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Matthew Summers-Sparks


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 hydrant.

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 me.

That's not what I am looking to hear. "I'm not happy to hear that, Darlin' Pie."

"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 with her.

"You know," Darlin' Pie says, "The big problem is you have a dour tendency."

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' down, right?"

I nod.

"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 dour."

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 not dour.

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 tree."


"Nothing," I answer. "Say, can you draw me a map to this other place?"

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 bumbly handwriting."

"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?"

"Fine. Why?"

"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 spotty windshield.

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 it's going.

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 seconds.

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 again.

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 doing?"

"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 station.

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 Stories" issue.

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