A memory unbidden and sudden burst into the man’s ken. He buckled over the handle of his cart as laughs and coughs poured forth in prolific tandems that ceased only when exhaustion had
made rendered more of either impossible.
What’s so funny? the boy asked.
Nothing, the man said. Uh, hahaha!
Shit. Ahh-ha! Cough. Ha, ha—cough, cough. Keep walking.
The man composed himself with a final grunt. The boy turned away. The man spat. A plume of red spittle marred the ash-caked road between his feet.
A moment later the memory returned
with a speed so fast most people would be like, Wha? to grip the man like a seizure. He took not three steps before collapsing in a fit of antic chuckles.
Dad, seriously. If it’s a good joke, tell it to me.
Hell, I could use a laugh.
He looked at the boy. Impossible. He would never get it. Just the idea of trying to explain it made him recall a cold gray afternoon weeks months or perhaps years before when a spontaneous remembrance of a classic Eddie Murphy routine had felled him. Afterwards he found it impossible to explain:
A) What a clay-mation cartoon was.
B) What a black man was.
C) What a Jewish man was, and especially
D) What an old-timey Jewish Catskills insult comic was, and
E) Why it was funny that a young black man portrayed an old Jewish man
F) Who Gumby was, and finally
G) Why it was funny for Gumby to be mean and smoke a cigar.
It pretty much ruined the bit, trying to explain it. This too would prove impossible. How can one explain to a boy who has never seen a movie, a basketball game, or the cockpit of an airplane why it is funny for Kareem Abdul Jabbar to suddenly appear [IS “NO SPLIT INFINITIVES” STILL A RULE?] in his Laker uniform complete with protective eye-wear in the middle of the movie Airplane! after already denying he was Kareem Abdul Jabbar? You think it’s easy? Then hey, you try it sometime.
I will tell you later. We need to be silent for a while or the cannibals will find us and eat us.
Oh, God. That’s your answer for everything.
Do you think that it is safe to light the lamp?
Yes, the man said. I think that it is safe to light the lamp.
Then read me a story.
Sure. Which one?
How about… “The Orchard Keeper.”
YES. Again and again! It never gets old.
I agree. Cormac McCarthy is a great writer. Or, he was. He’s probably dead now.
I wouldnt say that. He’s such a fluid prose stylist that I bet he could survive anything. Hey dad?
Is it true that very few people bought “The Orchard Keeper” when it was first published in 1965?
Yes, it is true. Nor did many people buy his next four books despite his winning a Guggenheim Fellowship, a MacArthur “Genius” Award, and the accolades of writers like Saul Bellow, Robert Penn Warren, and Ralph Ellison.
But he finally became famous after winning the National Book Award for “All The Pretty Horses,” which came out when he was 58?
Yes, but it is still not fair. Too little, too late.
Man, you said it. That really makes me angry. When I hear stories about unappreciated genius—especially Cormac McCarthy’s—I dont feel so bad about most of humanity getting incinerated in that global holocaust.
Yes, the man said. People were very stupid.
They did not know until morning that they had spent the night in a dildo factory, not until dawn’s parsimonious illumination revealed but sparely the floor and shelving along the western wall.
Like, the side opposite to the one where the sun was at. It was also very cold, per usual, and men were probably if not definitely already awake looking for people to eat. Even babies if they were in a pinch. [GREAT! BUT DEVELOP THIS IDEA ELSEWHERE IN BOOK.]
The boy realized it first. The man had been busy preparing their breakfast/cursing God
for making the world so difficult to live in these days. [WHY = OBVIOUS BY NOW.] He lay flat against the floor, his bearded and emaciated cheek pressed to the frigid dusty tiling, blowing fervently between coughs into a kindling of cardboard and newspaper newsprint over which sat a makeshift grill. Upon the grill sat a can of Spaghetti-O’s that he had salvaged from a ransacked Kroger’s grocery store whose signage still encouraged long-dead customers to Kro for it!
Look what I found!
The boy approached brandishing a massive ebony dildo
like a tensile Wiffleball bat like a floppy saber.
Pretty weird, huh?
At last the man looked around him. Countless mounds of intertwined prosthetic tentacles. Their separation by color, shape, and length bespeaking a diligent workforce now starving, dead, eaten
or worse. Dildos once bound for shipment to pornography stores that odds are no longer exist. Dildos that, thanks to the senseless conflagration of the earth, lay [OR IS IT "LIE"?] fixed here in aeternum like Tertiary mosquitoes trapped in that treesap stuff he used to see sometimes in natural history museums and also in that Jurassic Park movie. [REMEMBER TO LOOK UP TYPE OF TREESAP!!! SYRUP? RESIN? JUST REGULAR-OLD SAP? I FEEL LIKE IT BEGINS WITH AN “A.”]
Dad, why did people make fake penises?
It’s a… It’s a long story.
Hey, we got time. Nothing but time.