April 26, 2005

The Nicest Things Anyone Has Ever Said to Me

This is going to be so blatantly fishing for compliments that I have to apologize in advance.

I have a t-shirt, white with a cartoon drawn in sparse black lines: a picture of a road forking in the desert. The signpost pointing one way says, “Writers.” The signpost pointing in the other direction says, “Fun Times.”

I hardly ever wear it because I feel embarrassed wearing a shirt that says I’m a writer. When I first bought it – probably more than fifteen years ago – I wore it to a writers’ party in Madison where a lot of my friends were present. They all laughed appreciatively and asked where I got it. (I bought it in Minneapolis, at a store on Fourth Street in Dinkytown – Dylan’s “Positively Fourth Street.” BTW this is the third time I’ve mentioned Dylan online this morning.) I think every one of us felt that the cartoon said something accurate about himself or herself – though not necessarily about our friends.

Yesterday afternoon I wore it and one of my sons, Agent 95, who can’t leave any printed item unread – especially a cartoon – read it and pondered. “Why are writers and fun times pointing in the opposite direction?”

I tactfully explained to him something about the stereotypical view of writers.

And he said, “Well, they obviously weren’t thinking of you when they wrote that.”

I was thunderstruck. People have said many nice things to me in my lifetime, but no one had ever accused me of being a fun guy before. I asked him if he meant it or if he was being ironic. With youthful insouciance he assured me he meant it, and then he went back to brushing his hair.

I kissed him on the head and went to another room to brood about it.

It reminded me – as things often do – of something that happened to me in an earlier life. I was at the playground in Madison with Agent 81. He must have been seven, or maybe a little younger. It was a modern playground with wood plank equipment and wood chips on the ground. Lots of things to test kids’ balance: a balance beam on springs, an arched plank bridge that shook when you walked on it.

Bouncing forward and back on the bridge, for some reason he started asking me about the afterlife. We had recently seen a rainbow – maybe that’s what set him thinking -- and indeed, as I watched him cross the arched bridge, it began to look like a rainbow to me.

I gave him the usual fumbling set of adult alternatives. Some people think there’s a heaven, some people think you come back in a different form, some people think you become part of the universe…

And he said, “I hope there’s a heaven, because then we can play together forever.”

I hope so too, Johnny.