Mr. & Mrs. Chip Perkins

Liner notes

Artist: Mr. & Mrs. Chip Perkins
Album: Very Warm Regards

Every time Diane Perkins posted snippets of soothing electronic lounge music on her LinkedIn profile, a small but ardent cognoscenti, concentrated in and around the high median income townships along the Passaic River, the Honeywell HR department in Morris Plains and the Dartmouth class of 1996 alumni group, collectively edged forward on their Queen Anne's loveseats in eager anticipation of the next dispatch of Groove-Armada-meets-Röyksopp playlist fodder perfect for off-kitchen bathrooms during those early summer friends + coworkers catered barbecue cocktail hours.

But then, some time around the end of 2015, the music stopped. Internet silence.

Until just recently.

Chip and Diane got together on St. Patricks Day (early evening), 2001, outside a Tex-Mex sports bar located in a Secaucus shopping plaza dominated by Home Depot's sheer, orange/beige facade. A power-couple from the beginning, they each rocketed from success to success, ascending through management ranks of well-regarded Fortune 500 companies, making smart decisions on the New Jersey real-estate scene, successfully emulating a series age-appropriate and progressively more expensive lifestyles, before eventually leveling off in Montclair with two children, two dining rooms and two fully-equipped German sports/utility vehicles.

In addition to these feats of personal achievement, the pair was also active in the arts. Chip and Diane had both been members of their high school bands and remained interested in musical forms into adulthood. In fact, one of their defining moments of early connection was when they went to see the Elevation tour in the Meadowlands, at which they were captivated by the band's uncomplicated new direction, and agreed that Bono's earnest, refined simplicity, in particular, really captured the spirit of the age (a sentiment rediscovered at their 10th wedding anniversary excursion to the band's gesamtkunstwerk, Spiderman: Turn Out The Dark). They had a big, beautiful wedding ceremony at Diane's family's Connecticut country house a few days after the outbreak of the Second Persian Gulf War and, shortly thereafter, in aide of promoting effective domestic partnership, agreed that a defined proportion of personal time would be spent on edifying, team-based project work. After quickly abandoned dalliances with salsa dancing and  fusion cooking, the pair began tentative discussions regarding the feasibility of electronic music production, partially inspired by a Better Homes and Gardens feature which briefly touched on using vintage analog synthesizers as decorative elements for a contemporary men's smoking room. Assisted by a certified technical consultant, they soon amassed a valuable collection of high-quality recording equipment, and, adopting and building upon the stylistic motifs presented on the double CD, Sex and the City - Official Soundtrack (a seminal touchstone for fans of 21st century electronic music), they soon transformed themselves into the soft-rocking duo, Mr. & Mrs. Chip Perkins. In the early years, the musical activity was personal. While they didn't share their work with others, they were by no means secretive about the hobby, which friends regarded as a somewhat quirky, if not incomprehensible, development for the otherwise congenially conventional pair. This continued for several years, slowing down when the kids were babies, but picking up again soon after, and, then feeling confident in their spousal and musical roles, they decided to disclose their work to selected members of the public. Self-burned CDs, and later, internet links were distributed to those acquaintances thought to be au fait with chill-out and more upbeat trip-hop variants. Reactions were largely positive as Chip and Diane's relatable pleasantness clearly came across on the gently rumba peppered synthesized pop progressions. A local following built up and live dates were added to the calendar starting when they were booked for an unlicensed wine tasting event at an independent West Orange cafe/bookstore which was decorated to look like a real New York Starbucks. Ever conscious of trends, they became known for their signature performance look - Diesel jeans, Ambercrombie t-shirts, sleeveless North Face fleeces. According to the Glen Ridge Voice in 2011, Mr. & Mrs. Chip Perkins were second in popularity only to Mark Ronson among the 35 to 44 demographic in some Essex County communities.

A little over a year ago: After Christmas, the Perkinses had a week booked in a beautiful rustic four-bedroom fishing cottage in Provincetown. On the New Year's Day, Diane and Madison, then twelve, arranged for a massage session and lunch at the Beach Point Health and Swim Club, while Chip took nine-year-old Aiden, each lanyarded with Celestron Skymastes, hiking the trails in the dunes, which were likely to be empty at this time of year and maybe, if they were lucky, they'd spot a variety of waterfowl and birds of prey. They had just crossed into Truro, approaching Pilgrim Lake when they heard the mid-range buzz of underpowered motorbikes, not coming from the south which would be Route 6, but from the east, out on the Parabolic Dunes, where vehicles of any kind were prohibited. Ten minutes further on, as Chip and Aiden came over a ridge, there were four young men smoking, and looking at them, next to four low-priced motorbikes. Chip wanted to say something, perhaps to remind the young men that the dunes were fragile and that what they saw as innocent fun, could actually imperil the very existence of certain bird species, but as his heart rate rose, he realized that he was out of his element and couldn't be sure of the most appropriate way to articulate dunal erosion and habitat degradation in this situation. So as he and Aiden hiked passed the group, he made an effort to modify his expression from one of confused alarm, to one of lofty disapproval, allowing himself a subtle head shake once the unethical recreationalists were behind them. Chip looked down at his son with a cocked eyebrow prepared to share a knowing moment of superiority, but Aiden's head was turned the other way, looking back. The young men were following them on foot, calling out childish and un-PC insults. They walked for another long minute under the abusive din, but the situation was not sustainable. Running with Aiden would not have produced any kind of productive result, so Chip stopped, turned, and guided Aiden behind him to shield the boy from whatever was coming. The leader of this gang, or perhaps, simply, the fastest walker, approached Chip, aggressively looking him in the eye. From up close, Chip could see that there was really something wrong with these guys. Drugs, he reckoned, probably crystal meth. The young man made his hands fists and his cohorts jeered behind him. This was clearly unacceptable and Chip had had just about enough of it. As the ruffian leaned into him, Chip grabbed his shirt and back-peddled, accidentally knocking Aiden into the cold, hard sand. The biker came forward, pulled by Chip, who planted his feet close together and dropped laterally so that his opponent was falling onto him, at which point Chip thrusted his thigh upwards against the unbalanced and startled man and twisted him in mid air, forcing him down on his back with Chip landing on top of him. It was a perfectly executed double under hook lateral drop, one of the most difficult throws in the greco-roman canon. Had this been back on the varsity team, Chip would have earned five points for the takedown, but out in the Parabolic Dunes, it seemed to be worth even more. He looked down at the stunned, not-so-tough-any-more twerp below him. As he got up, he said something about long-term coastal management. He helped Aiden up, keeping hold of the boy's hand as he turned to continue hiking in the direction they had been going. Aiden looked back to watch the bikers scurry to their vehicles, but Chip didn't bother. He knew it was over.

That evening, after the kids were in bed, police came to the cottage and placed Chip under arrest for assault. The person he'd tackled, it turned out, was a local 15 year old, and while the boy's age didn't have legal ramifications (Chip would have been charged with assaulting a minor only if the victim had been younger than 14 under Mass. law), it did, perhaps, influence the tactics of the constabulary, who Chip felt, were needlessly provocative and rough with him that night. The children, having spent much of the day breathing in the clean, sea air slept though the event, amazingly, and the family's attorney immediately dispatched an associate from Boston who managed to reach Provincetown in under two hours and arranged for Chip's release. He was home in time for lobster and creme fraiche omelets the next morning, but only had a few bites before descending to the cottage's finished basement's home cinema, where he spent the next three days flipping between superhero movies and History Channel documentaries which explored lesser-known, sensational details from in the life of Hitler. The rest of the family enjoyed the vacation - they rented bicycles, shopped in the P-town boutiques, and visited historic landmarks. Chip remained underground, subsisting on ranch-seasoned microwave popcorn and a locally-produced cream soda. He was oblivious to chronological progression, in and out of consciousness on the wide Ligne Roset couch, catching an hour of an X-Men here, twenty minutes of Adolf's obsession with wolves there, the Sherwin Williams Creamy walls glowing orange, for some reason. At one point, perhaps it was afternoon, perhaps the middle of the night, he awoke at the very start of Gibson's The Passion of Christ, which he tearfully watched all of. After three days, he came back upstairs, pulling himself together in time for the drive back to New Jersey.

Routine returned - the children were back at school, their parents at work, and a week later the au pair came back from Austria, where she'd spent the holidays with her family. Chip, however, was not the same. Ever since watching Gibson's critically-acclaimed biblical drama, he was filled with questions about what kind of person he was and who he wanted to be. The Perkinses attended an Episcopal church on Christmas and Easter and for baptisms and that kind of thing. There were social benefits to this, but no deeper connection, for Chip. His father's side was Connecticut WASP, but his mother was Scotch-Irish Catholic and his elementary education was carried out under the aegis of the Order of St. Barnabas, which had instilled in him a specific, fundamental morality, which he felt he would now like to rediscover. The next Sunday, he drove Our Lady of Lourdes near the golf club for mass where he sat in the back and did not take holy communion, though he'd completed the necessary Sunday school training courses and was qualified to do so. He returned on Wednesday for the evening service. In the weeks that followed, he attended two or three masses per week, and soon became friendly with the youngish priest, Father Alonzo, who struck up a friendly conversation with Chip after a Saturday evening service. Chip was open about his desire to reconnect with the church and the following Tuesday evening, they had dinner together at a Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in East Rutherford. It was a pleasant meal, during which Father Alonzo made several good recommendations for activities and reading material that might help Chip on his path back to righteousness. Ever diligent, Chip poured over the texts in his study: Boethius, Thomas Aquinus, Edward Schillebeeckx, Ross Douthat; lapis and koawood rosaries near at hand, the gentle funk of frankincense wafting from an ornate, silver, jugendstil censer.

Due to Chip's withdrawal into religious scholarship, the family's musical activities were mothballed, and Diane looked for other productive outlets. A promising opportunity soon arose with Diane investing in a Downtown Jersey City drinking establishment venture operated by a less-successful childhood frenemy named Simone. They had lost touch during college, but were reunited at a bachelorette weekend for a mutual friend at a spa near Cape May. Flattered by the transparent envy she detected in her former sometimes-rival, Diane was keen to reestablish the relationship and, perhaps, resolve some faintly-remembered items in her past which still, even if only very occasionally, like in the middle of an over-caffeinated night at a substandard business hotel in Fort Worth, managed to sting.

The bar did well for a while, receiving patronage from local politicians and professional athletes, but it soon became apparent that Simone's decision-making abilities were not sufficiently developed for the role she held, most critically when, after other poor decisions had resulted in a cash-flow shortfall, she secured additional, unofficial resources for the project from a superficially easy-going, but actually very, very serious, consortium of private individuals. However, what Simone might have lacked in economic acumen, she made up for in spirit, Diane felt, and, through spending evenings with Simone in Jersey City, for the first time in her adult life she was embolden to take uncalculated risks and, even, knowingly make mistakes, which was incredibly liberating. On one occasion, she had to be rescued by a hobbyist (eel?) fisherman after she swam into the Morris Canal to retrieve a desirable piece of antique driftwood. Things eventually calmed down for a while, but only after she'd ended up in the Grand Street Medical Center having ingested ecstasy pills at a Paulus Hook brownstone party where she had salsa-danced with a very attractive cable news personality.

Chip, on the other hand, had never felt more in control and certain that he was moving in the right direction. He and Father Alonzo had become something like friends, attending minor league baseball games in Little Falls together when their free time aligned. The priest often remarked on what fantastic progress Chip was making on his spiritual journey, conversing so fluently on a range of hot-button ecumenical issues, and able to explain the most opaque concepts of theological orthodoxy with near bishop-like precision. The positive feedback motivated him to engage even more studiously with Catholic doctrine, and in time, the scope of his ambition widened. Chip, having already earned a BS in Finance, an MBA, a Masters in Management Psychology, a Six Sigma black belt, 3-Star Kaizen Leadership certification, and a job description that would sound impressive during introductions even if it wasn't at one of the most well-regarded companies in New Jersey, decided that his next step would be to take a position within the church hierarchy. Entering either the priesthood or the monastic sector, for now anyway, seemed out of the question. However, since 1965, marital status has posed no impediment to being ordained as a deacon, after the Second Vatican Council decreed the diaconate open to "mature married men", and Chip was nothing if not mature. He mentioned his aspiration to his priest the next time they sat in the stands of a Jackals home game. Father Alonzo immediately encouraged his friend and offered to pen the letter of recommendation which would be required for his application to the five-year diaconate training program.

Chip efficiently collected the multitudinous paperwork he would need for the application in an oversized Paul Smith tumbled leather document holder: certificates of baptism and marriage, academic transcripts, records of health and employment, a spousal letter of consent from Diane, among many others. Everything was on track and Chip was nearly ready to submit his application for review with the diocesan diaconate committee, when he received an unplanned late-afternoon home visit from Father Alonzo, who was there to convey a troubling development. They sat in Brazilian cherrywood Adirondack chairs and drank artisanal orangeade in the English garden styled back yard. The priest told Chip that he had discussed the application with one of his superiors, a Monsignor Flannery, and the monsignor, Father A reported, was impressed by what he heard, but perhaps having been disappointed in the past by a similar too-good-to-be-true seeming applicant, the senior cleric probed his subordinate for the hidden complication, playing, if it isn't too profane to describe a senior cleric's behavior thusly, devil's advocate. Did Chip gamble? Was he a philanderer? Did he have any lewd tattoos which would be visible when wearing vestments? Had he been sanctioned under secular law for engaging in criminality of any type? Ah, well this thing in Cape Cod, we might have to look into that. Father Alonzo explained to Chip that he would be required to submit an application for canonical dispensations for past misconduct and agree to a psychological evaluation. Father Alonzo said he thought that Chip had a good chance of meeting the criteria for a dispensation, but it was a setback, and Chip was disheartened. After Father Alonzo left, Chip sat in the yard alone for another hour, until it started to rain.

Meanwhile, further mismanagement left the Jersey City bar with deep losses and, not willing to renegotiate the terms of their investment, Simone's less-salubrious backers requested their monthly installments with increasing degrees of forcefulness, to the point that Simone revealed to them that she had another partner in the enterprise, i.e. Diane Perkins, whose balance sheet surely held current assets enough to mitigate further issues with these kind and patient creditors. Without fixing an appointment in advance, collection agents for this group visited the Perkins' home, but at this moment in time, the only adult present was Jana, the Austrian au pair, whom the debt collectors, perhaps not fully versed in the complexities surrounding modern career/household management, mistook for Mrs. Perkins and immediately launched into a business presentation which included a surplus of vulgar idioms not normally intoned in that part of Essex County. Jana quit that evening and the agency gave them a really hard time about getting a replacement. Over the next week, the home was broken into, but nothing taken, and the larger of their two garden sheds burnt down in what was eventually confirmed as arson. Diane met Simone at a Short Hills Benihanna to try to figure out what was going on. Harsh words were exchanged, grievances dating back some 25 years were aired, tears were shed, but by the time the table-side habachi was extinguished, they had reached some level of mutual understanding and Diane got back on the Turnpike with a sense of resolve about what would come.

Simone managed to arrange a meeting between the Perkinses and her other creditors, though Diane was unenthusiastic with the terms that had been negotiated. She was to bring, in cash, the outstanding value, plus interest, plus a transaction fee, which nearly doubled the initial amount, to the service parking lot of the Hudson Mall on 440 and wait in her car until someone named Larry met her there. The money was not an issue; there was way more than that amount in the bedroom safe. She counted the out the bills in neat stacks on the bed and then put them into a Dakota waxed canvas duffel bag. She asked Chip to come with her, but he explained that an auxiliary bishop from Newark would be in Montclair that afternoon, and Chip had to be ready to plead his case if Father Alonzo called. Diane understood that this was important to him, so although she was afraid, she didn't press the issue. Chip blessed the mission, which as a lay person, he technically should not have done, but Diane, focusing on the difficult task ahead, didn't really listen to what he was saying anyway. When she reached the front entry, the new au pair, Petra, with a look of urgency, grabbed her arm to stop her. She presented Diane with a cheap-looking switchblade and said something about how it had been behind an old radio or something. Diane wasn't sure about this new girl, her ability to communicate accurately in English seemed to need improvement. Diane nodded, smiling weakly, and pretended to understand, as she took the knife, put it in her handbag and continued out the door to her SUV. Chip's blessing had gone on for a while, so she was running late for the meeting already.

She made good time - the Parkway was improbably empty. From 440, she easily located the mall's service entrance, drove to the back, away from the loading bay and turned off the engine. She was about 10 minutes early. She took the switchblade out of her bag, looking it over. She carefully pushed the button on the handle of the crude device and the blade swung out as expected. She closed it again and practiced activating the mechanism until she felt comfortable, and then, taking the exercise one step further, she drilled drawing the closed blade from her bag and opening it, all in one seamless motion. She imagined the menacing figure of Larry, reaching into the car to grab her, and visualized herself stabbing him. She would try to get him in the shoulder or the thigh - it would be a serious injury but not a murder. Killing someone, even if it was self-defense, seemed a step beyond what she was ready for at this point. A brown Mondeo pulled into the lot and stopped about 15 yards away. A man got out, wearing stonewashed jeans and a sweatshirt commemorating some kind of especially positive sports result. He walked slowly towards Diane's vehicle. The duffel bag was on the passenger seat, while her handbag, containing the weapon, was directly by her side. As he approached, she decided he looked more bored than aggressive. She glanced down, checking that the knife was still accessible, and then lowered the window. He immediately spoke to her in a tone that, while not exactly threatening, definitely betrayed a lack of social skills, which, in most business contexts, would have quickly limited his career prospects. Diane answered him calmly, playing it cool, while internally, she considered whether Larry's rude manner warranted him being knifed. She passed him the duffel bag through the window. He told her to wait while he counted it and walked back to his car. After about five minutes, the Mondeo pulled out of the lot. Diane, unsure of best practice in this situation, waited another 15 before returning home via the Pulaski Skyway, from which she had a spectacular view of an uncommonly deep crimson sunset behind the Linden chemical refineries.

A remarkably loyal friend and spiritual council, Father Alonzo made a great effort to convince Monsignor Flannery to have a preliminary interview with Chip, to clarify up the matter of the past misconduct and maybe also to initiate the application process so that it might run in parallel to any dispensational activities which might become necessary. Chip, his tumbled leather document wallet packed with every conceivably necessary stamped certificate in duplicate, as well as a scholarly essay applying Joseph Fitzmyer's theories of biblical contextualizion to projected models of near-future societies, which he had submitted to Irish Theological Quarterly, and had gotten very positive feedback on, drove to the archdiocese feeling well-prepared, his heart rate low, a high-quality lossless digital file playing back U2's now-classic All That You Can't Leave Behind over the 13-speaker Burmester surround-sound system. Pleasantries were exchanges as the three men sat down in a well-appointed meeting room. Chip cleared his throat to mark the launch of his opening statement, which he had rehearsed delivering with a pious warmth in front of the Nella Vetrina bathroom mirror the evening before, but Monsignor Flannery, known within the diocese as something of a straight shooter, immediately commenced a hard line of questioning into the Provincetown affair. Chip calmly explained how the mix-up had occurred and that his lawyers were very close to reaching an out-of-court settlement with the young man's family. The monsignor paused before continuing. He told Chip that it was the accuser's age which was ultimately problematic. Chip nodded in an understanding way, but cited the relevant articles of Massachusetts law to point out that the accuser's age actually wasn't relevant to the case, and that anyway, despite St. John Bosco's teachings on the matter, modern Catholic dogma was significantly less definitive on the subject of disciplinary techniques than statutory regulations were. Monsignor Flannery acknowledged the validity of Chip's argument, but went on to emphasize that the church had made great strides recently to recover from the damage done by those few rogue ex-priests whose conduct with minors had nearly undone some 2000 years of good work, and, frankly, any ordained cleric with even a whiff of impropriety with regard to contact with boys could jeopardized the global institution's remarkable ongoing period of rejuvenation. Unprepared for the direction that the monsignor's argument had taken, Chip became visibly frustrated and spat out in a louder tone than he'd probably intended that come on, he wasn't some kind of pedophile. These words, as if by chance alignment with some resonant frequency archdiocese office building, reverberated, ringing at a sickly pitch for some time before fading into a prolonged, dolorous silence. The designer document wallet, and paper trail of broken dreams still enclosed within, sits today on the floor of the Passaic, down river from the Jackson St. Bridge, near the Red Bull Arena.

Throughout the duration of this tumultuous period, the elder Perkinses still managed to keep up necessary appearances, always meeting their obligations at PTA meetings or Neighborhood Watch tribunals, exceeding their KPI targets with performance-based bonuses all but locked up by Q3, and participating admirably in the competitive Montclair dinner party hosting scene. Such robust pillars of the community would not easily buckle, but still, the pressures which mounted upon the parents could not be completely isolated from the children, and the youngsters, unaware, but influenced by the toxifying home atmosphere, acted out, experimenting with new behaviors. Madison received a week-long suspension, which will be on her permanent school transcript, for being part of a group that had cyber-bullied the JV basketball coach to the point where had his name legally changed (his given name wasn't even that similar to the term for a socially-unacceptable activity with which they had portmanteaued it). Aiden grew distant, retreating into violent video games played with god-knows-who over the internet, and disturbingly, the fantasy made some inroads into reality as, since the Provincetown incident, he had amassed an arsenal of knives, brass knuckles and nunchucks, bought from a sixth grader whose cousins in Florida sourced the contraband. Aiden hid the weapons throughout the home, a flat tip dive knife taped to the underside of a rattan outdoor serving cart, a shuriken throwing blade under a cast iron antique lamp base. And after a few months, he had collected enough light armaments that he didn't even notice if au pairs, gardeners and cleaning staff occasionally found and confiscated an item, which they did.

Systems finally reached total breakdown during the preparation of the annual family update holiday letter, all units be dispatched on or before 30 Nov according to familial best practice. Chip and Diane could not reach a working consensus on how much of the unpleasant truth could be revealed to friends and relatives, and how to most-positively frame the the family's, to be blunt, crappy results for this calendar year. On the day before they had scheduled the photographer to come to take the family portrait, Aiden had shaved three notches in each eyebrow, and then, on the morning of, Madison couldn't get out of bed due to everything seeming really, really gross. In light of these developments, and in spite of the family's firm commitment to meeting personal targets, the photo session was cancelled, the deposit forfeited, the previously unbroken 15-year tradition of informing acquaintances far and wide of the Perkinses' triumphs, a tradition started back when they lived in that cute three-bedroom condo in Hoboken, and featuring not two children, but a nervous Jack Russell named Grant (now residing "on a dairy farm in New Hampshire"), whose achievements were documented just as comprehensively as those of the subsequent human family additions - all of this now rendered a smoldering wreck of resentments and wasted time and absolute, utter disappointment as the letters' deadline passed and a total boschian depravity enveloped Chez Perkins (they had a bespoke, Amish, handwoven straw welcome matt, which said "Chez Perkins" on it, displayed in the garden foyer).

It began at breakfast. Aiden spilled a small amount of organic goji-berry and white chocolate granola on the checked Vera Wang cushion on his Walker Edison dark oak kitchen chair. Normally, in such a case, one of his parents would issue a standardized admonishment and sprint to the contamination zone clutching a sprayer filled with stain-removal agent. Aiden looked at his father, who cocked his head to one side, but did not stop staring at a cymbidium orchid on the windowsill, and then at his mother who gave him a gentle, empty smile. On the next spoonful, Aiden, cogs at work in his young scientific mind, allowed a greater volume of expensive crystalized oat breakfast feed to fall next to him. Neither Chip, nor Diane, flinched. Aiden was now slightly concerned and he made eye contact with his sister, whose furrowed brow indicated that she too found the situation curious. A minute passed, after which Madison lifted her entire bowl of granola off the table, held it out to the side at arm's length, and then overturned the vessel, allowing oat clusters, puffed rice, almonds, coconut slivers, goji-berries, white chocolate chips, sugary milk and a Royal Pacific breakfast spoon to splatter across the heated tuscan ceramic-tiled kitchen floor, milk forming rivulets in the grooves and flowing under stationary furnishings, as still the adults remained fixed in their deranged placidity. Petra arrived at the doorway of the kitchen to witness the final few actions of the scene, and perceptive to the imminent cataclysm, the au pair ran upstairs and locked herself in the finished attic suite, as the chaos below began to take hold. Over the next hours, the running, banging, crashing and scraping from beneath was only interrupted when the house was rocked several times by what felt like substantial explosions, while voices of creatures, surely not human, echoed through the corridors and ductwork to Petra's quarters at the top of the home.

Eventually, she decided that the maelstrom had peaked and she might have an opportunity to flee. Pushing a set of small nunchucks she'd recently found hidden in an antique persian pen box into her jeans back pocket, she cautiously unlocked the door and began her descent through the labyrinthine suburban mansion. Moving slowly, and as quietly as possible, she immediately came to notice that every room's television was tuned to a different 24-hour news channel, the volume on max, a cacophony of hard, compressed voices bellowing opinion and insult and outrage and justification. Edging down the flight of stairs she heard a furtive scampering from the children's wing. She crawled along the landing on fours, hoping to elude her charges, who, as it turned out, had no interest in harming their governess. Fueled by Swiss pralines pilfered from their unhung advent's calendars, Madison and Aiden, dressed in their halloween costumes (Katy Perry, a minion), were carving ancient symbols into the playroom's Laura Ashley wallpaper using Williams Sonoma kitchen tools, the floor strewn with high-quality upholstery fill, the shell of a disemboweled Vitra lounge chair overturned in a pile of charred wooden toys. Aiden gave the terrified au pair a cheerfully sinister thumbs-up before she made it around the corner to the passageway leading past the parents' chambers. As the passed the master bathroom, she spied Mrs. Perkins though the open door, dressed in her Scottish cashmere bathrobe and matching hair turban, parrying and slashing the air with a small knife, in fact the same switchblade that Petra had given to her, drawing back and then stabbing the air in front of her again in an elaborate display of improvised tanto jutsu ninjitsu. The au pair made it past unseen and reached the final set of stairs down to the ground floor, from which she could hear Mr. Perkins chanting in a strange tongue. The air was thick with the smoke of some ceremonial tincture and as Petra made her way downwards into the haze, a scene unfolded before her which was more terrifying than anything she had yet encountered. The windows of the wide hall below were covered with fringed throw blankets, but the large space was illuminated by clusters of flickering hand rolled beeswax candles distributed irregularly and without thoughtful consideration to fire prevention. What appeared to be religious objects were arranged in deliberate patterns on the floor. Into this ritual site, from a door connecting to the second dining room, frolicked (yes, frolicked) Chip Perkins, unclothed save for a merino lambskin draped around his shoulders and wilted orchids tucked behind his ears, clutching a nail gun in one hand and an original Thomas Kinkade collector's plate in the other. Midway into the room, he stopped held the commemorative dishware against the wall, pushed the tool against it and pulled the trigger, sending shards of porcelain ricocheting in every direction. Mr. Perkins let out a high-pitched laugh, then resumed chanting and skipped out of the room. Petra made for the door. She was temporarily blinded by the sun as she ran, almost tripping over several times, down the desirable, tree-lined avenue.

In the week before Christmas, or, the week after in a few disappointing cases, the 250-odd regular recipients of the Perkins annual family update holiday letter received a cassette tape. Those familiar with the couple's previous work were giddy. However, the album saw Mr. & Mrs. P. moving in a less-uplifting, and not very chilled out, direction, and the overall response was lukewarm at best, with some listeners even questioning whether this could be considered dinner party music at all. Recorded in early December, in a fury of manic energy over five days and three cases of Pimms, in their elegant converted-mudroom recording-studio, Very Warm Regards sees Chip and Diane Perkins, broken and stripped down to whatever they essentially were, surveying the strange, ignominious year, which had altered their perception of themselves and the world around them. After Christmas, the Perkinses had a week booked in a cozy four-bedroom Georgian townhouse in Charleston, from which they haven't returned. The cassette made its way to the Strategic Tape Reserve via a Cologne business leader, who, having become close to Chip during an intensive Kaizen seminar in Hawaii, had been receiving the Perkins holiday letter for some years. Not a fan of instrumental synthesizer music himself, and imagining, correctly, that we would have some interest in the article, the tape was regifted to our chairperson at the STR Christmas party along with a bottle of semi-sweet cava.

Side A:
Behind Bed, Bath and Beyond
Is Porcelain Interesting?
A Scorned Hors d'Oeuvre
Alone in the Miniature Gazebo

Side B:
That… isn't Potpourri
Someone Has Vandalized the Aga Wood-Burning Cookstove
Ego-death and the Extension
The Kids Are at Lacrosse Camp; Where Is the Dog? 
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