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Wednesday, July 19, 2006 02:32 pm

The essence of beauty

The answer, it would seem, has toes

He is dressed as a cowboy and looks to be about 6, which, according to my (admittedly yet unpublished) Rules of Diner Etiquette, is about two years too old to be leaning over the back of his booth, interrupting my reading, and talking to me unannounced. His mother has something bolted through her nose.

The cowboy talks on. I flash back — way, way back: I’m 17. I have a date with the prom queen (because flashbacks done right don’t have to be true in every detail).

Mary Margaret’s mother is telling me, “She’ll be down in a minute.” Five minutes later, give or take, Mary Margaret does come down the stairs — with a bolt screwed through her nose! Naturally we don’t get to complete the date because Mary Margaret’s mother sends her daughter directly to a high-walled, moat-surrounded convent in Portugal.

I’m old, but bolts through body parts don’t bother me. Bolt, pin, and pierce everywhere — and find seasonal work as a Christmas tree in a Gothic-themed shopping mall. No problem — until you become a parent, and then, according to my (yet unpublished) Rules of Modern Parenthood, you must remove all bolts.

Nonetheless, the young mother seems an attentive mother in the style of today. She tells me, “You’ll have to excuse Samm — we spell it with two m’s — he’s never met a stranger. Talks to everyone.”

Samm cuts to the quick: “You look funny.” His mother smiles: “Be nice, Samm.”

I don’t know whether she’s saying it with one m or two, but, in Samm’s defense, his “you look funny” observation may have had merit. My wife is out of town for a week and, being a retired man, I see no reason to shave or change clothes for that week — the reason all clearly explained in my (yet unpublished) book When Women Leave. And I may have a sardine sandwich in my hair. I know I made one this morning, and it isn’t in my shirt pocket now.

Samm continues. I assume that “continue” is his trained condition — no matter that others are talking or reading. “I have a girlfriend,” he says. “She’s pretty.”

“How big are her feet?” I ask, because that’s the way I talked to my seven grandkids, and they all turned out perfect.

“I don’t know,” Samm says. “I think she just has regular feet.”

“Then how do you know she’s pretty? ’Cause that’s the way you measure pretty: The bigger the feet, the prettier.”

“You’re stupid,” Samm says. “Big feet don’t make you pretty.”

“Then what does?”

The question puzzles him, but he finally settles on “Maybe … hair?”

“Proves my point,” I say. “The bigger the feet, the more surface for hair.”

Then Samm’s mother mentions something about “we” try not to confuse Samm with silly talk — we try to keep conversations on an adult level.
Samm, apparently slow to the adult convention, flicks a chunk of cereal my way and says, “I’m a cowboy — for Halloween. You’re stupid!”

His mother smiles at him.

I question him: “And your mother, with the bolt, is dressed as Frankenstein?”

Mom fires an expletive-filled harangue at me. No harm done (except to Samm, I suspect), for I return to reading my newspaper at her first curse.

Getting no reaction from me, they leave — with Double-M spitting “You’re stupid!” all the way out the door. “Not good,” I think. “The world is doomed when the Samm generation takes hold. Hell in a handbasket! I’m glad I’ll not be around to see it.”

My wife calls that evening. “Anything interesting happen today?” she asks, so I tell her about my discussion of the essence of beauty with a young man in a diner.

And then I call my daughter: “I need to talk to one of the boys. I gotta check something out. Any of the three will do.”

The 7-year-old is closest to the phone. I ask him whether he has a girlfriend. He isn’t sure. He think maybe Maggie is his girlfriend, but she throws a baseball “funny.”

“Well,” I tell him, “when you find a girl who throws ‘not funny,’ you should marry her, because she’ll be nice, probably a solid second baseman — and beautiful.”

“OK, Gramps.” And then he starts telling me a story (yet unpublished) about the “corn people” and a giant “cob” who wants to be king.

When he stops for breath, about 20 minutes in, I ask him, “Does the cob queen throw baseballs right?”

“Yup,” he says. “She’s beautiful.”

The world is safe. The future looks bright.

I decide to live forever so I can watch it happen.

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