Pipe down!” I wanted to holler, at first.
“Pipe down!” is one of those classic self-righteous exclamations, like “There must be some mistake!” or “Well, that just takes the cake!” that you secretly cherish having an excuse to come out with. On the other hand, the French Quarter is a good place for overhearing things in the night. I was more inclined to holler, “A little louder, please, so I don’t miss anything!” The second holler might have been taken as sarcasm, but it would have been sincere.
At any rate I did not holler either thing, because Joan and Jimmy were sound asleep on either side of me, and neither Jimmy, our cat, nor Joan, my wife, has ever taken an inordinate interest (thank heaven) in issues of who’s at fault.
That’s what the people, whoever they were, a couple of courtyards away were arguing about, at three in the morning, one night in late November.
“Fault, fault, why is everything my fault?” from him.
Something indistinct from her.
“Why is nothing ever your fault?” from him. “For instance…” Damn! An undoubtedly juicy paragraph followed, which I could not catch a word of.
Then, clickety-click. That sound, I knew.
Distinctly, now, from her: “These blessed acorns!”
“Oh!” from him. “Now the acorns are my fault?”
Quick linguistic note:
She pronounced blessed as two sylla-
bles, as in the old hymn “Blessed Assur-
ance.” You almost never hear it pronounced that way anymore, nor used as an ironic substitute for some harsher negative, like blasted or bloody—as in “Panic,” by the Smiths: “Burn down the disco / Hang the blessed DJ.”
You hear it used as one syllable, soupily positive: “Have a blest day.”
But this woman had an edge to her.
And did we have an onslaught of acorns this fall! I never saw anything like it. Some crazy natural manifestation is always going on in our courtyard. That is to be expected in a town that leads the nation, according to various reports, in pests, infestations, roaches. (We like to call them palmetto bugs.) This spring will no doubt bring to our courtyard a festival, from the caterpillars’ viewpoint, of buck moth caterpillars, which look very pretty but if you touch those things all along their backs that look like Mardi Gras decorations, they break off in you and hurt like fire. And these caterpillars will just sashay right into your house!
Then too, puss caterpillars. Also known as asps. They look like bits of fluff, but don’t pet ’em: That fluff hides envenomed spines.
Acorns, though? Who has ever felt threatened by acorns? People today (not just desperate Southerners during the Waw) make healthful coffee out of acorns. Some of the finest ham comes from pigs raised on acorns. With their perky little caps, acorns look like they might grow up into Girl Scouts.
But nobody wants acorns the way we had them this fall, all the way up to after Thanksgiving. Thousands of acorns. Acorns riddling the elephant ears and nestling in the Spanish bayonet’s crotches. Acorns bouncing off the metal chairs and the glass-top table and the clay jug and the slate roof and the tin bucket, from ping to plock and all in between (plonkety, for instance, and tick…tick…tick…PTAK). Acorns would come bouncing into the house, as bold as those caterpillars and much more boisterous, even making bank shots around corners. One morning I was lying flat on my back, less than fully clad, on the bedroom floor doing my sciatica exercise, the Hooklying Transversus Abdominis Palpation. This exercise is personal. And sometimes it causes me—I know it shouldn’t, but somehow, when I am concentrating hard to find that special little under-the-pelvis muscle…it causes me to wink.
Tap tap tap I heard at the overlooking casement window.
As I sprang—all right, clambered—up from the floor in haste to counteract whatever very wrong impression I must have been making—I beg your pardon!—on who-
ever was making so bold, I realized that the taps were acorns bouncing up against the window.
Here’s why I think the acorns under discussion in that other courtyard might have been seen as our fault. Our courtyard has a huge live oak. The other courtyard has no oak. It does have enormous banana trees. I guess I could have hollered, with regard to our acorns, “At least they’re not bananas!”
But I just lay low.