What If The Des Moines Register Signed Me To Write A Column?
(At Least How I Imagine It Would Go)
Everyone has that moment where if the police would pull you over, even if you
have a perfectly good explanation of what is going on, you are completely innocent,
you are pretty sure they are not going to believe you and you might be going to jail
for a long time. It might be a neighbor or a family member that walks in on you at
just the right moment and you get caught doing something or saying something
Circumstances have teamed up against you.
I have had many of those moments, too many of those moments. There was one a
few years back when I was driving around a part of Des Moines, Iowa I was not
familiar with. I must have gotten a touch of food poisoning from the greasy spoon I
had just eaten at. My stomach started gurgling, doing summersaults and flips. I
knew something very bad was going to happen if I did not find a bathroom and
I do not like public restrooms. I hear women’s restrooms are nice. I don’t know. I
haven’t been in one since third grade. Men’s restrooms can be horrific. I hate them.
I am pretty sure Cormac McCarthy’s inspiration to write The Road came from using
a men’s restroom. I will do anything not to use one if I can help it.
It was then I remembered a friend who lived in that area of Des Moines. I had only
been to his place a couple of time, but I hadn’t been there in a few years, not since
he had gotten married.
A passionate guy, he had named first son Brett after the Green Bay Packers
quarterback Brett Favre. When Favre had signed to play for Green Bay’s mortal
enemy, The Minnesota Vikings, at the end of his career, my friend grew so angry
that he could not even say the former Packers mainstay’s name. In turn, he simply
referred to his son as “boy” for that year.
When his wife became pregnant with their second child, his wife put her foot
down and told him she was not going to put up with such tomfoolery again. This
child was not going to be named after a sports star or something dumb like that.
They had another baby boy, whom they decided to name James. They could not
decide on a proper middle name. In the hospital, as she held the newest member of
their family in her arms, he asked if she might consider for a middle name a couple
of names from his family history. He asked what she thought of the name Kirk. It
was acceptable to her. The other name was a bit strange, but he had loved his
great-grandfather Ty, which was short for Tiberius. Since they were family names,
she agreed to name her second son, James Tiberius Kirk.
It was at the baptism, after several people told her it was wonderful to see a young
woman that would humor her husband by allowing him to name their child after his
favorite science-fiction, the captain of the starship Enterprise (NCC-1701), William
Shatner, James T. Kirk. She was not a fan of Star Trek, or, as she called it, that spacey
show. She had no clue. So, there were good reasons I never visited him after the “I
Still, when nature calls, it calls, and nature was not just calling, it was pounding
extremely loudly on my bladder’s door. I took a left and I took a right, drove down a
few blocks until the houses began to look familiar. It had been well over half a
decade, but I knew his house anywhere. It looked like he must have painted it
recently, which made me giggle to myself, because she must have had him on a
pretty short leash after some of his antics.
A little bent over, I sprinted to the porch stoop and rang the doorbell. I rocked back
and forth, repeating to myself, “Open the door. Open the door. Open the door.” I
rang it again. Waited, a few moments, rang it again. I was actually starting to sweat.
I don’t know if you have ever been in that kind of situation, but somewhere in the
back of your mind is the fuse burning in the opening credits of Mission Impossible
and the theme music. I began shifting from one foot to the other.
It began to dawn on me that my friend and his family were not home. I knew that
there was no way I was making it back to the car and find a convenience store
without something extremely bad happening. I thought about doing something
very bad in my friend’s backyard, it was that painful, but I could see his elderly
neighbor mowing his yard down the street. As I kind of half-waved at the old man, I
remembered that my friend hid a key somewhere in case he got locked out of his
place or someone lost their key.
I began searching under the various flowerpots his wife must have set out in front
of the place. I looked for one of those rocks that looked like it would be hiding a key.
Finally, I felt along the doorframe. In those couple of minutes, I became extremely
religious, offering up some of the most sincere prayers ever uttered. It is said there
are no atheists in foxholes. I don’t know about that. I do know there are no atheists
when something resembling the Lyndon Johnson little girl picking the petals off a
flower and then a mushroom cloud ad happens. I promised I would even be willing
to spend the rest of my life working for free at a nudist leper colony/dance club.
Then I found the key hanging on the window frame.
No key had ever been put in a lock and turned so quickly. I shouted out my
friend’s name, just in case he was actually home and was just too lazy to answer the
door as I ran through the house while somehow doing the John Wayne walk. Now, I
am over 6’0” tall, but I am sure I was about 4’2” because I was so bent over when I
hit the bathroom door. It is claimed that the Maharishi University can teach a
person to levitate. I did that that day. I don’t remember walking across the
bathroom tiles or even the cool feeling of porcelain against the skin, just joy and
bliss. There was an angelic chorus singing.
When the crisis was over, I breathed a little easier and grabbed a magazine sitting
on the counter next to the toilet. Time for a little reading. After a couple of pages, I
kind of looked up and thought to myself, “Wow, my friend must have redecorated
his bathroom. I guess that is what happens when you have a woman in your life. It
was really fancy. He must have spent some real coins on this remodeling. It was
then that I noticed the family photograph sitting next to where the magazine was. It
was not my friend’s family.
There are those moments when you brain disconnects as you process the
information. Instead of a light bulb popping above your head, it is the spinning
multi-color wheel that appears on your computer. It slowly dawned on me that I
was not in my friend’s house. I HAD BROKEN INTO A STRANGER’S HOUSE TO USE
THEIR TOILET! Images of police kicking in the bathroom door, guns drawn, and me,
handcuffed, being frog marched to a waiting squad car, my pants still around my
ankles, filled my head. You would be surprised how quickly you will make your way
across a house and back to your car!
Still, I know that someday I will get my dream job at the Des Moines Register
writing a Lewis Grizzard/Erma Bombeck/Dave Barry type of humor column, except
with a great deal more Norwegian repression, no tipping, and a last name no one
can pronounce correctly. The contract will be put in front of me. My lawyer brother
will insist that he look over the contract one last time. Of course, I will have to
excuse myself to use the restroom.
I will return to the editor’s office, sit down again, reach for the pen, and, as I am
about to put pen to paper, the editor will sniff the air and get a look on his face like
he is having a Vietnam War flashback.
“Sniff, sniff. I know that smell from somewhere? Oh, my God, dear God, my house
when I first moved to Des Moines. It lingered for days, months. We had to repaint
the entire house. We tore up the floorboards. We even called in a Catholic priest to
perform at exorcism. Nothing worked. We had to sell the place at a loss. YOU! It was
YOU! You bastard.”
He would then jump across his desk and try to strangle me until security guards
drag me off by the feet, as I vainly try to grasp at the contract to sign it. While I have
no clue whose house it was that I visited all those years ago, I know this is how it is
going to end because this is my life.