July 29, 2010
Harald Helge Hansen, Handsome Hippo
Prompt: Next door to the factory…there was a studious…hippopotamus…who walked to school…and complained all day. Harald Helge Hansen, the handsome hippopotamus. That’s what the words said, above the full length (and width) mirror in his bedroom. The mirror he checked each day to insure his clothing and grooming were perfect before venturing out into the world for the day. Harald read those words every morning, and he sincerely believed them, clear down to the bottom of his carefully manicured toenails. He checked his reflection now…hair neatly cut and groomed, hat on straight, blue serge business suit brushed so all the nap ran the same way, collecting and reflecting the light evenly all over. His gold vest buttons fastened, collar points buttoned down, blue bowtie (bowties are cool) carefully hand tied. His half moon glasses perched delicately on his rather wide nose, magnifying his beady black eyes. Harald frowned. His sister had always said he had “piggy eyes”, while he thought of them as more like small shiny beetles, or perhaps faceted shank type buttons, such as a stuffed animal would have. At any rate, his sister was wrong about so many things, and he liked his eyes; therefore, she must be wrong about him having piggy eyes. His eyes flicked lower. Because he was in the habit of fastening his coat closed, his suspenders and belt were well hidden, as well as the gold chain he habitually draped across the front of his vest from one pocket to the other. There was a locket on one end of the chain containing a lock of hair from his girlfriend who was currently living in a zoo in Cincinnati. A lovely commemorative pocket watch dangled on the other end of the chain. The pocket watch had been a gift from his godmother on the occasion of his graduation from Harvard with a doctorate in “green living”. Harald’s trousers were neatly and precisely creased, and ended just short of the floor; they were plenty long enough to hide the blue, knee-length socks his Auntie Mable had painstakingly hand knit for him. Satisfied with his appearance, Harald turned off the light (to save electricity) and left the room, closing the door carefully behind him (to provide a barrier in case of fire). He went to the kitchen and made himself some toast for breakfast, munching it quickly while it was still warm, and blotting his lips carefully on a linen napkin (saving a tree). Last night before he’d gone to bed, Harald had completed his classroom preparations and stowed them carefully in his briefcase. He now picked up that briefcase from the table in the hall. He also picked up his keys and slid them into his front, right hand pocket along with his loose change. His wallet went into his right rear pocket (because he was right handed), and his money clip with his “folding green” went into the outer pocket of his blue serge jacket. Three black ball-point pens went into the inner breast pocket of his jacket, on the left hand side, where they would be accessible to his right hand. A red pen for correcting student papers joined its fellows. With all in readiness, Harald opened his front door and looked outside at the weather. He groaned. It was raining. He picked up his umbrella, locked the door, stepped outside onto the miniscule porch, and pulled the door closed behind him. He tested the knob to be certain the door was actually locked, then pulled his keys from his pocket and locked the deadbolt. Finally, he flicked his umbrella open and stepped from beneath the porch roof to beneath the umbrella’s dome, stepping dourly down his sidewalk toward the street. Harald turned right and walked past the factory next door to where he lived. He didn’t know what they made there, but the manufacturing process was both smelly and noisy. This was definitely not “green living”, but the rent was affordable, and he’d become accustomed to the constant noise, smell, and vibration, and the shrill whistles which blew four times daily at the shift changes they had every six hours. Harald marched on through the rain, grumbling to himself about the factory, and the rain, and the large puddles he was having to walk through with his shiny patent leather dress shoes. The hem of his trousers was also getting wet, and he would have to send them out to be dry cleaned. He would never dream of throwing his blue serge suit in the washing machine, he was certain disaster would strike the garment…the label clearly instructed him to have it “dry cleaned only”, and by gum and by golly, that was what he would do, even though it cost him a small fortune in dry cleaning every time it rained. He hoped this was not going to be one of those occasions when it rained more or less steadily for a week or more. The best thing was that he had many multiples of spare trousers for each of his suits, to delay the dry cleaning bill for as long as possible. It took Harald about fifteen minutes to walk to the school where he taught. He always walked at the fastest pace he could maintain without breaking a sweat…the perspiration might soak through his shirt and dirty his blue serge suit. He stepped carefully into the door of the school, still holding his umbrella outside the door (just in case an open umbrella indoors actually brought bad luck). Holding the door open with one soaking foot, Harald flipped his partially furled umbrella several times, throwing as much rain water as possible off the fabric before he brought his arm indoors. As he didn’t consider a partially closed umbrella to be the same thing as an open one, he wasn’t worried about leaving the folds of fabric loose to dry in one corner of his classroom. He knew very well that an umbrella rolled shut and put away wet would be bad luck, because it would mildew, and then it would no longer be waterproof. “Hello, Dr. Hansen.” The principal greeted him. Harald grunted in reply, then realized that could be construed as rudeness to his superior. “Hello, Principal Muttonface,” he replied. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” Principal Muttonface offered cheerily. “It’s raining, I got my trousers wet on the way here, and I’ll have to have them dry cleaned, I didn’t sleep well, and all I could find for breakfast was toast.” Harald stated as he headed down the hall to his class room. “You have a good day too!” Principal Muttonface called down the hall after him. This time Harald made no reply. He got out his keys and unlocked his class room door, then turned the light on and placed his briefcase on his desk. He dialed the combination carefully, and opened the case. He removed his lecture notes and jump drive from the briefcase, and placed the notes on the lectern. He unlocked and opened a cabinet at the side of his classroom, and removed a laptop computer from the cabinet. He locked the cabinet again, and carried the laptop to the lectern. He opened the computer, turned it on, and slid it into the docking port on the lectern. He slid the jump drive into the USB port on the side of the computer, and opened his PowerPoint presentation. He was now ready to face his class of little third grade freaks.