by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
SEATTLE, Wash. -- Living in London, we picked up a phrase that was a Leitmotif of the weather forecast there: bright interval.
This comes in handy in Seattle, where there is a mammoth bright interval lasting fromaround May to September and, from then on, fleeting bright intervalsbetween showers.
But these days, when I speak of bright intervals, I tend to mean thosebrief episodes of mental clarity that delight all of us defying theBiblical actuarial tables. Jane Brody, the New York Times' expert on health, published a column the other daydevoted to keeping mentally alert. One of her recommendations was to work crossword puzzles. This was agreat relief, since I do three or four a day. Frankly, I did not need Ms. Brody's advice, since my favorite aunt,Aunt Helen, had told me this years ago: Never watch TV. Do crosswords. "How about Jeopardy?" I asked. "Trebek does crosswords," she said. All this chat about mental clarity will introduce an episode,unfinished, of extreme mental befuddlement. As I was coming off the fishing pier down at the marina I passed acouple, an old man in a wheel chair being pushed by a young woman. Theold guy greeted me with a few words and a look that I know well: thethirst for some conversation. I sat down and she pushed him up to me. "Sir,"she says, "could I ask you for a great favor? Could you just sithere with him for five minutes while I run for coffee?" There is asmall cafe at the end of the pier. I say okay. "Skinny latte for you, right, Pa?" she says as she runs off. Henods vaguely. To have something to say, I ask him what a skinny latte is. He says he has not the faintest idea--he drinks only tea. This is the first thing that slightly worries me. " Is she yourdaughter?" I ask, thinking that might be politer than granddaughter. "She never said," he says. I look in the direction of the cafe. The young woman (unmistakable inflame red shorts) is getting into a pickup truck, which then drives away. If she is going for Pa's skinny latte, she is going far. The sickfeeling comes over me that the old guy and I are on our own. I start to make conversation, but he says: "What time is it?" Itell him. "Sir," he says, "have you ever seen me before?" I have hadodd conversations, mostly in bars late at night, but this is broaddaylight on a pier and I say "No. Who are you?" "That was my question. Who am I?" "I can't tell you," I say, "but who was she?" "She was someone they sent for me, to look after me, and to take me tothe university when I had to be there." "You're a professor?" "I think so. Ask me something about fruit." "How do you like them apples?" "Are you a comedian?" "Well, I like that," I said. "Here I am trying to help you out afteryou've been abandoned and you treat me like dirt." "Dirt! Bless its heart. Long live dirt!" What was I to do, aside from engage Pa in this pointless dialogue? Call 911? But to say what? I am being annoyed by an old man in a wheelchair? I asked him his name. "Walter Matthau," he said. "Okay, now you're the comedian," I said. "But she has left us." "It doesn't surprise me," he said. "What is your name?" "Clarence Brown," I said. "Gatemouth!" he beamed. "What happened? You look so pale." "Now who is the comedian?" I asked. [to be continued]
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus ofComparative Literature at Princeton University.