Vol. 22, No. 5,514 - The American Reporter - September 7, 2016

by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
Seattle, Wash.
January 30, 2002
Ink Soup

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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 from around May to September and, from then on, fleeting bright intervals between showers.

But these days, when I speak of bright intervals, I tend to mean those brief episodes of mental clarity that delight all of us defying the Biblical actuarial tables.

Jane Brody, the New York Times' expert on health, published a column the other day devoted to keeping mentally alert.

One of her recommendations was to work crossword puzzles. This was a great 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 a couple, an old man in a wheelchair being pushed by a young woman.

The old guy greeted me with a few words and a look that I know well: the thirst 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 sit here with him for five minutes while I run for coffee?" There is a small café 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 your daughter?" I ask, thinking that might be politer than granddaughter.

"She never said," he says.

I look in the direction of the café. The young woman (unmistakable in flame 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 sick feeling 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?" I tell him. "Sir," he says, "have you ever seen me before?" I have had odd conversations, mostly in bars late at night, but this is broad daylight 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 to the 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 after you'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 of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.

Copyright 2016 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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