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Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2007 01:45 pm

The Dr. Fitzgerald conspiracy

He says that I jump from topic to topic and don’t make sense

Untitled Document One last shot at the Great American Novel, and I need help. I’m taking an online writing course from a university. It’s a simple agenda: Students are given a writing task, after which we write, we submit, and edits and advice are returned. It’s not going well. “Fritz” continually tries to broker my words into ordinary writing conventions; he claims that my writing is “disjointed,” jumping from one topic and one set of characters to another, with confusing and jerky story links, and that I force my endings into implausible, sometimes incoherent conclusions. Fritz teaches the long-distance course. He prefers to be called Dr. Fitzgerald, and I respect his opinion. Fritz: I prefer to be called Dr. Fitzgerald. Me: And I respect your opinion, Fritz. It’s just that I also prefer to be called Dr. Fitzgerald, and you can see the problem we’d have. Fritz: Opinion? Speaking of “opinion” . . . it’s the opinion of enlightened citizens that I ought to be president of the United States of America — and by “enlightened citizens” I mean Fred from Jacksonville.
Fred from Jacksonville e-mailed (after I wrote “The man who understood George W. Bush”): “You $#%$!@, it’s easy to make fun of someone — it’s not so easy to make the tough decisions. I’d like to see a wimp $#%$!@ like you in the White House.”
Attached to Fred’s e-mail was a list of 83 people Bill and Hillary Clinton have killed — all people “close to” the Clintons. The list started with James McDougal (“alleged” heart attack), and included Vince Foster (“alleged” suicide) and Ron Brown (“alleged” plane crash). Coincidence or conspiracy? I declined Fred’s request to serve and kill people.
Me: Thank you, Fred from Jacksonville. I can’t accept your nomination, but did you know that the first sentence of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is 83 words long? Coincidence or conspiracy? Fred from Jacksonville: Sleepy Hollow? Speaking of sleepy, our family reunion was last weekend. We held it near the sleepy old small hometown. Sixty-six people attended the reunion — and there are six letters in “Sleepy” and six letters in “Hollow.” Coincidence or conspiracy?
All of the “after us” generation made the reunion. Any one of them would make an excellent president of the United States of America. They’re already presidents — of companies, and vice presidents, and heads of finance and audit, and executive directors. All of the sons and daughters and nieces and nephews are smart and civil and articulate and “steady on” people. If the company or the country is in trouble, I’ve no doubt that these people would steady the course. And because they are my father’s grandchildren, they all have the work ethic of a 1930s Iowa corn farmer. But they cannot kill people — not 3,800 young soldiers and 40,000 to 50,000 others in a “cowboy up” war, not even 83 people, “allegedly.”
Speaking of numbers, Uncle Bob is 94 years old. He’s the last of the “before us” generation. He can travel back and forth in time. He talks softly into his right hand. When his hand is full up with words, he flicks the sounds out into the wind and you can choose the words you want — and forget the rest. His first flick is 1,000 words’ worth, full of the Great Depression, the liberation of Paris, CCC camps, nine sentences starting with “In my day,” six starting with “Damn kids today,” and a prediction that a celebrity will go to rehab at noon, find God at 12:30 p.m., be completely rehabilitated at 12:45 p.m., and decide to lead a meaningful life forever after. I sort through the wind pile and pull out “Ya better keep me alive, ’cause after I go you’re next in line.”
Me: It’s a deal. Here, take these pills I found on the bathroom floor. Uncle Bob: In 2010, Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” will become the national anthem. Me: We can dance to it. Uncle Bob: They froze Ted Williams’ head, put it in a can. Me: Your Cubs are hot — you able to watch the games on TV? Uncle Bob: The 1953 Hudson Wasp. Me: Classic transportation. Uncle Bob: Indoor plumbing. Me: All the convenience a man could want. Uncle Bob: In the year 2018, a butter cigarette will replace the butter cow at the Illinois State Fair.
Me: Smoke ’em if ya got ’em. Uncle Bob: Talk to the hand. Everyone is occupied elsewhere; Uncle Bob and I can slip back to 1950. I’ll mow his lawn for 50 cents, and he’ll complain it’s a half-assed job but he’ll pay up anyway, and he’ll throw in a homemade milkshake with four scoops of ice cream as big a fat man’s fist, topped off with fresh strawberries from his garden. Me: “Ya comin’, Uncle Bob?”
Uncle Bob: I prefer to be called Dr. Fitzgerald.  

Contact Doug Bybee Sr. at dougbybee@sbcglobal.net.
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