May 2008

“How many, Eye?” I asked again. “How many of the ELgiN StreEt iRReguLars are doppelgängers?”

The Eye frowned and looked at the pickle jar. I thought I might be able to slip that one in with the last one, but I was mistaken. I put in a dime. I was getting dangerously low on dimes.

“So, how many?” I said.

“Most of them. A couple are clones, one is a changeling, and one is actually an evil twin. That’s how they got to be so self-referential. No actual human being could possibly keep it up.”

‘Changeling,’ I wrote.

“Woodsy is a doppelgänger, of course,” the Eye said. “The one on Elgin Street I mean. And you know about Aggie.”

“Would I be able to tell?”

“No. Fox wouldn’t either. He just thinks he would.

“But I would,” the Eye added.

“How are Elf and Aggie doing?” I asked, hoping Eye would take it as a pleasantry and not a question. I only had one more dime.

“Oh, fine. They like to have barbecues and invite the neighbours. In the evening they watch TV. Very dull if you ask me.”

‘Barbecues and TV,’ I wrote in my book.

“The only one who is actually himself is that little dwarf. The evil fourth one.” The Eye started spinning and blinking when he mentioned Fourth Dwarf.

‘4th Dwarf real dwarf,’ I wrote. It was all so shocking that I didn’t even have time to be shocked. I was going to have to spend a good long time reading over my notes and being properly shocked later on. I thought I’d do that when I was on my way to find Shelly.

It was time to ask. I put my last dime in the pickle jar.

“Where is Shelly, my one true love?” I asked. My voice was trembling. “What can I do to win her back?”

“That rotten little dwarf,” the Eye muttered. He was spinning faster. I wasn’t sure if he heard my question at all. “Should be in the hoosegow,” he grumbled, spinning harder and zooming in and out.

‘Hoosegow,’ I wrote. “What about Shelly?” I asked. 

“Shelly!” the Eye yelled, spinning like crazy. “Empty Shell? That little airhead? Forget about her!”

“But I Iove her!” I cried.

“Nonsense!” Eye shrieked. “You love her little pussy cat. You love her frilly panties. She’s vacant! Hollow! Absent! Truly empty! Nobody home! Forget about her!”

‘Forget about her,’ I wrote.

I didn’t know what to say. Now that the Eye pointed it out, I could see that he was right. All of a sudden I felt a lot more peaceful. The Eye, however, was spinning so fast I thought he might break apart into a million eyelets.

I tried to make some normal conversation to chill him out. I was out of dimes anyway. “Did you hear that Shania Twain and Mutt Lange broke up?” I said. “The Fourth Dwarf says he’s going after her. He wants to put his boots under her bed.”

Maybe it was a mistake to mention the Fourth Dwarf.

“Not my Shania!” the Eye screamed. “He better not touch her! That little dwarf better keep his smelly dwarf mitts off my Shania or there’s going to be trouble!”

His voice went so high he sounded like a big wasp or a small chain saw, and with that he took off, ricocheting from peak to peak, heading west at a fantastic clip. I don’t know if he was on his way to get Shania and put his boots under her bed — not that he has any boots, being an eye and all — or to toss the dwarf in the hoosegow. Probably both.

I was a little tired from running across Europe and half of Asia, so I climbed up on the platform and took a long nap. Later I changed the sign. I raised the rates a bit.

Personal trainer
Yoga instructor
12¢ an hour
Exact change please


It’s peaceful here, and I have a fantastic view of the whole world. I grew a beard and it came in white. I’m sure somebody will come along pretty soon. Somebody that wants some yoga lessons.

I hope they have plenty of change. Especially dimes and pennies.

Eye had rigged up a little platform with a rickety ladder going up to it. He was sitting on the platform in an egg cup. He had a pickle jar full of dimes and a sign.

is IN

All will be revealed
Answers 10¢ each
Exact change please

I had enough change for approximately 3 to 5 answers. I got out my notepad and a pencil so I could take notes. I wanted to be sure and get my money’s worth.

I tossed a dime in the pickle jar.

“How come Fox fell for a human dame?” I asked.

I was expecting the Eye to start spinning and turning and zooming in and out like he used to do, but he just sat there thinking, and he didn’t speak until he was ready. It was very unlike him.

“She’s not human, she’s a wood nymph,” the Eye said.

“A wood nymph?”

“A supernatural being with limited magic powers. Fox isn’t her lover, he’s her animal familiar.”

I’d heard of that before, but I couldn’t remember where. It was shocking. “Can I have a supplementary question for free?” I asked.

“As long as it’s on exactly the same subject,” the Eye said. I had to admire his business acumen.

“How come Fox walks upright when he’s around Woodsy?”

“That’s the nature of the relationship. The animal familiar helps his mistress perform magic spells, and in exchange he gains the power to take human form. Woodsy can also take the form of a fox. She often goes out as a fox at night.”

“How did they meet?” I asked. I knew I was pushing my dime, but I couldn’t resist.

“Fox was driving cab in Geneva. Woodsy got in. The rest is just details,” the Eye said. “Next question.”

I was scribbling like mad in my book so I wouldn’t forget anything. ‘Animal familiar,’ I wrote.

Next I wanted to know about the bANk sTREeT irReLEvanTs. I tossed another dime in the Eye’s jar.

“How come the BSIs all quit blogging at once and took off like that?” I asked.

“Our work was done. The ELgiN StreEt iRReguLars no longer needed to be nudged out of their complacency. They’d moved on to real estate and dating advice. Very dull if you ask me.”

‘Dating advice,’ I wrote in my notebook.

“It was a hard job nudging them, but it had to be done,” the Eye said. “Being cruelly ignored like that, and never even receiving our prizes for all the challenges we won… it was tough. But our noble hearts enabled us to carry on.” Eye and I shed a brief tear for the noble hearts of the bANk sTREeT irReLEvanTs.

“Next question,” said the Eye. But there was more I needed to know about the ESIs.

“How many of the ELgiN StreEt iRReguLars are doppelgängers?” I asked.

[to be continued…]

Zurich… Budapest… Odessa…

It was a long way to Nepal. I had plenty of time to think. I had a lot of questions and not many answers, and it was tearing me up inside.

Who the heck is Woodsy? What made Fox fall for a human dame? What’s he doing walking upright? When did he get his taxi licence?


Shelly! Married! Why did she do it? Why? Why? Didn’t the videos mean anything to her? Why? Why? Why?

I almost went back to the Schnapps, but I’d sworn a vow and my vow was my word and my word was my bond. So I stuck to boilermakers.

Mashhad… Kabul…

Just how many of the ESIs are really doppelgängers? Is Woodsy one? Is the Fourth Dwarf one? Is the Coyote one? Is the Chair one?

What if Shelly was a doppelgänger? Would I be able to tell? What if Sidney Crosby was one? Would I be able to tell? What if I was one? Would I be able to tell?

Delhi… Kathmandu…

Why can’t Pittsburgh score a goal? What’s the future of dating? What’s aqueous humour again? What the heck is a dirndl? And always, Why? Why? Why?

The questions were tearing me apart. There weren’t enough boilermakers in the world to soothe my restless heart. I was counting on the Autonomous Eye to fill in some of the blanks. 

Outside of Kathmandu I saw a slimy trail leading up Everest. It had an aqueous, humorous, ocular feeling to it, like a joke about a one-eyed parrot, so I followed it to the summit.

I blinked… He blinked…

“Hello Joe,” said he.

“Hello Eye,” said I.

Oprah in Trouble!

 The New York Times just wrote this article about the tarnishing of the O brand and they point out some startling facts.

– The average audience for The Oprah Winfrey Show has fallen nearly 7 percent this year, according to Nielsen Media Research.

– The circulation of O, The Oprah Magazine, has fallen by more than 10 percent, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, and the magazine is now seeking a new editor in chief after the announced retirement of its longtime steward, Amy Gross.

Oprah’s Big Give, an ABC philanthropic reality show, beat every program on television except American Idol in its premiere week this winter, but steadily lost nearly one-third of its audience during the rest of its eight-week run, according to Nielsen.



I got an early start in the morning. There was still one more piece of the puzzle I had to find. Where was the Autonomous Eye, that weird little twirly guy?

He could definatly be a pain in the butt, always spinning around and zooming in and out and mouthing off about everything, and chasing after the Fourth Dwarf, who everyone except the Eye knows is really [Redacted], but I felt responsible for him just the same. Just like I did for all the BSIs.

Besides, I thought he might know something. He might know something about Shelly — Married! Married, damn it! — something that might help me to win her back.

Weird as he is, the Eye knows a lot. He doesn’t miss much.

Foxy came down part of the way with me. As soon as he left that mountaintop meadow he went back to walking on all fours. And he quit talking like Yoda. We stopped about ten times for beers at little wayside inns they have there in the Alps. It was a lot of fun.

True to my vow, I didn’t have any Schnapps.

I kept meaning to ask Fox about Woodsy, but I never got a chance. Foxy had fallen for dames before, but never for a human dame. Not that Woodsy was exactly human. I had a lot of questions, but Foxy just wanted to sing drinking songs and flirt with the waitresses in their little dirndls. Just like he always wanted to do.

Then he said he had to go and kick the shit out of some coyotes in the Black Forest, so we parted ways and I headed east. Fox said he thought the Autonomous Eye went east, and that was good enough for me.

I knew where the Eye would be. He’d have to be the highest eye. The top eye. The eye in the sky. I headed overland for Mount Everest.

Mount Everest, Nepal! That’s where he’d be.

“So Foxy, where’s Elf?” I said. We were relaxing after dinner. Fox had some nice Cuban cigars. Woodsy was doing whatever it is that wood nymphs do.

“Where do you think? North Pole.”

“North Pole!”

“Where else are there any elves?”

“Yeah, but he tried that before. That Santa’s an abusive bastard.”

“Elfy’s got it under control. He unionized the elves.”

“Unionized them?”

“Yup. CUPE.”


“Canadian Union of Pissed-off Elves.”

“I’ll be damned. So I guess I better get back to Geneva and get the cats and shlep them up to the North Pole. Which way is the North Pole from here Foxy?”

“That’d be north, Joe.”


“It’s way up at the top Joe.”

“Maybe I could ski across Finland,” I said. “Like Diane Keaton in Reds.”

Diane Keaton was hot in that movie, but now she looks like my grandmother.

“Could do that,” Fox said.

“I’m going to need some kind of sled so I can haul the cats. Maybe some kind of boat for the last part.”

“Could do that, but there’s no need,” Fox said.

“What? What do you mean?”

“It’s taken care of. Woodsy’s people already delivered the cats to the North Pole.”


“Right after we left the alley.”

“I’ll be damned. So Woodsy has people?”

“Oh yeah,” Fox said. “In a manner of speaking,” he added.

“Still I’d like to see Elf. What made him take off like that Foxy?”

“A dame.”

“A dame?”

“What else?”

“Was it that fairy in the absinthe ad Foxy? She was hot. For a fairy.”

“Nah. It was Aggie. It was always Aggie for Elf.”

“That can’t be, Fox. Aggie’s down on Elgin Street. She does crafts and stuff. And shopping. She’s their muse you know.”

“Not her.”


“That’s not her.”

“How can that be, Fox?”

“Did you read my post about the words you’re going to need to know?”

“I skimmed it.”

“You skimmed it.” 

“I don’t have a lot of time for reading, Fox. I have to work out and practice my yoga and everything. Look after the cats. Work on my tan.”

“Doppelgänger,” Fox said.

“Doppel what?”

“Evil twin, Joe.”

I gasped. I was completely knocked out. Aggie not Aggie? Aggie Aggie’s evil twin?

“It’s better to say doppelgänger,” Fox said. “Doppelgängers are mysterious. They’re not necessarily evil.”

“Which one has Elf got with him Fox?”

“That’s Aggie,” Fox said.

“How can I tell if it’s really Aggie and not her doppel… doppel… doppelgänger?”

“You can’t,” Fox said.

“I can’t?”

“No,” Fox said. “But I can.”

I woke up with a dog licking me. That was typical of life in an alley down by the docks in Geneva. It was just like Third Elf’s life out back of Sugar Mountain, all candy and booze and kitty litter. I shoved the dog away and rolled over to try and get some more sleep.

I’d been trying to keep up with my yoga, but the booze got in the way. My health was beginning to suffer.

But… if you were living in an alley in Geneva, waiting for a blog post that might never come, from the best friend you ever had in the whole world, wishing Shelly — Shelly! Married! — had been able to have a little faith, to see you more clear, to look past your toned, tanned, muscular facade into the real truth in the heart of a man such as the kind of man you truly in your heart know yourself to be, well… you’d be socking back a few too.

They drink Schnapps over here in Switzerland. Some kind of pepperminty Euro swill. It does the job.

The dog was back. I shoved it away again. I was thinking about dames. Those Swiss dames, man, they’re something else, all blonde hair and sexy little dirndls. They look like something off a cuckoo clock.

But they wouldn’t come home with me. Said I lived in an alley. Which I did.

I just didn’t get what Foxy was up to. What was all that crap about black cats and weepy eyeballs? What was he trying to tell me? Why wouldn’t he get back to me? 

I was afraid he’d lost his mind. He never had that much mind to begin with. Salt of the earth, that Fox, but no intellectual.

The dog bit me in the ear. I rolled over to punch him. It was Fox. He had a couple of coffees and a bag of pastries.

“Foxy!” I yelled, but he shushed me. He didn’t seem to want to talk, but his tail was wagging like a puppy’s and he couldn’t stop bouncing and grinning. Me neither. 

We drank the coffees and ate the pastries, and then I packed up my climbing gear and fed the cats and before I knew it I was following Fox high up into the Swiss Alps, loping along easy in the bright spring air, through mountain meadows like emeralds bursting with wildflowers, higher and higher, Fox in his element in the wild and me, Sherpa Joe, me in my element too, dammit!

No more Schnapps for me. I swore it. I swore it out loud.

After five hours of hard climbing we arrived at the most beautiful meadow of them all. It was shrouded in mist, but when the mist lifted it was as if you could see for a million miles, all the way to Swaziland I bet.

“Sherpa Joe,” Fox said. There was mist swirling all around him, and it was glowing a faint golden colour, like amber or a cat’s eyes. I couldn’t help noticing that he was walking upright. How did that happen? He was taller, and he seemed to be wearing clothes. Some kind of robes.

“Allow me to present my beloved,” Fox said. “My lady the wood nymph Woodsy.”

Animal familiar

A familiar is a witch’s companion, a small animal that helps the witch with magic. The idea of the familiar is a very ancient concept and is generally applied to such creatures as cats, dogs, foxes, toads, snakes, and birds.


The ghostly double of a living person. They are generally regarded as harbingers of bad luck. In some traditions, a doppelgänger seen by a person’s friends or relatives portends illness or danger, while seeing one’s own doppelgänger is an omen of death.

Aqueous humour

A thick watery substance that fills the space in the eyeball between the lens and the cornea.

Somebody was yelling, “No!! Not you!!!”

I stepped inside and a cat slammed into me. 

It clung onto my head, hissing and clawing, and then another one hit me in the chest and stuck like velcro. I tried to shake them off but they stuck their claws into me and hung on. As soon as I got one off another one came flying.

There was a stack of cages against the wall. Somebody was opening them and hurling cats at me. As fast as I could grab one and fling it off, another one struck, hissing and clawing and caterwauling.

My arms and hands were bleeding from all the clawing. I’d had enough. I faced the hail of cats head-on and charged the mystery cat-chucker like a linebacker for the LA Rams. The crowd roared, “Joe! Joe! Sherpa Joe!” and I made the tackle.

It was Fat Neck. He was naked and crying. I tied him up with my climbing rope and hoisted him over a chandelier.

You don’t want to see Fat Neck naked. Especially not upside down.

“What the hell are you doing?” I yelled. “What’s with the cats?”

“Not mine!” he blubbered. “Third Elf’s cats!”

“I don’t care whose cats they are! Why are you throwing them at me?”

“I thought you wouldn’t let me have the blog. I thought you wouldn’t let me be the Grammar Gestapo,” Fat Neck said.

“You’re the Grammar Gestapo?” I couldn’t help laughing. That made Fat Neck cry even louder. “That’s ridiculous,” I said. “Anyway, you can’t have the blog. I’m holding it for the BSIs.”

“But I was learning how to knit,” Fat Neck said. He was whimpering like a bulldog puppy.

He was starting to get on my nerves. Dangerously on my nerves. I defanitly didn’t have time for this. I needed information.

“I think you know more than you’re letting on,” I said. “Where are they? Where’s Fox and Elf and the Autonomous Eye?” 

I broke one of Fat Neck’s fingers to let him know I was serious. You would have done the same thing. It was just one of the little ones. He screamed a bit and then he went back to his blubbering.

“S! S! S!” Fat Neck blubbered.

“Cincinnatti?” I said. “Cincinnatti, USA?”

“Sw! Sw! Sw!”

“Swaziland? Swaziland, Africa?” I twisted another finger. Anybody would have.

“Sw! Sw! Sw!” Fat Neck screamed.

“Sweden? Sweden, Scandinavia?”

I wouldn’t mind going to Sweden. I like the blonde dames they have there. Tall ones with blue eyes and pale skin. Freckles.

“Sw! Sw! Sw!” Fat Neck whimpered.

“Switzerland?” I said. He tried to nod while he was hanging upside down. It was comical. “Yes? They’re in Switzerland? Switzerland, Europe?” He nodded again. “What the hell are they doing there?”

Fat Neck passed out. He probably didn’t know anything anyway.

Most of the cats had gone back in their cages. That’s where the food was. Some of them were just milling around sniffing at each other. They seemed like a decent bunch of cats when they weren’t being used as missiles.

I grabbed Shelly’s panties, popped Fat Neck between the eyes, loaded the cat cages into a taxi, and set the bloggery on fire. Then I headed for the docks. 

Me and Third Elf’s cats had a freighter to catch. A fast freighter for Switzerland.

I just couldn’t let it go. I’d tracked down La Chaise, mommy-blogging about diaper rash and her giant stool, and Empty Shell — married! Married, damn it! Married! — and Shagatha, out in the desert gettin’ set to take Oprah down.

But where was Fox? Where was Third Elf? Where was The Autonomous Eye?

It kept nagging at me, like an itch you can never scratch no matter what advanced yoga positions you twist your tanned and well-muscled torso into, even if you’re hardly drinking at all that day, and all the time you’re crying out to the universe “Why? Why? Why?”

I decided to drop by the deserted bloggery one last time, to rake through the ashes and dust once more, to press Shelly’s panties to my tear-stained cheek one more time. I just had to find those guys!

Not Shelly, I knew where she was. She was married, damn it! Married! When she could have had a real man, a man such as I.

I went down and listened outside the door. I could hear voices inside. I knocked on the door.

It opened, and all hell broke loose.

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