बिल ब्राइसन को पढ़ना हमेशा शानदार होता है. उनकी लेखन शैली और ह्यूमर का मैं ज़बरदस्त फैन हूँ. ‘द लाइफ़ एंड टाइम्स ऑफ़ द थंडरबोल्ट किड’ में उन्होंने अपने बचपन के संस्मरण संजोये हैं. अरसे बाद इतनी शानदार किताब पढ़ी है. वे जब जब अपने माता पिता (ख़ास तौर पर पिता की कंजूसी के किस्से) और पड़ोसियों-दोस्तों को याद करते हैं तो आपकी बांछें (श्रीलाल शुक्ल जी का जुमला नहीं दोहराऊंगा) खिल उठती हैं.
दो टुकड़ों पर गौर करें –
We spent Christmas day walking on a beach in Santa Monica, and on the day after Christmas we got in the car and drove south on a snaking freeway through the hazy, warm, endless nowhereness of Los Angeles. At length we parked in an enormous parking lot that was almost comically empty—we were one of only half a dozen cars, all from out of state—and strode a few paces to a grand entrance, where we stood with hands in pockets looking up at a fabulous display of wrought iron.
“Well, Billy, do you know where this is?” my father asked, unnecessarily. There wasn’t a child in the world that didn’t know these fabled gates.
“It’s Disneyland,” I said.
“It certainly is,” he agreed and stared appreciatively at the gates as if they were something he had privately commissioned.
For a minute I wondered if this is all we had come for—to admire the gates—and that in a moment we would get back in the car and drive on to somewhere else. But instead he told us to wait there, and strode purposefully to a ticket booth where he conducted a brief but remarkably cheerful transaction. It was the only time in my life that I saw two twenty-dollar bills leave my father’s wallet simultaneously. As he waited at the window, he gave us a bored smile and a little wave.
“Have I got leukemia or something?” I asked my mother.
“No, honey,” she replied.
“Has Dad got leukemia?”
“No, honey, everybody’s fine. Your father’s just got the Christmas spirit.”
At no point in all my life before or since have I been more astounded, more gratified, more happy than I was for the whole of that day. We had the park practically to ourselves. We did it all—spun gaily in people-size teacups, climbed aboard flying Dumbos, marveled at the exciting conveniences in the Monsanto All-Plastic House of the Future in Tomorrowland, enjoyed a submarine ride and
riverboat safari, took a rocket to the moon. (The seats actually trembled. “Whoa!” we all said in delighted alarm.) Disneyland in those days was a considerably less slick and manicured wonder than it would later become, but it was still the finest thing I had ever seen—possibly the finest thing that existed in America at the time. My father was positively enchanted with the place, with its tidiness and wholesomeness and imaginative picture-set charm, and kept asking rhetorically why all the world couldn’t be like this. “But cheaper, of course,” he added, comfortingly returning to character and steering us deftly past a souvenir stand.
The next morning we got in the car and began the thousand-mile trip across desert, mountain, and prairie to Des Moines. It was a long drive, but everyone was very happy. At Omaha, we didn’t stop—didn’t even slow down— but just kept on going. And if there is a better way to conclude a vacation than by not stopping in Omaha, then I don’t know it.
My most pleasurable experience of these years occurred on a hot day in August 1959 shortly after my mother informed me that she had accepted an invitation on my behalf to go to Lake Ahquabi for the day with Milton Milton and his family. This rash acceptance most assuredly was not part of my happiness, believe me, for Milton Milton was the most annoying, the most repellent, the moistest drip the world had yet produced, and his parents and sister were even worse. They were noisy, moronically argumentative, told stupid jokes, and ate with their mouths so wide open you could see all the way to their uvulas and some distance beyond. Mr. Milton had an Adam’s apple the size of a champagne cork and bore as uncanny a resemblance to the Disney character Goofy as was possible without actually being a cartoon dog. His wife was just like him but
Their idea of a treat was to pass around a plate of Fig Newtons, the only truly dreadful cookie ever made. They actually yukked when they laughed—an event that gave them a chance to show you just what a well-masticated Fig Newton looks like in its final moments before oblivion (black, sticky, horrible). An hour with the Miltons was like a visit to the second circle of hell. Needless to say, I torched them repeatedly with Thunder Vision, but they were strangely ineradicable. On the one previous occasion on which I had experienced their hospitality, a slumber party at which it turned out I was the only guest, or possibly the only invitee who showed up, Mrs. Milton had made me—I’ll just repeat that: made me—eat chipped beef on toast, a dish closely modeled on vomit, and then sent us to bed at 8:30 after Milton passed out halfway through I’ve Got a Secret, exhausted after sixteen hours of pretending to be a steam shovel.
So when my mother informed me that she had, in her amiable dementia, committed me to yet another period in their company, my dismay was practically boundless. “Tell me this isn’t happening,” I said and began walking in small, disturbed circles around the carpet. “Tell me this is just a bad, bad dream.”
“I thought you liked Milton,” said my mother. “You went to his house for a slumber party.”
“Mom, it was the worst night of my life. Don’t you remember? Mrs. Milton made me eat baked throw up. Then she made me share Milton’s toothbrush because you forgot to pack one for me.”
“Did I?” said my mother.
I nodded with a kind of strained stoicism. She had packed my sister’s toilet bag by mistake. It contained two paperwrapped tampons and a shower cap, but not my toothbrush or the secret midnight feast that I had been faithfully promised. I spent the rest of the evening playing drums with the tampons on Milton’s comatose head.
“I’ve never been so bored in my life. I told you all this before.”
“Did you? I honestly don’t recall.”
“Mom, I had to share a toothbrush with Milton Milton after he’d been eating Fig Newtons.”