Thursday, December 23, 2010

He Knew How to Keep Christmas Well

Dear Misfits,
Sorry.  I’m about a week late with a report of our discussion of A Christmas Carol, our December book.   So let me get right to it—it is a wonderful classic that has helped define the “spirit” of Christmas for millions of readers since Charles Dickens published it in December, 1843.  It also generated one of the best book discussions we have had in several years.  All of the men  at our meeting had read the story in a Christmas past but to a man, declared it was even better than remembered
Dickens called his story “A Christmas Carol in Prose “.  To complete the imagery of a “Carol”, he divides the story into five “Staves”, a stave being “a verse or stanza of a poem or song”.  He also called it “A Ghost Story of Christmas”.   But it is not a scary ghost story for the reader.  It is only scary for Scrooge. 
Misfit Loome noted that each of the Ghosts were very benign spirits especially the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present.   Both of these spirits were very communicative while conducting Scrooge on a tour of his life culminating in the greed of his present life.  Then a third and final spirit visits Scrooge.  He is a silent phantom clad in a hooded black robe.  The Phantom Spirit presents Scrooge with an ominous view of the future and of a lonely death.  This is the most Christian part of the Carol…it presents Scrooge with a Memento Mori moment which leads him to a redemptive change of heart.  The story ends happily for Scrooge and for each of us.  It concludes with the observation that ”it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.  May that be truly said of us, and all of us!  And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One! “  Yes, God Bless Us, Every One!
Misfit Buzz

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Would St. Jerome have read an E-book?

Today's bibliosite is both a picture of Loome Lore and some food for thought about the E-book craze.

One one side - basic (and now ancient) contact information and hours of operation (only by appointment as the Loome family was then spending their time raising their children at the bookstore more than being open for business):

On the other side, a picture of sacred reading and a still timely admonition from St. Jerome.

I'd like to treat of just what is sacred reading and whether on open book or a turned on e-reader is more conducive to such activity.

First, notice the posture of the reader above.  It is one of openness and humility.  The reader is not even touching the book but kneels receptive and prayerful before it's open pages.  She has a fixed attention on the book.  It is as if the book is illuminating her with it's holy wisdom.

Strangely enough if we swap the book for an e-reader in the picture, it gives one the impression of idolatry - kneeling before a thin, small, electronic object.  I'm not saying reading from e-readers is anything like idolatry, just that in this picture, an e-reader in place of the book gives a very different impression.

So can one practice sacred reading with an e-reader?  First of all, what makes reading sacred?  What is sacred is set apart from what is profane.  So sacred reading must be the reading of that which is sacred.  Presumably, our reader above is reading from a sacred book, one of the books that Christians through out time have attested as worthy of reading for the Truth therein.  However, it takes more than a sacred book to make up the whole of sacred reading.  I am reminded again of the posture of our reader above, prayerful, humble and attentive.  Sacred reading also encompasses the disposition of the reader - she must be interiorly prepared to receive the word of Truth which she will encounter in the book.  Sacred book and sacred disposition must be in place to authentically undertake sacred reading.

Now, back to the e-reader.  Is an e-reader a sacred device which one needs to undertake sacred reading?  Only when there are sacred books loaded onto it.  However, profane books can just as easily be loaded onto it as well.  In this regard, a sacred book is always superior to an e-reader since a single sacred book, never changes its stripes so to speak: it is always a sacred book.  The e-reader changes it's stripes depending on the texts one reads on it.  Do readers of e-readers bring a sacred disposition to their use?  Yes and no.  Again, this depends on the texts one is prepared to read on the e-reader.  But there is nothing in the e-reader itself which invites one to a sacred disposition.  Actually, e-readers with their plastic bodies and changeable screens scream portability, mutability, and efficiency which are all antithetical to a sacred disposition to encounter grounding, eternal, and ponder-able Truth.  Here, again, the sacred book, sometimes bound in leather, but always with it's permanent cover and solid mass beckons a sacred disposition from the reader.

Therefore, I think St. Jerome would not have done his sacred reading with an e-reader.

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Confused as Hell

Dear Misfits,

Dimiter, our book for November was puzzling.  In fact, the Misfits who read and discussed the book are still trying to figure out if they liked it or not!  There is much to like about this latest novel by William Blatty (he of Exorcist fame).  First, it can be accurately called a “Catholic novel|” though perhaps not in the tradition of Morris West or say, Graham Greene.  That said, the book was in many respects a thriller that accurately portrayed Catholic themes and theology.  The story begins in Albania in the 1970’s which is the briefest and most exciting part of the book.  Here, we meet a mysterious prisoner who is suspected of being an “anti-government agent”.  The Albanian authorities subject him to unspeakable torture.  The prisoner does not break and suffers in total silence.  It is grim, believable, and our introduction to Dimiter, who turns out to be an American CIA “agent from hell”. 

The scene then abruptly shifts to Jerusalem where we meet a confusing mélange of characters, the most interesting of whom are a Christian Arab police detective, Peter Merel and Dr. Moses May, a brooding neurologist at Hadassah Hospital. Unfortunately, confusing cross references to characters and mysterious, often inexplicable deaths, baffle the reader.  Most of us re-read the ending several times and still could not accurately identify who was doing or saying what to whom and vice versa.  The final 20 pages of the novel do attempt to clarify the story but the ending remains puzzling and in finally, unsatisfying.  Perhaps it will make a better movie! 

Now on to the future:

December’s book will not leave anyone confused.  We have decided to read Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol , first published on December 19,1843.  As anyone who has had a childhood knows, the story tells of sour and stingy Ebenezer Scrooge's ideological, ethical, and emotional transformation after the supernatural visitations of Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet to Come.  “Dickens's Carol was one of the single greatest influences in rejuvenating the old Christmas traditions of England, but, while it brings to the reader images of light, joy, warmth, and life it also brings strong and unforgettable images of darkness, despair, coldness, sadness and death. Scrooge himself is the embodiment of winter, and, just as winter is followed by spring and the renewal of life, so too is Scrooge's cold, pinched heart restored to the innocent goodwill he had known in his childhood and youth”.  You can get the novella on line, in any book store, and hopefully, in any Christian home.  I encourage all of the Misfits to come to our December meeting to share in our discussion of A Christmas Carol and help us prepare to celebrate the coming birth of our Savior. 

January’s book is also very topical!  We have decided to read a novel by Blessed John Henry Newman.  (Cardinal Newman’s beatification was officially proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI on September 19, 2010 during his visit to the United Kingdom.)  Cardinal Newman wrote two novels:  Loss and Gain (1848) and Callista (1855).   We have decided to read Loss and Gain as it is more widely available. Loss and Gain is a philosophical novel that depicts the culture of Oxford University in the mid-Victorian era and the conversion of a young student to Roman Catholicism. The novel went through nine editions during Newman's lifetime.  It was the first work Newman published after his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1845.  The novel can be found at Google Books for reading on line (print editions are quite expensive though they are available with a Google search).  To read on -line, go to Google Books and type in Loss and Gain.

February’s book is by Dorothy Sayers.  We have been talking about reading her for many years.  We have chosen to read Unnatural Death, originally published in 1927.  This is the third of Dorothy L. Sayers’  "Lord Peter Wimsey" mystery novels and is regarded as one of the best in this excellent series.   In the story, a wealthy old woman is found dead, a trifle sooner than expected.  An intricate trail of horror and the senseless murder leads from a beautiful Hampshire village to a fashionable London flat and a deliberate test of amour as staged by the debonair sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey.  "Here the modern detective story begins to come to its own; and all the historical importance aside, it remains an absorbing and charming story today."   Available from Amazon for $7.99.

March’s book is a return to horror...classic horror!  We have, by popular demand, decided to read Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  (I think our recent reading of Frankenstein has given us a taste for the macabre.)  One reviewer sums the book up thus:  “Count Dracula has inspired countless movies, books, and plays. But few, if any, have been fully faithful to Bram Stoker's original, best-selling novel of mystery and horror, love and death, sin and redemption. Dracula chronicles the vampire's journey from Transylvania to the nighttime streets of London. There, he searches for the blood of strong men and beautiful women while his enemies plot to rid the world of his frightful power.”  It is widely available.  Amazon sells several editions of the classic story-- some for as little as a dollar (plus shipping.)

April’s book is not a Catholic book in the genre usually read by the Misfits...but it is definitely a classic tale for men.  We have decided to read Ernest Hemingway’s novella, The Old Man and the Sea.  The Amazon review reads:  “Here, for a change, is a fish tale that actually does honor to the author. In fact The Old Man and the Sea revived Ernest Hemingway's career, which was foundering under the weight of such postwar stinkers as Across the River and into the Trees. It also led directly to his receipt of the Nobel Prize in 1954 (an award Hemingway gladly accepted, despite his earlier observation that "no son of a bitch that ever won the Nobel Prize ever wrote anything worth reading afterwards"). A half century later, it's still easy to see why. This tale of an aged Cuban fisherman going head-to-head (or hand-to-fin) with a magnificent marlin encapsulates Hemingway's favorite motifs of physical and moral challenge.”  It is widely available and can be found on Amazon for as little as one cent (plus shipping).

So that should round out our year of reading and launch us into a new year of reading and discussing the classics of literature...and our faith.  I look forward to seeing each of you at our December book meeting on Wednesday, December 8th, 2010, at 7:00 pm, the St. Thomas More Library, the Church of St. Michael.

Warmest regards,

Misfit Buzz

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sale Extended - Come for Thanksgiving Weekend

Due to circumstances beyond the power of our prayers, we celebrated our one year anniversary of Loome Sacred Gifts during a particularly hazardous snow storm.  Therefore, we have extended the sale associated with our anniversary through Thanksgiving weekend.  Follow the link above for details.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Walking in a Loomish Wonderland

Early this morning there was a bit of snow on the ground. Then around 7:30 or so, it came down with a sort of zeal, and it's still coming! Nonetheless, we are proceeding with our big sale and shindig. 20% off all books; $10 off a purchase of $40 in Loome Sacred Gifts. Complimentary coffee (Mystic Monk Cowboy Blend!), hot cider and cake. There's some music, friendly people, a great bookish atmosphere... The St. Charles schola (chant choir) will be singing at 1pm! Be sure to park on the side of the street opposite the bookstore, or else the authorities may ticket you! 
A view of 4th St looking southward. Drat and confusticate this snow!
Poor Mr. Pumpkin on the front step. His end is nigh.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Loome Party This Saturday! Discounts, Food, and Conversation.

THIS SATURDAY November 13th
Loome Sacred Gifts
Anniversary Party
Celebrate our 1 year anniversary with sweets, music, and discounts

 Discounts on Gifts - Sale for Books!
Come enjoy good books, beautiful gifts, sacred art, anniversary cake, chant, hot coffee, and good conversation during our Anniversary Party for Loome Sacred Gifts.

Loome Sacred Gifts' Anniversary Party

Join Us!
Saturday Nov. 13th
320 4th St. N.
Stillwater, MN

 New  for the 2010 Advent/Christmas Gift Season:
Advent Candles
  • Advent Candles
  • 2011 Calendars
  • New hand painted ornamentsMary Ornament

  • Saint comic books
  • Children's t-shirts
  • Children's games
  • Hazelnut MeltawaysHazlenut Meltaways Candy
  • Chant Cds
  • Many unique stocking stuffers for St. Nicholas DayAnd More

Loome Booksellers Come and Dress Warmly
We are happy to celebrate with discounts both for Loome Sacred Gifts and for the books in Loome Theological Booksellers.  Browse the ever new selection of sacred gifts and second hand theological books acquired from all over North America.  You will never browse the same stock at our store.

See the coupons below for details.

Save $10 on your purchase of $40 or more from Loome Sacred Gifts

This discount applicable for one purchase only per individual/family on the day of our party.  The $40 applies to LSG inventory only and NOT books.

Offer Good One Day Only: Saturday November 13th

20% off all books in Loome Theological Booksellers 

This discount may not be combined with any other bookstore discounts and does not apply to online purchases.

Offer good only on Saturday November 13th for all walk-in sales

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Spiritual Warriors for Life (and they need a library)

Allow me to point out a great community of Franciscans here in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis: the Franciscan Brothers of Peace. They are the first canonically established brotherhood in the archdiocese, and they are an outstanding group of men devoted to a common life of prayer, repentance and service, particularly to those who are most vulnerable, such as pre-born children, the severly disabled, survivors of torture, the poor and the homeless. They do a sorely-needed task and one, I am sure, that is very dear to Our Lord.

Loome's has been endeavoring to supply the brothers with a suitable library which will benefit them and their work. For behind any noble apostolate is a life of prayer and study. And in support of prayer and study there are books: liturgical books, prayerbooks, scriptural studies, books on moral theology, dogmatic theology, spiritual theology, even books on bioethics, etc, etc... books on all kinds of important things! And brothers actually read!

But brothers are not typically wealthy, except perhaps in spiritual treasure. And booksellers are not tyically wealthy, except in odd bits of trivia gleaned from thousands of books. Seeing this divide between our books and the brothers who need them, we set up what has been called the Catholic Library Renewal Network. Its mission is to connect donors with Catholic institutions who need professionally constituted libraries. It's presently a part of Loome's, but we would like to see it become its own entity, possibly a non-profit. For Loome's part, we donate the labor and as much in books as we can. Donations go directly to the brothers and are tax-deductible. Go HERE to see the brothers' page on the Network's website. There you can make a donation if so inclined. Also, please feel free to contact us with further thoughts on this endeavor. And there are other projects brewing...

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Saturday, October 30, 2010


Naturally, Gandalf came to mind when I saw this frontispiece in the book Mémorial Lagrange:

Marie-Joseph Lagrange "the White", O.P. (1855-1938)
Biblical scholar, founder of the École Biblique at Jerusalem and wielder of the Flame of Anor

Friday, October 22, 2010

Party Time with Discounts!

Saturday November 13th
Loome Sacred Gifts
Anniversary Party
Celebrate our 1 year anniversary with sweets, music, and discounts

 Anniversary CakeDear Christopher,

Join friends, neighbors, and family at Loome Sacred Gifts' 1 year anniversary party.  We're aiming to fill the store with live music, tasty morsels, and laughter.  Stop in on Saturday November 13th for a time to get reaquanted and find the perfect sacred gift for loved ones on your list.

Loome Sacred Gifts' Anniverary Party

Join Us!
Saturday Nov. 13th
320 4th St. N.
Stillwater, MN

Musical Note There will be Music
Although it's too early to reveal who and when, yes, there will be music sung/performed from the balcony.  Such music to raise your heart and mind to the Giver of all Good Gifts.

Mytic Monk Coffee There will be Party Food
Our favorite coffee - Mystic Monk.
Cake - Anniversary Cake
Monastery Caramels
Loome Booksellers There will be Discounts
We are happy to celebrate with discounts both for Loome Sacred Gifts and for the books in Loome Theological Booksellers.  Browse the ever new selection of sacred gifts and second hand theological books acquired from all over North America.  You will never browse the same stock at our store.

See the coupons below for details.

Save $10 on your purchase of $40 or more from Loome Sacred Gifts

This discount applicable for one purchase only per individual/family on the day of our party.  The $40 applies to LSG inventory only and NOT books.
Offer Good One Day Only: Saturday November 13th

20% off all books in Loome Theological Booksellers 

This discount may not be combined with any other bookstore discounts and does not apply to online purchases.
Offer good only on Saturday November 13th for all walk-in sales

Loome Sacred Gifts | 320 4th Street N | Stillwater | MN | 55082

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Frankenstein Family Reading

Dear Misfits,

A bit of catching up is in order:  I've just returned from a one month trip to Europe (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and France).  Wonderful trip but sad in some respects.  I was amazed by how secular European culture has become.  Evidence of any religious faith is mostly visible in the historic old churches and cathedrals.  Sadly, many are now museums!  It is good to be back and worshiping at the vibrant Churches in our faith-filled St. Croix Valley!

I will begin with a note on the novel we read last month, The Black Robes by Brian Moore.  I missed the meeting on the book but was given an after discussion report.  The Misfits at the meeting generally agreed that it was a somewhat disturbing read with a some uncomfortable and graphic sexual scenes.  The consensus was, see the movie, skip the book.  (The movie by the same title is excellent.)

Now, a few notes on this months book, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley:  the consensus at our meeting was that it is an excellent novel and deserves the title of "classic".  It is difficult to believe that Mary Shelley finished this novel in 1817 when just 19 years old!  That she was able to write such a compelling novel at that tender age speaks volumes about the quality of education in those days, especially an education in the classics.  I am envious!  If anyone has not yet read Frankenstein, to do so now.  You will not be disappointed.  It is also a novel you can recommend to young readers not only because it is a compelling story but also because it is one of the classics of our Western literary tradition.  I should also mention that Misfit Ted Olson graced our evening with a clerihew poem about Shelley (A clerihew is a whimsical, four-line biographical poem invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley). I quote:

    Mary Shelly had a belly
    full of wine
    when she wrote, Frankenstein.


To the future: For November, will read Dimiter by Willima Blatty.  This is a recently published novel by the author of The Exorcist, which is his most well-known novel largely because of the movie of the same name based on the novel.  Poor Blatty, though he has published many well-received novels and a number of screen plays, he is always referred to as, "the author of the Exorcist".  Maybe Dimiter will change that. I think we are going to like this novel as it has some great reviews and the predominate themes in the book are Catholic . . . 

For December, we will read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  Need I say more?  Perhaps we will take turns reading the story...and have some cookies and egg nog.  Or whatever . . .

Finally, I hope to see you at our next meeting to be held at 7:00 pm, Wednesday,  November 13, The St. Thomas More Library at the Church of St. Michael, in Stillwater, MN.

Your faithful scribe,

Misfit Buzz

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Archbishop Burke to Discern God's Choice for next Pope - Congratulations!

Today Pope Benedict announced that, longtime patron, Archbishop Burke will be made a Cardinal next month.  Loome Theological Booksellers heartily congratulates him on this honor.  We recommend more reading to prepare adequately for his increased responsibility.  Read his humble thoughts on the matter here.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010


I have mentioned before that semi-fascinating character Cornelius Clifford, sometime S.J., the "American Tyrrell". See first here, then here. A friend recently alerted me to a reference to Clifford by Fr. Martin D'Arcy, published in the book, Laughter and the Love of Friends. Reminiscences of the Distinguished English Priest and Philosopher Martin Cyril D'Arcy, S.J., pp.73-75. Fr. D'Arcy actually mentions Clifford in connection with Tyrrell.

Clifford, as D'Arcy recollects, was a young American and brilliant. The Jesuits sent him off to Belgium for studies, and then he was sent to the English Province where there were at the time men like Tyrrell, Thurston and Hungerford-Pollen. Clifford was delighted to be among men of such intelligence, of his own mettle. He took especially to Tyrrell, who, seeing his ability, "made a disciple of him and used him as a kind of stalking horse to put out his own views". Ultimately this led to trouble for Clifford, who was dismissed from the Jesuits and, when he returned to the U.S., the bishops hardly wanted to deal with him. Eventually he was given a small parish in New Jersey. Through the intervention of some laymen, who recognized his intellectual capabilities, Clifford was given a sort of professorship in medieval theology at Columbia.

D'Arcy met Clifford in 1935 on his own first visit to the U.S. Clifford by then was "this beautiful, rubicund old man with white hair". Clifford, upon meeting D'Arcy, "threw his arms about [him] because [he] was from the English Province" and this brought out all sorts of warm memories. D'Arcy says that in response to Clifford's warmth he (sometime later, I suppose) had caused the commissioning of a painting of Clifford, which was put up at Campion Hall, and yearly there was held a "Cornelius Clifford dinner" as a way of remembering him.

Clifford did visit England again once before he died. Sent over by some friends, he had a marvelous time. D'Arcy comments that Clifford "never wrote anything that [he knows] of, though he was a brilliant man".

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Early Disco

This portrait, discovered in 1955 with the subtitle "Calvin peint par Holbein", is the earliest extant example of Disco. Though scholars and men of good sense have their doubts as to whether John Calvin could in any way have been involved in the creation or proliferation of Disco, the gesture is unmistakable. Some believe, as is more likely the case, that the hand positioning is a bit of artistic license imposed by Holbein, who could have learnt it from some other painted acquaintance such as Erasmus, a much more likely source for this sort of innovation.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Story of How Mark Earned a Dragon

By Dr. Thursday

[In previous posts we featured a series of stories which precede the present story in the order of their telling. See here(1), here(2) and here(3). The present story, however, is quite readable on its own.]

"A man cannot deserve adventures; he cannot earn dragons and hippogriffs."
G.K. Chesterton, Heretics CW1:72

"Happy birthday, Mary!" said Lisa Richards as she began putting on her gloves. The others were putting on their coats and hats; Elwood Porter and Ray Ludlow had books they wanted to buy.
"Yes - many happy returns," added Dorene Smith, who had just come out from the back with some paperwork for Mary. "It was a delight to see how sweet your brothers are, sending you gifts. Roses from Mark, a book from Mike, and candy from Matt - very nice."
"Oh, no, Dorene. The roses were from the three," Mary said. "They do that together. The other things are from them individually."
"Nothing from Mark?"
Mary's face wrinkled. "Nothing yet. But he's the tricky one, after all. It might not come until later - or it might be waiting for me at home. I'll let you know tomorrow. It's not as if he would have forgotten..." She leaned back against the shelves behind the counter. "Of course, knowing his brothers as I do, he may have gotten himself into some sort of difficulty... but I expect he'll call this evening. He'll want to hear what I think of it, whatever it may be."
"You mean they're still playing tricks on him?"
"Of course. He does manage to repay them - in spades, usually - but he does somehow manage to get himself into more complexities than the other two. Like that time with the dragon..."
"The what?" asked Ray Ludlow as he paid Dorene for his book.
"The dragon." Mary rolled her eyes and sighed. "I really ought to tell all of you a story, since you were so kind to tell me yours!"
"Oh, come on, Mary," Jeff Smargada moaned, "it's already late, and it's freezing out there! I'll be lucky to..."
"Good morning, Mrs. Smargada!" Mary broke in.
Jeff Smargada whirled around. A plump, happy-faced woman in a worn coat came up to the counter, unwrapping a gaudy scarf from her gray hair. "Good morning Miss Weaver.... Oh, Jeffrey, I am so glad I caught you here, before you went off on your fishing expedition!"
"What's wrong, Mabel?"
"Why, nothing like that, dear - don't get so worried! I was going though my desk and I found this... this coupon for two free dinners at Harry's Pier... but Jeffrey, it expires today! And I thought - would you mind so much if we went there for dinner tonight? I know how you enjoy catching our Friday fish, but just this once..."
As Jeff stared at his wife, Nick Soffia put a hand over his mouth, trying valiantly not to laugh - and trying to ignore Ray Ludlow's look of startlement. Elwood Porter rolled his eyes, Gloria Adamantine began to cough into a handkerchief, and Angela Biddell and Lisa Richards became occupied with the stack of cheapie books by the cash register.
Finally Jeff unzipped his jacket and smiled at his wife. "Mabel, I'll be glad to take you to Harry's for dinner tonight. Would you mind terribly - Mary Weaver was about to tell us about her brother and a dragon."
"A what, dear?"
"A dragon. Go ahead, Mary."
"It was, as I recall, in the summer of 2003 - August, I think. The triplets were about to be seniors in high school. Mike and Matt must have been setting this up for a while, but then I only saw it from the other side, they never let me in on their dark designs! Let me see if I can tell you how it started - they were at breakfast..."

Mike was pouring himself some coffee and Matt was munching toast and reading the newspaper. "Hey, Mark."
Mark was eating cereal, his eyes barely open. "Hey what."
"You gotta check this out."
"Yeah, later," Mark moaned sleepily.
Mike sat down with a hunk of cake and his coffee. "Leave him alone, Matt. He's still asleep."
"Nah, he's gotta check this out. Unless he's finally given up on getting himself a dragon."
"Right, Matt." Mark swallowed another load of cereal. "Like Dad would let us have a dragon. Or Mom. And I thought as recent as the end of school you two were trying to hammer it into my head that there are no such things as dragons."
Mike shook his head, and Matt said, "Then they must have been recently discovered." He shoved the paper in front of Mark. "Check out this ad. Right here..." He pointed.
Mark swallowed a mouthful of cereal, then grasped the newspaper. His eyes widened. Where Matt's finger was pointing he read this:

Earn Your Own Dragon!

Do you have what it takes?

Take the challenge and find out! If you make it through successfully, you will become the proud owner of a real live dragon. You must be over 14 and under 18, male, at least six feet tall, and in good physical condition in order to sign up for our rigorous entrance test.

Call Dragon Line, Inc. between 10 and 6 today!
This is your only chance! Act now!

Note: local fire regulations may require licensing and/or registration of your new pet. Full details will be made available if you are selected. DLI is not responsible for injury or damage during testing, nor any federal, state or local taxes, fees or charges relating to licensing, registration or other legal requirements governing dragon ownership.

"You have got to be kidding, Mary," Ray Ludlow shook his head. "That was actually in the newspaper?"
"Sure was," Jeff Smargada said. "You read it every day, don't you? Musta missed it, Ray! Wouldn't you be curious if you saw it? Wouldn't you wonder what it was all about?"
"Yes - but do you mean Mark Weaver actually signed up for it?"
"He did," Mary Weaver replied. "He was so excited that whole day. He called them right after ten, and they said they would put the entrance test in the mail to him immediately. He asked about what kind of dragons they had, how big they were, and how big they would grow, what they ate, whether they breathed fire, whether they could fly... and the woman said there were different kinds, but if he won he would receive a very young dragon so it could be trained, and it didn't begin to grow wings or breathe fire until it was older."
"Oh my," Angela Biddell said. "It's so hard to believe!"
"It gets better. You see, Mark had to take the test..."

The next day the triplets hurried home from the bookstore to check the mail.
"It came!" Mark yelled. "Oh boy! The test from Dragon Line, Inc." He danced around holding the envelope.
"Well, open it and see what you've got to do, Fool Boy!" Matt laughed.
Mark tore open the envelope, pulled out the contents, and began to read aloud:
Dear Mr. Weaver:

Congratulations! You have begun an exciting adventure - earning your very own dragon!

Enclosed is your Preliminary Qualifying Test. For each task you must have two (2) signatures verifying that you have performed the task as specified. All tasks must be completed within one (1) calendar week from reception of this document. After you have completed the PQT, mail it and any other required documents to the address shown. Once we have validated your submission, we shall inform you regarding the next step of the process.

Our best wishes to you as you begin your endeavor!
He peered at it again and shrugged. "I can't make out this signature, but underneath it says, President, Dragon Line Inc. Oh, man..."
"What kinda test is it, Mark?" Mike asked.
"That's what I'm looking at now. Oh man! I gotta run two miles - blindfolded. I gotta eat any three of the following items: (1) Limberger cheese (2) squid (3) tripe (4) Brussels sprouts (5) raw clams (6) raw eggs (7) brains."
He made awful faces as he read these repellent items, and his brothers glanced at each other nervously.
"Listen to this, guys! I gotta sit submerged in a vat full of mud and breathe through a hose for a solid hour! I gotta carry a cinder block around with me for a whole day - a 12 hour minimum. I gotta drink a cup (eight ounces) of vinegar. I gotta roll down a hill of at least one quarter mile inside a tire! I gotta cut a hole in a piece of standard typing paper big enough for me to walk through - and get a photo of me doing it! I guess I gotta get photos of these other things, too - oh man. And last, I gotta write a ten-page essay on why I want to own a dragon!"
Matt and Mike were staring at each other as he read the list. When he stopped, Mike said, "At least that last one will be easy for you, Mark. The rest... well..." He thought for a moment. "Maybe we can ask Davey to borrow a tire - he'll probably have one you can fit inside. And he's got a nice grassy hill, too."
Matt nodded. "Yeah. I sure am glad it's not me that has to roll down a hill - I'd be puking my guts out."
"Or eating all those wierd things... Ugh!" Mike grimaced and held his stomach.
"None of them look impossible, if you guys help me - except one. How the heck do you cut a hole in a piece of typing paper big enough to be able to walk through?" Mark scratched his head. "That's gotta be impossible! And what's the point in all this anyway?"
Mike shrugged. "Think about it, Mark. If you're gonna win a dragon, you had better be pretty damn clever to handle it. I guess the other stuff is trying to see if you're strong enough - and willing to face at least simple dangers..."
"Yeah, I guess so. Well..." Mark sighed, "I guess I might as well get started. You think Mom has any of these things in the fridge?"

The regulars were chuckling, grimacing or groaning as Mary recounted the requirements. "This was some kind of joke, wasn't it?" Jeff Smargada asked.
"I'm not sure how to answer that, Jeff," Mary said hesitantly. "I don't want to spoil the story. Maybe I should tell you right now that there really was a dragon."
Angela gasped. "You're kidding."
"Just you wait, Angela."
"So did your mother have any of those odd things?" Mabel Smargada asked, wrinkling her nose.
"Of course not," Mary snickered. "Except for raw eggs, of course. After some debate, the three rode their bikes down the hill to the grocery and bought... uh, Mark's test meal." She cringed. "I think I had better skip the menu - but I saw the pictures, and he ate it up! After that he did the vinegar, which apparently wasn't nearly as bad as it sounds. After that, they blindfolded him and he ran down to Davey's Garage - they rode their bikes on either side of him to take pictures and make sure he didn't run into anything. At Davey's they found a nice big truck tire, and borrowed a helmet - they took him and the tire up to the top of the hill behind the garage, and got him wedged inside - then Matt ran down to the bottom to take pictures... I'll have to bring them in sometime, you'd never believe the happy smile Mark had when he crawled out - he liked it so much he wanted to do it again!"
Nick shook his head, chuckling. "What about the mud?"
"They did that when they got home, in the back yard. Dad had one of those huge industrial drums, and they mixed up their mud in there - they dug down into the yellow clay and made a thick porridge - it made quite a mess, believe me. Mike borrowed a brand-new replacement hose from Davey, and they got earplugs and a diving mask for him - then they put him under, and sat there reading and drinking iced tea while poor Mark was sunk in the mud. Every so often they pounded on the barrel, and he'd moan through the hose. I'm sorry to say it was more like two hours they left him soak, but eventually they hauled him out... you'd never believe what he looked like!" She shook with laughter at the memory. "It's a good thing my mother wasn't there, she would have made the other two dunk themselves - but without the hose."
"Did he ever get clean?" Gloria Adamantine asked.
"Oh yes, though he had to shampoo his hair six or eight times. You know," she smirked, "maybe that's why his hair always looks like that!"
The others laughed - until Nick Soffia asked, "And the hole in the paper?"
"Ah. That was the hard one. He almost didn't solve it at all. But then Thursday (with two days left) Dad sent them down to Ray's for sandwiches, and they were coming back up the hill when Mark saw those paper lanterns hanging in that little Chinese restaurant - and he guessed the trick."
"Oh?" Jeff Smargada asked.
"Sure... I'm not sure I can explain it exactly, but you start by folding the typing paper in half lengthwise. Then you make a lot of cuts, alternating from the folded edge and the open edge, but going not quite all the way to the other end. Each cut is about a half inch further in from the previous one. When you've gone all the way down, you cut along the fold, except you don't cut the original edge of the paper... and then it opens up into this huge loop of paper - and sure enough, it's big enough for you to be able to walk through!"
The others stared at her doubtfully. "I think I gotta see that for myself," Jeff said.
Mary brought out her scissors and Dorene dashed into the back for a piece of typing paper. "Who's going to do the cutting? Gloria?"
"I'm not authorized to perform surgery," she chuckled, suppressing a yawn.
The others shook their heads - so finally Nick Soffia stepped up. He folded the paper - then after staring at it for a moment, proceeded to cut into it as Mary had described... When he began to cut through the folds, the loop began to appear, and every one clapped. Soon he was holding a long thin loop of paper, with odd little twists every few inches - but, just as Mary had said, it was large enough for even Elwood Porter to walk through! Everyone clapped, and Nick bowed.
"And so, Mark finished every task and sent in his PQT?" Jeff asked.
"Well, no - he had to write that essay - and as is typical of these things, he had left that to the very last minute. He raced down the hill and across the Bay Bridge to get to the post office before they closed that Saturday... And then he had to wait. Meanwhile, Mike and Matt had dozens of pictures to laugh at, and I could hear them laughing far into the night... I should have guessed then what was going on... But," she sighed, "I guess I'm a lot like Mark, incurably romantic - or maybe I should say I have one foot in fairyland. I really was hoping that he was going to earn himself a dragon."
"So what did happen?" asked Angela Biddell.
"He got another letter on Tuesday from Dragon Line, Inc."
"Oh he did?"
"Sure. And it said he had successfully completed the PQT, and he would have to go to their local supplier for the final test, since there was some sort of what they called a 'compatibility issue' that had to be checked before he could have the dragon - but if he passed, he could take it with him then." She sighed. "This place - I forget the address - was way out of town, up the North Shore Road... So he talked to their friend Hank Jones about a ride - he had managed to get himself an old clunker of a pickup truck, and was willing to give the three a ride. Mark called the Dragon Line people and arranged to go there on Saturday."
"What was the final test?"
But Jeff Smargada put up his hand. "No, hold on, Ray! I wanna know what was the place they went to."
"It was just a nice small cottage with a driveway and a garage in the back. The others waited in the truck while Mark rang the bell. There was a young woman there, dressed in some sort of official-looking jumpsuit, very professional and businesslike. She checked his identification, but she said she had recognized him from the photos - and everyone was impressed with how well he had done! But there was just one more hurdle: he had to eat a big chunk of Limberger cheese," she grimaced. "She told Mark it had to do with how the dragon's sense of smell deals with the proximity of the human body... But Mark was so excited he probably would have eaten the table if she had told him to! He gobbled down the Limberger without a murmur, and then she led him out, to the garage." She sighed and shook her head.
"And?" Jeff asked.
"And there he saw the dragon."
"What was it? A plastic model? Or papier-mâché?"
"No," Mary shook her head. "It was a real live dragon, just as they had said."
Everyone gasped.
"Yes. It was a horrible little reptile, kind of dark brown-gray and scaly, in a strong wire cage. It had a very strange smell, and when Mark came in with this woman, it hissed, and stuck its forked tongue out."
"You have got to be kidding, Mary!" Jeff Smargada said with emotion. "There aren't any such things!"
"Oh yes there are, Jeff. I have a picture of it. Mark took one the very second he saw it - the first one isn't very good, but it's clear enough, and the others are excellent. It's a terrifying thing to see! But he was almost crying he was so happy."
"All right! So Mark got his dragon. He took it home and it lives in your basement now, right? By now it's able to fly, so the triplets can ride it to college... Sure."
"No, Jeff. Mark didn't get to bring it home. He was standing there, staring at it and taking pictures of it as it hissed, and the woman was lecturing him about training and eating habits and when the wings would begin to appear and how to train it so it wouldn't set the place on fire..."
"And then what? You woke up - right?"
"No, Jeff," she said firmly. "All this is quite real, there is no dream, no fantasy..." She bit her lip. "I do feel sad for Mark, it was a terrible disappointment..."
"Mary Weaver! Will you please, please tell us what happened?" Jeff pleaded, and the others chuckled at their favorite curmudgeon's sad face.
"There's no point in my continuing if you're just going to claim that it was a dream, or a fantasy," Mary said dryly.
Jeff glanced at his wife, who was frowning at him with displeasure. He hung his head and said, "I... I'm sorry, Mary. It... it's just that it sounds so unbelievable... Please let it go, and finish your story."
"All right, Jeff. As I was saying - Mark was standing there delighting in his very own dragon and the DLI woman was explaining its care and feeding - when suddenly the door burst open..."

A man in a uniform was standing in the doorway. He flicked open his badge. "Federal Wild Animal Bureau... Agent Jones. What do you call this?" He pointed to the dragon.
"I call it a dragon," the woman replied loftily.
"A dragon," he nodded. "And you've been keeping it here - in this cage - here in the garage?"
"That's right. It's quite happy here, and perfectly safe. Why?"
The agent ignored her question, but just peered at the dragon. "I thought as much," he said finally. "This is an illicit creature - and you're harboring one in the proximity of human habitations - forbidden under section 752(d) of the Code... Ma'am, I'm going to have to ask you come with me."
"But..." Mark began.
The agent looked at Mark very sternly. "Do you live here?"
"Here? No sir... but - I mean - I was..."
"Then just be glad I'm not taking you in for questioning," the agent said brusquely. "At least you won't have to fear anything from this monster; I'm taking him away." He lifted the cage, and nudged the woman. "Come along, ma'am."
"But..." In a daze, Mark followed them out, and watched the agent load the cage into the back of a station wagon with some sort of official emblem on the side. He escorted the woman to the passenger side, then he got in and they drove off. Mark stood there, his mouth open, and a tear running down his face.
Then his brothers came up. "What... what's going on, Mark? Where's your dragon?" Mike asked.
"They... that guy was from the Federal something... he took it away, and the lady from the DLI..." he sniffed, trying not to cry. "It... it was so awesome - a real, live dragon... my dragon... and now it's gone." He heaved a bitter sigh.
"Oh man, Mark!" Mike said, putting his arm around Mark's shoulder, and Matt came up on his other side.
Then Hank came over to the three. "Hey guys, what's going on? You get what we came here for?"
"No, Hank. Let's just go home..." Mike told him.

"So what was the creature?" Ray Ludlow asked.
"And who was the man in uniform?" asked Nick Soffia. "Because there's no such thing as the 'Federal Wild Animal Bureau'."
"Real dragon, fake agent." Mary pulled a thick reference work off the back shelf and flipped it open. "The creature really was a dragon - Varanus komodoensis of the family Varanidae, from Komodo, an Indonesian island. Take a look, Jeff! The agent was Rick Jones, who happens to live in that little cottage with his wife Gail, the erstwhile secretary of 'Dragon Line Incorporated' - who is also the sister of Dave Carmody, the infamous editor of our local paper." Mary shook her head. "My two ignoble brothers worked up the whole thing with the connivance of their friend Hank Jones, who is the nephew of that 'Federal Agent'... they spent a huge amount of time and not a little money."
Jeff had been examining the reference, but now he looked up. "This is nuts, Mary! You mean this whole thing was a big trick Mike and Matt played on Mark?"
"That's putting it very nicely, Jeff. It all started earlier that summer when Hank invited the triplets to visit Hank's uncle Rick, who flies the Coast Guard helicopter. He hadn't told them why, as it was to be a surprise. It happened that Mark had just found some fantasy or other - with dragons playing a starring role - and he chose to stay home. So Mike and Matt got to meet Hank's uncle, and found Hank's surprise was the Komodo Dragon which Rick was 'lizard-sitting' for the summer for one of the other Guardsmen..."
The others shook their heads in amazement.
"Of course no sooner did Mike and Matt see the monster than the whole wicked plan popped into their heads. They know Mark so well - they wanted to see just how much he would put up with for his love of the fantastic." She sighed, but then smirked. "They made just one mistake."
"What was that, Mary?"
"They didn't know that I fell for it too. Not totally - I had too many suspicions, especially when I heard about the 'tasks' Mark had to perform - but you see I happen to believe in dragons. It's not just a 'Hamlet' kind of suspicion of the truth about heaven and earth... There are some very strange things in our world, and I knew that there were real living creatures classified as 'dragons' in biology. I guessed that Mark would be getting some small lizard..." She sighed again. "But especially I don't like them taking advantage of Mark." She folded her arms proudly. "It took some time, but I managed to exact a suitable penalty from them for their crimes."
"How, Mary?" Angela Biddell asked as the doorbell chimed yet another time.
"That, my friends, is another story - and perhaps I will tell it another time," she smirked. "But I have connections too."

This time the visitor was the postman - a handsome young man, red-cheeked and somewhat snow-frosted. He wasn't the regular letter-carrier for the Weaver bookstore, but he was well-known there.
"Good morning, Mary," he said with a smile. "I'm filling in for Josh today."
"Good morning, Ted," Mary smiled back. "Anything good today?"
"Many good things today," Ted said with a wink as he handed her the mail. "Something large for you personally."
"Oh, good... Want some coffee?"
"No thanks. We're still on for tonight, right?"
"Right. See you then."
"Great - bye for now."

After he left, Mary examined the large thick envelope. "Ah. This is from Mark. See how he lets me know..."
The others came close. In the corner, above the return address, was a little caricature of a young man riding on the back of a winged fire-breathing dragon.
"After all, he did earn a dragon - despite what Chesterton said."
"Aren't you going to open it, Mary?" Jeff asked.
"Not just now," she smirked. "I said that I'm not going to tell you about the trick I played on Mike and Matt, and you might learn too much if I open this now. But I'll tell you about another part of the payment I exacted... You all know that Mark has a motorcycle? His own private name for it is 'Dragon'... Yes, they helped him pay for it. Justice has been served." She smiled and put the thick envelope under the counter. The others wished her a happy birthday and took their leave.


Ted Bridger met Mary up at St. Ambrose's - they were both in the parish choir which sang Second Vespers for the feast day. Afterwards he took her out for dinner, and dropped her off at home. As he walked with her up the steps, he asked, "Did you have a nice 25th birthday?"
"Oh yes... and it's not over yet. I still have that curious missive you delivered."
"It makes me happy to be the one who brings you joy," he smiled tenderly.
She stood there by him, peering into his eyes. "Perhaps one day you will bring me the supreme joy."
He paled. Finally he stammered, "Uh... Mary, it's a serious matter... You may be certain, but I'm not sure if I..."
"Hush. We'll know someday, in God's good time."
He put his hand up, as if about to touch her face - but then he sighed. "You are right. Then I had better wait - until we're sure."
"Thanks for today's joy, Ted."
"You're welcome, Mary." He turned and went down to his car, got in, and drove away.

She watched until she could no longer see the gleam of the red taillights, then she went in. She hurried up to her room, changed into her night garments, then sat on the bed and slit open the envelope as she remembered the meeting four years earlier in this very room:

She stared angrily at her brothers. "And how long do you estimate a dragon would live - I mean in a small town like this?"
Matt was biting his lip, quivering with fear. Mike gulped nervously and said, "I dunno. Maybe five years?"
"Very well. Then that's how long your sentence will be. Five years."
"Five years!" they moaned.
"Yes. One each year - that should give you enough time to do an excellent job. And consider that I could have doubled it! Tricks! Fraud! Dashing a young man's dreams like that... Rolling him down the hill in a tire... Submerging him in mud for an hour... and feeding him Limberger cheese!"
"But... but Mary - he likes it now!"
"Are you sure? Do you like it, Matt?"
"You expect me to taste that stuff?" he grimaced.
"Are you sure, Matt? Would you prefer I commute your sentence?" she said sternly.
He blenched. "Uh... no - please! I'll do what you said."
"And you, Mike? Would you prefer a sentence of Limberger?"
He too was quivering nervously as he thought of that loathsome dairy product. "No... I accept your Honor's decision."
"Very well. Then get busy!"

She chuckled to herself as she remembered their "trial" - she kept the first three volumes of their "sentence" with her very special books... She pulled out the contents of the envelope and gasped with delight as she read the little sticky note in Mark's scrawl:
It's another good one, Mary.
You'll like it too.
Keep it for me, please.
Happy birthday!
It was attached to a single sheet on which was written the following poem:
How I Got to Ride a Dragon

Once upon a year now gone
An August Quayment dawn,
I had a dragon for a while -
It sure did make me smile.

My brothers helped me pass a horrid test
Of mud and stinky cheese and all the rest:
And I wrote an essay long and fine
To say why the dragon should be mine.

Then in a friend's truck we three rode,
To carry home this monster load,
A lizard - winged and breathing fire -
Which all good writers can inspire.

What joy to own a creature great
Though I knew I'd have to wait
For him to grow his breath and wings -
I'd feed him healthy dairy things.

But when I saw him in his cage
An agent came, all full of rage,
He said that keeping him was very wrong
And thus I had to tell my pet 'so long'.

I cannot ride now through the air,
But then I really do not care.
My cycle goes almost as fast,
Though it breathes no fire-blast.

Its gas can cost a lot right now,
But I don't feed it with a cow!
For me the dragon's not rejected,
But think of getting one inspected!

for Mary on her 25th birthday

with thanks from
who rides the Dragon
because of her.

She brushed away a tear. He was such a goofy kid.

Then she picked up the thick enclosure and examined it. "Ah - very nice:"
The Further Adventures of Mark and His Dragon.
Part Four: Terror Along the Hardystone.

Written and Illustrated
by Mike and Matt Weaver
as payment for their crime
in lieu of limburger.
"Oh boy!" She curled up and began to read...

[Yes, you may detect a hint of the final chapter of Chesterton's The Club of Queer Trades here - but I shall say no more.]

Copyright © 2010 by Dr. Thursday. All rights reserved. Used by permission.