chapter 45

The Kid takes Johnny to the Post Office

    One afternoon I told The Kid to run into town and pick up 20 gallons of

fungicide, and to go by the post office and mail six billing statements I had

made out the night before.

    I tried to get my billing done on a regular basis. I was always laboring

under the strange delusion that if I got my bills mailed out quickly, I would

get paid quickly.

    As The Kid got ready to leave, I hollered at him, "Hey! Take Johnny

with you. You guys get yourself an ice cream cone while you're in town."

    Johnny loved to ride around with The Kid. Although The Kid would

never admit it, he liked it too. And nothing pleased the two of them more

than a big ice cream cone on a hot afternoon.

    No doubt Johnny was familiar with ice cream long before he went to

work for me, but it was The Kid who introduced him to a whole new world

of multi-flavored ice cream.

    The first time I gave The Kid an extra dollar with instructions to buy the

two of them an ice cream cone, Johnny had insisted on vanilla.

    "Blanca," he had demanded. "Blanca!" The Kid had embellished on

these instructions and bought them both a cherry-vanilla cone. This began

a whole new experience for Johnny, in which the two of them would sneak

off every chance they got and experiment with a new flavor of ice cream.

    In the end, Johnny decided that pistachio-almond was the best of all

possible flavors, and insisted on it every time.

    The sight of that crazy little Mexican man in his filthy hat, and that

skinny, sun-baked white-boy perched side-by-side on the back of a

flat-bed truck and eagerly licking their pistachio-almond ice cream cones,

was about the most incongruous thing I ever saw.

    The two of them became mutual sidekicks, and could be seen regularly

traversing the dirt roads between the fields where they plied their trade as

professional flagmen.

    They were often seen licking ice cream cones together.

    The day that The Kid took Johnny to the post office was a day like any

other. They were back at the airstrip no more than forty-five minutes

later, having picked up the fungicide, mailed the letters, and purchased

two pistachio-almond ice cream cones. Johnny couldn't have been happier

if he had spent the day at Disney World. The Kid was in a pretty good

humor too.

    That night, when The Kid and I sat down in a little country restaurant

to our first meal on a plate in weeks, he told me about their trip to town.

    "Today I taught Johnny how to mail a letter," he suddenly announced.

    Not having anticipated such an opening, the best I could manage was,

"You taught him how to mail a letter?"

    "Yeah, that's what I taught him. How to mail a letter," The Kid boasted!

    "Well, Okay, tell me how you taught Johnny how to mail a letter," I

said.

    "Well, that's what I did," The Kid explained matter-of-factly. "He had

never mailed a letter. Never. Not even once. I taught him how." And here

The Kid went into one of his uncontrollable little laughing spells. Then he

got all embarrassed and started looking around the restaurant to see if

anybody had been watching him.

    I could tell there was more to the story. "Okay, tell me how you taught

Johnny how to mail a letter," I coaxed.

    "Well, we picked up the fungicide and went on to the post office. That

was before we got the ice cream. When I went inside to mail the letters,

Johnny followed me. Just as I was about to dump them in the mail slot,

Johnny asked me if he could mail one of them. I said, 'Why do you want to

mail a letter? How come?', and he said that he only wanted to mail one of

them. He said that I could mail all the rest. He said, please, let him mail

just one. He said, he kept saying, that I could mail all the rest, he only

wanted to mail just one. Johnny kept acting like mailing a bunch of letters

was some kind of a big deal. He kept begging that he only wanted to mail

'just one'." After a little laughing spell The Kid continued.

    "Anyway," he went on. "I said, 'How come you want to mail a letter?',

and he said, 'Cause I ain't never mailed no letter.' I said, 'You ain't never

mailed no letter?' He said, 'No, nada, nevvvver. Uno? Por Favor?'"

    Then The Kid started choking and laughing, and he got so out of hand

that he wrapped his arms around his head to try to keep it all inside. By

now people all over that little country restaurant were starting to stare at

him. We went on to finish our supper, but I knew that there was more to

the story.

    On our way out to the old farmhouse we were living in that summer,

the story got under way again.

    "There was a hippie there," The Kid went on. "He was just standing

there. Hair down to his elbows, beads, shower clogs. He was watching us,

me and Johnny. He kept looking at Johnny and blinking his eyes. Then

Johnny started begging me to let him mail a letter. He kept saying, 'Just

one?', like I really cared who mailed those letters."

    "So I handed him the stack of letters and told him to mail'em. But you

know Johnny, nothin's simple. He started looking at all the letters. He

would look at the letter on the top of the stack, then put it on the bottom

of the stack, and look at the next letter. He was holding them upside

down. Did you know Johnny can't read? He can't. I know. I can tell. He

couldn't read anything on those letters."

    "He was looking at them upside down, and side-ways, and

catty-cornered," The Kid went on. "He couldn't read anything. I could tell.

And then he started grinning at me. You know how Johnny is? Just

grinning, like he was crazy? And walking around. You know how Johnny

is? Well, that's what he was doing. Right there in the post office. He was

just walking around like a crazy man, and grinning all over the place, and

that hippie was just staring at him and blinking his eyes. And Johnny was

grinning, and making funny noises, and walking real funny-like. You know

how Johnny is. You know how Johnny can walk around sometimes? Well,

that's the way he was walking. Just walking around crazy and making all

those noises."

    The Kid became silent for a while, remembering how funny it had all

been. Finally he continued. "And then Johnny saw that hippie staring at

him. And he quit grinning. You know how Johnny's eyes can get real

black? You know how Johnny is? You know how he can sometimes get all

stiff, and his eyes get that look in them, and it makes everybody scared?

Well, that's the way he got, right there in the post office. I got to wishing

Santos was there, 'cause you know how Johnny can get sometimes."

    "And he was looking at that hippie with that look in his eyes, and all of

a sudden he says, 'Hey! You! You lookkkking me? You lookkkking at

sommmmmethinnnng? You lookkking me?' You know how Johnny can talk

sometimes? You know how he can stretch out all his words? Well, that's

the way he was talking, with his words all stretched out. I was starting to

wish Santos was there."

    And in that point in the story, The Kid got all quiet again, remembering

how Johnny could get sometimes, and the way his eyes got black, and the

way it made everybody scared.

    But that only lasted for a minute, then he exploded in laughter. He

didn't care now. We were driving down a little country road at night, and

there was nobody around to stare at him.

    Between laughs, The Kid continued his story.

    "You know what Johnny did then? You know what he said? He just

looked at that hippie, the way Johnny can sometimes look at somebody,

and he said, 'You lookkkking me? You loookkking me you gringo

son-a-beech, you loookkking me?'

    And then he started walking toward that hippie, the way Johnny walks,

sometimes. You know what I mean? You know the way Johnny can walk?

With his one foot all bent under, and the way he moves his arms? You

know the way he kinda gets stiff all over, and his eyes get black, you know

what I mean? Well, that's the way he was walking, and that hippie's eyes

got big as plates, and he ran around a table, then he headed for the door,

and he lit off running out of there like the whole world was on fire. And all

this time, Johnny was saying, 'You loookkking me? You loookkking me,

you gringo son-a-beech?'"

    And The Kid was off all over again, laughing himself to death. After a

while he got quiet again. "Johnny had never mailed a letter. Not even one.

Not in his whole life. So I gave him the whole stack and told him to

mail'em. But you know Johnny, nothing's simple. He took one letter off the

top and looked it over all over again. Front, back, upside down, crossways,

ever way a guy can look at something. But he wouldn't put the letter in

the mail slot."

    "I kept telling him to hurry up. I knew you were waiting on the

fungicide. But he just kept on grinning, and looking at that letter. Then he

handed it back to me. He wanted me to mail the first letter. He wanted to

watch me mail it so that he could learn how. He had never mailed a letter.

Not even once. Never."

    "So I showed him how. I just stuck it in the mail slot and mailed it!

Johnny was watching me real good. Then he took the next letter and held

it just exactly like I had held the first letter. He had the writing side up,

and he put the stamp end in first. Just like me. He seemed to think that it

wouldn't work if it wasn't done just exactly like that. You had to put the

stamp end in first! That was the first letter Johnny ever mailed, ever!"

    "Then a lady happened to walk in, and she glanced at Johnny as he was

going through all his commotion of mailing a letter. I was scared that

Johnny would ask her what she was looking at.

    So I got right in front of him and told him to hurry up. I told him you

would be mad if we didn't hurry up. I told him Santos would be mad if we

didn't hurry up. But he didn't care. I could tell. You know how Johnny is?

He just didn't care. He just wanted to grin, and mail letters, and walk

around inside the post office all day."

    "You know what I mean? You know the way Johnny walks? I like to

never got him to mail all those letters. He mailed them one at a time.

Every time he mailed one he wanted to walk around all over the place,

and grin at everybody, even the lady who was starting to stare at him, and

I was scared to death that he was going to ask her what she was looking

at."

    "And every time he mailed a letter, he mailed it just exactly like the

first one. He would look at it every which way, then put the writing on top,

and the stamp end in first. And he would hold it for a long time, before he

would finally let go. And he would grin at me. You know how Johnny is? I

like to never got him to mail all those letters. That was the first time in

Johnny's life he had ever mailed a letter, ever! And I taught him how!"

    "Then we went and got ice cream cones."

 

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