“Goodbye!” I called. “Goodbye!”
I stood at the rail of the SS Oriana, waving goodbye to America.
My family was emigrating to New Zealand. It was 1967, and I was fourteen-years-old.
I thought of my impending departure to the other side of the world. I confess I was a little resentful about leaving America and afraid of my unknown, foreign future. Why was I afraid? It was a new feeling, to be afraid of something so intangible. Up until then, I’d only feared things like falling from a tree I’d climbed, or facing an impatient teacher, or a hypodermic needle in the arm at the doctor’s office when I got my booster shots.
I leaned out a bit over the rail, closed my eyes and listened to the crowd on the pier below. There’s something about a sound in the ear that can put a thought in the mind, don’t you think?
With my eyes closed I listened to the crowd. I began to imagine myself in Ancient Rome. I stood not at the rail of the ship, but high above in a golden palace. Below me, the admiring masses in their thousands turned out to cheer and bask in the splendor that was me.
For I, in my imagination, had become the adoring crowd’s Emperor.
The crowd mustn’t see the great Caesar hesitate or falter, I said to myself. It might injure their unprepared psyches to learn that even Caesar may sometimes stumble A Caesar must be brave enough for all.
And with Caesar’s bravery, came a little to me.
“So long!” I called to the crowd below. “Goodbye!”
Smiling down at the crowd gathered on the pier, I mentally adjusted the imaginary laurel wreath gracing my godlike brow, and acknowledged with proper dignity the adoration of the crowd.
The noise from the crowd on the pier came to me… and the great Caesar was gone. Vanished in the Roman sunshine of twenty centuries ago.
I had a very active imagination when I was young.
Too much reading has spoiled his head said most people. I didn’t care. I knew it hadn’t spoiled my head, but had opened it up! Books had been my friends for as long as I could remember. I always had one in my hand.
I was then reading Ian Fleming’s James Bond series.
What would the suave James Bond do, if he were in my place, I wondered?
I became Bond, or rather a part of me became him, for I was still Rusty the little boy at the rail of the giant ship headed for the unknown, but I was James Bond the grownup sexy spy too. Now my cruel lips, between imaginary sips of sexy martini, sexily pouted out the sexy words, “Bon voyage, old chaps.”
Boy! Was I suave and sophisticated.
My Walther PPK didn’t show beneath my Saville Row suit, but when I held the girls tightly they could feel it, cold and hard against their luscious, full breasts…
“What a screwball! You took a wrong turn at Cucamonga!”
Now came the honking laughter of my cotton-tailed, cartoon-brained childhood hero, Bugs Bunny. He was never far away, but lived within me close to the surface. Nice timing, Bugs, I thought. Just when I was about to daydream about luscious breasts pressed against my…
“What a maroon!” Bugs admonished me. He called me that when he thought I was being stupid, which was more and more often lately.
As with books, movies played a big part in my life. Especially cartoons.
Now that I was fourteen I publicly denied Bugs Bunny as too childish for anyone as mature as I. But behind closed doors inside my brain I still adored that crazy rabbit. Bugs Bunny, as great as any emperor, as smooth as any spy! Actor, singer, comedian, lover, adventurer, prankster, etc, etc. Deflater of the pompous and champion of the underdog. Antiauthoritarian sociopath.
My kind of rabbit.
“A maroon? Who, me?” I asked. It was a cruel indictment.
Nobody wants to be a maroon.
“Watch me paste this pointy-headed palooka with my patented, pernicious, pulverizing, pachydermic pitch!” answered Bugs.
It was zen-like how he could sum things up like that.
I turned to Bond for help in deciphering Bugs’ advice. Surely the two knew each other and were friends, up there in my head? Ask Yosemite Sam, he’s up there too, isn’t he?
Bond exhaled cigarette smoke from his flaring nostrils, looking bored with me and my little problems. With a witheringly nonchalant glance he uttered with almost ferocious suaveness, “Shaken, not stirred, Rusty old chap.”
I hated it when he called me old chap. It sounded so condescending. Of course, Bond knew that, that’s why he did it. He was always trying to be cooler than everyone. That’s one side of him I couldn’t appreciate. He had it all, yet he still had to best you at every opportunity. He was a real competitive jerk.
He probably has tiny disfigured genitals, I figured, inside his Savile Row underpants and is just overcompensating with all his shallow womanizing, fast cars and world traveling.
Oh, how I hated him!
Oh, how I wanted to be him!
(Except with better genitals, obviously.)
Why do we sometimes hate the things we love?
“Bon voyage, old chap,” Bond said quietly, and then he was gone.
I don’t know about the people in your head, but the visitors in mine can disappear as quickly as they come.
“That’s all, folks!” laughed Bugs, and he was gone too.
Suddenly I was back at the rail of the SS Oriana, leaning out a bit and waving to the crowd on the pier below. I was alone. I was back in real life. My life.
Immediately to depart America, bound for the unknown.
“Goodbye!” I called. “Goodbye-eye!”