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Blinky the Iguana
As I lie here, blinky and quiet like an iguana, I think that rather than add 100 words, it might be nice to remove a few: drag a soft, pink eraser over one tiny portion of the word heap that covers over this planet’s lively, sweet hum. But words aren't a fuzzy cap you can toss off on a whim. Words seep in, go deep, sprout all kinds of noise. They take root, grow, pop out unexpectedly. Good, then, for a change, to tend to them, count and care for them-- gently, quietly. Tiny rows of words. Happy garden.
I feel like a fried egg after a whole day of sitting cold on a plate. It’s time to put me under some warm water, rinse off the goo of too many hours. Times like these, I usually take a bath. I make it hot and ease myself in. Sometimes, my feet turn so red the rest of me won’t follow. Those days, I add a little cold. Once I’m in, I sit and stare at the tiles, feel the heat. I sometimes wonder, Why is this so great? I don't know....No words for the answer.
I can hear JP’s pencil scribbling. It sounds a bit like a little paw scratching in the dust. Chuck seats himself next to me, and I am suddenly overcome by the smell of a foot. It's a mystery odor, and it's not coming from JP's sock.
This is what it’s like to be alive: JP erasing a line on yellow paper, Miles’ little feet clacking on the wood floor, Chuck all earnest and purring, the smell of a mystery foot.
These are the stars of our everyday sky: the easy-to-miss, small, good things.
Just outside every shut window, there is night. It’s a whole neighborhood of night: night streets, night houses, night airplanes flying over the rooftops and churches of night. Skunks are tucked into their night burrows. Night bunnies snore and dream.
The night people are inside, quiet in the yellow haze of lamplight. By February, they will all seem more like the stark lean trees of winter. Leaves fallen, they will stand in lonely silhouette.
Summer is forgetful and long-limbed and green. It’s easy to forget how winter descends into our rooms, draws curtains, makes us feel sadnesses once again.
Owen just turned 11. When I showed up to celebrate, he was doing his homework: very focused, no time for chit chat. Fair enough. I asked if I could read his his book report. “Okay, but I’m not changing anything.” When I suggested he look at the word “rome,” he carefully erased the word and re-spelled it perfectly, all by himself. I then asked, “What do you mean, ‘he adapted to his father?’” he smiled and repeated, “I’m not changing anything.”
I looked him in the eye and nodded.
Good for you, little dude, good for you.
For a long time, the word “jerk” seemed skimpy and shallow, a refusal to see deep. I was keen on apology, quick to forgive.
Seems I rounded some kind of bend. I tilted my head more, listened slow and steady, ready to detect clues and underbellies. What I noticed was that some people weren’t filled up with the friendly fuzz I liked to imagine. They could be so wrapped up in their own hype they didn’t even notice how crummy they could be.
These days, I call people jerks plenty. I’m not proud, but I’m not too proud, either, you know?
When I was a kid, my dad lived in the basement with the television and his chess set, my mom lived in the living room with a cocktail and her book, and my brother lived in his bedroom with an electric guitar and the door shut. Me, I’m not sure where I lived. I was more like a restless ghost, hungry for something.
I sometimes imagined myself in prison for a crime I didn’t commit.
I wanted somebody to sit right next to me, say it’s okay.
When it was time to leave, I was ready. I hardly said goodbye.
JP thinks I shouldn’t study the road kill. I tried to take his advice, and what I discovered is that I”m not capable of not studying the roadkill. I inspect the messed up body the best I can while driving, and then I spend some time thinking. Sometimes, my thoughts are about how people are hogging all the space on this planet. We are like some weed that takes over the garden. Other times, I try to imagine the details of the actual collision. None of these thoughts are happy thoughts, but I continue to have them anyway.
The kitchen floor got pretty messed up, so I decided to mop it. I was in quite a state when I took on the job. I filled the sink with Pine Sol and busted out the new mop JP bought a few months back. Man, was that floor dirty. Crazy dirty. And there I was, some kinda mopping superhero. Ever since I finished, I’ve been admiring my work. JP let me go nuts over myself. He smiled as I floated around, like I was in some kind of shiny kitchen floor parade. Not even a flinch. That’s love.
Miles is a fierce, needy little dude. If if he were in third grade, he’d be the kid teachers send down the hall to retrieve the AV cart. For years, Miles hung out in the courtyard and greeted people. When cranky neighbors filed a complaint, Miles was informed he wasn’t free to roam about anymore. Ever since then, he has spent a lot of time sitting by the door looking desperate. He gets supervised recess periods, and they do him some good. But Miles still feels pretty miserable lots of the time, and he’s decided domestication is fundamentally fucked.
I played Monopoly with Owen and Griffin for five hours today. One summer, we played marathon games every Tuesday afternoon, so we’ve established some pretty reliable inside jokes. Calling dollars “big ones” is particularly funny when someone, say, lands on Baltic Avenue and has to pay four dollars for rent. “BRU-TAL” is another cracker-upper. Owen finds it particularly funny when I say this. Today’s game teetered on the edge of almost over a while there, but we made deals to keep each other alive, including total disregard for the cruel directives of Chance and Community Chest.
It’s twenty degrees out and JP has the fan on, which is now blasting cool air in my face. These two facts sit next to each other, and I almost certain that you, reader, are wondering what the heck is going on. This is the sort of mystery fact duo that is very likely to keep any number of live ball readers up at least 20 minutes past their bedtime. I could just spill the beans and put an end to all these shenanigans, or I could add another fact into the mix and mess with your head even more.
I have no idea what was going on with me four days ago. Sure, I could try to go back. I could. But I'm forging onward. It's not as if I never spend time looking back. I do. When some confusion or feeling of disaster insists, I'll consider how it all went down. But for the most part, I trot along the contours of an hour, veer into the gradual shift from morning to night, and at the end of a fair amount of flapping about, this way and that, I am plopped down somewhere else. A new day.
I put a toe in, and pretty soon, my whole person was sunk in there deep. I thought about stopping, I did, especially during the gap between episodes. That was my chance. “Now’s the time to get out.” But then the weakness took hold, and I clicked for more. Eventually, I called an end to it. I couldn’t take it anymore. I put on running clothes and went out there into the cold dark night. My legs were moving, my nose was cold, but my brain was still plugged in. That television was chasing me around the neighborhood.
“Even this paper can be influenced by others in many ways people can or cannot see,” and then, later, “All of us are talented in writings that we can’t or can see.” JP loves this writing precisely because it’s so reliably, weirdly, itself. I think I might feel the same way if I weren't the dude's teacher. In any other circumstance, I'd be intrigued by these sentences and the strange web of vaguely related concepts loosely hinged to the assignment.. but because I'm this guy's teacher, I am wrestling with the weirdness and wondering what to do with it.
Caught a glimpse of my thigh in the mirror. Maybe it was the angle, or my mood, or the way the light was turning the bad into far worse, but it wasn't pretty. This is what it's like to get older, perhaps: the used to be hits hard as the no longer presses its nose against the inner window pane. It seems to want to come in and make itself at home. I'm guessing the wise among us graciously open the door, welcome the new arrivals. Come on in! Not me. I am squinting through the peephole, shaking my head.
It's sixteen degrees out there, and there is no cream in the refrigerator. I either sit here in this warm kitchen, sorta miserable without my coffee, or I go out there and fetch myself some coffee the way I like it. Winter here is like standing at the edge of a lake in late spring. The lake beckons and taunts. "You going to sit there, all dry and timid like a bored little chicken, or are you going to jump in and live a little?" If the chicken takes hold, it could be a very long, bored and grim season.
When JP and I met, it was perfect-- so perfect, I expected I’d never see him again. When JP popped up in my school email, I shook my head. Couldn’t believe it. Then our first date was impossibly sweet. It didn’t stop there, either. Doesn’t stop. It’s been over a year now, and it still feels like that first meeting, except that all the strange, complicated and difficult stuff of real life is sprinkled into us, too. We’re tucked into the beautiful, messy realness of each other, which is so much sweeter than sweet.
A pigeon sat on my head and asked me what my big plans were. I told the pigeon I might eat a gumball, blow a few bubbles, watch the strange snoring kitty curled up in a box. The pigeon snorted, so I tilted my head and made suggestions: perhaps you should fly to Texas, maybe the number eight would be a nice idea, popping corn is best undertaken at midnight. Suddenly, I was overcome with fatigue. The man with a caterpillar moustache seemed surprised. A peanut-shaped cloud flew over my head, and the pigeon flew off in a huff.
It was night. I was a kid. I walked down the stairs even though I never ventured into the dark downstairs house when everyone was tucked in bed, asleep. But something was different that night. I was moved to walk to the long window alongside the front door. I stood by the long sliver of icy window: silent, still, watching. And then, out of nowhere, the white tail of a shooting star lit up the sky as it dropped through the blue darkness of winter night. It was magic. When I think of God, I remember that night, you know?
The small clown chose polka dotted napkins for the occasion. Little pickle sandwiches would be served along with pink punch. Tiny marshmallows on toothpicks could be held over the fire for a while, or they could be set down in rows in the bubbled up sink, like buoyed ropes in a little blue swimming pool. The conversation might be light: freckles, strings, songs played on a ukelele, hamburgers atop tea cups, a boy dreaming he can fly. If the talk turned to sadness, the clown's round red nose might puff up and float away, like a lonely sky-bound balloon.
“ I just want the butterfly to be betterfelt.” Esmerelda said things that made absolutely no sense. I have no idea why I was so drawn to her, given her tendency to make these nonsensical statements. I suppose I found these weird utterances interesting at first. I was so tired of the same ole, same ole, so all these bizarre sentences had a certain appeal. After a while though, when I realized Esmerelda didn’t actually know what she was saying, my attraction turned to annoyance. Words like “betterfelt” didn’t actually mean anything, and I simply don’t accept that sort of thing.
Whenever Edward wanted to complicate things between us, he’d start hurling accusations. “Those words don’t mean anything.” “Please speak in standard English.” “If I have to think for too long, you’re not holding up your end of the communication deal.” This often happened after a few days of softening up. “You are like butter left on the counter for a while,” I’d tell him, and he’d understand. You could see him melting into his own sweetness and liking it. But then,minutes or hours later,he’d trip on his own inner furniture and turn cold.
My sister is in the weirdest relationship. I’m guessing they must really dig each other naked because when they have clothes on, they seem totally perturbed. She looks at him like he’s some video game with complicated instructions written by a dude in China, and he looks at her like she’s a weird lamp he bought on impulse at a flea market. Maybe she’s trying to read the instructions, thinking she might learn something if she persists, and maybe he’s wondering if owning a strange lamp could make him seem like a more interesting person.
Eddie used to be a normal guy, you know? Now he’s got this girlfriend he can’t stop complaining about. So I say to him, “So Ed, why don’t you just call it quits? “ and he looks at me like I’ve told him to shoot his dog in the head. Usually, I wouldn’t really care all that much. Most friends, I’ll let them be stupid. Do whatever. But Eddie and I go way back, so it’s different. I can’t just sit here and watch him turn into this obsessed, miserable kind of guy.
Milt had a totally personal, deep, private journal that he posted online. On the first day of his journal, he wrote, “This is me, naked, exposed, alone. This is me, on a beach, by the water, under the moonlight. This is me, flesh and bone and blood. I stand here in solitude, probing my depths, in the silences of the dark.” When I asked Milt why he was posting something that was supposed to be “private and personal" online, he was obviously annoyed. I admit, it was an aggressive thing to say. But honestly? Milt can be so full of shit.
“Stuart, you are such a cliche.” Stuart didn’t feel like a cliche. He felt like a person. What ever happened to nice, simple things to say? A few days later, Stuart read an article about people who chose to live in villages of silence.Instead of wasting their days sending mixed messages and confusing each other, people raked leaves and made clay pots and filled buckets with water. The next time Elaine said something confusing, Stuart looked right through her and saw himself, quietly walking down a long dirt road with a bucket of water on his head.
My father got on a bus heading west and got off somewhere in Wyoming. Before being locked up in a small town jail, he wandered around like a crazy man, muttering and giving things away. The town preacher did some detective work, made a phone call. It’s hard to imagine my mother answering that preacher’s phone call and even harder to imagine her driving to the far South side to sit by her wild eyed husband, who threatened her as he reeled about in darkness. When I quietly accuse my mother of being obvious, I remember this stuff and stand corrected.
Mostly, when some vague, disconcerting tingle seemed intent on derailing his daily routine, Marvin would direct his efforts on “getting back in the saddle.” He often imagined himself facing a large, somewhat grim and stubborn horse, and he understood that his job was to get back on the horse even if the prospect seemed either foolish or dangerous or both. On this particular occasion, Marvin understood that his job was to refocus his attention on his wife, who had recently reminded Marvin that “she needed her needs to be met” and also that “listening was 80% of effective communication.”
As Marvin tried to listen, he couldn’t hear anything because his wife’s face seemed so suddenly unfamiliar. Had someone crept in and taken her place overnight? He remembered a ghost story that terrified him as a child, about a blind woman, a dripping faucet, and a dog who lived under the bed-- but it wasn’t actually the dog, see. The dripping faucet was really the sound of the hanging dog’s blood falling to the floor, drop by drop, and it was the warm, wet tongue of the dog killer that brushed against the old woman’s lonely hand each morning.
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