My seven year old son came home the other day with a book: The Hardy Boys – Trouble at the Arcade. I laughed at the title because it was obviously an attempt to breathe new life into an old franchise by making it “modern”, when in fact, arcades are virtually extinct, and by now the Hardy Boys are dead and rotting in the ground alongside that simpering twat, Nancy Drew. And good riddance, too, because they put a lot of pressure on kids, didn’t they? They solved so many fucking mysteries that you felt inadequate by comparison. The only mystery I knew of as a kid was why my art teacher’s office smelled like the bus driver’s Black Sabbath jacket, and it took me until high school before I figured that one out. One mystery solved in ten years. That paled in comparison to the fucking Hardy Boys, who probably solved a mystery or two before they got around to dealing with their morning wood. Thanks for the low self-esteem, assholes!
Truth be told, I kind of skipped over the whole kid’s detective genre. The first novel I read was Peter Benchley’s Jaws, which I read in the second grade. I remember that Hooper fucked the living daylights out of Brody’s wife, something they omitted from the movie because no one wants to see Richard Dreyfus naked. Needless to say, my horizons had expanded quite a bit beyond The Mystery Of Who Took My Fucking Tinkertoys by the time my friends were into that kind of thing.
“Hey, Greg! Did you read the new Hardy Boys book?”
“No. I just started reading a book I found in my dad’s office. It’s called Rambling Rose, and this thirteen year old kid fucks his babysitter in it.” (No kidding, that was a real book I read. When I was eight.)
But there was one pint-sized detective that I could not escape, and that was Encyclopedia Brown. My third grade teacher loved to read Encyclopedia Brown stories to the class and see if we could solve them, which wasn’t that hard because they all followed a simple formula:
- Encyclopedia Brown is approached by a neighborhood kid and asked to solve a mystery.
- Encyclopedia Brown goes to Bugs Meany’s house
- The cops arrive and arrest Bugs Meany because he’s always guilty. Always.
- The liberal, criminal-coddling justice system frees Bugs Meany and he promptly goes out and murders a family of five.
You have to wonder how the courts in Idaville worked, because Bugs Meany was in every goddamn story, three strikes and all. “Bugs Meany, you have been found guilty of raping a great-grandmother to death. Again. I hereby sentence you to go to your room until you’re good and sorry. Dismissed.”
Or maybe all his convictions were thrown out because he was always arrested on the flimsiest of evidence:
“Officer, arrest Bugs Meany!” said Encyclopedia Brown.
“But… but why? Bugs couldn’t have done it! He was watching that documentary on camels!” said Chief Brown.
How did Encyclopedia Brown know that Bugs Meany was behind that rash of pistol-whippings? What did he know that Chief Brown didn’t? Can you solve the mystery?
And then you’d turn the page and Encyclopedia Brown would explain that if Bugs Meany had really watched a documentary on camels, he’d know that a dromedary has one hump instead of two, and therefore he must have been the guy who committed all those horrible crimes because that makes total fucking sense.
I used to protest this faulty logic to my teacher. “But what if Bugs Meany just confused Dromedary camels with Bactrian camels? Maybe he’s got a learning disability. Or maybe he’s just really behind in school because every time he makes a simple mistake, Encyclopedia Brown has his sorry ass hauled off to jail!”
Encyclopedia Brown was a fucking asshole who had his dad, who just happened to be the chief of police, arrest anyone who wronged him in any way whatsoever. If he had lived in LA in the mid-90’s instead of Idaville, he’d have had Bugs Meany arrested for killing Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson simply because he’d forgotten that there’s only 30 days in November, or some incredibly trivial thing like that. What a fucking prick.
The kid who sat next to me in class, Mike, used to get really worked up over these stories, and it was clear that he idolized Encyclopedia Brown. Now, at that age, I was far from a rebel or bad-boy type. I got straight-A’s and once formed a club with a friend, with the first rule of membership being “No swearing!” Really. No shit. Me, the guy who can’t make it through a standard baptism without dropping a couple of dozen f-bombs.
Anyway, as innocent and goody-two-shoes as I was back then, even I knew that wanting to be Encyclopedia Brown was motherfucking lame. So when I was at Mike’s house one summer afternoon, and he suggested that we play Encyclopedia Brown along with his sister, I knew I was going to need to be looking for a new friend, and the sooner the better.
“Ok, so you go into my room and steal something, then go hang out in the back yard,” explained Mike. “Then I’ll come out there and ask where you were and catch you in a lie. Kim, you’ll be the police chief, and you’ll decide if I got it right and Greg needs to go to jail!”
So I went into Mike’s room and took a prized model car that I knew he was sure to miss, then marched into the back yard and informed Kim that she was to tell Encyclopedia Brown that Bugs Meany’s alibi was that he was busy playing hide and seek. Then, model car in hand, I walked home. It took Encyclopedia Brown almost an hour before he figured out that he’d been had, but instead of confronting me and catching me in a lie, he simply had his dad call me.
“Greg, Mike informs me that you took his model car. Is that true?”
“Yeah, I have it right here.”
“Why did you take it home with you? Mike is very upset.”
“Oh, I must not have understood the game. We were playing Encyclopedia Brown, and he told me to steal something from his room.”
I listened as Mike and his father discussed my story, which was true enough to cause massive confusion on that end. Mike wound up walking over to my house and actually apologized for thinking that I had stolen his car. He even asked if I wanted to try playing Encyclopedia Brown again, but Bugs Meany was too smart for that. Besides, I’d found a book in my dad’s office I was anxious to start reading: Tropic of Cancer.