was edited and published by Suhail Hanna in the early
1970s, at the Kickapoo Spur Press in Oklahoma.
AT THE HUNT
of Inquiry: Me.
thing to do is figure out what's going on here. These weeks have been a bad time.
I feel like that painting in the old Twilight Zone on T.V. that was a portrait
of whatever the viewer wanted to see. I'm down in there somewhere, and the only
question is where. (This shouldn't take too long.)
Name: Charles S. Simpson, Jr.; I have respectable people's more or less
solemn word on that, and no good reason to doubt it. But this is no help. There's
no use even bringing it up. After all, any rich man (which I'm definitely not)
could build a 12-cent hamburger stand in six days, resting on the seventh, call
it the Simpson-Burger, and it would be Simpson as much as I am. I won't concede
I'm a 12-cent hamburger, with or without the works.
Age: I'm thirty-five. This doesn't help either; it merely suggests the
magnitude of the problem.
Physical Characteristics: First, I'm skinny; yes, I'm no, not skinny, I'm
slender, attenuated. Not very good-looking, with a face like the bow end of a
U-boat, torpedo tubes in a continuous silly grin. Some people say I look like
a hawk, instead; I am attractive only to hawks. Which limits my social life more
than I want to confess. (Romancing hawks would be risky business anyway.) I'm
balding, slowly. My discreet beard is virile, of course, but actually only makes
me a little self-conscious, because it juts straight forward, at exactly ninety
degrees from the ground; I use pomade, to no effect. But we all wear discreet
beards these days. My hands and feet are grossly overgrown, though I'm no better
able to grasp or escape my fate. I dress expensively (and with cleanliness and
decency), but wear nothing really well; still, I'm very au courant. No distinguishing
characteristics at all. God, none at all. Oh, except that I have one trick eye,
which, when I'm excited, swivels madly. I'm seldom excited.
Religious Preference: I'm a Presbyterian, to say by preference would probably
be misleading. I may have Jewish ancestors; that would have been a long time ago.
I have friends who claim to be Lutherans, Methodists, Jews, Catholics, and what
not, but I suspect they're really all crypto-Presbyterians, my kind of Presbyterians
at least. It's something for the dossier, anyway.
Nationality: American. So are two hundred million other people. So are
thirty million other discreetly bearded people. So are maybe one hundred thousand
other discreetly bearded people with one trick eye. And most of them are, like
me, right-handed. Many, like me, still have their own teeth.
Education/Occupation: Civil engineer -- I am, I am called a civil engineer,
and I try to be civil, certainly, but in just my office alone there are lonely
and civil engineers by the snootful, and we're all so much alike that sometimes
I can't find my own desk among them all, even when I'm sitting at it. So this
isn't much help either. I've been to college, of course; the name of the college,
the name of the college . . . in any case it's written down somewhere, certainly
on my diploma, which is hanging framed from the side of my desk in the office.
I remember that I had an engineering course there, actually several probably,
and a drafting course, and an English course, Shakespeare, in which we read plays.
Also another great writer, Dante, whom I liked, because I kept imagining that
all the people in hell were people I knew and had always wanted to see in hell.
But I don't much like things like that, usually, so I slept through the other
parts of the novel, got a C in the course. But what is more important, I also
learned at college how to be civil, and of course I engineered a job out of it.
At which I show up every weekday, without fail.
Marital status: I am a family-man, potentially; I could be a family-man.
At the moment, however, I'm still un-so-encumbered. I live alone. I never met
a hawk I could love.
Hobbies: None. Weekends I sleep, watch sports on T.V., go to parks with
Personality: Perhaps a better word would be "Character", I prefer
to use that word. My personality is not exciting, that's true enough, but why
should it be? Being born bored me to distraction; it's been downhill since. I
lack social graces. My conversation is all ears. I'm pleasant; I smile readily.
But I spill drinks down hostesses' bosoms, I have coughing fits at afterdinner
speeches. I trip on rug runners--I bore people, and exasperate them. But my character,
I can honestly say, is nonetheless solid. Why should I complain?
. . . . . . . . .
getting desperate; this isn't working out. I'm down in there somewhere, and the
only question should be where.
Telephone Number: Ah. Everybody's got a phone! I can't remember my Social
Security number either (after all these years! what else has a man got?). My license
plate. . . . My car's a Ford. (Everybody's got a Ford.)
painting kept changing from one viewer to the next, showing each one whatever
he wanted to see. Only the frame stayed the same.
parents are dead now. My brother died when I was fourteen. The guys at the office
are all right, I suppose. We have a Christmas party every year, and we get a little
tipsy and tell each other all about ourselves; I think I must have missed the
last one, I don't remember going to last year's party . . . .
. . . . . . . .
painting showed what each one wanted to see. Whoever walked up and looked at it,
it showed him exactly what he thought he'd see there. No matter who he was. There
must not have been any real painting there at all. Only the frame stayed the same.
got a substantial raise last year! Yes. A whole new bracket. They said I was right
on schedule, they said I could expect another, even bigger . . . in five . . .
not getting very far.
remember, I remember when I was a kid I used to take these little plastic warship
kits, battleships, destroyers, cruisers, and so forth, put them together painstakingly
-- all the tiny gun-turrets and flagmasts and number decals -- then bring them
down to a small pond in our neighborhood called the Dirty Place, down in the woods
at the end of the street. The Dirty Place was really dirty, it was just a big
mudhole really, but I used to spend whole days damming up the tiny creek that
ran through it and channelling its course every which way. Anyway, whenever I
could I'd bring one of these model ships down there, and I'd fill its hull about
half full of gasoline, then I'd carefully place about twenty or thirty ants on
its deck. I'd wait until they'd disperse all over the ship, scrambling up and
down the turrets, up across the bridge, all around the afterdecks, then I'd put
it into the water and push it out a ways very gently. Then I'd flick matches at
it off the ends of my fingers, making very realistic fighter-bomber sounds all
the while, until whoosh, a hit, and the fire would spring up and begin to spread,
after a while one of the decks would begin to curl up, all the ants -- me pretending
they were German sailors and officers and what not -- would sense the flames or
tell each other about them somehow and would rush toward the far end of the boat,
but surprise, sometimes the fire would run along the gasoline surface 'tween-decks
as it were and lick up out of a smokestack or hatchway just in front of them,
and then oh confusion would reign. Eventually, though, the ants would make their
last stand, huddled together on the last unburnt part of the ship, usually up
on the bow, as the fire crept ever closer and the ship began to heel over in the
water, and then what responses they offered, some bailing out over the side, others
running headlong into the flames, and some just sitting there until finally they
just disappeared. Then the ship, or what was left of it, would sink, hissing.
All this makes me sick to think about now, of course, a disgusting business, certainly,
but boy I loved it then, not knowing then that it was such a disgusting business,
which it really is, I realize, I just didn't know then. It was my favorite game;
I used to save every cent to buy those plastic ships.
I got too old for model ships. I was embarrassed to be seen buying them.
also remember, when I was a little older, about seventh or eighth grade, I had
a girlfriend, a fat Jewish girl named Maria, who was blonde. She lived around
the corner from us, so we used to walk the way home from school together, and
on the way we would gossip about school, discuss records and parents and so on,
and very infrequently we would kiss -- there was a place on the way home where
you had to leave the highway and traverse a small field to reach the other road,
and when we kissed, on those few occasions, that's where it'd be. In the springtime
this field would radiate its own heat and tickle your ankles with long grass.
Of course, this is not much, I know that. The point is that when Maria's class
got out first she'd always wait for me, and when mine got out first I'd always
wait for her and she'd always come right to the place where I'd be waiting, and
I was really happy then, even though she was fat and I knew it. Then she had to
move away; her father got transferred or something.
I was also just recalling yesterday an incident that happened not more than a
year ago. I was at McDonald's by myself, to eat Big Macs. That's how I celebrate
Friday nights after work, always, I go and eat three to five Big Macs, which I
love probably more than anything else in the world, not only food but anything.
I only order two at first, because when I'm finished with those the girl can always
give me two more right out from under the radiant red lamps, no wait at all practically,
and that way the later ones don't get cold while I'm taking my sweet time on the
first two. And I really do take my time, rolling tiny bitefuls around in my mouth
like Vincent Price playing a winetaster in "The Cask of Amontillado."
Also I inspect each one thoroughly, lifting up each layer all the way down from
the top bun to the bottom, not suspiciously or critically but in admiration. So
one Friday night I was waiting on the line and there was a man with a microphone
way down the row asking people why they come to McDonald's, and behind him was
another man with a movie camera, taking pictures of their faces while they said
things like "To get food fast" and "To get food cheap," or
"To meet my friends," or even "To get good food." I watched
all this absentmindedly, scarcely noticing really, but all of a sudden the two
men swooped all the way up the line, poked the camera into my face, and said "Sir,
can I ask you why you come to McDonald's?" And I looked right into the camera,
then over at the microphone, then back into the camera, and I was really caught
off-guard as they say, and all I could think of to answer was, "To worship."
are a lot of things that I recall, occasionally, similar to these things just
mentioned. They aren't much, I understand that, but usually I enjoy thinking about
them. They come back to me at odd moments, I can't exactly call them up whenever
I want to -- but at least nobody else can call them up either, and they don't
come back to anybody else, only me.