I have not been to my favorite restaurant in, oh, 20 years or so. Too long, I know. Just haven’t been in that part of Virginia. But I remember the eatery as vividly as anything else from the early 1990s.
Last summer, when family troubles landed me down in the dumps, I decided I should have a little joy in my life. I got an urge, not unlike the longing a woman gets when it’s time for another child: that stirring deep inside that is at first un-recognizable but slowly gels into actual thought, and, finally, action. I wanted—no, needed—another cat to take the place of my beloved Scooter, who died, cancer-ridden, deaf, and blind, at the age of 21.
Every now and then, I think how better off America would be if we had a dictator instead of a president. I realize the nations of the world are shedding their dictators right and left, but a first-class dictator can work wonders for a country, cutting through the red tape, deporting annoying people, and eliminating the mess and expense of regular elections.
It is difficult to be objective about someone you’ve known all your life, but allow me to relate, in as dispassionate a manner as possible, my well-founded suspicions of Santa Claus. From the photographic evidence available, it appears we first met when I was 5 years old. The encounter took place on the square of my hometown, in front of the Danville State Bank, in early December of 1966. Though he introduced himself as Santa Claus from the North Pole, I would later learn his real name was Vernon McClure, and that when he was not engaged in identity theft, he operated the town’s dime store. Deception is not the basis for a positive relationship, so Santa and I were off on the wrong foot from the get-go. I would soon discover that Mr. McClure falsified his identity in order to generate business for his dime store, a violation of the public trust from which I have still not recovered.
On March 9, 1922, the writer E.B. White, unemployed and with few prospects, packed a Model T Ford and drove across America, reaching Seattle in mid-September. He stuck mainly to roads, except in the prairie states where roads were not yet built; there he took to the open fields. He did this before any reliable system of support—gas stations, hotels, restaurants, and road signs—had been established. Twenty-nine years later, Holiday magazine asked White to make the drive again, writing essays about America along the way. He made it as far as Galeton, Pennsylvania, before turning back, disenchanted and missing his wife. Holiday went to Plan B, which was John Steinbeck, who took the trip in 1960 with his poodle and wrote Travels with Charley.
This past spring, a radio evangelist named Harold Camping proclaimed that the world would end on May 21, 2011. No one got too worked up about it except for a handful of his followers who, as the date neared, quit their jobs, sold all of their earthly belongings, and waited for God to carry them to Heaven, which God didn’t do. There were many reasons to be skeptical of Harold Camping’s prognostication, chief among them the unlikelihood that God would use a radio evangelist to send the message. It didn’t help that Harold Camping had erroneously predicted the Rapture on two previous occasions.
Back in 1981, I wrote a cover story for this magazine entitled “Indy’s Inferiority Complex.” I believe the editor stole the idea from another Midwestern city, and by that I mean Columbus, Ohio, a place that allegedly suffered from the malady. My task was to conjure up reasons why we here in the Circle City thought we sucked.
Not long ago, I was speaking with a local sage, who in the course of our conversation said, “It takes a lifetime of work and wisdom to build a good life, but only one decision, hastily made, to undo it.” While I can’t recall every activity and decision that contributed to my good life, I do remember the precise moment and event that precipitated my fall—Sunday, Aug. 8, 1999, at 1 p.m., when I purchased a devious rat terrier of dubious origin.
When I taught first grade—before the Earth cooled, in 1969—I instructed 90 6-year-olds to read and write, add and subtract. Along the way, they also learned to cut with scissors and refrain from bonking each other on the head with their science books. In return, I learned to buckle boots, make tissue-paper flowers, and achieve some sort of primordial order on the playground.
Have you heard about Indy’s connection to Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island? How about the reason the eye of Monument Circle was once called the “mud doughnut?” No? Then clear a couple of hours on your schedule some Friday or Saturday and join the free walking tour offered by Indiana Landmarks, the largest statewide historic-preservation group in the country.
Once a month, my wife and I visit our public library to read the magazines we are too cheap to buy. The stories are predictable—the same actors and actresses are still in rehab, Congress is still inept, and the western U.S. will run out of water in the next few years. While the problems of Hollywood and Congress are beyond my ability to solve, the solution for the water shortage can be found in my basement, which floods on a regular basis.