The Zoo Fence
a commentary on the spiritual life

Chicago Fools

A Prequel to A Continuing Fiction

“Who is it?” Peter called out to Anna, who had just left the bed the two of them had been sharing, in order to answer the telephone ringing in the living room. The time was spring, 1963. Ensign Peter K. Wensleydale, USNR, as by then he had become, having successfully completed naval officers training in Newport, Rhode Island a few months previously, and Miss Anna Singleton, as TZF’s own Anna Wensleydale was known then, were secretly enjoying her spring vacation in a deluxe hotel suite in Chicago.

“It’s my father,” Anna called back, her voice indicating surprise and concern.

Peter sat straight up in the bed, as if he had seen a ghost. “YOUR FATHER!” he replied, a little too loudly.

“Yes,” Anna whispered, poking her head around the door, a finger to her mouth, quieting him. “He’s here, at O’Hare Airport. He’s coming to the hotel.”

By this time, Peter and Anna had known each other just over a year. They had met at Milton College in New York, where Peter was a senior. That occasion had been at Peter’s fraternity, of which he was president. He and some friends were at a table playing Hearts when a fraternity brother, Efrem Waltham, came into the room. Ephrem asked if he and his date, whom he introduced as Anna Singleton, a sophomore at Kidmore College, also in New York, could join the game. Even now, Peter can remember the words “Oh, my!” popping into his head as the girl nodded to him and the others. Blond hair, a sweet smile. A white blouse above a white pleated skirt. Fresh as a blossom, she was. Pretty, more than pretty, breath-taking. Without warning or hesitation, Peter fell helplessly into love. Yes, Peter was a young, healthy, heterosexual male, so of course he wanted to touch her, to touch all of her, but this moment was about more than touch, and he knew it. It was a sudden awareness that “This is she.”

Yet, being Efrem’s friend (actually, Efrem preferred to be called “Rem” because the name Efrem was his father’s name, and Efrem was afraid that sharing a name with his father might confuse the cosmic judges of karma with potentially disastrous results; so, as today’s storyteller, I will respect that, and refer to him as Rem henceforth), in the days and weeks that followed, Peter determined to say nothing and to do nothing about his burgeoning affection for Anna Singleton. Still, there being no force on earth greater than a tide set into motion by the gods (and that is how Peter perceived these events), Peter’s forbearance, however honorable, was futile. Or so he explained it to himself. In any case, barely two months after that fateful encounter over cards, Rem came to Peter for a favor. This time, it was a spring house party weekend.

“The thing is,” Rem pleaded, “I need you to look after Anna for a while. Do you remember her, from Kidmore? It’s about my project. It’s just entered a particularly fragile stage, and I’m going to have to monitor it closely all day.” Rem was a physics major who not infrequently behaved like he might have spent a little too much time a little too close to the x-ray machines in the college lab … which is precisely how Peter explained to himself Rem’s ill-advised but highly welcome gift to him to “look after” Anna.

“Glad to,“ Peter said, as much to the gods as to Rem.

Rem was always in the throes of one science project or another. This one, however, was the big one, on which hinged a full graduate school scholarship to MIT, a prospect which excited Rem more than life itself. “I told her not to come until tomorrow, but her ride wanted to come today,” Rem explained apologetically, adding, sheepishly, “actually, she’s already here.”

“It’s okay, Rem,” Peter reassured him, fraternally. “I’ll see that no harm comes to her.”

Rem Waltham never guessed, of course, that his friend was irreversibly in love with his date, and that the close encounter which he had just arranged, even pressed, would be fatal to his own relationship with her. But even if he had, it was too late for withdrawals or regrets. Alea iacta est, Peter rejoiced, in Caesar’s words: the die is cast. (Latin had been one of Peter’s favorite subjects in school.)

I am pleased to report that Rem’s science project evolved into whatever it needed to be, and he went on to MIT, where, as expected, he excelled. But that weekend was the last occasion Mr Efrem Waltham ever shared with Miss Anna Singleton.

That summer, after graduating from Milton College, Peter joined the Navy, and was sent to Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. He enlisted in part because his draft number was coming up, but he could easily have obviated that eventuality by continuing directly into graduate school.

No, Peter joined the Navy not to evade anything, but to fulfill something. As far back as Peter could remember, he had daydreamed about the Navy. He still remembers being in Venice one summer as a very young boy while the Wensleydale family was living in Italy, and as everyone around him was quite rightly oohing and ahing over the Bridge of Sighs, St. Mark’s Cathedral, the Doge’s Palace, the Lido, and even feeding the pigeons on Piazza San Marco, all Peter wanted to do was go aboard a US destroyer that happened to be riding anchor in the lagoon. And, although it took a dozen years or so, he finally got that wish … as ship’s company!

While in Newport, in one of the few free moments allowed officer candidates, Peter wrote Anna at Kidmore College, and asked for a photograph. By then, it was mid-winter, and they had not seen each other, or communicated, since the preceding spring. Anna had spent that summer in Europe with college friends, while Peter had spent it and the fall learning how to be a naval officer. But despite the separation, Anna never left his mind.

His letter to her consisted of a ridiculous story about how all his fellow trainees had pictures of their girlfriends, and as he did not have a girlfriend, he felt a little left out, and therefore, as an act of mercy, could she possibly see her way clear to blahblahblah. Absurd as it is in the telling, it made sense to him at the time, and evidently to her, too, for she responded with a happy letter, enclosing a photograph.

That was all the encouragement Peter needed. A couple of months later, after having been commissioned, Peter was ordered to Great Lakes naval base north of Chicago for additional classes. On the way, he stopped at Kidmore College to see Anna. His arrival at her dormitory caught her by surprise, and made a notable impression. When the receptionist at the dorm called upstairs to inform Anna there was a naval officer, Peter Wensleydale by name, in the lobby to see her, her knees gave way. Literally. She very nearly collapsed. Whether it was from nervousness or excitement or what (destiny unfolding?), Anna did not know, but it was some twenty minutes before she recuperated sufficiently to make an appearance.

Before Peter left Kidmore to continue his automobile trip west, Anna promised to visit him in Illinois at her earliest opportunity which, as it worked out, was a couple of months later, during Kidmore’s spring vacation, the last days in March into the first week of April.

Which brings us back to their shared room in a Chicago hotel, and Anna informing Peter that her father was on his way there.

“HE’S WHAT?” Peter shouted, leaping out of the bed, and rushing into the living room, frantically conjuring some excuse Anna could give her father why he most definitely could not come to their hotel. But Anna had already hung up the telephone.

“You’ve got to call him back before he leaves O’Hare, Anna,” Peter insisted. “He can’t come here, at least not right now. I’ve got clothes hanging in the closet, and my stuffs scattered all over the place. You’ve got to put him off.” Peter was talking so fast he was hardly breathing. “What’s your father doing in Chicago anyway? And how does he know about the hotel?”

“I can’t call him back,” Anna replied. “He was calling from a public phone booth. And, besides, what difference does it make? He said he’s here on business, so he’s only stopping by to say hello, and then he'll be gone.”

With a sense of impending doom, Peter rushed into the closet, opened a suitcase, and stuffed his belongings into it. “You don’t understand, Anna,” he called out to her. “He’s your father. He expects to find you here alone. Not with some guy he’s never met, who’s gear is all over the place.“ Peter took a deep breath, and said, with finality, “1’ve got to get out of here.”

“That’s nonsense,” Anna said, following Peter from the closet into the bathroom, where he was collecting his toothbrush and shaving things and anything else that left tracks. “Daddy will understand. After all, he’s a man, too.”

“That’s exactly my point,” Peter replied, now in the bedroom, dressing hurriedly. “He’s a man, and he’s your father. Oh, there’s no question in my mind that he’ll understand. That’s what I’m worried about.” Peter paused for a moment, and asked, “What’s he like, anyway? Does he have a temper? How big is he?“

Anna thought for a moment. “Well, he does kind of get angry easily, now that you mention it, but I can’t remember his ever hitting anyone. At least, I don’t think so. And besides, in this case, he surely wouldn’t …”

Peter interrupted her. “What do you mean, ‘in this case’? You just aren’t getting it, are you, Anna? This is exactly the kind of case which a father is likely to get angry over. When he walks in here, and sees me, you’re suddenly going to become to him his little baby girl, and I'm going to be, well, you don’t want to know how I’m going to appear in his eyes.” Peter swept the room with a glance, looking for anything which might betray him, and then repeated, “I've got to get out of here.”

By now, the two of them were in the suite's living room. Peter was dressed, his suitcase at his side.

“Where are you going to go?” Anna asked.

“Fortunately, your father doesn’t know what I look like,” Peter replied. “So, I'll go down to the lobby, find a comfortable chair, and hide behind a newspaper. When he’s gone, you come and get me.“ Peter paused for a moment, looked at her, and said, “I still can't believe that you told your father it was okay for him to come here.”

At that moment, the telephone rang. Anna answered it.

“That was the front desk,” she said, as she hung up the handset. “Daddy’s on his way up.”

“That’s it. I’m dead,” Peter whimpered. “If I go now, I may bump into him in the hall, and that’d be worse, having him catch me running for my life with a suitcase in hand. I mean, I’m going to have to meet him sooner or later, and I’d hate for him to recognize me then, and say something like, ‘Aren’t you the guy I saw darting out of my daughter’s hotel room.’”

Quickly, Peter hid his suitcase behind a curtain, checking his appearance in a large mirror over the couch as he did so. Fortunately, Peter looked good in uniform, and the gold stripe on his sleeve could only help. Or so he hoped.

There was a hard knock on the door, followed by several more.

“He sounds angry,” Peter whispered.

“Would you get it?” Anna said.

Peter looked toward Anna, pleadingly. He very much did not want to answer that door, but Anna had already stepped aside for him.

Ensign Peter K. Wensleydale reached for the door knob. As he did so, he reminded himself that, by Act of the United States Congress, he was an officer and a gentleman. All he had to do now was convince Anna’s father of that, especially of the latter. Then, he swallowed hard, turned the handle, and opened the door.

“APRIL FOOLS!” exclaimed a woman’s voice from the hall, immediately echoed by Anna’s from inside the room. (See Note)

The visitor, of course, was not Anna’s father. In fact, it was not even a man. Standing in the doorway, heartily enjoying the alternating expressions of panic, confusion, and relief on Peter’s face, was Jennifer Nettlesford, Anna’s best friend at Kidmore College, whose parents live in Chicago.

After a few moments, when his heart resumed beating, Peter had to admit to Anna and Jennifer that it had been a very good joke, albeit totally at his expense. But, even as they took their well earned bows, he insisted on a solemn pledge that no such caper would ever be undertaken again, to which Anna reluctantly agreed, and, glad to say, has adhered.

Later, considering the event, Peter realized that he should never have been ensnared so easily, for the conspiracy was riddled with flaws which should have given it away. Firstly, he was fully aware the date was April l, and that alone should have alerted him; secondly, although he asked Anna how her father knew about the hotel, he had let her get away without answering the question; thirdly, Peter knew that Anna disliked the telephone, and that she avoided using it, and yet, both times it rang, she fairly leapt for it; and finally, perhaps most significantly, Jennifer’s knocks on the suite’s door came far too soon to have allowed for a taxicab ride from O’Hare Airport. Any one of these clues ought to have revealed the plot to Peter, or at least raised his suspicions. But if his senses observed them, and surely they must have, his brain failed to process them.

The moral of this story, and of course there is one, is that the mind, while a wonderful and powerful tool, must never be let out-of-doors without a chaperone. To be sure, properly managed, it offers us an extraordinary capacity for discernment. But when left alone, the mind seems to leap to conclusions on the flimsiest of evidence, and then to render itself, and thereby us, deaf and blind to everything which supports or even suggests a contrary opinion. Precisely how it does so, I do not know, but evidently there is a mechanism behind the eyebrows whose function it is to pick and choose from the reports of the body’s sensors, and to discard unread all those which do not support the mind’s chosen positon.

Thus, whatever we may be doing in life, including embracing a spiritual adventure, as Anna and Peter eventually did and continue to do together, whenever things are going badly, or alternatively, whenever things seem to be going a little too well, or whenever we are not quite sure which it is, we are well advised to consider the mind a prime suspect, and forthrightly to call it in for an accounting. But to do that we must learn to listen, and to do that we must learn to be silent.

       · For those who do not know, April Fools’ Day, sometimes All Fools’ Day, is celebrated annually on the first day of April by playing jokes on family and friends. I have read that it dates to the sixteenth century when the Julian calendar was replaced by the Gregorian calendar, and the resulting confusion. (Back)
       · For a different look at Peter and Anna Wensleydale, please click here.


Therefore, renounce no thing
and no one, but transcend
every thing and every one.
Do not struggle with
the Force of desire
and self-definition.
Rather, be Awakened.
Be turned about
in your attention, your feeling,
and your action.
Let every moment of attention,
feeling, and action
be a moment of Ecstatic Love-Communion
with the All-Pervading Radiance
and Eternal Consciousness of the Living God,
the true Self of all.
Da Free John
“The Enlightenment of The Whole Body”

The Zoo Fence

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The Zoo Fence

“Chicago Fools” is fiction.
Any resemblance to anyone or anything anywhere is coincidental.
Copyright © by The Laughing Cat
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