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“How old are Will and Abe now?”
“They’re really 18 and 15.”
“Yeah. The book covers from when they were toddlers to just a few years ago. And then they caught on to my little scam. Here, let me get you a copy. It just came out.”
Groening goes upstairs and returns with a crisp new book.
“Aha!” I say. “HarperCollins.”
“Yep. But that’s not why; it’s just coincidental.”
“He owns everything. He probably doesn’t even know what he owns anymore.”
“And,” Groening laughs, “he’s got really good taste.”
“I’ll be right back.” Groening stands and disappears. He seems to do that. I don’t. I remain seated on the couch, flipping through Will & Abe’s Guide. Gifts are good. Surely Groening will soon kick me out. How long have I been here?
Groening reappears, holding a thin pamphlet.
“So!” he announces jubilantly. “I found it!”
“Congratulations. Found what?”
“This,” he says, “is a highly collectible item. Every year, for five years, I did a little hand-done collection of my stuff that I just gave to friends. This one is from 1986: Life in Hell Bonus Funfest Holiday Treat #5. It’s just my old Reader column, Sound Mix, and it goes up to my last few columns before I got fired. [Laughs.] In fact, the last column is called ‘How to Write a Weekly Music Column.’?”
“Was that written before you found out, ?or . . . ?”
“Just read it. That’s for you.”
“Wow! Thanks, man.”
“But if you don’t want it, give it back, because there’s only a couple.”
“Like I’m gonna give it back. Jesus.”
“I just thought you’d appreciate it, because it’s your kind of thing. And it’s like . . . it’s so wrong. I mean, there are so many wrong things. Let me show you what I mean by wrong.” Groening takes obvious delight in thumbing through the booklet.
“Okay, first of all: I was walking by a junior high school on the last day of school, and I saw this kid walking out of the school, and he flipped his notebook over his head and it went into the bushes. And I picked it up. A kid named Dusty Cohen. The stuff that was in this notebook was so funny that I printed it in my column. And it was such a hit that I went back and I went into dumpsters, outside of schools. This one’s a vocabulary test, taken from different . . . actually this one’s taken from one person:
“Sentences to Vocabulary Words”
I abated the furnace heat.
The students accorded on the answer to the paper.
The girls face was abominable.
Billy abridged the wood.
He abstain himself from crying.
The knife was very acute at the end.
We adopted a buiseness furm.
Number 8, blank.
I glued the wood together so they would adhere.
He abhors his english teacher.
Groening laughs himself dry and recovers with a longing sigh. “Oh, it was sooo good!”
All right. It’s been almost three hours. If Groening’s not going to do it, I’ll have to just kick myself out. The Groenings have to get up early to go to the Federal Building and get Will a passport, so he has options to join his father on the international Simpsons Movie promo tour. Only one issue remains unresolved: Did Groening or did he not suffer the effects of overexposure to a certain old sitcom character — a young beatnik played by Bob Denver on an ancient show called The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, created by a long-dead long-lost cousin of mine.
“Is it true that you had a substantial Maynard G. Krebs experience?” I ask.
“Oh, yeah. Of course. Maynard G. Krebs was a huge influence on me,” says Groening. “I can remember, as a little kid, saying, ‘Crazy, man, Daddy-o.’ It was like he was the only guy on TV who talked like a real human being, you know? There was a little bit of Jughead in him, unfortunately, but I loved him. He had a goatee! He was the only guy on TV who had a goatee!”
“Yeah, at the time, in the early ’60s.”
“Did you know that was my cousin, Max, who wrote that?”
“Max Shulman? Oh, my God!”
“I never met him. He was my dad’s cousin, and my dad only met him once, when my dad was a kid and Max was a teenager. I went to his funeral service at the Writers Guild in 1988 and saw all these people who looked like my dad. It was pretty weird.”