Monday, March 24, 2014

The Harms and the Goods

The Malaysian plane is not found floating in the Indian Ocean; there is no Gilligan’s Island.  A landslide in Washington State takes another hundred.  A super-athlete in South Africa is on trial for the murder of his girlfriend.  Mick Jagger’s girlfriend: also gone. 

A student in your morning class notices fresh red droplets on his paper and spontaneously calls out, “Is somebody bleeding!?”  You all look at him, hysterical in the moment. 

“Am bleeding!?” he cries.

We determine that the student is not bleeding, that the rest of us are okay, and then group-glance up at the ceiling in hopes of finding the source of what we think is blood.  There is no one bleeding from the ceiling, so we group-glance down and start trying to determine where the red drops came from. 

“I bet somebody shook a red pen and the ink came out,” somebody says. 

 “Yeah,” somebody agrees, “but for that you’d have to break it and shake it directly at the person.”

You in particular are interested in the spray pattern.  You remember the girl who sneezed earlier.  But time is up and class ends.  You all trudge out, looking back, wondering where the substance came from.

You go home and field an e-mail from your mom.  Your parents are downsizing from the family house to a handicapped apartment, a little early in the equation of life, but a job that needs to be done.  Mom is letting you know that she’s packed another special box for you, bubble-wrapping the delicates.  This box along with others, plus furniture, will be transported by you from Minnesota to Arizona sometime during the month of May in a U-Haul. 

The rule has always been that whatever gifts you gave to Mom and Dad, you get them back when they die.  You always lived away, so the presents you’ve bought have been small: a tiny leather saddle exquisitely made for a six-inch horse, sea fossil impressions without the sea.  Now, the rules are changed: your parents are not dying together.

You had forgotten about the wooden fruit until reading your mother’s note: “It will be hard for us to part with the wooden fruit in the wooden bowl, but we simply won’t have enough room in the new place for everything.”

You think back on your life with your parents.  You try to remember every gift-giving situation.  From you, there have been puppets and magnets, shirts and blankets, the occasional bit of art.  From them there have been guitar cases and a science kit, and always a room to call your own.

You can’t remember giving the wooden bowl of fruit.  You stick yourself with pretend needles and roll around in the basement of your heart: When did I purchase this gift?  Was it when I saw rotting fruit at their house in a Corelle bowl?  Was it that I wanted fresh fruit and they didn’t have any? 


You don’t often answer the door, and you think twice about it on Friday morning when the front bell rings.  You glance outside the windows from where you are pirouetted in the shadows to see your neighbor’s daughter waiting with her arms crossed.  You need to get out there.

“Hey, what’s goin’ on?” you say as you slip from the inside of your house to the outside. 

Neighbor Daughter points to a two-ton pillar in her front yard that has been tilted 45 degrees by a car smashing into it.  All you are thankful for is that you didn’t do it.  You walk over with Neighbor Daughter to inspect the scene of the crime.  She quickly points out the skid marks and the point of impact.  You were never a crime scene investigator yourself. 

You wish.

Not long after, you're leaning over the back cinder block wall because you hear two other neighbors visiting in the alley.  They’re talking about a truckload full of junk that was dumped in the alley behind the other guy’s house.  You lilt, “My neighbor’s pillar got hit too!”  Talk turns to crime in the area.  You go back inside.

You check in one last time with yourself, ticking off the harms and goods that were done throughout the day. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Check-Out Pioneer

Blueberries, blueberries, two for five, the little packages.  I could eat those and they would go good with bananas, but really how much time am I going to spend in the next five days eating fruit?  Why spend five dollars on a favorite item when if it wasn’t present, I wouldn’t miss it?

Sixty-five dollars…I can’t believe I’m getting out of a grocery store below a hundred.  I high-five myself in my brain.  I get carried away in the exhilaration of the moment and start paying attention to what’s going on around me.  I see that the grocery check-out pioneer is battling with the buttons.  There is nervous friction between her and the bagging pioneer.

“They changed the buttons over the weekend,” your check-out person says, smiling. “It’s slowing us down.”

“The only time I was let go from a job was when I couldn’t punch the buttons fast enough,” you say. “I was 18 or 19, selling pizzas, and for whatever reason I could not match the pizza to the button on the register.  The buttons were pre-destined to the pizzas, and I couldn’t make the match between the orders and the buttons fast enough.”

The most-fun part of that job was making the pizzas, from swirling the dough around to spreading the sauce on it to sprinkling the cheeses to distributing the toppings to making sure it didn’t burn.  Least-fun part of that job: the drivers.

You realize you’ve taken liberties with people’s attention spans again.  Next stop, Petco.

When is this place going to get sliding doors, when are they going to put the carts outside, why do I have to choose between a big cart and a small cart?  I am again lumbering in my thoughts when I see the guinea pigs being fed.  Their pack-like, kittenesque behavior softens me.  I push to the cat section for food, litter, and treats.  Having felt like the bushy-haired one-armed intruder for the better part of my life, I hope that nobody is watching me as I once again scope out the cat trees.  I have a ten percent coupon off everything and this one tree is exactly right.  I’ve been waiting for years for an elevated surface to share with my loved ones, but I never wanted to spend too much.

The manager—a tall, lively young man with crooked teeth and his own cats—helps you to utilize your expired coupon, taking ten percent off every item on your receipt, one by one.  Apparently, the check-out machines are now jinxed against the freewheeling use of expired coupons. 

I try to tip the manager five bucks after he helps me stuff my new inanimate object into the backseat of my car, backseat windows down.  He waves me off.  I feel like Leonardo DiCaprio wiping his nose in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?  Such a good run out of the stable, such a sorry finish.


It’s next week already, or tomorrow: you’re back at work, looking for a place to park.  You’re already out in the boondocks because you appreciate the walk and the little bit of nature you get on the way to your building.  You turn right too soon out of disconcentration, passing the empty “Employee of the Month” spot again.  You pass it every time you turn right too soon, but nobody ever parks there.