This is Handsome Bobby.
I have this friend. This really awesome, been-through-the-shit-with-me-and-still-thinks-I'm-basically-a-good-guy friend. He gets easily embarrassed, so let's just call him DAVID UNDERWOOD. Anyway, a few years ago my friend - the one with the totally fictitious name of DAVID UNDERWOOD - jumped on the whole Elf on the Shelf craze, because he has three wonderful kids, and he loves all things Christmas, and why the hell not? But my pal DAVID UNDERWOOD is utterly incapable of taking some popular thing, and just doing what everybody else is doing with it. First, he named his Elf on the Shelf "Handsome Bobby," which was genius, because I have a shit-ton of friends who all have Elves on the Shelf, and I couldn't tell you what they called them. At all. Handsome Bobby is a name you'll never forget, because with that name he has to be someone special. Like an Elf on the Shelf. Or a professional wrestler. Or a porn star.
Now, I've seen how creative some people can be with their Elves. But there is a level of creativity and originality that exists above and beyond you mere mortals, and that stratum is reserved exclusively for DAVID UNDERWOOD and Handsome Bobby. I'm serious. Every time Handsome Bobby shows up in a Facebook post, it's a three-act story laid out in one picture. It's original, and funny, and sentimental, and wrong, all at the same time. Just like life. Handsome Bobby gets away with shit that, had I tried it as a child, would have gotten me beaten. Or deported.
I look forward to Handsome Bobby. And while I was impatiently waiting for that first appearance, it occurred to me that I hadn't posted anything on this blog in a long-ass time. And what did not occur to me at all - what, in fact, somebody had to point out to me - was that there are people who look forward to me posting shit on this space, in much the same way that I look forward to Handsome Bobby. And I haven't been doing it. Not because shit hasn't been happening to me. All kinds of shit has been happening to me, good and bad. I don't have a good reason. But this morning, when I saw Handsome Bobby for the first time this season, he looked right at me with that sideways, creepy half-smile, as if to say: "Write something. Or I'll show up while you're sleeping. And you do NOT want that."
So I decided to post a second excerpt from my upcoming memoir, Making Sh*t Up: An Improvised Life. It's a story about the unintended consequences of an active imagination, and is dedicated with all love and respect to DAVID UNDERWOOD. And Handsome Bobby...
I did some growing up on a farm. Not a lot, but it’s where my mom’s parents lived in Jollyville, Texas. (I’m not making that up. Google it.) Arrell Kelly and Essie Patrick were my maternal grandparents, and they looked like grandparents. My Paw Paw proudly wore his pants hiked well above the navel, had thinning hair and spectacles. Mee Maw Essie was portly in a pleasant way, with cottage cheese arms and her ever-present house slippers. (She wore these everywhere, including the grocery store. Way before you ever thought about going out in public in your Crocs.) They had a garden, an orchard of pecan trees, and some livestock (which, back then, we referred to as “cows” and “chickens”). I learned many things on that farm. I learned, for example, how to shuck corn and snap green beans, how to (swear to God) churn butter, and how to drive a tractor. I also learned that, if you had a farming question, that it was wisest to wait until your Mee Maw came out of the bathroom to ask that question, instead of barging in on her while she was taking a dump. This, I learned, was improper.
The coolest thing about being a kid on a farm is that it’s basically a big playground for your imagination. I made up a lot of shit in those days, usually involving some sort of trek through the jungle (the corn rows), trying to get the serum to the village or rescue the lost travelers before it was too late. One summer I found a machete in Paw Paw’s garage, and as I had just watched an old black-and-white film that had a scene of some dudes slashing their way through the jungle with a machete, I thought this would be a fine thing to do in my own little private jungle. I marched out back to the garden and proceeded to hack my way through the thicket of corn. When I successfully made it to the other end of the garden, rather than retrace my steps, I decided to blaze a new trail down another row. I can vaguely remember my grandmother shouting a person’s name I did not know: Jaysus. Jaysus! As I knew she was not calling for me, I kept on hacking.
This episode inevitably brings us to the subject of The Switch. In this case, The Switch is not a verb, whereby one object is replaced, or “switched,” with another object. No, dear reader, in this instance The Switch is a noun, and is the name of an object used by many a Texas grandparent in my day to whip the shit out of a grandchild. The Switch was a small, thin, green limb off of a sapling tree, solid yet very flexible, that cut through the air with a shrieking whistle – like a squadron of Japanese kamikaze fighters – on it’s way to the strike zone. Which, in this case, is your bare naked ass.
Now, taking a beating across your backside with a thin, green piece of tree was bad enough. But it was the psychological torture which preceded this event that raised this particular disciplinary action to an entirely, frightening new level. For I was required – as many Texas children were in those days – to go and fetch the instrument of my destruction. If there is anything worse for a little kid than the long walk to pick out the switch your grandmother is going to beat you with, I haven’t heard of it.
I refer to this as psychological torture because it presented a unique and terrifying dilemma. On the one hand, you know you are about to get a beating. Self-preservation demands that you look for a switch that will do the least possible damage to your tender southern hemisphere. Preferably a switch not too green, not too long, that might even snap after a couple of good whacks. On the other hand, you are very aware that, if you come back with an unacceptable rod of justice, your grandmother will then go out and supervise the next selection. She will make the choice, and you will still have to do the work of procuring it, knowing all the while where its destiny lies. You will have time to ponder how many bright red streaks are about to be semi-permanently etched across your behind, because you had the audacity to come back the first time with what amounted to a piece of driftwood.
The worst was the time I was told to go get a switch, and I came back with a huge limb of scrub oak. It was heavy and I had to drag it, though it was so dry I had to be careful not to crack it in two. I guess I thought I was making a statement of some kind: you want to beat me so bad, do it right! Use a whole tree! Maybe I was thinking something like that. Mee Maw looked at what I had brought to her feet, then very calmly stepped off the front porch and walked out to the driveway, in her house shoes that she never seemed to take off. She approached her car – an old Buick, I think – and seemed to inspect it for a minute. Then she walked around the back of the car, moving along the passenger side as though she were searching for something. When she got to the passenger side of the hood she stopped, then very slowly, very methodically, began to unscrew the radio antennae from the hood of the car. When she took a few swings with it, and I heard that awful whipping sound, I paid full heed to my inner voice of self-preservation and ran like hell.
Well played, Mee Maw. Well played.