Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Our Little Secret Travel Agency – Chapter 18: A Cup of Tea is Still a Cup of Tea

Blowing Water

Morgana regards the little bottle of her former nemesis, Boney Stalker Scotch.

“Good choice!” encourages the Jimmy Buffet look-alike as he chucks the mini
bottle into a small paper bag which he twists firmly around the bottle’s neck.

“It’s not for me,” says Morgana, getting a bit defensive. “It’s for uh…a…friend!”

“Uh-huh! That’s what they all say!” he says with a knowing laugh, scooping some change from the cash register after it finishes kazizzling its way through the transaction.

Feeling a little cheap, she blushes and leaves the store, almost knocking over a tropical display of scantily-clad, hot-looking women advertising some kind of drink mixer. She hears the clerk laugh as the door closes behind her.

She walks to the end of the plaza, and just as she is about to step out into the busy street, she is distracted by someone calling to her from behind.


She turns and sees a good-looking man whom she instantly recognizes as that really nice, handsome guy in the suit she met in the Bucky’s supermarket just a couple days before.

“Oh, hi…,” she stammers, not remembering the man’s name.

“Percival,” he reminds her, his big grin revealing his delight at seeing her again.

Still flustered, she manages to sputter, “What are you doing here?”

“Well, it’s lunch time, so I came over here to get myself a sandwich and a bottle of water. If you’re not in a hurry, why don’t you join me? I’ve got more here than I can possibly finish!”

“Well, that depends…,” she says, stalling for a way to not appear too gung-ho on his offer.

“On what?” he says, sensing that she’s being somewhat cagey.

“On what kind of sandwich it is!”

“OK! Ready for this? It’s mozzarella with sun dried tomatoes, an olive tapenade and a lot of oregano on a foot-long French baguette! Now tell me you don’t like that!”

“Oh, I hate oregano!” she says jokingly, but as his face drops, she rescues the moment with, “Just kidding! I love oregano and I’d love to join you!”

“Phew! You had me worried there for a second!” says Percival as he leads her across the street.

They head towards the little postage stamp-size park with ginkgo trees, rose bushes and newly-painted, glossy green benches. At the other end of the little park a shopping cart filled with refuse stands guard over its slumbering de facto owner who is sprawled out on the grass, oblivious to the geese surrounding him, picking silently at the ground.

Stopping at the first available bench, they both sit down and Percival puts his bag between them and unpacks their lunch.

“How impressive that you’re carrying your own bag! I try to do that, too!”

“I’ve got dozens of these. Every conference I go to gives you your registration materials and one or two little novelty gadgets in one of these.”

“What kind of conferences do you attend?”

“They all have to do with architecture, building design, engineering and construction. I’m an architectural technologist. Architects sometimes design things that don’t work, so I make sure they do. The last thing anyone wants to do is construct a building that isn’t functional. Aside from the structural integrity of the building, the most important consideration is that the building facilitate the activity for which the building was conceived; only then can you hope to enhance the experience of those who use the building. This quote on the bag really hits the nail on the head!”

Morgana reads aloud the bag’s message:

“Architecture is basically a container of something. I hope they will enjoy not so much the teacup, but the tea – Yoshio Taniguchi.”

Morgana contemplates the quote for a moment.

“How philosophical! The tea is the reason for the cup.”

“Yes,” agrees Percival, “Form follows function, or at least that was the popular mantra of the 20th century.

Unwrapping the sandwich, Percival smiles, pleased that not only does Morgana seem to appreciate his bag, but the bag’s message as well.

“Taniguchi is one of my favorite architects—his work reflects a Japanese aesthetic of simple elegance, stark beauty, intransience. He redesigned the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Just imagine the pressure of designing a building to house modern art! The building itself would have to be a work of modern art.”

“Intransience?” asks Morgana, stealing a quick look at the homeless man sleeping so peacefully under the watchful gaze of the growing gaggle of geese, waddling silently on their big, rubbery webbed feet. She takes the half sandwich that Percival has re-wrapped in the paper liner. “How does architecture manage to suggest that?”

“Glass…and lots of it. The project was very controversial, and still is. But Taniguchi recognizes that culture keeps changing to keep pace with technology, so the space had to change as well. It seems to be focused more on the people than the art. The guy’s a genius!”

“So’s the guy who made this sandwich,” says Morgana appreciatively.

“Isn’t it wonderful?” Percival takes a bite and unscrews the cap off the bottle of sparkling water. “We’re going to have to drink out of the same bottle—I hope you don’t mind.”

“Actually, I don’t mind, but look at this!” Morgana digs into her bag and fishes out a plastic cup.

“You’re a real girl scout, Morgana! How did you happen to have a cup with you?”

“I carry it because I use the water fountains around the Lake, and it’s faster and easier to fill up a cup than to drink directly from a fountain—if the pressure is too high, I get my hair wet, and if it’s too low, I can’t get a good drink!”

As Percival pours half the bottle of sparkling water into Morgana’s plastic cup, her open purse picks this exact moment to keel over and plop off the bench, ejecting the little bottle of Boney Stalker Scotch that rolls its way out of its little paper bag, as if the damned thing had a mind of its own.

“Well, there’s a good drink right there!” exclaims Percival.

Oh, shit, thinks Morgana. Now Percival is going to think she’s a lush instead of the mostly-virtuous water drinker she really is! She can’t tell him she bought it to give to her comatose husband—he’d think she was stark-raving mad. Plus, she doesn’t want to ruin the moment by including non-present spouses, comatose or otherwise. She doesn’t like to lie, but she really can’t avoid it.

Retrieving her purse and the renegade bottle, she collects herself and manages a laugh.

“No, that’s what you would drink if you like the taste of broken glass. This stuff is the bottom of the barrel! I bought it because someone wrote to the Advice Lady asking for a good way to get rid of it without drinking it or throwing it away.”

“So what’s the answer—use it as paint thinner?”

Morgana is really starting to like Percival.

“You know, I hadn’t thought of that, but I’ll add it to my list. I was thinking that it would be good as a disinfectant for minor cuts and abrasions. You can also pour it into your windshield wiper fluid to prevent it from freezing. On the hot side, you can always upcycle it as a flambé. I also hear that it’s a good addition to gravies and sauces, especially BBQ sauce. So, before I reply to the letter, I thought the Advice Lady should give the Boney Stalker Scotch BBQ Sauce a trial run. What do you think?”

“I think you ought to make the BBQ sauce, put it in a jar, and walk it over to this very park and to this very bench where I will be waiting for you with two sandwiches and two bottles of sparkling water. Now, that’s only if you want to give it a real trial run. If you want to give it a substandard trial run, then I would not put it in a jar and I would not walk it over to the park. But as you know, investigative journalism demands that one go the extra mile.” Looking away, he adds, “And, I’d love to see you again.”

Morgana smiles and is at a loss for words.

Her voice cracks as she says, “So I take it you like BBQ sauce?”

Suppressing a laugh, Percival says, “Oh, I do! When you do have to respond to the letter?”

“Day after tomorrow—so we’d have do the trial run tomorrow. How’s that sound?”

“It’s a date!” he concludes.

Of course, Morgana notices that Percival is not, in fact, blushing, but his voice sounds like he is. Realizing that she’s not the only one who feels self-conscious, she feels a little more confident. He looks at his watch and frowns.

“Thanks so much for lunch, Percival. I really enjoyed the sandwich…and the company was even better!”

Their eyes meet in a meaningful gaze that neither one seems willing to end, but it ends in an awkward gathering of garbage, brushing off of crumbs, and mumbled goodbyes. Oh, boy! She can hardly wait to get home and start making that BBQ sauce.

Percival looks at his watch. “Morgana, I’ve got to run! See you at noon tomorrow, right?”

They shake hands like two horse traders, and Percival turns, and takes off in a youthful trot (probably for her benefit) back to work.

Morgana sits back down on the bench and smiles at the prospect of seeing Percival again tomorrow. Luckily, she was dressed so nicely. It really paid off that she took the time and the trouble to do it. And lying? It’s usually not a good thing, but she can’t help but feel good about this lie. Who would have ever thought that a little lie could reap such big rewards? And that rotgut Boney Stalker Scotch owes her a good turn once in a while.

A commotion of goose honks wakes up the sleeping man who has rolled over onto a thick blanket of freshly-deposited goose doodles surrounding him and is now flailing around in disgusted agitation. His sputtering and cursing have drawn the more aggressive birds closer as they hiss and peck at the poor man.

Good time to leave, thinks Morgana. She gets up and walks with purpose back to the liquor store since she now needs another bottle to make the BBQ sauce—using the bottle intended for Jack for another man could only generate some bad karma.

“How’d your ‘friend’ like the Boney Stalker Scotch?” taunts that nasty Jimmy Buffet look-alike.

“So much so that I’m buying him another one. And who knows? If you’re real lucky, I might even be back for more! But don’t hold your breath!”

She feels his malevolent gaze burning into her jiggling ass as she stalks out of the store.

She walks to Bucky’s and once inside the supermarket, Morgana does a search on her phone for “BBQ Sauce made with Boney Stalker Scotch,” and reads, “Bourbon Whiskey BBQ Sauce. Lots of good stuff goes into this terrific sauce: brown sugar, ketchup, hickory smoke crystals, steak sauce, hot pepper sauce, a few other yummy ingredients and almost one cup of whiskey. The ribs won’t know what hit them.”

Whatever the “other yummy ingredients” are, she makes a quick decision not to worry about them. It doesn’t have to be great BBQ sauce, it just has to be BBQ sauce. The only things she has to buy are the brown sugar and the hickory smoke crystals, which fit nicely into her purse.

Instead of going home, she makes a detour into The Pregonero. She slips into the office completely unnoticed because there’s no one there. She turns on her computer and finds a letter for The Advice Lady in her inbox.

Dear Advice Lady,

This letter doesn’t come out of one experience, but a general malaise I am suffering from.

I’m a nice person, or as nice as anyone else. I find that people say the rudest things to me, and I try to let it roll off my back and not return the barbs. This is true of my family, friends, and other acquaintances. Are people like this with everyone or is it just me? I keep feeling that I have to stay under the radar to avoid these little attacks. Yes, I have my faults, but so does everyone else. I’m more than happy to accommodate everyone else’s quirks, so it really surprises me when people zero in on mine.

Any advice you can offer me will be greatly appreciated.

Annoyed in Illinois

Dear Annoyed,

You suffer from a common ailment. The good news is everyone feels the same way. The bad news is that it’s not going to stop anytime soon. I’m sure you’ve said things you have regretted the moment you said them. Well, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Add to that all the random comments we make that are misinterpreted because of poor word choice, lapsed judgment or background noise. And let’s not even mention facial expressions and body language! The only way for any of us to avoid getting our feathers ruffled is to never leave the nest.

In the meantime, remember the Golden Rule–and be nice to everyone, and give them the benefit of the doubt. Do what you can to slow down and edit what you are going to say, try to choose your words more judiciously, and give yourself permission to not react when someone says something hurtful to you. As difficult as it may be, don’t take anything personally. You’ll save yourself a lot of grief.

I quote the poem my dear Aunt Phylene used to recite to me:

Make sure the words you say are sweet—
You never know which you’ll have to eat!

To which I add my own poem:

A Cup of Tea is Still a Cup of Tea

I dearly love my friends
Who love me even though
I might not be their cup of tea
Or whom they’d choose to know.

When I see they’re happy
To find I’m not so bad
I feel so haute that it floats my boat—
The one I’ve never had.

I know I’m not perfect
But neither are they
And yet I still love them
Any old way.

I’m thankful for their patience
Putting up with who I am
And I vow to never let on
That I do the same for them.

Were we ever to part company
I’m sure we’d all survive
But being friends is a lot more fun
And in that my joy resides!

Good luck and let me know if this helps!

The Advice Lady

Morgana saves the document and shuts her computer down. Charlie teeters in after his three-martini lunch, three sheets to the wind as usual, and is surprised to see Morgana.

“Hey, Morgana! What are you doing here today? I thought this was your day off!”

“Oh, hi, Charlie! I was just leaving! I thought I’d put in an hour of work today because I’m having lunch with a friend tomorrow, and I didn’t want to have to hurry back. So if I’m a little late tomorrow, you’ll know why.”

“Well, have a good time, Morgana!” says Charlie as he flops on his couch for his afternoon snooze.

“Thanks, Charlie! See you tomorrow!” She closes the door softly, and hears him saying, “You’re looking really good today!” She opens the door just a crack and says in a quiet voice, “Love you, Charlie…,”and exits before Maddie, the frog-voiced receptionist, even notices her.

On her way home, all she can think about is making the BBQ sauce and her date with Percival. Oh, and what to wear? She’ll come up with something good. Just like the sauce. This is going to be one hell of a witch’s brew. And she has the feeling that it will go down smooth!

Photo Credit:

Music Credit:, Lake Street Dive, “You Go Down Smooth”

To Be Continued in Chapter 19



Filed under Science Fiction, Short Story Series, The Our Little Secret Travel Agency-The Novel