Kenneth Oberman must have been our age, as I can clearly recall him beeing in our class for a while, transferred from god-knows-where. Not long after that, he simply stopped attending school, completely forgoing the customary period of escalating truancy that would have traditionally preceded such a move. He also didn't bother running away, because apparently, he had nothing to run from. There weren't any Obermans in Grosse Pointe, the way there were Cumbersomes or Blumenthals, and there sure was no Oberman house that you could go to if, for whatever insane reasoning, you wished to see Kenneth Oberman. So, Oberman simply stayed in Grosse Pointe, somehow obtained an old Buick Mercury and immediately merged himself and the car into one.
Already a severely disturbed kid while in school, the motorized Oberman now transcended every human comprehension of cruelty.
I couldn't let Geoffrey know that we were looking for Oberman. Just the mention of his name would have thrown him out of the beautiful state of confusion he was in. There would come a time when I would need the analytical mind of Geoffrey Blumenthal at it's full capacity, but right now, I needed him at his most malleable.
As I was dragging Geoffrey Blumenthal through the streets of Grosse Point by the sleeve of his coat, I quickly assessed the situation. There were two events that would inevitably occur, but they would have to occur in a specific order to facilitate the outcome I was aiming for. If Geoffrey was to realize that we were looking for Oberman, we would instantly revert back to his old self, abandon the whole operation, and most likely also lash into a long diatribe about Kenneth Oberman's inherently evil nature (if one could even call it that). So, if I would start trying a number of places that Oberman was known to appear at, Geoffrey's mind would eventually pick up on a pattern and finally realize what I was trying to accomplish. If, on the other hand, Geoffrey was to encounter Oberman completely unprepared, the actual presence of Oberman would transform him into a creature even more submissive than him at his current state. All of this amounted to a game of chance, and I'd always been a gambling man. But there was another way, I thought.
Not only was it unwise to look for Oberman, it was also completely unnecessary: him and his car would unfailingly show up when ever and where ever someone did something that he could be made fun of. Therefore, the smartest way to find Oberman would be to let him find us, and for that, we would have to deliberately make ourselves a target of ridicule. While I was thinking really hard about how to accomplish that, a Buick Century slowly pulled up behind us, and as Kenneth Oberman got out of his car and slowly walked towards us, I couldn't help but think to myself how odd it was, that such a cruel and mean guy like Oberman could also be so confusingly handsome.
“Merry christmas, boys. I can only assume that you have chosen to offer yourselves up to me as some sort of sacrifice. This usually being the slowest time of the year for men such as myself, considering the likes of you tend to be safely at home with your families, I sure do appreciate the gesture. And yet, I must say that you've gone to far with your generosity. There's so much going on with you guys, I don't even know where to start. Well, one thing at a time. What's with the sleds, gentlemen?”
Gosh, I had almost forgotten that Geoffrey and me were still carrying our sleds, tiny, brightly colored ones for kids that we hadn't used in years. We had taken them with us as a very clever disguise, so nobody would suspect anything. Also, I was still holding on to Geoffrey's sleeve, which, as I realized now, could be misinterpreted as us holding hands. Thankfully, there was a perfectly logical explanation to all of this:
“If you must know, Oberman, Blumenthal just found out who draws our favorite Donald Duck comic books, and now we are on our way to California to meet him in person.”
“Do your parents know about this?”
“No, that's what the sleds are for.”
Oberman still seemed uncertain how to proceed, but at the same time amused by the whole thing.
“You know, boys, I'm not sure what to do here. Sure, I could still call you a couple of babies and nancyboys and maybe beat you up, but I don't think that would add anything to it. It would be superfluous and purely ornamental, and ornamentation is about the only criminal activity I won't indulge in. I guess the only right thing for me to do here is to offer you my complete support in whatever it is you are trying to accomplish.”
As far as I knew, only very few people had ever been inside of Kenneth Oberman's car. In one infamous instance a few years back, Oberman had thrown the minister's daughter out of his car at some 30 mph. This happened around the time when Jimmy Dean was all the rage, which had a lot of the girls in town, including the minister's daughter, to speculate about the existence of a sensitive and tortured soul hidden behind Kenneth Oberman's rough exterior. For a while, Oberman seemed to enjoy their attention, and even occasionally fed into the speculations by purposely getting himself caught reading european books or staring into the sky, only to then pretend to get mad at the person who had seen him doing this. Soon enough, he got tired of the whole thing and decided to put an end to it. Through shear luck, the minister's daughter didn't get seriously hurt. However, she said that on that day, she had entered Kenneth Oberman's car as a believer and emerged as a skeptic.
Yet, for a figure of almost mythical proportions, Kenneth Oberman wasn't exactly entertaining from up close, or maybe he just wasn't in the mood for it. For the first two hours, none of us said a word, while Geoffrey, upon finally realizing where he was and who he was with, went through various stages of panic, anger and regret.
Somewhere around Kalamazoo, Oberman turned his head and asked Geoffrey: “Mr. Blumenthal, would you be so kind to reach into that rather large bag right next to you and hand me one of the inhalators in there?”
Geoffrey obeyed instinctively and handed one of the inhalators to Oberman, who smashed it against the console, removed the paper strip inside it and put it in his mouth.
“Somewhere among those inhalators, there should also be a few cans of beer. To get rid of the taste, you know.”
“No way, Oberman.” It was the first time Blumenthal had ever spoken up to Oberman.
“What was that?”
“No way am I letting you drink on the wheel with me in the car. No way.”
“You didn't seem to have a problem with the benzedrine.”
“Well, I can see how this will be a long drive, and we really can't afford to take any breaks, and you being the only one who can drive this thing, and after all, people are using them to study, but why on earth would you start drinking?”
“Listen up, Blumenthal. I'm very glad you understand that it would be fatal if I was to fall asleep. But at the same time, there is such a thing as being too alert, and therefore, it would be even more irresponsible if I would do the one thing but not the other. I guess you will have to trust me on this one.”
Oberman turned around and smiled at Geoffrey, who was still holding the leather bag.
“But, if you won't trust me, for which I couldn't blame you, that would make two people in this car who absolutely can't afford to fall asleep.”
I felt hot and excited, but also calm. The bitter taste in my mouth was still there, but now there was something pleasant to it. By now, Geoffrey had either accepted Oberman's approach to driving or simply forgotten all about it. Anyway, he had been far to busy outlining his theory of the american comic book for the last four hours.
“What we refer to today as the comic book, gentlemen, is an art form that neither originates in these United States, nor is it unique to them. And yet, I would argue, does the comic book constitute the quintessential american medium. How does this fit with, let's say, a fichtian conception of national cultures as independent spheres? Well, goddamnit, it doesn't, but then, America as a whole doesn't fit this narrow and antiquated notion!”
“Did you just refer to our great nation as a hole, boy? And how the hell can a hole not fit into something, wouldn't it have to be the other way round?”
For some reason, Geoffrey occasionally allowed Oberman to get a word in, but only to completely disregard what he had said.
“I am referring to America as the here and the now, but why not go further and and refer to it as the her and now, by which I'm of course alluding to the eternally effervescent and simultaneously virginal and motherly femininity of our Nation, which is still present in the female gender of the noun America, although we are rarely confronted with this remnant of our Portuguese discoverers' inherently latin compulsion to assign one of the three genders to every noun, because it is mostly hidden by the anglo-saxon languages' tendency to almost completely do away with the genus as a grammatical concept, thereby reducing it from an independent and abstract idea to a mere, prosaic matter of biology, and ultimately referring back to the material world, as it is the anglo-saxon mind's eternal and tragic compulsion, it's fundamental lack of imagination...”
“You digress, Blumenthal, and I also don't appreciate the unpatriotic sentiment I detect.”
“If my speech seems unpatriotic, then only because my love for our Nation is not acceptance for the status quo, but a burning passion for the American promise, not for the being but for the becoming of America, which does, of course, include the american comic book.”
Geoffrey cracked open another inhalator and washed the paper down with a sip from the still almost full beer can he had been holding for the last hour.
“The comic book, although already brought very close to it's modern form by europeans like the swiss educator Rodolphe Töpffer, could only truly become what it is here in America, read by Americans and drawn by Americans, a symbiotic and almost non-hierarchical relationship between consumer and author which is in fact one of the few things I would in deed call truly and inherently American.”
“Swiss educator? What on earth are you talking about?”
“Forget about him. I shouldn't have brought him up, he doesn't matter. History is bullshit, there's no history here.”
“Then what about the founding fathers, Blumenthal?”
“God, there's no use in talking about this with you. Talking to you about this is like trying to explain a thing to the thing itself.”
Geoffrey stopped. It seemed like he finally didn't know what to say anymore, and there was no way we could help him get back on track. It was daytime again, and judging by the desert around us, we weren't far from California anymore. For the first time during the whole trip, I took out the map I brought. Geoffrey looked over my shoulder.
“Is this where we are?” he asked.
“Seems like it. Gosh, Oberman, we've almost made it.”
But Geoffrey was exited about something else.
“We're coming awfully close to Modesto. That's were Georgie lives. Do you remember Georgie? The guy who used to run the Buck Rogers Newsletter? You know what? We should pick him up, I'm sure he would be thrilled to be a part of this.”
“I don't know, Geoffrey. Wouldn't that be a huge detour?”
“Georgie is a legend, Bill. Really smart guy.”
Rarely had a town been named as appropriately as Modesto, California, and the Modestonians didn't take to kindly to Geoffrey, who leaned out of the car window and shouted Georgie's name and address at every man, woman and child that we passed by. Finally, we got to the house of Georgie's parents, a little bit outside of the town.
“Do you see him?”
“Couldn't tell you if I did. Never met the guy. Hey You! You over there. I can see you. Where's Georgie??”
An older man came out the house.
“You're looking for my son? He's in the garage, over there, working on his car.”
Even in comparison to Geoffrey and me, Georgie was tiny. He had a black hair in a neat buzzcut, wore jeans and no glasses, although he kept squinting conspicuously.
“Georgie!! It's me, Geoff Blumenthal from Michigan.”
“I subscribed to the Newsletter, and we wrote quite a few times.”
“Oh, the Buck Rogers thing. I barely remember anymore. You're still into this stuff?”
“We're on our way to visit one of the guys who draws the Duck comics. What am I even saying, the guy. The one who drew The Seven Cities of Cibola, you know? Uncle Scrooge #7. Do you wanna come with us?”
Georgie seemed pretty uncomfortable with the situation.
“Gosh, that's awfully kind, but, you know, I'm into cars now. Cars and music. Cruising, you know? Sold all my comic books to save up for that beauty here.”
He pointed at the old car with the propped up hood.
“Talking about cars, what's that you have there? Buick Century, maybe model of 1940, but certainly one of the last pre-war models, right?” Oberman couldn't care less.
Georgie walked to his side of the car.
“Listen, buddy, you seem like a cool guy. I'm a real car-nut myself, you know...”
Slowly, Oberman got out of the car, grabbed Georgie by his neck, threw him in the trunk of his car and locked it from the outside.
As we drove of, Oberman said: “If there's one thing I won't tolerate, it's someone trying to be something he's not. Everybody has to be himself, no matter how stupid you look or how extremely unpleasant it is to be you. Especially then.”
“Hey Blumenthal, how about, for the rest of the drive, we make up a story to pass the time?”
Me and Geoffrey always enjoyed making up stories together. It was easy, cause we'd read so many comic books and watched so many movies that we knew all the pieces and all the moves. See, coming up with a story is simple: you think of the stories you've heard before and then you pick the things you liked best, for example this one character or a certain situation, and then you think of another story, and of something you liked about that one, and you combine that with the other one. Then you begin to tell your story, and when you do that, the important thing is that you write the story the way you would read a story. You know, when you read a story or you're in the cinema, and there's a thing happening, and you've seen the thing happen before, in another movie, and so you think: now probably this thing will happen next, and then by all likelihood, it will happen the way you anticipated, and now imagine you're not only sitting there, making predictions, making a bet basically if the thing you think will happen will actually happen or not, but instead you're the one calling the shots, so the thing you think will happen next will be the thing that happens next, because you thought it will be. It's like sitting in an empty cinema watching the screen, but the projection on the screen is coming from inside your own brain. That's imagination in a nutshell.
“Count me in, Cumbersome. What's the first image?”
“Something normal, something everyday. Something that makes you think: alright, that town could be here, that fella could be me. Let's see what I'm up to. ”
“Good work. What happens then, Cumbersome?”
“Well --- I don't know, Blumenthal. To be perfectly honest, I was counting on you to provide the second image. Second image's usually yours.”
“Let's see. We already got the fella that's us. Now we need another fella, a fella that isn't us at all, a fella that is the complete opposite. If the first fella is who we think we are, who we want to be, then the second fella has to be the way we don't want to be, basically, he needs to be the way we see others.”
“Tremendous. No we're cooking with gas. So we got the two fellas, first the one, then the other.”
“No we see them together, and our fella get's something done to him by the other fella.”
“Just like in real life. But our fella didn't deserve it, right?”
“No, not at all. Next, we see the rest of the people, all the other fellas, womenfolk as well. It's like the group picture you take at the end of the year, where you got everyone from school, they're all on the same picture, no ones missing.”
“That's great. They will probably set things right.”
“You'd think so, but they don't. Our fella is the only one who know's that it wasn't right what the other fella did to him.”
“Well, we know it, too, right?”
“Yeah, that's true, but we don't count.”
“That's not very democratic, I think. But the story can't end like this, right?”
“No, no. By the end, everything has to be exactly like in the first picture.”
“Gosh, I sure hope so, but how are we gonna accomplish that?”
“Oberman, do you wanna chip in? Do you have an idea what the next picture could be?”
Oberman didn't seem comfortable. I'd never seen him that way. Our storytelling must have annoyed him, but then, why hadn't he just told us to shut up?
“Boys, I'd rather keep out of this. Ain't for me, that whole making-up-things business.”
“Why, Oberman? I've seen you lie many times, it's not that different.”
“Leave me alone. Ain't the same as lying at all. Lyin's just the opposite of truth, don't have to make up nothing for that.”
“C'mon, Oberman, give it a try! I bet you can do it, and I bet you'll enjoy it, too!”
With one sudden motion, Oberman turned around and grabbed Geoffrey by the throat, controlling the wheel only with his legs.
“Listen, nancy. I can give you the truth, or I could lie to you. What's it gonna be?”
Geoffrey looked scared.
“The lie, please.”
“Alright then, Blumenthal. If I had to tell you the most outrageous lie I could possibly think of, I'd tell you that I was born without even a shred of imagination, a medical curiosity if you want. Of course, I can stress enough that this isn't true, but if, by any chance, you would go to St. Alexius Hospital in Detroit and ask for the file of a Kenneth Steuben Oberman, born July 5th 1943, that file might be stamped with the letters M and A, which together stand for medical abnormality, and it's very possible that inside that file you'd also find a very detailed description of a condition unknown at the time, but eerily similar to what is known today in the medical community as the Oberman deformity of the brain, which includes a complete absence of the neocortex and severely diminished function of the thalamus.
But don't believe a word, because that file is a complete fabrication, and also, that's a completely different Kenneth Steuben Oberman. Not even distantly related to me. Did you know that almost 40 % of Michiganites have Germanic heritage? That's like a couple million people, so of course chances are pretty high that on the same day, two mothers with the same last name might give birth to a son in the same hospital, and, at that point, why should it be strange that both of those mothers picked not only the same first name, but also both decided that their son's middle name should pay homage to a great military leader?
I honestly don't know why I even bother to continue these outrageous, slanderous lies, but somewhere in this file might be a small, crumpled piece of paper. Scrawled on that paper is a note by the doctor who had conducted the examination, strongly recommending abandoning the newly born, as well as his twin brother, deep in the forrest, to be raised by wolves.
Considering that wolves and, for that matter, wild things in general, fundamentally disagree with humans when it comes to the importance of file-keeping, there is no real way of knowing what happened in between the abandonment of the two children and the emergence of just one boy out of the woods five years later. A less then critical mind might listen to the old trapper who, to this day, insists that the boy had been expelled from wolf society for strangling his own brother out of envy, but I guess it depends on you if you want to trust some simultaneously senile and syphilitic half-blood, whose other tales include how he “once became possessed by the Wendigo” but “snapped out of it”.”
“I'm confused, Oberman. That's supposed to be the story of your life?”
“Well, Cumbersome, it's the only story I know.”