.”

Just as he thought the trail might be cooling off, the vague odor made a sharp left, through a doorway with lettering above it, too high for him to see clearly. “I guess I can’t complain too much, considering how the world must look from Jake’s viewpoint.” And chuckling to himself at his clever joke, he passed through the doorway. Amid the hustle and bustle, the smells that assaulted his senses, of lemon, of rising dough, of baked goods and sweet frosting, standing at the counter with her back to him, was the source of that vaguely familiar smell. Bracing himself for the coming confrontation, knowing that he was looking at his little buddy’s abductor, he lowered to a crouch, and creeping forward, he couldn’t stifle the growl that escaped his throat.

Spinning, turning to face the threat, the woman, for it was a woman, was so startled that she nearly dropped the little snake perched on her arm. “Ruff!” exclaimed Jake, “What are you doing here? You followed us all this way?” Confused, Ruff could do nothing but sit, smile as only dogs can smile, and wag his tail. “I was sure I closed the door” said Jake, even though there was a hint of doubt in his voice. “I was going to leave you a note, saying I would be out with a friend for a while, but you can’t read. Ruff, I’d like you to meet Lemon Lady, a dear friend, down from Apple Land, where goodness grows on trees, and the Mexican food is superb. She’s here for a very special occasion. Today’s your birthday, Ruff! You’re one year old! We came down to the bakery to get you a cake.” Sotto voce, so as not to offend the shop owner, Jake added “It can’t possibly be anywhere near as good as Lemon Lady could make herself, but we were under time constraints. Oh! Besides Lemon Lady and myself, is there anyone else you’d like to invite over to have cake with us?” “Rowf” said Ruff.

And so it was, that Ruff, the lucky little dog, had the second-best day of his young life, the very best one being the day he was rescued from the animal shelter. And sitting in the living room, surrounded by friends, Jake, Lemon Lady, and Ralph, having finished the best piece of cake he’d ever had, he looked at Jake, with loving, if somewhat speculative eyes, and could only think, “Drop the cake, Jake. Drop the cake.”

Salesman Jake

Jake was so excited! Tomorrow, Brother BudPie, his brave, intelligent, clever, and really cute roomie was heading out to evaluate the market for a new product line, and Jake was going with him! The refrigerators were a big hit up by the North Pole, the space heaters did well in Ecuador, and of course, the electric griddles sold like hotcakes in the Amazon. Although Brother BudPie was somewhat excited to be on the road again, this time with his little buddy Jake, and their faithful dog Ruff, you couldn’t tell by his outward appearance. His calm, confident demeanor, what some would call a poker face, so important for a salesman, kept his excitement from showing. Jake wasn’t sure about the poker face. Brother BudPie’s face looked nothing like a poker, at least not like any Jake had ever seen.

“I better get packing” thought the little snake. “I want to be ready. We’re leaving early in the morning, and I don’t want to be late. Ruff, c’mon in here and give me a paw.” With no hesitation, and in the blink of an eye, lickety split, toute de suite, and faster than all get out, Ruff was at his side, ready to help. He was always up for any adventure that might come his way.

“Let’s see…new skin, check! Socks…..check! Ninja Turtle toothbrush and bubblegum toothpaste….check! Lemon jellied spiders for a snack on the trail….you betcha! Hand sanitizer….ditto!” That lemon jelly, though quite delicious, stuck to just about anything it came in contact with. “Step aside, Gorilla Glue, you’ve met your match” thought Jake, as he finished tucking everything into his specially modified backpack. While some might find it odd that a little snake, having no feet, would bring socks, to Jake, there was nothing unusual about it at all. He used them for carrying his marbles and loose change. “You never know when you might run across a game of marbles, or a vending machine” thought Jake.

“Brother BudPie, there are a couple of things I’ve been wanting to ask you” said Jake, as they secured their belongings to the camel that would carry them deep into the desert. “Okey-doke, Jake” replied Brother BudPie, with a wink, and a wiggle of his perfect, if a little bushy, eyebrows, an engaging smile on his tanned, ageless face. “Shoot! Hit me with it. Fire away! Go ahead and ask!” “Okay” said Jake. “I’ve wondered, how do you sell refrigerators at the North Pole. Isn’t it cold enough there already?” “You see, Jake my boy” replied Brother BudPie, in his most instructional voice, “the problem is that it’s TOO cold there. People put stuff in those refrigerators to keep them from freezing.” As he thought about that, it made perfect sense to the little snake. Sales knowledge like that, and the ability to meet his customer’s needs, was what put Brother BudPie leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.

“But space heaters, in Ecuador? I’m not getting that.” “Ahhh yes! It gets so hot in the tropics, inside those little grass huts, that my space heaters actually cool it down. Until air conditioning becomes locally available, I meet the needs of that market.” Jake was impressed with Brother BudPie’s sales acumen, not to mention his ability to think outside the box, allowing him to tap hidden markets.

“You know, Jake” said Brother BudPie, “there will come a time when I’ll be stepping down from my lofty perch at the top of my sales empire, and I’ll be handing the reins to you. And when that day comes, hopefully not any time soon, you need to be prepared. So, pay attention, keep your wits about you and your eyes on the trail. Danger lurks behind every dune. In fact, this would be a great time to send Ruff out to scout the ahead. Ruff! Who’s a good boy? Go get ’em!”

“I would be the good boy” thought Ruff. “That would be me. Moi. This guy right here. The one, the only, Rufferino.” And with that, he sprinted down the trail, with nose to the ground and tail a-waggin’. “Jake, I’m going to grab a couple of lemon jellied spiders out of your specially modified backpack, if you don’t mind” said Brother BudPie. “Render yourself unconscious” replied Jake. “I think you mean ‘knock yourself out’, little buddy” said Brother BudPie. “Whatever” said Jake, “fracture a limb.” Brother BudPie just rolled his eyes and grabbed the snacks.

“Here comes Ruff!” said Jake. “Let’s see what he found!”  “How’s the trail up ahead boy?” “Ruff ruff!” said the dog. “Wow! Thats double rough!” said Jake. “Did you see any tracks?” “Woof!” said the dog. “That was most likely a desert fox, Ruff. Not many wolves out here” remarked Brother BudPie, in a thoughtful manner. “Did you see anything else, boy?” asked Jake. “Bark” replied Ruff. “Again, I think you must be mistaken” said Brother BudPie, with a smile. “There are no trees anywhere near here! But let’s be on our way. We can debate tracking and scouting later.” And that’s exactly what they did!

As the day wore on, a hot, sweaty, little snake had just about had his fill of the desert. Turning to Brother BudPie, he asked “How much farther do we need to go? It’s hot, I’m tired, and Ruff looks exhausted.” “Well” said Brother BudPie, with a wink and a smile, “I think I’ve found out everything I need to know. I will most definitely be adding this to my sales territory. We can turn around and head back now.” “What are going to sell out here, Brother BudPie?” asked Jake. “Why, Jake my young friend, raincoats of course!”

Flakey Jake

Jake wasn’t feeling all that great, and he didn’t know why. What he did know was that he didn’t like it, not one bit. He was grouchy and itchy and jumpy and twitchy, and felt like he could crawl right out of his skin! He would ask Brother BudPie, his long, lean, dependable mentor and roommate, for an opinion, but Brother BudPie was currently out of town, scouting a potential sales area for a new product he had taken on. Already at the top of the sales heap in refrigerators and space heaters, he had recently added electric griddles to his product line. Since he had just sold his last space heater to a donkey herder in Ecuador, he planned a stopover in the Amazon rainforest. He just had a hunch that the griddles would sell like hotcakes.

This was all well and good, but it left poor Jake on his own to deal with, what to him, was a serious problem. “I’m going to ask Brother BudPie if he will take me along on his next trip. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind, and I might pick up a few sales tips. Then, when a problem like this pops up again, he’ll be there for me.” But in the meantime, Jake needed help, and he needed it bad.

“Ruff, come here boy, feel my back. What does it feel like?” “Rough” said Ruff. “Do I have a fever? Is it really high?” “Roof” said Ruff. Ruff was a dog of few words, but when he did speak, he was direct and do the point. But Jake needed more than monosyllabic responses. He needed real advice.

“So, what do you think, Prissscilla?” Jake asked of his young snake friend. She sometimes thought she was Jake’s girlfriend, but Jake wasn’t so sure how he felt about that. “Have you tried lotion, Jake? That helps me when I get itchy. Or maybe a bath. When was the last time you had a bath anyway?” Maybe just a smidgen offended, but overly so, Jake replied with “That’s not it Prissscilla. I’ve gone way longer than this without taking a bath and nothing happened. Well, except no one came over to play for a couple of months, but that was probably because they were all busy. That’s what they said anyway.” Prissscilla just rolled her beady little eyes and said “Uh huh. Try the lotion. Talk to you later.”

Jake did try the lotion, and it didn’t help the itching. It didn’t help the heebie-jeebies and it did nothing for the jitters. In fact, it did nothing at all. “I’ll give Lemon Lady a jingle. She always has good advice” thought Jake, as he absently scratched under his chin. And so he did. “Hi Lemon Lady, it’s me, Jake! I need some advice. Are you busy?” “Jakey Jake, my little snake! How good it is to hear your squeaky little, if somewhat distressed, voice! I was just on my way out the door, dear boy. My Lemon Lovers League friends and I are going to a Citrus Social Quilting Bee. But I do have a minute for my best little buddy. Out with it now. Tell Lemon Lady all about it.” “Lemon Lady” said Jake, in a quivering voice, I feel miserable, and itchy, and scratchy, all over. What can I do?” “Oh my! Indeed, that does sound awful! Let me think of what might help…hmmm…..lotion, nope, bath, nuh uh…ah! Try this Jake! Have a hot glass of lemonade, a sugar free non-artificial sweetener non-GMO, gluten free cookie, and wrap yourself up in a quilt. Take a nice long nap in font of the fireplace. The combination of citrus on the inside and heat on the outside should sweat the bad humours right out if you! Okey-doke Boyo, gotta run, kissy kiss on the phone! Mwah! Mwah!” and with that, she was off, leaving only advice, and a dull ringing in Jakes ears.

Later that same day, no better for Lemon Lady’s treatment plan, Jake was nearly at wit’s end, when an idea came to him. “Maybe I’ll call Ralph. He might have some ideas.” Ralph was a friend Jake had met at the Sentient Snake Seminar a while back. He too was a little snake, but unlike Jake, lived with his mom and dad and a couple dozen brothers and sisters. He was really smart from watching Innovation Nation on Saturday mornings. Mo Rocca was his personal hero.

“Hey Ralph, Jake here. I was hoping you could come over and help me with a problem.” “No worries, Jake, I’ll crawl right over. Uh, when’s the last time you had a bath? Never mind I’m on my way.” “Man, what’s with all this bath stuff?” thought Jake as he furiously scratched his back against a bristle brush that Brother BudPie, his thoughtful, handy, really-cute-to-the-ladies roomie had screwed to the floor for just that purpose.

When the doorbell rang, Jake was still busily scratching his back. “Ruff, will you get the door please? Who is it?” “Rowf” said Ruff. “Okay, let him in. C’mon in Ralph.”

“Hi Jake. You look awful! You’re blotchy, peeling, and generally in bad shape. How long has this been going on?” “A couple of weeks, although it seems like forever” replied Jake, as he scratched is underside on the brush. “You gotta help me Ralph. This is making me crazy!” “Okay Jake, we’ll get the handle on this. Just relax for a couple of minutes while I do some research.”

And with that, Ralph whipped out his iPad and began scrolling through past episodes of Innovation Nation. “Jake, while I’m going through this, let me ask you a couple questions. Did you try lotion?” “Yep” replied Jake, “Zero. Zip. Nada. Except that now I smell like a garden in springtime.” “Well” said Ralph, “that can’t be anything but good.” “Too bad you chose to be a science nerd, Ralph” said Jake. “Comedy lost a true genius when they lost you. Maybe you could keep scrolling. It’s getting to a point where I can’t be held responsible for my actions.”

“Well, let’s see, scratching, you’re doing that now. Bathing is out. You already nixed that. Let’s talk about your symptoms. Do you have an elevated temperature?” “Yes” replied Jake. “According to Ruff, it’s through the roof.” Ralph continued to scroll. “Hmmm….let’s see….itchy, twitchy, grumpy, jumpy, like you’re going to crawl right out of your skin….wait!! Lemme see…..it says here, molt. That’s it! You’re molting!” “Whaaat?” asked Jake with more than just a teensy bit of doubt. “What’s that?”

“According to Mo, it’s a natural process that, as snakes, we all go through. You’re shedding your old, smelly skin to make room for a new, sparkly, non-itchy one. It appears that your questionable hygiene habits may have triggered an early molt. It goes on to say that by the time you reach the stage where you feel like you’re going to crawl out of your skin, that you will. Crawl out of your skin, that is.”

At that moment, maybe as a result of all the intense brushwork, Jake’s old skin peeled off like the skin of a split Cara Cara orange. “Ho boy what a relief!” said Jake as he admired his new duds. “Ralph, you’re a genius! I’ll be eternally grateful, for a while.” Just then Ralph began furiously scratching where his armpits would be, if he had armpits. “No problem Jake! Any time. Gotta crawl! See you later. Awww man….itchy…..” Whereupon Ralph, making a hasty exit out the front door, down the steps and through the gate, headed for home.

A few seconds later, the front door opened, and in stepped Brother Budpie, Jake’s tall, tanned, treat-for-the-eyes roomie. “Well howdy, Ruff! Who was that just leaving?” “Rowf” said Ruff. “Ah! A good lad, if a little nerdy. How’ve things been around here the last couple of weeks? “Rough” said Ruff.

Jake Gets a Dog

“Where are we going Brother BudPie? Is it close, is it far, when will we get there?” Jake was somewhat less than the ideal passenger. He wiggled and squirmed and tossed and turned as only a young snake could. He didn’t deal well with suspense, and patience was not his strong suit. “Calm down little buddy” said Brother Budpie in his deep, soothing, magical voice. “We’ll be there when we get there. And that will be the moment we arrive.”

 Brother BudPie was Jake’s roomie, a tall, well-proportioned hunk of a guy with handsome features and a chiseled chin. He loved teasing Jake, and could see he’d just managed to push the little snake’s button. “What fun!” he thought as he grinned from ear to ear, revealing, even, well-spaced, sparkly white teeth. Some people, especially the ladies, said that his smile was his best feature. He didn’t know if it were true, but he never passed up an opportunity to flash it.

Pulling up in front of a long, low building, Brother Budpie parked the car and looked over at Jake. “We’ll, Jakey Boy, we’ve arrived, and not one second before we got here. Just in time actually, to be present.” And tuning him out, as he sometimes did, Jake looked out the window at the front of the building, which bore a sign proclaiming “HUMAN SOCIETY”. Not understanding, Jake sighed, got out of the car, and followed Brother Budpie inside, where he was immediately bombarded with barking, growling, whining, and general mayhem. Wondering what this all had to do with humans, he turned to Brother BudPie, hoping to gain insight.

“Humane Society, Jake-Bob. You must have misread the sign. Could be that blob of lemon curd in your eye has fogged your vision.” Then, with a chuckle, and a wink of his hypnotically hazel, wise, knowing, but not overly so, eye, he said “We’re here to get you a dog, Boyo. You’re old enough now to have and care for a furry little buddy.”

Jake was so excited! He’d been wanting a dog since forever, but had almost given up hope of it ever coming to be. “Can we go see ’em? Can we, huh?” “That’s why we’re here, Jake. Let’s go!” And with that, Brother BudPie headed toward the back, with an exuberant Jake right on his heels.

As they entered the holding area, Jake saw dogs of all shapes and sizes. He saw big ones, and little ones, young ones and old ones, fat ones and skinny ones and everything in between. What he didn’t see was one that he felt a connection with, that is, until he stopped in front of the very last cage. In the back, in the corner, cowered a dog, not very big, not very old, not very anything. He looked up at Jake, their eyes made contact, and instantly Jake knew that this was the dog for him.

Jake slithered into the cage, right up to the dog and said “Hi, pup. What shall we call you?” “Grrrr….” said the dog. “No” said Jake, “that sounds a little harsh.” “Woof!” said the dog. “Mmmm, no, I’m not feeling it. It doesn’t grab me, you know?” “Ruff!” said the dog. “Ok! Third time’s a charm. Ruff it is! Hi Ruff, I’m Jake. I’m pleased to meet you. How’s it been going, here at the shelter?” “Rough” said the dog. “At least they gave you a blanket. How does it feel?” “Rough” said the dog once again. “Great! I feel like we’re already communicating! We’re going to get along just fine.” “Ruff” said the dog.

Bean

Not far down the road from where I live, nestled in a small shopping center in Wildomar, is one of my favorite places to spend an hour, and where on most mornings, you’ll find me. Bean, my little neighborhood coffee shop, welcomes me with open arms, gathering me in, folding me into its warm embrace. It has an eclectic feel, much less commercialized than Starbucks. They offer all the fruity, foamy, icy drinks one would expect, but my cup of tea is the coffee, freshly roasted, ground and brewed, served up black, with no room for cream.

The coffee is excellent, but the atmosphere is the main draw for me. I enjoy the social aspect, even though I don’t socialize. I like the friendly buzz of conversation, the people, some talking among themselves, others sitting alone with a laptop or notebook, fingers flying across the keys, most likely students from one of the local colleges doing an assignment or preparing for an upcoming test.

Across the room, two mothers quietly converse, enjoying a brief moment of calm from what might be a normal, hectic day. Two young children play at their feet, occupied with one toy or another, bothering no one. At a nearby table, a would-be employer is conducting a job interview, in a much more relaxed setting than one is accustomed to seeing. To me, that speaks volumes about the company he represents.

Occasionally, as though by common consent, the chatter dies momentarily, and the quiet sound of music can be heard, Michael Bublé, singing a Frank Sinatra song. It’s busy this morning, seating is at a premium, and a sharp eye and quick reflexes are a must if you wish to grab a just vacated seat, still warm from the previous occupant. As the buzz increases to a normal level, I look about the room, and knowing no one, still feel a sense of connection.

The little coffee shop feels like a bit of home. When I order my daily brew, few words are required. They know my preferences, what I like, and they serve it up with a smile. Standing at the counter, watching them work, I can tell that they enjoy what they do, the interaction with patrons, friends, being part of the connection.

Through the bustle, the relaxing background noise, the comings and goings, I can sit back, breathe in the aroma of my coffee, jot notes and observations into my tablet, on the chance that I might be able to use them in a story. Then I have to laugh at myself when I come to the realization that this is the story, and while some faces are different, some the same, the story will change as the cast of characters change. I like being part of the story, and as I look around at the people focused on their keyboards, I wonder if they too feel like a part of the story, or even by chance, are recording their own version of events.

My little coffee shop will be there tomorrow, as will I, as will most of us, taking a timeout from our busy lives to look around and see the things that matter.