Visual Octopus



>> email
>> home





by James Edge

a short story (with apologies to Kurt Vonnegut)


John Thomas hated his mother. He was sure that his mother hated him too. Why else would you name your son John if you had a surname Thomas?

John's childhood had been miserable because of it. Year in and year out, giggles of laughter would erupt during roll-call at school, and endless streams of sexual innuendoes would flow from other kid's lips as he would venture out into the playground. Because of this, John would spend all of his play-time in the school library. John had read the libraries entire Dr. Suess collection thirty-four times. You could say he experienced a lone childhood.

Now that John was grown up, he would invent silly names off the top of his head when someone would ask him his name. It was his own secret game, and reduced his embarrassment while annoying other people. He had a list of his favourites that he kept in a little book. Here are some of them;

Ms. B. Smith

Ernie Blatt

Chuck J. Dwight

Sir W. H. Primrose

Arthur Preet

John was Ernie Blatt at the moment. He was putting his name on a free mailing list for a ladies shoe shop. He never knew when he might need this kind of information, but always took advantage of anything free.

Consequently, Ernie was also on the dole. During the day he would leave his flat and walk around the city, making sure there were no free things that he was missing out on. He once completed a three-week course on rubbish sculpture, and was now the proud owner of a life-size statue of Big Bird, made entirely from squashed aluminium cans.

After wandering around the city, Ernie would then go to the University Library in the afternoon. He would read and read until it closed, and then go home. Ernie liked reading, he could laugh, cry, sigh, and yet no one in the books ever asked him his name.

John had once fallen in love with a student at the university. She used to go to the library nearly as much as Ernie. Her name was Julie. Julie didn't know of John or Ernie.

John knew he was in love because he had read the entire six volumes of 'You And Your Body' by Readers Digest. It detailed all the emotions experienced by John in a short paragraph called 'Love'. It was between the sections on 'Puberty' and 'Marriage'.

John was sure Julie loved him, but that she just didn't know it. (He had never seen her near the Readers Digest section). He decided to point out that she loved him by walking past her and saying, "Here, you should read this" and place a copy of 'You And Your Body' in her hands opened at the 'Love' paragraph.
When he actually built up enough courage, after staring at her for days, he stuttered, "Y-Y-Y-you sh-sh-sh-sh shhhhit...." and dropped the book on her foot.

He didn't go back to the library for three months.

During his library-less period, he became Chuck J. Dwight, and walked around town saying out aloud anything he could possibly think of that was pro-American. Here are some of the things he thought of;

Unfortunately for Chuck, he walked straight into the middle of a very sticky situation. There was an anti-American demonstration outside the Iraqi embassy. He was quite bewildered when people started abusing him, so he mustered up his best American accent and screamed, "If it ain't a pack of rice-eating, wife-bashing, flag-waving Commies!".

He was even more bewildered when he woke up days later in the intensive care unit of the local hospital. Luckily for Chuck, Ernie had taken out a free Readers Digest insurance policy in John's name, so that he was compensated for the money he lost during his absence from work.
Unfortunately John was on the dole too, so he didn't receive any money from the insurance company, only a card. Here is what it said;

It was a miserable time for John, and somehow he blamed it all on his mother. He wouldn't have had so much trouble and humiliation, or have been in hospital had he been named Rodney or Rudolph or Ralph or Thomas.

While he recovered, he was kept happy by a Chinese hospital orderly, who was always friendly and cheerful. The orderly always wore T-shirts with the same Chinese characters on them. This intrigued John immensely, and he made a mental note for Ernie to sign up to any free Chinese course so that he could find out what it said.

Even though he couldn't speak any Chinese, John could understand him incredibly well and they forged a strong, unspoken friendship. John wasn't looking forward to the day when he would be discharged. This was John's first friend - he had never asked John his name.

While John Thomas was in hospital he thought a lot, mainly about himself and how he had ended up where he was. He realized that all the books he had read from the hospital library had complex plots and ideas, and usually a great deal of violence. They weren't as simple as the ones he used to read in school. The only reason he didn't become horrendously depressed about this was that the continually happy Chinese orderly was always there to smile and laugh.

John realized that grown-up life mirrored these complex, violent books, and he became quite agitated because all his childhood books had happy endings. His mother had read plenty of grown-up books, but had never warned him that real life became worse as the books you read had fewer and fewer happy endings.

John decided it was all to do with youth. Children were happy, but adults were always depressed, confused and unhappy. John, Chuck, Ernie, and all the others made a simple but major decision that day, Here is what they decided;

Time makes you old;
Rid yourself of time-
stay as young as you want.

John Thomas was so proud of himself for being so smart, and wondered why on earth no one had thought of it before him. He decided that everyone else must be too busy being unhappy to think it over. If grown-ups thought they were young like him, they too would be happy. (And there would be more books with happy endings).

So to rid himself of time, he threw out his watch, Chuck's alarm clock, Ernie's free telemart 'Never-Late' diary, and the hospital ward's TV guide. All of a sudden he felt young again. He felt great, and he even wrote to his mother to tell her all about what he had done.

From then on, John was really happy. He even overcame the hatred he used to feel towards his mother for his name by having a special T-shirt made that said, "Hi! My name is John Thomas". This is what it looked like;

John spent the rest of his life talking to kids, telling stories, reading kids books, and writing his own adult books with lots of pictures and plenty of happy endings. He was so busy that he never did learn Chinese, which was a pity because when roughly translated, the hospital orderlies T-shirt said,

"Hi! My name is Richard Head"

Dick had read the entire Dr. Chang collection sixty-eight times.


* * *



inspired by

Breakfast of Champions (Goodbye Blue Monday)

Kurt Vonnegut