Reminiscence: “So Long”

November 16th, 2007 · 1 Comment

I’ve never seen a more uninviting bed. The naked mattress looks like a drunk passed out with vomit all over his face, and the vomit is my pillows and blankets all crumpled up as if they are trying to do an impression of the big bang backwards, condensing into the corner of my wall. I know that it requires very little action to set all the items at their correct gravitational positions, and soon I will, but action to me always includes an embarrassing Wiley Coyotesque fall. Maybe I should get on my bed too and let myself be taken back up into the before-time womb, but that’s just foolishness. I’m going to finish my glass of orange juice and then tell a story about the Richard Brautigan novel I have read.

I’m sorry that took so long. I did finish the glass of orange juice, I’m very conscious of my vitamin C intake, well, this isn’t entirely true. I bought three kiwis from the grocery store because I heard they were an amazing source of vitamin C, and they are lying like wilted balloons in my three-tiered fruit basket, above a prune-peach the vitamin C content of which I do not know. I also poured myself another glass of orange juice, which accounts for the extended wait.

Actually I’m not writing a story about the Richard Brautigan novel I read, I am writing an essay for my own amusement, though it’s taking some time to get it off the ground. (see opening ¶ ) (If you found yourself waiting again, it’s because it took me a long time to find the ¶ button. Now it’s coming to me very easily ¶¶¶. See?)

I realized today and other days that my mind cannot give rise to a structured thought, as my consumption of free employee meals cannot give rise to a structured bowel movement. I would love to write a well articulated essay on Richard Brautigan with his life, literary style, and cultural significance in a neatly drawn surveyor’s map with roman numerals appointed as border guards, but I cannot. If you want an essay like this you should refer to Nate. If Nate read the book he would spread it out flat, back up a few feet, and then jump into the air and fly above it and see the architectural blueprint of the thing. I just walk through it, gazing stupidly at the TALL buildings and try not to get hit by taxis. So, instead of that essay, I am going to do my best to tell a story about my grandpa and the banana train, in the style of Richard Brautigan.

This line break indicates two more glasses of orange juice, a good night’s sleep interrupted gracefully by a piercing sunrise, and a thorough cleaning of my place which is a relief because it was beginning to look like I had hired Raskolnikov as my interior decorator. And now, I’m not sure if you can see it, but I’m standing on thin air above a canyon holding a board up with a wooden handle that says, “SO LONG.”

To me, my grandpa is like a collection of short stories about my grandpa. He is exactly the type of inexhaustibly curious, dreamy, and at times goofy, character you would read about and wish that you had for a grandfather, and with his style of rhetoric I am very familiar. It includes two prominent techniques, the first of which is interruption.

After I returned from England, where I had lived for six months, we had a family gathering so I could recount some of my experiences. I had just arrived at the part where I went to Ireland for a week (1/4 progress through the whole story). Everyone was sitting on my grandparents’ front porch holding various toys my young cousins were handing out – toys that have resided on that porch through two World Wars and a Depression and have been used by every Kennedy who has been a child since. It seemed like I had everyone’s attention, in part, I suspect, because some of my relations had begun to doubt that I was born with a larynx, and I was proving the opposite. I was doing this by describing how I had cut off half the hair on my head in a rash decision with a pair of tiny hostel kitchen scissors, which I replaced in the drawer afterwards, when my grandfather, done with the story, or never aware of it at all said:

“CHRIIIIS, did you have to get up reeeeal early this morning?”

We all burst into laughter at the unforeseen change of subject. My grandpa noticed no discontinuity. My Aunt Chris had returned from a vacation in Florida that day.

“Yeah, I had to get up at 5:30,” said my aunt slightly embarrassed at her involvement with the interruption.

“I guess you’re done Katie,” my cousin Mike said with a laugh that shook his Adam’s apple so hard Newton stirred in his grave.

“Well, how did you do that?” said grandpa, marveling at the fortitude of his daughter-in-law.

“Well, I rolled over, I saw that it was 5:30, and I got up!”

Later that year at a Thanksgiving meal, the family was talking about the succession of pastors our church has gone through. Our church loses pastors faster than a nervous child loses teeth. Grandpa, oblivious that there are such things as dinner topics, stretched out his hand palm up and cupped as if to say “I can make my fingers into tally marks!,” and bellowed, “did you know that aaaaaalllll the DNA of evvvery person in aaaaaallll the world can fit into the palm of your hand?”

My grandma looked the way she’s probably had to look 783,986 times in her married life.

His second tool of rhetoric, wheezing, is just as powerful as the first but more predictable. All of his offspring come to his stories with ears like dissection kits that separate words from wheeze, and can then suture them together again. The wheeze, we know, is extremely useful though we cannot at this point, with our inadequate research, determine the exact function of it. And though the readers may not have had need of this skill, I will assume they are quick learners and convey the story with the wheeze intact: “…and so Julie’s baby is healthy again, and the rest of the family is getting bett—“ “KATIE, there used to be a train that went through Sheldon when I was a boy.”

There was a pause for a large breath which was in exact resonance with the rocking lazy boy. Once the air had been swallowed and handed over to the blood that powered his thoughts he resumed.

“and one of the trains carried bananas”

Another swig of air “and my brothers and I would go down to the train,” rocking very philosophically now, “and try to steal bananas off the train. And one timewhhhhhhheeeeeeeeeeeeeee I got a banana off whhheeeeeeeee, and whhhit whassszzzz onshhhhzzzzly thiiiissszzwheeesssss bigeeeeeeee,” he said stretching his fingers to about the width of a wilted kiwi, and then with his voice imitating his voice when he was a banana robber and his face doing an impression of a tomato, he delivered the punchline:


Tags: AP Issues · Kate Kennedy · Nonfiction · October/November 2007

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Laura // Mar 3, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    Kate, I love this piece.

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