SuhailDwight Peck's reprint series

Bananas #2

Simpson at the Hunt (1973)

Bananas was edited and published by Suhail Hanna in the early 1970s, at the Kickapoo Spur Press in Oklahoma.


Object of Inquiry: Me.

The 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.)

1) 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.

2) Age: I'm thirty-five. This doesn't help either; it merely suggests the magnitude of the problem.

3) 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.

4) 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.

5) 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.

6) 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.

7) 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.

8) Hobbies: None. Weekends I sleep, watch sports on T.V., go to parks with small lunches.

9) 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?

10) . . . . . . . . .

I'm getting desperate; this isn't working out. I'm down in there somewhere, and the only question should be where.

10) 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.)

The painting kept changing from one viewer to the next, showing each one whatever he wanted to see. Only the frame stayed the same.

My 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 . . . .

11) . . . . . . . .

That 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.

I 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 . . . years; no.

God damn it.

I'm not getting very far.

I 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.

Then I got too old for model ships. I was embarrassed to be seen buying them.

I 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.

Moreover, 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."

There 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.

bookpen.gif (2870 bytes)Please do not reproduce this text in any form for commercial purposes. Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Published in about 1973, posted here 23 February 2003.


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