Earle, or Earle Elaborates on Electrodynamics (and Other Such Ecstatic Evangelisms)

A scientist grapples with his past while crafting his manifesto. Fifth runner-up in the 2024 Great American Fiction Contest.


Weekly Newsletter

The best of The Saturday Evening Post in your inbox!


He is a meat-and-potatoes man. Every day, he ingests at least one meal of red meat and russet potatoes. Like a potato, this man’s rounded head is nearly bald, with a stout neck, lumpy chest, and curving shoulders atop plump legs and diminutive terminal knots that one may, in a vague and general sense, call hands, as one may perhaps refer to the small boats upon which he treads as feet. When considering his total person for any length of time, one may also describe him as a skinned potato stuffed with bulges of meat, as indeed we all are, in an arbitrary sense, stuffed sleeves with a gooey sapient center.

To say that this man is an individual would be accurate. His name is Earle Bauer, and he owns an old home at 12205 Yellow Hill Road. Earle is a scientist. Each morning, Earle measures out exactly four cups of freeze-dried coffee grounds purchased from the local grocery store chain and heaps them into the coffee maker. Then, leveling his eye with the meniscus of the measuring cup, he adds or removes bits of water until the amount is exactly perfect and proportional to the grounds, knowing that some water will be lost in the percolating, and that the end result is far less important than the precision of the steps in the process itself.

Earle has nowhere to be, so he takes his time sipping from his reduction while crinkling through stacks of old local newspapers. Nothing he reads in these pale gray prints surprises him anymore, except for the overall slimming of total pages. It seems that many traditional things evaporate. There is another world (he’s heard) that burns with digital light and connects the islands of human being much as the ocean nets all islands into its womb. Earle doesn’t own a computer, nor has he any interest in learning what it is, what it can do, or how to use it.

When Earle goes to the store, his hair stands on end. He is the hunter here. Yet, some primordial instinct deep inside his cells alerts his prey sensors. Maybe he just doesn’t like people. After all, he lives alone and prefers it that way.

These days, Earle has taken up the ideology of Marge Spenowicz. Marge Spenowicz throws all caution to the wind to focus on her three Cs: coffee, cheese, and chocolate. Only, Earle doesn’t like chocolate, so he eats savory foods instead.

Down the frigid aisle, he stalks out prey in the form of frozen corn dogs, microwavable chicken wings, every now and then a plastic bag of french fries that bake in the oven without much effort. In other aisles, he spears bags of wavy potato chips with his fingers, snares folded bags of coffee, wrestles two-liter bottles of caffeine-free soda from metal hoops, and splays the trophy of his six-pack kill of beer over the edge of his cart lip. Lining the rim on three sides with such winnings, he feels sufficiently stocked until his next outing.

In the checkout aisle (they have self-checkout now, where one does the work for oneself, but that seems like an insult; Earle doesn’t bag groceries and will never bag groceries like a seventeen-year-old pimpled boy), he suddenly remembers that he forgot something. Exiting the line of faceless people with half-filled carts, he returns to the section stacked high with bricks of gold. Here he carefully selects an outsized sharp cheddar and places it in his cart, followed by a second and third, and a box of crackers to put them on.

Earle is writing a manifesto. What it says and what it means remain a mystery, even to him. So far, the manifesto only manifests itself in the remote creases at the back of his mind, but someday he hopes it will manifest in writing, though his handwriting needs refinement to transcend mere illegibility.

When Earle sits down to write a letter, that means he’s been thinking about his old friend Tom from way back. He often begins writing letters to Tom, who lives across the country with his grown-up kids, but Earle’s eyes aren’t so good anymore. Decoding yesterday’s cipher becomes akin to reading under the ocean. He can’t remember where he left off. It is Earle’s medical opinion that he would benefit from bifocals. On the other hand, bifocals mean one is old. Earle doesn’t feel old, so he doesn’t feel the necessity to investigate bifocals. For Earle, denial is his bedrock.

Earle mows the lawn. He only mows the lawn at daybreak on Saturdays, when everyone is sleeping in. Unlike in his younger years, Earle can no longer “sleep in,” and so likes to get things done early in the morning when he feels most energized. Convenience of others be damned. All the vibrations agitate his bladder, so he takes frequent breaks, leaving the mower running as he goes inside to urinate. Each time, as he stands at the toilet, seat kept forever up against the back of the tank, waiting for the process to conclude, he wonders if what he’s heard about prostate trouble pressing on his bladder has something to do with it. And then, also each time, he promptly forgets about it and returns to his mowing.

Earle used to be a working man, as they say. He used to have a lot of things, but that was long ago. At one time, he had a wife, whom he called Beth, as well as two children, one boy and one girl, Junior and Jennifer (at one time aged eight and ten, respectively, the ages which he always imagined them to be), who were more like vague shapes at the periphery of his vision, more the domain of Beth than his own, though he knows he is but a vague shape to them now as well. There was also a dog and perhaps a cat. However, these last two sat so far outside Earle’s circumference that he considered them not at all.

Yes, Earle used to get up before light with the best of them, rising each morning in a haze of neon quadratic patterns swimming against his eyelids, showered, shaved, brushed his teeth, dressed his hair and body, and knotted a tie at his neck. Then, taking the lunch so thoughtfully prepared for him by his wife, he osmosed into his five-year-old sedan and drove thirty-six minutes to his place of employment in morning rush-hour traffic, the Robin Insurance Company, occupying three suites on the second floor of a commercial building containing exclusively Class-A office space.

For years, he sat at the same desk, pushing the same papers, not really doing very much work in quantity, but the work he did do he ensured was neat and clean as a freshly washed car. The first three hours were a blur. After five cups of black coffee — not the kind of black you can’t see through like dark brown glass but the kind where it lacks the punch and bitterness to need a cup of milk — he began to arrive to full alertness. By now, of course, it was time for lunch (and his second pot). He heated Beth’s edible labors in a small, under-powered communal microwave, then spent his designated half-hour talking shop and debating the recent performance of the Sportsdale Eagles with a handful of co-workers, though he would not consider them friends, and barely acquaintances.

His papers required more pushing after that. In the afternoon meeting, he watched the wall clock intently, anticipating the final proverbial whistle that would signal a transition to the local bar three blocks south on Islander Ave. By the end of the day, Earle was ready to pack up and make the thirty-nine-minute commute home during the evening rush hour.

Earle spent at least ninety minutes with a lager beer, or two, sometimes three, each day, having the time to himself and watching whatever gameshow or news broadcast was on the television. Back at home, he would tell Beth, “It was another long day at the office.” Her sense of smell was not too keen, nor her sense of observation, so she didn’t realize he’d been drinking. At least, Earle didn’t think she had. As far as Earle knew, he had led her to believe that he worked all those hours on salary because it was required of him in order to pay the electric bills, buy groceries at a mid-level chain, and maintain the necessities of the two children. Except to feed the animals bulk kibble she found at the grocery store, the cheapest available, she did not consider the dog and cat in the needs of the household. They were décor, toys for the children, who largely ignored both, having outgrown the wonders of a gnawing puppy, a bouncing kitten.

When Earle would gust into the house on these weekday evenings, he seemed to drag all manner of beings into his wake, first Beth, and then Jennifer, and then Junior, and then both the dog and the cat, although he hardly offered more than a small grunt in response to each.

Sometimes, he kissed his wife and kids before he sat down to his expected dinner of roast beef and potatoes. He dug his way through the flesh and starch, then trickled into the den where a leather easy chair awaited with open arms to wrap his meaty excess in its cool folds. The chair did not judge. The chair did not whine. The chair did not nag. The chair did not ask for money. It only accepted and listened.

When Earle wished to sit and say nothing for many hours at a time, instead absorbing the glow of the cathode ray television and its limitless fount of colors and movement, the chair dared not break the mutual silence. So Earle loved the chair. He loved the chair in a way that he could never love his wife. He wasn’t sure if he loved his children. As for the dog or cat, they were more or less furniture that stank and drooled.

If Earle were to be honest with himself, and he rarely was, instead preferring to nestle those uncomfortable and thorny truths deep within the layers of his outer person, he would realize that this chair was his only beacon in the night. Beth was dutiful, yes, and Earle sometimes, in a transitory instant of iron lucidity, realized that he might be dragging her along behind his fettered somnambulism, hardly peripatetic except in the way that a fallen branch was taken by the river current, unable to change course or exit the water, but not altogether unwilling, either. But, as was the nature of transitory states, he quickly forgot such things and continued yanking at the chains in his half-hearted effort to endure until night.

Nine o’clock always came slowly, a point upon the ocean horizon that approached with gradual inevitability, but whose arrival could not be hastened by any means. If, by the time his last TV show had ended and the commercial break signaled the prelude to the start of another, he’d fallen asleep, Beth might stir him to come up to bed or let him wake up on his own in the middle of the night to find his own way stumbling in the dark up the creaking wooden stairs and down the hall to their master bedroom on the second floor. In either case, Earle raised his reclined position, standing up with a middle-aged groan as if to signal the creaking of worn-out joints and tired muscles, though he hardly used them, and absconded to the master bedroom’s en suite bath. There he undressed down to an undershirt and boxer shorts, though his wife preferred boxer briefs, which were younger-looking and more modern, pulled a long drag from a secret store of vodka hidden in a bottle of aftershave where he was sure Beth would never look, followed it with a drink of thick, pink medicine to stave off the supine-induced heartburn, and then rinsed with mouthwash, brushed his teeth, and slipped beneath the bed sheets next to his wife.

When Beth then gently rubbed his back with her warm hand to show her gratefulness for his presence, Earle rolled over, creating enough space between them so that she could no longer reach him, intent on letting the heat of the liquor rock him to sleep instead.

But that was a long time ago.

These days, Earle’s wife is living another life while his two kids now have kids of their own in worlds that seem so far away as to be nonexistent. In this way, Earle is a philosopher. He thinks these thoughts and therefore is. These other planetary bodies exiting his orbit for other galaxies cease to be in his private celestial cosmos. Earle only trusts his senses, even though he suspects they are beginning to lie to him more often now that they are degrading in his older age. In conversation with strangers he’s forced to talk to in inconvenient situations, he frequently declares the adage, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” However, he tends to confuse the words at times, instead saying, “I’ll see it when I believe it,” even though he means it the other way ’round.

He still eats roast beef and potatoes most nights, though the beef is tough and overcooked while the potatoes not cooked quite enough, and both so bland he must drown the dish in salt so as to taste anything at all. Earle philosophizes that he isn’t much of a cook, so he usually buys food premade and frozen from the corner grocery store. Besides, high blood pressure is a condition that affects only other persons, old persons, contrary to what Earle’s doctor may believe based on his so-called indoctrinal “education.” What does he know, after all? Earle has lived many more years, has many more decades of experience living, and has spent his entire life inhabiting his own skin, while Dr. Kamachurian has spent precisely zero doing said and same. How Dr. Kamachurian passed med school was an unexplainable mystery to Earle, who conjured such thoughts with a harumph before tossing them away with another.

At the end of the day, Earle fancies himself an orderly custodian of his universe. He washes his two dishes, the only two he ever uses and are thus forever drying on the otherwise empty dishrack, retreats to his customary chair, the very same leather recliner Beth gifted him before Jennifer and Junior (now with a Junior of his own) were born. Now, split leather patched with duct tape, hardware store brackets screwed in to bolster exhausted wood, padding lost over the many years replaced with a layer of flattened pillows and blankets, the chair remains steadfast in its undying devotion to Earle, Earle’s only living friend. (Tom could hardly be considered a “friend” since he never replied to Earle’s letters.)

If Earle could articulate his atrophied feelings, he would realize that he misses his eldest, Jennifer. Instead of calling, he travels back to a time when she was not yet a teenager. The dog had just died. He didn’t want the kids to throw a fit when they found out. So he tied the cooling lump of fur up in a garbage bag and put the can on the curb to keep the smell away. Later, he would tell Jennifer that the dog ran away. The dog (what was its name again?) was her panting lantern of portable joy. She cried, yes, heartbroken that she could not make her dog love her enough to stay. But, as kids often do, she eventually forgot. At least, he thinks she forgot. Speaking of forgetting, Earle couldn’t be sure of what happened to the cat.

Beth handled those things. Beth. Sometimes, he still thinks of her as his wife, even though they’ve been divorced for more than thirty years. It’s hard to keep thoughts sorted when you have so many of them, Earle reminds himself, shaking his head. He is a thinking man, after all. Not like those idiots he reads about in the local paper.

Earle snaps open a beer and drinks half the can. He thinks about his manifesto and what it might say. He finishes the rest of the beer to help himself loosen up, let the ideas pour out. And then he drinks another. Soon, very soon, the world will know what he has to offer.

Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now


  1. This is such a unique, entertaining story, I don’t know where to start. Well actually I do, with the title. It has commonalities with the Post’s Andy Hollandbeck’s clever titles of his ‘In A Word’ features I love. If it were ‘My Name is Earle’ I wouldn’t have even briefly thought of that.

    I was picturing an elderly Mickey Rooney or even Andy Rooney as Earle, and the whole thing being acted out on the stage. All of Earle Bauer’s misadventures in life. The way he makes his coffee, his lack of knowledge and disdain for the computer, his unhealthy food choices at the market, his wanting to write, but his handwriting needing refinement just to be illegible.

    He needs glasses/bifocals but refuses to get them. His deep love of his recliner (for TV), but not so much for his wife, children, and pets; then or now. The story cleverly blends pathos with pride, the outrageous with the realistic, naturally occurring humor, all while still maintaining respect for this man at the same time! You’ve done a wonderful job, Ethan.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *