Thursday, August 23, 2007

Small Houses

This is a speech I have written for my next Toastmasters meeting. It's supposed to be funny... I don't know if it is or not. Humor me. (Hmm, maybe that's what they mean about a "Humorous Speech"...)

I live in a small house. Two bedrooms, two children, two cats, two adults, and one bathroom. And the boys are only getting bigger, both in terms of size and the amount of stuff that they must have. I’m itching to expand—not personally! I’m big enough already—I mean add onto the house, or move somewhere else with just a little more room. Somewhere I can store my knitting yarn, and go to the bathroom without stepping on toys and someone hopping on one foot outside the door.

It’s amazing that no one needs to go until I need to go. Then, when I go into the bathroom, I’m followed by one boy, one cat, and a shout from my husband to hurry up because he has to go, too. That’s when I tell my son to go outside and make use of the quarter acre that our house is on.

But I’m not here to tell you about peeing in the woods. I’m going to tell you a story that my father told me, when I was complaining about living in this tiny house. This is a rabbinical tale. Those of you who might have grown up with a Jewish background might recognize it.

Once upon a time, there was a man with many children, a wife, and a very small house. They were living on top of one another—the children’s books got mixed up with the mother’s weaving that got mixed up with the man’s tools that got mixed up with the dinner that got mixed up with the kids’ toys… well, you get the idea. The fighting between everyone was intense. The man was miserable.

The man went to the local rabbi, and said, “Rabbi, rabbi, I am going crazy. My house is too small, and our family is a mess. What should I do?”

The rabbi looked at him, thoughtfully, and said, “You have chickens, right? And perhaps a duck?”

The man looked puzzled and said, “Well, yes. In fact we have some newly hatched chicks, too… would you like some as payment?”

“No, no indeed. What you are to do is to invite the chickens—and the duck—into your house. Come back to me in a week.”

The man stammered, and said, “Oh…oh… okay… but it won’t be pretty…”

He went home, gathered up the fowl (foul?) and brought them into the house.

Well. Feathers floating everywhere. Droppings everywhere. The rooster took up residence on the headboard of the man’s bed, and didn’t seem to get the idea that he was only supposed to crow in the morning. The chickens roosted on the kitchen table. The chicks all but disappeared. The ducks took up residence in the kitchen and wouldn’t let the mother wash the dishes. You’ve heard about duck nibbles? This was literal. The family bickered and fought, well-peppered by squawking and quacking.

The week was through, and the man went to the rabbi again.

“Rabbi, things at home are terrible! I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in a week! We are all more miserable than before!”

The rabbi looked at the man over his glasses and said, “You have a goat, right? And a couple sheep?”

The man was afraid. “…yes…

“Go home and invite your sheep and goat into your house. Come back to me in a week.”

As the man walked home, it began to rain.

Have you ever smelled wet goat? And while I love wool, have you ever played with a wet sheep? They don’t mind the rain, but you really don’t want to be too close to one when it’s soaked to the skin. With trepidation, the man opened the front door and invited the goat and two sheep into the house.

Oh… the smell. The greasy goats and waterlogged sheep. The … leavings. (Have you seen the Simpsons movie yet? You know the silo that Homer filled with pig “leavings”? There’s some truth to that.) The goat butted everything in sight, climbed on the furniture, and ate the man’s best hat. The chickens took unexpected trips into the air, thanks to the goat. The sheep… well, the sheep rubbed up against everything in the house, spreading their smell and fleas. Baaaa. Baaaa. It never ended. And then the goat and the duck fought. And it was raining. The house was covered with a layer of feathers, fur, and feces.

So the week worked itself out, and the man dragged himself back to the rabbi.

“Oh, rabbi. Things can’t get any worse. Really. How can this be helping things? My wife is ready to leave me!”

The rabbi said, “You have a cow, right?”

“No. Oh no. I mean yes I do, but no, oh no I can’t, please, no…”

“Bring the cow into the house.”

The man went home. Via the local bar.

He heard and smelled his house before he saw it. He tiptoed to the back door (not that it was necessary), opened the door, and shoved the cow into the kitchen where his wife had given up on making dinner.

Now. Imagine. Chickens, duck, goat, sheep, and now a cow. In a small house with children. The lowing of the cow at least drowned out the clucking of the chickens. At least they didn’t have to go outside to milk her. But the cow and the goat didn’t get along. The chickens had taken to leaving eggs in improper places. The duck befouled every dish in the house. One of the sheep had lain upon the man’s bed and did. Not. Look. Well. Flies were everywhere, alighting on anything that stayed still for more than three seconds. And the backside of the cow had become a danger zone. Not for the obvious reasons! They flick their tails, you know? Like the snapping of a wet towel—you don’t want to get in the way or you’ll get a stinging blow to your cheek.

The family got through the week, one day at a time. Mostly by hiding in the barn, themselves.

The man went back to the rabbi, exhausted. He said nothing, he just looked at him, with fear and trembling. What would the rabbi make him do this time…

“Ah, yes. How was your week?”

The man didn’t answer, just looked at him.

“Yes. Well. Today, I want you to go home and put the livestock back in their proper places. Come back to me in a week.”

The man sighed in relief. “Thank you, rabbi! Thank you, thank you!” and he hurried home to give his wife the good news.

Together, they took the sheep, goat, and cow back to the barn and to the pastures, the chickens back to the chicken run, and the duck back to the pond. The house was still a mess, but with the family working together, they cleaned the droppings. They washed the dishes; they boiled the linens and set them to dry in the fresh, clean sunshine. Together they scoured the house from top to bottom. Together, they recovered from the last three weeks’ trials.

A week passed, and the man went back to the rabbi.

“Oh, Rabbi,” he said, “Things are wonderful in our house! We sleep soundly… in the morning all we hear are the birds, in the evenings all we hear are crickets! The house is clean, and organized, and my goodness! The space! I never realized how much space we have! I can breathe again! And everyone is working together to keep the house in order! Thank you, thank you!”

Now, I know I live in a small house. I still want more space. But I will not invite a goat into my house, no matter how much good it might eventually do.

Thank you.


Anonymous said...

Hi Meera!

as a critique... well, it's hard to say. The funny in a speech depends 99% on delivery, I think... my one comment is that I found the modern references (like the Simpsons) a little jarring juxtaposed with the folk tale. I wonder if there would be a way to update it for modern times?

Meera Hyphenated said...

Oh! That's a good idea. I'll have to think about that! What could we invite into our house... By the way, who are you, anonymous person?

Puzzled said...

This is great, Meera! Indeed, delivery will be key, as it's a bit long and shaggy-dog (hey, why not bring that into the house, that would be droll!) so you'll want to hold the attention by whatever means you can, to vivify the scene, which you describe well.

And, representing the lowest common I.Q denominator of your audience, I didn't get what "Did. Not. Look." was about.

Query said...

Yes, delivery will be key. How much time do you have? Do you want to fill every available space with words, making your delivery as crowded as the house, or can you tighten it up a bit?

My favorite phrase: "feathers, fur, and feces"!

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.....Wendy R Wolf..... said...

Thanks for this wonderful rendition of the story. i was searching around the internet for a version I enjoyed to share with a friend - this one is my favorite. I really enjoyed the many details you added to make the challenges more real.
best to you! wendy

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