Earlier today my coworker told me, "I just saw someone who looked
exactly like you. I was coming back from lunch with Theresa and I
said, 'Isn't that Mike?' And Theresa said, 'Mike Dresher?' Then I said,
'No, Mike Prewitt.' She said, 'Oh yeah,' because he looked just
like you: he had the shortish brown hair, black glasses frames, and his
head was down. He was sitting near a fire hydrant, peeling a sticker off
an apple. He looked dour."
"Dour?" I asked my coworker. "Do I look dour?"
"Yes." She told me that I look just as dour as the guy by the fire
Here at home on Darlin' Pie's TV, there's this actor who looks just
like me. He's playing the lead in this Motrin-AV commercial. He is
sitting with his head down because his headache has become too much, so
he takes two Motrin-AV capsules. The commercial cuts, and we see him
rejuvenated; he's in a field near a duck-filled pond. He points to the
viewer, winks, and gives the thumbs-up and says, "I've never felt better
in my life," then he jaunts around the pond and the ducks take to the
air in a soft-focus. It's the corniest thing I've seen.
This same actor appears in a Volkswagen commercial, which I can't
remember at the moment, but my point is that I (and other people) have
been seeing myself everywhere. The problem with that is I don't like the
dourness and corniness I see. I don't know why that is.
"Darlin' Pie," I say. "Why is that the case?"
"I figure you just have a self-related problem," Darlin' Pie tells
That's not what I am looking to hear. "I'm not happy to hear that,
"Then change yourself," she tells me. "Change so you're not such a
dour person." She pats my knee, then lightly squeezes. "But don't change
too much, Tomato."
I consider that Darlin' Pie loves me and she wants me to change so I
can be more happy. Darlin' Pie is my sunshine, my zip code, my North
Star, my Global Positioning System, my homing pigeon instinct. She's so
foxy. She has brown hair that flares out at her shoulders, and her face
is thin (compared to mine) and it tapers in slightly toward her chin.
She has these dark brown eyes and toffee-black glasses frames, and when
she kisses me it's always a fine kiss. If I'm dour, it has nothing to do
"You know," Darlin' Pie says, "The big problem is you have a dour
Hm. "Where are you going with this?" I ask.
"In the Volkswagen commercial, there are those two guys who stand
beneath the tree that they've gotten their Volkswagen stuck in, right?"
"Right." This is the Volkswagen commercial I'd forgotten earlier.
"The guy on the left looks like you; he's the one who throws his shoe
at the VW and dislodges it from the tree branches so it comes tumblin'
"Well, if that was actually you in real life with your car stuck in
the tree, well, I think you'd have just sat next to the tree and looked
I think about this for a second and think that maybe she's right. "So
you're saying I need to change. I need to be more generous, which will
lead to less dourness? Or, to put it symbolically, instead of being dour
and sitting next to the tree, I should throw my shoes to get the cars
out of the trees in my life?"
I tell her, "I'll work on it."
She gives me a fine kiss and then I start cleaning out my closet. I'm
looking for things I can give away.
This takes me four days. As I figure I'm working on my sick and dour
self, I call in sick to work. I'm not a big fan of this cleaning-out
step of the transform-me project, but it feels good to clean out the
old, quality stuff. That stuff being: a notepad, two handfuls of pens, a
shovel, old shoes, clothing, some wire, a fish tank, wooden tulips,
etc., etc. Upon completion, I announce to Darlin' Pie that I'm taking
all this stuff to Local Assistance, but I've been so wrapped up in
cleaning that I hadn't realized she's at work. So I write it on a
Post-It and stick it to the fridge, then toss the things in the trunk
and zoom down the road to Local Assistance.
I'm Mr. Sunshine. I beam light rays. I give life to all the little
plants that start the food chains a-chugging, which, in turn, yield
nutrients for us all. When I drive my Skylark it's like sunbeams riding
through the stratosphere, on their way to Earth, or, in this sunbeam's
case, on his way to Local Assistance. I feel like I'm doing good. I'm
Now I'm here at the Local Assistance drop-off in the Kroger parking
lot when I notice an odd turn of events: the guy manning the donations
trailer looks just like me. He has the hair, the glasses. He has my
slim, slightly-turned-to-the-looker's-right pointy nose. He sits on the
tail of the trailer just as I sit on trailer-tails: on the edge,
allowing the lower halves of his legs to dangle. I can tell he's happy
to see me drive up because he has an expectant look to his face, and he
sways the lower halves of his legs to and fro as I approach. I auto-roll
down my driver-side window (I have power windows, not crank-down
windows) and announce, "Hi, I'm here with some donations."
He says, "Super," then hops off the trailer lip.
I auto-pop the trunk, then walk out of the car toward the trunk.
He noodles through the bags. He states that he'll take the clothes,
but that's all his Local Assistance truck accepts. "If you want to
donate the rest of your stuff, you need to drop it off at a place that's
in Home Depot's parking lot."
"Super," I say. "That's one more shoe I can throw at the car in the
"Nothing," I answer. "Say, can you draw me a map to this other
He says he can, he's a regular cartographer. So I pull the notepad
I'd cleaned out of my closet from the trunk and he gets to drawing.
"This isn't going to be to scale," he says. I tell him no worries. After
he's drawn a representative portion of the map—a grid of streets,
followed by a squiggly line to represent my path—I comment, "You draw
just like me."
"Really?" he says. "I thought I drew in a unique manner, what with my
rightward slope to my lettering, and the frequent cross-throughs, due to
"Nope. Me, too."
"That's interesting," he says.
As he continues his map, I glance at the trailer. I notice a bottle
of Motrin-AV. I say, "So how are you feeling?"
"People tell me I look like that guy in the Motrin-AV commercial," I
say. We look at one another and nod. We focus on our resemblances and
the features that distinguish us from one another.
"My dad told me that," says the Local Assistance man as he returns
his attention to the map.
I inquire, "Do you also know people who also tell you that you're
dour and you should consider changing?"
He considers my question, then looks at me. "No."
Huh. "Well. Maybe it's just me. This isn't as obvious as I'd like it
to be." He hands me the map and I thank him.
I'm a big sunbeam driving down the road to the other drop-off center.
I stop at a red light and ask myself if there isn't something I can do
here at the stoplight? How to make my anti-dour/pro-sunshine campaign
more successful? I put stray pennies in my car's ashtray. I auto-wash my
The driver next to me has lime-silver hair pulled into a ponytail and
looks to be twice my age. He has a few wrinkles beneath his chin and on
his neck. He sighs as he waits for the green light. I think he's
despondent. I auto-roll down the passenger side window and ask him how
He looks my way and yells, "What?"
"How's it going?"
He seems bewildered. "Fine. Why?"
"Things are good here. I'm dropping off some stuff to Local
Assistance," I say as I motion toward the things in the back of my car.
"It's a beautiful day." I beam my biggest smile, which feels like it's
as big as a pie cooling on a windowsill.
He tells me to piss off, then shakes his head to himself as he cranks
up his window. He's dour. No sunshine. I look toward him sheepishly, and
motion to him to roll down his window again. After a moment, he does. I
explain, "Look, I'm trying to be more friendly, less of a dour, morose
kind of guy."
He flicks me off.
As I scoot from the driver seat to the passenger side in an effort to
delineate my case, he runs the red light. I don't think he really
listened to me.
I'm not sure that I'm doing the right thing here, but at this moment
I decide to fully commit to my anti-dour campaign by cheering up the
silver-ponytailed guy. I scoot back to the driver's seat, then also run
the red light. I feel good about my decision. It stands to reason that
if I can cheer up one person in the course of the day, I will be
successful, according to my new philosophy of life. Halfway through the
intersection—a little late, I admit—I check for oncoming traffic or
police. There's neither—yes! I'm through the intersection and the dour
man seems to be in some sort of turbo-charged jet-car, as he's gotten
quite a jump on me and my lime-yellow Skylark.
I floor the pedal. I have a speedy car. By jettisoning some of my
dour, negative baggage I'm much lighter and have never been able to get
the car to go this fast. The road whirs past my windows. I'm gaining on
his turbo-charged jet-car. We zoom along the road. He takes a ramp to
Highway 370. I look at my map. Highway 370 is on the map, so this is
perfect. I accelerate along the ramp and merge smoothly with traffic.
The jet-car is about 100 feet ahead of me, in the fast lane. I floor it
and move into the fast lane, two cars behind the car. A truck brakes in
front of me and I move into the adjacent lane. I accelerate and ease to
a spot right next to the jet-car. I roll down my window and smile. I
begin a large, full-arm wave.
After a second, the man recognizes me. He looks forward to make sure
no one is in his way. No one is, so he leans across the passenger seat
and flicks me off. His finger is the size of a Snickers. I don't know
what to do other than keep waving. As we drive, we check for traffic
while maintaining our smile-and-wave/flick-off embrace for a good ten
And then my smile fades. This bothers me. First, for not reaching him
and secondly for me being able to smile and mean it for only ten
seconds. Much to my chagrin, Mr. Ponytail is beginning to piss me off.
The only thing I can think to do is slip off my shoe then pick it up.
I'm going to throw it at the asshole in the jet-car.
A car slows in front of the jet-car and the man decelerates quickly.
I maintain my speed and zoom past the decelerating car and into what I
quickly see is a speed trap. I begin to decelerate. I see the jet-car in
the rearview mirror. He has also eased to a calmer pace. Then a police
cruiser maneuvers into the fast lane behind my Skylark and switches on
his lights. I hear sirens. The cruiser zooms up close to my bumper. I
consult my map. I'm very close to the Local Assistance drop-off point. I
see the Home Depot sign suddenly appear like some big sun or orbiting
moon or something drawing me into the lane for the upcoming off-ramp.
I maintain my speed and turn onto Home Depot's road. The cop is
directly behind me. His siren is loud and unmistakably for me. Even
though it's daytime, waves of bright headlights fall onto my car. I turn
the rearview mirror so I can't see him. The policeman is doing some
deep-voiced yelling into a bullhorn. I can't make out what he's saying,
other than "Pull over now." I turn on my right signal and turn into the
Home Depot parking lot. I am 200 feet from the Local Assistance truck
when the cop zooms around my Skylark and then jags in front of me.
I step out of my car, on my way to the trunk, to unload everything on
the ground for the Local Assistance representative. The policeman yells
at me to stop, turn around, and get back in my car, which I do.
I sit in my car and I slowly again feel like a big sun, shining over
everything, bringing good and joy and no dourness. I wash my windshield
The officer, age 40 or so, walks toward my car. He has a
short-sleeved officer shirt, a goatee, and shiny wraparound sunglasses.
After I auto-roll down the window, he asks, "What the hell are you
"In my excitement to drop off some things at the Local Assistance
truck." I motion to the Local Assistance truck, which he spots, then
returns his attention to me. "I was driving too fast. I'm sorry."
"Are you aware that you ignored my sirens for a mile—"
"—and my bullhorn instructions?"
"Yes, although I had my reasons."
The officer asks me what those reasons are. I tell him all about my
anti-dour/pro-sunbeam campaign, and about throwing shoes at cars. I
explain my effort to make myself a better person for Darlin' Pie and the
world at large and myself. I conclude, "I admit that I broke the law in
order to do it. Given the circumstances, I had to make a choice."
The officer informs me that I was going 84 miles per hour. He orders
me out of the car and tells me that I'm under arrest. I ask him if I can
deliver my materials to Local Assistance. He says, "Negative." I ask if
I can set them on the parking lot and leave a note for the Local
Assistance representative? He says, "No can do."
We walk to his squad car. He eases me into the back seat. He radios
the station to inform someone that he's bringing me in. We drive to the
Two hours later, I'm allowed to make a phone call. I call Darlin'
Pie. "Things haven't turned out as well as I'd hoped," I tell her.
Five-and-a-half hours later, I meet Darlin' Pie in a
fluorescent-lighted waiting room with ratty brown leather couches and a
Poland Spring water bubbler. I look into her deep, toffee eyes. I say,
"I'm sorry, Darlin' Pie. I tried. I tried to be sunny and not so dour,
but," I motion toward myself, then the station as if to say, Look
what I did. Then Darlin' Pie kisses me. I feel like Mr. Sunshine
again and don't feel dour, and then I worry about what she thinks of how
my breath smells.
Matthew Summers-Sparks is a writer in
Washington, D.C. His stories appear in Denver Quarterly,
McSweeney's, Humanities, Pindeldyboz, in the
third volume of the Mirth of a Nation: The Best Contemporary Humor
anthology series, and in Blip Magazine Archive's "2002 Prize