I had used my Expo ’74 season pass at least a dozen times before Uncle Fudd and Aunt June came for their annual visit. My sister and I didn’t really understand exactly how they were related to us, but they were a fixture in our summertime landscape, as seasonal as the ice cream truck or the August meteor showers.
Every July they drove their camper up from Escondido, California, where Fudd worked as a garbageman. They parked in our side yard under the giant maple tree and stayed for a month. Their visits consisted of June and my mom disappearing into the trailer to can dill pickles and huckleberry jam, while Fudd sat in the shade in his white V-neck T-shirt complaining about the heat.
Every so often he’d yell my name.
“Ronnie!” he’d shout. “Ronnie! Get me a cold Oly, and I’ll give you a quarter.” And I’d do it, partly because I needed all the quarters I could get and partly because I didn’t want Julie Wolff to hear him yelling. Julie lived behind us, and she was the coolest girl at Glover Middle School for two years running. Maybe ever.
The Expo pass had been a Christmas present, a bunch of kids got them, but it was also part of my master plan to get Julie’s attention. She had one, too, and I made it my secret mission to run into Julie at Expo as many times as possible. I’d visited the pavilions, ridden the Jet Star II and eaten my weight in Belgian waffles. So far, I’d only netted six Julie sightings, with four actual verbal contacts. During two of them she’d used my name when she said hi. Progress, for sure, but at that rate I was going to have to run into her about a zillion more times before she realized what I already knew: We were soul mates.
Four days into Fudd and June’s visit, I heard Uncle Fudd yelling my name. “I’m bored!” he shouted. He was already a couple beers in. “What say you and me head downtown and see about this World’s Expo?”
I looked at Fudd, trying to decide if he was serious. “What about Aunt June?”
But Fudd waved his hand like he was shooing flies. “June will be in there canning for days. Besides, I want to go to the fair with you! You’re the resident expert!”
I glanced back at the camper where Mom and Aunt June had secreted themselves, then at Julie Wolff’s backyard. Julie and her sister had left earlier, and they were probably at Expo. I wanted to see her, but I was pretty sure I didn’t want her to meet Uncle Fudd.
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea. Maybe we could go later with Mom?”
“What?” Fudd rose to his feet, swinging his beer back and forth, sloshing drops of it around the lawn. “You some kinda mama’s boy?” He elbowed me and winked. “Boys’ night out.”
I followed Fudd to his truck.
The minute we stepped through the entrance, Fudd clapped his hands together, looking around. “What’s first, my boy? What’s a couple of fellas like us gotta see?”
I shrugged. “We could go see the giant bugs? Or there’s a place you can pan for gold?”
I just wanted to get moving to increase my chances of seeing Julie, but I could see Uncle Fudd wasn’t impressed by any of these options. Then he spotted a kid holding a leash leading to an empty dog harness. The leash was stiff with a wire, creating the effect that there was a dog on the leash.
“What in the world?” Fudd asked.
“Oh, that’s an invisible dog.” I’d seen the leashes before. “You can get those near the rides.”
“Lead the way, Ronnie!”
The Midway was filled with spinning lights and the herky-jerky motion of carnival rides. Right away, Fudd spotted a booth selling invisible dogs and forked over the cash from a wad in his hip pocket.
“Now we’re cooking with gas!” he said, and he was off down the midway. I had to scurry to keep up with him, but it wasn’t long before I wished I hadn’t. Uncle Fudd was making his invisible dog, who he’d named Zeppo, hump the leg of every good-looking girl he saw.
“Zeppo, bad dog!” he yelled whenever his “dog” made contact with some girl’s bare leg. “So sorry, miss. Zeppo just can’t resist a pretty girl!”
I lagged behind Uncle Fudd, keeping contact, but also dreading being seen with him.
My embarrassment turned to horror as I spotted Julie and her sister coming down the midway on a collision course with Fudd and Zeppo. I froze. I didn’t know whether to hide, intercept Julie or try and divert Fudd down a side aisle. Before I could decide, Julie spotted me. She raised her hand in greeting, just as I lunged for Uncle Fudd’s invisible dog hand. At that same instant, Zeppo was headed for Julie. All three movements came together in such a way that it appeared I had, in fact, made Zeppo hump Julie’s lovely, perfect leg.
Julie stared down at the dog, then at Fudd, then at me. “Hi, Ronnie.”
“Hey, Julie.” I snatched at the leash and wrestled with Uncle Fudd for a minute before letting him have it. It was too late anyway.
“Why were you trying to steal that old man’s invisible dog?” Julie asked.
“Oh, I, um …” I was in agony.
Then Fudd caught my eye, winked and followed Zeppo down the Midway, continuing their reign of terror.
“I just didn’t want his dog to bite you!” I said.
And then something miraculous happened: Julie Wolff laughed. And I don’t mean at me. She laughed like I’d said something funny! “My hero,” she said. “See you around sometime?”
I nodded, and Julie and her sister faded into the crowd of fairgoers. I strolled down the Midway after Fudd and his invisible dog.