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.
Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Author
Author of Price of Passage—A Tale of Immigration and Liberation.
Price of Passage
Norwegian Farmers and Fugitive Slaves in Pre-Civil War Illinois
(History is not what you thought!)