“Barefoot and Barely Dressed,” or Donna Louise Tartt and the Runaway Roque Mallet

For whatever reason, I decided to eat two Melatonin gummies on Saturday night before bed rather than my usual one. This was a mistake for many reasons, the biggest of which was the fact that I didn’t start moving around on Sunday morning until after 10:00.

By noon I had only drunk two cups of tea and, though the bed was made, my pajamas were reluctant to come off and be replaced by clothes I could wear to go grocery shopping and to return the keyboard I’d purchased the day before at Office Depot after a solo trip to the movies.

So I stopped fighting my lesser nature and figured I might as well stay away from anything productive until the last possible minute. The plan was that whatever adrenaline I built up in service to my decision to be a slug for a day I could spill in a flood of activity. This, in turn, would be my ticket to dreamland at a decent hour.

By 12:30 I was fully committed to this plan of action and decided to spend the rest of my day writing and worrying about the heart palpitations I’d been having since the moment I woke up.

At around 1:00 I started listening to a podcast with the improbable title of “Once Upon a Time…at Bennington College,” a show concerning the even more improbable subject of Bennington College in the early 80s. Maybe most improbable—despite the fact that so many famous writers of the 1990s went to Bennington during that time period—was the number of episodes (and only so far!) in this podcast series: seven!

There appeared a threat of even more than seven episodes, as the most recent episode was called “Donna Lou,” and was about “Donna’s origin story.” (The “Donna Lou” being, of course, Donna Louise Tartt!)

I wasn’t too far into the podcast when I heard a terrible racket outside which I came to realize was some idiot—dressed in a Kelly-green Adidas tracksuit, a white Adidas bucket hat, and wearing black Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses—banging the shit out of my mailbox.

“Get back inside and put on some clothes!” the mailbox bandit yelled, and that’s when I knew for sure what I should have known all along: it was none other than Citizen Jim!

“What the hell’s wrong with you? Why’re you banging the shit out of my mailbox with a sawed-off croquet mallet?” I shouted, though I didn’t move from the doorway because I was barefoot and barely dressed.

(Obviously, that phrase almost sounded like some hit song by an 80s hair band. And it may have been as far as I know. Hair bands weren’t my thing in the 80s. I made a mental note to ask Jim about this right before I threatened to call the cops if he didn’t leave.)

“Listen here!” he yelled. “Before you go any further, you need to think about what you really want out of this story.”

“What’re you talking about? That’s not how a Citizen Jim Story by Chicken Sheets gets written,” I said. “That’s the fun of it, not knowing what I’m writing about until the very end.”

“It may be fun for you, but it’s goddamned exhausting for me,” said Citizen Jim. “So this time I really must insist that you make up your fevered mind as soon as possible.”

“I don’t think I can,” I said.

“That’s a damned shame, because you’ve already been working on this story for three hours and it’s been all over the place. And by the way—this isn’t a sawed-off crochet mallet!” he said, holding up the weapon he’d used against my defenseless mailbox.

“I didn’t say it looked like a crochet mallet,” I said.

“That’s good, because there’s no such thing as a crochet mallet!” Citizen Jim yelled.

I yelled back, “I said it looked like a croquet mallet!”

“God have mercy, that’s even worse!” he moaned.

“Then what is it?”

“It’s a roque mallet, you low-class socialist barbarian!” he said, and flung it at me. It missed my head by a mile but managed to bust through the screen of my open living room window. The crash we heard a few seconds later was, we found out, the sound of a TV screen being pulverized by a runaway roque mallet.

“Oh my God, woman! It’s not a croak mallet, it’s a roque mallet!”

“I called it a roque mallet,” I said.

“I’m not surprised you can’t remember what it’s called. You probably don’t even know what a roque mallet is, do you?” he asked, pushing past me and walking into my little Hobbit House.

Google Street View image of my little Hobbit House a few months before I moved in.

“I kind of figured it might be a croquet mallet with the C and the T removed,” I said.

“That’s just idiotic enough to sound like something you would say,” Citizen Jim told me.

“I’m sorry, I guess I don’t know any better,” I said, hoping my disingenuous apologies might speed up his visit so I could go back to doing nothing for the rest of the day.

“Why am I always having to explain every damned thing on Earth to a brain-dead woman? You see, a roque mallet has these two things called ‘slappers’ on them,” he said, and pointed to the two ends of the mallet head. “There’s the wood slapper, and the rubber slapper. That rubber slapper’s something new. They used to both be made out of wood, and what those French people would do back in the olden days was dip both of the slappers into whale oil or kerosene, then light them on fire. Then they’d use the burning slappers to threaten anyone who brought Roquefort cheese into the household, because that shit stinks to high heaven!”

“Are you sure that’s what it’s used for?” I asked. “It looks a little too much like a croquet mallet not to be sports-related.”

“If you don’t stop questioning my fine brain and inviolable intellect, I’m gonna set the slappers on that mallet afire and pretend like you’ve got stinky cheese in your house.”

“How did you even get hold of something so arcane?” I asked, trying to distract him from further violence.

“You’re getting to be kind of arcane yourself, but I don’t go around reminding you of it every chance I get,” he said. “But as you know, my wife is an alchemist, and she can lay her hands on all kinds of really olden days crap from time to time.”

“I guess that explains how you two ended up married,” I said.

“Really? That’s where you want to go, when there’s a whole story left to be written?” he asked in a voice too calm not to be afraid of.

I backed up a little, but only responded with a short shrug.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought you’d say,” Citizen Jim said. “I knew I should’ve busted into the movie theater yesterday while you were watching that Jodie Comer flick by yourself.”

“Oh, well. I was sitting there for almost three hours, so it’s hard to believe you blew such a perfect opportunity to ruin my afternoon,” I said.

“I also could’ve stopped you from buying yet another keyboard for your computer—another keyboard that isn’t quiet enough for your taste,” he said. “If you don’t stop buying computer keyboards, you’re never gonna be able to go over to England and have one of those Sunday roast buffets at a local pub.”

I sighed. “Okay, we’re getting there. What else?” I asked.

“I need you to explain this podcast about Donna Louise! What the hell’s all that about?”

“I’m not sure yet, but while I was listening I did a Google image search and found a pretty funny picture of her from the 80s in a pair of Poindexter glasses smoking a cigarette.”

“Was this pre- or post-nose job?” Citizen Jim asked excitedly.

I knew what he hoped the answer was. “I’m pretty sure it was pre-nose job,” I said.

Citizen Jim leaped in the air, one arm punching at the ceiling. “Waaah hooooo! You better text me that pic right now, or I’ll kill myself and haunt you for all eternity.”

Then he really started booking it through my front hall.

“Oh, yeah! Hang on!” I said, trying to grab Citizen Jim’s hairy, ape-like arm as he made his way out of my little Hobbit House—in this I failed, though.

He was already out the door when he turned around and said, “What it is now?”

“Do you remember a song from the 80s called ‘Barefoot and Barely Dressed?’ Or am I just imagining it?”

“Geez, Stimpy, I don’t know,” he said. He surprised me by actually looking deep in thought while he considered my question. “Could’ve been something by the New York Dolls before Johnny Thunders left the band, or it might’ve been the original title of ‘Sexy and Seventeen’ by Stray Cats. I do know it’s nothing from a Pink Floyd or a Dick Dale album. It’s probably just some stupid shit you made up to waste my time asking about.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. Thanks anyway,” I said.

“Piss off!” he yelled. “And you’d better send me that damned picture of Donna Louise before I come back there and beat you unconscious with both slappers on that roque mallet.”

I got busy, all right—busy locking the door and googling “Barefoot and Barely Dressed,” that is!

(The results? “About 51 results [0.54 seconds].” Which means, of course, that it’s true: there’s nothing new under the sun. Which is not to be confused with Nothing Like the Sun, a 1987 album by Sting, the title of which was taken from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130.”)

Citizen Jim yelled from outside, “Will you just shut up and finish the story?”

By that time it was almost 7:00, and I was ready to eat a Melatonin gummy and go to bed.