Eureka: A Novel
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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.
in my pocket. I haven’t read it yet.” Sally released his hand. He took out the envelope, opened it, and pulled out a folded piece of notepaper. It was a KCF&C memo sheet with Pete’s name printed on the top in small letters. PETER L. WETMORE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT. There were only four hand-printed sentences on the sheet. Otis recognized Pete’s handwriting. Otis— I bought a trumpet and tried to play it. But the good lips were gone. It was too late. Sing, Otis, sing. Pete RUSS
music playing. The only sound was from the crackling of grease somewhere in back behind the counter. Something was being fried. Otis couldn’t tell from the smell what it was. Bacon, maybe. Or sausage. Hash browns? An egg over easy? Something on the counter immediately caught his eye. There was one of Church Key Charlie Blue’s bags of fudge. A hand-lettered sign leaning against it said: HOMEMADE FRESH TODAY— 50 CENTS APIECE. Otis resisted the urge to grab them and toss them out and away as far as
again. He had sung, and his words were still reverberating and echoing out there somewhere for the birds and any other living things around to enjoy, if they so desired. He had never really ever sung a song—any song—by himself since graduation day from high school. He had been the star male singer of Sedgwicktown High School, crooning a. la Mercer at assemblies and gatherings, particularly “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe,” from the movie The Harvey Girls, That song was big everywhere
whitewalls, the chrome on the front. A Jeep, but something very special. “Then my little red-white-and-blue right-hand-drive postal Jeep. Police also used them for parking-meter duty.” “How did you get them out here from the East Coast?” “I drove one out with another hooked behind on a trailer hitch. Then I flew back and got the other two and drove them out the same way. I took different routes each time—both were great trips, one across on 1-70 through Columbus and Indianapolis and Kansas
it seem even more deserted, ignored, forgotten: dead and sad. Someday, if he ever came back this way, he would try to find out what had happened to Mary Beth and her cafe. But now it was onward, Buck. He needed money so he could pick up some clothes and other basics. What about a toothbrush and a razor and some shaving cream? Those kind of runaway decisions could wait. He was determined not to stop for anything until he was beyond the Chanute River Bridge. That was important to him for reasons