Whatnots by Thaddeus Rutkowski
Art (c) 2005 Tim Ljunggren

Elephants in Rain

"Do elephants like the rain?" she asks.

I don't know why she asks, but I think about her question. I wonder if elephants welcome rain. Perhaps they do, since many of them live in grassland, and the savannah gets dry in hot weather. I wonder if, when rain arrives, elephants are glad for the change.

Elephants aren't like horses, as far as I know. Horses don't like getting wet, but they are too complacent to seek shelter from a downpour. I remember seeing horses standing in storms. I remember people telling me, "Horses aren't smart enough to come in out of the rain."

Cows, however, are supposed to be smarter. They'll seek the shelter of a barn roof rather than be tortured by water.

Butterflies don't like rain. They hide under leaves, even in a drizzle. Pigeons and other birds are another story. They tough out the rain by perching on wires or branches.

Elephants' thick hide is well suited for rain. They have no fur, so their pelts don't get soaked or matted. Rainwater runs down their ears in rivulets. They don't have to shake themselves like dogs to rid themselves of rainwater.

So I say, "Yes, I think elephants like the rain."

Mistaken for a Woman

Maybe it's my round face and plentiful hair. Maybe it's my height, or lack of height. Maybe it's because I'm sometimes seen with a child in my arms.
Maybe these are the reasons I'm mistaken for a woman. It's not because I put on lipstick or mascara. It's not because I wear dresses, heels or tights. It's not because my voice is particularly high-pitched. Even so, I am often taken for a girl.

I suppose that being seen as a woman is not as bad as being viewed as a toad. My high school classmates saw me as reptilian because I hunched over my desk and didn't stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. I can see how such behavior could have been construed as cold-blooded.

A trucker once thought I was a woman, I'm sure, or else he wouldn't have stopped for me while I was hitchhiking. I could sense his disappointment as soon as I hopped into the cab.

I don't know how many times I've been mistaken for a woman, because I'm not directly addressed on each occasion. I'm not always called "Ma'am" or "Miss" or "Missus" by people who see me and decide I'm female. They probably register the wrong gender in a subconscious way, or look at me for a second to determine my suitability for sex. I don't believe they find me a babe.

I usually have to be in a place of business, a clothing store or a delicatessen, to actually be spoken to as a woman. I'll hear, "Can I help you, ma'am?" Then I'll turn toward the speaker and say, in my lowest voice, "No, thank you." I might get an apology then, something like, "I'm sorry. I didn't have my glasses."

I'm almost surprised when someone calls me "Sir," not only because it confers a level of respect I usually don't receive, but also because it implies I'm seen as an adult male, not an adult female, and not an adult toad.

 
 

Art (c) 2005 Tim Ljunggren
The Dance of the Fireflies

I'd always wanted to write a hit song, but I'd never succeeded, probably because the song titles I'd chosen weren't catchy enough. I wanted to compose something like "Dancing With Mr. D" or "Dance All Night, Play All Day" or "All She Wants to Do Is Dance," but all I could come up with was "The Dance of the Fireflies"—a ballet number for insects.

The opus called for lightning bugs, piccolos and kitchen matches. When the tweeting began, a troupe of tiny, winged dancers would fire up the phosphorus and twirl around the stage. Their moves were meant to mimic the wild displays seen along any roadside during summer evenings.

Surprisingly, my composition won the Biochemical Jazz Prize, only one of which was given annually. A six-legged maestro agreed to conduct, and an audition was held for ballet-trained bugs. The premiere was electrifying, a true flight of fancy. No one left the theater unchanged. Everyone learned to see glowing pheromones in a whole new way.

And even though my firefly dance never made the pop charts, it inspired a new eco-techno-rococo school of insect music. Not surprisingly, I was asked to perform at the school's sawgrass campus, but I was not invited to teach.

Legal Tender

When I pull out a twenty-dollar bill for some reason—some payment or other—she says, "My money," and takes the cash and runs away with it.
I chase her and retrieve the bill, but instead of letting the cash go gracefully, she throws herself down, onto the floor or ground, and screams, "No!"

"It's not your money," I say.

"It's mine," she says.

I give her a one-dollar bill, a single clam, a lone simoleon, hoping she will be satisfied, but she is not happy. "I want more money!" she says.

I can't believe she understands the value of a twenty versus the worthlessness of a one, and by extension the comfort of riches versus the agony of poverty, but apparently she does. Perhaps she won't grow up to be like me, with my devil-may-care, artists-must-starve attitude toward money. Maybe she'll build up a stash before I die and give me some of it, as a sort of fatherhood stipend.

Or maybe she just prefers Jackson's face to Washington's. Or maybe she likes the first piece of paper currency she held and doesn't want to exchange it for another that feels just as good when rubbed between the fingers.

"Look," I say, "a dollar has value. It's worth a lot more than a penny. Some people worship it. Others steal it. You should be generous with it."

"Dah-roar!" she says. "It's a dah-roar. Come on!"

I know then that it's time to go out and spend some money, on lord knows what.

Music by Brian Hutzell
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