MOM: You were once behind walls, weren't you? In a concentration camp?
WOMAN'S VOICE: I was a refugee. My country is Yugoslavia, and we are the troublemakers of the world, you know.
DAD: Just you?
WOMAN'S VOICE: In 1941, when the Germans took over, these invaders, the Germans and Croats, caught a million Serbs and killed them overnight and sent them down to the river. It's not something to talk about at lunchtime.
MOM: We talk about everything at lunchtime here!
The battery heated the nail until it turned bright orange!
MOM: How do you feel you have changed?
MAN'S VOICE: I was a Marxist. I had rejected spiritual values. But then . . . I saw the design in nature and I was convinced there was a Creator. . . . It was a bad time for me. I wanted to go home to the United States. Friends of mine got into power and I thought they would help me but they didn't. The whole bottom of my world fell out. I went into a deep depression. I felt trapped. I had a wife and two children and my children didn't even speak English. They were going to French schools and becoming little Frenchie fried people. One night on my balcony I just caved in. This is down near Cannes on the Mediterranean coast. A lot of people ask me, like, were you drunk, had you been smoking? I was not high on anything. I was looking at the moon, a full moon, and I saw these shadows on it. I saw myself, my own profile on the moon. I had been thinking of killing myself. I had the pistol. And I wondered if what I was seeing was a sign that death was near. And then my image fell away and on the moon I saw a procession of my heroes: Fidel Castro, Mao Tse-tung, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels. And then the image of Jesus Christ. That was an unwelcome image because I didn't have anything to do with him. It was like the last straw. I started crying. Just gushing out, real violent. I was trembling and I had the sense that my soul was trembling. I was down on my knees hanging onto the rail. And then I ran inside for a Bible. And it was there, this book I never read. I found the Twenty-Third Psalm, which I had learned as a child. But I didn't know where to find the Lord's Prayer. That's what happened. O.K.?
The WaterPik fired orange juice across the room!
MOM: Has winning the Nobel Prize been helpful in your work?
WOMAN'S VOICE: Oh, yes!
I put the synthetic wine in a wine bottle. Dad drank it with dinner and couldn't tell the difference!
WOMAN'S VOICE: What propels you to get rich?
DAD (in a voice that suggested maybe he was putting everyone on, or maybe he was completely serious): Greed.
My bathroom got cooler and I ran downstairs shouting, "Mom, Dadfinally one of my inventions works!"
MOM LOVED her luncheons. Mom loved emotions. "All these strangers, they sobbed like babies," she told me recently. "And they became my dear, dear friends." The apartment was an accelerator for emotions, a controlled environment where they could be witnessed without effect. Neutralized and admired. We were eight hundred feet above it all. Little did Iwho had known only happiness or lonelinessknow the variety emotion could provide. That pain moved in mysterious ways. That it could fly, swim, tunnel; was amphibious, ambidextrous, aerodynamic; a breeze and a smothering blanket and a storm. That emotions would knock our tower down to the ground, and none of these strangers would help us.
WHEN I WAS five Mom and Dad rented a house in the Napa Valley, and Dad befriended a man called Frenchie Meyers who wore suspenders and owned a junkyard nearbyfifty acres covered in thirty-foot heaps of smashed cars, flattired trailers full of old glass doorknobs, two aircraft hangars (one stuffed full of forklifts, tractors, and power tools and guarded by Sam, a glass-blue-eyed wolf dog, the other converted into a machine shop and guarded by an anvil of a bulldog named Jezebel). Dad let me play in an old school bus parked beneath an ancient willow tree. How old? Centuries old, Dad informed me. I played for hours beneath that green canopy, in that yellow bus, while Dad talked to Frenchie.
From Oh The Glory Of It All by Sean Wilsey. Copyright 2005 Sean Wilsey. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, The Penguin Press.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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