At 6:30 p.m. today I heard the chop-chop-chop of a drone outside our house. The bedroom window shattered, an object came flying and landed defiantly on the carpet. A rock. I heard a disembodied voice yell from the drone, “ChicagoNow sent me, Ma’am. Take it up with them!” Another chop-chop-chop and it was gone.
Well, this was new. I picked up the rock. Someone had scrawled a message in Sharpie. “Do not turn me over until 9:00 p.m.” I turned the rock over. On the other side it said, “What the … ! I said don’t turn me over!” And below that, it said this:
“What fictional character (or characters) would you most like to spend time with and what would you do together?”
This question isn’t exactly hypothetical. I spent most of my childhood in grave intellectual exchange with a beloved fictional character, or beloved to me at least: my imaginary friend, Manure.
Why ask? That was her name.
Manure was the Ramona to my Beezus. The Wrecking Ball Miley to my Hannah Montana. The girl I wanted to be to the polite girl I unquestioningly was.
Unless you considered Manure.
Manure was brazen. Manure was rude. Manure had gumption and moxie.
One day, I was outside on our patio with my four year-old brother. I don’t remember the exact situation that resulted in the odious circumstances of being outside, but my guess is it had to do with binging on too much Sid and Marty Krofft on a “lovely” Saturday in Washington, D.C. and our mom had probably forced us into the yard.
But Manure did not believe in going outside. “If God meant for us to go outside, why did He invent inside?”, she grumbled.
Outside was boring. Sunshine is stultifying. Grass is itchy and hides bugs. There was nothing to do. I needed excitement. I needed someone to cooperate. I wanted to play “Classroom” and I would be the teacher. My brother didn’t want to play “Classroom.”
I brought in my enforcer.
“Manure says you have to play or she’ll hit you.”
“Manure will hit me?” he asked, wide-eyed, confirming what he thought he heard.
We played classroom.
Another time I was in my room with a friend. A real friend. I knew she was real because she lived down the street with her family and they could see her just as well as I could.
My brother knocked on the door. “This is just us girls,” Manure snarled. Then Manure spoke out loud, although it sounded a lot like my voice.
“Jonah, this is your conscience speaking! Why are you bothering the girls?” But Manure made it sound spooky. She pronounced “conscience” like “consciieeeeennnccccccce.”
My brother’s small, plaintive voice came from the other side of the door. “Because they won’t let me play!”
To this day, I feel terrible about Manure. Fortunately, my brother is a kind and patient person. Sometimes I’ll be fortunate enough to get together with him and his family-we live a long plane ride away-and without any explanation because, unfortunately, I know we don’t need one, I’ll be the one who’s plaintive and rightfully so.
“Jonah … I’m so sorry about Manure.”
“It’s okay, Teme. REALLY! That was a long time ago!”
Or was it …
Tonight the ChicagoNow assignment was posted at 6:30 p.m. We were asked not to peek and to wait until 9:00 p.m. I peeked at 6:35.
At 9:00 p.m., I was loading the dishwasher, having concluded I had nothing to write. This angered Manure. “This is your connnsscieennnnce speaking. What the fuck?! Did we not have good times?! Go write. And don’t tell Jimmy Greenfield that you peeked and didn’t start writing until 9:30 p.m. and lost track of time! And for God’s sakes, don’t confess any of that!”
The battle continues.