Maybe, really, it’s no big deal. As that horrible song said, we are all just dust in the wind. Or as that Dawkins—not Darryl, that was Chocolate Thunder—says we are just big watery bags that exist solely that genes may replicate themselves. I don’t know, if I am gene, I would find some simpler way to recreate myself than by using great watery bags that, on top of everything else, have the curse of consciousness. So maybe there is no purpose, or maybe there is one but we can’t see it. I don’t know. But some people seem a lot more purposeful than others.
Rosco (short for a long Polish surname) was among the latter. I don’t know how I got to know him exactly. He was a year ahead of me in school, but he lived close by on the other side of the hill. I guess he liked me because he would come over and just appear in our little front yard sitting on a wall right outside the front room window. He never called ahead and when he arrived he didn’t knock either, but somebody was always passing by that window and they would see Rosco out there, and yell, Nick, Rosco is here.
I would go out and there Rosco would be. I didn’t know why he was there exactly and it didn’t help any that he gave the appearance of a stray balloon that had decided to settle in our front yard. Rosco was taller than me and rounded all over. He had a round head and a round bland face that didn’t show anything if there was anything to show beyond that bland face. He wasn’t retarded or anything; he just gave off the impression that he didn’t know where or why he was.
I mean when he came over we never did anything. Be damned, if I was going to ask him in the house, because then I would never get rid of him. I would ask him how he was, and he would say he was fine or he had just eaten dinner. And then I’d ask him what he had eaten for dinner, and it would be like, nothing special. Trying to get him to talk was like pulling teeth, so then I would launch into talking for maybe 10 or 20 minutes straight and I would get the feeling I was going to pass out because it felt as if, talking to him, I were trying to inflate, or keep from deflating, some giant swimming pool apparatus. After I had talked myself into torpor, I would say I had to study or something and he would go off just as he had come.
Once or twice maybe I went over to Rosco’s house. He had a couple of younger brothers who were not rounded. I went over only when Mr. Rosco was not there. I got the feeling Mr. Rosco scared the Brothers Rosco shitless. We would go down to their huge basement, and we would hear their mother playing piano music upstairs. She was always playing the piano.
Downstairs in that basement, as Rosco said, they had everything necessary to re-create the world. They had machines and tools of all kinds. They had a big kiln for making pottery and expensive machine tools—I mean the kind of tools that are used to create the parts for other tools, like milling tools, I think they are called, and another machine that made screws.
And at the back of the basement was a really big door with a lock on it. One day Rosco decided to open it for me; you could see doing that made the younger brothers nervous, like they weren’t supposed to or maybe what was inside made them nervous because, while there was space for people, it was filled with supplies, food and water and everything wrapped in a kind of paper (oil paper maybe) I had never seen, and at the very back of that a row of rifles all strung together with a chain and locked up. We can’t touch the rifles, Rosco said, as if I were just dying to touch their rifles.
And as I was leaving they showed me around the side of the house a regular big old garbage truck that their father had bought and was remodeling and reinforcing with extra layers of metal so that after the bomb had gone off they would have something to ride around in.
I made up this little story to explain things to myself. Mr. Rosco had been in the military in Poland and had killed people and seen people killed in World War 2 and knew how people could kill each other. He had seen masses of bodies piled high. Maybe he was a Nazi and he had come to America with his young bride, who bore him three sons, and then went insane and played the piano all the time. And then he set about preparing himself and his sons for the day when everything, but them, would end.
Maybe the little story helped to explain Rosco to me or maybe what I had seen scared me and I needed a little story to explain that. It got so I just dreaded hearing somebody yell, Nick, Rosco’s here.