My local friend, Shelby-Gail, is one of the most well-meaning, generous women I know, and is a person who will be there in times of trouble despite having troubles of her own. But here I am, about to gossip on her. As Clairee in Steel Magnolias said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say about anybody, come sit by me.”
Shelby-Gail’s son, Auggie, is an only child, the apple of her eye who gets things like a swing set for Easter while Phartacus and Slappy are squealing over a couple dozen plastic eggs filled with Skittles and mini Snickers. It seems Auggie had recently finished reading a book his tutor had assigned, and was being rewarded with a trip to the Splendaville Mini Speedway for an afternoon of go karts, miniature golf, and laser tag. When Auggie finished a book report in January, he got a three-day weekend tubing at a ski resort, and last spring he got a trip to a water park for completing his science project. Phartacus remembers these things, compares them to his own deprived existence, and has already ascertained that life is not fair. It’s good to learn this early, I think; I hear many of today’s college grads are having one nasty shock after the other, after years of soccer games where no one loses and science tests where no one fails and family discipline sessions where no one tells him what a dipshit he is for t.p.ing the sheriff’s house and dropping his wallet.
Anyway, poor deprived Phartacus was fortunate enough to scoop up the crumbs of Auggie’s largesse, and was invited to be the special guest at the afternoon of go kart dain bramage. He returned several hours later, sweaty, giddy, covered in co-cola and ketchup stains, and with mysterious clumps in his hair that I later discovered was caramel. Auggie’s entire family piled out of the car, and Mr. Shelby-Gail, a pink-faced man whose lush lawn is weed-free and mowed in a precise diamond pattern, eyed the dust bowl that is our yard with a mixture of pity and disbelief before loping off to play tag and push the boys on our tire swing. Mr. Shelby-Gail is one of those fathers who spends a lot of time golfing, and if he hung around children more he’d know he’s putting way too much effort into the whole thing. Tag? Gimme a damn break.
While her husband crammed 10 hours of parenting into 45 uninvited minutes on my dust bowl lawn, Shelby-Gail launched into a detailed description of just how ridiculously horrible Phartacus is at go kart driving. How he ricocheted off the track walls and Auggie had to brake and back up to avoid hitting him. Repeated demonstrations of how his head snapped back as he hit the wall and how Mr. Shelby-Gail doubled over, helpless with laughter. Apparently Phartacus is also insanely terrible at something called “putt-putt”, which I soon figured out was miniature golf, based on Shelby-Gail’s reenactment of Phartacus, bent over with butt extended as far as humanely possible, holding the club like a hockey stick, I was told between fits of giggles, as I tried to imagine what the difference between the two could possibly be. But it seems that Phartacus redeemed himself during laser tag, displaying an uncanny accuracy that made Shelby-Gail think he’d be an excellent bank robber. It’s good to know she can see his potential. I suggested Auggie could drive the getaway car.