'Mrs. Moe' stars in her own show

Except for that small time-space continuum detail, I've got a calling as one of the Three Stooges. For some folks, life's an adventure; for others, it's a sitcom.

Take the other morning. It had stopped raining, and my grandson and I decided to go on a compost run. This is pretty thrilling stuff, especially for a 20-month-old.

"Maybe we'll see the black cat," I suggested to him as we gathered our yogurt container of garbage and shrugged on our jackets. The black cat is a fixture around our place: a stray who sleeps in our garage and eats our own cat's food, but melts into the shrubbery as soon as we come near.

Halfway down our driveway, I saw a telephone company van parked just above the fork to the compost pile road. The moment I noticed the repairman, high on the pole in our field, he noticed me, too. "Hey!" he called. Tootsie, trailing along and ever conscious of maintaining her reputation as a "yap dog," started yipping, so I picked her up. The telephone guy yelled, "Do me a big favor? Throw the black cat up here?"

"The black cat?!" I screamed back, shocked to my core. "Why on earth would you want me to throw the black cat up there?"

Even from that distance, I could make out the alarmed expression on his bearded face. "Not cat! No! Cap! I said 'cap'!" He pointed down. "See? That black plastic cap fell. It would save me a trip down."

"Oh," I said sheepishly. Liam and I trudged through the wet grass. I picked up the cap, which was a bit smaller than a baseball.

"Just toss it up."

I tossed. The cap didn't go anywhere remotely near the catcher's mitt. I tried again. Worse.

He called, "Throw it underhand, like this," and he demonstrated. I threw underhand. Hopeless.

"I'm sorry," I said. "This is why I never made it out of the minors."

But he couldn't hear me, so I had to repeat it, louder and louder, a few times. Nothing like having to shriek, over and over, a lame remark you wish you'd never made in the first place to a stranger high in the air.

"Well," he said, kindly. Very, very kindly. "Never mind. Bob will be here in a minute. He'll toss it up."

So, still carrying Tootsie (who's quiet as long as she's held) and the stinky yogurt container, and gripping Liam's hand, I headed down the slope to the compost pile. There, we dumped our contribution and talked about garbage and compost and soil and vegetables and flowers for a bit.

When we turned to head back, I saw another telephone company truck parked in our driveway and blocking the road to the compost pile. I could hear the telephone guys talking in the field. Suddenly, in the worst way, I didn't want to walk past them and maybe catch the phrase "black cat" or "minor-league pitcher."

"We'll take the shortcut!" I told Liam. "It'll be an adventure!"

The shortcut is a hike up a short, steep hill to the house. There's no path, but I'd climbed it frequently during the summer. I stuck my empty yogurt container under my left arm and settled Tootsie in the crook of that elbow. Liam held on tight to my right hand. We climbed. But the rain-saturated soil was muddy. We slipped. Liam wanted me to carry him. Now, with my arms full of Liam, dog, and the yogurt container, with leaves and mud sliding beneath my Birkenstocks, and fir branches thwacking me wetly in the face, that short climb stretched ahead to eternity.

"Isn't this fun?" I said to Liam. "We're mountain-climbing!" To Tootsie, I added, "Good girl! Good dog!" Internally, I was carrying on quite another dialogue: "Are you nuts? Don't you have one shred of dignity? All this to avoid the telephone guys, who have more important things to talk about than you? ... Well, at least you'll be at the top soon. At least no one can see you acting like a fool."

I SLIPPED and slithered my way toward the peak, panting, clutching at tree branches with the little and ring fingers of my right hand (my only available appendages), and hugging my squirmy bundles.

"Ah!" I said finally to Liam. "Here we are! See?" And just as I emerged from the thicket - mud-streaked from Liam's sneakers, blowing damp strings of hair out of my face - both the telephone guys came strolling around the corner of the house.

They spoke simultaneously:

"Oh!" Bob-I-assume gasped. "You startled me!"

"Hello," the black-cat catcher said, looking a bit taken aback. "We're just checking the wires behind your house."

"We were mountain-climbing," I panted lamely. "Larry, Moe, and Curly will be up in a minute."

But I think I just whispered that last part.

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