Mad Hatter: “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?”
“Have you guessed the riddle yet?” the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.
“No, I give up,” Alice replied. “What’s the answer?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” said the Hatter.
We have show-and-tell at St Mel’s once in a while, but nobody ever brings anything anybody whatever. Some guy brought his grandfather once, who brought broken bits and pieces from World War Two, but none of it made any sense. When my turn came, I brought my Uncle Gray. He wore a black top hat, a black cape, and brought a bag full of boomerangs.
Uncle Gray told our science class he came to the show-and-tell because it was the birthday of the boomerang, the day it was invented. “What do you say about that?” he asked.
When nobody said anything, he said, “Many happy returns!”
All my uncles on my dad’s side of the family went to St. Joe’s High School on the east side, before it became St. Joe’s-Villa Angela, a coed school. They are all Lithuanians, even though they were born here, because grandma and grandpa came from there. They ran away when the commies took over. The had to run for their lives. It wasn’t a joke, like Mexicans walking into Texas and picking cotton. Our name used to be Grabaitis, but now it’s Gray. The old neighborhood went ghetto and the boy’s school and girl’s school both got so squeezed and small and broke they had to paste them together.
All my other uncles on my stepmom’s side went to St. Mel’s. My stepmom’s family is all German, from some place called East Prussia, that doesn’t even exist anymore. Some of them are bigwigs at the school now, although it doesn’t make any difference to me. Most of my friends know my Uncle Ted is on the Board of Trustees, but no one ever says anything about it. Sometimes I say something, if I have to.
Uncle Gray went to St. Mel’s. He’s one of my favorite grown-ups. He’s not totally crazy, although he’s totally funny, and thankfully never pulls me aside to give me advice, which is unusual for an adult. Grown-ups always have advice up their butts. Only crazy people take themselves seriously, but that’s them that rule for you. They think they know everything. Uncle Gray’s the boomerang man. He holds the record for the world’s biggest boomerang collection. He makes them, sells them, and lives them. He knows everything about them. He beds down with them, too.
He sleeps with a boomerang in his bed.
Uncle Gray is over fifty years old, but he doesn’t suck, which is remarkable. Most grown-ups are unreasonable because they don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to any of us right now. They’re outdated out-of-touch obsolete. They’re over the hill. They can be unreasonable Little League dictators.
It definitely sucks to be forty years old. Why? Because you’re old, that’s why. You get up in the morning feeling just plain terrible. Thirty-years-old? It still kind of sucks. Most of the time you probably get up in the morning feeling terrible, too. It’s off to work you go. You’re not young anymore. When you’re old you don’t have fun most of the time. YOU WON’T! YOU CAN’T!
You could have fun, maybe, but only in ways that wouldn’t be all that great. Never look back, I say, you just get bitter. When you’re a kid you can play with GI Joe’s for hours on end. You never think anything of it. Two years later you’re older and you don’t play with them anymore. When you find them again later on you’re, like, oh, MY GOD! I used to have so much fun with them. IT’S ALL GONE!
Old people can’t have that kind of fun, the kind of fun that’s just all in. For them, whatever they’re doing isn’t fun, it’s important. Important to them! They just want to get it done, whatever it is, like getting it done is life insurance. It’s not, but you can’t tell adults anything. They NEVER listen.
It’s the same with video games. Most grown-ups have never played video games. They’re still stuck in their old stuff, like reading newspapers and watching TV. That’s all done. It’s been destroyed by video games and online.
Grown-ups don’t know how great video games are. They have no idea. They’re always saying we need to get up and do something. “Go outside, get some fresh air.” They think video games are stupid. If they are, then life is stupid. It’s not that video games are life itself, but they are definitely a good part of the good life. You can be the lamest kid stumbling down the hallways of St. Mel’s, but when you go home and get on a video game and are storming Brothers in Arms, like you purely own it, you can totally forget about regular life.
When you make friends online through video games, they’re exactly like real friendships. The only thing separating you from them is a computer screen. You can talk to people you don’t even know, and they can be your homeboys. You never meet them in real life, but you are still real friends. I can be playing somebody who lives in Montana and be close buddies with them. For real, Barnaby.
You can talk to them on Skype. You hear what they sound like and see what they look like. You just don’t know each other in real life, that’s all, even though it’s still the same. I like it that you can be friends with people you’ve never been in the same room with. For me it’s easy. For grown-ups, they can’t, they’re so suspicious. They’re always looking over their shoulders. They always think something bad is going to happen any minute.
There’s a barrier in the computer, which is the BARRIER, but it’s the doorway, too. Your video game friends don’t really know you. You can be nobody to everybody and still be friends with somebody, somebody who in the daytime might not give you the time of day. You can be somebody on the computer screen, not just a ghost, but a Ghostbuster. You become more than just a nobody.
Video games aren’t an easy thing to get into when you’re older. Old people don’t understand them, at all. They grew up fishing in the creek. They’re still thinking the jump kick is the trickiest combo to master. But sometimes they’ll bite into the Jill sandwich. My Uncle Bruce bought an Xbox 360 last year. It was surprising, since the only game he ever had before that was Forza Motorsport 4. That’s it, that was it!
Uncle Bruce, Uncle Seth, and my grandfather are all deadset into cars. They work on old cars and grandpa sells them. Forza Motorsport is the only game grandpa’s actually good at. It’s the only game my uncles are good at, too. Anyone would think Uncle Seth might be better since he’s still a paperboy, even though he’s forty-years-old, so his brain hasn’t gone totally grown up. It’s something they can relate to, and it’s simple, so they have a lot of fun with it.
When you’re fifty, you’re old. You’re a geezer, too bad. It gets worse the older you get. God, yeah, it truly DOES! If you’re sixty-years-old I feel bad for you. You can’t have fun, for sure. There is no more fun for you. When old people are old, they think anything new has got to be bad news. The bad news is you’re sixty!
They watch a truckload of TV, but watching TV isn’t necessarily a good thing. I watch TV to see the playoffs, football, basketball, but other than that, no TV. You sit there and don’t do anything. It’s all millionaires running around and throwing a ball to each other, or kicking it, or dropping it. I get a kick out of watching adults cheering screaming crying their eyes out about millionaires winning and losing their ballgame. It’s just a sweet wad of Chinese chewing gum for your eyes. Other than that, ESPN is dead-brain time.
The older you get the less fun you’re going to have. It’s a fact. When you’re seventy you’re just watching life, like it’s a fake-a-billy reality show, getting through it day by day. You’re there, breathing, but you’re not a part of it. YOUR DAY IS DONE. When you’re eighty you’re beyond old, of course, but I don’t think you can even possibly care anymore.
Some adults are happy, but not many. It’s less than half, I would imagine. It might even be less than that. When you’re young you’re mostly happier than not because you get over things easier. You just roll with the punches. Some can’t, of course, but most can. When you’re old you’re used to one thing, and when something else happens, well, then you’re stuck and sad.
When I get older, if that ever happens, I’m going to stay the same, which is on the go, on the spot, and as easy on the eyes as I am. I’m going to try to get old as slowly as possible. When I’m thirty-years-old I’m going to have kids and play video games with them. When I’m forty-years-old I’ll be a parent, driving my kids to school, but I’ll still have fun. I’ll play games with them and let them do what they want.
I’ll have some ground rules, of course. They’ll have to play sports. They’ll have to listen to what I say.
When I’m fifty and my kids are gone, I’ll have a butt load of house parties in my giant bathroom, on the patio, and spilling into the backyard. I’ll still be married, I think, and my wife will like the parties as much as I do. I don’t know what will happen when I’m sixty-years-old. Either I’ll keep going, have grandchildren, or die on the spot. It’s going to be a shock, for sure.
Making plans for the future is a wagon train of wasting time. A year ago, I didn’t know I was going to St. Mel’s. I knew I was going to Lakewood High School, at least I thought so. You shouldn’t make plans because they can change at a moment’s notice. It’s just like Blackie, my shifty-eyed black in it for himself cat. He might be in the kitchen and thinks he’s going to take a plate of snacks when no one’s looking, but then I sneak attack him. He had his plans until I snatched the snacks away.
But Blackie’s a wily smart freeloader. He’s free of pains and plans most of the time, free of cares. He sleeps and eats and runs around and sleeps some more. It’s the Life of Riley.
My whole day is always planned out, from the minute I wake up, Monday through Friday. My Riley is gone. We have our agenda for the day every day at St. Mel’s. I know everything I’m going to do and when I’m going to be doing it. I know everything I’m going to be doing, because Monday through Friday there are a blackboard of rules in my face.
I stop at my locker at the same time every day after the same period. I just do the stuff I have to do, the same thing every day, because that’s what people who are smart do. It’s like the killers who want to kill people. They are some of the dumbest people, but they are smart, too. They have a plan and execute it. Some people walk into a store and rob it. They go in and start shooting, but they don’t have any idea of what’s going to happen.
Most of the time they get screwed over. They get the crappiest lawyers, for sure. But other people have a plan for what they are doing. Those are the smart ones, especially those who want to kill other people for a reason. At St. Mel’s it’s all about having a reason. We have plans, and we execute them, but nobody notices anything. We have a set thing, our school periods, and we execute that because we have to.
Mr. Rote, my religion teacher, says if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. Maybe he’s right about that. All the old people in the world made a crap load of plans when they were young and look what happened to them.
Uncle Gray is funny and smart, ridiculously smart, in fact. He’s smart in physics, which is why he’s good at throwing and catching boomerangs. He tosses boomerangs like nobody’s business. He has four world’s records in boomeranging and he owns thirty thousand boomerangs. He’s the BOOMERANG MAN!
Last year during Earth Day at Lakewood Park the first fifty kids who lined up at his booth got a free boomerang. Uncle Gray makes them in China and sells them. He makes a bucket of money. He gave away the paperback backyard kind. They’re the kind that don’t go far and always ricochet back.
Uncle Gray was married, and re-married, and re-married some more. He was married to Morky, who was Korean and had a small head, and they had five kids. Two of them were twins, Lizzie and Ali. I called Lizzie the larger because her head was bigger than her mom’s and I called Ali whatever else there was to call her. When Morky left and never came back, all of their five kids were under the age of five. Uncle Gray married somebody else right away, but they got divorced in no time. He tried again, but no luck for him. Now he goes from girlfriend to girlfriend. He’s a great guy.
They all stay around for a couple of years and then leave.
When I brought Uncle Gray to show-and-tell my science teacher Mr. Strappas showed us slides about how boomerangs work. We all went out to the football practice field and threw them around into the sky. Uncle Gray put on his old-fashioned black top hat. He threw his black cape over his shoulder.
Everybody loved him, except for Mr. Rote.
“Why do you think Jesus isn’t coming back?” Uncle Gray, smiling and smirking, asked Mr. Rote, who had wandered outside with his guitar. Mr. Rote shrugged his shoulders.
“He wasn’t nailed to a boomerang!” I think everybody wanted to laugh, but nobody did. I don’t know why Uncle Gray asked Mr. Rote that. It was like he wanted to get under his skin. Mr. Rote tried to laugh it off, but he grunted instead.
Before we went back to class Uncle Gray took something out of his duffel bag and threw it over the bleachers. We all waited, but nothing happened. It didn’t fly back.
“What do you call a boomerang that doesn’t come back?” he asked.
“A stick,” said Mr. Strappas, walking like a champ toward us from the far side of the bleachers with a stick in his hand.
Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus