The Boxcar Children: We Can Even Make Science Boring

Lighthouse Mystery begins with the end of the Woodshed Mystery, because that’s how synched up Gertrude is.  Aunt Jane is relieved that no one calls her Mrs. Bean after her marriage, because even she knows that is a stupid sounding name.  We are not even one full page into the book before bread and milk come up.  Henry has decided to take the scenic route home, never missing a chance to enjoy the power steering and smooth ride of their STATION WAGON and Grandfather knows of a beautiful lighthouse that they will drive past.  I feel a mystery coming on.

I am not even a little bit surprised when the lighthouse is for sale, and even less surprised that the family feels like this is something they NEED TO BUY.  Like now.  However, imagine my shock when the group discovers that the lighthouse has ALREADY been sold.  The grocer, Mr. Hall, offers to rent it to them for the summer, and I’m amazed that Grandfather agrees to this, instead of insisting that he WILL buy it, ONE way or the OTHER that lighthouse shall be mine! That’s kind of how the scenario went in my head.  Grandfather does make the children wait in the car however while he ‘negotiates the rent,’ whatever that means, probably a pistol-whipping.

When the family returns to the lighthouse, ‘the girls went into the kitchen at once.’  This is a direct quote.  Dear God.  After inspecting the stove and dishes, and how cold the water is, and if there is sufficient storage for the enormous amount of milk and bread that Benny requires; they go to bed.  At 8 o’clock.

Mystery Alert!  At the stroke of midnight, Watch begins barking and Benny smells food (no one else smells food, but we know that Benny has a keen sixth sense for anything edible).  After a few minutes, Watch goes back to sleep, but Grandfather feels that they should still alert the police due to the highly suspicious activities—that I will reiterate —consist of a dog barking, and Benny, a food obsessed halfwit, maybe smelling some potatoes.  This combination of Benny and Watch and food just made me think of Scooby Doo…Henry, Jessie, and Violet/Fred, Daphne, Velma?  Are we discovering the adult iteration of the Boxcar Children?  Just think about it.

The next day, the group discovers that they don’t have any food and maybe should go to the grocery store.  Facepalm.  The same grocery store they were at the night before, while renting the lighthouse?  NO ONE thought to buy food while they were already there?  Not housekeeping maven Jessie?  Not epicurean Benny?   Wow.  This may be the first time that they’ve passed up an opportunity to purchase, discuss, and cook food.

But if they hadn’t been forced to traipse back to the grocery store we might not have met angry, black-eyed man.  If his dark eyes weren’t enough to let you know he’s a bad seed, let me tell you how he ALMOST bumps into Jessie on the sidewalk.  Yes, to clarify, he doesn’t actually bump into her, but he almost does, which sets the whole group off into hysterics.  I assume that they are used to their own town, where the citizens kowtow respectfully, and know to clear the streets at their approach, perhaps strewing palm fronds beneath their feet.  Just a hunch.

As if this incident wasn’t traumatizing enough, inside the grocery store, Henry tries to chat up a boy his own age, and is REBUFFED.   Mr. Hall, sensei of the town of Conley, tells the family that this boy wants to go to college and his cruel father, Mr. Angry Dark Eyes, won’t let him.   All the children are predictably aghast at this information.  Mr. Hall tells them nothing can be done about this, many have tried and failed, and all the children immediately think of Grandfather, and how he can force anyone to do anything, no matter how much they dislike it.  It’s worded slightly differently, but that’s the gist of it.

Back home at the lighthouse, Jessie makes lunch and the family goes out onto the beach to enjoy it.  There are some rocks conveniently arranged like a chair for Grandfather to sit on, and Benny has the bright idea to build everyone rock-chairs, and then cement them together so that no one can ever remove them.  Everyone thinks this is a great idea, because why wouldn’t Mr. Hall want a bunch of huge concrete lumps sitting in the middle of his beachfront property, emblazoned with the shaky scratched names of all the Aldens?  So there’s no point in asking him, right?  They’d rather just pay him off when he raises a fuss.

After that adventure, the children are ready to go to bed again, and of course Watch wakes up at midnight barking, and THEN Jessie and Violet see a mysterious woman walking past the lighthouse all sneaky like.

The next morning at breakfast, Violet and Jessie tell their tale, and the whole crew goes next door to the abandoned, boarded up house to snoop around.  Trespassing rules don’t apply to them since they’re just trying to help.  Henry finds a piece of paper with squares and ‘strange’ letters on it, and immediately intuits that it must be proof of someone really smart doing science experiments, mainly because he doesn’t understand any of it.  He tells anyone that will listen that he recognizes it as college-level science work, but I like to think that he just found a piece of paper with the periodic table printed on it.  Looking at the abandoned building gets boring really fast I guess, as the afternoon devolves into looking at shells and seaweed.  You would think that after about three other ‘mysteries’ revolving around shells and seaweed, that this family would be tired of looking at them, or at least more knowledgeable, but nope.

Henry suggests swimming, but Jessie dismisses it, seeing as how they didn’t bring suits, and buying them would be too expensive.  <insert comment about how they can afford a LIGHTHOUSE but not swimmies>.   After buying a blue suit for Jessie, a red one for Benny, etc etc color-coded obsession, who do they spot outside but TOM COOK, or MR. DARK SCARY EYES!  The lady at the bathing suit store gives them the rundown:

1)   Tom Cook is rich

2)   Tom Cook is stingy

3)   Tom Cook has a boat

Furthermore, Tom Cook doesn’t let his son (angry-wants-to-go-to-college-boy) use the boat, even though everyone (even the woman at the bathing suit shop, but not Tom Cook apparently) knows that Angry Boy takes the boat out at night, returning with mysterious jars and barrels of who-knows-what.   “We’ll have to do something about that,” Grandfather says, a dangerous gleam in his eye.

That night, Benny sits in his PJs staring at the stars from the top of the lighthouse, and sees a boat come in from sea, and then turn around again.  With an intelligence that belies all we know of Benny, he guesses that the captain of the ship must have seen him sitting in the lighthouse, so he turns off his lights, and sure enough, the boat comes in.  A man jumps out with a bucket and walks up the street.  Our omnipresent narrator lets us know that more exciting things happen, but Benny misses them because he falls asleep.  Natch.  Benny loves to sleep ALMOST as much as he loves a canned ham.

Watch continues to bark every night at midnight, but everyone just ignores it now.  The fact that something is going on that they are not meddling in is eating Henry up inside, so he organizes another snoop-fest at the abandoned house.  Lifting Benny onto his shoulders, they discover the kitchen inside has cooking pans, seaweed, a microscope, and plankton in it.  All VERY SUSPICIOUS.  Unauthorized cooking.  And sciencing.

I’ll just summarize the about ten pages it takes for the Alden kids to put their clues together to hypothesize that the angry Cook boy is trying to cook seaweed in the abandoned kitchen and some woman is helping him.  Even though they’ve literally only seen Angry Boy one time, they immediately know this most be his nefarious work.  He was rude to Henry.  No decent, law-abiding citizen would dare.  This case against Angry Boy is only further strengthened when Watch barks at him downtown the next day.  Just like Watch barks at night!  And as Henry points out, everyone in this town is borderline stupid—if this boy could get into college, he’s the only one that could possibly be writing strange letters on pieces of paper.  However, Henry is also in college, even though he can’t decipher the alien symbols on the papers, so I’m not sure what that says about the student population.

The next chapter is dominated solely by the Aldens’ cookout on the beach, in which I believe Gertrude uses the word ‘frankfurter,’ approximately 32 times.  Then Henry goes back to the grocery store, only to run into Angry Boy again.  I’m starting to believe there are only twelve people in this town.  This is a momentous occasion, because even though they don’t speak, Mr. Hall tells Henry that the boys name is Larry.  So we can finally start referring to him as that.  Anyway, Larry always cooks for the town’s ‘village supper’ to help raise money for the town—but this year his helpers can’t come.  Who knew Larry had a heart of gold?  Seeing an opportunity to weasel their way into his life and improve it for him, the family immediately volunteers to help him cook.  Without much of a choice, Larry acquiesces.

The day of the cookout, Henry tries to draw Larry out with ridiculously transparent comments.  Like, ‘too bad we can’t get more food from the sea,’ eh Larry?  Maybe some seaweed would really make this frankfurter pop?  But Larry doesn’t cave to Henry’s suave questioning tactics.

A mysterious man at the cookout questions Larry about his secret baked-bean recipe, which Larry refuses to answer.  After learning that Larry just loves to cook, the man asks the next logical question (?!):  “Do you go to college?,” since, as we all know, all master chefs first matriculate at their local state university.  Or at least at the community college down the street.  This predictably cheeses Larry off, and he stomps away.

For a change of pace, the next day Grandfather takes them all to look at a boat, the Tahiti, which he is thinking of buying since that wily Mr. Hall beat him to the lighthouse.  The captain, Snow, is more than glad to show the obscenely rich man who will be his future boss and his family around his boat.  Just because he’s a nice guy, of course.  In the walk-in freezer, the family notice some large white bags.  Jumping to a conclusion with almost zero evidence as usual, they decide that the large white bags are full of plankton, and that Captain Snow must be providing Larry with plankton for his experiments.  They decide this before they learn that Captain Snow is Larry’s uncle—which feels less like detective work, and more like blindly guessing.

Back in town, who does the family run into, but Captain Snow!  They have a nice chat about Larry (so smart!), his father (so mean!), and how they will befriend Larry and get his father to pay for his college tuition, no matter the personal freedoms they have to squelch.

The next morning, Violet wakes up with her face horribly swollen from mosquito bites.  Now the children have the perfect way to befriend Larry; by guilt-tripping him into building them screen windows.   There’s no better way to make a friend than to force them to do manual labor for you.

The Aldens’ Friendship Plan isn’t moving fast enough for their liking, so Grandfather calls up a dangerous storm, trapping Larry out at sea on his night-time boating run.  Well, it doesn’t exactly happen that way, but pretty close.  Anyway, Mr. Dark Angry Eyes/Tom Cook shows up looking for his son, and since the phone lines are out, he and Henry drive to the next town to alert the Coast Guard.  Just about everyone in the whole town shows up to the lighthouse, and watches the Coast Guard tow in the boat with Larry.  Grandfather snidely remarks that he’s surprised that a town without any policeman would have a doctor, but everyone pretends not to notice.  Larry is rescued, warmed up by heated blankets, and starts shouting ridiculous things, like, “FEED THE WHOLE WORLD!” in a fever-fueled delirium.  While he’s unconscious, his ‘good friends’ the Aldens, show his father (and anyone else that happens to wander by) Larry’s secret lab.  Henry explains that Larry is trying to make seaweed into food.

“But don’t the Japanese already do that?  Like, for hundreds of years?” the doctor wants to know.

“Well, good point,” Henry concedes.  “I didn’t think of that.  But no one likes that slop except for the Japanese.  This is AMERICA.   Gawd.  Let’s figure out how to fry this stuff or turn it into hamburgers.”

The doctor is suitably chastened.

Larry wakes up, and there is a big, tearful reunion with his distraught father who promises he can go to school now that he almost died.  “I’ll pay for it,” Grandfather volunteers, always happy to have someone indebted to him.  “No, that’s cool,” Dark Eyes waves away his offer, “I have plenty of money, I totes can afford it.  I just didn’t feel like letting him go for some reason, can’t remember know.  Oh well, no harm no foul right?!  I mean, like, except for my son almost dying.”

Then Mrs. Cook invites them all for dinner, which they only accept after thinly insinuating that she couldn’t afford to cook for them all.  The dinner is full of meaningless conversation and food descriptions, until Jessie’s secret lover, Mr. Carter shows up with a new microscope for Larry.  Grandfather found a way to pay for something expensive after all!!  Hooray!  Larry sincere “I could never thank you enough,” is followed by Mr. Carter’s “I know, don’t even try.  You will pay us back in other ways, hapless fool!”  Or something like that.

Then the family returns home, where Henry prepares to leave for college (where he’ll surprise his new BFF Larry by introducing him to a professor who is the SAME GUY WHO WANTED THE BAKED BEANS RECIPE).  Poor thing.  Little does he know that only  a few short years of adulthood remain before he becomes 14 forever.

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About rhymenocerous

rhymenocerous combines a fondness for hip hop with her love of the serengeti. Her soft spot for kids in space is eclipsed only by her passion for time-travelling children. She eats too much cake and frequently pretends her dachshund speaks French. View all posts by rhymenocerous

2 responses to “The Boxcar Children: We Can Even Make Science Boring

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