by Martin Dodd
Effie spit a cherry pit into the sink and turned toward the kitchen table where I sat. The arched eyebrow matched her tone. “Let me get this straight. You're thinking about quitting your job because you want to search for an invisible rabbit?”
I had expected Effie's opposition to my proposal to retire from my position, after thirty years, at Wilmer's Hardware and Delicatessen, but I had not expected her to take on the properties of fulminating mercury. My practiced smile was beatific. “Harvey is not just an invisible rabbit, he's a pooka—a being of grace and magic. I must find him, and a quest such as this requires my full commitment to a new way of life.” I took a deep breath before sealing my argument with the pièce de résistance. I had rehearsed the line for weeks before a mirror and while delivering paint to work sites. “It's my—destiny.”
“Destiny? Destiny? Destiny don't put beans on the table, Alice. You can chase a rabbit down a hole, but I don't have to go with you. Put that in your pooh-bah and smoke it, Elroy.”
“It's Elwood, sweetheart, I've taken out papers to formally change my name to Elwood P. Dowd. Elwood was a very pleasant and gentle man, who smiled a lot and influenced everyone with whom he came in contact.”
She squinted through her good eye, as if sighting down a barrel. She wasn't buying it. I sometimes wondered about Effie's intellectual capacity. She had a framed high school diploma in the entrance hall, but it was more than forty years old. Maybe diplomas should carry expiration dates like milk cartons.
“I've had cards printed. Here…” I pulled a card from my breast pocket and held it out to her.
Effie took the card, read it, and emitted a snort. “A new you, huh? Mister Elwood P. Dud.”
This was the crossroads. I could go with the “force” or surrender to the “dark side.” I wanted Effie to support me on the quest—but, if I'm called by destiny and she doesn't want to go, then I must go alone—however, she did cook a mean tuna tettrazini. I felt compelled to explain my reasoning.
In a rush, I laid it out. “My mother and father were married on November 1, 1944, the very day that ‘Harvey' opened on Broadway, the same play they saw, while on a much delayed honeymoon, on July 7, 1947, the very night that Jimmy Stewart substituted for the regular lead as Elwood P. Dowd, and the very night I, Jimmy Stewart Arthur, was born in the taxi after Mother left the play in the third act.” I gulped a breath. “And, when I was three years, four months and ten days old, my pet rabbit, ‘Harvey,' which had been given to me on the previous Easter, bit me—bit me, mind you, on October 13, 1950, the very date that the film, ‘Harvey' was released, and—the star of that film—Jimmy Stewart!”
She inspected me with the intensity of a clearance-sale shopper.
It all fit. Effie just couldn't zip it up.
“Exactly where do you expect to find this funny bunny and will you be back for supper?”
“I suppose Eighteenth and Fairfax. That's where Elwood―the first―found him.”
I studied my wife of thirty-plus years, my bedmate of nearly twelve thousand nights, and realized I hardly knew her. She lacked both vision and faith. Further explanation seemed useless. I smiled my Elwood smile.
She popped another cherry into her mouth and marched out of the kitchen, trailing her farewell over her shoulder. “Liver and onions at six, Galahad.”
I had tried to sell a subtler notion of my quest, such as the approach of my sixtieth birthday. Just a month ago, I announced, “Well, I'm going to be sixty this summer.” Effie's rejoinder? “Did you expect something else, Einstein? You're fifty-nine. You don't get do-overs on birthdays.”
My restlessness was more than the numbers. It was a guy thing. I needed to leave some mark on the world, or find the meaning of life. Women don't understand. They give birth. Their kids are statements. Women are an indispensable link in the chain of life. With a dozen good sperm donors (for diversity and racial preservation), the other males could be junked. Women can just “be.” Guys gotta “do.” Guys need to discover something or kill something. Sixty years and what did I have to show for them? The pinnacle of my success had been two consecutive months as winner of the Golden Screw for top sales at Wilmer's, and that had been in 1995.
What legacy would I leave? Just last week, Wild Card (our grandson) asked me, “What did you do in the war, Pooper?” (Everyone else thinks that's cute. Pooper? Why not “Rock” or GrandHulk?” My daughter claims he'll grow out of it. Effie says, “Out of the mouths of babes.”) I answered the kid with, “Do you know how a monkey wrench got its name?” What could I say? I did maintenance at Fort Ord from where thousands marched off to bravery and history in Vietnam. They don't give Purple Hearts for busting your knuckles fixing a furnace.
I pulled my fatigue jacket from my “memory closet” in the cellar. The young man who had worn it had long ago disappeared behind a belly of fried foods, cookie dough ice cream, and recliners. I scuffed up the jacket on the concrete-block wall in the cellar, stained it with some drippings from Effie's rump roast and gave it to WC, with the grave words, “Jackets like these were worn by warriors who preserved our freedoms.”
“Like strawberry perserves?” he asked.
“No. I mean they saved our freedoms.”
“Like in a piggy bank?”
“Not exactly. They kept bad guys from taking our freedoms.”
“What's freedoms?” he asked.
“Like saying whatever you want.”
“Mama swats me for saying the f-word.”
“She ought to,” I said. “Those guys fought for apple pie, and baseball, and Jesus…” WC had found something in his nose. I finished my point. “They fought for your mother's freedom to spank you.”
He frowned, obviously considering this fundamental truth I had bequeathed, as he chewed on his find. “Does GrandEffie spank you for using the f-word, Pooper?”
I tried not to talk with WC very much. My entire life, I had compensated for my lack of interesting experience and achievement by seeking to know things. Over the years, I had become a virtual storehouse of little-known facts and stupendous questions, like: “Why did kamikaze pilots wear helmets?” And, “If stuff won't stick to Teflon, how do they get it to stick to pans?” This level of discourse was over the head of a six-year old.
I had found few in life that appreciated the full extent of my erudition. And one stood out. While digging in my past to find my jacket, beneath all the crossword puzzles I had worked, the bath soaps from the various motels where Effie and I stayed on our trip to Dollywood for our twenty-fifth, and my gas-tank cap collection, I found a wallet-creased snapshot of Cricket Pratt and me in bumper cars at the State Fair in 1964 BCE (Before Connecting with Effie). Cricket loved bumper cars because they were Elvis' favorite ride, and she loved me for my brains. She burbled at “The national anthem of Greece has 158 verses.” She cooed at “There are 293 ways to make change for a dollar.” And, my sweetheart swooned at “Winston Churchill was born in a ladies' room during a dance.” Cricket claimed that I was “the most smartest guy in the world,” and vowed to love me forever, until a quarterback asked for her phone number. It's a story as old as Texas. She wasn't the first or last cheerleader to do a back-flip for a football hero.
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Harvey is not a movie, it's a hope, a lost Eden. It is a guide for those of us that want the clock stopped, for those of us that want to win the battle with reality, for those of us who would prefer to drink all day.