Sunday, March 02, 2014
Lost and Found
I can be a little absent-minded sometimes, and have been known to leave keys or notebooks behind me. That’s suddenly good for two stories. About time it paid off somehow.
I. About six months ago i came home from work, unlocked the front gate, came upstairs, unlocked the front door, put down my bag and picked up a load of laundry, hauled the duds downstairs, unlocked the garage and set up the washing, came back upstairs (possibly unlocking the front door one more time) - and after that I could not find my keys again. There have been times I’ve made my keys into my bed, dropped them behind a dresser or into a snowbank, squirreled them away in all kinds of thoughtless ways, but I never actually lost them. (Except for that time with the snowbank. Special case. Non-precedential.) This time, though… Days had passed and I hadn’t turned them up. It had gotten to the point that I couldn’t keep this embarrassing truth from Kel anymore. Since I couldn’t find my own keys I’d have to borrow hers every time I needed to use the car. Plus, the keys on our emergency keyring for the house didn’t open a couple of pretty important doors.
There was no escaping this reality. I had looked everywhere. I had to admit defeat and confess to Kel. She wasn’t happy but these things happen. She said she’d look too, and she’s a dead good searcher. She’d turn them up.
Kel looked everywhere. I mean everywhere. I looked too, again, for good measure. Still no keys. After they’d been missing for a couple weeks their absence started to chafe. We got a new set of housekeys cut, and made a date with the dealer to re-key the car - which turned out to be a shockingly expensive prospect. So we left no stone unturned, no drawer unopened, no jacket pocket unprobed in our last-minute desperation to avoid paying all that money to the dealer. But ultimately, the keys never turned up and we needed two working sets of car keys, so we spent the cash and both of us got a new key and clicker for the Soob.
So: Not long ago I was coming home from work, all these events well in the past and far from my thoughts. It had been an ordinary day and my mind was on my front stairs and my supper, in that order. I stuck my hand in the pocket of my trusty and well-worn overcoat and pulled out my keys, my new set, with my new housekeys and car key and fob and a bike lock key and my cool new multitool. Very handy. Given how much those keys cost me, I’m anxious not to lose them.
I thrust my other hand absently into my coat pocket. There’s that familiar grouping of keys and rings and multi-tool, forming a comforting pattern in my palm. My other palm. The keys are in my other palm. I’m looking at them I pull the other other hand out of my coat pocket. My other keys. The old ones. Back again. Inexplicably. Indisputably. I stared at them in disbelief. I’d worn this coat so many times, and checked it as it hung in the closet too. I couldn’t imagine how it had wound up harboring those missing keys, but clearly I’d discovered them at last. I decided to take solace in how, somehow, they hadn’t actually been lost. It sort of made up a little for having spent all that money. Very little.
II. As is my wont, I seem to have lost my damn memo book again. YES I checked my coat(s) and pants(es); YES I wrote my cell number in the book; NO no one has called about it. I don’t think there’s anything of unusual value in it; probably just a few writing prompts and a dna sample or two. Mostly it was full of blank pages, as I’d only recently started a new one. Maybe that’s a silver lining but it hardly feels that way.
But as I reconcile myself to this loss, I’m reminded of that chill autumn afternoon when I was the one who found a notebook someone else had lost. I was picking up my car from the shop, a supremely reputable establishment in an occasionally sketchy part of town. My walk from the bus stop led me through such a zone of sketch. One typical local establishment along this way is a rehab/jobs center, run by churchly folk. Their sidewalk often smells of lysol, but this particular day it just smelled like sidewalk.
As I passed, my eye fell on an object abandoned on a shallow brick ledge that ran along the front of the building - a spiral memo pad, pocket sized, partly used. That, as you might imagine, hit me where I live. A notebook - lost; a writer - bereft; a brotherhood forged, if I could close the circle and return the book and the genius it contained to its owner. I’d give him back his book and earn a friend for life, or so it briefly occurred to me. Even before I picked the notebook up, I suspected things might not go down exactly like that. Turns out that was disturbingly prescient phrasing.
I started by checking the writing on the cover - cheerful loopy script that suggested some familiarity with writing on non-paper media, like buses or buildings. No matter, penmanship is no respecter of intellect and I should know. So I delved in and read a little.
It didn’t take long to realize that everything written on the cover - all six or seven lines - were an homage to providing women with oral genital gratification. The author spoke with verve and a certain poetry, exploring his subject in detail and depth. In about seven lines. And this was just the cover of the notebook. Could it be a portent of things within?
I chose to believe that it was not. In this, I was approximately one billion percent wrong. Inside the notebook I found about a dozen scattered pages with writing on them, each - as I discovered as I innocently leafed among them - a further re-examination of the inexhaustible topic of how much this guy liked giving women oral sex. In many ways it was remarkable from a literary standpoint: he employed a wide range of fairly complex textual tools to construct a truly evocative rhapsody to clamdiving. It was obvious how deeply he was inspired, and his quick scrawling penmarks stood testament not just to proclivity but also to passion.
You might say the writing was somewhat one-dimensional, and I wouldn’t argue. A rather different question occupied my mind: I wondered - briefly - what to do with this gross notebook I was still holding at arm’s length there at 9th and Folsom.
Well, I just put it back down on that little brick ledge and I kept. On. Walking. I might meet this author someday, or I might not, but that notebook wasn’t going to be what brings us together. I figured I’d only disappoint him, anyway. You know how I hate doing that.
it was like this when I got here at 08:54 PM
mysteries of the modern world
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Monday, February 17, 2014
It was a beautiful day at the playground atop the hill. Around us, the city sparkled like a vast unmade bed of money. They boys enthusiastically attacked the climbing structures and sand pits. Eventually we came to a small spinning carousel, little more than a round plate on a rotor with two thick round bars curving up from either side, crossing in the center as a handhold. Given our familiarity with this playground, we all knew that this particular carousel happens to be unusually well-balanced, and can get going pretty fast if someone wants to put some effort into it. So that’s what I was doing - spinning the boys at high speed on the carousel - when another family approached.
Dad was slim, taller than average yet not quite tall, a man who seemed much at home tucking his cardigan into his pleated khakis. His boy was, perhaps, four, intrigued but a little tentative about my bigger boys spinning so fast. But he wanted on, so I slowed things down by grabbing at the bars as they zipped past. We invited him to board and I asked him to secure himself firmly to the device, because I was going to bring it back up to speed. He took an unorthodox stance, but well, the kid was game and his dad was right there, so I laid into my spinning.
I’ve developed a technique for whipping those spinny playground things around very efficiently, and I was using it to ramp up the RPMs good and plenty when the new kid lost his grip and tumbled to the rubber matting, rolling a few times before inertia finally took over. My pride at having ejected a preschooler from playground equipment was tempered somewhat by curiosity whether I’d injured the tyke, so I sidled to his side pretty much immediately to see how he was doing. Lucky for me he was a brave and tough kid who was looking for a way to overcome this adversity, so I encouraged him to keep breathing, to stretch and move the parts that took the brunt of the fall, and then showed him how to hold onto the carousel more securely. “Watch how J is doing it, he’s got his arms over the bars. He won’t fall off. Try like that.”
He tried like that and he didn’t fall off, even when I got the damn thing going quick enough to send J on a flyer himself. As he scrambled, grinning, back to the equipment, I stood back from my rotational labors and discovered that we’d been joined by grandpa. I guess he’d come over when the kid had gone airborne. His hair was grey and his body was trim; he was dressed casually like his son, but something in his posture was not really casual. I thought he might be more at home in some kind of suit. He seemed friendly enough - he just seemed like a guy who was used to being in charge of things.
We began with standard banter about nice weather and things going fine. Then he brought up the flying child incident. We talked about how the kid had tumbled, how he’d shaken it off, how I’d gotten him back on board with some tips. Through all this, grandpa stood at ease, but then he stepped forward with a twinkle in his eye. “I liked how you handled that. Like a regular D.I.”
He seemed to be letting me in on something but I had no idea what. He saw this, and his disappointment almost imperceptibly preceded my realization: Drill Instructor. He’d paid me one of the highest compliments a military man can offer, assuming I’d appreciate his meaning, assuming me to be a man who’d not just served in uniform but had been among the select few who train and hone our defenders. DIs are respected across branch lines and at all levels of rank. Their work demands strength, wisdom, authoritative bearing, and exceptional skills - both hard and soft. Only the very best are entrusted with their sacred duty.
This man saw me push his grandson a little past his limits, help him recover, put him back where he’d failed and show him how to succeed. Me - a shavepate with shoulders, posture, and a tan kepi. He didn’t just read military when he looked at me, he read DI. For him to have made that assumption, for it even to have entered his mind in the first place, this guy must have put in some significant time in uniform. A closer look - he was built like Petraeus. Petraeus is a beast. This guy could be anybody, but I felt pretty sure now I was looking at the ranking officer.
He watched as all this occurred to me, in the time it takes to sense one’s own inadequacy. I was no DI. I’d never even been trained by one. He’d made a mistake about me. He may have considered it a mistake about my very nature as a man. Still, his comment to me hung in the crisp morning air, answered in both our hearts yet still demanding some spoken response under the laws of social convention.
I stammered out some pabulum about kids and order and discipline. It was weak and we both knew it. Within a few moments the kids were hollering for more spins and I slunk off to do their bidding. Until then, however, those were some awfully awkward intervening moments. Eventually my boys scrambled away to new activities and I trailed lamely in their wake. We wound up over by the sand pits again. Some of the parenting there seemed a little detached to me, but at least I didn’t feel like I was letting anybody down.
it was like this when I got here at 12:13 AM
the story of my life (abridged)
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Thursday, January 23, 2014
The Spice of Life
This is one of those stories where, as I lived it, I was thinking, This’ll be a great story someday, when I’m done being all heebie-jeebied out by it. Consider yourself warned. Having been so, you’ll see this one coming a mile away.
Living as we do within four blocks of 2500 acres of parkland, we see the occasional critter and we know well enough that many more evade our ken. But a point arose several years ago when it was hard not to notice the beetles.
We would get periodic clusters, usually around the kitchen area, of little flying bugs with red-brown shells. They seemed inconsequential, though they were more alarming when we’d discover half a dozen or more at once. If the karo spilled (god forbid) we’d get a bunch of beetles stuck in it before we even noticed. And sometimes we’d get a full-on infestation with a veritable handful of them circling lazily around near the stove.
But that was as far as it ever seemed to go. Well, there was one unfortunate incident with a box of instant mashed potatoes, but generally the beetles seemed benign. Regardless, I knew enough of my Micrographia to know that even an adorable little bug is unspeakably grotesque once sufficiently magnified. I didn’t want those wee buggers floating around my kitchen. I certainly didn’t want them anywhere near my food.
It was a mystery to us where they were coming from. The oven vent? A secret crack behind the cabinets? Maybe the window over the sink? We mostly always saw them in our kitchen, but they didn’t seem to come out of anywhere in particular. We were scratching our collective heads. (Well, Kel and I were. Not the beetles. That I knew of.)
This was going on for a good long time - a year, eighteen months. Always with the little reddish-brown beetles gently hovering around the kitchen. I didn’t like it but they were starting to take on the nature of local color, something between a neighborhood fixture and a mascot. I had no reason to form a strong negative feeling toward the little reddish-brown beetles. That I knew of. Yet.
Proceed with me now, dear blogtrotter, upon a related diversion through our spice rack. Our spice rack has always been well-stocked, with all the classics and several specialty items. And because we shop in so many places, our spices are secreted within a cheerful miscellany of glass jars, plastic baggies, and colorful metal canisters and boxes. These last ones typically hold some kind of exotic product, usually a national specialty like Thai 5 Spice or Indian masala. And for a while we had a handsome tin of Hungarian paprika.
That Hungarian paprika in particular was pretty good stuff, and so much fun to use, with a big hefty tin full of blood-red powder, redolent of distant fields and hot summers and unimaginable lives… so much fun to use, I say, that I used that tin quite a lot. Yet it never felt like it was getting emptier. Our other spice jars needed to be refilled on a regular basis. Granted, the paprika tin was unusually large. But eventually I began to ask myself, would I ever finish it?
Curious about my headway into using it up, I stepped over to the spice cabinet, where a reddish-brown beetle or two buzzed around lazily, and I got out the familiar white paprika tin with the green and red lettering. The first bit of lid just folded back, revealing the shaker holes. I wanted to peel back this bit too, but the Hungarian manufacturing process was not intuitive to me - I needed to think and then work to get the whole lid off. Once I accomplished that, I just stared into the box for a few moments.
It was about one-third full of benign little reddish-brown beetles. They swarmed and scurried over each other, coruscating as they dug down past their brethren to the organic material remaining at the bottom of the tin. I couldn’t see heads or legs or anything animalistic; they just looked like smeared bbs, like spots of dried blood, like a bunch of identical seeds moving around in a little box. They were just a bunch of brownish bits. I had to remind myself that these were living, breeding, pooping creatures. In my paprika tin. That I frequently used. Up till then.
I replaced the lid securely on the tin and deposited it into the nearest garbage receptacle. Having found the source of our beetle problem, I was pleased to put an end to it. I also appreciated the excuse to get some new paprika. Finding a colony of insects living in mine didn’t put me off of the flavor. Honestly, I barely even got retroactive heebie jeebies after all. I was just glad finally to have gotten to the bottom of the situation. It wasn’t so much hunter’s pride I felt when I disposed of the parasites, as the satisfaction of knowing that they were no longer outsmarting me.
it was like this when I got here at 10:44 PM
mysteries of the modern world
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