THE SCIENTISTS I HATE THE MOST
Edgerrin James, namesake of the Indianapolis Colts' tailback but not the same human, as it were, sells "ice cold water, one dollar!" at Western Avenue and the Eisenhower expressway. He gets it off a guy known only as Quincy, who gets it from God knows where, at least Edgerrin don't -- if we are to take the point of view of the divine one (or the cops, for that matter, cause they know too), Quincy's soldiers cart it off container trucks just after it's loaded, while the workers have their backs turned (the boys are quick). Cops ask him where he gets it, and all Edgerrin James has to do is invoke the old man Quincy's name and they're on their way. He's heard there's a competing faction at Ashland Avenue run by a rapscallion a generation or two behind Quincy dubbed "The Refrigerator," and though one might suspect Edgerrin to migrate toward The Refrigerator's operation, the camaraderie of the seemingly NFL-derived names taken into account, it's as if the thought never occurred to James. He doesn't watch football, not since he did time for pushing packs -- he was in long before the athlete James electrified the Colts' backfield. Besides, he's mostly content with this gig, can make a hundred bucks in a single afternoon, if it's hot. God knows what he'll do when winter comes around, he's said a few times, but he tries not to think about it too much. The lord will provide, or the cops. They're both crooked as shit, anyway.
"They are the scientists I hate the most," Edgerrin mutters to himself, watching a bright yellow Hummer mosey up behind a near-derelict Toyota Tercel waiting at the light. The old man in the Tercel is visibly dying, sweat pouring off his face, and he goes for a water. "Air conditioner busted, huh," Edgerrin says, handing the old man his refreshment. The old man nods, and Edgerrin is all "Thanks, my man," and he moves on down toward the Hummer. She's a little prissy white woman with bleached-blond hair pulled up on top of her head with a faux diamond-encrusted clip. These women are typically afraid of him, their preconceptions held rigid and immobile in their minds with the perceived authority of something like science, he thinks. They are blissfully ensconced five feet off the ground in these massive Hummers and Excursions and Navigators and all the other gargantuan vehicles they commandeer to put themselves above the fray, their windows up, AC pumping and sterile. But as he makes his way to the driver's side door of the massive yellow vehicle, belting "ice cold, one dollar!" the window of this particular specimen begins its even, automatic way down. The lady, a pair of Jackie-O shades popping out, says, "I'll take one." He hands the sweaty plastic bottle over. She hands him a dollar. "Well," he says. "Stay cool."
This little bastard has been going like a three-foot candle all night, burning my ass. His life's not my fault, but he's been taking that shit out on me every since Brandy decided to leave that group of engineers and hang out with me. I didn't know her. Well, not before she came into Shuttles, I didn't. I know her well enough now. I know enough to know that she's hanging out with me because I'm the only guy in the bar not trying to fuck her. And I want to get away from that little bastard, so I say to Brandy, "Wanna shoot some pool?"
Both tables were open when I asked, but don't you know it, as soon as we walk over there, that little bastard and his pal are dropping quarters into the other pool table.
I figure I can ignore them. Brandy's already gotten good at that. She works with these guys out at Kennedy Space Center. She confessed that to me earlier. I told her that, when I got out of college, I came back here to my hometown, and it seemed like all I could do was either work out at KSC or work construction. And I wasn't about to go out there. I hate everything that joint stands for. Brandy said, "I can respect that."
And so far, she has respected it. But this little bastard won't. I guess he thinks he has a shot at Brandy. And now he's had too much to drink. It kills him that this girl he's had his heart set on is shooting stick with a carpenter like me, and he's not gonna let it go. Right after he limp-wrists the break and barely spreads any balls across the pool table, he says, "Hey Brandy, what do you call the moisture between two white trash people when they have sex?"
Brandy shrugs. She can see this guy is pissing me off. I'm supposed to be the white trash guy in this scenario.
I don't know if this guy gets it or not, but he answers his own question. "Relative humidity."
Brandy lets out a little laugh. Embarrassed, like. The little bastard and his little engineer buddy are cracking up. I'm just glaring at him. He sees I'm not laughing and says, "I'll explain the punch line to you later."
But I get it. And if anything is flying over anyone's head, it's the realization of danger flying right over that little bastard's. These are the scientists I hate the most. Talking to me like I'm some kind of moron. Like I don't get his stupid fucking jokes. Like I'm the idiot because I didn't dedicate my life to killing as many poor people as possible from as far away as possible.
I get back to ignoring him. I let Brandy break. When the balls don't scatter much, I use my next turn to break them up the rest of the way. A couple of balls fall in the holes. Brandy tells me to shoot again, but no. I don't follow slop. I let her shoot and pick up a conversation from earlier. I tell her, "My parents got divorced, too. Back in the fifth grade."
The little bastard says, "Do you know what a tornado and a white trash divorce have in common?"
And that's it. The last fucking straw. I put my stick on the table. "I hope you have some money on you," I tell him. "Because I don't want to kick your ass for free."
I take two steps and face off with him. He's eye to eye with me, but in my mind, he's small. He's quivering and trying to talk himself out of this but still smirking like he's got one up on me. I've got my first six punches mapped out in my head. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know what's gonna happen next.
The scientists I hate the most are nutritionists. You've been eating your whole life, but you're never doing it right. You're getting too much of something, or not enough. They're not even real scientists, really. They just love to tell you you're wrong.
But what's worse about nutritionists, what's really fucking scary, is that they have this undeniable power. Nobody wants to die, and nobody wants to get fat. They play into both of those fears, and it works. Because when it comes down to it, when we're watching TV alone late at night, we don't know the first thing about what's good for us.
My dad's final obsession was juicing. He bought a Juiceman II from a late night infomercial and would talk for hours about his experiments with new vegetable combinations, especially the ones that were bad ideas altogether, like radish juice, or orange potato celery. I inherited his Juiceman machine, which is to say that my mom cleaned it (I don't think he ever had) and gave it to me in its original box with its manuals and recipe books and a set of 12 motivational cassette tapes that I still plan to listen to in succession on a long car trip. To say I inherited it isn't exactly true, because my dad didn't have a will. He didn't intend to die.
The Juiceman machine was invented by a nutritionist who also calls himself the Juiceman. On the box and on the recipe book cover, the Juiceman looks very orange, as if he's made up entirely of beta-carotene. In fact, one of the Frequently Asked Questions in his manual addresses this concern:
Q: "Will too many vitamins give my skin an orange tone?"
I thoroughly read the instruction manual, but still one day I somehow didn't have one plastic piece fully snapped into the other, and when I turned on the machine, it ground plastic against plastic. It was a horrible noise, and it sent me into a sad panic. I couldn't believe I broke his Juiceman.
While I was crying or trying not to, Danielle was in the kitchen studying the Juiceman manual, figuring out that in the end I hadn't broken it after all, only shredded parts of its plastic lid into my carrot juice. The Juiceman would be ok, and we could enjoy juice for years to come.
Including one particular June morning when Danielle woke me up. She was smiling her genuine smile, the one she won't let me capture with a camera. Her face was framed by hair, backlit by the sun. She had opened every window and door in the house. Trees were swaying, cats were sunning themselves. She whispered into my ear then stood back. She rolled forward on her toes and put her hand out for me. "There's a surprise for you on the balcony."
It was fresh orange juice she'd made in our Juiceman II, and it was terrible.
I pretended to love it, but soon we both realized that she hadn't peeled the oranges, hadn't followed the instructions in the Juiceman manual or listened to even Side A of the motivational juicing cassette. We were drinking the juice of the bitter rind.
This had happened to me before, when I came home from college to visit my grandmother, and in an act of nostalgia she made me Chef Boyardee ravioli. But Granny was getting older and must have been thinking Campbell's condensed soup, because she added a cup of water. This made it taste somehow like tea, and made the rubbery bits of hamburger even more rubbery. I ate most of it, but it came down to making a decision between throwing it away or throwing it up. But she saw me, and I saw the look of recognition on her face.
People are more endearing to me when they fuck up. Fresh-squeezed juice, a bowl of perfect ravioli, I could have gone to restaurants for those. The acts that seem most sincere to me are flawed, the furthest thing from a Hallmark card. A glass of terrible orange juice, a bowl of watery ravioli, these are meals I remember.
My dad would have laughed when I drank all those bits of plastic with my carrot juice. "You're supposed to line up those two little arrows before you start the machine," he would have said. "At least that's how I always do it." My dad never expressed the things he knew with certainty. Even when talking about cars or guitars, two topics where he was undoubtedly an expert, he'd introduce it with "Well, what I've always heard," or end it with "That's what people have told me, at least." He never attributed the knowledge to himself, and never stated anything as an absolute.
So today I find it obnoxious when people state things too directly or tell me I'm doing things wrong. My dad didn't lack confidence. He just couldn't stand to be told what to do, and he didn't like to tell anyone else. "The Juiceman says not to drink straight beet juice, but I think it tastes just fine," he would have said, and he would have lit another cigarette, because he smoked too much and believed somehow that it would be balanced out by the Juiceman and all those vitamins he ordered off late-night TV.
The Boy who was a firework was my son first. We do appreciate the cards and gifts and letters. We do not care much for what the scientists have to say. I hate them generally. I hate the scientists who use the word impossible like a knot. On our own, we have struck a bargain with Life and are usually pretty happy as is our boy so I am here to say once and for all that FIREWORKS ARE OK: THEY ARE GENERALLY SAFE. We feel that fireworks are a necessary and important part of American life. We do not blame Starling Fireworks, who have been my employer for fourteen years, or the fireworks industry in general. Bobby, our son, the boy who is now a firework, still loves fireworks more than anything. It is the only time, lighting them off, that he becomes visible.
Here are some of Bobby's favorite Starling fireworks:
Pearl of the Orient Fountain
Giant Cuckoo Fountain
Golden Gate Spectacular
Golden Pine Fountain
Silver Salute Firecrackers
Whistling Gemini Missile
Chirping Oriole Roman Candle