The Life And Times Of The Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir (v5.0)

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Authors: Bill Bryson
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and fathers, and on one memorable occasion two Lutheran ministers from neighboring congregations—engage in silent but prolonged struggles for control of a chair that would spare them having to sit beside or, worse, across from Dee at lunch.
    The feature of Dee’s condition that particularly caught my attention was that whatever he put in his mouth—chocolate cream pie, chicken fried steak, baked beans, spinach, rutabaga, Jell-O—by the time it reached the hole in his neck it had become cottage cheese. I don’t know how but it did.
    Which is precisely and obviously why I disdained the stuff. My mother could never grasp this. But then she was dazzlingly, good-naturedly, comprehensively forgetful about most things. We used to amuse ourselves by challenging her to supply our dates of birth or, if that proved too taxing, the seasons. She couldn’t reliably tell you our middle names. At the supermarket she often reached the checkout and discovered that she had at some indeterminate point acquired someone else’s shopping cart, and was now in possession of items—whole pineapples, suppositories, bags of food for a very large dog—that she didn’t want or mean to have. She was seldom entirely clear on what clothes belonged to whom. She hadn’t the faintest idea what our eating preferences were.
    “Mom,” I would say each night, laying a piece of bread over the offending mound on my plate, rather as one covered a roadside accident victim with a blanket, “you know I really do hate cottage cheese.”
    “Do you, dear?” she would say with a look of sympathetic perplexity. “Why?”
    “It looks like the stuff that comes out of Uncle Dee’s throat.”
    Everyone present, including my father, would nod solemnly at this.
    “Well, just eat a little bit, and leave what you don’t like.”
    “I don’t like any of it, Mom. It’s not like there’s a part of it I like and a part that I don’t. Mom, we have this conversation every night.”
    “I bet you’ve never even tasted it.”
    “I’ve never tasted pigeon droppings. I’ve never tasted earwax. Some things you don’t need to taste. We have this conversation every night, too.”
    More solemn nods.
    “Well, I had no idea you didn’t like cottage cheese,” my mom would say in something like amazement, and the next night there would be cottage cheese again.
    Just occasionally her forgetfulness strayed into rather more dismaying territory, especially when she was pressed for time. I recall one particularly rushed and disorganized morning when I was still quite small—small enough, at any rate, to be mostly trusting and completely stupid—when she gave me my sister’s old Capri pants to wear to school. They were a brilliant lime green, very tight, and had little slits at the bottom. They only came about three-quarters of the way down my calves. I stared at myself in the back hall mirror in a kind of confused disbelief. I looked like Barbara Stanwyck in
Double Indemnity
.
    “This can’t be right, Mom,” I said. “These are Betty’s old Capri pants, aren’t they?”
    “No, honey,” my mom replied soothingly. “They’re
pirate
pants. They’re very fashionable. I believe Kookie Kookson wears them on
77 Sunset Strip
.”
    Kookson, a munificently coiffed star on this popular weekly television show, was a hero to me, and indeed to most people who liked interestingly arranged hair, and he
was
capable of endearingly strange things, that’s for sure. That’s why they called him Kookie. Even so, this didn’t feel right.
    “I don’t think he can, Mom. Because these are girls’ pants.”
    “He does, honey.”
    “Do you swear to God?”
    “Oom,” she said distractedly. “You watch this week. I’m sure he does.”
    “But do you swear to God?”
    “Oom,” she said again.
    So I wore them to school and the laughter could be heard for miles. It went on for most of the day. The principal, Mrs. Unnaturally Enormous Bosom, who in normal circumstances was the

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