August 24th, 2020
Interstate 84, eastbound across Connecticut, family car trip. The three-year-old peers into the traffic in search of pick-up trucks while his three elders play a word game, subject is foods and beverages.
I pass a brown, beat-up Pontiac convertible, circa mid 1970s, its driver a balding old dude with his shirt off. His remaining head hair is tied in a pony tail that’s flapping in the freeway breeze, his curly chest hair is also flapping and waving. I presume he’s wearing pants but I cannot tell for sure. I think of any car older than 40 years as an antique and a collectible, but for all I know the dude to my side is merely keeping a car he likes, maintaining it with regular oil changes and tune-ups.
“Eggo waffles, S.”
The three year old is interested in cars of all types, but pick-up trucks hold a special place in his little heart and developing brain. He names them by color, as in “black pick-up truck” and “white pick-up truck.” His latest favorite talking point: We drive in a black pick-up truck to a pancake house to meet up with Goldilocks and Grandmama to eat pancakes with maple syrup.
I think he likes the sounds of these words more than their meaning. “Pick-up truck”, with its three distinct syllables, is fun and easy to say, much like “pancake house” and “Goldilocks.”
I tell the Goldilocks and Three Bears stories over and over again, and it’s never enough to satisfy him, so I extend the story to incorporate various appealing details. The ending is now “And Goldilocks ran out the door and into the forest, and she never saw the Three Bears again. But she did send them postcards.”
I go on.
“Dear Three Bears, Greetings from Orlando, Florida. I’m here for the national convention of science teachers. Tomorrow I’m going to the International House of Pancakes in a pick-up truck with Nathen and his mom and dad and big brother. Later, we’ll play miniature golf or go bowling. Love, Goldilocks.”
It’s my turn in the word game.
“Sesame seeds, S”
Three-days earlier. I pull into the parking lot of the country bakery/restaurant located down the street from my house. The car next to me, a polished red SUV, is sporting a Trump bumper sticker. With veins throbbing, I burst into the outdoor patio and look for the likely suspects, and I *think* about yelling out “God d*m* it to hell, which of you c*&*&@$*/s is the Trump supporter? I’ll take you out, two out of three falls, right now. This patio is not big enough for the both of us!”
Of course, I don’t say this. Hunter Thompson (whom I’ve been reading, or re-reading) might yell the threats that I only imagine yelling, or at least he might claim he yelled them in his writing, which would not include the ampersands and asterisks in place of the swear words. But accosting strangers in restaurants and threatening violence and generally acting like a rabies-stricken walrus does not jive with my personal image and sense of propriety, both of which have served me tolerably well across the range of long years. Staring at me are a piggy couple, looking angry and stupefied and bloated even while merely contemplating the menu, and they become my nominees for the holders of the offensive (and really, really, it truly is offensive) political viewpoint. Which according to polling experts is shared by 35 percent of the national electorate, at minimum. With an imagined shrug of defeat, I sit down and order breakfast and attend to my business.
“Sorbet, T” says my wife.
“Thyme,” replies the teenager. “E”.
The letter E is the bottleneck of this particular word game, regardless of category. Whether you’re naming people, places, foods and drinks, or fictional characters, the candidates that end in E are numerous and plentiful, while those that begin with it are much rarer. Already we have trekked onward through eggs, egg salad, eggplant, elephant ears (a version of fried dough), Emerald nuts (brands are allowed), Entemann’s baked goods, Eccles cakes, and my personal favorite, Ezekial bread. I’m all E’d out, until suddenly I’m not.
“Elbow macaroni!” I proclaim. Woot-woot for me.
Last July I sent a copy of Fergus Falls to Janey Robertson, a professional reviewer who seemed open to self-published books. Over the weekend her review arrived—and good heavens, her offering is not just gushingly positive, but “deep-down” insightful. I would never have drummed up all the comparisons to Donald Trump that she identified, not to mention the eerie coincidence of 45 chapters in the book and the 45th President of the United States. She also nailed the origin of my character Roberto Hoyes (he’s an inversion of the Natural, Roy Hobbes). Aw, thanks again, Janey.
The game continues, until it doesn’t.
“Elmo” says the teenager.
“What do you mean, Elmo?” I ask.
“You know, Elmo, from Sesame Street.”
“Elmo,” I point out, “is not a food or beverage.
“Sure he is,” comes the reply. “If Big Bird or the Snuffleupagus get really hungry, they could catch Elmo and eat him.”
“Nobody eats muppets!” I insist.
“I bet he’d be good in a wine sauce,” says my wife, taking the boy’s side. “Or barbecued on the grill.”
“You’d have to skin the fur off,” says the teenager.
“Nobody’s eating muppets!” I yell.
“White pick-up truck!” says the little boy.
Hunter Thompson died February 20, 2005, which is now over 15 years ago. No journalist has come even remotely close to filling the huge, yawning gap that his absence has left—and I mean no offense to the journalists whom I actually know. Thompson’s sworn enemy was Richard Nixon, whom he called “the embodiment of the death of the American dream.” One can only imagine what Thompson would have made of Donald Trump, who makes Tricky D seem like Goldilocks in comparison.
Today is August 24, 2020, which happens to be the birthday of Marlee Matlin, the deaf actress who claimed the best actress award for “Children of a Lesser God”, and took a star turn as a secret-weapon lip reader on “Seinfeld”. Happy birthday, Marlee. Hope you are staying safe and well in these troubled times.