The Zorbonite Manifesto [Nerd on a Wire]
I’m about seven standing next to my father while he does the dishes. My mother’s voice shoots from the dining room, carried on a plume of cigarette smoke: “Roy, wash the dishes.”
“I am, smokestack,” my father replies, scrubbing the hell out of a pan. He hands me the pan. I start to dry it.
My father looks down at me. “Have you ever heard of the Zorbonites?” he asks.
I shake my head. He nods.
“This is very important. See, we’re Zorbonites. So we have to know the three basic characteristics of the Zorbonite.”
“I thought we were white,” I say. I’ve recently discovered that I, in contrast to every other kid in my neighborhood, am white. I found this out when a new kid on the block asked my neighbors why they played with a white kid. “Nah,” my neighbors said, “that’s Mike-Mike. He doesn’t count.” It was all very confusing.
“We’re also Jewish,” my father says, pushing his thick glasses onto his nose. “And Zorbonites.” He hands me a plate. I dry it.
He continues: “Zorbonites do three things that not many other people do. Do you know what they are?”
“No. Also I think you’re making this up.”
He smiles. “Zorbonites see things that aren’t there. They hear the sound of silence. And, and this is one your mother is really good at, they remember things that never happened.”
My mother slouches into the kitchen, a half smoked Benson & Hedges hanging from her lips. “You guys better be washing the dishes. You didn’t yesterday.”
“Actually, we did,” says my father, winking at me.
“Yeah, mom,” I add, “You’re remembering things that never happened. You’re a Zorbonite!” My father and I start to giggle.
“You’re both pathetic,” my mother says as her teeth come out of her mouth. They’re not really teeth; technically they’re caps. When they come out, she slathers them with bright pink Super Poligrip and shoves them back into her mouth.
That night, though I’m still mostly sure my dad made the Zorbonites up, I gaze into the darkness looking for things that aren’t there. Trying to ignore the traffic outside, I search for silence and focus on finding its sound. And I spend a few minutes remembering things that never happened.
Like the time those bullies accosted Katherine, the girl I have a crush on, on the playground and I dashed up to them and gave them what for. During the melee, one of the brutes caught me with a lucky punch. After they fled, I sat on the ground, spent. Katherine came up to me and handed me a handkerchief to wipe the blood from my nose. “Thanks,” she said. And kissed me on the cheek.
Totally never happened.
Or the time I stood in the playground at recess and got picked first for kickball. I stepped up to the plate and the other team faded deep into the outfield, knowing the power of my fearsome foot. The ball rolled towards me, bouncing over a few stray pebbles. My eyes lasered in on it. I trotted a few steps forward and let loose with a mighty fling of my leg. The ball went flying high, high over the heads of the other team. I took a leisurely jog around the bases. My team cheered.
Pretty sure that never happened either.
Or the time I was 35 years old, about to quit my job to do I knew-not-what, and sat in front of my computer wondering what to write about. A few stories sprung to mind, but I couldn’t be sure if they were true. After all, childhood was so far away now. Maybe my mother’s teeth hadn’t come out several times per day. Maybe my dad hadn’t ever told me about the Zorbonites and it was just something I’d picked up from one of the science fiction books that littered my room. Or maybe he had and it was my duty to remember things that never happened.
I started to type out something about being seven, standing next to my father as he washed the dishes. As words appeared on the page, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my father’s imagination. For the creation of Zorbonites and countless other tales, both real and imagined. We never did manly things like throw spherical objects towards each other or fix cars, but he taught me that growing up doesn’t mean losing the ability to play make believe. And that it was ok to be a little weird. I called him in the midst of the story and thanked him for that gift.
Nah, that one definitely didn’t happen. After all, how could it? I was seven, remembering something that couldn’t happen for almost 30 years. Such is the power of the Zorbonite.
Happy Father’s day to my dad and all the other father-types out there!
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featured image credit: Barbara.K