Note to Reader: Here follows a brief explanation of the extended absence of “Hart Murmurs” from this newspaper: I relocated to Grand Forks, N. D., after the stress of writing an extremely sporadic humor column combined with last year’s devastating Red Sox playoff loss put me in the emergency ward one too many times. I was sick of trading war stories with Dick Cheney over greasy freedom fries in the GW hospital cafeteria, so I took a common-law wife, Paris Hilton (yes, that Paris Hilton), and we trekked west in search of a decent potato crop and some peace of mind. As you’ll see, faithful reader, the lure of the column proved more powerful than I had anticipated.
I was busy knitting a Union Jack T-shirt in my antique rocking chair, sipping from a brandy snifter and lazily eyeing the thunderheads rolling in from the endless Western sky. I had moved the pigs into the barn, and Paris and our two young daughters were already immersed in a game of Scrabble – a Hart family tradition for waiting out storms. Just then, the last beam of the sinking sun caught my retina off the glass, and my head jerked up with a start. I spied a most incongruous sight for a North Dakota highway – a cherry red Lamborghini Diablo cruising down Route 187 like a cardinal out of Hades. I knew only one man with the gall to flaunt such a vehicle in Badlands country.
Stephen Joel Trachtenberg rapped at my door meekly with a wooden cane he had produced from the trunk of his Diablo. “Paris, go get the door and tell the kids to play upstairs,” I barked in the folksy, middle-American accent I had developed since October. A moment later a wild-haired Trachtenberg, sporting three days’ beard growth and a “New Jersey: Only the Strong Survive” T-shirt, ambled into in my living room. Surely this couldn’t be the same man who had been known to authorize 37 construction projects before his morning Red Bull. He looked like a shell of his former self. I resisted my purely altruistic impulse to give the man a haircut and shave because I knew exactly what he was there for, and I wanted to go back to my knitting as soon as possible. I spoke to him in a sharp, measured tone.
“Stephen, I know you’ve come a long way. But before you start pleading with me, let me tell you what all those unanswered letters should have made clear. I’ve written my last column, period. I’m out of the game for good. I’m going to raise my pigs, knit Paris her dresses and go to the county fair every April. That’s my life now, and I’m happy with it.”
There was a deafening silence. Trachtenberg slumped over as if he had committed hari-kiri, except that his innards remained secure in his body. He looked up at me pitifully, his face a mask of grief and longing. A single tear rolled down his left cheek. He wiped it away with a dollar bill that grew naturally from the tip of his left pinkie.
“I haven’t eaten in three days, man,” he sputtered, his spittle raining down on my couch like a Vietnam squall. “My wife left me because all I talk about is your column. I’m not asking for much here, man, just a couple more jobs, I swear to God. I just can’t find any joy in approving atrociously-named dorms without somebody mocking me in print every couple of weeks. Don’t ask me why, it’s just the way I’m wired now. Please start writing again, if only for the two months before you graduate.”
I looked at Trachtenberg’s miserable countenance and surveyed my home, which had been built in a day by my family and the community of Grand Forks. Was I really happy living the simple life? I almost laughed out loud because Paris had been on a TV show called “The Simple Life,” and it’s funny when you think something that has the same words as something someone else was once involved in, you know what I mean? But I didn’t laugh out loud. The intense rush of power I felt as I watched a university president cower before me was enough to convince me that the life I had been leading was a waste of time. What I wanted was raw, disgusting power over other another human being. Also, it occurred to me that I hadn’t attended any classes since October. So I told Trachtenberg that I’d ride back in the Diablo to Washington to write a few more columns (he insisted that he needed to feel my presence on campus – something about karma and the collective unconscious).
I waved goodbye to my family. “I probably won’t be back anytime soon,” I hollered as I hopped into Trachtenberg’s lurid ride. He had cued up Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild” in anticipation of my agreement to return (say what you will about the man, but he’s cognizant of his companions’ musical tastes). As the music blared from the Lamborghini speakers, the North Dakota wind whipped furiously through my strawberry blond locks. I looked east to my new, renewed life in that city where they keep the government. I was back, baby. I was back.
-The writer, a senior, is a Hatchet humor columnist.
This article appeared in the March 25, 2004 issue of the Hatchet.