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       The Neddiad: How Neddie Took the Train, Went to Hollywood, and Saved Civilization, p.1

           Daniel Pinkwater
 
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The Neddiad: How Neddie Took the Train, Went to Hollywood, and Saved Civilization


  The Neddiad

  Daniel Pinkwater

  * * *

  Houghton Mifflin Company

  Boston 2007

  * * *

  Copyright © 2007 by Daniel Pinkwater

  Illustrations copyright © 2007 by Calef Brown

  All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce

  selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Company,

  215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.

  www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com

  The text of this book is set in Apollo.

  The illustrations were created in brush and ink.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Pinkwater, Daniel Manus, 1941–

  The Neddiad: how Neddie took the train, went to Hollywood,

  and saved civilization / written by Daniel Pinkwater.

  p. cm.

  Summary: When shoelace heir Neddie Wentworthstein and his family take the

  train from Chicago to Los Angeles in the 1940s, he winds up in possession

  of a valuable Indian turtle artifact whose owner is supposed to be able to prevent

  the impending destruction of the world, but he is not sure exactly how.

  ISBN-13: 978-0-618-59444-3 (hardcover)

  ISBN-10: 0-618-59444-2 (hardcover)

  [1. Turtles—Fiction. 2. Los Angeles (Calif.)—History—20th century—Fiction.

  3. Humorous stories.] I. Title.

  PZ7.P6335Ned 2007 [Fic]—dc22 2006033944

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  QUM 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  * * *

  CONTENTS

  1. We Take the Train 1

  2. The Childhood of Neddie Wentworthstein 11

  3. More About My Childhood 17

  4. Dinner in the Diner 19

  5. Along the Santa Fe Trail 25

  6. On the Atchison, Topeka& Santa Fe 29

  7. The Indian Building 32

  8. Mile 1,332 to Mile 1,691 37

  9. Left Behind 40

  10. The Tin Hat 43

  11. In the Old Hotel 48

  12. In the Ghost Room 51

  13. On the Road 57

  14. Grand Canyon 62

  15. My Yiddishe Shaman 66

  16. Down in the Sky 68

  17. Box of Weasels 75

  18. Scorched Lizard 79

  19. Get Your Kicks on Route 66 84

  20. Another Old Hotel 88

  21. Getting Settled 93

  22. Looking Around 95

  23. Exploring 99

  24. Real Exploring 103

  25. Letters 107

  26. Hitching Post 110

  27. Old Pagoda 114

  28. Old School 116

  29. Family Life 121

  30. I'm a Cadet 125

  31. I'm Learning 130

  32. I'm Eating 133

  33. I'm Talking 135

  34. Stuffed Stuff 138

  35. He Saw What I Did 145

  36. A Car Ride 147

  37. Death 153

  38. It's a School 155

  39. One Night at Home 158

  40. Watching TV with the Birnbaums 161

  41. Video Voodoo 165

  42. We Get Organized 170

  43. A New Cadet 173

  44. Hot Dog Supper 178

  45. Too Horribleto Tell 183

  46. On the Way Home 186

  47. Gone! 189

  48. Very Bad 193

  49. Questions and Answers 194

  50. A Serious Mistake 200

  51. What to Do? 202

  52. Doctor Seamus 204

  53. A Normal Saturday 209

  54. Live Audience 212

  55. Turtles? 216

  56. They're Back! 221

  57. Fat Cat in the Hat 226

  58. Night 231

  59. Rolling Doughnut 234

  60. Just the Facts 238

  61. More Information 242

  62. Who Else? 244

  63. Neatly Done 249

  64. Good Old Packard 254

  65. Something Fairly Interesting 257

  66. A Terrifying Story 261

  67. Gave It Away 266

  68. Shoe-la Hoop 271

  69. Nothing 273

  70. Turtle, Turtle, Who's Got the Turtle? 277

  71. I Have the Turtle 280

  72. The School Outing 282

  73. Wow! 286

  74. The Games Begin 288

  75. Pretty Good Show 292

  76. He Forgot? 295

  77. Twelve Thousandth Full Moon 298

  78. I Am the Guy 302

  79. Pop! 306

  CHAPTER 1

  We Take the Train

  I didn't always live here. And by "here" I do not mean the La Brea Tar Pits, where I am writing this down in a notebook—I mean Los Angeles. When I was a little kid I lived in Chicago.

  On Wilshire Boulevard, in Los Angeles, there is a restaurant shaped like a hat. It is called the Brown Derby, and that's what it looks like—one of those derby hats, with the round top and the little brim all around. There is a sign outside that says eat in the hat. And people do. I knew about this because I saw pictures in Look magazine. The pictures showed the restaurant, the eat in the hat sign, and two movie stars—I think it was Bette Davis and Laird Cregar—inside the hat, eating cheeseburgers. They were eating cheeseburgers with knives and forks! This was interesting too. I had only found out about cheeseburgers a short time before—and had actually eaten only two of them. I did not know that some people eat them with knives and forks, but I thought of them as grown-up and sophisticated food even before learning that movie stars ate them.

  Anyway, when I read about the Brown Derby and saw the pictures, it became one of my life's ambitions to eat there. I have to confess, I was not clear about exactly where Los Angeles, California, was—if it was not too far, maybe I could get my father to drive us over one day in the Buick.

  So I mentioned it to my father, and I learned two things. I learned that Los Angeles, California, of which Hollywood is a part (the reason that movie stars eat in the Brown Derby), was way out West, and it took more than two days to get there by train.

  The other thing I learned ... Well, this is what my father said: "Neddie, my boy! It is also my lifelong ambition to eat in the restaurant shaped like a hat!"

  And this is what he said next: "Not only will we eat in the hat, we will all go and live in Los Angeles, California! We can eat in the hat all the time, and pick lemons off the trees, and live in the sunshine."

  A week later, we had packed up our clothes, moving men had come and taken away the furniture, I had said goodbye to my friends forever, and my father, my mother, and my sister, Eloise, and I were on the Super Chief, which is a fancy deluxe train that goes from Chicago to Los Angeles.

  You might think there was something weird about my family—my father, anyway—and there is. He is unpredictable and tends to do things that surprise people, until they get used to him. My mother seems normal at first, but she's married to him and always goes along with his ideas—like the parakeets, for instance.

  I bought a parakeet for ninety-nine cents at the dime store. Little blue parakeet. I named him Henry. At the back of the dime store they have this pet department: goldfish, canaries, and parakeets. The usual price for parakeets is a dollar and a half, but they sell the shrimpy ones for ninety-nine cents. A dinky wire cage costs twenty-five cents, and the guy in the pet department threw in a box of birdseed
for free. My father thought Henry was the greatest thing he'd ever seen, and a week later he came home with eleven more, a big cage with a parakeet playground, ladders and bells and perches and mirrors, a book on parakeet care, and bags and bags of stuff for them to eat. After a week of playing with the parakeets and reading up on them, he made it my job to take care of them: clean the cage, spray them for mites, smear Vaseline on their feet—also, I was supposed to train them to hop onto my finger, and teach them to talk. The talking never worked out—probably because we had so many of them. The book said that in order to teach a parakeet to talk, you needed to isolate it and repeat whatever word you wanted it to learn while it was going to sleep at night, and again the first thing in the morning. With a dozen parakeets, they just talked to one another, chirping and whistling and screaming.

  I didn't mind being the family parakeet-keeper, but it was a lot of work. Also, I felt sorry for my parakeet, Henry, because all my father's birds were bigger, and they picked on him and made him miserable. My father liked to let them fly around the apartment, the whole flock of them, whirring through the air and pooping on things. When it was time to put them back in their cage, I had to catch them one by one, which wasn't easy.

  What worried me was that he might bring home more parakeets—or something worse. Sometimes he would talk about monkeys.

  "I am looking for a monkey," he would tell me. "I just missed getting one—no bigger than this," he told me, showing me with his fingers how little it was. "When I went back to the pet store, someone had bought it. But don't worry, Neddie. We will find a monkey."

  I did worry. I worried a lot. I worried that he would find not one monkey but twelve monkeys. Those were going to be hard to catch—and they probably bit a lot harder than parakeets.

  "Don't you think it would be nice to have a dog?" I asked my father. "Just a regular dog?"

  "You should have seen this monkey," my father said. "He was just like a tiny person."

  I think maybe there was already a plan to move to Los Angeles and everybody just forgot to tell me about it, or maybe not. My mother was used to my father, as I said, and when he announced we were moving across the country in a week, she just started getting things ready. Eloise seemed to be all right with the idea as far as I could tell. She is a lot older than I am, was in high school at the time, and didn't discuss things with me very much.

  Or, maybe my father really had thought of it on the spur of the moment when I asked him about the eat-in-the-hat restaurant. My father is an eccentric. I didn't know that word at the time, but I knew he was one. He's not crazy or anything like that. He doesn't rave or flip his lips with a finger and go bibble, bibble. He just does things such as suddenly move his whole family to California, or travel in a deluxe double drawing room on the Super Chief with a bunch of parakeets.

  The Second World War had ended a few years earlier, and my father came out of the war a rich man. He had gotten rich selling shoelaces to the army and the navy. Brown shoelaces to the army and black shoelaces to the navy. Before the war started he had gone to this auction. An auction is where they put things up for sale and people holler out how much they are willing to pay and the highest bid gets it.

  He was at this auction, and one of the items was a large lot of shoelaces—it turned out to be a boxcar full of them. He won the whole thing for fifty-seven dollars. It turned out that along with the shoelaces came a shoelace-making machine. All this machine does is put the little metal or plastic tips on the ends of the shoelaces—the actual shoelace stuff comes in big rolls. You want fourteen-inch shoelaces, you put the little metal tip, which is called an aglet, every fourteen inches; you want a sixteen-inch shoelace, you put the aglet every sixteen inches. He got more machines and had a shoelace factory. After the war, my father invented plaid shoelaces, and shoelaces in colors like pink and bright blue. People bought millions of them.

  And this is why my father was rich, and why we were on the deluxe Super Chief going to Los Angeles without a care in the world.

  It was exciting to be on a train trip. My father had booked a double drawing room—that's two of the largest compartments, with the wall between them folded open to make something like a tiny apartment, with two tiny bathrooms, armchairs that turn into beds, and long benchlike sofas that fold into beds at night, also beds that fold down out of the wall, and you climb a little ladder to get in. The walls and ceiling were made of steel, painted pale green, and the floor was carpeted. There was a little white button on the wall, and when you pressed it you'd hear a bell go ding somewhere far away and a Pullman porter would come.

  There are these guys, Pullman porters, black guys with deep voices, elegant manners, and starched white jackets. When you travel in a double drawing room, the porters give you extra-good service, because you are obviously somebody important or rich. Our porters were Mr. Frederick and Mr. Jefferson. They called my father Mr. Wentworthstein, which is our name, and brought us newspapers, playing cards, and ice-cold 7-Up, which I had never had before. My father said that 7-Up was the perfect beverage for train travel, and I agreed with him.

  Looking out the window I saw other travelers hurrying to get on the Super Chief, red caps—who are guys with red caps—rolling carts piled high with luggage, chefs in white coats and those tall chef's hats, loading boxes and boxes of things to cook into the dining car. There were conductors in blue suits with shiny brass buttons, the engineer in striped overalls, various railroad guys checking the wheels—everyone hustling and bustling—plus hot, steamy smells and powerful buzzing and hissing noises. The train itself was like a big living thing, like a dinosaur or a giant snake. You had to go up some steep steel steps to get into it. Once you were in it, it smelled ... like a train—I didn't have anything to compare it to—it smelled of leather and clean carpeting, and hot motor oil, and rich people.

  There was a lot of scurrying around and getting settled into the double drawing room. Mr. Frederick and Mr. Jefferson made sure all our suitcases were on board; the conductor, in his blue suit, came by and punched our tickets with a shiny silver ticket puncher. We looked out the window again. The rush of people on the platform was thinning out, getting slower. There were clunks and thumps as the steel stairs were folded up, and the doors banged shut. Some of the people outside the train were friends and relatives of people who were taking the trip. They waved and made faces at their friends who were on board. Guys in blue railroad suits wrote things down on clipboards and looked at pocket watches.

  "All aboard!" somebody hollered. The people on the platform took a step back from the train. More bumps, thumps, and bangs. A guy in a railroad uniform, looking annoyed, walked fast alongside the train, up toward the engine. Then he walked back the other way. Everybody on the platform was standing still, facing the train.

  Then we felt a bump, then a bump the other way. Nobody said anything. Another bump. The people on the platform were sliding to the left. Poles and columns and baggage carts too. We were moving! I could feel the wheels rumble under us. Slowly, slowly, the train was moving out of the station!

  "Let's let the birds out of the boxes," my father said. "They need a little exercise."

  My father was busy setting up his Zenith portable radio, a big thing, almost like a little suitcase, covered in black bumpy leather. It had the patented Wave Magnet, which was an oval plastic object the size of two dessert plates, with suction cups—this you'd stick to the window, and there was a flat ribbonlike cable that connected it to the radio. My father had bought it specially for the trip, and we were going to hear all the usual radio programs while we crossed the country in style.

  My mother was leafing through a magazine, and Eloise was reading a book about art history. From Eloise's expression, and what I knew about her personal tastes, I was pretty sure she was pretending she was traveling with some other family—one with no parakeets or little brothers—or maybe alone.

  As the train came out of the darkness of the station and into the semidarkness of the railyards
on a gloomy winter afternoon, with the parakeets whirring and whizzing around the double drawing room and my family sipping 7-Up, I felt a kind of excitement I had never felt before. I knew I had begun my first big adventure.

  Up to now, all my adventures had been either small or completely imaginary.

  CHAPTER 2

  The Childhood of Neddie Wentworthstein

  You might think that a kid suddenly taken away from the only home he had ever lived in, his friends, his neighborhood, his school, would be a little sad, or worried, or have some kind of regret. I didn't.

  I didn't at all. And this was not because I wasn't happy where I was. I was very happy. I would use these words to describe my early childhood at 551 East Roscoe Street in the city of Chicago: interesting, fun, exciting, comfortable, and perfect.

  The reason I wasn't bothered at all about leaving our apartment, the backyards, the block, the neighborhood, and all the kids I knew was that I was a big fan of D'Artagnan. D'Artagnan is a character in a story called The Three Musketeers. We used to pronounce his name "Dar-tag-nan," but Ronnie Wolfspit explained to us that the right way to say it is "Dart-Onion," because it is a French name. Anyway, D'Artagnan is this guy who leaves home and has adventures. He goes to Paris and meets the three musketeers and becomes a great swordsman, and has a cape and a big hat with a big feather. We all wanted to be him.

  I'd better explain about Ronnie Wolfspit and the other kids, and the games we played. First you have to picture what 551 East Roscoe Street was like, and where it was. Picture a street with all kinds of houses on it. Ours was made of brick, and had four apartments stacked one on top of another. There were stairs inside in the front, and stairs outside in the back, and wooden porches, painted gray, on each floor. On one side, there was another apartment house just like ours, and the two shared a backyard, where there were the usual clotheslines, and some parts paved and some parts dirt. There were the remains of a crummy vegetable garden that nobody took care of, and usually a few stalks of corn in the summer. This was an attempt at a Victory Garden, which people were supposed to grow to add to the food supply, because of the war. Of course, everybody where I lived was city people and had no idea how to take care of a vegetable garden, so it was a complete failure.

 
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