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Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2007 12:27 pm

Misquoted

Gramps gives the best interview of all time

Untitled Document The reporter is one smart dude, and his questions will be hard-hitting — so I hire a public-relations expert to help me spin the answers. Reporter Luke is well prepared: He has two pages of questions listed in his notebook. Each question is followed by plenty of blank space for notes — excellent planning, for I have plenty to say. At the top of the first notebook page I see, in bold type: “Assignment: Interview an old person (someone over 55) about holidays and school time — when that person was young.” The next line reads “Subject Identification.”
Reporter Luke begins: “Name?”
I answer, “Doug Bybee.”
Reporter Luke writes “Gramps.”
“Address?”
“I live at 2001 Always Hungry Avenue.”
“What?” asks Reporter Luke. “Grandma Becky,” I explain, “is trying to starve me. She has replaced my cookies with broccoli, so we need a plan, a secret plan: Just before I’m about to kick the bucket, I’ll phone you. I’ll say, ‘The crow is in the mulberry tree.’ You’ll acknowledge by saying, ‘The nest is faded yellow.’ Then you’ll pass an encrypted note to Nick, instructing him to get on his bike and pedal like there’s no tomorrow to deliver me a 14-pound sugar cookie.”
My seasoned public-relations advisor, Nick, says, “Gramps lives on Mars.”
Reporter Luke writes “Springfield” in his notebook.
The next notebook line reads simply “Appearance?” And even though PR Nick and I agree that the correct description is “studmuffin,” Reporter Luke writes “bald” in his notebook. Reporter Luke: “What was the best Christmas present you ever got when you were my age?”
Me: “A bag of walnuts.”
Reporter Luke: “Walnuts?”
Me: “We used ’em to beat Grandma with — that would be your great-great-grandmother. She liked people to smack her legs with walnut bags. Eventually I got so good at it, I could bang out a tune on her shinbones. And then we all danced into Christmas night.”
“Mars!” repeats PR Nick. Reporter Luke writes, “Toy truck” in his notes. Reporter Luke: “How did you spend the holidays when you were young?”
Me: “Long ago, when I was young and in college, they selected a college all-star team to play a Christmas Day game against the National Football League champions. Naturally I quarterbacked the All-Star team. I was playin’ under a fake name ’cause of my undercover work as a spy for the CIA. I was ‘Johnny Unitas’ that day.”
“Mars!” says PR Nick again. “Look it up,” I counter. “Look up ‘Unitas.’ ”
I continue: “The Bears had an actual bear playing defensive end. It was 8 feet tall and weighed just under a ton. That’s why we now call ’em the Bears. Before that, they were the Staleys. Look it up. “Anyway, just before halftime the bear ripped my right arm clean off. We took a short timeout and duct-taped the arm back on. No problem — except they taped it on backward and before we could correct it I threw a touchdown pass backward — to the Bears.”
PR Nick: “Last time ya’ told it, you were called Sid Luckman.”
Me: “That was the previous year’s All-Star game. Pay attention here!”
Reporter Luke writes, “Spent the holidays with family.”
Next question: “Did you do any school projects back then?”
“My main project was to date Elizabeth Taylor — and I ended up ruining her life. I was a teenager at the time, and Ms. Taylor came to town for a movie premiere. I was in the crowd and when she passed by I reached out and touched her butt, not a quick touch but a touch that lasted an entire step — and the poor girl spent the rest of her life dreaming of, and lookin’ for, that powerful young man with the gentle touch. She married 11 times in her pursuit of me.”
Reporter Luke: “I can’t say ‘butt’ in my report.”
Me: “Then how about doubling it to ‘butt-butt’?”
PR Nick: “Or triple it to BUTTBUTTBUTT!”
We all engage in uncontrolled under-the-breath laughter. But PR Nick said “buttbuttbutt” too loud. Too loud by far! His mother (my daughter) heard it. We had stepped over the “mother line” again, and it was her job to lecture us — just as it was my job as Gramps and Nick’s and Luke’s jobs as 10- and 9-year-olds to keep testing the line just a little, now and then. I defused her mid-lecture: “The boys and I are gonna take a break, go outside and shoot some hoops, maybe a game of H-O-R-S-E or two.”
We bundled up and hit the court. We were out of mother-hearing range now, and I asked what had to be asked: “Who wants to say it?”
Nick accepted the honor: “How about we play a game of B-U-T-T instead of H-O-R-S-E?”
And then we all agreed out loud that it was the best interview of all time. And I agreed silently that the future would be fun, that “just plain silly” would live on long after the broccoli killed me.
Contact Doug Bybee Sr. at dougbybee@sbcglobal.net.
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