george saunders, "my flamboyant grandson" handout page
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462 . Ceorge SaundersMy Flamboyant Grandson . 463
Geo.ge Saunders was born in 1958 in Amarillo,Texas, He trained as a scientist
at the Colorado School of Mines and after graduation worked in Sumatra and
Indcnesra, analyzing seismic data in order to prosped for oil. During that time
lre rvas also writing, and eventually graduated from the M.F.A. program at
Syr.:use Unrversity. He is the author of the collections CivilWorLond in Bod
Dec ne ( l99tr), a PEN/Hemingway linalist, and Postorolto (2000). Known for his
hilarious and often absurd depictions of contemporary life, Saunders follows
the tradition of great American satirists, such as KurtVonnegut,Jr: In an inter-
vreir with tfe AtlonLic, Saunders talked about hovr he achieves humor in a
51et y: "l've been asked if when l'm writing I know it's funny, and I think the an-
swr rs generally no. Because I think funniness has something to do wrth com-
pre;sion.When I write I know that I'm going to have to produce 40 percent
nrc:e than I need. Sometimes l'll write a whole page and there'll be just one lit-
tle ;chtick that's good in there. l'll eventually just cut the rest and go with that,
ancl rf I'm lucky I get to something funny A lot of it has to do with knowing how
to -ut, so that you get a juxtaposition of strange elementsl'
My Flamboyant Grandson
J ha,l brought my grandson to New York to see a show. Because what isI hc always doing, up here in Oneontaf Singing and dancing, sometimesto my old show-tune records, but more often than not to his favorite CD,"Babar Sings," sometimes even making up his own steps, which I do notmind. or rather I trv not to mind it. Although I admit that once, cominginto his room and frnding him wearing a pink boa while singing, in thevoice of the Old Ladg "I Have Never Met a Man Like That Elephant," Ihad t, r walk out and give it some deep thought and prayer, as was also thecasc rvhcn he lumbered into the parlor during a recent church couplesdinncr, singing "Big and Slow, Yet So Very Regal," wearing a tableclothspray painted gray, so as to more closely resemble Babar.
I';cing a man who knows something about grandfatherly disapproval,having had a grandfhther who constantly taunted me for having enlargedcalve;-to thc extent that even today, when bathing, I find myself think-
rng unkind thoughts about Grandfather-what I prayed on both occa-sions was: Dear Lord, he is what he is, let me love him no matter what. Ifhe is a gay child, God bless him; if he is a non_gay child who simply verymuch enjoys wearing his grandmorher's wig while singing ..ld"i*"lrr. tothe dog, so be it, and in.ith..."r. let -.
communicate my love and ac-ceptance in everything I do.Because where is a
-child to go for unconditional love, if not to hisgrandfatherf He has had it tough]i.r
-y view, with his mother in Nevadaand a father unknown,.raiyd by t i, gr"rramother and me in an otherwisechildless neighborhood, ptaying
" tirry yard that ends in a grave-
f.ard waf . The boys in trli scfro-ot "..
h"rJ o' hi_, ", "r.
J.-grlr, ", "..the teachers, and recentry we found his book bag in the Susquehanna,and recendy also found, taped to the back of his jacket,
" al.og"rorynote, and the writing on ir was not all that childish_tookirrg, ;d therewere rumors that his bus driver had written it.
Then one day I had a reveladon. If the lad likes to sing and dance, Is":ghl
why not expose him to the finesr singing "n.t
a"i.ir1g there isfSo I called I-800-CULTURE, got or'pro_irror-y Voucher in-the mail,and on Teddy's birthday rt. toof the train down to New york.As we enrered the magnificent lobby of the Eisner Tl;;;., I was ingood spirits, saying to f'eJdy, The size or *ri, stage will make that littlestage I built you behind th; gara*e look patheti., Jh.r, ,.raa.rty _. *.r.stopped by a stern young fbllow (a Mr.'Ernesti, I berieve) who said, weare sorry, sir, but vou cannot be admitted o.,
V:1.h.1, are you kidding us) you -rrr,i"t1-your
Voucher and your proofof Purchases from at least six of o,r, U",o, Artistic Sponsors, such asAOL, such as Coke, and go at once to th. -it"a._ption
Center, on Forry_fourth and Broadwav. to get your rear actuar tickets, and please do not belate' as latecomers .-rroib. admitted, d;.;" special effects which occur:1'Ir "y
which require total darkness in -d"r
to simulate the Afiican;ungte at night.
Well, this was news to me, but I was not about to disappoint the boy.We left the Eisnerand started up Broadway, the Everly i."a"r, _ ,fr.:*I* :."ding
the .Everty Strips.in o,r, ,to.s, the building_mounrednuilscreens at eye level showing images reflective of th! p..rorrrtPreferences we 'd stared o' orr,
-orirlrly E;;ly preference Worksheets, thenumerous cybec Sudden Emergent screens outthrusting o, do*o-thr.rrt-ing inches from our faces, and in addition I courd very clearly hear the
464 . f.eo;ge S:'-.inders
s()und only lnessages bcing beamcd to me and mc alone via various KakioAural Focussers, such as one dr.rt shoutcd out to me between Forty-sec-ond anci Forty-third, "Mr. Petrillo, you chose Burger King eight times lastiiscal ycrr but only tw() times thus fbr this fiscal year, please do not forsakeus no% thcre is a store one block north!," in the voice of Broadway starF,laine lVcston, while at Forty-third a light-pole-mounted Focussershouted, "Golh'. Leonard, remember your childhood on the farm inOr.reontal Why not reclaim those roots with a Starbucks Country Roastf ,"in a celcbrity rural voice I could not identify, possibly Buck Owens, andthcn, bt'st of all, in the doorway of PLC Electronics, a life-size Gene Kellyhologram suddenll, ap;leared, tap-dancing, saying, "Leonard, my data in-dicates vou're a bit of an old-timer like myselfl Gosh, in our day life wassimpler, wasn't it, lronardl Why not come in and let Frankie Z. explainthc latcst gizmos!" And he looked so real I called out to Teddy, "Teddy,lok thcre, Gene Kelly, do you remcmber I mentioned him to you as oneof the arl-time great dancers?" But Teddy of course did not see Gene Kelly,(icne B-elly not being one of his Prefbrences, but instead saw his heroBabar, sr.r'inging a small rnonkey on his trunk while saying that his data in-dicatcd that Tccldy did not yet own a Nintendo.
So that was fun, that was very New York, but what was not so funwas, by the time wc got through the line at the Redemption Center, itwas ten minutcs until showtimc, and my feet had swollen up the way theydo sho,'tly betore they begin spontaneously bleeding, which they havedr>ne cvcr sincc a winter spent in thc fieezing muck
465 . C,e:rgc Saurrders
Nou', cven being fiom Oneonta, I knew that being written up does
not take ()nc or two minutcs, we would be standing there at least half anhour, aftcr which rve would havc to go to an Active Complaints Center,where thcv would check our Strips fbr Operabiliry and make us watchthat correctivc vidco callcd "Robust Economy, Super Moral Climate!,"which I had already been madc to watch three times last winter, when I
was ()ut of work and rvc could not af-ford cable. And we would totally
miss "Babar Sings"!Pleasc, I saicl, please , we have seen plenty of personalized messages,
via both rhe building-mounted miniscrccns at eye level and those sud-
clcnly out-thrusting Cybec Enrergent Screens, we have learned plenty fbr
onc day. honcst to God we have-furd ire said, Sir, since when do you make the call as far as when you
have rece'vcd enor.rgh useful information from our Artistic Partnersl Andjust kept ,.r,riting me up.
Well, there I was, in my socks, there was Teddy, with a scared look in
his eycs I hadn't seen since his toddler days, when he had such a fear ofchickcns that we could ncver buy Rosemont eggs, due to the cartoonchicken c'n the crrton, or, if we did, had to first cut the chickcn off, withscissors ue kept in the car for that pulpose. So I made a quick decision,and seizel that Citizen Helper's ticket pad and flung it into the street,shcluting at Teddy, Run! Run!
And :un hc did. And run I did. And while that Citizen Helper floun-dcred in the strcet, torn between chasing us and retrieving his pad, weraced dori'n Broadway, and glancing back over my shoulder I saw a hulk-ing youn;; nlan stick out his foot, and down that Helpcr went, and soon I
was handing our tickets to the same stcrn Mr. Ernesti, who was now lessstcn], an(l in we went, and took our seatsr as the stars appeared overheadand thc Lisner was transtbrmed into a nighttime jungle .
And suddcnly there was Babar, looking with longing toward Paris,u'hcrc thc ()ld I.ady was saying that she had dreamed of someone namedBabar, urd dici any of us knowwho this Babarwas, andwhere he mightbc founcil And Tcddy knew the answer, fiom the Original Cast CD,which rv;rs llabar is within us, in all of our hearts, and he shouted it outu.'ith all :lrc othcr childrcn, as the Old Lady began singing "The KingInside of You."
Anci lct mc tcll you, fiom that moment everything changed for-t'cddv. I am happy to report he has joined the play at school. He wears ascarf evcrvwhcre he goes, rhr()wing it over his shoulder with what canonlv be ,lescribeci as bravado, and says, whenever asked, that he has de-
My Flamboyant Grandson . 467
cided to become an actor. This from a boy too timid to trick-or-treat!This from the boy we once found waiking home from school in rears,padlocked to his own bike! There are no more late -night crying episodes,he no longer writes on his arms with permanent
-"rk.r, rt" t."p. out t,i
bed in the morning, anxious to get to school, and dons his scarf, and is al-rea