Gump and Co. Chapter 3
Anyhow, I gone on back to Mrs. Curran’s that night an phoned up Slim at his motel to say I ain’t gonna be placin no more encyclopedias in people’s homes.
“Well, Gump, so this is how you repay me for all my kindness!” he says. “Stabbed in the back! I should of known better.” An he concludes with a bunch of other shit that ain’t any nicer, after which, he hung up in my face. At least I got that over with.
Little Forrest is of course long asleep in the bedroom time I get through with all that, an Mrs. Curran ast me what is goin on? I tole her I am quittin the encyclopedia bidness to go up to Atlanta an help Alfred make his new CokeCola, an that I figger I got to do this, account of it is a lot of money involved an we need to fix up little Forrest with some backup income. She agrees with me, cept she say she thinks I oughta have a conversation with little Forrest fore I go, an explain to him about exactly who I am, since his mama an daddy are dead now. I ast her don’t she think she’d be better off explainin all that, but she say no.
“There comes a time, Forrest, when I believe a person has got to take the responsibility on himself, and that time is now. Might not be easy, but you gotta do it. And you gotta do it right, because it is gonna make a lastin impression on him.”
In this, I know Mrs. Curran is correct, but it is not somethin I look forward to.
Next mornin I get up bright an early, an Mrs. Curran made me some cereal an helped me get my bag packed. Alfred says he is gonna pick me up at nine A.M. sharp, an so I have got to deal with little Forrest right about now. When he gets finished eatin his breakfast, I call him out on the porch.
“I have got to be gone for a while,” I says, “an there is some things you better know before I go.”
“What is that?” he ast.
“Well, for one thing, I don’t know how long I’m gonna be gone, an I want you to be real nice to Mrs. Curran while I’m away.”
“She’s my grandma; I’m always nice to her,” little Forrest says.
“An I want you to do real good in school, an don’t get into no kind trouble, okay?”
A kind of frown come over his face, an he look at me sort of funny.
“Say, you ain’t my daddy. Why you tellin me all this?”
“I guess that’s what I want to talk to you about,” I says. “You see, I am your daddy.”
“No you’re not!” he hollers. “My daddy’s sick back home. He’s comin to get me just as soon as he gets well.”
“That’s somethin else I got to tell you,” I says. “Your daddy ain’t gonna get well, Forrest. He’s with your mama now, you see?”
“He is not!” Forrest says. “Grandma says he’s comin to get me pretty soon! Any day now.”
“Well, your grandma’s wrong,” I says. “You see, he done took sick like your mama, an he didn’t get well, an so I am gonna have to take care of you now.”
“You! – That’s not so! My daddy is comin!”
“Forrest,” I says. “You got to listen to me, now. I didn’t want to have to tell you this, but I got to. You see, I’m your real daddy. Your mama tole me that a long time ago. But you was livin with them, an I was just – well, like a bum or somethin, an it was better that you stayed with them. But see, they gone now, an ain’t nobody but me to take care of you.”
“You’re a liar!” he says, an begun to beat on me with his little fists, an then he begun to cry. I knew he was gonna, an it was the first time I seen him do it, but I figger it is good for him now – although I still don’t think he understands. I would rather be doin anythin but this.
“Forrest is tellin you the truth, son.” Mrs. Curran had been standin in the doorway durin all this. She come out on the porch an pick the little boy up an set him in her lap.
“I didn’t want to have to tell you this myself,” she says, “so I got Forrest to do it for me. I should have tole you, but I just couldn’t.”
“It’s not so. It’s not so!” he shouts, an begun to kick an cry. “You’re liars. You’re both liars!”
About this time a big ole black limousine pull up in front of the house an Alfred get out an motion for me to come on an get inside. I can see Mrs. Hopewell’s face grinnin out the backseat winder.
An so I took my bag an went on down the sidewalk to the car, an behind me, all I could hear was little Forrest screamin, “Liar, liar, liar!” If this is what Mrs. Curran meant when she says tellin little Forrest the truth will make a “lastin impression,” I sure do hope she is wrong.
Anyhow, we went on up to Atlanta, an the whole time Mrs. Hopewell is puttin her hands on my leg an stuff like that, an ole Alfred, he is pourin over papers an books an talkin to hissef a lot. When we arrive at the CokeCola headquarters buildin, they is a big ole mob of people there to welcome us, an when I come in everbody be pumpin my hand an clappin me on the back.
They led me down a long hall to a door marked Experimental Research Lab, Top Secret, Keep Out! When we gone inside, I like to fainted! They has set up a whole kitchen exactly like Mrs. Hopewell’s, right down to the half-empty glasses where I had drunk the CokeCola.
“Everthing is right here, Gump, just like you left it back at Mobile,” Alfred says. “Now, what we want you to do is just what you did when you fixed that CokeCola. Trace every step you took, and think real hard, because the fate of this whole company might be riding on it!”
To me, it seems a sort of unfair burden to shoulder. After all, I ain’t done anythin but try to fix me somethin to drink. Anyhow, they put me in a big ole white smock, like Dr. Kildare or somethin, an I begun the experiment. First I take a can of the “new CokeCola” an put it in a glass with some ice cubes. I tasted it, just like I done at Mrs. Hopewell’s, an it still taste like shit or whatever.
So I gone into the pantry, where all the stuff is on the shelves. Truth is, I can’t remember exactly what I put in the CokeCola that might of improved it. But I went on anyhow an started mixin the shit up. All the time, four or five fellers be follerin me around, takin notes whenever I do somethin.
First I took a pinch of cloves an a dab of cream of tartar. Next I put in some root beer extract an meat tenderizer an popcorn cheese seasoning an added some blackstrap molasses an crab boil. After that I done opened a can of chili con carne an skimmed the little orange fat that floats around the top an put that in, too. An then I added a little bakin soda, for good measure.
Finally, I stirred the whole thing up with my finger, just like I done at Mrs. Hopewell’s, an I took a big ole swig of it. Everbody be holdin their breaths an watchin me with they eyes all bugged out. I swished the stuff around in my mouth for a second, then said the only thing that come to mind, which was “Ugggh!”
“What’s wrong?” one of the fellers ast.
“Can’t you see he don’t like it?” says another.
“Say, let me taste that,” Alfred says.
He takes a drink an spits it out on the floor. “Christ! This shit is worse than the stuff we made!”
“Mr. Hopewell,” one of the fellers says, “you spit that out on the floor. Gump spit his in the sink. We’re losin control of the experiment.”
“Yeah, well, all right,” Alfred says, an he got down on the floor an wiped up the Coke with his handkerchief. “But that don’t seem too important to me, where he spit it. Main thing is, Gump, we gotta get back to work.”
So that’s what we did. All that day an most of the night. I got so confused at one point I accidentally poured half a saltcellar in the CokeCola instead of garlic powder, which I thought might take some of the edge off the turpentine taste. When I drank it down, it made me half crazy for a while, like they say happens to people in lifeboats that drink seawater. Finally Alfred says, “Okay, I guess that’s enough for today. But we gotta get back at this bright an early tomorrow mornin. Right, Gump?”
“I reckon so,” I says, but I am figgerin we might be up against a hopeless cause.
All that next day an the next weeks an the next months that gone by, I done tried to fix the CokeCola. Didn’t work. I put in cayenne pepper an Spanish saffron an vanilla extract. I used cumin an food colorin an allspice an even MSG. The fellers follerin me aroun had gone through about five hundrit notebooks by now, an everbody was gettin on everbody else’s nerves. Meantime, at night I would go back to the big ole hotel suite where we was all stayin, an sure enough, there would be Mrs. Hopewell, loungin aroun in next to nothin. Couple of times she ast for a back rub an I give it to her, but when she ast for a front rub, that’s where I drawed the line.
I am beginnin to believe this whole thing is a bunch of crap. They feed me an give me a place to stay, but I ain’t seen no money yet, an that’s why I am here, on account of I gotta take care of little Forrest. One night lyin in bed, I am wonderin what I’m gonna do, an start thinkin about Jenny an some of the good ole times, an all of a sudden, I see her face in front of me, just like I did at the cemetery that day.
“Well, you big bozo,” she says. “Can’t you figger this one out for yourself?”
“What you mean?” I ast.
“You ain’t never gonna be able to make that stuff taste right. Whatever you did the first time was just a fluke or something.”
“Well, what I’m gonna do, then?” I says.
“Quit! Leave! Go find yourself a real job, before you spend the rest of your life trying to do what’s impossible!”
“Well, how?” I ast. “I mean, these people are countin on me. They says I am their only hope to save the CokeCola Company from rack an ruin.”
“Screw em, Forrest. They don’t care anything about you. They’re just trying to save their jobs, and using you as a fool.”
“Yeah, well, thanks,” I says. “I guess you’re right. You usually were.”
An then she is gone, an I am alone again.
Next mornin I am up at the crack of dawn when Alfred come an got me. When we got in to the experiment kitchen, I gone through the motions of makin the CokeCola good again. Bout halfway through the day, I done mixed up a batch of some shit, but this time, when I drunk it down, instead of sayin “Uggh!” an spittin it out, I done grinned an says “Ahhhh!” an drunk down some more.
“What’s that?” one of the fellers shouts. “He likes it?”
“I reckon I got it,” I says.
“Praise the Lord!” hollers Alfred, an slaps himself in the forehead.
“Gimme that,” says one of the other fellers. He takes a sip an sort of rolls it around in his mouth.
“Say, that ain’t half bad!” he says.
“Let me taste it,” Alfred says. He takes a swallow an gets a really funny look on his face, like he is goin through an unusual experience.
“Ahhhh!” Alfred says. “It is wonderful!”
“Let me have some, too,” another feller asts.
“No, no, damnit!” Alfred says. “We gotta save this shit for chemical analysis. What’s in this glass is worth billions! Do you hear me, billions!” He rushes out an calls in two armed guards an says for them to take the CokeCola glass to the vault an to guard it with their lives.
“Gump, you have done it!” Alfred shouts, an begun poundin hissef on the knee with his fist an get so red in the face he looks like a beet. Them other fellers is holdin hands an jumpin up an down, an hollerin, too. Pretty soon the door to the experimental kitchen bust open, an there is a tall, gray-haired man standin there, lookin very distinguished in a dark blue suit.
“What is all this?” he ast.
“Sir, we have performed a miracle!” Alfred cries. “Gump, this is the chairman of the board and chief executive officer of CokeCola – go shake his hand.”
“What is the miracle?” the feller ast.
“Gump here has made the New Coke taste good!” says Alfred.
“Yeah? How you do that?” he ast.
“I dunno,” I says. “Just lucky I guess.”
Anyhow, a few days later, the CokeCola Company has arranged for a big preview tastin party to be held at their headquarters at Atlanta, an have invited about five thousan people consistin of press, politicians, socialites, stockholders, an other elite folks – even includin about five hundrit grade-school kids from around the city. Outside, big spotlights crisscross in the sky, an them what wadn’t invited were standin behind ropes wavin at them what was. Most everbody wearin tuxedos an ball gowns, an they is all millin aroun an makin small talk when suddenly a curtin on the stage is pulled back, an me an Alfred an Mrs. Hopewell an the president of CokeCola are standin there.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” says the president, “I have a momentous announcement to make.” Everbody get real quiet an be lookin straight at us.
“The CokeCola Company is proud to announce a new product that is gonna revitalize our bidness. As you know, CokeCola has been around for more than seventy years, an we have not once changed our original formula, because we figgered everbody liked CokeCola. But that is not the way of the nineteen-eighties. Everbody got to change sometime. General Motors changes about every three or four years. So does politicians. People change clothes once or twice a year…”
At this last remark, there is some low mumblin from the audience.
“What I meant was,” the president goes on, “that clothes designers change their product with great regularity – and just look at the money they make!”
He lets this sink in for a moment an then proceeds: “And so we here at CokeCola have decided to throw away our time-honored formula for CokeCola and try somethin different. ‘New Coke’ is what it is called, and we have to thank for this a brilliant young scientist, Forrest Gump, who has invented this amazing product! Now, right at your tables, our staff is passing out bottles and cans of New Coke for your enjoyment, but first, I think a few words from its inventor are appropriate. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Forrest Gump!”
He leads me to the speaker’s stand, an I am dumbfounded. I am so scared, what I am thinking is, I got to pee, but I ain’t gonna say it this time. Nope. So I just says, “I hope it is good,” an stepped back away from the microphone.
“Wonderful,” the president shouts when the applause dies down. “And now, let the tasting begin!”
All over the auditorium you can hear the sounds of cans poppin an bottles bein opened, an then you can see the people drinkin the new CokeCola. At first there is some ooohs and ahhs, an a few people be lookin at each other an noddin their heads. But then there come a cry from one of the little kids they has invited, says, “Ugggh! This shit is awful!” an spits it out. Then the other kids start doin the same thing, an in no time, seemed like everbody be spittin the New Coke on the floor an gaggin an cussin. Some people even spit it on other people, an this began to cause a disturbance out in the audience, an all of a sudden seems like a fight or somethin break out. Pretty soon, the people be thowin the cans an bottles of New Coke at us an at each other, too, an you can see all sorts of fists flyin an kickin an gougin, an tables turned over an all. Some of the ladies’ dresses be ripped off, an they gone screamin out into the night. Cameras be flashin an the TV people is tryin to capture it all on film. Me an the president an Alfred an Mrs. Hopewell are just standin on the stage, dodgin the bottles an cans, an we are sort of dumbstruck. Somebody shouts, “Call the police!” But I am lookin out at the crowd, an the police seem to be in the middle of everthin themselfs.
After a little bit, the whole thing spills out onto the street, an we hear a lot of sirens an so on. The president an me an Alfred an Mrs. Hopewell try to make our way out, but we get caught up in the thing, too, an it ain’t long fore Mrs. Hopewell’s dress is ripped off. We is covered with Coke an shit, an also with stuff from cupcakes an Moon Pies, which the CokeCola Company has thoughtfully handed out with the New Coke. Somebody shouts that the mayor of Atlanta has declared “a state of emergency,” on account of there is a riot, an afore it is all over, they has busted out all the winders on Peachtree Street an looted most of the stores, an a few people is now settin fire to the buildins.
We is all standin under the awnin outside the CokeCola headquarters when somebody recognize me, shouts, “There he is!” an before I know it, about a thousan people commenced chasin me, includin the president of CokeCola an Alfred an even Mrs. Hopewell, who is only wearin her underpants! This ain’t somethin I got to think about long! I start runnin fast as I can, across the Interstate an up hills an side roads, rocks an bottles landin all around me. Shit, seems like I been here before. Anyhow, I outrunned the mob, cause that is my specialty, but let me say this: It was scary!
Pretty soon, I found mysef on a ole two-lane highway leadin I knew not where, but along come a pair of headlights an I stuck out my thumb. The headlights stopped, an lo an behole, it was a pickup truck. I ast the driver where he was headed, an he say, “North, to West Virginia,” but that if I want a ride, I gotta ride in the back, account of he’s got a passenger in the front. I look over at the passenger, an damn if it weren’t a great big ole sow pig, must of weighed four hundrit pounds, settin there gruntin an pantin.
“This is a registered Poland China swine,” the feller say. “Name’s Gurtrude. Gonna make me rich one day, so she gotta ride in the cab. But you can bunk out in the back, there. Them other hogs is just common swine. Might root you around a little, but they don’t mean no harm.”
Anyhow, I got on the truck an away we went. They was about a dozen of them pigs in there with me, oinkin an squeelin an gruntin an all, but after a while they settled down an give me some livin space. Pretty soon it begun to rain. What I am thinkin is, I have had my ups an downs.
About sunup that next mornin the pickup done pull up at a truck stop, an the driver gets out an comes around to the back.
“Say,” he says, “you sleep okay?”
“Pretty good,” I answer. At this point I am lyin under a hog that is twice as big as me, but at least it kept me warm.
“Let’s go in an get a cup of coffee an somethin to eat,” he says. “By the way, my name’s McGivver.”
Outside the restaurant is a newspaper box with a copy of The Atlanta Constitution, headline says:
Moron Would-Be Inventor Causes Riot in City
The story reads somethin like this:
A sometime Alabama encyclopedia salesman who professed knowledge of a new formula for the CokeCola Company caused one of the most violent riots in Atlanta’s history yesterday when his scam was uncovered before several thousand of this city’s most prominent citizens.
The incident broke out at about 7 P.M. when Forrest Gump, an itinerant tinkerer and peddler of phony reference books, was introduced by the president of the CokeCola Company as having conceived a new brand of the nation’s favorite soft drink.
Witnesses said that when the new concoction was served to the audience for the first time, it induced a violent reaction in all present, which included the mayor and his wife, as well as various council members and their spouses and corporate chairpeople of all descriptions.
Police called to the scene described the melee as “uncontrollable” and told of horrible depredations inflicted on Atlanta’s most fashionable citizens, including the ripping off of women’s gowns and dresses and fighting and throwing objects of all descriptions.
At some point, the affair spilled out into the streets and turned into a riot, causing extensive damage in the chic downtown area. One source prominent in Atlanta’s high society who wished to be unnamed said: “It was the wust thing I ever seen since Lester Maddox begun handin out them axe handles at his restaurant back in sixty-four.”
Little is known of the perpetrator, Mr. Gump, who witnesses said fled the scene shortly after the brouhaha started. Sources said that Gump, thought to be in his early forties, was once a football player at the University of Alabama.
An assistant football coach at Georgia Tech who wished to remain anonymous recalled that “Yeah, I remember that Gump feller. Wadn’t too smart, but the sombitch sure could run.”
Police have put out an all-points bulletin for Gump, and the CokeCola Company, headquartered here, has offered a $1 million reward for his capture, dead or alive…
Anyhow, I kind of hid the newspaper an we went on into the restaurant an set down, an Mister McGivver begun tellin me about his farmin operation in West Virginia.
“It ain’t too big right now,” he says, “but someday, I’m gonna be the greatest hog raiser in the world.”
“Yeah?” I says. “That’s nice.”
“Nice – shit on nice, Gump. It’s a dirty, low-down, smelly business, but there’s money in it. ‘Bring home the bacon’ and all that crap. You just gotta be flexible. The hogs don’t take a whole lot of work, but there are other problems to contend with.”
“Such as what?” I ast.
“Well, for one thing, the people in Coalville, the little town where my farm is, they all the time complainin about the smell. Now, I admit that hogs smell, but the hell with that, Gump. Business is business. I got a thousand hogs and all they do is eat and shit all day. Of course it’s gonna smell. I got used to it, why can’t they?”
Anyhow, he goes on for a while about the hog bidness, an then he ast me about mysef.
“Say,” he says, “was you involved in that disturbance in Atlanta last night? It looked like some kind of riot was goin on.”
“Well, not exactly,” I says, which I guess was sort of a lie, but I just didn’t want to get into all that right now.
“Where you headed?” Mister McGivver ast.
“I dunno,” I said. “I gotta go someplace an get me a job.”
“What line of work are you in, Gump?” he says.
“Oh,” I says, “I guess you could say I done a lot of things. Right now I just gotta get back on my feet.”
“Well, why don’t you come work for me awhile? There’s a lot to do around the farm.”
So that’s what I did.