Where Are They Now?
A visit with Encyclopedia Brown
Encyclopedia Brown, looking for all the world like a man with something to hide, watched me warily as I approached the table. "Mr. Brown?" I asked. He made no response. I tried again. "Uhh... I'm from Polite. We were scheduled for an interview?" He grunted and mumbled something as he waved for the waitress. I sat down.
He wasn't at all what I had expected. Naturally, having grown up with the books about him, I had a mental picture of what he should look like: bespectacled and unassuming, with a never-back-down manner and a friendly, welcoming smile. I was wrong. The years had not been kind to him. His unshapely stomach protruded from his ill-fitting (yellow) shirt. A pathetic beard attempted to cover his acne-scarred cheeks, and he seemed to have some sort of sweating disorder. His chin was covered with flakes from the Saltine crackers that he was stuffing into his mouth.
The waitress came around. I ordered coffee. Brown asked for more crackers. As she went away, Brown looked at me with his tired eyes. "So whadja wanna know?" he demanded.
"Well, Encyclopedia, I - "
Brown cut me off angrily. "Let's get one thing straight," he said. "I don't go by that name anymore. My name is Leroy."
"OK... Leroy," I said slowly. "Well... I guess the natural thing to ask is... what you've been doing with yourself all these years? Still solving mysteries?"
He glared at me. We sat in uncomfortable silence for about two minutes.
I tried again. "I'm - "
He cut in tersely. "See, see, this is... this is why I don't do these interviews. All you people are the same. You all expect me to still be doing the same shit that I was doing when I was 10 years old - sitting at a card table in my garage and charging twenty-five cents per case. Look at me! I'm a grown man! Don't I get to change? Don't I get any room to grow? Huh? Don't I? Huh?"
He stopped as abruptly as he had begun, and his attention turned once more to the dwindling stack of Saltines in front of him. I coughed once. I checked my watch. I coughed again.
Mercifully, the waitress showed up with the coffee. As she set it on the table, she turned and looked with disdain at Brown's dirty, quivering figure. "Are you going to be ordering anything from the menu today, sir?" she asked, accenting the 'sir.'
"No." He spat on the ground.
As she walked away, muttering, I timidly spoke up. "If this is a bad day - Leroy - we can, you know, reschedule."
He looked at the wall, then at me, then at the wall again, then at the ceiling, then started talking very rapidly. "Oh, sure, everybody loves a kid solving mysteries out of his garage: it's cute, it's sweet, it plays well with the tourists. But try to expose Idaville's seamy underbelly of corruption and vice, and you find out pretty damned quick about the real world. Suddenly you're not so cute anymore. No sir. Suddenly you're a menace."
His white-knuckled hands gripped the edges of the table as he let out a slow hissing noise, like a phlegmatic snake. As he depressurized, I tried to think of a way to steer the conversation away from anything having to do with Idaville, mysteries, or seamy underbellies, but the best I could do was a half-hearted "So, uhhh, what are you doing now?"
Brown looked at me, and, for the first time in the interview, seemed (relatively) focused. "Well, I've got a new album out, called Always Bet on Black. It's me and a couple of synthesizer backing tracks. You can probably get it at your local record store, if you ask the clerks to special order it for you. I'm getting a MySpace, too. Soon. "
"I didn't know you -"
He cut in pleadingly. "And I would appreciate it if you'd put that in your magazine. Please. Please do that."
Another uncomfortable silence followed as he looked at me beseechingly. Embarrased, I coughed and turned away. When I looked back, he was stuffing crackers into his mouth again.
I had come into the interview with a full list of questions, but by now I had forgotten them all. At this point, all I wanted to do was leave. But it would have been really embarrassing to end the interview a mere five minutes after it had started, so I closed my eyes and searched hard for an interesting question. Nothing.
When I opened my eyes, he was staring at me again, looking rather annoyed. Frantically, I blurted out the first thing that came into my head. "Uhh... do you... have you heard from Sally Kimball lately?" I offered lamely.
He slammed his fist down on the table and shot up from his seat, sending cracker flakes flying across the Formica. "This interview is over," he declared, his face mottled with rage. As he turned and stormed away, I couldn't help noticing the frayed cuffs of his hopelessly-out-of-style trousers, and I felt a disconcerting sort of pity for the broken, bizarre man who once had been my childhood hero.
The waitress came to refill the coffee. I declined. Ten minutes later, I left.
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