Written by: David Garber
Hey. My name’s Kyle Benson, but my buddies call me KB.
I just spent four weeks in the hospital, diagnosed with PSD – Paranoiac Schizophrenic Disorder — the result of slow reflexes on a line drive during a softball game. Long story short, I was seeing people who weren’t there. But the doctors say I’m better now, no more hallucinations, no more voices.
Probably the worst part of the whole thing was all of the hospital tests. One of the X-ray dyes they gave me caused some acute stomach disorder – okay, I had to fart, and in the worst way. They pushed me by wheelchair onto the elevator, taking me down for an MRI. When the doors shut, I become conscious of the music playing really loudly, so to prevent my exploding, I timed my ‘toots’ with the bass kicker beat. What a relief. When I was wheeled off at the second floor I noticed the other passengers giving me the “stink eye.” I thought that was strange until I got into the hallway and realized they couldn’t hear the loud music I was farting along to. It was coming from my iPod.
Today I’m going on my first date with my girlfriend since my release – if you can call grabbing coffee a date. And if you can call Shelby my girlfriend. I mean she is a girl and she is a friend – but we haven’t officially linked the two words together yet. That’ll come. I know it will. Fingers crossed? Check. Sign of the cross? Check. Kiss the mezuzah my Jewish buddy gave me? Check. I’m not too superstitious… just covering all the bases.
When I arrived at our favorite coffee place, she wasn’t there yet – maybe my being twenty minutes early had something to do with it. Or maybe she was tied up picking out which of her 30 pairs of shoes were the right ones for her outfit. Funny how guys only need two pairs and can make anything work.
I ordered coffee while I was waiting. I’m not awkward or goofy or anything like that, it’s just I’m nervous around girls. I’m what you might call, passively unconfrontational. To avoid arguments with my last girlfriend about lifting and putting down the toilet seat, I started peeing in the sink. T.M.I.?
My coffee came but there was no cream. I wasn’t too successful getting my waitress’s attention so I leaned over to the next table where this older guy was sitting alone. I tapped him on the shoulder and asked if I could borrow his creamer.
Something struck me about this guy as he handed me the carafe — he looked vaguely familiar. Then again, in Hollywood, lots of people look like other people. Some even have plastic surgery to help that along. Can you imagine someone going into their doctor and saying, “’Make me look like Honey Boo Boo?’ Or worse yet, her mother?”
Having just recovered from PSD, I was mentally walking a thin line. Just a week ago in my hospital room I was sharing hits on a hookah with Thomas Edison, Groucho Marx and Marie Antoinette. I liked her. She brought cake and ate it too.
Though I’m better now, I still felt I knew this guy with the cream from somewhere.
“I hope you don’t mind, but you look curiously familiar,” I mentioned.
“Familiarity breeds contempt — and children,” the gentleman replied, all the while noodling with a pencil and piece of paper at his table. Then his next words he spoke registered with me – “I would rather have my ignorance than another man’s knowledge. Guess it’s cuz I got so much more of it.”
“Mark Twain!” I recognized those words and even more shockingly, I now recognized him. This is Mark ‘Friggin’ Twain sitting at the next table. I smiled and said, “I thought you were dead.”
The white-haired gentleman stared dryly at me and commented, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
I lightened up my coffee, and then turned back to the man, “Don’t you mean, ‘rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated?” I smiled with self-assurance. Twain was one of my favorite authors. I was a history major in college but I took a ‘lit’ class on him, my senior year.
“I know what I wrote,” the codger shot back, putting me in my place.
He held his hand up, refusing the cream. “You can hold onto it. You’re probably expecting someone.”
“As a matter of fact, I am. Meeting up with my girlfriend. Today is our month and a half anniversary… Not all that long, I know…
“Unless you count in dog years. She’s not a dog, is she?”
I chuckled, “Hardly,“ as I indicated a perfectly quad-folded piece of paper I was eagerly waiting to reveal. “I wrote her a little poem. Hope she likes it.”
“Yer quite the romantic. I’m sure she’ll love it.”
“Getting just the right words and sentiment wasn’t easy,“ I offered. Then I realized, “What am I saying…? You of all people would know that.”
“I do. Might surprise you to know Tom Sawyer started out as Tom Hickock.”
He read my dubiously stunned look because he continued.
“I had met Wild Bill a year or so before writing it. Mighty impressed with the man, I was. He up and got hisself killed the year the book came out so I changed it. Had almost forgotten about that.” He looked wearily at me. “Ya know, of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most… that and my wife.”
“Mr. Twain, how long were you married?”
“Eighteen blissful years.” He smiled, followed by an acknowledging nod. “Course I was married for thirty-four total, but eighteen was blissful.” While I chuckled at his strange sense of humor, he added, “Secret to my marriage was it’s better to keep yer mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt. Olivia surely would echo that.”
“Well I appreciate any words of wisdom from you. You’re books inspired me. They’re classics.”
“Classic, eh? Ain’t that what they call a book which people praise and don’t read?”
This guy sure had a brilliant view of things… And he did make me smile. Now, more than ever, I couldn’t wait to be with Shelby. I kept looking at my watch, thinking she’d appear sooner if I was watching the moments tick away.
“Might be yer two months anniversary by the time she shows.” Twain flashed me a benevolent wink. He assured me my ‘gal’ would be along presently. “Gal?” Who uses that anymore?
The humorous thought was broken by Twain’s “Don’t let this celebration of yers get yer britches all up in a knot. Ever think of what ought to be done to the man who invented the celebrating of anniversaries? Ask me? Mere killing would be too light, don’t you think?”
Twain fascinated me. All the while he was reading my nervousness and trying his best to sooth me with humor. “Tell you what, son, I’ll part a piece of advice to ya, if yer so inclined.”
“Please. Go right ahead,” I gushed. “I can use all the help I can get.”
“You want to get this gal’s mind a to ya? Give her something she’ll always remember you by? A little parlor trick I learned back in Connecticut.”
“I’m not good with tricks.”
“Don’t have to be. She’s the one gonna be a doing it. After she sits, have her rotate her right ankle in circles, clockwise, like this.” He demonstrated.
“Then,” Twain said, “bet her a kiss you can make her change her foot’s direction into a counter motion. She’ll argue with ya but when she agrees to the kiss, tell her to draw a “6” in the air with her right finger. Her foot’ll change and start going in a counterclockwise direction. Promise ya. She won’t be able to figure it out none, and while she’s a trying again and again, read her yer poem. No matter whether it’s good or not, she’ll remember it ferever. Rest my word on that!” And you’ll remember it fer the kiss.
“KB? KB?” This was followed by a firmer, “Kyle?” Shelby’s voice snapped my attention to and I quickly turned away from Twain and toward her.
“Shelby, you made it. I want you to meet…” And I turned back to… an empty seat. Samuel Langhorne Clemens was gone.
She looked at me peculiarly, “Meet who, Kyle?”
I plucked the paper from his table and read it: “Grief can take care of itself; but to get the full value of a joy you must have someone to divide it with.” Signed, Pudd’nhead Wilson. I smiled reading that. Twain was writing about love, Shelby’s and my love.
“Who did you want me to meet?” she asked again.
“Nobody,” I hesitantly replied, trying to withhold my disappointed confusion. “Sit down. I want to make a little bet with you. I’ll bet you a kiss…”