So I’ve come back to Mooreland, Indiana, the place of my birth and of my rearing up and of my lying down. Also just lying, which I did a lot of as a child. Oh, I lied about all kinds of things. One of my favorite things was to watch The Andy Griffith Show (ceaselessly) and then in the evening lie to my father about the plot. I have said in many interviews that I used to copy Ray Bradbury’s short stories out in my own handwriting and then present them to my mother as if I’d just written them. Sometimes I was paid to lie (like James Frey). Once when Melinda was babysitting me I was supposed to sit in front of my plate until I ate my spinach, even if it took all night – those were my father’s words – even though he and my mother were just driving to New Castle to the grocery store. Melinda said OH HELL YES (except for the swearing which she, dear blessed precious lamb of God none of us would have ever sworn in front of our father; even suggesting so now has caused me to tremble like Muhammed Ali – but that’s what she MEANT), because forcing me to suffer in any way was Melinda’s greatest joy in life. It was her greatest joy. That, and making long beautiful chain necklaces out of the wrappers from Juicy Fruit and Fruit Striped gum. I should point out here that Melinda and I might be said to be equally stubborn. If stubborn could be represented by n, our mathematical equation would look like this: n = n.
So there I sat, in front of my horrible spinach, and of course I would have died – and I mean I would have quite literally died – before eating it, when who should show up but a group of Melinda’s friends, one of whom was named Rusty Enix. (Not his real name.) (It’s his real name.) Now I happen to believe that Rusty Enix is the hottest name on PLANET EARTH, and he, as it happened, was equally hot, and everyone had come by to see if Lindy wanted to go swimming in the gravel pit. She said to me, “I’ll make a deal with you. If you don’t tell Mom and Dad I went swimming with Rusty Enix [ed note: not his real name] I won’t make you eat that spinach.” I was all like DONE. Mom and Dad came home, Melinda was back, her hair in a towel. Dad asked if she’d made me eat the spinach and she said, “I absolutely did.” And I made a MEAN face like I was so mad at her. Win/win/win.
I came back to Indiana to try to force my sister to help me make a new quilt. Hasn’t worked so far. Mostly I came back to visit my oldest and dearest friend, Beth, who has been my best friend for nigh on 39 years. That isn’t an error. We have been have been friends for almost THIRTY-NINE YEARS, without interruption. We’ve never taken a break, we’ve never had a bad fight (we haven’t had an ugly disagreement since we were about ten years old), indeed, we have not spoken unkindly to one another since the fourth grade. This is all because Beth is an insanely superior human being (oh seriously, I know what you’re thinking – it would take a freakin’ SAINT to be friends with me that long). She’s smarter than I am, she’s a better writer, she’s a better mother, she’s been married to the same man, John, for twenty years. Her house is immaculate, she sings like an angel, she’s physically beautiful, she adores her parents and treats them with great respect, she loves and respects and is loyal to her in-laws. She even loves and is flawlessly kind to one of her two cats, Pandora, who is, forgive me, Beth, a lovely sweet cat who should be taxidermied. Pandora walks around meowing. She walks around meowing and meowing and meowing, and sometimes the reason is discernible and sometimes it is not. I shall close the curtain on Pandora now.
I also consider her husband, John, to be one of my closest friends, whether he likes it not. John runs a television station, but he was also one of the final candidates for the Assistant Dean of the College of Communications at Ball State, which is a very big deal as that is where David Letterman endowed a huge building and a bunch of other stuff. John was a David Letterman scholar and went to China when he was like twelve. That’s a lie. Not the scholar or China part, the twelve. He was a columnist for the Ball State Daily News (an award-winning college newspaper) (true!), and he was so good Beth used to cut his columns out and hang them on her refrigerator. This was before she’d ever met him and she had shall we say some other boyfriends. She was single, people, don’t be such dried up little aunties. I used to see the columns on her refrigerator and say, “You have a crush on him,” and she would say, “Oh, I do not. I just like how he writes.” She said this to me on a particular day when she had made a pizza so terrible we decided to shellac it and use it as a centerpiece for her kitchen table. She TOTALLY had a crush on him. When they finally met they got married in oh I don’t know, seventeen minutes, and during those seventeen minutes no one could reach her because they were very very busy. (They both had jobs.) I love so many things about John. He makes me laugh harder than almost anyone in the world, always at his expense. He is a damn good husband to my best friend, and that means the world to me. He’s such a good father that my daughter listed him among the best fathers she’d ever known, and he all but raised her.
Here’s a good story! After they got married, and here I am bringing us back to spinach again, like a writer! – Bethy strained a can of spinach into a pan and then she drank the juice left in the can. John watched her do it and said, “You’re pregnant.” AND SHE WAS! And that turned out to be their daughter Sarah, my beloved Sarry Berry. I won’t blog about her because it’s not cool to blog about anybody’s kids. But suffice it to say that have mercy I love that child, and their son, Daniel, who was born only three months before mine own perfect Kat. Those two children? Well, and Beth and John themselves? Suffice it to say I would take a bullet for them. I would take four.
So I’m here visiting them and Beth gave me a box of fab presents (she always gives me fab presents) and one of them was a key to their house which made me cry and cry. My eyes are filled with tears right now, thinking of it. Because when I come to Indiana I don’t really have anyplace to stay and that can break my heart if I think about it, and Beth and John figured that out and they gave me a key and, well. You see.
But one of the best things about John? He writes screenplays and they get made into movies – he’s made like 15 or 17 or something – and he never makes a big deal out of it and he hardly ever mentions it. Sometimes he’s dismissive because they’re b-level horror films (some of them) but I just can’t think of anything more tremendous. I meet people all the time who are ‘working on a screenplay,’ and they’ve been working on it for five years. Or they’ve got a screenplay in their ‘heads,’ just WAITIN TO PUT IT ON THE OLD PAPER. Not John Dalton, my friends. He goes out and makes himself the talkies. This causes me to puff up with pride like a poisonous fish. Or like a fat person, which I am gradually becoming. GO ONLINE RIGHT NOW AND ORDER HIS FILMS. If you only order one, make it SEX MACHINE, which is a Frankenstein film like nothing I have ever seen. In fact, I have never seen all of it because it scares the CRAP out of me. But don’t let that stop you! Seriously.
Beth is the same way. She doesn’t all boondoggle with the yackety-yackety about ‘going to write a novel,’ or ‘thinking about a short story,’ SHE HAS WRITTEN LIKE 429 NOVELS. She goes to workshops, she goes to conferences, she gets better and better and better, and the first time I see one of her books in print I am going to hire a marching band, a zeppelin (AND THEN I WILL SET THE ZEPPELIN ON FIRE), Shriners in their little cars, midget horses, a demolition derby, George Clooney, and a group of Aztecs. The remaining Aztec peoples are just tremendously gorgeous. Oh Beth has written short stories and essays that are so sublime, so perfectly wrought, I finish them and think I should just never write again. I should hang up the keys to my barnhole. AND? She teaches 800 million undergraduates all year – REALLY REALLY WELL, I might add – and I showed up here with my new horror novel and she read it in two days and she marked nearly every page and gave me brilliant advice. I haven’t even gone through the manuscript yet, and the two or three things she’s already said to me will change the book so much for the better.
And remember how the Greek gods considered the highest calling hospitality? Beth and John would be immortalized on Olympus.
I’m traveling with Scott, who is a way fine road trip companion. Except sometimes we fight like HYENAS. Sometimes he just gets me GOING. I have to yell at him. I am given no option. Then he defends himself and I apologize but accidentally laugh while I’m apologizing because let’s face it, he can be REALLY SILLY and in the case of yesterday he deserved to be yelled at because he was all like, This is the road we came down, and I was all like SCOTT! That was the way we came down when we were going somewhere else, not to FARMLAND where BETH AND JOHN LIVE! He said I had hurt his feelings, so I apologized but accidentally laughed. He’s just so adorable. He’s been riding John’s bicycle all over the place and has become the Honorary Mayor of Farmland! I’m so proud of him. Then today he had an accident and scraped his arm, and I am thoroughly heartbroken over his wound, the precious thing.
My old hometown, what a bright and shining star she remains. There are just a few things that confuse me. Like the signs that welcome one from the three cardinal directions (the park, the cemetery, the other one), all say the same thing: MOORELAND, Incorporated 1882. Home Of The Former Bobcats. If I were the boss of Mooreland, I simply would not continue advertising what happened to the Bobcats. Like here’s an example. This man, John MacMullen, used to a bobcat and then one day he woke up and he had a PhD in some weird medical librarian thing and he lived in CHAMPAGNE-URBANA, ILLINOIS, a city named after ALCOHOL. Here’s evidence:
I used to be a bobcat. Here’s a photograph from that time:
I was so hot then. EVERYONE wanted to date me, wanted to rub my paws, wanted me to catch the rats in their barn. And then one day I woke up and decided to spend all my time in my pajamas and my cowboy boot slippers, and where had the fur in my ears gone? I mean my FORMER EAR HAIR.
Then there’s this. In Mooreland they actually advertise Slow Children At Play. Now my sister swears that after I moved there was no need for that sign anymore, but LOOK!
They used me as the model for this sign. The likeness is rather chilling.
Of course all towns change, and as Snoop Dogg said, you can never go home again. Well, you can go. My elementary school has long since been torn down but the little trailer that housed my fourth grade classroom is still there. I decided to peek inside, and god help me. God help us all; for the first and I hope last time, I realized this was a case where the living must envy the dead.
Heading back to Durham tomorrow. Scott believes I need a bicycle. I was like, dude, back when I was a bobcat? I had a bicycle. I had tufts of hair coming out of my ears that would have made a robot weep.