Andy Vaught Rediscovers America, Part One

Andy Vaught, TFF’s crack reporter, has been traveling across America in his quest to find out what makes Americans tick.  After spending years in Europe, as chief investigative reporter for the distinguished Swinland News Organization (SNO), where he garnered insults and death threats with the ease of a New Jersey mayor picking up bribes, Vaught recently returned to the United States, which he found more alien than any of the Third World countries in which he had picked up strange dialects and exotic diseases.  When he asked me for a job, I told him I would pay him what Mr. Navrozov was getting.  He told me both Navrozov and I had to be nuts.

Fortunately, most journalists know how to pad an expense account more imaginatively than Johnny Dollar, "America's fabulous free-lance insurance  investigator, and Andy had put by enough of his ill-gotten gains to finance his American adventure for many years.  Coming through the nation’s broad midsection, which Andy wants to name the “supersize-that-order-for yah? hind end," he popped into a large chain supermarket hoping to find a pack of non-filter Luckies.  He always smokes Luckies.  When asked "why," he grins and says: LSMFT.  Now he adds the joke that he's heard cigarettes would stave off the “plague of Biblical proportions that had already taken the lives of 50 million Americans," or so he had gathered from reading the New York Times.  

Phoning in his story, as in the good old day of frontier journalism, Andy expressed his shock.

“Have you seen the kind of  people who hang out in supermarkets?”

“Where do you think I’ve been living?”

“I mean fat, not just fat but obese, men and women in their fifties who have eaten themselves into paralysis.  They scoot around in these things called “Rascals,” like they’re in a demolition derby, and when they run into you or side-swipe your cart, they smile, happy to inflict pain on anyone thin enough to walk on his on two feet.”

“Watch it, Andy, they can be mean”

“Mean, you’re telling me?  There was this one 400 pound woman—I guess it was a woman.  Could have been a hippopotamus.  She couldn’t have been much over 60.  She was tooling around in her Rascal like she was Steve McQueen driving his car down the steps in San Francisco.  She had on latex gloves and a green surgical mask.  She was looking over the frozen chocolate with whipped cream pies, when an attractive lady came walking by like it was not a major effort to stay alive.  She was slender, nicely dressed, and wearing g a bright smile.  All of a sudden, the hippo bellowed out:

‘Do you hate yourself that much?’

The pretty lady smiled and said,

‘I’m sorry, what did you say?’

‘Don’t you know there’s Corona virus in this county?  I don’t care if you want to kill yourself, but what have you got against the rest of us?’

I asked what the pretty lady said response.

He told me: nothing.  “She just smiled nicely with one of those looks—you know how it is when you are approached by a person talking to himself on the street about contrails or how vaccinations cause autism?  I was about to ask the hippo if she had looked in the mirror lately, and did she understand that fat people with diabetes and high blood pressure were at serious risk, but she’d probably have run me over.  I used to think people who ate fast-food were committing suicide in small doses, but one look at her made me realize she was rushing the job.

“Try to be more charitable, Andy.”

“Charitable?  You need to get out more.”

I’ll let our crack reporter tell the rest in his own words.

Fleming, I don’t know if you have been out enough to observe the people who are wearing surgical masks.  A large group is old people, who have a justifiable fear of catching this thing.  If I were their age, maybe with a heart condition, I'd probably be wearing one.  But maybe the biggest group consists of Asian women.  Of course in Europe, Chinese tourists all seem to wear masks. I guess such precautions make sense in a country like China, with their  foul air, polluted water, and a government that could not care less how many airplanes crash every week or what happens to the WMD’s they are busily concocting in their laboratories.  By the way, I hear they get a lot of their materials and supplies from companies and government agencies in the good old USA.  You Americans—I suppose I should say we Americans--will do anything to get our hands on the Almighty yuan.

The most curious maskers are African Americans.  I’ve had a lot of black friends and colleagues, and none of them was exactly prissy or cautious or what you’d call angst-ridden over sanitary measures.  Even the young professionals I’ve met knew how to have a good time without brooding about the consequences, though someone told me they didn’t like to drink out of someone else’s Coke bottle.  Then why this sudden attack of prudence?  All I can figure is that they watch too much television and confound it with reality.

I was relieved, however, when I noticed that whenever one of the black maskers wanted to chat or make a joke, he pulled down his mask, and when he’d made his point, his friends would all pull down their masks to laugh.  Thank goodness, I thought, there are still some normal human beings left in a country where most people seem to think they can live forever if only they get their shots, work out in the gym, ride bicycles with a helmet and an orange or lime-green, and go running along the highway wearing their health-nut uniforms.  I feel like Kevin McCarthy in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  

"They're here already! You're next! You're next, You're next...!"

 So, I was feeling somewhat relieved as I strolled over to the hardware department, where two young guys were talking about how 5G cellphone masts were causing the virus outbreak.  When I told them I was a reporter, they were eager to share their information.

“Yeah, we read all about it in the Daily Mail, that’s in England, right?  They know stuff over there the government doesn’t want us to know.  It’s a conspiracy.  I mean it’s got to be true, right?  It’s in the paper, online anyway.”

“So what are you doing here in the hardware department?”

“Me and my friend are getting blow torches so’s we can set those suckers on fire.”

I wished them luck and started walking.  I must have been walking too fast, because one of them shouted:

“You ain’t gonna tell on us, are you?”

I waved and did not slow down until I found myself in the makeup department.  There was a man in his early 30’s looking at makeup.  It must be for his wife I thought.  I smiled, blandly, as I always do, since I’ve been back.  It puts people off their guard.  As an aside, they say Chinese men facing execution tend to giggle.  Grinning, for Americans is a fear-response—but that’s another story.

Anyway, the guy checking out the make-up looked worried.  He asked me:

“How do you think I look?”

What was I going to say?  That he looked as screwy as a raccoon I’d seen finishing off a bottle of Night Train someone had thrown from a passing car into my yard?  

“You look fine, pal.”

“You don’t think I look a little jaundiced, maybe, and my eyes a little squinty?

“No, it’s just the lights in here—they’re very bright.”

“Well, maybe it’s working.”

I shouldn’t have said anything, but I couldn’t resist asking:

“What’s working?”

“The tonic water I’ve been drinking.  Three or four quarts a day.”

“I hope you’re cutting it with at least a fifth of gin.”

“Why would I drink gin?”

“Just out of curiosity, and I know I’m going to regret asking you this, but why are you drinking so much tonic?”

“It’s to cure that damn Chinese virus.”

“I know there are quinine derivatives that are supposed to help, but you think tonic water by itself is going to combat the virus?”

“Absolutely.  Look here.  What was quinine for?”

“It treated malaria.”

“And what happens when you get malaria?”

“Tell me.”

“Your skin turns yellow.  I read about in in some book about the World War II in the South Pacific.”

“If I remember rightly, it was some artificial quinine—atabrine, I think it was called— that turned the skin yellow, not the malaria. Some American do-gooders in China even used it to turn their skin yellow--so they could fit in.  That was also during WW II."

"Good G-d, it had already started that early!"

  "What started? And what does any of this have to do with Corona?  You think you’ve got it?” I asked, edging away a bit.”

“Hell yes. I’ve got it.  That’s why my skin is turning yellow and my eyes are squinting up.  What else could it be?”

“Your skin doesn’t look yellow to me.”

“That’s cause I‘m drinking all that tonic.  I mean, look here.  Don’t you get it?  Where did this thing start?”

“China, I guess.”

“You’re damn right China, and it was in a lab.  Those Chinks are up to their usual tricks.  They’ve tried to conquer the white race and failed every time, so now they’re trying to Chinkify all of us.”

He must have been reading the Fu Manchu books, but I was not about to bring that up.  He hadn’t finished by any means.

“They’re plenty smart, but if they think their Chinkification plot is going to succeed, they don’t know Mithra Sol Invictus.”

“Mithra Sol Invictus.  Who’s that?”

“Me of course.”

“Your parents gave you that name?”

“No, but it’s my legal name.  What difference does it make?”

It was a good question.  At this point, I was hoping that whatever possessed him, had been inherited from parents as crazy as he was.   Otherwise, I was thinking,  it might be catching.  Psychos, I have  always noticed, have uncanny powers of intuition.

“You mean you’re afraid of catching Chinkificatin from me?”

“Not really, but what if, after talking with you this long, I come down with something?  What if I start thinking I’m inscrutable or get an obsession with eating bat soup.  I’ll be sweating my brains out when the weather warms up, and then I’ll have to start studying Mandarin.  It’s a tough language to learn, I understand.”

“You’ve got a point there.  I never thought of it.  How do you say foreign devil in Chinese.”


“Gweilo?  Gweilo.  Yeah, that’s what you are. I’m gonna have to learn Kung Fu, like Bruce Lee, then I’ll be able to take you people out.”

He stretched out his arms, leapt into the air, and crashed into the make up display, sending the skin lighteners and foundation creams flying across the aisles. 

I kept walking and did not look back.  After some time spent searching, I still couldn’t find the cigarettes anywhere.  Turns out you have to get them from the checkout clerk, like they were heroin or something.  Kids can get abortion pills, but a grown man can't buy a cigarette.

Well. that’s all for today.  This is Andy Vaught, reporting from the bloated midsection of this great land of ours.


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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina