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The Column

Imagine All the People

After a week in San Francisco, a month in Los Angeles, and a night in Las Vegas, four days in Tulsa didn't sound like the most rocking time. But we were armed with a six-year-old to entertain us. And this wasn't just any six-year-old. This was a six-year-old who has an imaginary news anchor that talks to him through the microwave.

I introduce you to Zack. A friend in Tulsa is dating Zack's mother, and I'm very glad about that. Not just because I get along with her and think that she's a good match for my friend, but because Zack could keep me amused for years.

We were all having dinner when Zack first introduced us to Joe, the imaginary news anchor that talks to him through the microwave. But Joe doesn't just talk to him through the microwave. Joe is also in the wall, the toaster, and, occasionally, Zack's ravioli.

It's nice to see Zack have such a vivid imagination. Because as we grow older, our parents and teachers stifle our imaginations in favor of teaching us reality. I had an imaginary friend once: Rachel I. KaBenjamin. I derived her name from mixing the middle names of myself and all of my siblings – Rachel, Israel, Lorraine, and Benjamin. Where's the K from? Well, it's one letter away from L, and (I am not making this up) I thought Rachel I. LaBenjamin sounded too French. Keep in mind that my only exposure to the French at the time was through a cartoon skunk.

But as I got older and my imagination faded, I made Rachel move away. I stopped crafting shapes from the clouds. And I no longer wondered what could lurk in the shadows. Though I have gotten pretty good at picturing women naked.

I have grown so out of touch with my imagination (except for that naked thing) that I forgot what age I stopped believing in the tooth fairy. And, in front of news-anchor-befriending Zack, I let something slip about my parents giving me money for my baby teeth.

The whole table stopped eating. Even Joe (he can be a bit of a cannibal).

"I knew it!" Zach said, pointing to his mother. "You're the tooth fairy!"

Uh oh. I had, with a single boring anecdote, began the downward spiral that would lead to the destruction of this child's imagination. I needed a quick recovery. Zack needed a quick recovery.

"No, no no," I said. "MY parents are the tooth fairy. You didn't know that? I figured you'd have met them by now - They've been at it a while. That's why I travel so much. My parents keep moving around. It's hard to make friends this way, but if AC Slater can do it, so can I."

The Saved By the Bell reference was for the adults at the table, a group to which I allegedly belong. But Zack heard the important part. And what's crazier, he believed it. There is now a six-year-old in Tulsa that thinks the tooth fairy is a combination of Mr. and Mrs. Hofstetter.

Just before we left Tulsa Saturday morning, we had breakfast with everyone again. Halfway through the meal, Zack went to the bathroom and came running back, complaining that there was soap in the toilet. Of all the things that he could have told us was in the toilet, soap was the least threatening, so it took us a few minutes to realize he was referring to the urinal cake. We thought of the impossibility of explaining a urinal cake to a six-year-old, and by the time we finished laughing over who was going to tell him, Joe had returned to distract us, this time in pancake form.

Zack has a nine-year-old brother who thinks he is crazy. And he's quite possibly right. But Zack, while standing--actually standing--over his plate, threatening to eat Joe's sausage nose, reminded me that I could use a little more imagination – after all, I'm in one of the few professions that rewards it. Perhaps I can begin exercising my imagination more often.

Ah, here comes the waitress now.

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