Homer Simpson is a man of simple pleasures - all of which he can easily find in his hometown of Springfield.
Homer Simpson, holding a mug of Duff beer in one hand and a jelly donut in the other, sits in a dark corner of the bar between two unattractive men who seem to be waiting for him to say something. But he says nothing. Inside Moe's Tavern, a landmark dive in the town of Springfield, he is staring through the smoke and semidarkness at a jar of pickled eggs that appears to be so old the bar may have been built around it. The two men with him, Lenny and Carl, know that it can be pointless to force conversation upon Homer when he is in this nearly catatonic state, a tiny glint of drool hanging from the corner of his mouth. But I do not. I'm a newcomer to Springfield and to Moe's, and I have come here hoping to speak with Homer, a man who has dominated this town's headlines ever since his birth was greeted in the Springfield Shopper with the front-page proclamation: "Unusually Large, Ugly Baby Born."
Homer Simpson has made even more news since then, for he has been involved with many things involving many people here in Springfield - his own snowplow business, his successful recording career, his work on behalf of the local church as a missionary in the South Pacific, his stint as Springfield's chief of police, his role as curator of the now-defunct Museum of Hollywood Jerks. And that's just the beginning. Homer Simpson has been a blackjack dealer, a pin monkey at the bowling alley, a baseball mascot, and a film producer. He's also faced off against the heavyweight champion of the world, stopped a stampeding elephant, and both averted and nearly caused a meltdown at the nuclear power plant where he works when he's not engaged in some entrepreneurial endeavor. Indeed, it seems that Homer is a man who can do anything he wants. Anything.
For the moment, though, what he wants does not include speaking to me. I have pursued Homer for weeks, trying to get him to say a few words about his hometown of Springfield. He has been surprisingly difficult to reach. But I've finally found him, here at Moe's, and as soon as I can get up the courage, I'm going to ask him about the extraordinary place where he lives.
In some ways, Springfield isn't unusual. It's a frontier city, and, like other American frontier cities, it was founded by a rough-and-tumble frontiersman. (Jebediah Springfield is noted for, among other things, having killed a bear with his bare hands. Typical.) No, Springfield is unique not for its history but for its topography. As soon as you step off the plane at the Springfield Airport, you find yourself calling the landscape simply "unpossible." On one end of town, there are enormous purple mountains, a lake, a lush national forest, and even a glacier. Yet, nearby, there is also a desert. At the other end of town, there is an oceanfront and a Squidport. Somewhere in between, a fire has raged at the Springfield Tire Yard since either 1966 or 1989.
No one is entirely sure.
Maybe Homer knows. But now, sitting at this bar, which is in uncomfortable proximity to schools and a church, Homer Simpson seems miles away, in his own private world, not even reacting when the jukebox suddenly switches to a song Homer wrote, "Everybody Hates Ned Flanders." It is a lovely ballad that he first recorded four years ago. The lyrics are simple, yet the song still manages to evoke loneliness and sensuality:
"Everybody in the USA Hates their stupid neighbor. He's Flanders and he's really, really lame!"
As the tune plays, I chat with one of Homer's closest friends, the saloonkeeper, Moe Szyslak. "Hi, my name's Moe," he says, "or, as the ladies like to refer to me, 'Hey, you in the bushes.'?" I ask Moe why there is virtually no one in the bar I've heard so much about, a place that was once so popular that people would push or wedge their way in, nesting between the elbows and backsides of men drinking three-deep at the bar. Aerosmith even played a gig here. But tonight, to paraphrase a line from that great Frank Sinatra song, there's no one in the place except Homer, Lenny, Carl, Moe, and me - and also a guy named Barney who may or may not have passed out. Moe explains that the lack of patrons is not an adequate reflection of the vibrancy of Springfield's nightlife - although he doesn't say that in quite so many words. "People today are healthier and drinking less," Moe says. "You know, if it weren't for the junior high school next door, no one would even use the cigarette machine."
After a while, I ask Moe if there is something wrong with Homer. Maybe Homer Simpson has a cold, like the aforementioned Sinatra did in that famous 1966 Esquire story. That's not it, I'm told. Homer isn't sick. He's not sad. He's just happily daydreaming about food. Indeed, as I make my way over to him, I'm almost certain that I can hear Homer mumbling either "Mmm, maca-ma-damia nuts" or "Mmm, pie pants." Possibly both.
Whichever it is, Homer actually doesn't seem thrilled that I have interrupted his mental buffet. But when I buy him a Duff, he agrees to talk about himself and what he thinks makes Springfield so spectacular.