Once upon a noontime soggy,
While I dithered, stunned and groggy,
Over many a curious item of social market lore—
As I boggled, nearly dizzy,
Suddenly I wondered, “Is he—
Is he really knocking loudly on my chamber door?
Some old kibbitzer,” I muttered,
“Knocking on my chamber door:
Milo Bung, and nothing more.”
Here I opened wide the chamber door.
In stepped, with many a flirt and flutter, my old classmate, a direct descendant of Æthelred the Unready and fourth cousin to Slats Grobnik.
“Milo!” I complained. “What brings you here?”
“Fine way to greet an old friend,” he harrumphed.
“Well, look, old friend, I’m really busy.”
“You—busy?” He said it like it was an oxymoron.
“Trying to dope out which buttons to push in my email server to set up automatic delivery of my reader magnet through the double opt-in gizmo.”
His eyes grew wide. “I arrived in the nick of time. You could hurt yourself on stuff like that, without supervision.”
“It’s the price we artists pay.” I sighed. “Was there something you wanted?”
He grinned and nodded. “An autograph. It’s not every day a guy knew a famous author from way back.”
With a becoming blush of modesty, I pointed out, “Price of Passage won’t be published until August 23. We’re not even taking pre-orders yet.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“You know,” I said, “so I can sign your copy.”
“Oh,” Milo said, “don’t bother yourself about that.” He rummaged in his ratty old Sorbonne hoodie and pulled out a wrinkled cocktail napkin. “Just put your Hancock right here.”
I gave him the fish eye. “What about the book?”
“I’ll tape this to the inside cover,” he said. “Gotta strike while the iron is hot. If I wait till August 23 and stand in line at your launch party, I’ll get an inferior specimen.”
“Writer’s cramp,” he explained. “Just sign here.” He thrust the napkin and a black Sharpie into my hands.
In a moment of weakness, I complied.
“Thanks,” Milo said, and skedaddled.
Now I can get back to banging my head on my laptop. One must suffer for art.
Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Writer
Author of Price of Passage—A Tale of Immigration and Liberation, due on August 23, Lord willing.
No one was more nonplussed than Your New Favorite Writer when Milo Bung, after his narrow brush with mortality in the Marines, came home and married Muriel Blankenship (Class of ’62).
“Muriel Blankenship!” I expostulated at the time. “Why HER, of all people?” I prophesied that Milo would rue the day he married Muriel Blankenship. Maybe that’s why I was not named Best Man. As consolation they did, in the end, permit me to ush at the wedding.
Now, nigh onto sixty years later, Milo seems about to admit that I WAS RIGHT!
It’s all about hardware.
The Hardware Challenge
“You know I’m not much of a do-it-yourselfer or home repairman,” Milo said as we stood in his garage. “But over the years a man accumulates fasteners, lubricants, hand tools, power tools, blades, bits, and all sorts of oddities.” Milo swept his arm inclusively over a small workbench in a back corner of the garage, behind Muriel’s gardening tools.
When a man, through no fault of his own, amasses such a treasure hoard of metal and plastic doodads, he naturally takes a proprietary interest in his collection. He becomes a curator.
“Take metal fasteners, for example,” Milo said. “I’ve got here nails, screws, nuts and bolts, for starters. Each of these has subdivisions. For instance, there are common nails, roofing nails, finishing nails, galvanized nails, and so on. Two-penny, four-penny, six-penny, eight-penny, ten-penny, et cetera, et cetera. Round-head, flat-head, pan-head, oval-head screws; slotted, Philips, square drive and star drive; wood screws and sheet metal screws; steel, brass, chrome—you get the idea. I’ve got stove bolts and carriage bolts, square nuts and hex nuts. Don’t forget wing nuts. Plain washers and lock washers. And specialized fasteners like toggle bolts, hooks and eyes, turnbuckles. Not to mention turn buttons for storm windows.” He paused to take a breath.
“Turn buttons for storm windows?” I asked.
“I told you not to mention them,” he said. “Anyway, you can see these things all come in various sizes and finishes. And what about little old things like cold chisels, offset screwdrivers, and old-fashioned seat reamers for washer-type faucets?”
“Nobody uses those anymore, do they?”
He fixed my eye with a gimlet stare. “Do they not? I really wouldn’t know. But, you need a plumbing snake? I’ve got one.”
“Your point being?” I inquired.
“My point being, Muriel wants me to re-organize all this stuff. Which is secret code for, throw it out.”
“Throw it out?” I gasped. “When you’ve spent a lifetime collecting it? Those hundreds of trips to the hardware store, where you come home with things you wind up using only a part of, or not needing at all? And then you need to keep them, in case you ever don’t need them again?”
Milo nodded. “Exactly,” he said.
“Throw out those little useful parts out of gizmos you dismantled and threw away—but you kept those unique little parts, because you never know when you will need them?” I was in high dudgeon.
“Little electric motors from disused exhaust fans—”
“Curtain rod brackets for curtain rods of a style that’s no longer made—”
“Yes! And what about—”
“I know,” Milo said. He picked up an I-kid-you-not metal Hills Brothers coffee can and rattled it, with a satisfying jingle from inside. “Every kind of miscellaneous and odd-sized screw, bolt, pin, and toggle known to man. A mix you can just swirl your hand around in and maybe come up with the exact thing you need to re-attach the downspout where you snipped it loose to put in the rain barrel.”
My head swam. “And, let me get this straight. Your wife, the esteemed Muriel Blankenship Bung—”
“May her name ever be whispered with reverence—”
“Muriel wants you to throw these things out?”
Milo sighed. “Or reduce them by at least half, and then put the rest in some logical order that makes sense to her. . . .”
I could see where he was going with this. “Or to some other random observer who—”
“Did not have a hand in acquiring, collecting, and arranging all these items in the first place.”
The Many Faces of Evil
O the horror. The revered Muriel, bent on a heedless path of destruction. Never mind that she has given Milo the best six decades of her life and three fine children who are outstanding citizens. Forget that she has saved Milo’s bacon any number of times and flawlessly guided him through complex social situations with never the slightest faux pas. She is about to become a prime villainess—a veritable Cat Woman of the near West Side—by suggesting that the amorphous pile of metal parts occupying the rear corner of the garage, which Milo has spent six decades amassing, be reorganized “before it gets out of hand.”
Gentle Reader, we ask you: When does Muriel think it was ever IN hand?
The hardware situation was already spinning out of control when young newlywed Milo came home from the hardware store proudly bearing those brackets to hang the curtain rods on, and a blister pack of little brads to poke them in with.
There were bound to be parts left over—extras that anyone would be a fool to throw away. This crisis was fore-ordained.
Now, when he can no longer figure out how to tune his TV set, and when starting up a rental car has become a dark mystery, that pile of seemingly random junk in the garage is one of the last arenas where Milo still knows what’s what.
And Muriel Blankenship Bung, Class of ’62, wants to take it apart, throw the best half away, and put the rest back together upside-down and backwards.
“Stand up for yourself!” I told him. “Don’t trade your birthright for a mess of helpful organizational hints.”
“Well,” said Milo. “I don’t know. If I don’t clear out this junk, the kids’ll just have to do it, a few years from now.”
I was mowing my front yard yesterday when Milo Bung walked by. He stopped in the street and called out something. I had to shut down the mower.
“What’s that?” I shouted.
“You don’t have to yell. I just asked what you were doing.”
I pointed at the machine. “What does it look like I’m doing?”
“I mean, is that a hobby with you, or what?”
“I don’t enjoy it, if that’s what you mean. It gets old after the first hour.” Milo knows full well that when I’m done mowing my small front yard, a huge back yard still awaits.
“Why don’t you get you a rider? You should see that little X570 of mine.”
“Got a 54-inch deck.” Milo spread his arms five feet wide. “Zip, zip. Done in ten minutes.”
“Good for you,” said I, mopping my brow with a bandanna.
“Nothing runs like a Deere,” Milo advertised.
I nodded. “Well, nice talking with you.” I yanked the starter rope to reawaken my Toro’s inner bull.
He said something which must have been “Good-bye” and waved at me as I stepped off, chasing the self-propelled mower across the grass. There was a lot of turf yet to whack.
In the 1950s I learned to cut grass with a kid-powered mower. You had to open the oil cap and squirt in oil from a can to lubricate the reel, like Dorothy loosening up the Tin Woodsman, then use a screwdriver to adjust the cutter bar so the blades would just graze it as they went around. Then all you did was push.
When grandpa died in 1957, we inherited his rotary power mower—a puny thing by today’s standards. Since then, I have decapitated untold billions of grass blades, using several generations of gas-powered, walk-behind, 22-inch rotary mower.
As I told Milo, I do not enjoy cutting the grass. But I do enjoy having cut it.
There are few feelings as grand as sitting in my zero-gravity lawn chair on a summer afternoon, sipping iced tea and reading a nice book, smack dab in the middle of my new-mown lawn. Master of all I survey.
Besides this giddy prospect, there is a practical reason for mowing. It’s about the only exercise I get, besides tennis, in the summer. I put six thousand steps on my pedometer just by mowing the lawn. Some weeks I do it twice, or even thrice.
I could buy a lawn tractor or, better yet, hire the job done. But whenever I consider such a step, I think of friends who have a lawn service. They all seem to be falling into decrepitude, though some are younger than I, by months or years.
It boils down to this: I dislike mowing the lawn but am terrified to stop.
A polar vortex has hovered over Madison for a month or more. Last week it sagged south enough to humiliate the Lone Star State. Blasted with snow, ice, and temperatures in the 20s and 30s, the Texas power grid collapsed, causing several days of misery and danger for some three million Texans, including friends and relatives of mine. I hope and pray for their safety.
There is, believe me, no gloat in it when I say: Our snow is deeper, and our temperatures are colder. We in Wisconsin are better prepared for winter, that’s all, since we are blessed with so much of it every year. Still, the past month has been a trial, even for us.
We’ve been continuously below freezing, below zero much of the time—rivaling the record winter of 1978-79. We’ve had forty inches of snow, which is only a little above average for this time of year. But most of it came in January and February, and during this long cold stretch practically none has melted. It towers up to four or five feet on both sides of every street and sidewalk. Even in the dead center of our yard, it’s probably two feet deep.
With day and night temperatures clustered around zero, I’ve chosen to huddle indoors. Even in my house it’s cold. But yesterday the mercury rose to nineteen degrees Fahrenheit, and the sun shone. It was past time to exercise my new hip, so I walked all the way around the block.
A neighbor’s window sign exhorted me: FIND JOY.
My friend Bill Martinez once told me: “Even if an experience is not particularly enjoyable, or even if it’s perfectly miserable, we can still enjoy it.” I’ve thought about that for more than fifty years and have concluded he is right.
We enjoy something by taking joy in it. And the only way to take joy in something is to put joy into it. Joy comes from us, from within. It’s already there, a free gift from God. Use it or lose it. If you don’t exercise your joy muscle, it goes to flab.
So my neighbor’s sign reminded me to work on that as I walked. I’ll admit there are circumstances under which it might be harder to find joy. But strolling yesterday through a snowcape with my face turning red from the cold was a piece of cake. Joy enough for anyone.
My neighbors had shoveled their sidewalks, making my trek easy. The new hip limbered up well. With my Duluth Trading Company jacket, my scarf, gloves, stocking cap, and my sunglasses against the snow-glare, I was the perfect neighborhood tourist. The scenes through which I passed made me proud to be a Madisonian.
Southerners see photos of snow-covered landscapes and marvel at the beauty. Northerners know that a day or two after it falls, the snow is gray-brown, dingy, slushy—befouled by man, machine, and pet. This month, however, is an exception. Our neighborhood really is beautiful.
Forty inches of snow has fallen two or four inches at a time, once or twice a week. With continuously low temperatures it does not melt. A weekly or semi-weekly dusting of new snow keeps our city decked out like a New England Christmas card.
I saw neither hide nor hair of my old school chum, Milo Bung. Too cold for him, no doubt.
A neighbor has a nifty black Ford F-150 pickup truck. It sits outdoors in his driveway. I suppose other things occupy his two-car garage. Still, no worries. An orange heavy-duty drop cord ran from under the garage door to the front of the truck. He has what we all had in the old days: An electric tank heater, dipstick heater, or lower radiator hose heater to make sure that warm water or oil circulates through the engine block and keeps the engine primed for a trouble-free winter start. Good man.
I rounded the corner near home, and boy, was it good to get back inside. Baby, it’s cold outside.
Swept up in the mad whirl of life, I did not see this coming.
It was Milo Bung who informed me.
He stood on my front stoop in casual clothes and formal mask. Even Milo has learned to mask up. He shivered in the pool of arctic air we have lately inherited from the Canadians. “Well? You just going to stand there and let me freeze to death?”
“Oops, sorry.” I opened the door and let him slip inside.
He stamped his feet and adjusted his mask. That is to say, he took it off. He’s been in a bubble for months and so have I. We’re both of an age where we’ll be next in line for the vaccine.
“What’s got into you?” Milo demanded. “Did you actually not know last night was New Year’s Eve?”
“I slept through it, like most other things. To tell you the truth, I was preparing to suck the remaining joy out of 2020, but now you tell me the chance is gone.”
“Wake up and smell the coffee, pardner.” That was a hint.
“Come on, I’ll make some.” I led him into the kitchen and sat him down. “The years go by too fast.Où, I ask you, sont les neiges d’antan?” This was a bit of Gallic ju-jitsu, intended to trap him into a long-winded discussion of an irrelevant subject.
Dear Reader, perhaps I’ve neglected to mention that after his unfortunate stint in the Marine Corps, Milo picked up a master’s degree in French Medieval Literature. So he would know I merely meant to ask, “Where are the snows of yesteryear?” But he would not be able to resist a mini-lecture on François Villon. That was my theory, you see.
Milo surprised me. “Où? I’ll tell you où. They’ve been piling up around our ankles and knees for years. Now we’re up to our ribcages in them, and I can tell you, they’re going for the throat.” I had never seen such intensity from my old school chum. But I shared his concern.
Let me explain, Dear Reader, in case you, through no fault of your own, are among the metaphor-impaired. My old friend the French scholar was referring to years. The separate snowfalls are just harbingers of time. And indeed the years do pile up around one, just as successive snows will eventually swamp the hardiest mountain cabin.
I poured coffee and set it before him. “What do you propose we do about them, Milo—all these neiges?”
He took a sip, made a grateful face, and gave me a canny look. His eyes measured me, from the top of my snowy head to the gnarled hand resting on the curved handle of a cane, and on down to its rubber tip, planted on the linoleum near my questionable legs.
“You’ll be all right,” he said. “You’ve got baggage to throw overboard yet. Go up to the hospital in a couple of weeks, get that hip replaced, and by spring you’ll be good for another fifty thousand miles.”
I smiled. “It’s wonderful what they can do now, isn’t it?”
He frowned. “Me, I got nothing like that left to improve. I’ll just have to get by on sheer force of personality.”
“Gee, Milo, what if you run out?”
He scowled. “I’ll make up something else, you slippered old pantaloon.”
I stared at him through the spectacles on the end of my nose. He had assured me of fifty thousand more miles, but from where I tottered, fifty thousand didn’t seem like all that many.
Nonetheless, when he took his homeward way, I was cheered. After all, I had received encouragement from no less than Milo Bung, direct lineal descendant of Aethelred the Unready, and third cousin to Slats Grobnik.
The young man peered at me over his designer mask. “Do you have a cell phone?”
He stared. His brow wrinkled. “Uh . . . wait here.” He ducked back inside.
There was a sign on the door that warned:
“NO ENTRY. Call On Cell Phone.
Staff Will Meet You In Parking Lot.”
You’d think they were dealing crystal meth.
(In the interest of full disclosure, Gentle Reader: I do have a cell phone.
(But I don’t use it.
(It’s an old clamshell on a $13-a-month plan. It lives in my car, awaiting that moment when I may drive into a snow bank and need help getting out. But who, in the meantime, needs to know of its existence?)
The door opened and the young man re-emerged. “They’ll be with you in a minute.”
He edged by me and darted down the walk to where a better-trained customer stood, cell phone in hand, hoisting with the other hand a small cage which held a lop-eared rabbit.
Did I feel no guilt, you ask, gumming up the procedures of a nice veterinary clinic?
GUILT?Ha! You may as well ask a wolverine about origami.
Turns out, once they discover one’s masked presence standing at their door—even without a cell phone call—they will eventually bring out the allergy pills one pre-ordered for one’s itchy American Staffordshire terrier mix.
In the present COVID-19 public health emergency, who could have predicted the emergence of common sense?
Milo Bung shook his head when I told him the story. “You go to a lot of trouble to avoid using your cell phone.”
“It’s no trouble at all.”
My old classmate glared like a bright young assistant district attorney cross-examining a defendant. “What have you got against cell phones?”
“What has a cell phone ever done for me?”
Milo scratched his head. “How would I know?”
A new idea lit up his face. “What if you want to take a picture?”
“I would use my Nikon. But I’ve already made enough photographs for one lifetime.”
“Is that a fact,” said Milo. He looked askance. “You’ve given up photography altogether?”
“I remember the best moments of all my vacations. The images stored in my brain are better than mere photos. They have more je ne sais quoi.”
In any case, I thought but did not say, when my brain loses the memories, the pictures won’t help either.
Milo rapped his knuckles on the bar. “You’re a hard case, amigo.”
“Besides,” I astutely pointed out, “I like to deal with people in the flesh.”
“Isn’t that sort of old school?”
“That’s me all over.”
I was not always thus. It takes decades of study to become an old crank.
Gradually, if you’re a sentient being, you apprehend that in today’s world, the sense of community that underpins mental health has been eroded. In this desert of commonality and fellow-feeling, any face-to-face, or mask-to-mask, encounter, even with a stranger, can be salutary.
Years ago, a fellow yahoo on a Road Scholar trip—a man named Larry, by sheer coincidence—tried to browbeat me into needing a GPS navigating device.
“What!” he exclaimed. “You don’t have a *INSERT BRAND NAME HERE*? How can you not have one? You can get one for under a hundred dollars.”
“Or I could not get one,” I pointed out, “and keep my hundred dollars.”
“No, seriously. You can’t afford to be without it.”
“So far, I’m doing fine.”
“But it’s so cheap, you’ve got to have one.”
I could have explained that 99 percent of my trips are to places I know how to get to; that I can, and do, look up the other one percent in advance; and that if, despite that preparation, I should get lost, I can always stop and ask someone. But no logic would have convinced Larry that my lack of a *INSERT BRAND NAME HERE* was okay.
His real problem was that my zoom lens was longer than his. Given that circumstance, his only play was to beat me over the head with his GPS device.
I am no Luddite, I tell myself, but simply a man who values the personal touch.
Why should I ring up my own merchandise at Home Depot when a real pro is on duty one lane over? A person who, by the way, would like to keep her job.
Sure, I could knuckle under to the ruling paradigm, but I would feel like I was abandoning The Little Guy. If I have to stand in line a few extra minutes, so what? Where else do I have to be?
Our pet spa has the same “call up on the cell phone” routine that the vet’s office does. But rather than lose an eighty-dollar grooming job, they’ll eventually notice me and my shaggy spaniel as we wait in the parking lot.
Some inchoate power out there always wants me to do things in a new way. But, Lord help me, I like the old way.
They want me to vote early this year—either by mailing in my ballot or by handing it to a designated early-ballot collector sitting under a sign in a public park. All well and good.
Is the election going somewhere? Will the polls be closed?
My plan is to show up, masked, on election day, at the polling place where I am registered, holding my photographic ID in hand. I trust they’ll let me vote—even though they won’t be able to see that my face matches the photo on the ID—and they’ll count my vote.
So what’s the problem?
Tout le monde, Dear Reader, is NOT rushing off to some Brave New World so fast an old geezer can’t keep up—impressions to the contrary notwithstanding.
You might mention that to Milo Bung when you see him.
These days, I try to stretch my legs. Long walks are good exercise. You don’t even need a face mask, if you stay six feet from everyone you meet.
My walk took me so far yesterday that I stumbled into Milo Bung’s neighborhood. Milo was out in the corner of his yard, working on something. I stood and ogled the object of his labors. It was a large, shapeless mass. A canvas sheet, I guessed, draped over . . . aha!
Milo had thrown a grayish tarpaulin over his Holy Mother grotto.
The item in question is an imitation rock face, five feet high, with a niche scooped out of its front. In the cave-like niche stands a plaster Virgin Mary in blue and white robes, arms outspread to the faithful. It’s a familiar lawn manifesto in our part of the country, where dwell many devout Roman Catholics.
Milo is not one of those.
I do not know what religion he professes, if any. But the house’s previous owner had installed the little shrine. Milo, being Milo, had left it alone. Now it was covered with a tarp—a house-painter’s dropcloth, yet without spot or stain.
“What are you doing?” I cried.
“Does that look like a rock to you?”
“It looks like a dropcloth hung over your Virgin Mary.”
“I mean, if you didn’t know she was under there—would you think it was a boulder? A natural rock outcropping?”
“No. I’d think it was a tarp covering something.”
Milo frowned. He switched on a noisy air compressor at his feet, picked up a hose nozzle, and sprayed the canvas with something wet and gray and pulpy.
After a few minutes he shut off the racket, set down the hose, and inspected his work. “That’s more like it. Should set up pretty quick.”
“Milo,” I asked, “why do you want to make your Holy Mother shrine into a featureless rock?”
“I heard they’re tearing down statues these days, and I didn’t want mine to be one of them. The rock is temporary camouflage. You know, till the fad passes.”
I sighed. Conversations with Milo always include a sigh.
“Nobody,” I pointed out, “is going to come around and tear down your statue of Jesus’s mother.”
Milo waggled the inactive hose nozzle at me. “But then, I wouldn’t have thought they’d mess with General Grant, either. Or Francis Scott Key. I’m taking no chances. I kinda like the old gal, smiling there on my lawn. She makes me feel peaceful.”
The notion of Milo Bung, pacified, brings to mind a hibernating armadillo. He is not exactly a cauldron of pent-up mayhem in his normal state.
He resumed spraying.
I had to concede, as he worked at it, that the agglomerated mess looked less and less like a piece of canvas. It began to assume the gnarled gravitas of the Areopagus in Athens.
“You think making your shrine into a big rock is the answer?” I asked. “How do you know the Visigoths won’t came along one day and demolish your boulder?”
“Nah.” Milo gave the nearly-finished promontory an extra squirt of sauce. “I’ve been studying these folks. They only tear down representational art.
“They are iconoclasts.”
This conversational pièce de résistance left me staring at Milo, all flumberbusted.
There is a niche of special distinction in the Class Clowns’ Hall of Fame, and it contains a marble bust of Milo Bung, smiling beatifically and crowned with laurel. When we were in sixth grade Milo was a source of much innocent merriment.
Where your average class clown fed on spectacles like putting a thumb tack on the teacher’s chair while she was down the hall grabbing a smoke, or stacking books on a desk corner so they would fall when somebody walked by, Milo was more subtle.
His specialty was a unique glassy-eyed stare, which he flashed whenever the teacher called on him for an answer. I don’t know whether he was transfixed by the mystery of South America’s principal exports, or just languid by nature.
Whatever Milo had, subtlety was of its essence.
I bumped into him at the supermarket recently, pushing his cart the wrong way up a COVID-directed aisle. “Milo,” I said, “where’s your mask?”
“Mask?” he wondered.
“Like the one I’m wearing. You know, for coronavirus.”
“Oh, is that why everybody’s wearing masks?”
I nodded, as emphatically as one can nod at Milo Bung. “Without a mask, you might get sick and die.”
His eyes opened wide. “Then I’d better stock up right now on Cheetos.” And off he dashed, up the down aisle.
That was my most recent encounter with Milo until now; but apparently he has not gotten sick and died yet, for I saw him tonight on the ten o’clock news. A squad car lay burning in the street. Several demonstrators, or maybe outside agitators, stepped through the smashed front window of a store that sells ladies’ foundation garments. They carried boxes and cartons of what must have been frilly unmentionables.
Despite the burning squad car, no cops were in view; yet here came Milo, strolling down the street, right into camera range. He halted smack dab in the center of all this resistance to injustice. He swiveled his head this way and that, then stared into the camera with an expression that proclaimed, “Is anybody else seeing what I’m seeing?” He shrugged and ambled out the right side of the frame. He had something in his hands. Looked like a bag of Cheetos.
Knowing they must have taped this earlier in the evening, I surmised that Milo Bung, if not in jail, might now be at home. So I dialed his number. Sure enough, he answered.
“I saw you on TV! In the middle of a riot!” I shouted as calmly as I could.
“A riot?” said Milo. “(Crunch, crunch.) Oh, sure, that’s what it must have been.”
“Couldn’t you tell?”
“Well, something funny was going on, that’s for sure. It’s getting so a guy can’t take an evening promenade (crunch, crunch) without running into out-of-towners.”
“Out-of-towners!” I roared. “How do you know they were out-of-towners?”
“Well, (crunch, crunch), stands to reason. I mean, how many guys do you know from around here (crunch, crunch) that need so many boxes of lacy underwear for their sweeties?”
“Are you munching Cheetos?”
“Yeah, I got boxes and boxes of them. Come on over, I’ll give you some.”
“But weren’t you even aware what they were rioting about? It was injustice. Racial injustice. What do you think about that?”
There was a moment’s silence on the line while Milo digested my question, and his Cheetos. “One man’s injustice,” he said, “is another man’s free underwear.”
“Is that all you’ve got to say?”
“No, but if I told you, then you’d blab it to everybody else, so I’m clamming up.”
Milo was always a step or two ahead of the rest of us. He was the first boy in our class to declare what he wanted to be when he grew up: An elevator operator. “I like the look of a uniform,” he drawled. When we graduated from high school—and, lo! all elevators had been converted to self-service—Milo joined the Marines.
Imagine my confusion when Ho Chi Minh let Milo live and returned him to our community in his original condition. He may simply have been unshootable. Wouldn’t surprise me one bit.