They need you. Without you, they have an empty screen. So, when you get on there, just do what you think is right and stick with it. — James Cagney
I’m a bit of a standout. I like Cagney. When I say this to my friends, that I like Cagney, they say: Who’s Cagney? I say, Cagney is Cagney. They say they don’t understand. So, I tell them to ask their parents. But then I think, wait a minute. Our parents didn’t grow up in black-and-white; they grew up in color. So, I quickly revise by saying, Ask your grandparents.
If you’re wondering how I know who Cagney is, it’s because I’ve gone out of my way to learn about him. Sometimes, when you want to discover something out of the ordinary you have to poke around in the vaults. You know, you have to dig among the headstones. One has to muss a few daisies now and then to get to the good stuff.
I live in this house out on the bluffs. My parents live there too. Don’t ask me why, they just do. They’re both college professors. Well, they aren’t full professors but they say they’re on their way. Jude and Thomas are always on their way somewhere, and they dislike it when I call them by their first names. So be it.
They drive to the Smith Wesson University at Irvine Pointe, to teach classes and spend every non-allotted academic moment working on their companion novels. Yes, for sixteen years—since before I was born—they’ve been working on companion novels. They chose a subject, something socially minded, as they would say, that will solve our world’s disillusionment. Then my dad started writing his book from the male perspective and, as you’ve probably guessed, my mother writes hers from the female one.
They have worked on this joint project, like I’ve said, for a long time now. After many fights over weather or not the novels were finished, they sent their books out to stores and to online publishers under the heading of “Self Help.” Maybe I don’t understand what that term means, because it seems to me if a body is determined to help itself, then going outside of that self to buy an expensive book (or worse yet, a pair of books about disillusioned middle-agers) is not a great way to go about it.
I usually help myself most by getting away from the middle-agers I know. And believe me I know too many. I usually go to my Cagney. I go to all things old; that is, all things that happened or where happening before people my parents’ age turned into adults.
I use the word adults loosely. Most of the humanoid types my parents go around with are middle-aged automatons. And not very well off for it. However, on the occasions when my parents drag me to Woodland Hall on their university’s campus, I get around those forty-something wearers of brown leather sandals and teal pullovers by leaving the lofty upper floors to make my way to the basement. That is where the Philosophy Department is holed up. Down there I know these two guys who always prove to be more laughs than the whole lot of the English Department, combined.
There’s Bert Bronson; he’s at least sixty years old and in charge of Critical Thought. And there’s his counter-part—his other side of the big gold coin—Buster Granger. Buster’s the Ethical Studies department head. If it is true that everything has an equal and opposite reaction, then these two gentlemen are the opposite reaction to everything boring and mundane, everything cramping and binding, and anything as soul crushing as creative writing.
While I’m there, Bert and Buster tell me about their new lady friend, Bellamy Thorn-Bristle. She is a tenured professor of Greek Thought and Discourse, and a real good-looker they say.
Bellamy has a husband at home. But he never comes around Woodland Hall and Bert and Buster tell me they have decided to disbelieve his existence altogether based on the lack of empirical evidence. I figure that means they’ve just written him off because it’s more fun if she’s single.
They think Bellamy would be romantically interested in one of them if she didn’t have a husband. So they’ve convinced each other of his “nonbeing” instead of realizing that Bellamy probably sees little of interest in either one of them, which seems strange to me. How could she not? They are great old men who like to have fun at other people’s expense, and who make lots of hilarious metaphorical references to Shakespearean codpieces.
One the other hand, I would think they’d want Bellamy’s husband around in his entirety to serve as an excuse for her disinterest in their noteworthy charm and physical stature. Of course, I can’t understand old men completely but I like these two gentlemen so I put up with their need for ongoing drama.
Buster and Bert are my best connections to a nearly forgotten world in which Cagney was king. My kind of place. Hopefully they will also become my guides to navigating a contemporary world I can’t see myself easily joining. They’ve made it this far in life; they’ve progressed and grown yet keep their roots intact by blustering against the excepted norms of adulthood with their humor and grace.
Coming down the staircase from the top floor english department offices, where I had left my parents to their duties, I remember the story of Caesar. Bert had been reading it with me last visit. Just above the steps on the first landing, I thrust my right foot forward into the abyss, gesture like Flavius, and repeat the opening line: “Home, you idle creatures, get you home!”
Letting my left leg go limp and—as Buster would say—melodramatically tumbling forward, I pointedly bounce down each and every step, grunting as I go. On the way down, I throw my arms out wide and let my eyes get all huge like I saw Buster’s do when he talked at Bellamy. Just for show.
I come to a stop on the shoe-worn tile floor with my feet over my head, and I look around. Two brocaded women, friends of my parents, are standing by the paper-jammed bulletin board. Their reactions jab me, very shocked and annoyed, but kind of pleased to have witnessed their “friend’s” son make such a fool of himself in public. As an aspiring provocateur, I am determined to always accommodate (and make use of) the snobbery of others.
K. Shawn Edgar | Writer | Two-Dimensional Astronaut | Provocateur