Record 13: Corona del Mar, Monday July 5th, 2010. Day.
The waiter at Ruby’s was chewing gum. It didn’t matter that his outfit was cleanly pressed and perfect fitting. He was chewing gum, and Arendt wasn’t having it.
“Just who in the hell. Am I right?” He asked. Or stated. Or maybe both?
“You’re always right, Arendt.” I said, wiping sweaty bangs from my forehead, an affectation I’d developed in the 90-degree heat (with 40% humidity).
“Rosie, do not placate me.”
“I’m not sure you know what that word means.”
Arendt raised an eyebrow, a defiant physical retort of his that somehow infuriated and amused me simultaneously. So I scowled and laughed. I knew what was coming.
“Placate,” He said. “P-L-A-C-A-T-E. Placate.” Then sipped his vanilla Coke, pride furrowing at the corners of his temples, squinted and jammed.
“Good job.” I told him, my apathy audible, but, thankfully, ignored by Arendt.
For two weeks now Arendt and I had been on a cross-country tour of spelling bees. He was not participating, because the cut off age for these ‘bees’ was 18. Arendt is 65. Arendt has no driver’s license (there was a DUI issue back when he was 62), no friends, and nothing more to do than sit on the porch of his Kentucky home, in a cleanly pressed Brioni suit, and taunt the small children sitting outside and chewing gum and playing with their iPads.
“You’re all worthless, gum-chewing children!” He’d shout at them and they’d laugh. “I bet you can’t even spell ‘hyperbole!’” More laughing.
Months went by. Arendt didn’t leave the porch. And he was content. He’d read his dictionary and chortle to himself when he’d stumble upon a new word.
His beard grew. His hairline receded. He finished the (English) dictionary and had moved on to Spanish. In three weeks, he was fluent.
It wasn’t until, on a dim Saturday afternoon when the skies seemed as pretend-depressed as emo kids, that Arendt had his great epiphany. And of course, I had to be around when this great epiphany occurred.
I had grown accustomed to checking in with Arendt once a day. My mother was worried that one day he’d snap and either stand up, or recite an eloquent soliloquy of some kind. Maybe he’d do both?
“His head is full of words.” She told me.
“And you and I, well, we both love him. We have to love him. Very much. Because he’s my brother. You understand these things don’t you, Rosie? It’s important that we all understand the same things.”
“Yes mom.” I replied. “I understand things.”
And so at Arendt’s on that dim Kentucky afternoon, I gave my Uncle the biggest of hugs. He held me and shook me and told me his great epiphany, shaking his English and Spanish dictionaries in my face.
“The words in these books! I know them all, Rosie! Them all!”
My initial reasoning found mild hysteria logically sound. And so Uncle Arendt went on, jiggling me and my placid face.
“I must prove to the world!”
“Prove what to the world?”
“I must prove to the world that I am a person with knowledge!”
And with that Uncle Arendt dashed off the porch into the street, shouting and exclaiming all sorts of things, but primarily this:
“I am a man and I know words!”
And so yes, I thought, hysteria sounded logical.
“You must take him across the country this summer, Rosie.”
“I do not have to do anything, mom.”
She glared at me over the coffee table and slammed her vodka tonic on the shoddy wood.
“Why does he need to go anywhere? He seems perfectly content to me.”
“No. He’s not perfectly content. He’s going crazy. And you need to take him across the country.”
The idea was this: take Uncle Arendt to various spelling bees all across the United States. We would not follow one specific ‘bee,’ but would instead check in at inconspicuous Holiday and Red Roof Inns, fully engaged in an enthusiastic search for the ‘X’ on our spelling bee treasure map.
“But why take him just to watch?” I asked my almost-drunk mother.
“Because he’s a watcher, Rosie. His thrills are vicarious.” She stood, tired of reasoning with me, and headed to the kitchen. “Do you want any vodka drinks?”
“I don’t want any, no. I have to drive in the morning.”
And I stood and left and packed a bag in my bedroom and convinced myself that the trip would be short and Uncle Arendt would get bored very easily.
The answer was ‘no.’ Uncle Arendt was not bored easily.
We’d been barreling toward the sunny-weathered west coast for the last 4 days. Today we arrived in Corona del Mar, California. Thus far, we’d stopped at two different Holiday Inns. There were no spelling bees at either.
I sighed and took out my iPhone.
“This is ridiculous.” I said.
I ignored my Uncle and Googled ‘spelling bees’ in Southern California. Nothing came up and I felt my shoulders get heavy and sink down and away.
“What is ridiculous, Rosie?”
My eyelids turned to drapes and closed. I didn’t want to look at my Uncle. There are no ‘bees’ here. There will be no ‘bees’ there. There won’t be any ‘bees’ anywhere.
“Sorry.” I said, as the waiter showed up with our cheeseburgers.
He placed a red basket of grease before me.
“Plain burger.” He said.
He placed a red basket of grease before my Uncle.
“And an original with everything for the young man.” The waiter said, and walked away.
I took a deep breath and exhaled. My Uncle held his burger before his mouth. Opened. Then stopped himself.
“What’s wrong Arendt?”
My Uncle shook his head, disappointed, his eyes on the red booth seat he occupied.
“There’s gum on the seat.”