Saturday morning at breakfast, I asked Dad, “What do you think President Johnson should do about Vietnam?”
He lifted his eyes above the sports section. “I think,” he turned the page, snapping it brusquely, “Gabby, you shouldn’t worry about things you can’t control.”
The frying pan clanged on the stovetop. Mother stood behind me. She hated it when Dad called me Gabby. I didn’t mind … too much. He usually called me Chet, but when he wanted some quiet, it’d be Gabby. He’d been doing it as long as I could remember.
Maybe I was bugging everyone by talking too much, asking too many questions, bringing up too many subjects. Maybe other people were just too polite to tell me so.
I decided to try an experiment. How long would it take before somebody asked me for my opinion?
After an hour of chores, I met the two Tommys at the double lot. Tommy One was the Scooter—short, smart, athletic, and quick on his feet. Tommy Two was the Haskell—tall, sort of clunky, plus he made our parents wince with his insincere flattery like Eddie Haskell in the “Leave It to Beaver.”
The two Tommys huddled next to the low bush which served as out-of-bounds for football games. “Hey, Chet,” the Scooter threw the football to me. “One more and we can have a game.”
I nodded. Phase 1 of Chester Almon’s psychological experiment had begun. How soon before someone would notice that I had changed? That I no longer chattered about everything that occurred to me. How long until I was asked my opinion on something?
I listened to Scooter and Haskell swap stories about the metal shop teacher who kept a shiny alcohol flask under the soldering rosin, how this girl or that girl looked so good, and what chances the school’s football team had.
They went to the neighborhood high school. I took the city bus to the all-city magnet school—all guys, just guys. Took an important interest out of school. Best thing was the ride to and from school. Girls from two other schools were on our route and rode part of the way.
Sometimes Betsy Kaiser, the girl of my dreams, was at the corner when I caught the morning bus. Hazel eyes, a quick wit, a welcoming manner, and a nicely developed body.
Scooter and Haskell stories were sort of interesting, but they never required more than a yea or a slight nod from me for their conversation to keep going.
Mandy, a neighbor who went to school with the Tommys, saw us as she walked down the street towards the grocery store. We walked over to the hedges. After some chitchat with Scooter, she continued on. Me, I still had not been asked anything.
I formed a tentative hypothesis. No one was ever going to ask me what I was thinking about, ever.
My tentative hypothesis held firm all weekend.
On Monday morning I left for the bus stop at 7:05. I would get to school way early, but it increased other odds.
I zipped my jacket as I walked across the big grocery store’s parking lot. When I reached the far side, I saw Betsy. Alone at the bus stop. A desirable happening.
I nodded hello to her.
She smiled. “What’s up, Chet?”
Close enough. A counterexample proving my hypothesis wrong. Eureka!
A pent-up explosion of words gushed out of me.
Cover image of Gabby Hayes in 1953. Public domain via WikiMedia Commons