“Have you seen see?” Goober asks. See? Sea? C? I have a hard time understanding Goober sometimes, so I just sort of shake my head to encourage him to continue.
Goober is my small engine repair guy, and one of the few people I talk to anymore. Everyone seems to call him Goober except his wife who calls him Edwin. I can’t call a grown man Goober, so if I have to refer to him at all I use buddy, which is fairly acceptable in these parts, as in “Hey, I think you might be on fire there, buddy.” (Pipe smoker, really happened.)
He’s not called Goober because we live in a Mayberry-esque region of Southern Appalachia or because he’s good with engines, he’s called Goober because his last name is Pease. He runs a busy business which is surprising because it’s almost impossible to get to. The road to where I live is full of signs warning 4-wheel drive only and not state maintained and use of chains advised, but to get to Goober’s place I have to go halfway down my road and then turn back up on a much worse road for almost two miles. So much for location location location.
Some of the roads on the mountain started out as narrow-gauge logging rail lines a hundred years ago. When the trees ran out, the tracks were removed and the railbeds were used for summer daytrippers in Model A Fords coming up to enjoy the views and cool temperatures. The converted roads were only wide enough for one lane so everyone had to go up before a certain time and come down after a certain time. You can still find remnants of food stands and scenic overlooks, but the roads are now uneven bedrock that is even challenging for four-wheel drives with raised suspensions.
“See?” I ask.
“TV show,” he says. “New thing. Watch it with the wife.”
“Okay,” I say.
“It’s post-apocalyptic,” he glances at me to see if I understand and returns to degumming my chainsaw carburetor. “Couple hundred years back something went wrong and most folks died. The ones that survived lost their sight, so now they can’t see no more.”
“Guess not,” I say.
Interesting premise. Loss of vision would not just be a major bummer, it would mark a species-wide turning-point. Thus rendered a literal kingdom of the blind, mankind would veer off into a whole new storyline. The major themes would remain the same, but it would be like playing soccer with a bowling ball; same rules, but a very different game.
“They can still do a lot of things, you know. Form into communities, fight battles, get around pretty good. They can record words on string using knots. They have a lot of the stuff they find from, you know, our world, so the way they use it is pretty interesting. They got no words for colors or to say how things look. They don’t know there’s such a thing as the moon. They can’t read old books or write any new ones.”
He takes a break from my sadly abused chainsaw to fill and tamp and light his pipe.
“But what’s interesting ain’t that they lost their sight but they don’t remember ever havin’ it.” He peeks out from under his oily ballcap to see if I’m keeping up. “After a few generations I guess, they forgot there ever was such a thing as bein’ able to see, or maybe now it’s just a magic power in a children’s story. Can you imagine?”
I can. I write books about that magic power in this children’s story. He doesn’t know I write books, of course, he thinks I’m a city guy who, for whatever shady reason, has sought refuge on his mountain. That’s not completely untrue; the refuge part anyway. If I lived up here for a hundred years I’d never belong, but I don’t want to belong, I want to be buffered from the things of man without being apart from them. You always need a friendly waitress and a good small engine guy and a few others. There’s also Lisa and her kid, Maggie; they’re my only real people anymore, but I can go weeks without seeing Lisa and months without seeing Maggie, who’s not really a kid anymore anyway.
“They get along just fine,” Goober continues, “like not being able to see is normal, which I guess it is for them. But think about it for a minute,” he checks to see if I’m thinking about it, “what if that was us? I mean, what if that was us right now?”
Yes, I think. Don’t stop, Goob. You’re on a roll.
“My goodness, how can you ever know what you don’t even know you don’t know? If you don’t know you don’t know, what chance do you got? I mean, it’s just gone, right? But listen, I’m talking about us now.” He punctuates the air with his pipe-stem. “What if there’s somethin’ important we should know but we don’t even know we don’t know it? You ever think about that?”
“Thinkin’ about it now,” I say.
“Yeah, you oughta.”
His wife sticks her head in. “I’m leaving now, Edwin. I’ll be home by six. Anything down the hill?”
That’s a standard goodbye when down-the-hill is such an ordeal and cell phone coverage is spotty. Nobody wants to make a special trip because they forgot to do the banking or pick up a prescription, and anyone who doesn’t return when expected has to be looked for. Goob says something about picking up something he ordered somewhere. She blows him a kiss and gives me a little wave and departs.
He seems more like an Ed than a Goober to me, like the nickname came with the last name when he was a kid and now he’s grown out of it, but he’s still stuck with it. I decide to call him Ed should the need arise, as in “Hey, I think you might be on fire there, Ed.”
He taps out his pipe in a glass ashtray and returns it to his shirt pocket. He turns his attention back to my chainsaw, which he calls a power saw. My eyes linger on the heavy glass ashtray. It’s green, made for pipes. He’s probably had it forever. Probably got it from his dad. I bet it’s a part of him, like if I smashed it on the cement floor right now he’d be emotionally wounded. I’d feel that way if someone hurt Maya, but I could snap out of it on a dime. Could he? Bet not. People are weird. That’s the kind of stuff I think about when I’m around people. I’m weird. It’s not even weird to be weird. We’re all weird. This whole deal is weird and the weirdest thing is pretending it’s not. Like I’m some great spiritual expert or something? Like that’s not weird? Gimme a break.
Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.
“Think about that for a minute,” he says. “What if we’re like them folks right now? Why should we think we ain’t? We wouldn’t even know, that’s the point. We’re just goin’ along like everything’s fine, and maybe everything ain’t fine. Maybe we got some sense or ability or something we don’t even know about. Like the folks on that TV show, how would we even know? Can you even imagine such a thing?”
I’m amused to think he’s unknowingly speaking with the world’s leading authority on such a thing. The alignment is too pronounced and suggests a big playful puppy at work behind the scenes. The universe is funny that way. Am I summoning or animating this Goober character, or is it just a coincidence? Ultimately, I guess, it all coincides.
“It’s like 1984,” I contribute, forgetting to keep my stupid mouth shut but too amused by the setup not to play along. “They keep down-sizing the language so, eventually, people won’t know they’re enslaved because freedom will no longer exist even as an idea.”
“No, it’s not like that,” he says, a little slower so I can follow. “It’s like they don’t even know they’re blind because they forgot there was such a thing as sight. Nothing at all to do with freedom.”
“Okay,” I say. He gives me a sideways look.
“It ain’t about the TV show, see? It’s about us. We could be like them right now. We could be missing out on some big thing and not even know it. I just think that’s a pretty interesting thing to think about.”
“Yeah,” I say, “me too.”