Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Nelsons of Nozzy

[Note to Kris Kelly, Managing Editor of Nozzy News, handwritten in black ballpoint on a 4" x 6" sticky note, on the bottom 1/3 of which is a cartoon of three people incapacitated by laughter and clutching, respectively, their forehead, stomach, and knee, with the caption "YOU WANT IT WHEN? !":

Dear Kris:
I had this crazy idea for the story contest. I hope you and Iron will like it. I was watching my favorite story on tv (Days of Our Lives) and I thought, "Hey! Someone should tell a story like this about a Nozzy family!" But I think it should be less about cheating spouses and "afternoon delights" and more about what goes on in people's heads. Sometimes the tv stories get a little over-dramatic, you know? If you think it's good enough, maybe you could run it in the paper!
I do have one concern. I think some people might take some things the characters think the wrong way. So, if you're willing to run the story in the paper, then please-please-please don't put my real name to it! Just call me Suzy Q or something like that.
I'll drop off each week's installment sometime over the weekend at your office drop-box, like I did this one. Hope you like it!

Harriette Deanna Osmond

P.S. Please don't call this a soap opera. I hate that name. Serial is okay though.]

I'm gonna run this one, unless you object. I'm pretty sure you'll like it. If anyone complains, it'll just sell more papers.

Installment 1 of … ?
By Suzie Q.

1. Janeece

It was when Lamarr started pronouncing the word "again" like "ah-GAYN" that Janeece Luann Christiansen Nelson finally decided: that was the last straw.
"Ah-gayn!" Oh my heck. She'd only ever heard a few people say it that way. There was Bill Cosby--but at least he was funny. That bit he did about giving birth cracked her up every time: "You take your lower lip...and pull it...over your head." And there were a couple of professors on PBS who said it like that--but they were from Harvard or somewhere and couldn't help it. Pretentiousness was in their blood.
Lamarr, though, he had no excuse. Like her, he was Nozzy-born and -bred. He never went to college, and only graduated from Nozzy High because his perfect attendance and outspoken respect for teachers rendered them incapable of writing the letter F. He farmed, and watched tv, and did his church work. He said "liberry" and "he seen," and he used "come" as a past tense ("Yesterday he come over to the house"). Now here he was talking like some East Coast hoity-toit. AH-GAYN. Have mercy.
Aha! It hit her where he got it. Otherwise lacking all ambition, Lamarr burned to advance in the Mormon church hierarchy. He constantly listened to talks by the General Authorities in his pickup and tractor, from an unending series of cassettes the family couldn't really afford. Each week he bought a fresh batch from the Deseret Book Store in the Logan Mall.
Which of those indistinguishable old men was it? Their names all sounded alike: Portentous X. Angloname … Were they like that as kids--humorless, admonitory, sucking the air right out of a room? Or were they named that way and then grew to fit the names?
Percy L. Hunter! Yes! He always managed to work the fact that he was educated at Harvard into his talks. Although he tried to make himself sound humble, it always sounded like plain old bragging to Janeece. It was him who said AH-GAYN, the big old-money phony. Poor dumb Lamarr--for the first time ever, she realized she didn't feel like correcting herself--poor dumb Lamarr was too un-self-aware to even know he was doing it; but clearly, he labored mightily to learn and imitate the cadence, the style, the stolid boring monotone of his Church heroes. Apparently his instinctive logic was: if I can talk like one of them, I can be one of them. Style will create substance. He learned slowly, so he had to clock a lot of hours chipping away at it. He wouldn't even let her talk to him in the truck any more. He just listened intently, head cocked a bit to the side, affable confusion in his eyes.
Not only did those Authorities' names sound the same to Janeece, so did their talks. They all spoke at General Conference as if they'd received stern instructions to stretch a ten-minute talk to a full hour without adding any words. Full stops abounded. Many-syllabled, self-evident propositions proliferated. "My good brothers and sisters. Life is difficult. But you know. And I know. Oh, so well, so very blessedly well. That our Heavenly Father loves us. Us. Always. For time and all eternity. Despite our shortcomings. In all our human imperfections. And our terrestrial, fleshly flaws. We are truly made of clay, and our Heavenly Father forgives us this. I testify that this is true." You could take ten minutes saying just that if you did it right.
AH-GAYN. And there went Janeece's last straw. She'd known since they were dating in high school that she was smarter. She'd heard enough for one lifetime--enough "for time and all eternity," she grumbled to herself--on the subject of how as the "head of the household," the "holder of the priesthood in this family," and so forth, he had the authority and inspiration to make all the decisions. Authority, who knows, but to be honest, he was generally about as inspired as a bag full of hammers. For sixteen years she'd subtly steered him straight, all the while helping him believe it was all his bright idea. No more. Enough, you big dummy. I'm done.
She had no immediate plans--pictured no imminent drastic action, no confrontation, no name-calling. But she heard the *SNAP* of her back breaking, and it sounded like: AH-GAYN.
Whatever happened now, at least she'd no longer feel obliged to stay quiet about it.

2. Tom

Tom (not Thomas, Tom) Edward Nelson wished he'd never signed up for freshman typing class. Correction: he almost wished he'd never taken it. He knew he'd need it for college in a few years, and it would definitely come in handy for searches in the library catalog. But he probably should have foreseen that it would tap straight into his Thing.
Not sure what else to call it, but certain it wasn't normal, Tom mentally referred to it as "the Thing." (He referred to it only mentally; it wasn't the kind of thing you could ever tell anyone.) The Thing required him to repeat an action or a thought over and over…well, until he was done. Sometimes that could be quite a long time indeed. Aiming his finger like a gun at the tv screen, finding exactly the center of the geometrically imperfect rectangle. Playing an Atari game--Missile Command was the best for this, followed closely by Space Invaders--without making a single mistake or mistimed shot (because making even one required him to then turn the machine off and back on, then start over). Repeating a word or phrase in his head until it lost all meaning. And now, spelling out words by tapping his fingers one at a time against his thumbs, as if typing, which in fact he was doing mentally.
Once Tom had memorized all the key positions, a whole detailed system immediately invented itself, coming to him all at once. Letters on the home row were one point; letters up or down one row, either way, were two points. That was the letter's "cost." Its "value" was determined by how far in it went from the little finger: qaz and p;/ were each 1; wsx and ol. were each 2, edc and ik,, 3; rfv and ujm, 4; tgb and yhn, 5. The ideal thing was to find words that had a ratio of cost to value that was exactly 1:2 on each hand. The best word Tom had found so far was "slur," because each individual letter and the whole word kept that ratio, plus each letter had a mirror pair (s with l, u with r). "Tine" (as in a fork) averaged out correctly too: t and n were one too high, but e and i were one low, so it all added up. "Worm" was half-right (the r and m), and it had symmetry, but w and o had values of two points when they should have four. He was on the lookout all the time for words that were perfect mathematically.
The Thing had kind of named itself. Coach Bloomquist finished every pep talk or explanation during basketball practice by adding, "…On the thing," or "…On the doggone thing," or for short, "…On it." ("You set a pick on the forward, then slide off to the corner where you'll be open. On the thing.") Sometimes a few seconds would stretch out before he said it--but he always said one of the variations, often with a face reflecting reluctance. Tom knew enough to see that Coach B couldn't not say it. He had a Thing, also, and that was its name--Thing. That made the Thing much less daunting: Coach was a smart guy, and he'd managed to get married and have kids, and he hung on to his job; his Thing didn't ruin his life. If he could live with it, then Tom could too.
During basketball games, and practice, Tom occupied his mind and fingers running through words while his body ran up and down court. "Wedding." "Coin." "Nickel." Midway through the second quarter against West Side, his friend Mitch, the point guard, asked him, "Hey, man, what are ya doin with your fingers?" Discovered! Tom hesitated, then joked, "Heh, just counting all the points I'm gonna make in this game." Mitch laughed and nodded. Getting caught added a layer of difficulty: he had to concentrate hard to run through words while not broadcasting finger movements, all while keeping his head in the game.
Tom finished the game with 23 points, 11 rebounds, and one almost-perfect word. The math came out right with "minter," but it didn't seem like a real word anyone would ever use. "Minted" was a real word, but that d was one point too high.
So close, but not quite perfect.

3. Lamarr

Lamarr Oren Nelson wished women came with instruction manuals. Well, instruction cassettes--he wasn't much of a reader, he'd admit that. He could tell something was going on these days with Janeece, but dang it all if he could figure out what. It wasn't a time-of-the-month thing, though that would have been his first guess. It'd lasted about six months now, far as he could tell. Since summer, it was, he'd catch her scowling at him across the dinner table during his blessing of the food, or when he was rounding her and Tom up for church Sunday morning, or during his favorite parts of Elder Hunter's awesome inspiring talks in the truck. What had he done? Her birthday wasn't until May, and they'd had a June wedding, so he didn't forget those. What?