Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Study In Slightly Beige: or, the case of the Japanese doormen.

Further Memoir of Dr. John H. Watson M.D. (for Madman).  It was late Autumn in the year 1899, when I found myself once again in my old familiar lodgings at 221 B Baker Street.  The home of my dear friend Sherlock Holmes.  The many adventures we had shared up to this date.

I was going through my old tin box, which contained so many notes on the singular habits and baffling cases that had confronted my old roommate.  Each case revealed certain traits that made Sherlock Holmes the most famous of consulting detectives.

My profession as doctor was seeming to take less and less of my time, save for my deep love of gynecology.  I had been picking up a bit of income from selling the stories of our adventures to the Strand and Singles Register.  Which story should I recount next?  So many titles appeared to me.  The Singular Case of the Aluminum Crotch, or perhaps The Adventure of the Five Dancing Dips.  As I pondered these notes, I suddenly heard a scream come forth from Mrs. Hudson, the Dutch porno queen, who had since become our landlady.

The next thing I knew, the front door of our sitting room burst open to reveal the cloaked figure of a woman.  Recovering from my initial surprise, I was amazed to realize that I was looking upon the form and visage of Sister Blase Chalant, or Nun Chalant, Mother Inferior of the Convent of Our Lady of the Total Experience.  Before I could ask the dear Sister what she was doing in my living room, I heard the less-than-feminine voice of my old friend say: "Well, Watson.  The case you call A Study in Slightly Beige is closed for good.  All decent interior decorators of London can now sleep soundly.  The nortorious Wimpner and his illicit Drapery Gang are safely in the hands of Inspector Lestrade."

And with those words, Sherlock Holmes tore off the habit of Sister Chalant, to reveal the leather disguise of Mrs. Emma Peel.  That was the way with Sherlock.  Like living with a flesh and blood Chinese puzzle.  Holmes was a master of disguise.  The tight leather garments hugged his form well.  I was certainly fooled.  And curiously impressed.  Was the room getting warmer?

"Why do you think it is Watson," my friend asked, "that most English men like to dress in drag?  Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, Robert Morely, Morecombe and Wise.  They all share this common trait."  Holmes was unwrapping a pack of Quentin Crisps, as well as removing the disguise of Mrs. Peel.  Certainly the stage had lost a brilliant actor in Holmes.  He had nice legs, too.

Holmes was now in his old familiar dressing gown, filling his pipe with shag tobacco, made from the finest shag carpets.  "Quick Watson, the sewing machine!" he shouted.  I disapproved of this habit, and told him so.  "Oh, stop complaining Watson.  You'll make me lose a stitch."  In these moods of his, he was impossible.  The pattern, including the one on his arm, was often the same.  He would measure the ash of cigar; inform me of some little known fact in history, like the Etruscans invented the first vacuum cleaner; recite a somewhat saucy limerick in Esperanto, and finally, quietly nurse on his violin.  After a while he would start to thumb through the newspapers and magazines.

"Look at this Watson," he said to me, waving a copy of National Geographic.  "It says here that penguins are mysteriously disappearing from the Antarctic.  They can't understand why.  But the answer is simple."  I was always amazed at how quick my friend could understand a seemingly impossible situation.

"Good Lord Holmes!"  How is that?"  I asked.

"Elemenopee, my dear Watsong," Holmes said, casually sitting on his violin case.  "Japanese fishermen are kidnapping the penguins, and smuggling them into Japan.  The penguins are then used as doormen at various hotels in Tokyo.  It's very cheap labor."

"Incredible Holmes!" I said, rising to go down the hallway, clutching my latest collection of Industrial Postcards.  "How can anyone know whether or not they have a real Japanese doormen or a penguin instead?" I asked, standing by the door.

"Good question, Watson," Sherlock said, stuffing a new shag carpet into his pipe bowl.  "I would imagine if your doorman takes his tip in fish, that would be a good clue."

[First published October 6, 1981.]