November 16: “Tell Everyone I Said Hi” by Chad Simpson

Wednesday is today, Story366! Today has a been a pretty go-go-go day. It started by me waking up a half an hour late and having to rush to get the boys off to school. The little one was a half and hour late, but that doesn’t really matter, as it’s daycare, and, like, who  cares if he’s a half an hour late? Thirty less minutes of playing with toys. The bigger one got to school right on time and so did. Therefore, I’m starting to wonder, why the hell am I not getting up a half an hour later every MWF? Well, there are some pretty sweet toys at that daycare.

I taught classes, had meetings, went to meetings, made dinner, ran a Cub Scout meeting, and then came home and watched episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man and The A-Team. I would never have done such a thing—not after watching Hart to Hart and The A-Team yesterday—but the episode of The Six Million Dollar Man that happened to be on was the second part of the two-part Bigfoot episode, which I actually remember watching on TV when it first aired … in February of 1976. That’s literally over forty years ago, meaning I was not yet three. This viewing would then qualify, officially, as my oldest memory. Is that possible?! I’d thought my oldest memory was firework at Memorial Park in Calumet City on Fourth of July, the Bicentennial, which I’ve never really believed, either. But it has to be true, as I remember it. What’s more, I remember being severely disappointed in this second part, as it’s revealed that Bigfoot isn’t really some ancient manlike mammal hiding in the woods, but an android made by aliens to capture humans for scientific study. Even as I type that, it’s the most stupidest thing in the world. I mean, I know that space and aliens and shit were popular in the seventies, but come on. Why couldn’t Colonel Steven Austin just fight the real Bigfoot? My oldest memory is also my oldest disappointment. Weird.

Cool discovery: The Bigfoot android is played by Andre the Giant (aka, Andre the Giant) and voiced (grunted, really) by Ted Cassidy (aka, Lurch). Not cool discovery: The A-Team was behind-the-times racist. One bit the show always repeated was Hannibal (George Peppard) in disguise and they didn’t shy away from putting him in blackface (in tonight’s episode, which I still can’t believe) or in Mickey Rooney Chinaman getup. Nobody thought, in 1983, that this was maybe fucked up, especially for network TV aimed at kids. Oh, Brandon Tartikoff.

Today I’m focusing on Chad Simpson, who I was more or less saving for the day the Cubs won the World Series, but then I fucked up and lost track of his book. Simpson is a Cubs fan and he has mention of the Cubs in all the stories I read today, including “The First Cubs Night Game,” which I surely would have written about had I had it in my possession on November 2 (instead of Roy Kesey, who might like the Rangers or the Expos, for all I know). Today I found Tell Everyone I Said Hi, out from the University of Iowa Press as a winner of an Iowa Short Fiction Award, at the bottom of a stack of books on my desk at my office. Since I hadn’t picked a book yet for today, I snatched up Simpson and read some stories, five of them, as I was really into them. Still, the post must be written, so here I am, writing on the title story.

I’ve chosen “Tell Everyone I Said Hi” over the Cubs night game story because I just am. Well, really, because I have more to say about this piece. In any case, “Tell Everyone I Said Hi” is about Lonnie, this guy who lives in a college town, but never went to college, who owns a lawnmowing business. He and his buddy/employee Clover have just mowed the last lawn of the summer and are winding down in the cool fall air. It seems like a pretty straight-up first person story, told in past tense, but within a page, Lonnie starts addressing a you—second person!—as if he’s telling this story to someone (he is), what we called a stylized monologue. Throughout the story, Lonnie not only addresses this you, but refers to her (it’s an ex-girlfriend) throughout. That’s one of the things I like about this piece, this perspective, which is pretty rare, especially when done as effectively as Simpson does it here.

So in this story, Lonnie is telling a story to this woman, who we do find out used to be his girlfriend. Not only was she his girlfriend, she was his partner, her name (which we never get) painted on the side of the mower, the truck, and the shed where Lonnie keeps it all. It was a business partnership, but also Lonnie’s way of keeping this woman around. It seems as they’ve been dating for five years, starting back in high school, and our guy just never got the nerve up or the sense to ask her to marry him (which he acknowledges). His story, told to this lost woman, is aimed at her but never reaches her: He’s just talking to the air, to whomever’s listening, to us.

As the story progresses, Simpson feeds us more and more information on why Lonnie and this woman aren’t together any  more. A lot of it has to do with ambition, the young girl wanting to go off to college, not wanting to go halfsies on a burgeoning landscaping empire. That makes sense, but isn’t the whole story. Am I going to reveal the rest of the story? No, I’m not. Gotta leave something for you to discover on your own.

To note, every single one of Chad Simpson’s stories revolve around sad, young Midwestern men lamenting some woman, their lives simplified to moments in which they screwed up their chance with a special lady friend. It’s a pretty solid theme, these wayward sons, Cub fans, and factory workers pinpointing the moments when their happiness unraveled. I’m not sure if every piece in Tell Everyone I Said Hi utilizes this theme, but I will soon find out.

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