Eight hours into the drive, and we’d played 20 Questions for the last hundred miles. Things were deteriorating.
“Alright, I got one!” Announced Jake, and Riley and I groaned.
Jake’s had some pretty obscure picks on his turns, the Lost Library of Alexandria being my favorite. Jake also tends to overthink his yes and no answers: he won’t give a definitive” yes” to a person being dead if their body was never found. Amelia Earhart could, after all, still be alive. This leads us to ask questions like, “Does a recognized and respected governmental body consider them dead?” Or, “Other than conspiracy theorists, do normal people believe this to be true?”
“Dude,” I ask him now, ” is it something we all know? Do we even have a chance, here?”
“Yes,” he says. “This time I promise you all know it.”
“Riley knows it?” I clarify, “Matt knows it?”
“Wait, wait.” Says Riley, “I know it, or you think I should know it?”
“You know it,” insists Jake, ” I know you know it because we’ve discussed it recently, and you care about this.”
“Yes, you care a lot about this.”
It’s a person. A man.
A man who is dead. Definitively dead? Confirmed dead? Yes.
Not an American. A European. He’s lived in the last hundred years.
A famous, dead, male European, who is neither an artist, an athlete, an inventor, nor a scientist, an academic, a royal.
Was he a political leader? Yes.
“Is it Hilter?” I ask.
“No.” Jake says.
I think for a minute.
“So,” I ask, ” you’re telling me this is a dead, European political leader of the last hundred years who Riley not only knows, but cares about?”
“Yes,” repeats Jake, “Riley really cares.”
“Riley really cares. Was he a leader during World War II?”
“Is it STALIN?”
‘Yes!” Exclaims Jake, “It’s Stalin!”
Riley turns in his seat and stares at Jake. ” I really care about Stalin?”
“Oh my gosh, Ri, yes!” I say. “You LOVE STALIN! It’s always Stalin, Stalin, Stalin. All the time with Stalin. I need to remember to get you that Stalin poster you wanted for your room.”
Riley and I are laughing now, and Jake is trying not to laugh as he defends himself.
“We just talked about it yesterday! You asked about Mel Gibson, and we ended up talking about the Holocaust.”
“Wait, ” I say. I was part of this conversation, and I don’t remember Riley caring deeply. “Riley asked about Mel Gibson, and we all ended up discussing World War II? Or you and I expounded while Riley’s eyes glazed over?” Jake is passionately interested in history, and I don’t think he can imagine that anyone else wouldn’t be just as interested. It’s STALIN, for heaven’s sake! Stalin is a rock star in the world of history!
“Yeah, that,” laughs Jake.
“But now that we know Ri caaaares about this stuff, there are no limits on what we can use! Riley, do you care deeply about Nicholas Sarkozy’s Economic policy?”
“Yes, but I really care about Nicholas Sarkozy’s pinky toe.”
“Oh, you do love the politically offbeat details! How about Vladimir Putin’s pet kitty?” I say. “Or, Margaret Thatcher’s….”
“Left hairy nostril?” Suggests Riley.
“Yes, Margaret Thatcher’s left hairy nostril. Because you care about your international politicians.”
“I do care. What about Castro’s favorite nephew?” Ask Riley.
“Ohhhh,” I say. “Who wouldn’t know Alberto?”
Jake has given up at this point, and is laughing so hard that no noise is coming out. He manages to squeak, “King Tut’s missing penis?”
And then we’re off on a discussion of poor King Tut’s penis, recently in the news. It’s been lost, it’s been found, it’s been deemed a genetic mutant-penis which never would have worked properly anyway. Poor Tut.
Poor us. At ten-thirty and after a day spent driving, I’ve just missed the turn for my hometown because I was distracted by our conversation about King Tut’s missing bits. The exit is miles behind us, and I only realize what I’ve done when we are almost to Philadelphia International Airport. Tired and punchy and not making the best decisions, I exit I-95 off an exit-only ramp, and we spend the next half-hour winding our way through some rough parts of Philadelphia as we hit detour after detour. All because of King Tut’s missing penis, which we all care about, deeply.