by Terry Hargrove
I need to admit this up front. I have a condition. My great aunt Doreen called it Brain Fag and said it ran deep in all the Hargrove men, but I don’t think there’s an official name for it, and certainly no effective treatment. It’s sort of hard for me to talk about, but the best way I can put it is that I suffer from occasional moments of high stupidity. Oh, what the hell. I have Brain Fag, and it isn’t getting any better.
How do I know? Let’s look at the facts. When I was a kid, I dressed up as a matador and went to school actually thinking I looked cool. I bought a book titled “How to Hypnotize Bees.“ And tried it. Twice. I believed my friends when they said emu tipping was possible. I still have that scar. Just last year, I was “It” in a game of tag with 22 middle school students. I still have that scar, too. I bought Lehman Brothers stock because Jim Cramer said it was a good idea.
But the thing that has me rattled is that the older I get, the worse my brain fag becomes. Just last week, as all of us were trying to get up and out the door for work and school, Nancy asked if I would dress Joey.
“I’ll try to get home early tonight,” she said. “We have a birthday party to go to.”
“Now, you told me there was something different about this party,” I said, “but I’ve forgotten now what that was.”
“There’s an animal guy coming,” she said. “He’s bringing rabbits and turtles and things. The kids will love it.”
“Animal guy, huh?” I said. “Yes, the kids will get a kick out of that.”
I shouldn’t have said anything else. I should have kept quiet and not mentioned which animals the animal guy might bring, but I had a Brain Fag moment. I couldn’t help it.
“Are you sure you’re OK with going?” I asked.
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Well, an animal guy probably brings all kinds of animals. Rabbits, guinea pigs, and maybe, you know, those reptiles I’m not supposed to mention by name?”
Nancy paused, mid-stroke, with her mascara dangling in the morning light, and contemplated all the disturbing possibilities.
“Oh, you don’t think he’d bring one of those things, do you?” Nancy asked. She has this thing about…those reptiles I’m not ever supposed to mention. “This is a party for small children. Surely he wouldn’t bring one of those.”
“Well, there’ll be a lot of boys at the party,” I said. “And I know it hurts you to hear this, but some boys like those…things I’m not supposed to mention. Joey might like them, too.”
“That is the worst thing you’ve ever said to me!” she snapped. “My sweet little boy would never have anything to do with those things, and you are a bad father if you ever encourage him to do so.”
“I’m not encouraging anything,” I begged. “All I’m saying is…”
“Maybe Joey would like a tarantula someday,” Nancy interrupted. “How would you like for me to buy him one? How could you sleep knowing there was a spider that big inside your own house. What would you do?”
“Well, dear, I’d have to divorce you and sell the house,” I replied. “And Joey would go straight to military school.”
Ours is a symbiotic relationship. I protect Nancy from all those reptiles I’m not supposed to mention and she stands up to all the arachnids I stumble upon or run from screaming. But Joey is the wild card. We have a great unspoken fear that he won’t share our very natural phobias, or that he might forget what rightfully terrifies his parents. Because Brain Fag runs deep in the Hargrove men. But then it was time to leave, so there was a brief round of apologies, some hugs and kisses, and off we went, each to our own separate schools.
That afternoon, as I waited for Nancy to come home, I heard Joey laughing in the bathroom.
“Daddy! Daddy! Come and look at what you did.”
Joey stood in the center of the bathroom, laughing.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
“Look at what you did, daddy. You put all my clothes on, on top of my pajamas.”
And I had. I had dressed Joey that morning without bothering to undress him first. I had put shirt, underwear, pants and socks over underwear, pajama top, and pajama bottoms. He stood there laughing, in the center of a pile of clothes, as I gaped at him.
“You’re doing the face,” he chuckled. “Momma calls it your Brain Frog face.”
“It’s not Brain Frog,” I said. “It’s Brain Fag, and don’t laugh too much, because you’ll get it yourself one of these days. What was I thinking? Oh, Joey, please. Don’t tell your mom I did this.”
“I’m gonna tell her,” he sang.
“No, please!” I begged. “I’ll never hear the end of it.”
Then we heard the key in the door. Nancy was home. I looked at Joey. He looked at me. It was time for a rapid negotiation and I was in a weak position.
“Don’t tell her, and I’ll buy you a Lego’s Star Wars packet.”
“And a Plo Koon?” He asked.
“Deal!” I said and we shook on it, even though I had no idea what the hell a Plo Koon was. Joey pulled up his clothes over the pajamas. He looked a little lumpy, but if Nancy didn’t notice that morning, I felt confident she wouldn’t notice now.
“Is everybody ready?” asked Nancy. “We have to be at the birthday party in 15 minutes.”
The party was great. Everyone enjoyed the animal guy. I did, too, until he pulled out his tarantula and let it crawl about on his face. Joey turned white and stood shaking beside me. Nancy smiled, until the animal guy pulled out Pee Wee.
Pee Wee was some type of boa constrictor. It took about five minutes driving around before we found Nancy, near the First Congregational Church. She got in the car and was pleased when I told her that Joey had also wanted to leave as soon as the snake came into view.
“That sure was scary, wasn’t it mommy?” Joey asked.
“It sure was,” she agreed. “I’m glad you don’t like…those things I can’t mention.”
“And I’m glad you don’t like spiders,” I said.
“I don’t like snakes or spiders,” he said. “I sure am glad I had some extra underwear on. Because I… I…”
Things got very quiet in the back seat. Nancy looked ay Joey, then at me, then back at Joey.
“Why does Joey have on extra underwear?” she asked. “And why does he have your Brain Fag face?”
“Because he just lost a Plo Koon,” I said.
“What’s a Plo Koon?”
“We’ll never know,” I replied. From the back seat, Joey breathed a deep and mournful sigh. When he does that, he sounds just like me.