I'm Going to Be Famous, page 1
I’m Going to Be Famous
To NAN PHILLIPS, who helped get
the bump off the log
M. K. WREN, who taught the
bump how to write
And most of all to my wife, DEBBIE,
who believed in bumpy logs
from the very beginning
“I’ve made up my mind.”
The big pine tree in my backyard is easy to climb. From near the top I can see over the houses of Seagrove, Oregon, and down the hill to the Pacific Ocean. There’s a forked limb up in the tree that makes a perfect place to sit. From it I can throw pine cones at my pesty nine-year-old sister, Kerry. I can listen to the fog buoy at the end of the jetty, too, or watch for whale spouts, or just sit and think. That’s where I am now—up in the big pine, just sitting and thinking.
Today is the last Saturday before school starts in Seagrove. Monday is Labor Day. On Tuesday I begin the fifth grade at Lincoln Elementary School. Me, Arlo Moore, going back to school already. Summer will be over, and just because it’s the day after Labor Day. That’s a lot to think about.
But that’s later. Right now it’s still Saturday, and it’s still summer. The sun is shining, sister Kerry is nowhere to be seen, the ocean is calm and blue, and I’ve got my copy of the Guinness Book of World Records with me. That’s a lot to think about, too.
My favorite book of all time is the Guinness Book of World Records. There are people listed in it who have done all sorts of incredible things like sleeping on nails, walking three thousand miles on stilts, yodeling for over ten hours, or eating lots of bananas really fast.
I love to eat bananas—anytime, anywhere, any way I can. That’s why I’ve read about the world record for eating bananas so many times that I’ve got it memorized: a man named Dr. Ronald L. Alkana ate seventeen bananas in only two minutes. He did it at the University of California in Irvine on December 7, 1973. That was before I was born, and it’s still the world record. I think about that a lot, especially when I’m up in the big pine.
But yesterday I had a new thought. It was one of those thoughts that stuck its nose into my business just like my dog Porkchop does when he’s looking for a bone. “Arlo,” this thought said to me, “you could eat seventeen bananas in less than two minutes. You should be in the Guinness Book of World Records instead of Dr. Ronald L. Alkana.”
Well, at first that thought just sat in my brain like my dog Porkchop does on the back porch, not moving a muscle. But today I’ve been giving that thought some serious consideration. I’ve turned it over in my mind a couple of times. I’ve looked at it very carefully. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it, and I’ve made a decision: I could break that record. I could be in the Guinness Book of World Records and it would be wonderful. I’d be on TV. They’d make a movie about my life. I’d be rich. I’d ride in a big, fancy car. My fans would follow me everywhere.
I can hear it now, fans calling my name.
“Arlo, it’s me, Kerry.”
Fame, riches, my name up in lights … wow.
“Arlo, listen to me.”
The world-famous banana-eater, that’s me, Arlo Moore.
“Huh? What?” I ask, looking down at one of the last people in the world I want to see.
“Come down out of that tree,” sister Kerry orders. “Mom says it’s your turn to mow the lawn. You’ve got to clean up your room, too.”
Yep, I’ve made up my mind. The time has come for me to take action. My path in life is now set. Look out, here comes Arlo Moore, banana-eating champion of the world.
I’m going to be famous.
“Wake me up when you’re done.”
“Seventeen bananas? You’re crazy, Arlo. You’re completely bozo-brained!”
That’s the first thing Kerry said when I told her about my decision to break the world banana-eating record. She then told me how I must have been mailed to the wrong house when I was a baby. She said the postman got the packages mixed up and sent her real brother to the zoo in Portland. “He’s in a cage there, making faces at first-graders,” she added. She grinned at me and said that I must be a chimpanzee disguised as a ten-year-old banana-lover. I’m the only one in the family who doesn’t have curly hair, she pointed out. According to her, my straight dark brown hair and brown eyes prove I’m not her real brother. “You’re part monkey, Arlo. I just know it,” she said with a laugh.
Kerry thinks I’m crazy for even thinking about trying to break the world record. But she said she’d time me on Dad’s stopwatch to see how fast I could eat just one. “It should be a good laugh,” she said.
How did I ever get so lucky to have a sister like Kerry?
“OK, Arlo, are you ready?”
“Yeah, I think so, Kerry. Give me just a couple of seconds to get in my best form.”
My calculator figures that in order to break Dr. Alkana’s record, I have to eat one banana every seven seconds. I can do that. I know I can. I’ve got banana-eating talent.
I remember last year when Darrin Hays bet me fifty cents I couldn’t peel and eat a banana with one hand. And I had to do it while swinging on the stall door in the boys’ bathroom at school. That was some of the easiest money I’ve ever earned. I’ll bet I could eat a banana in seven seconds while riding my bike backward, or jumping through a flaming hoop, or parachuting …
“Huh? What, Kerry?”
“C’mon. Let’s get on with this. I want to go watch cartoons.”
Kerry doesn’t understand the importance of this event. I could be the first person from Sea-grove, Oregon to be in the Guinness Book of World Records. History could be in the making, and she wants to watch cartoons.
“OK, Kerry, I’m ready. Have you got the stopwatch set on zero?” I ask.
“Do you know how to work it?”
“Yes, Arlo, I’m not dumb,” she says, looking … well, looking kind of dumb.
“OK, then,” I say, “give me the countdown.”
“Banana-eaters to your mark!” she shouts. Kerry enjoys shouting.
“There’s only one of me, Kerry, and you don’t have to shout.”
“Listen, Arlo, do you want me to time how fast you can eat your banana or not?” She glares at me.
“Yes, I do.”
“OK, then let me do it my way so I can go watch cartoons, or I won’t do it at all.”
Sometimes I think having curly red hair gives my sister her bad temper. Mom has light brown hair with little streaks of gray she calls “child-rearing hair.” Her curls are soft and loose. Dad’s hair is blond and wavy, but he combs it straight back to cover his bald spot. My big brother John’s hair is just like Dad’s, except he has more of it and he parts it in the middle. Mom says I look like my granddad did when he was my age and that’s why my hair is straight and darker. But Kerry’s is a family mystery. She’s got the curliest, frizziest, reddest hair I’ve ever seen on anybody. My sister, ol’ spaghetti head.
“Do it your way, Kerry.”
“I knew you’d come around,” she assures me. “Banana-eaters to your mark!”
I must concentrate on my banana.
“Get set!” Kerry shouts.
I’ll start off easy. I’ll eat this first banana in less than ten seconds. Then I’ll work down to eating one in seven seconds. Then I’ll …
I will cram it into my mouth in one piece and swallow it in one gigantic gulp. This should be a breeze.
Look out, G
“Go!” Kerry screams at the top of her lungs.
Hi yo, banana, away!
I have the whole banana in my mouth. It’s big. It’s too big to swallow whole. I’ve made a mistake. I must change my strategy.
“Go, Arlo, go!”
I’m chomping furiously. I’ll smash this banana into delicious banana mush in two seconds and suck it into my stomach like a bionic vacuum cleaner.
“Ten seconds, Arlo! Swallow! Swallow!”
Ten seconds. Oh, no, I thought I could do it easily in less than ten seconds. My mouth is so full I can hardly chew. Banana mush keeps trying to escape. Back, banana mush, back.
“Gross, Arlo! You look like a stuffed pig.”
I’m chewing as fast as I can. I’ve got to get this stuff down my throat.
“Twenty-five seconds, Arlo.”
Twenty-five seconds. This is no way to get into the Guinness Book of World Records. Down, banana mush, down.
“Forty-eight seconds and counting,” Kerry says with a yawn. “Wake me up when you’re done.”
“You want to bet on it?”
The ceiling in my bedroom has a hole in it. The hole got there last May when my model rocket blasted off by accident.
I’m lying on my bed, looking at that hole, and wondering how Dr. Ronald L. Alkana ate seventeen bananas in two minutes.
“Your final time was one minute and thirty-two seconds, Arlo. That’s for one banana, only one,” Kerry reminds me from her seat on the floor. Can’t she see I’m busy? “Maybe you could set a world record at something besides eating bananas,” she continues. “Is there a record for eating tennis balls? You could probably do that as slow as you wanted.”
Dr. Alkana must have inhaled those bananas whole. If he’s a doctor, maybe he knows some fancy medical tricks for eating bananas fast.
“I know, Arlo. Why don’t you be the first person in history to eat a motorcycle? We could ride you to school when you got finished.”
There’s got to be a way. I know I can do it.
“Or maybe you could eat a tree and leave. Get it, Arlo? Eat a tree and then leave.”
What is she talking about? Did she say “eat a tree”?
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Kerry,” I say as I roll over and prop myself up on one elbow. “Do you think I should just forget about a world record?”
“Arlo! That’s what I’ve been talking to you about.”
She’s off the floor and looking at my private things on my desk.
“I think you should set a record eating a tree. Forget about bananas.”
“Eat a tree? That’s ridiculous! And leave my stuff alone, please.”
“Is it any more ridiculous than you eating seventeen bananas in less than two minutes?” she asks.
“That’s not ridiculous.” I’m getting a little angry. I can feel my face getting hot. “I love bananas, Kerry. You know that.”
She stops and looks at me. “That’s true,” she admits, “you love bananas. But be realistic. You can’t eat that many that fast. You just can’t do it.”
“What do you mean, can’t?” I ask.
“Just what I said, you can’t do it.”
When someone tells me I can’t do something, it makes me want to do it even more. Dad calls that being stubborn. I call it being sure of myself. But what it boils down to is this: I’ll be zippered into a hot dog bun before my sister tells me what I can’t do.
I sit up on the edge of the bed and look her square in the eyes. “You want to bet on it, Kerry?”
“Bet?” she asks.
“Yeah, you know, like when Uncle Cecil bet Aunt Maude she couldn’t stop smoking.”
“Oh, yeah, I remember,” she says with a grin. “And he caught her smoking in the basement, and she had to clean out the garage and paint the bathroom. Sure, I’ll bet.”
I’ve got her now … hee hee. I’ll make the bet a good one.
“OK, here’s the bet, Kerry. If I can break the record after … let’s see … after three weeks of training, then you have to clean up my room and do all the lawn mowing for me. I don’t have to do any at all. And if I can’t break the record, then I’ll do all that work for one year. You don’t have to do your share.”
“It’s a bet, Arlo. Let’s shake on it.”
It’s official. We’re shaking on it. There’s no backing out for Kerry now. I’ll show her I can be famous. I’ll prove it to her and anybody else who says I can’t. I’m going to be in the Guinness Book of World Records, and that’s a fact.
“Done, done-done, or done-done-done?”
One Saturday afternoon when Kerry was three years old, she decided she was going to help Dad remodel the kitchen. He was fixing the cabinet drawer by the refrigerator. So Kerry “borrowed” his hammer and “fixed” the kitchen table.
That’s why we have an orange plastic tablecloth on the kitchen table now. It covers up the big dents Kerry made with Dad’s hammer before he got it away from her.
Saturday night is my night to set the table. I put the plates, glasses, and silverware on that orange tablecloth. It’s not such a bad job. I think of it as if I’m playing a game of Monopoly: you’ve got to get the playing board set up right before you grab everything you can get your hands on.
I can never remember whether the fork goes on the right or the left side of the plate. There’s a correct way to do it. Some lady named Emily Post made up the rules for the “Supper Table Game.” She figured it makes a difference on how you get your food from your plate to your mouth. She sure never visited our house. Here, you get it from your plate to your mouth very fast if it’s something you like and you want seconds. And you get it to your mouth very slow if it’s something you don’t like. Whether you put the fork on the right or the left of the plate has nothing to do with it.
Still, Mom says we should know the “right” way to set the table and eat. This is so we won’t act like idiots when we go out. Personally, I never act like an idiot. She must be thinking about Kerry or John.
We always have hamburgers on Saturday night. It’s a family tradition. Dad cooks them. He covers his balding head with a chef’s hat that Mom gave him and an apron that says “Come and get it!” in rubber letters across the front. He pretends he’s a short-order cook at the Seagrove Cafe. I can imagine him doing that—all six feet, three inches of him standing over the grill, cooking and telling jokes. He says if he ever gets sick of selling car tires, he’s going to “slop burgers at the Greasy Spoon.” I think if the people who run the Seagrove Cafe knew Dad called their restaurant the “Greasy Spoon,” they’d throw him on the grill instead of a hamburger.
“Arlo! Step right up here, young man,” Dad says. “What’ll you have? How about a deluxe burger custom-cooked for you at Pa Moore’s Greasy Spoon?”
“How would you like it,” he asks, “done, done-done, or done-done-done?”
Dad always grins and points at the sizzling burgers in the pan when he asks me that question. They’re always good no matter how I answer him.
“Just done will be OK, Dad.”
“One done hamburger, coming right up!” he says as he flips them over and adjusts the heat.
“Hey, what, Arlo?”
“Did you ever want to be famous?”
He looks at me for a second. “Sure.”
“Yeah. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a famous explorer. I was going to discover hidden mountain ranges in the jungles of Africa, or uncharted islands, or a huge cave that led to the center of the Earth. Your burger is ready, Arlo. One sizzling sandwich straight from the Greasy Spoon, the best hamburger joint on the Oregon coast.”
He sure can cook. Boy, that looks good.
“When did you d
“I don’t know,” he says, giving me another look. “I guess that’s something I just grew out of. I haven’t really thought about it for a long, long time. Come and get it, everybody, dinner is served!”
We are all here now: Mom, Dad, John, Kerry, and me. I sit at the far end of the table. That’s because I’m left-handed. If I sit with a right-handed person to my left, we bump elbows. Four years ago, I did that to my aunt Roberta. She had a forkful of spaghetti almost to her mouth. It never made it. She didn’t say a thing. She just got up and left. Mom said that the white dress Aunt Roberta had on was brand-new and cost a lot of money. I felt guilty. John thought it was funny. So now I always sit where I can’t knock spaghetti or anything else into somebody’s lap.
“Arlo, why were you asking me about being famous?” Dad asks. He always wants to know why us kids ask the questions we do.
“No particular reason,” I reply. “I was just curious.”
“Tell him about our bet,” Kerry says with a mouthful of hamburger.
“Quiet, Kerry.” I’m giving her my shut-up-or-I’ll-get-you look.
“Arlo thinks he’s going to be famous, Dad,” she continues.
“I said quiet, Kerry.” My shut-up-or-I’ll-get-you look doesn’t work on Kerry anymore. Why am I tormented by having such a motor-mouth for a sister?
“What’s this bet all about, Arlo?” Dad wants to know.
Thanks a lot, Kerry. I’ll help myself to some more potato salad and try to act unconcerned.
“Oh, it’s just a little bet Kerry and I made, that’s all.”
“What kind of bet?” he asks firmly. “You know your mother and I don’t approve of gambling.
“It’s not a money bet, Dad. It’s just … well … uh …”
“Yes, Arlo?” Mom asks.
Mom sometimes seems to know what I’m thinking. She sits there quietly and in her gentle way reads me like a book. That’s how well she knows me. I think this is one of those times. I guess I might as well tell the whole story.
“Well, it’s just a little bet on how fast I can eat bananas. I’m going to break the world record by eating seventeen bananas in less than two minutes. I’ve got three weeks to get ready. I think that’s September twenty-fourth.”
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