I grew up in the shadow of a THREAT. Thirty-foot high letters, built out of cypress 5 X 12’s and bone-white like ‘HOLLYWOOD’, ‘THREAT’ was the only word left standing after the Sale. Put there supposedly for keeps, the thing dominated the landscape, up there at the treeline above the upper pasture. Some half-nuts millionaire in the early 50s had bought the strip of land and paid for the thing. No one could bitch about it…in public. The complete ‘installation’ said: ‘STOP THE RED THREAT’. I remember sounding it out as soon as I’d mastered ‘See Dick Run’.. my letters had colors already way back then, and the ‘green’ish ‘E’ in the word ‘RED’ just felt so…well… dum.
But this was A-bomb Times. H-bombs, whatever it took. The other side had ’em too. Which explained the Civil Defense tests, the practice-hiding under the little wood desks in the one-room school, heads between our legs. Debbie Levitz was sure she could thereby survive an A-bomb or two, but the ‘H’?
A screaming comes across the sky. No not a missile, just a flash-forward in the story. Sorry.
Ok, a bunch of just-plain folks sworn to secrecy developed a plan to deal with it. No, not the Bomb, the Big Sign. They hadn’t learned to stop worrying and love the pesky Thunder of Armageddon, no, they just didn’t want to have to think about it nineteen times a day. So one wise guy who my Dad knew found a ‘fellow-traveler’ who owned a Bar & Grille called The Red Spot up in Campbeltown somewhere, and convinced him, with quiet contributions from us all, to buy the sign, and give it new life re-arranged as ‘THE RED SPOT’. Nifty, huh?
Ross MacArthur, the wing-nut who’d put the sign up, had a sudden conversion upon seeing the greenbacks, and agreed! All was well.
Well, except for the ‘THREAT’. Sure, the tavern-guy coulda made ‘EAT’ out of it but then he’d need an AT, right? For ‘EAT AT…’ And try making ’em from a ‘THR’.
So anyway, the ‘THREAT’ stayed. We all got used to it I guess. Could be anything; alfalfa weevil, a downpour just after you’d raked the hay, gas buildup in the silo. Stuff happens, we were used to that. Least it wasn’t radioactive.
Another flash cuts the sky: Forward to fourth grade. Me ‘n Debby going steady, as it were, played after school up there by the letters. Hide and seek. Skinny as a string of spit, I’d be found standing behind the ‘T’, mostly, and she, on her turns, usually lying flat (supine?) behind the foot of the ‘E’ in the brush. Hell there weren’t a lot of choices. And maybe it was the supine, but one day I told her, all Bogart-at-nine-and-a-half,
“Someday, honey, we gonna get the ‘H’ outta heah.”
“You mean the Farmall ‘H‘?” she asked, dodging the innuendo.
I looked skyward ominously. Seemed like a thing guys did in the movies. Debbie was a quick learn:
“Oh, that ‘H’, the bomb.” she offered.
But I couldn’t just let her win.
“No, the damn Letter, duh. You dense or what?”
She couldn’t just let me win.
“Sure, that’s what I thought you meant, kid. Then it’d be ‘T-REAT’, right?”
I drew a blank. (no air-quotes in those days). I did get it though, but not before a certain look of pity crossed her face.
“Yeah, a treat, Debby, nobody be watching us from across the fields…”, I steered back to my original course, “cuz we’ll be in Utah or somewhere. married, even…”
We sat on the flat rock, the one that MacArthur had bulldozed up there back in the day, to add permanence to the sign. Debbie looked stunning in the late-afternoon sun. I felt, I don’t know, ‘inert’. She must’ve sensed something:
“So, what’s the deal with noble gasses? I need names.” she asked me, just like that, no intro. We were learning the Elements in our primitive school. I hoped that was what triggered it.
“Um, helium?” I suggested, lamely, to another dismissive look.
“Boring.” she shot back, “just like your dumb Utah. No… higher:” she motioned upwards with her hand.
“It’s K r y p t o n, and no!” Debbie, again with the hand signals, this time downward. I was tiring of feeling dumb. but with her, you get used to it.
“Argon!” Somehow I thought of that one.
“Bingo. And that makes it TEAT.”
I quickly looked over her head, to down there in the valley, to make sure no one had overheard.
“How’s that make teat?” I asked cautiously.
“Simple: ‘R’ gone, silly.” Debbie laughed at her own wit… or at me. Hard to tell. I was just glad we’d gotten onto another subject worth pursuing; TREAT to TEAT.
“We could lose a ‘T’ then.” she was back to moving letters, the slick chick, but I was ready:
“Left or right?” I asked, all grade-school lascivious, lowering my gaze till she caught on and blushed.
“Depends on if you wanna EAT or just drink TEA?” Debbie kinda spit over her shoulder on the word ‘tea’.
Folks like us didn’t drink tea, you need to unnerstand. I’d only ever done it once, when my Mom was in the hospital for my younger brother, and my Dad took us to an actual restaurant and, I don’t know, probably wanted to show off. Tasted horrible. People in England drank tea. That’s why they talk funny and look that way.
“So ‘EAT’, it’s a deal.” Debbie put her hands in her jacket pockets, probably like some businessman she’d seen on TV once.
“How about ‘AT’?” I re-opened the negotiations, and she shrugged.
“A proposition? That’s a lot of tear-down work for a proposition.”
I didn’t even consider correcting her. Mainly, I didn’t even know she was wrong, but even if…
“Just ‘A’ then?” And that’s my final offer.”
“Oof, we’re back to bombs, dummy-head. Ain’t that why we killed the ‘H’?”
“Good point.” I told her, meaning it, “Yeah, let’s just get the ‘H’ out of here, and be done with it.” This time it wuz me with the hands-in-the-pockets.
“Yeah right… to Utah. ‘Morons’ live there.” She scoffed; a final pitying look, but with a coy smile this time.
I like Debby. Always did. She’s great fun.
WU: True story?
ME: Sure. ‘Cept for the sign… and some of the the dialogue…
WU: What’s that leave?
ME: The THREAT. Look, Wuzie, she turned 63 this weekend; I’m a week behind her. You try dealing wid dat someday…
WU: Got ya.