The good old times
Atlas – Air France n°77 – November 1972
I adore children. Their logic, which is not yet warped by the vicissitudes of life, is faultless. They are capable of pushing it to its extreme limits. And that’s why I love the little dears, for I have always had a passion for good reasoning.
The other day, two of them arrived in the environs of my barrel and sat down on a garbage can to eat their bag of peanuts.
— They’re sure crazy, aren’t they, said one, throwing a handful of empty shells under the wheels of the passing cars.
— Yeah, really dumb, agreed the other. Here they’re so packed together they can’t go fast. But where I was on vacation! Wow, you should’ve seen ‘em then!
— Wherzat? asked the first, through a mouthful of peanuts.
— In the Cascades. In a groovy town overlooking a valley twice as deep as the Empire State Building is tall. Saturdays were the most fun. Cars arrived by the thousands. They crawled along the road in double file, everyone honking and weaving in and out and trying to pass the others. From above, we could see what was around the curves. They couldn’t. We invented a game. We each chose a curve and counted the accidents. Me, I chose one, a real gold mine. And best of all, it had the most beautiful.
— Most beautiful what?
— Accidents. There was a gorge as deep as from here to over there, with a cliff going straight down. If you missed the curve, you really flew. The biggest show-offs, the ones who had sports cars or no brakes, succeeded in landing on the other side of the river.
— Wham! said the other.
And then more pensively:
— Hey, if it was as deep as from here to over there, they must’ve got pretty flat when they landed.
— Yeah, really flat. Hardly as thick as that (he indicated with his thumb and forefinger). But on the other hand, they were very wide. There was one once that succeeded in falling on a huge flat rock way on the other side of the river. He was so flat and so wide that the Highway Patrol had to roll it up like a rug to bring it up from the gorge.
The other listened in silent admiration, and I hen asked:
— It was a man, so flat?
— Yes. There was also a dog in the car, but he was much less flat.
— What I don’t understand is the Highway Patrol. What did they do with the flat man?
— How do I know? They took him away. Maybe they put his wife’s address on him and stuck him in a mail box.
— That would’ve taken a lot of stamps. I collect stamps, do you?
— No, postcards.
— Hey what do you think the Highway Patrol wrote on him to his wife?
— They must’ve had a hard time, especially since they didn’t know her.
— “Vacation souvenir”, maybe.
— Yeah, or else “General view”.
— Me, when I’m at camp; I never know what to write on postcards, Saturdays. Because my parents, they want me to send a card every Saturday.
— And what do they do with ‘em, the cards?
— They stick ‘em on the wall, above the buffet.
— Do you think she stuck him on the wall, the wife, when she received her husband all flat?
— Oh, said the other, scandalized, certainly not! My uncle gave us a rug once, a big white bear. Because he goes to the North Pole he’s a sailor. My dad nailed the bear to the wall, but it was too fresh. When it got drier it shrank and pulled the nails out and fell down. But you don’t do things like that with a person. My dad would be angry if he heard you.
— Okay okay, said the first impatiently. But then what did she do with him?
— Well, I dunno. But me, in her place, I would have folded him neatly and put him in moth balls. After all, he was her man!
— But all the same, he drove like a maniac.
— Yes. But that’s not a reason not to fold him up in moth balls and arrange him nicely. My mom always arranges things, and I like it when my room is neat like that.
This boy had a sense of order, of delicacy, and a strong idea of the duties of youth toward adults. We underestimate too easily, I think, the spontaneous penchant of young people for these excellent virtues.
— Well anyway, reflected his comrade, even if you fold him in moth balls, I’d still like to beat him once in a while with a rugbeater.
This one, you will note, showed an acute sense of justice.
— Because, he went on, no matter what you say, they’re crazy. Take my word for it. They used to drive more slowly around here. There used to be pigeons, and sometimes I gave them bread crumbs. I’m all for going fast on the race track, but not on vacation. Yeah, he concluded, it was better in the old days.■