Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Mystery of the Vanished Eskimo Pies

There was a satisfying sense of drama sandwiched between the layers of frustration when you realized a scene, a conversation, a dark narrative or a bright one was slipping through your fingers and you yanked the manuscript page from the typewriter, wadded it into a ball, then sent it flying to the wastebasket which, to complete the picture, was papered over with rejection slips from magazines, many of which are no longer in existence.

Part of the satisfaction came from the slight whirring of gears as the about-to-be aborted page tugged against the platen. A small sense of triumph lingered when the wadded page landed directly into the wastebasket. Hitting the select-all key and then punching at the delete key do not seem nearly so satisfying or dramatic. 

The entire gesture of tossing material needs to be dramatic to remind you how you strayed from the needs of drama to in fact be dramatic, which means such things as movement, intent, pressure.

Start over. New sheet of paper. Page number typed in the corner margin. Another opening line, another vision of dramatized contention in place, followed, from time to time, with the awareness that the tossed page had some viable kernels of truth, the voice you heard, telling you this was not working, must have come from that aspect of yourself you call IE, Inner Editor, he whom you did not invite along on this venture.

All of this gets you thinking again about the dynamic of the inner voices, how you call them into play at times when you wish to portray individuals and entire families, on their way to trespassing the boundaries of civility with one another over the basic battlegrounds of self-interest.

You were fortunate to have in the dynamics of your own family one maternal-linked aunt whose mere name was enough to cause eyeballs to roll upward, heads to shake, even to the extent of her own mother, your maternal grandmother, from time to time referring to her as Der Schlong, a term that allows speakers of Yiddish and German to immediately associate it with its English meaning, the snake. 

You regard yourself as fortunate because she demonstrated to you the notion that happy families may be all alike in Tolstoyan terms, but you would have to go to outrageous extremes to find a family that was entirely happy, that did not have at least one Aunt Augusta in it.

From about the age of sixteen onward, you wondered in private and in public how two sisters could be so unlike. Thinking in later years to put all that rancorous energy behind you, once again you sought her out, thinking you'd arrived at somewhere approximating success, particularly when she confided a great weakness of her to you, drew you into her kitchen, which had among other things, two huge refrigerators, one filled with such staples as milk, cheese, organic vegetables, and bottled preserves, the other laden with her weakness, the ice cream concoction known as Eskimo Pie.

The second refrigerator was packed to capacity with Eskimo Pies. For all her edginess, Aunt Augusta also accounted herself a considerable hostess.  "May I offer you one?" she said.

Moments later, you were seated across the kitchen table from her, each of you caught up with an Eskimo Pie.

"How long has Aunt Augusta been hooked on Eskimo Pie?" you asked your mother not long after your visit to Aunt Augusta, "and how is it I am well into my fifties and hearing of it for the first time?"

"I try," you mother said, "not to be judgmental where she is concerned."  But the fact was, her emphasis of the pronoun she was all you needed to fill in your own sense of family drama and dynamic. Some families have secret addictions to heroin or opium or pills, some have members unable to control their drinking or gambling urges. You had an aunt with a longtime passion for a frozen ice cream bar.

Truth also to tell, both sisters, your Aunt Augusta and your mother, worked their ways into the outer reaches of dementia toward the end of their lives. From your perspective, Aunt A. was about a five or six on the one-to-ten metric, your mother a four, working her way toward five.

This is backstory to your closure with Aunt Augusta.

A week or so after your visit, you had a phone call from your sister, which began with the sort of sigh, then long pause you had come to associate with older sister exasperation with younger brother.  "You went to visit Aunt Augusta." It was not a question, more of an accusation.

"Yes," you said, "and you will not believe--"

She cut you off. "What I believe is not the issue here; it is what she believes."

"And she believes--?"

"--that you have taken seventy-five of her Eskimo Pies, a number she reached by counting the remaining Eskimo Pies in the refrigerator, adding the two you both ate, and deducting that number from the number of Eskimo Pies the filled refrigerator holds."

After another pause, "And she expects a check to cover the cost of the missing seventy-five Eskimo Pies."

In all probability, your recent reflections about pairs of opposites and your remembered admiration for Burns and Allen, Fred Allen and Portland Hoffa, and Fibber McGee and Molly got you off on this venture.

One character on stage alone is nothing. One character on stage with a similar type is less than nothing; it is boring. Pairs of opposites produce outcome, have done so throughout history. Xanthias, the slave, and his master, Dionysus, in Aristophanes' play The Frogs, is your earliest example, which could keep you making a list of other comedic duets such as Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Rowan and Martin, Martin and Lewis, to name a few.

But there is Holmes and Watson and the more modern and Americanized paring of that duo, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. There is an actual police detective, Richard Queen and his private eye son, Ellery, and you feel somehow you'd get another big-sisterly sigh from your big sister if you failed to mention Tom and Huck.


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