By James Sweeney
Holy smokes! Racecar Superstar Sonny Gunderson! I can't believe my eyes! What are you doing here at my nephew Garrett's 11th birthday? I'd figure you to be vacationing in the Bahamas with all that money of yours right about now, Ha Ha Ha.
Oh... that's quite a turn of events indeed! Well, at least you got them to settle out of court. It's so unfair when a young boy loses both his father and his sense of financial stability. But such is the world we live in...
Yes, those situations certainly are tricky, especially when they involve such a big name like yourself. Everybody wants a piece of the pie, but I guess the old saying holds true: Fool me once, shame on you; take a man's life with your fast-car antics, shame on society.
But what really brings you here, Sonny? We haven't seen your face around these parts since you won the Daytona 500 all those years ago and then promised on live TV to “fuck a checkered flag across this blessed country's Heartland.” We weren't sure if we'd ever see you again – at least, ya know, definitely not on a televised interview. What gives?
The E-mail? I'm...afraid I don't quite follow.
Ahhh, yes! Right! The E-mail! The E-mail my sister sent you...sent you four years ago! Glad you could finally make it, Sonny.
What, you thought I had forgotten? Oh please...I just needed to hear you admit to letting that little boy down. Four years...four years is a long time to muster the gall for what - another little cameo? Newsflash, Superstar, this isn't some episode of TRL in 2001, and I am not Carson Daly before young people forgot about him. If you want to be in this kid's life for real, you better start by explaining yourself to the people who have been.
Me. Sonny, I was referring to me. Explain yourself to me.
Seriously? That's all you have to say? You “sped to get here?” You sped to get here. That's really rich, Sonny. Gosh, forget racing cars, you should have taken up a career in comedy! You're just so witty! Heck, with a mind like yours, you could have been anything – a teacher who inspires while making learning fun, a waiter who makes everyone feel like they're part of the Olive Garden family, a social worker with a dark past and powers yet unseen – the sky is your limit, Sonny!
I don't care if I'm making a scene! And I'm not sorry for raising my voice! It's a Tuesday afternoon and I'm in nothing but a big Tweety-bird T-shirt, shouting into a Mitsubishi Lancer that's covered in Uncle Ben's Easy Rice decals. I think my neighbors get the gist of our situation. But, at least I'm not the hotshot jerk that showed up unannounced like some kind of overbearing Olive Garden uncle or an unwanted pregnancy.
An attitude? I'm having an attitude? How dare you. You think you can coast through life by mixing big city fast talk with that rural South Carolina charm of yours, flashing that somewhat-toothy smile that had everyone so convinced you were Mr. Nice Guy Who Lives for Speed. But I've always seen right through you. Charlie Rose was right about you celebrity types: you're all the same and some of you are professional racecar drivers.
Yeah, I'm sure you were so busy, Sonny. Even if I did believe that you spend four months out of each year simply walking to remember how it feels, that still leaves at least a few weeks on a packed calender to spend with a boy who used to see the world in you.
Right, right, no, of course you can't miss a single improv class. And I'm just sure they happened to fall on every one of the birthday parties, the first Communion, those Christmas Eves – not even Christmas Day, Sonny, we never even asked for Christmas Day when you know damn well that we could have.
You know...Garrett doesn't even care about the cars anymore; someone at school showed him a YouTube video of Dale Earnhardt's death and from there, well, non-fatal fast car racing just didn't do the trick. That glimmer in his eyes is gone, Sonny. He enjoys reading now.
No, Sonny, please just stay in the car. Lord forbid you waste any more energy than you have to for the sake of some half-empty gesture. I'm sure you already wasted enough gas to power a damn German Panzer coming all the way down here.
Garrett isn't even around yet anyway, he's at the aquarium watching sea turtles writhe in a false-home prison.
I'm not a “goddamn tree hugger,” Sonny, as you so eloquently put it. I quietly hate things that aren't like me as much as any other reasonable woman of my age range and socio-cultural perspective, but good gracious! These animals need our help!
And I'm certainly not influencing Garrett to be a “little sea monkey little pussy boy,” I-I don't even know what the heck that means and frankly, I'm a bit offe-
Oh, here we go! Dukakis '88? Dukakis '88? Yes – if you must bring this up – I do recall volunteering for Dukakis in '88. I'm not sure what that's supposed to prove, but if you expect me to be embarrassed about it, well, you've got another thing coming.
Not only do I stand by my vote, Sonny, but I'll share with you an important message from my time on the campaign trail. Something the younger volunteers would say to each other often, and even had made into a few buttons : “Michael Dukakis for President. Because sure, his name is funny, but his son definitely won't do 9/11, and actually, as a matter of fact, John Dukakis was in Jaws 2. Michael Dukakis legally adopted John at the age of five, which was a good thing to do. Alright?” It was a large button. So there.
I don't have to justify myself to you. We both know it really ought to be the other way around at this point. Why don't you just give me your Buffalo Wild Wings giftcard, or whatever it is that you grabbed from the Sunoco station, and I'll put it down inside and tell Garrett you stopped by – if he even believes me. Whatever it is, it better be an improvement over last year's gifts – honestly, what made you think sending a pair of “Barbecue Sweatpants” and a duct taped shoebox labeled “Some Sands I Found” would suffice as a gift for your –
I don't care who was sponsoring you, you had to have known that barbecue sauce would bleed right through the pockets of those – oh for goodness sake! Mother, get back inside the house!
It's Sonny, Mother, and he was just about to leave, so just -
No, Mother, it's Sonny! The racecar driver! The Southern Gent Whose Soul is So Clearly Just a Car – ring any bells? Please, just go back inside.
He's just dropping off a gift for Garrett, Mother. Please stop yelling. I already said the thing about the German Panzer tanks, you're just making a fool of yourself now. Please just go inside before the breeze carries your half-corpse away like the vultures made aims to do at Pike's Peak.
Alright, well, thanks for showing up. Sorry you couldn't see Garrett but it's probably for the b – Sonny, what the hell did you bring him? This bag is heavier than Mother's morphine backpack, what in the world...
Oh Sonny...Sonny, you didn't have to do this. How did – how could you know what he wanted? Jerri couldn't even afford one of these books – I offered to pitch in for The Fountainhead but she refused my money – this is incredible. How could you have guessed that an 11-year-old boy, who demanded front row seats to Shamu on the off-chance that a whale trainer “gets ripped to fucking shreds,” would desire so religiously the complete works of Ayn Rand?
Wait...I don't understand. What are you saying here? You've...been in contact with Garrett...all these years? How did I – how did Jerri not know about this? How has Garret never mentioned this?
Your guys' “little secret”? Is that supposed to serve as an explanation?! I still can't believe this. Jerri speaks to Garrett's teachers on a weekly basis; I take him out for ice cream twice a week and he talks my ear off about everything from tethered ropes courses to leather grope-nurses and it's never once slipped out – not in any of his dinner toasts, not in his scrawlings and carvings in the shed. I'm honestly at a loss right now, Sonny.
Why keep it from us, though? Surely you can't think Jerri would be upset to know that you two finally have a relationship. Were you afraid? Was Garrett? Help me understand.
Oh. I see. Well –
Yes. Okay, I guess I can understand that.
Well, as much as it pains me to say this, you do have a point there, Sonny. I'll give you that one. My sister really can be a black-hole of emotional guilt, sucking in everything in her path and forcing it to apologize repeatedly for transgressions so long past that they hardly seem relevant, even peripherally, to the anger and resentment she feels compelled to harbor and selfishly deflect unto others.
But hey – like Ayn always said, “Selfishness is the purest of human qualities, and without selfish women, how would the President be born? Think about it.”
Yes, that one always got to me too. Say – why don't you come on inside after all. I think someone has a long-overdue date with a slice of birthday cake.
N-no, Sonny, I meant – I was talking about you. I was referring specifically to you. You have the date.