Catacosmesis (kat-a-kos-mees’-is): Ordering words from greatest to least in dignity, or in correct order of time.
Links in a chain. We are all links in a chain. There’s royalty, millionaires, half-a-millionaires, middle class, lower middle class, lower class, and me—the bottom of the barrel. My best friend is a rat named Billy. We’ve been friends for five years. I have taught him several tricks. He performs on the orange crate I found in a dumpster a couple of years ago. I was using it to dine on. But, when I met Billy, I knew it would be his stage.
Rats are pretty smart, but it was a challenge inculcating Billy with an entire repertoire. Billy’s favorite was “find the cockroach.” I had a jar full of live roaches that I had trapped in my kitchen. It was ridiculously easy. I put a cherry-flavored sour ball in the jar, and ten minutes later, slapped the lid on and trapped 10-15 roaches. I would put three Dixie cups upside down on the orange crate, put a roach under one and switch them around while Billy watched intently. Then, I’d yell “Find the roach Billy!” Billy would spring to life, sniffing up and down the row of upturned cups with his pointy little rat nose. He would find the roach with his nose, and use his nose to flip the cup. The roach would scurry across the orange crate and Billy would grab it, making a crunching noise in his jaws. Then, sitting on his haunches and holding the roach between his paws, Billy would bite off its head and swallow it. The punters would go wild, sometimes filling my cigar box with hundreds of dollars.
One day a punter was in the audience who looked like Willie Wonka—dressed in 19th-century finery with a top hat and a gold watch fob. He looked like something out of a children’s storybook. After the other punters left, he came up to me and handed me his card. Billy squealed his disapproval. The strange man’s name was Dr. Dressing. He represented an aristocrat—Duke Flatbutt—who liked to be privately entertained at his manor house outside the village. Dr, Dressing offered us $2,000 for one performance of find the roach. We couldn’t say no. He paid us up front.
We rode with Dr. Dressing to the manor house. It was crumbling, but it was still beautiful. Duke Flatbutt met us at the door. He said, “Greetings. Do your act.” We set up and ran the act. Duke Flatbutt applauded like a fiend, and ran behind a dressing screen at the end of the room. There was thumping and bumping behind the screen. Duke Flatbutt yelled “Set up the show again!” Accordingly I put a big fat roach under one of the upturned cups. I yelled “Ready!”
The dressing screen fell over and Duke Flatbutt was standing there dressed like a giant rat. Billy squealed and ran up my pant leg and into my coat pocket. Duke Flatbutt came lurching toward me squealing, passed me, and started nosing the cups. He quickly caught the roach, sat on the floor, bit off the roach’s head, chewed it up, and swallowed it.
Dr. Dressing said, “You may go now.” And we did! I grabbed my orange crate and we ran toward the door. When we got outside, the sun was setting. As I jogged along the road to the village I tried to fathom what Billy and I had witnessed. I couldn’t. I have nightmares, but Billy and I still do our act, and he still balances a ball on nose like a seal, does the “rat fit” rolling around with severe tremors, and writes “Billy” with his tail—with a taped-on marker on an old piece of white board I found in the high school dumpster and lean against the orange crate.
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Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).
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