Those Goldurned, Dadgummed Good Ol’ Days.
A panorama of browns and beige! Sepia, as far as the eye can see! Everything awash in aged colors, positively drenched in them! Everything looked like it fell from a tree a month ago! We’d seen colors in those fancy Chinese rugs and we didn’t want them! They rattled the blood and unbalanced your electric field! Ask Tesla! Go ahead, you ask him! I know he’s dead!
(The man leans on a cane and watches the horizon, or at least he faces the horizon. He squints, and the face around his eyes is an intricate lattice of wrinkles upon wrinkles, so it’s hard to tell exactly what his eyes are doing.)
Everything was cheaper, but it was built to last! You could get a five-course dinner for thirteen cents! A whole house for a dollar and a half! One of those fancy occidental ladies of the evening, you gave her seven bits and she’d be your wife till you died! A nickel cost a penny! And you had to work five weeks to earn one of those! A fitternight, we called it! Five weeks! People knew the value of a nickel! And quarters! Only Rockefeller and the Pope had those! The Pope kept one hidden in his hat for safety! No one dared knock off the Pope’s hat! Filthy Catholic!
(Despite the heat and his advanced age, he wears a black suit with vest, and a high starched collar, and a frock coat, and a top hat, and spats. He sweats profusely, but sneers at any suggestion that he should sit in the van, out of the sun.)
The sun was closer back then! When I was a boy we had to soak our clothes in ice water before we walked to school! And when we got there, we usually had to throw buckets of water at the school! Because it was on fire! We were lucky we learned anything at all, and we still were smarter than you! We didn’t have any automatons to do our sums for us, or cook our meals, or cure our scurvy, or write our popular songs! We did it all ourselves and most of us didn’t graduate from the fourth grade because by that point they usually had to build a new school, and that meant another referendum!
(The man spits at a rock. Earlier in the day, he claimed the rock reminded him of a cousin who swindled him in a land deal.)
Any governmental process, anything involving the collection of votes, took thirty-five years! And that’s if no one contested the results! And someone always contested the results! It was the only way to get anything done! And it never got anything done! But there wasn’t any alternative!
(He begins screeching when he cannot hear a conversation not intended to involve him.)
I know you’re talking! I can see you fat lips flapping around even as you try to shield them with your soft pink fingers! I lost my hearing in the mines when I was nineteen! Everyone worked in the mines! That’s how one got a bachelor’s degree back then! I don’t know what we mined and I don’t care! That’s when I learned to read lips, yes, even around corners! You think you’re crafty! You think you’re cunning! You don’t know the meaning of the words! And if you do, it’s only because you’ve changed the meanings of the words to match your ignorant guesses! Why do you think we had different words back then!
(The man reacts in no discernible way to the surreptitious departure of the others, their careful back-pedaling, the intentional lightness of their footfalls, their stifled sneezes and aborted conversations.)
Efficacious! Perspicacity! Effluvial! These are the words of a gentleman! A stalwart exemplar of the masculine sex! And you don’t even know what they mean! I was beaten if I didn’t know what they meant! I spent two weeks in that burned-out wreck we called a hospital because I forgot what “widdershins” meant! I had to fend of the doctors, those vampires! I slashed at them with a shard of broken whiskey bottle so they wouldn’t cut off my legs! The only medical treatment for anything back then was “therapeutic amputation!”
(The man continues facing the horizon as the others climb back in the van and struggle to shut the doors without causing too loud of a sound.)
I know what you’re doing! You’re leaving! That’s what you do! I don’t leave! I never leave! I cling, I cling tenaciously! I am a barnacle! I am a deer tick! I am all barbed hooks and glue! I know when things were the way they were, and I won’t have it otherwise! You go ahead and drive, drive away, into whatever it is that you don’t know! I know what I have! I know what I did! I’ve got the sun at my back, and all these rocks to spit at! All my cousins in this desert, all the world a line across the sky! This is what you want and you don’t even know it, because you’re not old enough! You’ll never be old enough! And when you are, it’ll be too late! It’ll be your turn, and someone else will drive you here, and I’ll be gone! That’s how it happened to me!
(The van peels out and drives away, the tires kicking up twin streams of pale tan dust.)