Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Daily Meds

God save the British! Not since a bunch of long-haired Limeys nearly fifty years ago re-introduced the joys of the Blues to Americans and Benny Hill more than thirty years ago taught Americans how to laugh again has a British import brought so much excitement--and truth!--to its offspring's shores. No, I'm not talking about the announcement that Prince Harry is coming to the USA to train in military helicopters. I'm talking about the study published in a British medical journal saying chocolate is good for you, in a medicinal, healthy way. Who needs Santa Claus anymore?

Whooosh! Just like that, gone are the days of unsheathing the long, sharp knife to saw in half a tiny Lithium pill to get the dosage just right. Goodbye to the days of reading long, fine-print ads in Men's Health magazine (not me, certainly, but I'm sure a few folks do) and then consulting your physician about the pro's and con's of Lipitor. Ciao to nights of politely saying to the waiter, as you pat your belly, "No, thank you. No dessert for me." Rather, say hello to days of regimented Hershey's therapy and nights of raising hot fudge sundae glasses and sincerely toasting your dinner compadres, "Here's to your health." Free at last, free at last!

I foresee so many "game-changing," "polar-shifting" effects stemming from, to this salubrious-minded fellow, this cataclysmic, on-the-scale-of-the-earth-revolves-around-the-sun-not-the-other-way-er-around scientific discovery that life as we know it will soon be divided not into pre- and post-computer time but into pre- and post-chococentric time. A few specific examples to merely hint at the cultural upheavals to come: Picture a group of senior citizens, getting together for their weekly "let's arrange our pills for the week into our plastic daily pill boxes" social gathering. Now the pill boxes will be much larger, able to accommodate a king-size Hershey with Almonds bar, and thus able to spell out the entire day instead of just simple M, W, F, etc.--imagine the confusion that will eliminate! Imagine the sweet sounds emanating from their table: "I take my Almond Joy Monday mornings, but not my Mounds until Friday night." "My doctor tells me to wash down my Wednesday morning Snickers with a Wendy's chocolate Frosty." "Didn't your pharmicist tell you about the dangers involved in the interaction of Milky Way and Three Musketeers taken the same day?" "I find chopping up my Saturday Baby Ruth and sprinkling it on my Cocoa Puffs has the best result." And so on.

Imagine the delight to millions of TV viewers, and the zing to users, when those inane separate-tubs Cialis commercials are replaced by ads showing a happy couple feeding each other Zagnuts in a frothy hot tub, together! Imagine how watching the Nightly News will be so much more endurable, nay, fun, when all those mysterious disease/syndrome commercials are replaced by singing, healthy Goobers and Raisinettes. Imagine the relief we'll all feel not having to witness a cardiac-frantic guy trying to fish little nitro pills out of a tiny tin container, but instead seeing the guy simply rip open a bag of plain M & M's and pour 'em down the hatch. Jeeze Louise, I just might find myself actually walking into a health food store for the first time ever, knowing they stock only the freshest Dove Bars. And, needless to say, the masterpiece that is the Heath Bar will finally be recognized by one and all as the word "penicillin" goes the way of the "typewriter." Screw that sinful apple; soon a Chunky bar a day will keep the doctor away. Take two Hershey Kisses and call me in the morning. Willy Wonka = Jonas Salk? Oh, what brave new delicious world is this? Pass the Reese's Pieces, Doc.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Let All The Children Boogie

Okay, my public has spoken. Tired of my estivating (i.e. summer slacking off), they demand better attention be paid to this blog by yours truly. So, in light of summer's unofficial ending this weekend, and the fact that this is now spitoutyourgum's third year (2nd birthday was yesterday, thanks for the balloons and well wishes and your support), here's a hopeful pledge to wax inane more frequently.

It seems I work (day job, though it entails many nights) on the exact dividing line between the two poles of childhood excitement. You see, equidistant from my place of employment stand Chuck E. Cheese on one side and the bureau of motor vehicles/highway patrol testing station on the other. On my daily break I sit on a bench between the two and watch the traffic. Going one way are kids, tiny, barely walking (yet running with all their tottering glee) and barely verbal (the thrilled chants these kids emit would be indecipherable without the knowledge of their destination--duckee deeesssseeee, ucky ease, etc.). You would think Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Grandma, and endless apple-juice-filled sippy cups were all gathered there. Rarely have I ever witnessed such determination as I see from these tykes running ahead of their adults, heedless to all calls of slow down, wait up, stop. For sheer, innocent, unbridled excitement, it's a sight to behold. The fact that by my unscientific observations over the last few months fully 33% of kids under the age of six leave Chuck E. Cheese screaming, hollering, bawling only signals to me the dawning of consciousness of the dichotomy between innocence and experience that takes place for some of these kids--alas, the world, while certainly full of Chuck E. Cheese-like wonders, is also large enough to contain the drudgery of many not-wonders. William Blake would have a field day sitting where I sit.

And on the other side...backs turned from Chuck E. Cheese, facing the wide open unknown-ness of the unclosed part of the shopping plaza, usually sitting, are the polar opposites of the Chuck E. kids--teenagers sitting in idling cars, having just completed their driving tests, waiting in the limbo between the highway patrol person's exit from the car and their (the teens') parents' arrival at the car from inside the testing station. By this time the particular teen's fate has been determined, though usually, uncommunicative teens as they are, it's hard to tell whether they've passed or failed. You have to wait that half minute as the patrol person goes in to fetch the parent; sometimes, it seems, the patrol person keeps the news from the parent, allowing the teen to deliver the thumbs up/down. But when it's good, it's usually really good: The parent, if he or she is unaware of the final result, emerges from the storefront and walks tentatively toward the car until the kid eventually shows his or her cards--a relaxed, confident, of-course-no-problem smile, a heaving, thank-God-I-did-it grin, or the utter joy (usually by girls, curiously) of fists pounding the steering wheel, whooping cries, and washed over glee. It's hard to tell how far the apple has fallen from the tree, though; sometimes the parents are way more or less excited than the teen, but other times their exuberance is a perfect match for their offspring's. Then the parent gets in the car, the newly minted driver pulls around to park, the pair gets out of the car and heads back to the BMV to get that shiny license. The license, after all, that is as much about proving one's exit from childhood and the Chuck E. Cheese-initiated wonder as it is about proving one's road worthiness. The dances and beaming smiles the teens sport upon their departure from the BMV with their licenses still warm in their hands are sadly beatific--genuinely happy and proud, but just maybe, as some little tyke heedlessly hurries by them grunting "icky zees," conscious of the fact that with the licensed keys to the car, responsibility now trumps reckless indulgence in some of life's wonders.

Of course, not all the teens pass the test. I speak not only from recent observation, but from painful experience. You see, years ago, before there were Chuck E. Cheeses, to my knowledge, I failed my first driver's test (the "maneuverability test" had just been instituted, and I took the test in a '74 Chevy wagon that was big enough, I believe, to warrant the President's wife [stalwart Pat Nixon, at the time, in her shabby coat] cracking a champagne bottle on its hull as it rolled off the assembly line). I know the no glee, thumbs down, frustrated despair of a failed test (you try driving a '74 Chevy wagon through tightly arrayed cones and sticks and not catching one of those polls on a sideview mirror). Some kids leave Chuck E. Cheese howling, some teens leave the BMV silently trying to pry some chrome molding off the side of the car as they're driven away by a licensed adult.

I passed the second test a week later and have never stepped inside a Chuck E. Cheese.

Anyway, as I was thinking of all this last night, I came across this wonderful clip of David Bowie and the late great Mick Ronson having fun singing "Starman" back when that Chevy wagon was still on the drawing board. Their evident joy in singing "Let all the children boogie" instantly seemed the perfect soundtrack for those dizzy tots heading for Chuck E. Cheese amid the tad-more restrained but just as happy teens earning license to drive into adulthood.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Why Should This Guy Get To Ask All The Good Questions?

Lately on various blogs I've seen a scattering of questionnaires about albums and movies that bloggers respond to themselves, which, the more you read, seem like one more way to display the writers' eclectically hip cultural inventories. I find myself drawn more to the questions rather than the answers, having been a teacher and loving the thought-provoking leading question that might inspire some good writing. My favorite music magazine, Mojo, has a couple of standard questionnaires in each issue that are pretty good, and Vanity Fair magazine has long run its "Proust Questionnaire" of famous people on its last page. The Lord Prince of these types of questionnaires, though, of course, is the estimable James Lipton (that's him above, if you're woefully ignorant), host of Inside The Actors Studio. Has there ever been a more pompous glance than when James turns from his note cards and interviewee and stares at his audience? Lipton's famous questionnaire is one adapted by him from Bernard Pivot's adaptation of the famous Proust Questionnaire--which isn't really Proust's; it only became famous, I guess, after Proust answered it (btw, Bernard Pivot is a rather mundane name, seemingly more fit for a Matt Christopher novel, but the way Lipton hams up the pronunciation you'd think it was the greatest French food invention since what they did to toast and the potato).

Anyway, I decided to concoct my own questionnaire, adapted from all of the above and then some, in the hope that one day, maybe long after I'm gone, some erudite media heavy might adapt it to his or her needs, and thus the Spitoutyourgum Questionnaire will live on in infamy, or better, in famy. Alas, I had hoped to debut the questionnaire by interviewing Jamie Farr, but he balked at some of the questions, so I just answered them myself. Here goes.

If you could be reincarnated as the non-private body part of any famous person, what would it be?

Humphrey Bogart's upper lip.

Name an album that you once dance naked to in front of a mirror, later disowned completely and sold for peanuts, and then still later found yourself weirdly nostalgic for (the music, not the naked dancing) and went to all sorts of lengths to download it.

Oklahoma, original cast recording.

'I' is the middle word in the word 'idiot'--comment.

'I'? Really? I thought it was 'Dio.'

If Heaven exists, and somehow you end up there, what is the first thing you'd expect to hear upon your arrival?

Well, being more of a visual person rather than an auditory one, and having lived my whole life in Cleveland, I suppose I'd be greeted by a hastily written sign that says, "Be back in 5 eons."

Frick or Frack?

Oh, Frock, most definitely.

Name a movie that made you cry, not for its content but because you spied the object of your desire snuggling with some twit three rows ahead of you.

Well, Tank Girl would probably be the first.

If you had nothing in your possession but these three CDs--.38 Special's Greatest Hits, The Darker Moods of John Tesh, and Dan Hill Remixed--in what ocean would you prefer your desert island to be located?

Can I invoke the fifth? Any fifth?

What is your favorite curse word?


What garment, from the musical, literary, and cinematic worlds, best expresses your personality?

Are sunglasses considered a garment? If so, Jim Keltner's. If not, any random muumuu from Mama Cass's wardrobe. Literary would have to be Benny Profane's sailor suit. I suppose The Dude's bathrobe has already been retired from this question due to overuse, so I'll go with the band-aid on the back of Marsellus Wallace's neck.

I have a suitcase filled with ten million dollars. It is yours under the condition that if you accept it a man in China will fall off his bicycle and be killed. Do you take it?

American dollars?! At this present moment in history? Live your dreams, China man. Now if you're talking gold, maybe even silver, well, then, wear a helmet, buddy. Accidents happen.

If you had the power to switch two literary characters' places, who would they be?

Moby Dick and Asta.

What is your favorite body of water?

Cheryl Tiegs, Sports Ilustrated Swimsuit Editon, circa 1974.

How you feel about your sporadic blog postings of late?

It's summer, no shit happens.

What is your favorite color?

Blue. No, green.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Best Music You've Never Heard: Ewe Too

Sometimes you find Heaven in the damnedest places. The other night my omni-challenged friend Corky insisted we go to something called a Rove. "It's sort of like an anti-Rave," Corky said, "genuinely, not artificially freaky, and the music's actually music." Cutting to the chase, that's how I wound up in a huge field in Coshocton, Ohio, listening to the most amazing music I've heard in years, produced by a rather gangly male-female duo who go by the name Ewe Too. Not to get ahead of myself, but you haven't experienced ecstasy, the real stuff, utter euphoria, until you've heard Ewe Too's "We Don't Need Another Gyro."

The Rove was pretty much just that--a huge open field with small clusters of people gathered around performing musicians. No stages, no amplification, no merch tents, no concessions stands. Just people roaming around taking in all kinds of music. More than a few of the performers actually roved while they played, Pied Piper-like, leading their audience literally up and down hills and through dales in the course of a song or two. Now if this sounds like some painful melange of Renaissance Faire, earnest folk hootenany, and a Save the Whales potluck, you're wrong. First of all, more than anything, this was fun. The performers ranged in age and style from a ten-year-old pair of fraternal Amish twins--Horace and Gertrude--who played washboard and spoons, respectively, deliriously singing nothing but old Ike and Tina Turner songs to an octogenerian banging on a battery-operated Casio keyboard singing Frank O'Hara poems. There was definitely a Luddite vibe to the whole thing (later I found out that this particular Rove was unofficially--indeed everything seemed to be unofficial--named Pardon You, But Your I-Pad Is Getting Squished 'Neath My Foot), but no overt politicking.

I could go on forever about the sights and sounds, but nothing blew me away like Ewe Too. In the shade of just about the only tree in the field, a rather large (for a Rove, I'm told) crowd of about thirty people were positively carwooning ("combination of careening and swooning," Corky called it) to the hypnotic, multi-instrument music of the duo. We arrived in the middle of a frenetic call and response between the two--"Whatcha got for me?" "Mutton Honey!" "Whatcha got for me?" "Mutton Honey!"--accompanied by some reckless banjo playing by the woman and simultaneous harmonica whooping and trance-inducing tambourine flogging by the man. Somehow, maybe the sunset's rays distracted me, but without stopping the music, within minutes she was playing accordion and he was finger-picking a twelve-string and they were harmonizing on a gorgeous hymn that was a paean to the apotheosis of ovine--"God Of Lamb" I later found out.

"We met at 'MuneCon," Bonnie, who does most of the talking for the duo, said as I chatted them up at the end of the Rove. "It's a convention of communes. I was in one called Daylight Schmaylight, Hank was in the Tent Pitchers." Both appear to be under 30--I didn't know communes still existed, enough to actually hold conventions. "We ended up alone by a creek drinking somebody's homemade wine when we discovered our connection, our destiny. My real, un-commune name is Bonnie Shepherd. He was actually born Frederick, but after he displayed his hunger for breast milk his Daddy nicknamed him Hanker, as in, (deadpan and dead on redneck accent) 'At boy sure does Hanker for boob.' Now he just goes by Hank. Hank Lamb. Get it? Shepherd and Lamb!"

"Kismet," Hank, a clean-cut Eagle Scout-looking young guy, offered with a smile as he was packing up the accordion.

"Now we're not really vegans or anything," Bonnie made clear.

"'Cept for financial necessity," Hank put in.

"I mean I love a good cheeseburger," Bonnie, laughing a little nervously, sitting against the tree trunk in her blue jeans cut off haphazardly at the knees and her plain white t-shirt and unkempt curly dirty brown hair, with that confession, was about the down-to-earthest sexiest person in one moment I have ever encountered. "But we paired up our soon discovered musical talents, our commitment to living off any known grid, and our lifelong devotion to all things sheepish and decided to leave the communes and set out for this life of joy, music, and benign ovine proselytizing."

"Why should bovine get all the press?" Hank asked, quite profoundly.

"In our own little way we're just trying to entertain people with our music, be responsible in the way we comport ourselves on this Earth, and try to inspire people to respect the lambs of this world a little more."

"Live sheeply, man," Hank intoned and then reached in a satchel and pulled out a genuine 8-track tape. "Here's our concession to commerciality. Enjoy."

Thus I now have in my possession an 8-track tape of Ewe Too, entitled, Lambent, a campfire-sounding rough recording of the duo (the wherefores of the exclusively 8-track medium are mired in communal arcana) that is the greatest thing I've heard this millennium, and maybe the previous one, too. If I only had the technology I'd post the entire thing right here and now ("Sure man, spread the fleece, spread the fleece," Hank encouraged); as it is you'll just have to take my word that you've never heard music this mesmerizing, joyous, euphoric. From the quiet, nearly ambient airs of the title track, to the raucous hoe-down of "Wrack My Brains But Please Don't Rack My Lamb," from the warm, reassuring "Sheared Wool," to the punky "That Little Lamb Ain't Mary's Anymore," from the stark "I Breathe Aries," to the anthemic "Spread That Fleece"--all with banjo, guitar, Jews Harp, saw, accordion, harmonica, fiddle, slapping thighs, recorder, tambourine, etc. dervishly accompanying two sinuous, ebullient voices--Ewe Too's Lambent just might be what God had in mind when He/She/It dreamed up the concept of music.

And then there's "We Don't Need Another Gyro," the closer, the hit single if Ewe Too were interested in such pedestrian things. Just fiddle, accordion, and two voices, starting out in a frenzy, and slowly breaking it down to a waltz then ramming it back up into a whirlwind. Soul-levitating music if there is such a thing.

Sometimes you get lucky. When I dug my long-buried first stereo system out of the wreckage of the basement and discovered that it not only still worked but that its 8-track drive still clunked hardily, I realized I'm not just lucky, I'm blessed.


Monday, August 8, 2011

The Few Become Moreso: Ex-Shaker Becomes Mover

Mostly true story: The other night I stopped to buy some orange juice at a late-nite Lawson's and who should I run into but a guy named Les Moore. I had attended Gilmour Day Camp with Les way back in the early 1970s and hadn't seen him since, but I immediately recognized the bowlegs and the nose that goes in three different directions on its journey from bridge to nostrils. Dare I say, after nearly forty years, Les has grown into his look quite a bit. So I had to introduce myself, then I had to jog Les's memory a bit, but eventually he remembered me. "Weren't much of a swimmer as I recall," he remarked. At that I was tempted to say, "Sure, Wicket Legs, but at least I could run to first base without cracking up the entire Dragoons squad," but I reminded myself that I'm now an adult, chuckled a bit, and said, "So Les, what are you up to these days?" Like any well-trained adult, he quickly brandished a business card. It read: "A Mover, An Ex-Shaker, & A Suped-Up Ford Econ-o-line." And I thought I had been the wise guy of the Dragoons. "What's this all about, Les?" He snatched the card back and said, "I used to be a Shaker, now I'm a mover." And thus began his long autobiographical tale.

"You undoubtedly recall (seems to me you won a silver ribbon one year) that one of the more popular activities at the camp was archery, under the tutelage of the legendary Brother Thaddeus. Popular among the hordes of you all, but to me and my physical peculiarities, it was despised. I remind you of Brother Thaddeus's admonition to stand up straight and to utilize the nose in aiming. Not so easy with a zig-zagging nose and wayward legs, you might, with--I assume--forty years of experiential empathy, imagine like you couldn't back then when you and your compatriots were flinging arrows of abuse on me. Anyway, one day later in the season, when you all were happily hitting the bullseye, I noticed the camp maintenance people unloading bales of straw to be stacked up behind the targets to catch any wayward, i.e. mine, shots. The usually fastidious Thaddeus didn't seem to mind that I put down my bow and sauntered over to watch and eventually lend a hand to the crew. In retrospect it was that day, that very hour, when I received my life's calling, a calling I struggled to accept for decades, but which I now fully embrace: I am here to move things.

"Now we'll skip forward about twenty years because I can already see the beginnings of sheer boredom that usually my story provokes. I wound up in Maine and after a somewhat difficult trial period, was accepted into the last community of Shakers left in the United States. You see, about the only useful thing I remember from my high school experience was a history teacher saying one day, 'Geography is destiny.' Well, I admit I've always been a bit of a literalist, so when I heard that and put two and two together with the fact that I was born and raised in Shaker Heights, Ohio, I realized that I was destined to become--not like many people would interpret the message, a rich lawyer--but a bona fide Shaker, e.g. a religious sect member, known for its furniture, mesmeric hymns, and celibacy.

"The life was grandly bland at first, just as I had imagined and hoped it would be. You have never had a good night's sleep until you've slept in a genuine Shaker bed, and you have never known spiritual contentment until you've sung 'Simple Gifts' in a circle with a dozen other people with absolutely no sexual tension in the air. Unfortunately, as great as that bed was, and those rockers, the furniture aspect started to chafe a bit. I found myself, for no apparent reason, re-arranging the furniture in the communal rooms ten, twenty times a day. Well, little did I know but I guess there's a definite Shaker Feng Shui. If you think Brother Thaddeus was a tad finicky, you should have gotten to know Mother Carmichael. At least I was the one made to move the furniture back to the original positions. Anyway, all I'll say is that you can apprentice as a carpenter for years, but that doesn't mean you'll ever be any good with hammer, nails, and levels. You wouldn't think it, maybe, but the sentence, 'Brother Moore is sure keeping us in firewood,' can wreak havoc on one's spiritual equilibrium. Now sure, my nose makes any kind of close-up, intricate work a challenge, but my furniture-making misadventures were as much spiritual as physical in origin. Furniture, by its definition, is very sedentary. And while the singing did indeed move both my soul and body, I eventually realized I needed more movement in my life.

"Like so many before me, I thought I had found the answer in schism. You see over the years it transpired that three other relatively recent Shaker converts were, for various reasons, inept at and dissatisfied with furniture making. One of them, Sister Sue, was quite the culinary miracle worker. The upshot, after months of spiritual tumult, secret meetings back of the barn, and as acrimonious a parting as Shakers can muster, was that the four of us broke off into a Shaker splinter (the ironic symbolism of that term is very complex the more you think about it, trust me) sect and opened a bakery in New Hampshire, The Shaker Bakers. 'They're merely scones and biscuits, ephemera,' Mother Carmichael had warned. 'Furniture endures.' 'Such pride, Mother C,' Sister Sue countered. 'Scones and such are small, good things. Heaven in a mere four bites. Ephemerally delicious. 'Tis a gift to be so simple, no?'

"Well, as you might have guessed, I proved equally incompetent with flour, measuring cup, and baking pan as I had been with hammer and nail. But I loved wheeling the carts of freshly baked scones from kitchen to display case, loved unloading the delivery trucks. I made an uneasy peace with my new circumstances; Sister Sue's decree that banjos were now acceptable, thus allowing Brother Doc to let it rip during worship, certainly helped. But time's passing, as it will, made me restless again. I had struck up an amiable relationship with a fellow who used to come into the bakery early every morning and order a scone and coffee. Eventually I asked him what he did for a living. He said, 'I thought it was obvious,' and pointed to the truck parked right outside. I had seen the truck for a couple years, but never really looked at it. Sure enough, there on the side, was the big sign: Two Men and a Truck, Movers Who Care. I nearly fainted. 'It really is just two men. My partner, Charlie, doesn't appreciate quality bakery items, though. He's a late sleeper. Got himself one of those beds from your brethren up there in Maine. Tough time rousing him every morning after I'm done here.'

"Well, as usual, my life-altering decision took some time, and by the time I was ready to make it, some family issues pressed on me to come home to Cleveland, which was just as well. If I was going to 'make the move,' I realized it had to be a true move. Besides, thanks to a pierced-up townie girl, I had somehow developed a taste for Techno music. And so, after the usual tumult, I left the Shakers for good and returned to Shaker Heights to fulfill my destiny. Unfortunately, the local Two Men and a Truck looked askance at my lack of experience and my bowlegs; they didn't hire me. After some pestering, though, the HR guy took some pity on me and said, 'Here, try this guy,' and handed me a yellowed business card that read, 'One Man, a Random Stoplight Squeegee Guy, and a '72 El Camino, Movers.'

"That's how I reached my final destiny. Om Finkel's an ex-Hare Krishna guy who suffers from agoraphobia--you can imagine how the whole airport thing got to him after a while. Anyway, he had just won ten thousand dollars on a scratch-off lottery ticket and was looking to upgrade his business by trading in the El Camino and ditching the temporary partners in favor of a steadier workmate. And thus, after no more than five minutes of an interview, A Mover, An ex-Shaker, & A Suped-Up Ford Econ-o-Line was born. Within two months I saved up enough to buy my very own Shaker bed--nothing like a real night's sleep--and by the opening of bow-hunting season I'll have enough to buy one of those laser-aimed bows. Om's got a cabin down near Bucyrus and we're going to bag enough venison to get us through the winter. Bliss, at last. You?"

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tales Of The Big-O: I Drive But The Other Man Don't Sleep

I'm Frank. Been driving the Lawson's Big-O run for fourteen years now. You know, "Get that juice up to Lawson's in 40 hours." I chart it. My average is 38 hours 53 minutes. Couple three years ago made it in 35 17, don't know how, but the clock don't lie, and it wasn't Daylight Savings Time switch or nothing. Even made it through the blizzard of '66 in 39 42 and Hurricane Sylvia in 39 56. Just once in those fourteen years I didn't come in under 40, 41 11, and that was the emergency run I had to make with Somrak, so I don't really count it, that lunatic Slovenian. Sure, Somrak and me are the only drivers left who remember Old Man Lawson, but we mostly keep away from one another. Guy gets his groceries from Franklin's, go figure.

Anyway, I been driving the last few months with a new guy, only goes by the name of Novo, like he's some Indian chief or something. Good driver, I'll give him that. So far we're averaging 38 17 and he never once has to stop to pee, so there's all of that. But damn the guy talks. Anything and everything from any and all angles. Spent the whole of Georgia one time talking cashews. Haven't been able to look at one, let alone eat it, since. Now I don't mind him yakking when he's driving; driving's hard work and what a guy has to do behind the wheel of a rig like this, a guy has to do. Hell, I drove four straight years with Napoli singing church hymns the whole time, I can take it. See, if I'm not driving, I'm sleeping. Takes me no longer than six minutes, seven tops, to be out cold once my driving shift's done. So it don't matter if Novo's talking strategy for the game Battleship or telling me how he filched all the Canadian change from the collection baskets at Saint Therese's for three years ("Old Father Kraft said he didn't like them Canuck coins, so I took it upon myself to, you know, cleanse the baskets of 'em; financed a nice day at Geauga Lake, including cotton candy, for the whole family, couple little cousins, too")--within a couple rounds of me going, "Uh hunh, uh hunh, yeah sure" I'm out like a baby.

But when I'm driving, I don't need and I don't want somebody yammering the whole time about carp fishing near the power plant or about the differences in the check out girls between Giant Tiger and Zayre's. Last night it got too much. I take over in Jelico for the long haul back to Cleveland and he starts right in on Mary Tyler Moore: "Mary Richards, God! Talk about squeeze as you please, hunh? Hunh? Gimme one night with her and I guarantee you that M on her wall spins into a W. The Big-O all the way, right? You know what I mean, hunh? But that's just it, she never gets laid."

"Hey, Novo," I says, "I'm trying to merge here, let me think for a second."

"Believe me," he says, never hearing me, "I seen every Mary Tyler Moore Show they ever made. You notice I don't run the weekend hauls. Church usher duty's just a cover. I can't miss good ole Mary Mary Mary! But I don't just watch, I study. I defy you to name one episode where it's clear, unaquivickly, that Mary Richards does it with another guy. Name one, go ahead."

"Look guy, please," I plead.

"See what I mean? You can't. What the hell? She's a liberated woman, of course she's having sex, right? But not on the show, not even back in that mysterious walk-in closet thing of hers. What's the deal? Even the TV executive stud guy who was on the show for three straight episodes. Any talk, any hint, any little twinkle in their eyes that they done it? Hell no! What gives? I mean, really, what gives?

I admit it, I snapped. "Look guy. You gotta be quiet while I'm driving. You're supposed to be sleeping, you know, 'One man sleeps while the other man drives,' it's in the contract."

"Contract? I never signed no sleeping contract, guy."

"Well, maybe not a contract, but it's the code. That commercial and all. Anybody ever spent twelve hours in Cleveland knows that commercial. People expect it. I been filling the gas tank at four in the morning in Valdosta and people pull up in station wagons demanding a peek inside the cab at the other man sleeping. They expect it. Somebody sees this rig on the road with one man driving and the other man yapping away, they lose confidence in the brand. Start drinking Minute Maid or some other slop. That commercial's not a legend, guy, it's the fact. Now hit the hay."

Which, I admit, was a bit bossy, maybe fighting words, but luckily Novo's just a big talker, not a pugnacious guy.

"Hell, I can't sleep anywhere but Garfield Heights, my own house, my own bed."

"Gimme a break."

"Honest, twenty-one years I haven't slept a wink anywhere but Garfield Heights. Just won't happen. Took the family down to Lookout Mountain for a week once. The drive back, one week later with no sleep, was, needless to say, kind of harrowing. Can't say it led to the divorce, but neither did it help matters. Besides, all due respect, you seeming like a nice guy and all, and clean, but I ain't bedding down on that same rucksack you just been sawing logs and drooling on for eight hours."

"Oh hell, Feighan the crazy Mick had the same issues and he just flipped the thing over and put his head the opposite way. Slept fine. Quiet, you know?"

"I wasn't aware my conversation was so irritating, Frank." Did I mention the guy used to drive for Uncle Bill's?

"It's not irritating," I says, not quite honestly, "it's just the way things are supposed to be. One man sleeps while the other man drives. Trademarked, I believe."

"Well then. Trademarked, hunh?" What followed was about precisely two minutes of silence, I know because I have this thing about noticing all the mile markers, and the silence lasted between mile 115.7 to 113.6. Now maybe the guy's got some similar thing about talking, granted. So maybe those two minutes were excrutiating for him, I don't know. All I know is before 113.5 he started again. "Now Rhoda, well, Rhoda's a different species of bird all right. She gets it, hunh? I mean really gets it. See, I got it all figured out. I'd take Georgette for a quickie, just to hear what she might sound like. And Phyllis would be my one night stand--sexy at night, but God, a pain in the morning, no? And Rhoda for a wild weekend, maybe at Atwood Lake--no need to sleep that weekend, if you know what I mean. But for long-term romance, well, it's all Mary. And believe me, it's only Mary Richards, in the Twin Cities. Laura Petrie does nothing for me, she's just so--"

"What about Sue Ann? You forgot Sue Ann Nivens. She's the feisty one."

"Sue Ann!? Betty White? You're joking, aren't you? These are the Seventies, guy. Betty White in the Fifties maybe, definitely, come to think of it. But Betty White now? My God, she's ancient!"

And so we rolled on. Kentucky was all the inadequacies of Murray Slaughter. Ohio was a blur of Ted Baxter and all the bosses Novo ever toiled for. If not for the construction around Medina, we might have cracked the Golden Fleece of 35 hours. As it is, we made it in 35 23. By then I was so drained I almost fell asleep driving myself home. I slept for twelve hours and it would have been longer if I hadn't awoken from a dream of Mary Richards leading me by the hand into that mysterious walk-in closet while Lou Grant sternly knocked from the hallway, "Mary Mary Mary! I know you're in there." And damnit, I'm out of orange juice.