How to do the wrong thing right

How in the hail are we already inhaling (or about to) the summer’s winds of July? Wasn’t Valentine’s only yesterday? Every year at this time, I begin hearing an insipidly cloying television jingle looping through my head. This year — alongside baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and Chev’let — I’ve added an extra qualifier: You ain’t truly American if you don’t love a good PB&J.

First: Am I the only one here, or has our current regime wackily stumble-bummed onto the astounding feat of successfully spinning the very paradigm of time itself into some all Seussian/ dystopia? Even viewing our civilization dissolve safely from the distance of my television screen feels like I’m daily astride a ricocheting rocket through some threadbare, collapsing wormhole woven of Truffula trees and Grinch saliva.

As recently as my 2018 Independence Day column, I spoofed on our First Couple enjoying the capital’s annual fireworks’ display from The Truman Balcony: Melania I introduced as a patriotic vision, all a-swirl in a Pride lavender Thneed creation (her beaming smile uncharacteristically genuine for once) as she proudly commented to Our Oracle L’Orange that the color of her gauzily shimmering couture ensemble was, in fact, the exact Lorax-hued result of liquifying the American flag. Gracelessly spitting the half-wolfed briquette of his McDonald’s apple pie over Truman’s gracefully parabolic railing, our Tangerine-in-Chief winked, “Later, Mel, you can maybe liquefy me a little.”

That was then. Currently, Voldetrump, back on the balcony, has far greater distractions of a State-level urgency than Mrs. Frigidaire blathering some more of her Slovenian-twanged nonsense. (Or is it Slovakia? Well, wherever country it was that he’d mail-ordered her from, he never could remember — one of those Eastern European, fallen-commie shitholes… Albania, maybe? Romania?) That the lovely shade of her Thneed was the result of pulping through a Cuisinart the symbolic lodestar unifying all 49 states (or is it 51 states? Or 47? However many of them there are, as if it matters beyond an electoral plurality) was all fine and good, but paled in comparison to what colorful fun he planned.

“Why not on just one day each year — this fourth day in the month of July, when the entire country jubilantly celebrates George Washington-Carver for chopping down a cherry tree and successfully lying to his pa that one of their slaves did it instead (thus he deserved being punished, the innocent slave did!) — why, then, on just this one day a year can’t that crusty-flaked, French-fried brained Ronald McDonald patriotically reinstate cherry pies on his fuckin’ Fourth of July menu… or at least deliver some redolent, steaming apple pies of a radiant, interior-warmth equaling molten lava to The White House — is that too impossible a civic duty to ask of one clown?” hisses L’Orange, glowering hysterically over Truman’s ledge. “Can’t something inside this white-elephant’s cum dump just ever run historically correct? And will somebody turn those damned shrieking fireworks off! Such noise, noise, noise! I cannot stand another second — and not even one cherry pie to watch ’em by anyhow!”

He turns to the First (ummm) “Lady.” “Mel, just where in hell’s red glare are the Washington-Carvers? Did they not receive our invitation? Or did they also choose just to deny my inaugural crowd being the largest in American history? And Miss Betsy Rose — Ross? Where’s that prissy, little thimble-toting bitch? Are they all, to the cowardly last, a no-show here at my own… at their own 4th of July photo-op with me? And on such a perfectly-lit night out here on the balcony, too—blasphemy!”

He leans grimly over the railing again, his face a Rio Star grapefruit: “Boys, why dontcha grind up another couple of them Old Glories — and go find that dominoes-challenged Barron, too! When Betsy gets here, she can whip us up each a cape to match Mel’s lilac number. Screw the Washington-Carvers. Who needs ’em? Thankfully, the country has me, then my succession of sons to follow in continuum, and Mel here to make it all look so pretty.

Yes, if nobody else will, then at least we three can certainly pose proudly here tonight before a gallant America, unified together as one, and make it all look greater than nothing!”

Anyhow, dear readers, I’d intended this to be but pure tongue-in-cheek satire — a parody of a parody even, so over-the-top I went with last year’s tableau. Yet therein lies the rub of satirizing a living character who possesses all the moral and mental heft of whipped helium: One can never flitter above it all quite lightly enough. Thus, in the vein of, “Don’t keep repeating the same mistake over and again to expect a different result,” I thought that this year, rather than run the same old, “But, hey, wait, I’ve got a new Trump complaint,” lineup of the man’s apocryphal patriotism-fodder, how ’bout instead we all enjoy a bit of a holiday cooldown from the seasonal torpor, and veer toward an unusually refreshing direction — something happily reflective of simpler times, and summer days of haze when just a plain old messy peanut butter & jelly sandwich in one hand and a jar of lightning bugs in the other was all it took to put a smile of fulfilled bliss on one’s face.

And for reasons obvious as baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and Chev’let, it’s not too patently often that sweet Howard here receives any questions from, say, summer recess elementary school children — that is anyone under the age of 21 — and rarer still do too very many of my readers’ personal peccadillos arrive to me via yellow magic marker on a pink sheets of construction paper in lettering two inches tall. Originally, too, I’d miscategorized this question under the title “heartrending” instead of its proper “heartwarming” file, where it should have been placed. I only blame myself for not being able to correctly decipher the question I originally thought it asked me to answer (from the perspective of someone still learning what even the alphabet is):

Dear Howard: How do I make my perfect Daddy pee better today than a jellyfish? — Cora L.
Only through the uninvited assistance of a visiting friend’s nosily rambunctious kindergartener (rifling higgledy-piggledy through my office cabinets!) did I suddenly behold this question’s real wording, first sent to me a dozen years back — complements of this sweet tot, who instinctually lurched for the one beaconing pink sheet of paper amidst a sea of white, gave it a perfunctory once-over, and thrust it forth toward his mother, scowling, “I wish me had some peanut budder and jebwy sanwish, Momma.” Thus, with said lunch menu request duly translated, let’s get right goopy to it.

Dear Howard: How do I make the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich for my Daddy’s birthday wish? — Cora L.

Dear Coral: Whoa, girl! Talk about leaping headfirst into the deep end! This here is some serious whitewater surf you’re treading into. There is nothing harder in this world to perfect than the easiest recipe on Earth. Everywhere you turn, Coraline, there’s always a different expert offering a better opinion about something of which he knows nothing about. There are three ironclad-inviolate rules for making the perfect PB&J: 1. The bread must be spongy. 2. The peanut butter silky. 3. The jelly must be grape. Simple as that. Nothing more. Yet everybody messes it up. Inevitably, people make the gross mistake of presuming it can always be tweaked just a little bit better. It can’t. Simple perfection means exactly that: Perfect can’t be taken further. Ever. For instance, replacing smooth peanut butter with just crunchy leads you … where? Nowhere but down a sideroad into brittle territory, and as everyone knows, Carol, one must always keep separate their brittles from their butters, for they are two entirely separate food entities. Once started down this twisted path, girl, there ain’t no such thing as coming back home again. Before you know it, sweetie, open slaughter lets loose amongst jellies versus jam — Turkish apricot going in head-to-head combat against the grapes of Concorde, and ghastly whole wheat sealing marshmallowy white bread’s doom is gonna happen eventually, no matter what outcome results ultimately from the jelly/jam battle. Then before you know it, Coraline, perfection personified has devolved into something of little more enchantment than the newest “cheat-day wicked” dessert menu listing of some Uptown health spa… which suddenly reminds me: I suppose I should have probably taken a holiday question or two from my gayer-than-a-spa-day hardcore base. But hey, it’s Independence Day, and I’ll independently write what I want to.

Make America great, everybody — Happy 4th!

— Howard Lewis Russell

If you have a question about life, love manners or anything else, send it to [email protected] and he may answer it … even a decade later.