The truly trying trail to triumph

To Trudgefeather, life was challenges met, battles won. Each morning he arose with a growl of satisfaction for yesterday's victories, for the certainty of today's successes. When Trudgefeather looked in the mirror, it was at The Man Determined. For breakfast, Trudgefeather ate, not your sugary cereals, ugh! but Grapenuts, because ''I like the crunch!'' Trudgefeather ran the three miles to his business and back in record time, over anyone or anything in his path.

When Trudgefeather got a Rubik's Cube at his birthday party, the ramifications were clear to us but not to him. There were the comments: Trudgefeather's naive but hearty ''Thanks!'' ''Got your hands full now, eh, Trudgefeather?'' offered O'Brien. ''No more easy victories now, Old Boy,'' said Nelson, to which Trudgefeather took exception. ''I can take it or leave it alone ,'' Trudgefeather barked. Trudgefeather's uneasy pacing and frequent glances at the Rubik's Cube on the fireplace mantel, however, suggested he would take it.

Most people receiving a Rubik's Cube would laugh, fumble with it, until doorbell, telephone, anything, called them away. Trudgefeather's eyes flashed and his jaw rippled as he, from time to time (when he thought that nobody was watching), turned the cube in various directions, at first slowly, then roughly. Susan Lacefield, age nine, pried with effort the cube from Trudgefeather's grasp , got all the colors right in forty seconds, and gave it back, ''Here Uncle Trudgefeather, it's fixed.'' Billy Golfmeyer took the cube and did it in fifty seconds, give or take a second. After Mirriam Gridley's daughter, Karen, righted all six sides in seventy and a half seconds, a shaken Trudgefeather slammed the Rubik's Cube on the mantel, pretended to forget it forever, and feigned an interest in Betty Filchman's crocheting: ''Swell socks, Filchman.''

Trudgefeather lingered behind me when we went for ice cream and cake. In the mirror I saw him furtively lift the cube and twist it this way and that, perspiration glazing his forehead, his tongue jutting between his clenched teeth. He said a naughty word. Then Trudgefeather propelled the cube across the living room, missing the chiming clock, but grazing the pewter stork, and smashing the glass on the framed picture of Agamemnon peering from his tent. Trudgefeather, marching in for dessert, announced: ''The cube fell out of my hands!''

Next day, Trudgefeather came to the office carrying a shopping bag full of Rubik's Cubes, went into his private office, and locked the door: ''No phone calls or appointments until I do it!'' he yelled through the door. On the afternoon of the twentieth such day, Trudgefeather's door wearily opened. He stumbled to the chair next to his secretary, Miss Prunella's, desk.

''Help me!'' Trudgefeather pleaded. ''I can't make any of them work.''

Trudgefeather dozed, and Miss Prunella made three quick telephone calls. Susan, Billy, and Karen set the Rubik's Cubes to rights in record time. After they left, we found a couple of cubes in the space behind the water cooler, somehow dislodged the mixed-up colors, and glued them all back in order - and a skillful job it was too. When Trudgefeather awoke from his nap, and saw a thousand, more or less, accomplished Rubik's Cubes arranged around him, he blinked, straightened his shoulders, and took a deep breath, and an almost smile of satisfaction nearly warmed his face.

''Hey, I'm not paying you guys just to stand around and admire me,'' he ordered. ''Get to work!''

We got to work.

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