American Questions from American Stories, 1991

William Walsh

The former sheriff? How are you? What can I do to help? What’s so odd about it? If the local law enforcement people launched an undercover operation of such effectiveness and probity, he asks, why was one of the state policeman transferred far from his home and the other one encouraged to retire? What’s the story about the hog? What’s the appropriate hog story? And the farmer turned, holding the hog up there, and he said, ‘Shoot, don’t you know time don’t mean nothing to a hog?’ Someone said, ‘What’s in the newspaper, Uncle Wash?’ What, exactly, does the film critic of a main-line American daily newspaper do about movies like The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave and Malibu Hot Summer and Bloodsucking Freaks? Does he pick one out, on a slow week, and subject it to the sort of withering sarcasm that sometimes, in his braver daydreams, he sees himself using on the executive editor? Does he simply ignore such movies, preferring to pretend that a person of his sensibilities could not share an artistic universe with such efforts as Mother Riley Meets the Vampire and Driller Killer and Gas Pump Girls? I had been saying to Ron, ‘What would happen if a movie critic loved I Spit on Your Grave and hated Dumbo? What if this guy suddenly had an aesthetic revelation and started looking at Charles Bronson as an auteur? Inviting the readers to settle the question democratically, Joe Bob provided a ballot that said, ‘Question: In your opinion, is the French-fry-head San Francisco writer named Peter Stack a wimp or not?’ Why was he mad at me? What would happen if you dropped Joe Bob Briggs off a seven-story building and watched him splatter all over the pavement? Apologize for what? While she was doing that, she heard someone say, ‘Where’s your wallet?’ Would someone who was about to be ill really pull the keys out of a car parked on a deserted stretch of highway when her husband was sitting right in the front seat? What were the odds against a bandit’s being on that stretch of highway when the Anderson’s van stopped? Do you recall when it was you first had occasion to meet her? Who would have thought that little old Emporia would have two hit men? I have to know—does the Gazette have a list? Was it only coincidence that Mr. Bird’s wife died in the manner and in the place the minister had suggested for the murder of Mr. Anderson? Will Tom Bird be charged with another murder? Had one of the murder schemes already uncovered by the authorities resulted in Anderson’s death after all? Or could it be that little old Emporia had three hit men? Was Lorna Anderson a temptress who merely used Tom Bird to help get rid of her husband? Or did the death of Sandra Bird—perhaps caused by her husband in some fit of rage— lead inevitably to the death of Martin Anderson? If Tom Bird and Lorna Anderson were bound together, were they bound together more by love or by guilty knowledge? How does it look? How did you guys get that way? Is it your birthday or anniversary or anything? What I’m getting at, Joe, is there any reason that one of your wacky, wild, zippy, zany friends—and I know you got ’em, Joe—any reason why them friends would have hired two hundred and forty-three unemployed Equity actors just to blow your mind, freak you out, mess with that gray matter? Is it possible that you’re the only one here that bought a ticket and everyone else is the cast? No wonder we’re always half sold out, Joe: it’s one ticket? Why Don’t ‘Jillette’ Me Have Your Coin Business? A manicure? Is it supposed to get better? Do you think he was really standing naked under a Nazi flag? Is there a line in the MOFO number that is not needed? During their dangerous version of what Penn calls a ‘wimpy trick,’ is he irritating enough to give the audience a split second of guilty satisfaction when he seems to have been stabbed in the hand by the partner he was irritating? What do you mean by ‘poetic’? Are you going to do a trick for us today? How’s your show doing in this market? You creaming the competition? What’s next for you after this? As Penn was wiping his face after the second squirting, he said, ‘What are we doing here?’ Teller says that he and Penn would like to try a stadium show someday, because they’re fascinated by the problem ‘How do you do a theatrical event before an enormous number of people?’ And there are tire marks on the towel? What’s the doughboy afraid of? Who could have predicted that they would prove valuable in a business career? Should Ben & Jerry’s reach toward the lucrative markets in lower New England? If so, how could enough ice cream be produced to meet a large market’s demand? What’s the doughboy afraid of? P.S. Why don’t you pick on someone your own size? Chico Lager sent a copy of one of those letters to W.H. Spoor at Pillsbury, along with a note that ended, ‘Why not think it over and repent?’ Why does a fireman go into a burning house to pull out a child? Why does a man jump into a cold river and pull a young boy out? Why do men do what they do on the battlefield and save lives, with holes in them? Why? How in the name of any kind of fairness and decency, does Kidwell see this as her business? What’s cookin’? What are Boswells for? What do you think? How about my plum number? How did the rest of the argument go? What did she say to that? What did you have on your last cheating day, Fats? How would we respond if we went home expecting apple pie and found ratatouille pie instead? What do you miss most about New York? Hiya, guys, how you doin’? Do you know what I miss in New York? You mean the sense of elegance? Don’t you ever miss Kansas City? Are you going to look for another spot? But do you remember my idea of a food tour of New York? Do you mean you’d take them for a tour of the grease pits? What do you think? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why do fools fall in love? Why do birds sing so gay? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? ROYALTY WINDFALL FOR SINGER’S WIDOW? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why do birds sing so gay? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? You ever heard of that? What’s that? Is that kinda clear? Why all this goddam monkey business? Why don’t you let me try and make a living? Why not? I don’t know that the guy leaves us any choice, does he? What are you going to do, kill me? What’s going on over there? Edna who? Did she neglect to try the one final approach that would have persuaded the suspect’s mother to open the door and have a chat? Will a stray cat that she spotted in the neighborhood meet an unpleasant end? Did she forget to put a quarter in the meter? What’s going on over there? Could it have been a mistake in the address? Did Homicide check out the people who lived in the equivalent house on the next block? Did the restaurant have any connection with the mob? How about an ex-employee? What about a bad son-in-law? What do you think the rest of Bo’s secret is? Is Kimberly going to get an abortion? So is this new character going to be a friend of Jennifer’s—the one in the car wreck? All of a sudden, I heard Edna say, in that breathless voice, ‘Were they empty or full?’ I’m always saying, ‘What’s this? What’s that?’ Is that true? What are you doing here? What were they wearing? What did they have in their pockets? What was cooking on the stove? What song was playing on the jukebox? I have an activist nature and I would simply focus on the question ‘What can we do?’ Get an airplane? Get a valve? Was there a better respirator
somewhere? Was there a doctor somewhere? Let me ask you whether, based upon what you have heard, if you could snap your fingers and every expert in the United States were sitting her by our sides, would it make any difference? Is there a person anywhere in the world that might make a difference in this situation? What can we do? Who would know the best people to have on the advisory committee? Who would be the best person to deliver the inaugural advisory lecture? Who knew him? Who could recommend a likely director? Who might be interested in contributing money? The next day, the embassy called and said, ‘When do you want to come over and start planning your trip?’


Questionstruck, by William Walsh

A Collection of Question-Based Texts Derived from the Books of Calvin Trillin

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