THE END OF SKINNY LATTE
by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
SEATTLE -- Synopsis of the story thus far, for the benefit of new readers: I am on the fishing pier of the marina, a few blocks from where I live. A young woman pushes an old fellow up in a wheelchair and asks me to sit with him while she runs to the cafe at the end of the pier for some coffee.
My conversation with him takes several weird turns. He says his name is Walter Matthau, that he is a professor (something to do with fruit), and that he has not the slightest idea who the young woman was. I have hardly digested this alarming news when I see a pickup truck stop for her and then drive off toward Ballard.
When I tell him my name, he calls me Gatemouth. Now read on:
"Have your little joke," I say, "but my name is in fact Clarence Brown. Lots of people have this name, not just Gatemouth Brown. A famous Hollywood director. A congressman from Ohio."
"And I am Walter Matthau," he says. "Look, before I tell you some really, really bad news, let us drop thegame-playing. You are not Walter Matthau."
"I am the original. It is not my fault that an actor whose natal name was probably Floyd W. Murgis took my name to advance his career."
"My father was also Walter Matthau, a name that is hallowed in the annals of Czech pomology. The Babushka Schmidt was his invention."
"Then you are a fruitca... I mean, a specialist in the study of ... What? ... apples."
"Thanks be to God," he said. "It could have been potatoes, and then where would I be? In Idaho, with all the kooks and Neo-Nasties. What was the bad news?"
"Well, if she is going for your skinny latte as she said, she is going far. Some guy in a pickup just drove away with her in the direction of Ballard."
"You got the number, of course?"
"Walter! (I'd conceded that point). Without my glasses I can hardly see you, let alone license plates at 500 yards."
"Then by your own testimony you made a mistake about the whole thing, Clarence. You never saw her get into a pickup truck and drive away. You only thought you saw this.
The wish was father to the thought, as Luther Burbank said. Why you should want me all to yourself is more than I can understand -- flattering, but in a vaguely dirty way puzzling, considering how unattractive I am." "Not Burbank. Shakespeare, Henry IV, part 2. I take it that Eng. Lit. was an elective for the fruit crowd?"
"Hostility at last!" he chirped.
"Walter, do you see that little red light flashing at the bottom ofthe column? Do you know what that means?"
"I have a feeling you are going to tell me."
"I am. It only seems to you that we are sitting on this fishing pier,jutting into the Puget Sound, that you have been abandoned to my so-called care by a young woman who called you Pa and then ran off to get you a skinny latte, all the while intending to abandon you. Are you with me... ?" "You are boring me to death, but I am getting used to it."
"You are actually nothing more than a few ink stains on newsprint.That little red light is there to tell me when an Ink Soup has accumulated the required number of words to qualify -- "
"Did you say quality?"
"Quality has nothing to do with it. We're done. Thank you, Walter." "Thank you, Clarence. I'll send my bill."
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus ofComparative Literature at Princeton University.