As a child my greatest dream—surpassing even the first-grade desire
to teleport myself from the chaos of Miss Jane Northcutt’s classroom
back to the swaddled coziness of my bed and a stuffed yet voiceless bear—
was to be a victim, to take a pie in the face from Soupy Sales,
suffer a compound fracture of the fibula, all for the misdemeanor of helping
Wile E. Coyote assemble one Acme product or other.
I’d get batted upside
the head with a cast iron skillet, then shake away the cobwebs
and bluebirds of concussed dreams and enter at last into the kingdom
where Monty Hall and I made a deal for whatever
was found behind door number 3, and a showgirl parted the curtain
while Johnny Olsen told me what I’d won: a tweedy Barcolounger, say,
one that turned into Captain Video’s ejection seat.
I’d pull the handle
to launch myself into a nearly blank animated landscape
where my best friend was a talking dog—a purple Airedale terrier
who wore a monocle and waistcoat, and spoke in a clipped British
upper-class lockjaw—who of course spoke only to me,
as in the compound shenanigans of Mister Ed or that Warner Brothers frog
who bojangled in top hat and tails.
Or I’d just step into the swimming
mercury of the picture tube, move into the third hut on the left
and share the last slice of Gilligan’s coconut cream pie, or I’d be the anonymous hipster
playing a passable sax for the mambo kings of Ricky Ricardo.
And after the two-drink minimum of the midnight show, I’d take
the long way home and because I was hours late for supper, a voice with all
the stentorian authority of Morrow reporting from London would echo
across the five boroughs, asking, It’s Ten O’clock, do you know
where your children are? And I would answer in my best call and response, a shout:
I am meandering through a veritable Wonderamaland filled with neighbors
who still bake pies and once a week, pay the neighbor’s kid six bits
to wash their car. On Saturday nights, Mom and Dad rhumba away
the evening at a Knights of Columbus dinner dance for twenty bucks
a couple, beer and set-ups provided. Friday, Dad gets a haircut—
one dollar, military or civilian—then drives home in a new white Mercury,
window down and the crackling ga-lump of the Ballantine Polka Hour
hissing out the AM radio, followed by Paul Harvey, telling the rest
of the story. The neighbors gather for hot dogs and beer and to touch the car’s
pearlescent enameled shroud and kick its white sidewall tires
then head home at seven p.m. to watch Roger Mudd sitting in
for Walter Cronkite, who isn’t on assignment but sailing off the Vineyard,
and the top stories are all entirely forgettable.
Vietnam is a word no one knows,
the children of Cam Le play with dolls instead of a GI’s Zippo.
Edmund Muskie never gets ratfucked and doesn’t cry in the snows
of New Hampshire and when the whole world is watching,
Bobby Kennedy goes on to Chicago and wins there. And when I tell
this or any story of my own childhood, I begin with the absolute truth.
Such as in the ritualistic farce known as show and tell, when I show
my kindergarten classmates how to make daiquiris by the blender-full,
and in the telling, wave my arms over my head and have them chant along with me
the first words I ever spoke,
Look at all these fabulous prizes.
Author Discusses Poems