Now comes the part of the story that I remember the best. I remember it so well, actually, that it becomes quite difficult for me to write it all down, because there are just to many things I remember and that will have to fit in the text, and then I start wondering if this piece or that piece is true or if I'd made it up in the time since the original occurrence had indeed incided, because I have been remembering the thing almost everyday since the day it happened, and like everything that you use on a daily basis, it becomes bigger over the time, but some things simply are false and some are right. What is remembering, if not retelling the story to yourself, and we all know that every time you remember something, it adds four pounds, or possibly even more.
I dunno if Kenneth Oberman and Geoffrey Blumenthal have the same problem, because I haven't really spoken to either of them since that fateful day Geoffrey and me graduated. Just as we were about to receive our diplomas by that year's Barley Queen, the ever so scrumptious Trudy Gerkin, some sort of commotion broke out in the ranks of the audience, and as we turned our head, Kenneth Oberman appeared, rushing up the aisle with a crazed look on his face, wielding a particularly large pinewood two-by-four.
„Cumbersome and Blumenthal, but especially you, Blumenthal, but even more especially you, Cumbersome - - - You are the actual worst, I've come to realize. If anyone is gonna be the ruin of this great nation, it's you, it's the likes of you, but nobody's even gonna realize that, because you are so very cute and quirky and harmless and soft and childish, and women never find you frightening, they will think you are little boys, and other men will have more of an instinctive dislike towards you, thank god, but it will become less and less socially acceptable to simply beat you up, and that is what I'm here for, in this year of 1966, which might be the last opportunity to whale on you, and whale on you I will, with this sacred piece of pine wood, and maybe kill you, haven't figured it out yet, but either way, 'twill be for the good of our nation, and men and women folk in general will profit much from me beating you into a pulp.“
And Oberman demonstrated the possibilities of his two-by-four by slamming it over the head of Valencia Sackler, who immediately fell out of her seat and went on to bleed profusely.
„No fighting !“ screamed the civics teacher, a young guy who wore bluejeans and a sports coat in class , but the leather-clad Oberman crushed both of his kneecaps with one swing, and the unconventional teacher screamed and fell face first to the ground, while his feet and shins down from the knees remained in their position.
„The world might be a better world without fighting, but it wouldn't be our world, wouldn't it?“, said Oberman while we walked towards Blumenthal, who shielded his curly head with the stubby little piggy fingers of his hands. His cheeks were rosy from the excitement, and his lips were full and red, and he begged Oberman to put the weapon down, because: weren't we friends once, didn't he remember the adventure we had, and Oberman said: „I remember very well“ and shoved the short side of the plank into Blumenthal's face, as if he was a jouster and the two-by-four were his lance. Geoffrey's face ran over with a pretty equal mixture of blood, snot and tears, but he is alright now, I heard he graduated third in his class and currently works for the Nixon administration as a junior consultant. I still haven't decided yet on what I want to do with my degree, but I'm not worried about it too much , because I'm still young.
Oberman kicked the crying Blumenthal in the stomach with his steel-toed boot before he went after me. „Oberman“, I said, „Why are you so angry? I mean, clearly, you are a rebel, but so are me and Geoffrey, just in a different way, and don't you see that things are gonna change? Things are gonna turn out in our favor, in favor of us young guys. Didn't you see that the teacher was wearing jeans? Just wait a little longer, when Geoffrey and me are finished with college, we will change the whole system from within, and very soon, this will be a much nicer country. No more buzz-cuts, no more swearing allegiance to the flag, you know?“
Oberman just stood there, staring at me for a minute, pale and shaking all over his body. Then, suddenly, he dropped the piece of wood, jumped at me, trying to sever my jugular with his bare teeth. Luckily, the janitor and the principle pulled Oberman away from me, and Kenneth Steuben Oberman shook them off and ran away, never to be seen or heard of again. He is probably married now, but I'm not sure.
Anyways, I really should get back to the main story.
Geoffrey Blumenthal, Kenneth Oberman and myself were sitting in the garden of the comic book artist's house. We were all hailing from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, but right now, we were somewhere near Burbank, in the neat and shadowy garden of one of the greats of the American comic book, although his name was yet unknown to the public, except for us.
In the presence of the beloved comic book artist, the three of us had become one. We were all wearing different colored hats and whenever we spoke, we spoke as one. Not in unison, like a choir would, but in the way that one of us would start the sentence, the next would continue it and the third one would finish it.
With Geoffrey and me, this wasn't really a surprise, as we had been quite close for many years, and looked a lot alike. In fact, many people in our town had been remarking upon this, and how it was very likely that one day, the two of us would transcend our existences as sad, isolated monades and merge into one spiritual being, at least that's how Jenkins, the pig farmer, put it. He even claimed to have had experienced a thing like this himself with a particularly good-looking sow, but first of all, I don't know if Jenkins could tell the difference between monades and nomades, and secondly, there were persistent rumors that his relationship to the pigs was not always purely professional.
But all of this doesn't explain why Oberman, at least temporarily, also gave up his individual existence and merged with Geoffrey and me. He wasn't exactly spiritually inclined, and he didn't even like comic books. Maybe it was simply the atmosphere in that peaceful, silent garden with the high, dark yew hedges.
First, Geoffrey had tried to ask the comic artist all kinds of highly specific questions about his comic stories, but this turned out to be embarrassing for the old man, since he had forgotten about most of them and seemed uncomfortable with the obsession Geoffrey and me had with his work.
Only when Oberman turned the line of questioning towards the old man's life, he became more relaxed and began to speak more freely.
„When you wrote your stories“
started Geoffrey Blumenthal,
„did you intend them to be read by children“
„or by adults?“
The comic book artist, sitting at his end of the garden table, blew his large, misshapen nose.
„Never thought about that, to be honest. Wasn't much of a difference, when I grew up. I was born in 1907, so I was too young for one war and to old for the other, and just right in time for the depression.
I remember that on the day I was born, my father caught a big ole boomer. A boomer rat, I mean, a sort of beaver we had up there in the mountains. Hill people eat all kinds of meats that seem strange to townsfolk, don't know if they still do, but back when I was little, we'd eat squirrel or turtle or boomer, and never think much about it except for that it made for pretty darn delicious lunchin'.
One day, a government agent came up to our town. Agent was how we referred to anyone who was from the government, because we weren't used to them, and for a long time, the Indian agents had been the only ones who came to our village, even though we were all Scots-Irish white folk. Well, that particular agent took a look at how we were living, and the things we had, and he told us that we were officially poor, and we was quite surprised by that, because we had never known we were poor. Up in the hills, everyone has pretty much the same, and there isn't much to gain or to quarrel over up there.
Well, on that day my dad came home, and he was holding up that fat boomer by his claws, all proud and smiling, and he'd see my mom standing on the porch, holdin' me by my little feet, and she'd say to him: guess we both caught ourselves something today, pops, and my dad spit out and said: sure looks like it, mother, that was that, and then everybody had big glasses of clear corn whiskey, and later in the evening, they almost put me in the oven and the dead rat in the crib, and everybody had a good laugh about that one.
Later, we moved to the North of California, because my dad had heard that there was plenty of good land. He himself had grown up in a family of smallholders, meaning none of them had ever grown more than what was needed to feed them and their families, so he'd always dreamt of becoming a real farmer and sell his crops.
That also meant that me and my brother could go to elementary school, though we still had to help out around the farm before and after school. School was exciting for us kids back then, cause it meant something other than working in the field, and parents didn't like school so much, cause it meant we couldn't help in the fields no more. So the whole situation was very different than it is today. Me and my brother would walk six miles everyday to school and six miles back, barefoot in the summer, so we wouldn't use up our shoes before the time. In the winter, we had shoes in some years, but in other years, we'd only have strips of old linen, that we would wrap around our feet, and sometimes, when it was very cold, and there was some --- well, if a cow had relieved itself on the street, we'd put our feet in it, for warmth.”
“You put your feet in the bovine”
“fecal matter because you wanted”
“to go to school?”
“Me and my brother would also hide our school books and our homework. We would put it in the wood pile or in the chicken coop, so our father couldn't get to it. He would always try to steal them or put errors in our homework, so we would fail at school and have to come back to help him with the farm work. Sometimes, it was real funny, 'cause he couldn't read or write himself, so he didn't know how to put the errors in, and we could always tell when he had tried. There'd be some made up letters and words, just squiggly lines sometimes, and so we could easily spot and correct them before we handed in our homework.
Was the same for most of the other boys, their fathers were farmers, too, and they all hated school for taking away us children just at the age when we were beginning to be useful.”
“Did you want”
“to become a cartoonist”
“No, never even crossed my mind. We read the comics sometimes, when someone had found an old newspaper or something. But even with school, we didn't think about it in the way that it would lead somewhere. We were just happy doing something else than working. School's kinda cosy, compared to plowing the field or watching the cows with no shoes and no coat.
The only dream I had back then was joining the Junior Boyscouts, but I knew it was impossible. Only few of the boys were allowed to, only those from the bigger farms, where there was a bit of money. At first, me and my brother laughed at them. We said: the kinds of things you're learning there, we learned up in the hills, even before we learned to speak or walk properly. How to set up traps, how to make a fire and so on. But inside, I was impressed with their uniforms and their titles, and then I would see the kind of camaraderie they had among themselves, and the rules and their code of honor. I really envied that, but I was never allowed to join. Would have gotten my father real mad if I had done it.
Around forth grade, my hearing started to go bad, and soon I couldn't hear the teacher, even if I was sitting in the first row. So, when the teacher told him, my dad immediately jumped at that and he took me out of school for medical reasons. This way, he got what he wanted, and I had to be at farm with him full time. But soon, it turned out that I wasn't good with my hands, even though I tried my best. You know, I didn't think that I was too good for manual labour, I didn't even know there was another kind of work, so I was really desperate that I couldn't do anything right.
When I was fourteen, my father gave up trying to make a farmer out of me, and he sent me to the sawmill nearby as an apprentice. Almost lost my fingers there on more than one occasion. Imagine that.”
The old man suddenly stopped his yarn and put his index finger to his mouth, gesturing us to be silent. The sun was long gone, and the old man's wife had brought a candle.
Something was moving around in the hedges.
“Who is there?” said the old man.
Out of the bushes came a middle-aged man, perhaps in his late thirties or early forties. He looked somewhat disheveled, wearing only a blue shirt with opened collar and brown khakis, and appeared to be both tired and agitated at the same time. The old man seemed to know him.
“What brings you here, Philip?”
“I've been working, finishing up some stuff.”
He moved his arm around, as if pointing to nothing in particular, but to the dark garden as a whole.
“A regular suburban Shiraz you got going here, old man. Mind if a fellow poet sits with you for a while, just until he gets tired enough to go home and sleep?”
Philip sat down and stared into the candle. I noticed that his face was twitching.
“Moth. Harvest-moth, moth's harvest. What was it again?”
Nobody of us said anything.
“...not that with whose flame the candle laughs, but that with which they burnt up the...the harvest of the moth. Something like that”
Philip seemed very pleased for a moment. Then, his head slumped to his chest and he fell asleep, his upper body leaning forward, somehow propped up between his chair and the table.