I used all of my strength to pull myself up out of the cave. It was probably more like a grave, and that does, indeed, rhyme with cave, but I prefer calling it a cave. I just know you will understand.
My limbs shook and my mouth tasted as though someone had left a donkey testicle in there somewhere. It is not like you could easily hide a donkey testicle in someone's mouth without the person knowing, nor would it be likely that once the person realized what was in there that he or she could not discern its precise location, but there are times when you just have that feeling, you know what I mean?
So I used all of my strength and pulled myself out of that cave – hand over hand and inch by inch. Along the way (but near the end of the crawl) I passed what appeared to be a statue but what I took to be only some sort of stalagmite formation. It resembled Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of what in the twenty-first century we called the “United States of America.” You might remember this from your schooling, or perhaps you missed it. You might have been sick on the day they covered it.
I paused for a long while and contemplated the face on this apparent statue. Its features were crisp and defined; the look in the eyes clear and determined. Upon its head there was a straw boater – or at least what appeared to be a straw boater. If I remember correctly, every third male citizen of the United States had been issued a straw boater in 1919, just to try to break the monotony of the immediate post-war excitement. This had been a nasty war that saw a large percentage of the humans from around the world kill each other in new and exciting, mechanized ways. The industrial revolution had given to the human race a whole series of ingenious weapons that allowed armies to go about the business of killing with greater efficiency than was previously thought possible. Some people got rich off the innovations. Many others wished that they had just put their energies into more quickly developing the new invention known as the “refrigerator.” Mass production of the refrigerator began in 1918, but many wondered if the tremendous energies poured into things such as the machine gun and high explosives had not prevented us from more speedily obtaining a better way of keeping out braunschweiger cold. The world will probably never know.
I knew the crawl out of the cave was going to be a long one, and as my thoughts drifted from the straw boater to the war, high explosives, refrigerators, and finally to braunschweiger, I realized how tremendously hungry I was. I had not eaten in nearly two decades, and I really had a taste for a braunschweiger sandwich. I had no sandwich-making materials, however, so I relegated myself to the fact that I would likely have to wait some length of time for a delightful treat such as I desired. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a handful of cinders that I had gathered from the warning track. I popped these into my mouth and crunched away. They tasted like death, but I continued to chew.
As I lay there on my side, slowly chewing on my cinders and gazing at what I thought was a lovely statue of Woodrow Wilson in a straw boater, I heard a scratching noise behind me. I looked and saw a young man crawling his way out of the cave, such as I was attempting to do. He crawled up alongside and tipped his hat to me. I tipped my hat back to him and said “hello. Fine day for a crawl.”
“Hello,” said the young man, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket and wiping his brow. “How's the crawl going for you?”
“Not bad,” I replied, “you?”
“Fine, fine. I don't suppose you might have a chocolate cigarette, would you?”
I told him I did not, but I pulled a pack of cubebs out of my waistcoat and offered these instead. He smiled, drew one from the pack and produced a wooden safety match from behind his ear. I drew a cubeb for myself and accepted his light. We laid there in the cave and smoked in silence for several minutes. Finally the young man spoke.
“Nice stalagmites in here,” he said, looking around.
“Yes,” I agreed, “ and stalactites, too.”
“Absolutely,” he said, “like this one here that resembles Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States.”
“I think you mean Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president,” I corrected.
“No, that would be Calvin Coolidge. I am quite certain.”
“I beg your pardon,” I said to the young man, crushing out my cubeb, “I really think that is Wilson. Just look at his features and that straw boater.”
“All the same,” he said, “it has to be Coolidge.”
“How do you know?” I asked.
“Wilsons always hang down from the ceiling of a cave. Coolidges point up.”