• Super Metroid Art by Elemental79
  • Grapes of Wrath pic and information on Steinbeck can be found here.

It was mid to late August of 1995. The Alabama sun blazed in full effect, but my sweat-covered body didn’t notice. My heart was beating too fast. And my obsession with Super Metroid had not yet been quenched.

That summer, while spending time in California with my father–and away from Samus, her Varia Suit, and her Screw Attack, a move so legendary and omnipotent that a YouTube channel with over 2 million subscribers tune in to…. Wait.. This is about the Grapes of Wrath and idols… Super Metroid is tertiary at best… And blogs ain’t ‘posed to have words like “tertiary”… Ol’ country nerd self…

Ok, JoDavid. Channel your inner Star Wars/Dungeon Fam…

Stay on target. And watch for the hook.

In the summer of ’95, I read The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. It was the assigned summer reading for my upcoming AP English class. (My all-time favorite summer reading was Catch-22…) I was impressed by the story and socioeconomic critique found within its pages. From the time I read Howe’s Bunnicula series and Cleary’s Ramona series, I understood and appreciated the power of fiction. Fiction has the ability to explore, affirm, and reject “truth” in powerful and provocative ways. At a young age­—weird mofo that I am—I had already become unconsciously aware that “empirical fact” was not the only mediator of “truth” (or a term I prefer more, reality). Maybe that was due to my love for Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes and the various slipstreams of religious persuasion that exist on both sides of my fam… But that’s another theolog for another day…

Lawd, me and digressions must have been BFFs in utero.

Where was I?

Heartbeats, Super Metroid, and fiction…

Alas, it was not the recollection of such fine storytelling that had my heart racing. Neither was it the fact that I was about to clear Super Metroid (for the umpteenth time) having obtained all available upgrades. No. My heart raced because I was going to have to drive to Dr. Bonner’s house… by myself, in that truck… That white truck… that white, stick-shift, truck… First gear—and second for that matter—and I had never gotten along, and though I had just passed my driver’s exam, I only passed because I was driving my mom’s automatic transmission Cadillac… I could manipulate my SNES’ six button controller like a BAWSE. But for some reason my keen hand-eye coordination didn’t translate to hand-foot coordination.

What should have been every (stereotypical) Alabamian sixteen-year-old male’s dream—driving a truck—had become a terrifying chore. My English teacher, Ms. Ina Rae Jacks (what a name!), charged every AP student in my class the task of interviewing someone who lived through the Great Depression, in person no less. Dr. Bonner, a longstanding member of my church, St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church, agreed to the interview. Unfortunately, my mom’s car would be unavailable, so I would have to drive that damn truck to get to his house. I miss driving that truck, no AC and all.

I was distracted before I arrived at Dr. Bonner’s. I didn’t want to do the project. I wished I was at home playing my tenor saxophone, listening to Digable Planets, or displaying my video game supremacy in Super Metroid or Mortal Kombat II on my SNES. Not to mention, the truck stalled (I choked out) at least four times on the way to his house. And the self-professed “intelligent” high-school version of myself was so certain that Dr. Bonner had nothing more to add to what I had already read—except for maybe a glossy cover to a well-worn book. (This proverb comes to mind: “Better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs than a fool in his folly…”) The Grapes of Wrath, so I had been told, so I had come believe, was universally recognized as a literary classic. And although the book was not inexhaustible, it certainly captured or neared the essence of the Great Depression: the struggles and humanity of a group of folk who emigrated from the Dust Bowl to the farmlands of California.

I arrived to Dr. Bonner’s house flustered and not nearly as attentive as I should have been. But this was Dr. Bonner. Although I did not know my elder personally—except as one of the older men perched upon the “Amen bench” at church—I knew that folk inside and outside the church respected him, and that was enough for me.

What did Dr. Bonner get his doctorate in—I mean, besides life? Exactly how old was Dr. Bonner? How did he come to possess an aura that could cut through plywood, sheetrock, brick, and a sixteen-year-old’s short attention span? I couldn’t answer any of those questions then—and I still can’t—nor could I tell what lay behind his pensive eyes, gray hair, and sage countenance. And I soon found that Dr. Bonner had a way of talking that demanded attention. His vocal tone and cadence placed you in the midst of what his words tried to point to: something real, lived, and experienced.

My episteme, the way I understood and experienced the cosmos, was on the ropes and I didn’t even know it….

©2012-2016 M. J. Sales

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