The village idiot.
The village idiot.
Can you hear those words? Are you old enough to recall this socially charged term? Who even invented this phrase? For the most part, it has passed into history, thankfully. That is exactly why I chose it, though, for I do profoundly remember. It scared me to death as a kid, the idea that each village had a designated idiot, the poor soul who, when you encountered him, moved you to pity and invited the impulse that “Holy God, I am so glad that’s not me.”
Wow on us all, but, as an idiot pre-teen yourself, you needed to confront this fellow, come to terms with him and his faux celebrity status, take your measure of him and his idiocy, maybe, to see just how far above him you ranked. You wanted to rile and provoke him, make him do something stupid, a motion, a sound, a tic or a twitch, anything that would lay bare the base intellectual level of your hometown. After all, you and he came from the same sad place. Such a terrain for wisdom in a soul too young to see it. According to this dream, you will pay a price to witness the lowest of the low, for they are no circus act.
You are spitting through your two front teeth. Walking home from school on a small town sidewalk and spitting at will. A sizable slit separates those two buck teeth and you are spitting through the slit. You possess your most recent school picture with a smile that attests to the grandeur of the slit. You cannot stop, and no one can stop you. Last night you hit a grand slam homerun to lead your Little League team to victory. The Beatles have happened just in time to provide the pop accompaniment to your accession to the throne. Things are coming together, planets aligning. You know the Mass in Latin. Again, you cannot be stopped. The headiness heightens your self-esteem to the point that you spit. You learn to sling your saliva through the slit, angling your tongue to propel it to either side, straight ahead on a frozen rope and in sweeping arcs, all with no discernible movement of your head. You can target, hit and drown ants from three yards. You are very cool. You are twelve. Your grandfather opens a window. He does not know that, in addition to all accomplishments previously listed, you have also bombed Junior Bright. But you feel that somehow he has found out and now you are going to pay. You know that your grandfather, despite a daily job as a functionary at the town hall, tends a mean beet garden and has been known to pick a fight when confronted with change he doesn’t like. Now the beet garden slides into place behind the grandfather who has folded his arms across his chest and is about to lean on you heavy for spitting through your big front teeth and for bombing Junior Bright.
You have grown up thinking that every town in the world has a village idiot, almost by definition. Junior Bright is the village idiot. An adult retard. You see him now. Junior stands at the corner by his house where he lives with his ancient mother, and waves at you and the other kids walking home from school. He smiles a helpless smile. While your grandfather looms before you with beets bulging red in the background, Junior Bright smiles at you with his retarded, friendly smile.
Junior, it’s a bomb! That’s what you said as you and some friends tossed fistfuls of majestically hued fall leaves at him. Junior, it’s a bomb. You wanted him to run in fear. Your grandfather knows it. This will represent to his aging and protective mind some kind of changing of the generational guard, an unwelcome event to be sure.
Is Junior dead? He roars at you. Did you kill him? Did you spit your filthy spit at him? Now Junior is standing in the beet garden behind your grandfather. I’ll ask again, he says slowly. Did you throw a bomb at Junior?
You blame your friends first, blurting their names out without hesitation.
They did it.
You did it, your grandfather blasts you.
Junior waves a genial good-bye to you from a space between your grandfather’s back and the beet garden.
I didn’t kill Junior, Grandpa! He’s right behind you!
Your grandfather raises his hand to cuff you for insubordination and suddenly you are walking down Lower Maple on this endless journey home. You are tracking an old man in a long coat. Uncle Art. You pick him up near the bowling alley. An octogenarian whose nose runs like a faucet in every temperature and weather condition, snot just running down his upper lip into his mouth. The long black coat confers on him the aura of a crow flying away, and you wonder if he ever takes it off. When he speaks at you and your best friend Joey N., he caws through a crazy smile that makes you think of a crow flying through a sunshower. Uncle Art gives you a head fake and tears off in the opposite direction. The old crow is trying to outrun the twelve-year old boys on Lower Maple.
You and your buddy jump on the old crow’s back and soar into the heavens. You just wanted to make him fall down, to buckle his knees. Instead he grows wings and kidnaps you. He takes you to a nest that is on a mountain crag in a land unfamiliar to your eyes and minds. You are turned into bird eggs, little crows warming in his nest. You await your birth. You are plunked back onto the grimy tarmac of Lower Maple, and Joey N. and you are standing in the middle of Lower Maple, by the grocery that bisects your two streets. There is nothing left to do. You have had a good day. You do what you always do at this time of day, at this time in your lives, the Lucky Dance. Right there in the middle of Lower Maple by the grocery, timing your moves to the passing of oncoming cars, who cares, the Lucky Dance. Kind of like an Irish jig, it makes you feel lucky to be alive, that life is a dream and it will go on forever.
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Michael / W. M. / William Michael