When you die, you become a contestant on “The Match Game,” hosted by Gene Rayburn and featuring a panel of Hollywood celebrities. Gene sidles up to you, wafting alcohol and aftershave. He warbles out your first question:
The baseball team is moving to the city of Altoona, Pennsylvania. Their new name will be the Altoona BLANK.”
Cue the hip and snappy think-about-it music.
Your response is Fish, which is excellent. The audience applauds warmly. You match Brett, Charles, Fannie, and Richard. But Scoey Mitchell says Pianos, while Patti Deutsch, much beloved, says in that deadpan nasal voice of hers, “I decided to honor Charlie Sheen.” Her answer is: Half Men.
We are on a family road trip, currently in the curious city of Louisville, Kentucky. Curious not to its residents, but I can think of many questions. First of which is, “What are we doing here?”
Ah, I’m kidding. We had a lovely evening last night with my aunt who lives here. She’s 89 years old and still doing very well—bless her heart, and all the rest of her. She treated us to dinner at a trendy restaurant that was quite good. Today I want to visit the Baseball Bat Factory and get a free souvenir baseball bat with the tour. I hope they have Kirby Puckett in stock. My wife will either grudgingly join us or spend the afternoon at the art museum, the latter what I’m heartily recommending.
The countryside has been looking amazingly good. Green fields of corn, lush trees on Appalachian hills, weather that is not nearly as hot as I expected.
In the news, Donald Trump has been indicted while Paul Rubens (aka, Pee Wee Herman) died at age 70. I expect history to be very harsh on the former and very kind to the latter.
I would have voted for Pee Wee over Donald in a presidential election, assuming they were only the candidates. Miss Yvonne could have been the defacto First Lady. For Secretary of Defense, how about Cowboy Curtis? To head up the treasury, the King of Cartoons. Plenty of good options here. Meanwhile, the Donald could have taken over the playhouse, hosting all of his cronies and co-conspirators and his emotionally-damaged children as they put on funny costumes and pretend to be talking chairs, flower boxes, magic screens, etc. etc. I wouldn’t watch it, but I bet it would appease many of the man’s fans and admirers.
You may or may not know the name William Schallert, and you may or may not have recognized his tall stature and reedy voice. The late Mr. Schallert was a character actor who appeared in dozens of television programs throughout the 1960s. He was Patty Duke’s dad and a senile spy in Get Smart, and really he was everywhere, if you knew where to look.
So William Schallert is invited to a Star Trek convention, because of course he appeared in one of the episodes, not that he remembered the experience. Mr. Schallert walks into the hall and someone points at him and yells “Nilz Baris!” He turns around, he has no idea. “Nilz Baris,” repeats the Trekker. “That’s your name!”
The episode in question is the beloved “Troubles with Tribbles.” The character of Nilz Baris is the space station manager who constantly berates Captain Kirk for incompetence—something no one else does in the canon.
Every now and then, people find meaning in what you do.
We’ve done some caves. Mammoth Cave, of course, which is, um, very large, and also a small cave run by the Kentucky State Parks. The six-year-old really enjoyed the caves.
We did a kiddy amusement park. The six-year-old really enjoyed the rides and the arcade and the hot dog.
We did the art museum of Huntington, West Virginia. Lots of interesting glass art and folk art and an exhibit on firearms, all of which resonate with the populace. They have a conservatory that features an axolotl in an aquarium. The six-year-old enjoys the giant chess set in the atrium. We play a game that he wins, um, with a little assistance.
Did you know that the gas stations in Pennsylvania have slot machines? They’re not really slot machines, they’re more like video games that you gamble on. We filled up at a Marathon, and inside was a woman sitting at the slot machines, losing money.
“The Pope has a telescope that he uses to look at the planets and Moon. He nicknamed it Lucifer.”
We check into the Hilton of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, near the airport. A little more expensive than we ordinarily like, but we figure it shall be worth it. Which it is. A large, well-appointed room with three beds, a delicious hot breakfast in the morning, very clean and modern facilities. But one problem—the wireless Internet isn’t working. The woman at the front desk said it is a problem with Apple computers, but my son has a PC, and it isn’t working for him either. The lobby has two computers connected to a printer, and they also are not working. As in nonfunctional, they do not even turn on.
The night desk clerk is wearing a low-cut top with large breasts almost spilling out of it. The upper breasts are tattooed, and so are the upper arms. Her demeanor is very professional and welcoming and she apologizes for the faulty Internet.
So come morning, I relocate to the Exxon station down the ways, because the Exxon station has a built-in Dunkin Donuts. Like all Dunkins, in my experience, the wifi here is excellent. I am sending emails and completing assorted other tasks. There is no indoor seating, because it’s a gas station donut facility, but they have a park bench outdoors facing the fuel pumps, and that is where I am perched. The weather is fortunately pleasant. I am considering suggesting to the Hilton people that they set up donut shops in their lobbies to solve their Internet problems.
“There is no such place as purgatory.”
My only complaint with this situation—and it’s not entirely a complaint, because I’m getting good material out of it—is the aging crackpot Exxon attendant who continues approaching me between his official gas-pump duties to offer good natured crackpot commentary and conversation. He begins with a joke about Hunter Biden’s laptop, and proceeds to discuss his new favorite radio commentator (“the next Rush Limbaugh”) whom he hears on the local AM radio station, and he repeats the call letters at least twice. The new favorite commentator called Mike Pence a RINO (Republican in name only), which the crackpot finds impressive.
The two previous quotes about the Pope and purgatory both come from this gentleman.
End of the trip, en route home at around sunset, I pull into the strip mall off High Ridge Road in Stamford, Connecticut, with the goal of getting a good up of coffee. But the Starbucks had closed early, and the deli next door closes right when we arrive. This leaves the Trader Joe’s, where we buy cookies and fruit soda, but no hot coffee there. So my wife opens her cell phone to find an all-night, locally-owned coffee place, and soon the device is navigating us through the dark, winding streets of Fairfield County. We pass a community college, we pass a Jewish cemetery. Like all trips in the darkness that are dictated by a cell phone, I have no idea where I am or where exactly I am going. I could be in YOUR neighborhood, for all I know. But I am not. We get our coffee and get back to the Merritt Parkway and head back home, where we are now. My wife is now fetching the dog and cats from her good friend who cared for them, and very quickly we shall return to the usual routines.
What a long strange trip it’s been—and continues to be.