Sloths are Joey Mallory’s “spirit animal.” In one of many musings from his grandparents’ hot tub, as chronicled in the recently released “A View from the Hot Tub: Conversations with My Grandson,” Joey equates that “sloths are real slow. If you go real slow, slow way down, you understand things.”
La Grande native Mike Mallory, co-author and Joey’s grandfather (or “Peapa,” as he’s colloquially referred to by Joey), had written down and shared his grandson’s unusually insightful thoughts for a number of years via Facebook before combining those “nuggets” into a collection of short stories at the urging of co-author, long-time friend and La Grande native Tom Carroll.
“(Sometimes) you get an idea and just feel like it needs to be done,” Carroll said of the book. “It was genuinely a collaboration. Mike wrote down the heart of it, and without that — without his humor and Joey’s insight — it wasn’t a book.”
Documenting Joey’s musings began nearly five years ago, when Mike and his wife, Laura, installed a new hot tub in their backyard. Eight-year-old Joey would visit his grandparents after school and following homework would ease into the hot tub for a nightcap of self-proclaimed “quiet time,” grandparents in tow.
“That meant he would talk and we would listen,” Mallory explained with a laugh.
Underneath the stars, Joey would provide a running commentary on any number of topics — politics, ecology, nature or God, for example — offering his unscripted, stream-of- consciousness thoughts up to the universe as much as to the people beside him. Though, Mike admits, many of the boy’s contemplations were directed toward Laura, “the second-most original thinker among the three of us.”
“He kind of has a special bond with Laura. They’re tuned in to the same things,” Mallory said. “Laura’s intelligence and big heart combine to interpret and, when necessary, ground his creative energy.”
Joey’s insights are oftentimes curious and thought-provoking, if not wise beyond his now-12 years of experience. As documented in the book, Joey expounds on politics — “We cannot hate each other because of the way we vote. Everybody wants what’s best for their family”; the environment — “I think one of the reasons we may not fully respect the land and environment the way some cultures do is because we aren’t indigenous”; family matters — “Peapa handles problems by burying them. Then he buries the shovel. I think he suffers from an object- permanence disorder” and “It seems like Mallory men do not evolve after the age of 13. I hope to break that mold.”
Mallory’s original posts on Facebook gained traction, with “likes” and comments on some reaching into the hundreds. He originally recorded his grandson’s comments simply for other family members to enjoy, and he was pleasantly surprised by the overwhelmingly positive responses Joey’s antics garnered on social media.
“There’s something about a kid who repeatedly outsmarts the adults in the room that triggers a laugh,” Mallory said. “He’s a normal kid, he just has a lot on his mind. He’s always been that way.”
Nearly 18 months ago, Carroll approached Mallory with the idea to expand Joey’s musings (and Mallory’s retellings) into an actual book.
“The book was Tom’s vision. He saw something in it that, frankly, I didn’t,” Mallory said. “He saw possibilities in my story that I missed.”
In his spare time, Carroll set to compiling and editing the original Facebook posts, eventually expanding Mallory’s “distilled essences” of the encounters from 4,000 words to nearly 20,000. One of Carroll’s goals, however, was to maintain Mike’s narrative voice — a task that, after 50 years of friendship, was second-nature.
See more in Wednesday's edition of The Observer.