Ever reliable and responsible, Otis Halstead is a father, a husband (one half of a “well-dressed couple of substance”), and the CEO of Kansas Central Fire and Casualty. He has never done anything out of the ordinary. Until now.
The change in Otis starts with an antique toy fire truck, the exact model he had pined for at age ten but never received. Though it is now a collectible costing $12,350, he will buy it–because he can. Next comes a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun, ordered from the Nostalgia Today catalog. A Kansas City Chiefs regulation NFL helmet follows. But Otis’s real coup is the purchase of his one true childhood passion: a red 1952 Cushman Pacemaker motor scooter. For his baffled wife, Sally, this is the final straw. She insists that he see a shrink–a sloppy man with flowing hair who uses terms like “mature men in crisis” and “second childhood syndrome.” Otis is unimpressed–and extremely insulted–by the doctor’s insinuation that his baldness is to blame for his sudden interest in toys.
But it’s not until tragedy strikes uncomfortably close to home that Otis decides he wants out of his sensible, safe life in Eureka, Kansas. And so, a few weeks before his sixtieth birthday, Otis leaves town, heading west on old U.S. 56, a corporate CEO wearing a football helmet, riding a forty-year-old motor scooter, and with a BB gun strapped to the side. One might say he was in for an adventure. Otis would say he was finally about to experience life.
Jim Lehrer has created an acute, laugh-out-loud, and endearing portrait of American middle age. With abundant wit and a sharp sense of the lives most of us lead, Eureka takes us on a journey through the unfulfilled dreams of childhood. In Otis Halstead, Lehrer has created his most brilliant and winning character to date.
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This is Jim Lehrer’s seventeenth novel. He is also the author of two memoirs and three plays and is the executive editor and anchor of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS. He and his novelist wife, Kate, have three daughters.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
A toy fire truck set off the series of events that changed the life of Otis Halstead, CEO of Kansas Central Fire and Casualty. The small cast-iron vehicle was for sale at the Great Prairie Antiques Show at the Marriott Eureka–East on a Saturday afternoon in March. Otis’s wife, Sally, had pretty much forced him to attend the show’s kickoff luncheon because, as one of the leading businessmen and citizens here in Eureka, Kansas, he should be seen supporting such a good cause—the battered women’s mental health shelter run by the Ashland Clinic. Also, their good friend Mary Gidney was the cochair of the whole thing. Sally then insisted that Otis go with her on a quick walk through the show in the hotel’s large exhibition hall. “Why not at least take a look at what is being offered for sale?” she said. More than five hundred antiques dealers from more than thirty states had set up. “That’s it!” Otis shouted. “I found it!” He aimed an index finger at something in the stall of a dealer from Connecticut. He seemed to be pointing toward an expensive Chippendale dining room chest. “That cabinet doesn’t fit with our decor, and it’s probably a fortune anyhow,” Sally said. “What’s the matter with you, Otis? Lower your voice.” “The fire engine, not the cabinet,” he said. “That red one with the white rubber tires and the firemen sitting in the seats in front and standing on both sides of the rear running boards.” The words came rushing out loudly. “I wanted one of those for Christmas when I was five years old. I wanted it so badly it gave me diarrhea.” “All right, now. People are beginning to stare,” said Sally. “You’re no longer five, Otis.” “I still believed in Santa Claus and had written him a note at the North Pole about it. I went to the live Santa at Buck’s in Wichita and every other place I could find one.” He moved a step closer to the truck. Sally grabbed his right arm and held it tight. Here they were, a well-dressed couple of substance—he in a blue blazer and matching outfit, she in a light pink suit ensemble. They stood fast, rigidly facing a ten-inch toy in a cabinet under five feet away. “Everybody knew I wanted that fire engine and only that fire engine. But I didn’t get it. I raced out to see what was under the tree, and that fire engine wasn’t there.” “Time to go on home now, Otis my darling. I really do appreciate your coming with me today—giving up your Saturday afternoon.” She looked into his face. “Are those tears? Please, now. This is so unlike you.” Otis, still staring at the toy, said, “I cried and pouted the rest of Christmas Day and for weeks afterward. Mom said Santa must have run out of those fire engines before he got to our house. Dad said Santa must have decided it was too expensive or too heavy to cart all the way to Kansas from the North Pole. It cost fourteen dollars and weighed a pound and a half at the most.” Sally released her grip on his arm and raised her hands in an act of surrender. “I can’t believe this is happening.” They went over to the cabinet together. Otis picked up the toy. The two miniature firemen on the front seat and the two on the back and four on the sides were looking straight ahead with their painted eyes. All were wearing firemen’s helmets and coats and boots that had been stamped onto them. A young salesman, tweedy and eager, joined Otis and Sally. “Mint condition, all the way,” he said. “No restoration—everything on it is original, even the paint.” So was the price, inked in small numbers on a white tag hanging around the fireman driver’s neck: $12,350. Sally was stunned. “For a toy?” “Antique toys like this—this was made by the Arcade Company, one of the finest cast-iron toy manufacturers in history —are going for astronomical prices these days,” said the young man. He extended his hands about two and a half feet apart and added, “We sold a cast-iron Pickwick Nite Coach sleeper bus—early-thirties vintage—about this size last month for twenty-two thousand, if you can believe it.” Sally said she preferred not to believe it. Otis said, “Do you take American Express?” “Otis!” Sally exclaimed. “Twelve thousand dollars for a toy?” He said, “It’s mine. It just took fifty-four years for Santa to make delivery.” their brand new blue 1996 BMW was considered Sally’s car, but Otis drove it to their home in NorthPark, Eureka’s most exclusive, upscale, and expensive neighborhood. Otis always did the driving when they were together. It was one of the many standard practices in their thirty-seven years of life together that buying expensive antique toys on a whim did not fit. It especially didn’t fit Otis, who, at age fifty-nine, was mostly a medium: medium height, weight, build, and temperament. The only radical thing about him was the top of his head, which was bald. Once in their house, Otis, without taking off his jacket or saying a word, put the fire engine down on the polished dark walnut floor in the den. Soon he was on his hands and knees, scooting it between the legs of chairs, over throw rugs, through twists of electric cords, up against desks, bookcases, and wastebaskets. “Please don’t make the sound of a siren or a motor,” said Sally. Otis heard her but didn’t respond, either with words or with any other sounds. He was busy concentrating on whipping the toy truck around a hard turn at a mahogany magazine stand. “Well, at least you’re showing some interest in something besides Kansas Central Fire and Casualty,” Sally said as she left Otis to play by himself. “I’m looking for a bright side.” Next came the BB gun. it was an official Daisy Red Ryder air rifle. Otis ordered it for $39.95 from a Nostalgia Today catalog because it was exactly like the one he’d wanted with all of his heart and soul when he was ten years old. His mother had said no way in hell or Kansas, because those things were too dangerous and he would put out his own or somebody else’s eye with a BB. His father said BB guns were for rich people anyhow and much too expensive for you and us, Otis. Same as cast-iron fire trucks. But now Otis Halstead didn’t have to pay attention to what his parents said because, among other things, they were both dead. That left mostly Sally to do the talking. “At least it doesn’t cost a fortune, like that fire engine, Otis,” she said. “You’re moving toward a second childhood, Otis,” she said. “Grow back up, Otis,” she said. “I’m delighted you’re enjoying yourself away from the office, but this is getting a bit strange, Otis,” she said. Otis loved his BB gun from the second he took it out of the box and held it in his hands. Three or four guys in his high school had had them, and holding theirs nearly fifty years ago was the last and only time he had done so. Now, finally, on an early Wednesday evening after a hard day as CEO of an insurance company, he had his very own. It was thirty-six inches of wood and metal and shooting perfection that weighed just over two pounds. The dark wood stock was engraved with a drawing of Red Ryder, the famous redheaded cowboy of the comics and movies, tossing a lasso from his horse. The rope was configured in the air to spell red ryder. On top of the black metal barrel were two stationary sights eighteen inches apart. Hanging from the right near the trigger was a foot-long leather lanyard, designed for carrying the gun on a cowboy’s saddle just like Red Ryder did his rifle. There was also a supply of BBs. They were in a separate orange cardboard box that was the size and style of a coffee-cream carton. Printed on top was red ryder jr. treasure chest. On the sides was Red Ryder on his horse, running along with his Indian boy sidekick and friend, Little Beaver. Inside were twenty-three cellophane Quick Silver packs of BBs—150 in a pack—plus several paper targets and some historical information on Red Ryder. There was also an invitation to visit a museum in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, where the original comic book drawings of Red Ryder were on display. There were also booklets on general air rifle safety and the care and use of the Daisy air rifle. There were instructions on everything from how to load the BBs—through a hole along the right side of the barrel—to suggestions for games of marksman skill that could be played, including tic-tac-toe. Otis immediately loaded the rifle and invited Sally to join him in the backyard for an inaugural game of BB tic-tac-toe. She declined. So he went by himself to what their architect and builder had described as an outside entertainment area. All it was to Otis was a very large—fifty by forty feet—and very expensive gray slate patio with year-round garden furniture, a built-in gas grill, and a stereo system that played CDs as well as tapes. Beyond the patio was a patch of golf-green lawn for croquet or volleyball and a forty-foot-long swimming pool. The whole area was lit by an elaborate but discreet system of lights hung at various levels from several tall trees— mostly cottonwoods and sycamores—that encircled the entire area. Instead of making a tic-tac-toe board, Otis grabbed one of the printed targets, a ten-inch-square piece of heavy off-white paper with five black half-inch-wide rings going out from a solid bull’s- eye. It was a standard shooters’ target, with each ring carrying a certain number of points—fifty for hitting the bull’s-eye, ten for the outermost ring. Otis fastened one of the paper targets on a tree with a thumbtack, moved back to a position ten yards away, cocked the BB gun with its pump lever, sighted the bull’s-eye...
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Book Description Thorndike Press, 2008. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX1410403599