I’ve got a weird, fragmented memory from my childhood that keeps coming back to me. Keep in mind I was maybe three or four when this occurred, so some of the details might be a bit off.
My parents had a friend named Bug. There were a lot of people like Bug in my parents’ life. Some might have called these folks “counter-culture.” Or maybe “dirty hippies.” I was too young to know much about it, so I just went along for the ride.
Was Bug’s house a safe place to bring kids to? Probably not by today’s standards. Bug lived on a large-ish lot somewhere in Western Pennsylvania, a place where thick stands of trees separated you from your neighbors, something I don’t see much of anymore, being a city-dweller. Bug had junk around his property, old appliances and construction debris and the like. But among his nicer possessions was an old Volkswagen Beetle. Maybe that’s why they called him Bug? Or did he buy a bug because people called him Bug? If that’s the case, where’d the nickname come from? Did he eat bugs? Did he have bugs in his hair all the time? I don’t know and I don’t care.
Anyway, the VW Bug had decals across the top of its windshield, spelling out two words. One of my brothers asked what it said.
“What’s that say?” he asked.
“Bug Car,” my mom answered.
Yes, just like that. Not “Bug’s Car.” “Bug Car.” Just the sort of cute, nonsense name a kid would love.
Here’s the thing: I could read. Not much, not well, but I could at least tell that the goddamn car didn’t say “Bug Car.” It said “Love Bug.” For some reason, my parents chose to avoid explaining what a “Love Bug” was, and instead made up their own version of what the car actually said, hoping we wouldn’t know the difference. Which may seem innocent enough, but consider the cognitive dissonance that had just been introduced into my tiny mind. My parents were changing the meaning of letters and words, altering my perception, however weak it had been, of the English Language.
And now I’m a writer. Funny how things work out.