The somewhat more serious piece I was considering for this week will have to come across your table another time. Occasionally, in the world of newspaper columnists, an abrupt change in the fabric of the space-time continuum, the forward progress of civilization, or just some of the usual local baloney makes the timing of commentary a little squirrely. Timing is everything, and I have tripped over that wire before. Therefore, this week, rather than lecturing politicians, rusticators, and various cranks on what we do when the baby’s sick on a remote island, we shall enjoy making pickles.

My husband likes pickles very much — particularly the sweet, proletarian slices known as “bread and butter.” For some reason I did not have the foresight to plant cucumbers this year myself. Actually, that’s not quite accurate: I did not decide in time, given how weird the world of common retail transactions became this spring with the coronavirus turning everybody into DIY-ers. By the time I got around to realizing that planting much of a vegetable garden was realistic this year, the more common vegetable seeds (as well as wheelbarrows and similar useful items) were getting bought up. Oh sure, you could probably have planted all the kohlrabi and parsnips your heart desired, but just try finding seed potatoes, or onion sets, or plain old cucumber seeds last spring once the entire country had taken up gardening (a good thing, mind you — I just didn’t catch on that I had best get with it and fill out my order).

Enough neighbors did plant cucumbers that with this summer’s warm days they had plenty to share, though, and Paul set to work slicing. After making a couple of batches of pickles he asked whether our food processor (a 38-year-old, bomb-proof Panasonic) had a slicing blade. “No,” I replied, “but don’t you still have the thing you got for Christmas?”

“The what?”

“You know, that slicer shooter thing you wanted for to harass the cat?”

That would be the Salad Shooter.

Back some 25 years ago, more or less, this clever electrical innovation was being sold on television around Christmas time, as clever electrical innovations always are. The advertisement, if I remember correctly, was somewhat deceptive in that there was the suggestion that the resultant slices of vegetable would be delivered from out the device with sufficient force and velocity to attract some real attention. The operative word, in my husband’s mind, was “shooter,” as in, “I wonder if we could shoot zucchini slices at the cat?” Seemed as good a use for zucchini as any.

We had just that sort of cat in those days.

At least one season passed before Paul got his Salad Shooter. This was not just a one-holiday wonder; no, the following year it came around again. He did hint. I was not sure that such a machine would find any real use in our low-tech kitchen, but eventually somebody (either his sister or my mother, I do not remember) wanted a gift suggestion.

“Get him a Salad Shooter.”

“A what?”

“It’s a thing you use to slice vegetables in order to harass the cat.”

Stranger things have happened. Bob was our cat at the time, and she (yes, she, and yes, Bob) was an anxiety-ridden calico who just barely missed being named Pickle or Mucus by our pre-schooler, who thought those words sounded fun to say (it is a complete coincidence about the pickle reference, by the way). Bob exhibited what I termed “expanding concentric circles of anxiety” about things, being prone to free-associative worrying that sometimes resulted in household mayhem. She developed a fear of the sight of the vacuum cleaner (even when off) and of duct tape, among other inexplicable things (and people). Nobody in their right mind would actually wish to startle her because that’s how things got broken. I suppose it might have been funny to see if she would develop an ingrained fear of sliced carrots.

Paul did get a Salad Shooter but he is actually very kind to his cats (Bob and the previous and subsequent calicos, and the others). He did not truly wish to contribute to Bob’s neuroses, wise-aleck remarks notwithstanding. As no large-scale slicing operations presented themselves that winter, the gift unit remained unopened and was eventually stuck away in the back of a cupboard, until last week when its presence in our home was remembered.

It worked fine, but no better than a knife, and the slices were a bit thinner than Paul wanted for his pickling. The device did not seem to be adjustable. Used only once, works, clean: free to good home. Sadly, you cannot actually “shoot” the vegetable slices; they just sort of dispense unremarkably from the orifice. At present we haven’t even got a cat.