My brother and I were floating on magic pillows, just above the basement floor. I was too old to be doing this legitimately, and my brother, Danny, was four years older. Magic pillows were small throw pillows centered on old roller skates, the four-wheel strap-on kind. Properly squished with rear ends and steered with arms and legs, the pillows concealed the skates in such a way that we appeared to hover at an elevation of about three inches.
Brian Garner came into view descending the open staircase. Mom must have let him in. Garner lived nearby and dressed like a Mayberry churchboy — clean and boring, with yellow Vitalis hair, a bow tie and shiny shoes. More of an acquaintance than a friend. Probably from Nixon or George Wallace stock. I think he stopped by because I was the only kid his age for miles who was shorter than he was, and this gave him a sense of power. Plus, we had a Ping-Pong table and slot cars.
“What are you doing?” said Garner from the staircase, looking more like a Teutonic Alfred E. Neuman than you‘d hope anyone ever did or would.
“Floating,” said Danny quietly, “on magic pillows.”
“Wow!” said Garner. “Magic pillows!” He rushed downstairs to investigate.
Danny and I showed Garner how the magic pillows were made, showed him both pillow and skate.
“No,” Garner said, making this the first time anyone had ever scared the shit out of me in this particular way. “They are magic pillows.”
“We call them magic pillows,” I tried to clarify, “but they’re not really magic. They‘re just pillows on skates.”
“No,” Garner repeated. “They are magic pillows.”
Well, okay, Garner. Fine. They are magic pillows.
About three months later, Garner showed up again. I still don’t know why. He wore the same bow tie with different shiny shoes. We spent the afternoon racing slot cars and listening to Bill Cosby records.
Danny came downstairs and headed toward the darkroom he‘d built in the basement’s deepest alcove. He was about 10 days into recovery from a thyroidectomy that had left a huge scar almost halfway around the base of his neck. The scar was still dark and thick and prominently stitched, but Danny was pretty much back to normal. Wearing a threadbare flannel shirt open wide at the neck, he stopped at the racetrack to say hello. When Garner saw Danny‘s scar, he got that magic-pillow look in his eyes.
“Wow! What happened to you?” said Garner.
With a little shrug, Danny said, “I got a head transplant.”
“Wow!” said Garner.
“Yep,” said Danny. “I was tired of my old head, so I got this new one.”
“Wow!” said Garner, and rushed over for a closer look. It occurred to me that if ever someone looked as if he were recovering from a head transplant, it was Danny.
“Wow!” Garner repeated. “Did it hurt?”
“A little,” said Danny.
“Wow,” said Garner. “I wish I could get a head transplant.”
Danny must have also begun to see the magic pillows in Garner’s eyes. “I didn‘t really get a head transplant,” said Danny. “I had my thyroid removed.” He showed Garner how the scar ended not even halfway around his neck, then he said goodbye and went into the darkroom.
“Huh-uh!” Garner shouted after him. “Yes, you did! You got a head transplant!”
“If I got a head transplant,” Danny called from the darkroom, “how would I still have my same face?”
“I don’t know,” said Garner, shouting no longer. “I only know you got a head transplant.”
If you have a registered QuickTime Player (unregistered ones won‘t play simultaneous files), you too can commemorate the teachings of Reverend Garner, in an easy-to-assemble multimedia shrine. For entertainment and research only, Sound America maintains an archive of more than 27,000 sounds that made America what it is today: loud. Snag a WAV of The Andy Griffith Show theme (http:soundamerica .comsoundsthemesTelevisionA-Bandyg62c.wav) and leave the rest. Then head over to the University of Connecticut and download their Biology Department’s cute ‘n’ copyrighted GIF animation of goiter development and repair (www.sp .uconn.edu~bi107vcfa98saulthyroan3.gif). Tertiarily, get yourself a 34-second surgeon‘s-eye view of heart surgery (http: sln.fi.edu biosci2healthyvideo surgery.mov) from Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute Science Museum. Open all three files in your (registered) QuickTime Player and set them to Loop; zoom the heart image down to icon size (so as not to overwhelm the other ingredients) and arrange to taste. Select Play All Movies and watch the staircase. Garner will arrive shortly.