The Curious Case of the Walrus in the Attic

Note #1: I wrote this short story a few years ago and recently discovered that I still had it on my computer. It’s strange, but I love it.  Note #2: I’m not sure how this blog became so focused on walruses… these things just happen, I guess. 


There was always something peculiar about that painting. Then again, the girl normally interpreted strange things from everyday objects.

“We should move the refrigerator outside,” she said one day. “It looks so lonely.” Her parents looked at each other and gave hesitant responses.

“I … I think it’s fine where it is, sweetheart.” She often heard them murmuring to each other in the next room, hearing her name and phrases like “not normal” and “should be taken to a specialist” and “we should pick up some eggs at the store; we’re all out.”

 Walrus with eyepatch

But really. That painting was different. On long summer days, she would simply stare at it. Since the attic was so hot, she would often bring a fan or something with her. One day she asked her friend about it.

“Have you ever seen such a thing?” she asked with a contemplative air.

“Well sure. It’s a painting of a walrus…I’ve seen a walrus at a zoo once,” said her friend, as he gave her a you-invited-me-over-to-look-at-a-large-tusked-animal-so-what’s-your-point type of look.

“Well, I’m not sure. It looks…different.”

“Yeah. Well, walruses are pretty strange looking animals. Walruses? Is that really the plural of walrus? Is it ‘walri’ like ‘octopi’?”

“I just don’t know,” she said, shaking her head solemnly.

 

The next day, the girl decided to follow her parents’ advice and go see a specialist.

“Excuse me, sir.”

“Why yes, hello little girl. How may I help you?” asked the antique appraiser, peering over his tiny spectacles.

“I have a strange suspicion that this painting is trying to communicate with me, but it is hindered by its ambiguous, desolate two-dimensional world,” she explained simply, holding up the dusty painting.

“Interesting. That’s the third one this month, you know.”

He stroked his mustache.

“How old is it, Mister?”

“Well I’ve been growing this for a few months now.”

“The painting.”

“Right. Yes. Let’s find out.”

He put on a different pair of glasses, which were magnified to make his eyes look amusingly disproportionate to his face. She suppressed what would have been a rather large snort, and settled for a polite cough.

The man inspected the painting. He turned it this way and that, examining the frame, the way the paint crackles, the type of canvas used, using all his fancy little tools and such.

“I just so happened to have studied walruses extensively in college,” he said with a slightly self-satisfied air. “So I can tell you that this is a very rare species: the Odobenus rosmarus laptevi. These exist only in the Laptev Sea in Siberia.”

“Interesting. Siberia….”

 

Later that day, the girl was eating dinner with her parents.

“You know, the weather sure has been terrible lately,” declared her father listlessly. The man was not the most enthusiastic person.

“Why yes. This rain … horrendous. I wonder —” her mother began to say.

“Speaking of portly tusked animals,” the girl cut in without missing a beat, “did you know that there’s a rare type of walrus from Siberia?” She ended with an isn’t-this-the-most-interesting-thing-you’ve-ever-heard-in-your-life?! type of voice.

“Sweetheart, it’s rude to interrupt.” Her father gave her a disapproving glance.

“Well then continue, Mother. What were you going to say?” asked the girl, slightly miffed.

“I was about to say, I wonder what’s causing this nasty weather.” Her mother took a sip of water.

There was a pause.

“Well did you know, Mother, that there’s a rare type of walrus from Siberia? And it’s in our attic!”

Suddenly the doorbell rang. The girl walked to the door to answer it. The house was large (and from the early 1800s, as her parents boasted), so it was a comparatively long walk. Shortly after, she arrived and opened the door.

A large man loomed in the doorway. The look on his face said, “I don’t let anyone get in my way,” the clothes he wore said, “I don’t compromise,” and his shoes said, “I’ve stepped in something rather unpleasant.” He was wearing a jet black suit, a skinny black tie, and an earpiece. Although his aviator sunglasses hid his eyes, they did not fail to hide his mercilessness. He seemed to bring a menacing air along with him, and it was evident that he wasn’t there to deliver Girl Scout cookies.

“Can I… help you?” the girl asked hesitantly, suddenly afraid for her life.

A deep piercing voice came from somewhere inside him. “We have reason to believe that you are harboring a certain Odobenus rosmarus laptevi in your very house. This, as you must surely know, is an act punishable by law.”

“I — what? But no, it’s a —”

“Young lady, you are now a person of interest in the FBI’s recent hunt of a certain kidnapped walrus. Our operatives will be questioning you shortly.”

            Now this girl had her strong suits, but courage was not one of them. Just as the man grabbed her arm to take her to the unmarked black Volvo, she promptly fainted, with a bit of a half-squeal. Her parents, assuming she had gone with a friend, did not pay her any mind. Plus, their dinner was getting cold.

 

 Franklin had been a part of the FBI for six years now. While his intentions were respectable, he was never able to stand out much in his field. He was a stay-in-line, do-what-you’re-told type of person, a norm from which he never once deviated. Recently he had stumbled upon a case that was equally peculiar and fascinating — that of the misplaced walrus. Here in central Illinois, one would think this wouldn’t be a problem, to lose track of a walrus. Strangely enough, it was true. The case was entitled “Rare Walrus Reported Missing,” as though it were merely a run-of-the-mill happening. Once he first read it, he imagined the conversation that would ensue:

“So, what are you working on?”

“Missing walrus case. Classified.”

“Ah. Care for some coffee?”

“Please.”

He chuckled. It was pretty funny. He Googled “walrus” just to make sure he wasn’t confusing it with some other large-tusked mammal. No, that was certainly it: a big blubbery thing with enormous teeth and big tired eyes. It looked like a hound dog with flippers. Well, it was still his job, so he ran background checks on anyone who had reportedly handled said walrus, anyone who was ever in 100 yards of said walrus, anyone who had ever seen a walrus, etc., etc.

“Hey, Frank! You’ll never believe this!” Herman, his coworker, had been working on the case as well. Franklin looked up from his computer as his friend bolted through the door, gasping for breath. The former opened his mouth to answer, but, like always, Herman just kept on talking.

“We got the guy! Well — it’s a girl, actually. We got her. She has the walrus; we have an audio recording of her confession!”

“You — what? Since when?” Franklin was somewhat crestfallen to be out of the loop.

“Just now! We got a lead a couple hours ago from Dan—you remember Dan? He works for us undercover as an antique appraiser for that other stolen painting case. He called us saying that he put a wire on this girl’s painting, just to see if it had any connection with the animal.”

“And?”

“Well it sure does! She’s in the other room! She’s a little thing — maybe about 16 or 17? I figure you can question her more to get the details.”

 

“State your name.”

“Rosemary Pryce.”

“Rosemary, could you tell me how you happened upon your little walrus friend?”

She looked down at her hands, fidgeting. “Attic. He was in my attic,” the girl mumbled.

“Interesting. Could you describe him for me please?”

“Big, wrinkly, brownish.”

“Do you know much about walruses?”

“No. All I know is that he’s part of some rare species found only in Siberia.”

Brilliant! he thought, that’s precisely the species specified in the case file on his desk. It’ll be smooth sailing from now on. “And did you put him in your attic?”

“No, I found him.”

“So let me get this straight,” Franklin leaned on the table with both hands, staring into her eyes. That was the intimidating move: the casual lean. She’ll crack soon, giving him the satisfaction of catching the bad guy for once. Yeah. This was the life. “You say you found a walrus just lazing around in your attic? Is it even still alive?”

At this, she suddenly burst out laughing, unable to contain herself. In between breaths and with tears in her eyes, she shot him several amused glances. After a couple of minutes, she wiped her eyes and calmed down. She had a giant grin on her face.

Franklin was so caught off guard that he actually backed up a few steps, his eyes wide. Was this girl mentally stable? He wasn’t so sure. “Young lady … are you … all right?”

“You think,” she started laughing again, but then regained composure after a few seconds. “You think that I have a real walrus in my attic?”

“Well … yes. Don’t you?”

“Painting! Painting! It’s a painting of a walrus. You didn’t even ask.”

“Oh,” said Franklin, feeling more than a little foolish.

“Man, I’m telling you,” sighed Herman, shaking his head, as he drove the girl home. “It might sound ridiculous to you, but we thought you were the guy. I mean, we were pretty positive.”

The girl, who had been staring out the window, glanced over at him. “How come you’re still wearing the sunglasses? It’s nighttime.”

He adjusted his aviators. “I’ll let you in on a secret. You see these shades? They’re prescription. This fool broke my regular glasses last week, and I haven’t gotten around to replacing them. So these are what I’ve got to wear instead.”

“Ah.”

“Also, this earpiece is totally useless. I figure it makes me look hardcore.”

“That it does.”

They drove home in silence after that. He stopped at her house, and as she was getting out of the car, he remembered something. “Hey look, honey, could you keep this whole deal between you and me? It’s supposed to be classified. As far as you’re concerned, this never happened.”

“Got it. Never happened.”

 

She arrived at her house that same day, around eleven. Her parents had gone to sleep, so she had the whole house to herself. She went into her basement to collect her thoughts. Munching on a cookie, she mulled over all the strange things that had occurred that day. The antique appraisal, the disastrous dinner, and of course, that surprise situation in the FBI office. She shook her head.

“It sure has been a crazy day, Wally.” She stroked her Siberian walrus as he grunted in agreement.

Images via 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.

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You’re my Pun and Only

Last week in my ecology class, my professor was talking about the out-of-control wildfires that happened in Yellowstone National Park in 1988. At first, the park personnel didn’t put out the fires immediately because the flames began naturally — by lightning, to be precise. There are some trees (most notably the Jack Pine) that can only germinate if they are subjected to forest fires, and the underbrush is cleared for easier propagation of new sapling generations. For these and other reasons, the park employees let the fires burn.

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…And burn they did. For months, these seemingly never-ending conflagrations refused to let up, and after over a million acres of damage, Yellowstone was eventually fire-free. “The national park got a lot of heat from the media from not putting the fires out sooner,” my professor said.

Albeit unacknowledged by even the speaker himself, this pun was gloriously impressive. Sadly, I was convinced that I was the only one in class that actually noticed it — I looked around, and I didn’t see anyone else nearly as smug as I was. Oh, well. It seems the most enjoyable things in life are slight and unrecognized.

I recently started reading The Pun also Rises by Jonathan Pollack, a 1995 O’Henry Pun-Off champion. I’m not even 20 pages in, and I find myself with stupid grin plastered across my face, loving every bit of it. I even make little notes that say “nice one!” and “oho!” and “hehehehe!” Goodness, I love my puns. And other people’s puns, for that matter. I, for pun, don’t discriminate.

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So I took my adoration of puns, and I wrote about it, and it got published. Last year, I was just getting into this fascinating culture that had been unbeknownst to me for most of my life. I write for my university’s newspaper, and somehow I got away with this little gem. Depending on the audience, it was either considered cringe-worthy or terribly entertaining (emphasis on the “terrible”). Nevertheless, it is mine and mine alone. I had to tunnel into the depths of my imagination to write something that rocked. And I’ll treasure it always.

Since I first combined pen and pun, I have made it my duty to immerse myself into this society of punnsters and appreciators of verbal jousting. You may say I started from square pun. (har har har)

I know I’m among many who cherish this witty wordplay. I recently stumbled upon this lovely little article that illustrates the mighty pun and its prodigious ubiquity.

Here are some notable examples:

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So, until next time, I’ll leave you with my very own half-baked shaggy dog story:

Two bakers entered a rigorous baking contest. Each was to bring her own ingredients to the competition, making sure not to forget any necessary items.

Once the competition got underway, one of the bakers realized that she misplaced her butter. She did what she could without it, but the cake turned out three times smaller than planned. She gave each judge a miniature piece of cake, hoping that the flavors would be enough to help her win.

The judges devoured the slices and deliberated. In the end, they chose the other competitor as the winner. They turned to the second-place baker and said, “We couldn’t choose your cake because your sample size was too small, and your margarine of error was far too large.”

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Revolutionizing Online Writing, One Semicolon at a Time

Hello again! It has been far too long since I posted on this blog, so I decided to do an impromptu post to stop neglecting the poor thing.

Background info on this particular post: I wrote this essay for a scholarship contest, answering the question of how the internet has impacted the quality/style of my writing. I didn’t win, but nonetheless I figured I had put together a pretty decent set of words. Enjoy.

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The internet is a paradox. It spawns nationwide and worldwide revolutions while it simultaneously spreads countless instances of sheer stupidity. It breeds brilliant minds and propagates wicked-intentioned evildoers. Arguably the most consequential seeds that the internet has planted have been in the field of respectable writing and grammar (or, in many cases, the lack thereof).  For me, these seeds have developed into a revamped approach to writing, enabling me to augment my writing structure and widen my scope.

To illustrate my point, it is important to explain both kinds of people who inhabit the murky depths of the internet:

On one hand, there are those who have forgotten the ins and outs of the English language altogether—those who ruthlessly butcher innocent words such as “its,” “your,” and “there,” among many others. Numbers are inserted in places where numbers should never be. Commas are heartlessly misused, and oftentimes it seems like a lost cause for grammarians everywhere. The fate of dignified written communication hangs by the delicate threads that separate a well-placed “Happy Holidays” with a shockingly inaccurate “Happy Holiday’s” (it makes me twitch just looking at it).

On the other hand are the intrepid defenders of syntax who have gained power in the fight against this generation’s disgraceful internet jargon.  They come in all shapes and sizes, and often their identities are shrouded in the mysteries of an anonymous username on a random website. These are the grammar correctors of the internet world. An independent faction, this insurgent movement took roots in the very thing the internet had initially created: lazy, apathetic typists and texters. The internet’s renegade grammarians are fighting for a respectable scholarly cause.

I have since joined the ranks of the latter group—but I don’t fight on the front lines; I fight my own personal battle. I tackle the issue of shoddy online writing through my own counteractive methods: Sticking to my own rigid standards, being aware of the audience’s and my own points of view, and preserving a distinctive, characteristic writing style. To put it simply, the internet has made me a better, more detail-oriented writer, and I’d like to inspire others to reassess their writing in a similar fashion.

Although I have always been enthusiastic about writing and grammar, the internet has been a huge step up for me in spirit and practice. I value the spreading of knowledge and the proliferation of ideas, and technology has made it monumentally simpler to find and cite articles, pictures, videos, what have you. This way, my writing has spanned an entirely new dimension. While writing itself is a powerful thing, writing with the internet gives me boundless opportunities and entirely new layers of information-sharing in a single article or sentence. Not only has the character and structure of my writing changed, but my influence has widened due to the internet’s seemingly endless capabilities.

Knowing this, people still misuse their power. If the online powers-that-be would collectively improve and revamp their writing and grammatical approach, just think of the worldwide effects. Gone will be the days of dropped vowels and misused apostrophes. People will be taken more seriously, and, potentially, world peace would be affirmed (except for the ongoing battle for or against the Oxford comma—of which I will forever stand in favor). These hypothetical widespread grammatical reforms might cause people to become more aware of their written wrongdoings of the past, and rectify them accordingly.

While I may not have nearly as much power as those with millions of Twitter followers or thousands of Facebook status likes, I’d like to start my own small-scale writing revolution. Ideally, I’d like my writing to influence others to reassess theirs, if possible. Until that time, I write for myself, keep my own standards high, and feel accomplished for the small things.

In this case, I’d like to influence the nice people of the internet with powerful judging authority and keen editor’s eyes. Good luck with your endeavors, and may you never misuse a semicolon.

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An Analysis of the Quintessential Walrus

Disclaimer: As this is my first blog post, I have decided to write about whatever popped into my little head. Today, this happened to be walruses for some reason (just roll with it). I may eventually find some structure to this blog, but in its beginning phases it will simply be a medium for my random nuggets of analysis. What will come next? Even I myself cannot say! Oh! The mystery!

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In my eighth grade graduation speech, I quoted a snippet of possibly my favorite classic quirky poem of Mr. Lewis Carroll (of Alice in Wonderland fame):

‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
      To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
      Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
      And whether pigs have wings.’

While few people may associate large-tusked sea-faring mammals with any sort of educational elevation, this poem epitomized the feelings that our fourteen-year-old selves were attempting to grasp at that point in our lives (Disclaimer: I was a rather analytical, literary kid from an early age).

Blissfully unaware, this whiskered guy represents the forefront of our futures

Ok, let’s back up. If we look at the entirety of the poem, we find that the walrus and his good friend the carpenter trick their newfound oyster friends into the waiting bellies of their charming oppressors. Through his beguile, the walrus begins this strangely compelling speech with the ominous phrase, “the time has come.”

Carpenter (left) and Walrus (a.k.a. Jamie Hyneman of “Mythbusters”)

What “time,” exactly? That, my friends, is where our good pal symbolism comes in (always welcome in my company). Symbolism sweeps us out of the poem and into an alternate reality—similar to the “flash sideways” universe in season 6 of “Lost.” Sometimes you just want to believe that it’s true; other times you’re convinced that it must be. In this situation, the sideways universe involved a new forward step in our lives, educationally, spiritually, and otherwise.

Claire and a very dapper Desmond discuss important things in their sideways universe

So what have I accomplished here besides elaborating on our literary flippered friend (and alluding to one of the greatest shows in the history of shows)? I have illustrated that we, the students, are the oysters. Society is, therefore, the walrus. (This is a working theory. Also, I realize how ridiculous it might sound to say the phrase “society is the walrus,” but just go with it.)

It’s not just Mr. Carroll who makes this claim. Society’s representation through the walrus also appears in other mediums as well. For example, surely you are familiar with the strange yet melodic Beatles classic “I am the Walrus,” which begins with an eloquent “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” Taking into the account that this could mean nothing at all, there could be a modicum of logic in this incongruity. Basically, it is saying that we are all part of the same crowd—that is, society—whether we choose to be or not. Yes, besides some possible other, ahem, influences which the Beatles may have used to write these peculiar lyrics, they are cleverly relevant, if you dissect them enough.

They know who the walrus is

There you have it, folks. Despite all your previous notions of this whiskered marine mammal, it is in fact an archetypal standard of the social order. So next time you come across a walrus, be sure to be respectful, because it has a lot of responsibility to uphold.

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