by m. james moore
A conversation I had with my dorm roommate a few weeks ago led to an amazing discovery,
and I am still unable to discern whether it is something my parents conspired to keep
from me, a gigantic prank, or something else. I have no idea.
It started out in a regular conversation about movies, how tough the economics teacher
is this year, and what we had planned on doing that evening when Bert dropped me the
question that dominoed into the entire research endeavor.
"Oh, I've been meaning to ask you: What was your elephant's name?"
Confused, I wasn't sure what to say.
"My what? Elephant?"
"Yeah, what was his name? Or was it a her?"
"Elephant? What are you talking about?" thinking it was merely a euphemism for something else that I didn't understand and hopefully not what I guessed it was.
"The elephant under your kitchen sink. You know, with gray skin, floppy ears and a long..."
"Yes, I know what an elephant is, but what are you talking about 'under my kitchen sink'?"
"Tiny elephants live under kitchen sinks. Did you not know this?"
I was beginning to think either my otherwise normal dorm roommate was still a bit tipsy from last night's Redbull-chugging cram session for the economics test, or that he was playing some prank to get me back for the duct tape incident on his Toyota.
"You're crazy, Bert. What are you talking about tiny elephants? Is this a joke?"
"I can't believe you didn't know that! It's common knowledge!"
"You're just playing some mind trick to get me back for the duct tape, right?"
"Wow!" Bert stood up in amazement from his lower-bunk bed and opened the door of our room to yell to the closest passerby, a friend I had in English 205, Salvin. "Salvin! Dude! Kirk here doesn't know about the tiny elephants!"
"Are you kidding?" Salvin asked Bert, before looking at me. "You've never heard of the tiny elephants under the sink in the kitchen? Oh, was your family poor? I've heard some poor families who didn't have a kitchen never had the tiny elephants."
"No, I wasn't poor, we had a 3 bedroom house and a full kitchen. You guys are just messing with me," I said, totally denying that this could possibly be true.
"Wow, man. I mean, how could you not know? Do you know about girls, too, right?"
"Dude, shut up!" I said, throwing a pillow at him. They both had a pretty hearty laughat my expense.
"It's no joke, man! Ask anybody on campus what their elephant's name was. There's no way we could have told everyone in the whole school without you knowing. You're just somehow the one middle-class person in the entire North American continent to have completely missed a huge part of daily life. It's like you've never heard of a steering wheel or something. You're not just faking?" Bert explained, perplexed. If he was just acting, he was sure doing a good job of it, and he's no theatre major.
"Guys, if you two are pulling my leg, you are so going to get it."
"Man, Bert. He really has no idea. I mean, how?" Sarvin said, clearly amazed at my apparent ignorance of a facet of daily living I'd never experienced.
"Look, I'm going to be late for Bowling, so please excuse me," I said, picking up my ball bag and shoes. I took one look at them before leaving the room.
"Dietrich," Bert said.
"What?" I asked.
"Dietrich was my tiny elephant's name." Bert looked at Sarvin.
I shook my head and walked to class.
I got to class and played my obligatory 3 games with my team. As we were packing up, I casually slipped the question to my rather cute teammate, Ashley Deerinwater.
"Hey Ash, what was your elephant's name?"
"My what?" she asked. Oh good, someone else who has no idea. Or maybe she wasn't in on the joke.
"The elephant under your sink at home?" If anything, surely I could get a good joke off on her also, as I admit it is rather startling of a question to me.
"Oh, I couldn't tell what you said. Sounded like edifice or elegant or something. My elephant's name is Rutherford, but we're not supposed to talk about that, you know? That was rather bold of you. It's like you just heard of them or something by the sound of your voice."
"No, I... uh, didn't think it was all that offensive," I said, making up something on the spot not to sound stupid in front of a cute girl. She was in on the joke apparently. I wonder if I had even mentioned to Bert that I liked her so he could have told her.
"Oh, well I wouldn't talk about that too loud if I were you. That's a pretty senstive topic around here. Maybe not where you're from, but we generally don't talk about them in the open public," Ashley said with forehead wrinkled and went to put her ball and shoes up. I stood there with a blank expression. Well, maybe that's why I don't know? Since people don't just talk about it? Maybe girls didn't talk about it, like bodily functions the way guys do. Or maybe it really was a euphemism for something and I still didn't catch on.
Back at the dorm, I was studying up on some algebra, when Bert and a classmate of his, Raul came in.
"Go ahead. Ask him," Bert said. Oh great, here it comes. More acting.
"Are you serious? He has no idea?" Raul said with duplicate astonishment.
"Honestly guys, I see you're just getting me back, I give already."
"Wow, you seriously have no idea, Kirk," Raul said. "You have no idea what your elephant's name is? How do you make wishes?"
"What? What are you talking about wishes? I didn't even know about elephants."
Raul just stood there, mouth open like a codfish.
"What!" I shouted.
"I'm just... wow," Raul said, perceivably befuddled at my response. "You just... I mean, you really have no idea." He started looking off into space. "Whoa."
"You guys are crazy. Stop messing around, okay? I've got work to do."
"Bert! Do you think his wishes accrue if he doesn't use them? That'd give him like, nearly 40 wishes to use whenever he wants? Check it out!"
"Oh, whoa, I never thought of that. I don't think I've ever known anyone who forgot or didn't use up their two wishes in a year's time. I hope for his sake they add up."
"Stop messing around guys, I'm serious," I said, seriously starting to question whether this was actually true.
"Dude. As your roommate, aside from the TP incident with Bethany, have you ever known me to lie to you?"
"Well, no, but I've known you for a year or so."
"Man! We are so telling you the truth. I would definately not lie about this. Call your mom, man! You know she wouldn't lie! You're from North America, right?"
"Of course I am."
"Well call her and ask!"
I honestly considered it as they left the room to go tell the rest of the dorm about my ignorance and to gather a collection of ideas to wish for.
That week, despite the consistent barrage of astonished guests to our dorm room, I seriously considered calling my mom and asking, but I felt too stupid to ask her. First of all, the whole idea sounds so amazingly foolish. How could this not have come up even at elementary school banter? There's no way I could have not known about getting wishes. The whole thing didn't make any sense. I was half convinced it was a gigantic joke, yet half wanted to call home to ask about it. I decided I would ask a few more people about their elephant before I did so. Everyone I talked to suddenly began to whisper when I brought it up as if it were some taboo topic -- as if I'd just spoken some nasty curse word that nobody in their right mind would bring up in regular conversation. I checked it out on the web, and sure enough there were sites explaining all about tiny elephants under kitchen sinks, only found in North America. Most of them were tributary, and few had any real details as they noted they ought not go into much more detail. If this was a joke, it was more massive than Bert was possibly capable of to make it so widespread. I decided to call my mom.
"Hi Kirk! How's school? Get that algebra grade up?"
"Uh, slowly. I've got something to ask you that's a little weird."
"Umm, ok? What is it? You know you can ask me anything. Is it a guy subject? Have you met a girl there? I'm so happy for you!"
"No, mom, it's not that. I mean there are lots of cute girls, but what I mean is, it's not about girls or guys. It's just, this sounds so stupid. If this is a joke I'm going to beat Bert up."
"Just say it, dear, I promise I won't laugh."
"What is the name of our elephant?"
"Did Bert tell you about that?"
"Yes, but what's it's name? Does it really grant wishes?"
"Yes, honey, we have a tiny elephant under our kitchen sink. I wanted to share that with you when you'd reached a better age to make wiser decisions. Your father and I have wasted most of our decisions on silly things and I wanted you to make good and wise decisions. His name is Percival. I called your dorm number to ask you something when Bert answered. We got to talking and he asked what his name was rather boldly, and I told him but not to say anything to you about it. I'll have to call his mother to see about getting some wishes taken off of his calendar. He is in some deep trouble!"
"Of course they're real, dear. Every six months or so you get to make a new wish. We never told you about the wishes so you'd have a lot of them when you were older. Percy's been getting rather restless asking us to let him grant them already."
"They... he can talk?"
"Honestly, I'm not even sure how you never found out about them. Oh! I remember! One of my wishes was for you to not find out. I'd forgotten to specify a length and just guessed at 20 years, thinking you'd be wise enough by then. It totally slipped my mind. I'm sorry, dear."
"So I can make 40-something wishes now? How does it work?"
"Look, you come home this weekend. What is it, Thursday? Do-de-do, there's the calendar. Yes, Thursday the eighth. You come home this weekend and we'll get it all straightened out. Try to be thinking of things to wish for, but do make them good ones. Don't waste them, you promise? I'm sure you already know loads about them, although Bert will probably lose a wish or two for explaining it to you in the first place. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to talk to you about this, things have just been so hectic lately.
"It's OK, mom. I'll see you this weekend."
"OK, Kirk dear. See you soon. Love you!"
"Love you, too, mom," I said, hanging up. Bert had just walked in. "Yep, 40-something wishes. And they TALK?? His name is Percival."
Bert just erupted into laughter, and offered me a list of things the other guys in the dorm had compiled as good wishes. I slumped onto my bed, scanning the list while my head was spinning with possibilities. Wow.