If the care she took in any other of her daily obsessions equalled that she took to ensure that her pedestrian pleasures would be undiscovered upon the unforeseen circumstances of her death, she’d be getting a lot more done at work. This much was for sure.

Every day prior to leaving the office, she’d empty the history and cache from her web browser, perform a hard delete of any emails that might have come from blogs or social networks or ex-boyfriends or whose contexts were not self-explanatory and open to incriminating interpretation. She’d search her computer for any file modified that day and ensure it met the quality standards she’d set for those likely to ply an executor’s course. Even her most trivial of sundry thoughts had to be ready for consumption; she had nothing to Will away, so to speak, so leaving only the fledgling dusting of genius for the off-chance of an aneurysm or wayward bus or crazed gunman seemed the least she could do to help her loved ones carry on without her. If she’d made any rote, unimpressive purchases that day, the receipts were disposed of in a bin on the corner two blocks away from her office, just in case a crime was involved and immediately surrounding environs searched. It wasn’t that she was doing anything to be ashamed of, nor that she thought her death imminent; she didn’t spend her day participating in pornographic websites, nor was she hiding drug habits or paramours or plastic surgery. But event still: her would-be bereaved would not be left to interpret her life’s worth through the poetic mystery of a slip evidencing a lunchtime burrito or box of tampons. Her expectations of their expectations of her were rigged high enough that even three sheets in and twice the feet under, the paint on her figurehead would be nowhere near flaking.

And so she covered her tracks of any trace of mundanity, with as much assiduity as she could remember. One could die in any number of ways, of course. No trip to the restroom was safe from even a cursory cleaning: if her death was discovered in the style of Elvis, all bets on propriety were off, but at least she could do her part to ensure that this wasn’t the extent of their memories of her. Hell, she could die right here at her desk, a heart attack or anxiety-derived stroke from endless clients nattering on about endless missed deadlines, most likely. She could easily spend her entire day deleting cache as she went, erasing these morsels the instant they were lived.

When he left, years ago, in unforeseen circumstances beyond his control, circumstances that would have her stop and make tracks into which she might then freeze, he left documented proof of the sleaze-and-charlatan history of their relationship, from a web history containing no shortage of tits and ass all the way up to the snatched and endlessly repurposed mad-lib rendering of surrealist love poetry. “To my woman with her sun-glazed hair, With her thoughts like heat lightning;” was the known version delivered to her in their happier times, where “coal-painted” turned up to describe the locks used to woo a predecessor, and “wheat-kissed,” god knows who that was. He hated blondes, he’d said, and nothing she was left to clean up provided evidence to the contrary. The women “added as a favorite” on his most frequented sites were mostly redheads, or rather “sun-kissed,” largely sharing her looks if one paused in just the right place. She supposed this could be seen as flattering, in the right light, whatever that was supposed to be.

There were also the Build a Better Vocabulary books, piles of them, stacked surreptitiously behind VHS cassettes behind winter sweaters on the above-eye-level shelf in a full-to-capacity and rarely-used closet, and discovered months after the not-unextensive perusal of his left embarrassments. They, too, could be perceived as touching, if the prior year “together” provided her with anything to corroborate the remotest possibility of such. He’d been rightfully accused of plenty, and his (misguided) efforts to speak the nuances of her language were just a part of his marketing strategy. It was impossible to say how or where or with what dime he’d procured them, though his use of them was the white noise of that thing she could now barely define as a romance. She assumed he’d learned them on the internet (only after discovering what he’d really been learning, to mild amusement), and delivered them on the spot, marching out of his room to drop an accusation of “obeisance to staid cultures” then stammering his way flush-cheeked through an answer to a follow-up of “what are you talking about, exactly?” She had never been good at bait-taking, and would be long dead otherwise. But there it was, a year later, an afternoon planned for packing and wasted instead to a curious thumbing through this new discovery. Page 68, yellow highlighter: obeisance. Page 106: perpetuate, used maybe four months prior to his departure: “you perpetuate every stereotype I know of.” She could write a new build-a-vocabulary book out of his usage, which would probably be both more entertaining and less demanding on the highlighter, but then he would have accused her of being “a puerile gimmick of a writer” and not even she had the metatextual capacity to pull that off.

She also didn’t have quite as many embarrassments of riches to worry about in the event of her departure from this world or even this life, but still, didn’t want to take the chance. After all, a short treatise admitting viewership of a dancing cat video would do nothing without her accompanying analysis. And her newer mate, new in relativist terms only, for he’d outlasted the others by at least double, had enough material to provide her an afterlife of humiliation, if either of them were to believe in such a thing. But we don’t believe in any of the sort, so here, before she departs and to spare her any further retentive digital cleaning, are the things that send her into fits of deletion:

• She occasionally will go on a game of Wikipedia Clicking that leads to unsavory or impolitic places, including the biography of Mussolini and the page, with a vector-rendered illustration, of the sexual practice of Pegging (in which she has never partaken and surely you could see how that might dent the memory of her)
• She visits often (twice daily) an online memorial for the best dead friend she hopes ever to have. It’s been a few years now, so comments are spare, but you never know.
• Likewise, she visits the personal blog of a long-long former boyfriend, though she has no interest in him, nor anything he writes about, which generally involves incidents from his own life poetically juxtaposed with scenes from the Star Wars trilogy (the original trilogy; not the new ones).
• She’ll watch music videos of songs she’s sure not to like, mostly by various pop princesses, just on the off-chance she finds herself on the receiving end of a lecture on how the autotuned-to-the-brink voice of the minute is really “the voice of the twenty-first century.”
• To wean her brain off of whatever catchy melody embeds itself from that last point, she’ll then glue herself to a David Bowie song, or sometimes Paul Verlaine, which itself is nothing to red-facedly delete before every trip to the restroom, but for god’s sake, a new narrative could be written for her if you knew she’d played it fifty times straight.

Finally, she penned a fiction that divulges all of this in the third-person, so that, if the Massive Coronary Event of the Century occurred when she was halfway through the Wikipedia article on tribbing with the China Girl video on repeat in a separate browser window, it might be inferred that this was all research for the novel she was most assuredly writing. She wouldn’t say hello to her own end until this task was finished; this was the only thing she was sure of, or so she said. But how could I believe her, knowing how far she was going to prove me wrong?

It was the sort of still-unexplained occurrence of hens being pelted by their own eggs pelted fresh daily from the sky, scrambling minds by the dozen. A twist of fate, the papers called it, though I think professional papermakers could’ve come up with better. Every day since we ran into him (and I would say “literally” ran into him, as we were running (away from what don’t ask), but at this point, ice-enshrined as it was, it’s not quite accurate to refer to him as a “him.” Not inaccurate either, but there is no in-between accuracy and in-, as far as I know). I watch where I’m headed, watch the things and theys and its I might otherwise run into, and most definitely keep an eye to the skies so that I don’t end up frozen and torn to shreds and eventually behind a glass case. So far I keep my helmut fastened, and it’s been okay, except for all the cursing.

They think he might have been sacrificed to the gods, which is unlikely because there’s no umlauting any god I’ve ever known, even if war almost broke out over the chance discovery of this peculiar bit of jerky.

That’s insensitive, I know. He might have been somebody’s father, or somebody else’s lover. The first time I mentioned this, Erika joked that he might have been father and lover to the same person, which I found beyond insensitive. Still, she said, in that culture, in that era, all things were possible. That they might not share our modern bourgeois disdain for such relationships. That I should be more open, less quick to the draw with my ridicule.

She’s right, of course.

Not only was there no reward for the sort of discovery that changes the way we think about ourselves back then, but when we go to pay him a visit (and we visit him sometimes; he’s family, inasmuch as an “it” can be family. It’s family.) When we do, we’re at the back of the line, and our cash is tilled with everyone’s. We’re Frankensteins, made inconnu by our own disclosure. But don’t tell Erika that; she’s seen too many movies and still think it’s the monster.

Others think it was an act of vengeance, that he (it) was a killer (I’d say “cold-blooded” killer but given the circumstances, Erika would definitely consider that insensitive).

You should have seen him, though, just floating there, head-down in the ice, in a position not so different from my own the night before at the bar. We had no idea what we’d run into, at the time (“what” we’d run into, that’s more accurate): what we’d literally run into. Or rather, actually, what I’d run into; he was trotting, or maybe even walking, but I was at full-speed, really just to get the cold air into those deep bronchial crevasses you rarely remember are there, when I, I admit it, I tripped right over him, it, he who hadn’t been him for, what, five thousand years, if you can count that far. Almost as long as the world’s even been here, if you trust the lunatics.

We don’t trust the lunatics. We do, though, trust carbon dating. And our own two feet, whose relations by definition with the things they trip over are intimate.

Collectively, it would be our four feet, of course, though it was my own individual two feet, or more precisely, my one left foot, that did all the tripping.

The scientists, some time after they admonished us for chipping his hip, but before he was sent museum-ward, also found him infertile (who knows how they discovered that one in a specimen that old). And so of course, there are those who think this had something to do with it, that he was put out of the tribe for being irreproducible, if you can believe that. But at that altitude, you can’t blame a man for eschewing the need to breed. I can’t imagine you’d have it any other way if you were full of worms. Basic contrarianism will only take you so far when you’re just teeming over with parasitic phalluses competing with the one you’re trying to keep warm enough to rise. Erika doesn’t understand these things, by anatomical nature. I doubt the scientists do either.

It would be understating to say we were criticized for hacking away at him (or rather, it), but how were we to know what we were dealing with? We thought he could still be saved, even nicked-hipped. It’s what you do with the frozen. You get them out of their hole. (I’m tempted to say “smoke them out of their hole” but we’re in friendly territory, even if the strangers did steal the clothes off his back, which wasn’t much of a back by the time we were through with it). And anyway, it would also be understating to suggest that finding him was a sort of key to our understanding of human history. What I found was just history.

Of course, most of the time, when we’re at the bar we’ll talk about it; how could you not? And we get to the part of the mystery of it all and people will roll their eyes and huff that “maybe that arrow in his shoulder had something to do with it?”

And those people would be right to wonder, even if they could use a little sensitivity training. Although again I’d ask how they knew, being that most of them had never been backed up against similar circumstances.

I’ve never heard a saying about judging a man’s intelligence by the quality of his footwear, only the one about walking a mile. But if there is a saying about judging a man’s intelligence by the quality of his footwear, it would apply here, without fail. Either he was no ordinary cobbler’s son, or his other half was something of a foot fetishist, by the looks of things. His feet had the soles of a bear, or at least, the skin of a bear on his shoes. When the ice is running, I suppose your only chance at outrunning it is to be dressed like them, or at least, ursinishly warm.

The most explosive word is that he was hit by debris falling from some unidentifiable point from the cosmos. Maybe even from the back. Maybe even with enough force to drive one of the arrows shoulder-ward from his back-saddled quiver. If that happened, we must assume that he didn’t know what hit him. Erika always reminds me that we can’t really assume anything and that queueing up with the public to visit him is living proof of this. To that I remind her that he’s family, and if we can’t assume it, we can at least hope he was knocked out cold, hit so hard on the back to sandwich him deep into the crevasse, so hard that he never felt a thing. And then, we cinch up our helmets, and keep a cautious eye up.

Flaming Harpie

November 8th, 2010

A nameless woman roars down the block carrying what can only be assumed to be the glassy glare at the root of her tectitic fit.

It wasn’t the frenzy itself that was unexpected so much as the size of her wails, and she kept it up so long, and it made her so hot, we were afraid she’d be reduced to a molten goo, so we fanned her flames until she pinkened down. At least, we hoped she was pinkening down. We hoped it wasn’t wishful coral-colored thinking on our part. We’ve already got too many pieces scattered about. We need her in one piece, at least until we clean up the mess we’ve already made.

As we said, this wasn’t unexpected, not entirely. We made a point of staying up late to watch the meteor shower, which was actually more like a hailstorm. And when Jeanne wanted to know why we couldn’t watch it on television, or at the very least from inside and through the window so we wouldn’t get hit, the rolling of our eyes was almost reflexive. That’s no way to catch one if it gets lost, and it’s definitely no way to locate the baubles that might make their way down here. It’s worth the risk, and besides, even if you do get some in your eye, it doesn’t hurt for long.

That’s what we told her, anyhow, and it got us through the night, though this morning’s scene didn’t help our case much. We all kept close watch on this smoldering harpie, still toeing the line between hoping and imagining while waiting for her to go the way of salmon, fleshily speaking. Her forehead started to go first, the purplish receding, we were sure of it now, retreating into something a little closer to human, if it wasn’t, of course, that humans shouldn’t be able to smoke quite so much. But regardless, there was no end to the speculative attempts to convince each other until her forehead made the decision for us, and our eyes were ashamed of themselves for having rolled the way they did. Jeanne was with us, of course, and is a stand-up gal, though we know we owe her an analogy. No, we owe her an apology. Or at the very least, an explanation. Or a piece of pretty black glass, if we ever find one again. And if we don’t find any, next time, we won’t be so pink-obsessed and we’ll let the flames die themselves down. It’s what happens when you play with stars, and not our place to stop it. We’ll let the pretty lady go to pieces.

King of the Sly

February 3rd, 2010

The remarkable thing wasn’t even the unmistakably canine discovery of the machine, or the sounds that came with it, the huffing and wuffing and remarkable amalgam of sounds produced by lipless salivating. Nor was the remarkable thing the four preceding unmistakably canine discoveries that weren’t accompanied by owners attentive enough to follow suit, sniffs unrealised, dragged away from discovery by the impatient or ignorant or tasked for time. Well, actually, these were all remarkable, if Sly were to be trusted, but trusting Sly on matters such as this is akin to trusting a common housefly to be discerning in its taste for shit, which is an admittedly crass way of suggesting we just don’t.

But to the common housefly as to our quite uncommon Sly, this was presently the furthest thing from the frontal lobe. He sat perched, his posture made horrific with his focus and his hands cupping earphones to make sure the real world didn’t run interference on his listening pleasure. His was the portrait of trancelike assiduity of the kind expected from brain surgeons and rocket scientists, not underpaid professor’s assistants, and he wasn’t even sure what he was listening for. The Professor had left a note asking him to spend time overhearing public conversations and make note of outbursts, with no further enumeration, and before he set the tape into motion, he’d carefully mapped out on grid paper a list of the basics: he would make a note of conversational laughter, random expectoration, shouts, infant cries, bursts of song, whistles, cries for help, sweeping romantic gestures of swooniness, coughing jags, and volcano eruptions or related natural events. The plan was to listen clear through, make a time code note for each occurrence of each event, and tally them all up at the end. Maybe bind it up in a nice folder if the report extended to multiple pages, or pull out the highlighting markers and turn the entire thing into a take-me-seriously chart. The Nagra was his idea too, so that he wouldn’t be made a slave to the speed of his own handwriting, and convincing Flax to let him surreptitiously snag it for a day (his idea), and, of course, leaving it unattended so that he could be sure his presence wouldn’t affect the results in any way (nothing short of brilliance, if you ask him). He was thinking like a scientist, thinking like someone important doing important work for a professor, thinking like a guy made of higher thinking itself. Or at least this is what he’d thought before his ears were covered and his pen positioned ready and at the grid and ready to make its mark. But when the tape was threaded and the play button pressed, a different story was told, and so he sits, transfixed, with not a mark to be made.

What he was discovering, were he able to clear the fog from his own purview and make any kind of real-time sense of it, was that when measured in purely auditory terms, everything was an outburst. All of it. The wind. A shuffled step passing by. The flop of a tired body hitting the bench, or the grace of a more active one placing itself there. The feet of a trained runner hitting the walkway at something like five-Gs as they burst by the input center from right channel to left, and those of a late-for-worker hitting just as hard, but with the not-to-be-mistaken thud of a loafer. The babble of a baby accompanied by the screech of a stroller and, barely trailing, the military clip of a mother’s pumps, or were they the nanny’s? The hit of soda can in garbage pail, and the sniff of a dog to the recording input. He wasn’t making romantic gestures about the entire business: this wasn’t a moment of transcendental elevation, nothing hippie about it at all, matter of fact. Just the general wowishness of amplification and clarity of specific sounds, maybe with a tinge of confusion for what to do with his grid-papered cross-purposelessness. And with the echo of every last, he made his way through the entire eight-hour recording, including the muffled bits (as evidently one of the canine explorers had decided to take a warm respite on the machine’s top), without once coming up for air, and only now, in a dark-circle daze and in need of coffee, he barely makes his way to the outer circles of doors on this new mission when he passes Flax checking back in for the day and making his way to his own perch.

“You doing a double shift or something? How can you be back already?”

“Never mind that. What are you still doing here? Must’ve been something great on that tape.”

“Incredible things. Need caffeine and a re-view to take it all in. If it weren’t confidential I’d let you listen. One day, when it’s published. Want anything from the outside?”

“Never want anything from the outside. Hence here I am.”

“Well.”

“Right.”

Which was about as much conversation as these two were capable of summoning that wasn’t directly on the topic of homemade take-up reel extenders or their latest plans for new SNR measuring techniques. Good thing he didn’t actually apply any of these techniques for his radio hoedown yesterday. And had that all happened yesterday already? Well, sure, at least, according to the altered states of gracelessness of his every nerve after so much time spent awake, and so much of that waking time spent seated nearly immobile and auditorily engaged in a world not his own. Now, with the breeze (whose sound when not on the skin was nothing more uplifting than luctisonus) waking him up just enough to begin to process what he’d been privy to, he made his way to the corner deli and back, then decided on a walk round the block in hope of kicking his legs back into motion while assembling and replaying a sort of greatest highlights reel as best as he could from memory.

The most memorable to recap in great detail were the conversations, and he’d positioned the recorder at just such an angle to capture distinct voices as well as their positions on the benches, and, the more he listened, the angle at which information was lobbed back and forth. There were outbursts in almost all the conversations, but nothing like what he’d been anticipating to track on paper. In what would be the most scandalous were this a small enough town to recognise others by voice alone, two women, young and educated (or, he allowed himself in a wisp of longing, being educated at this very university, which wasn’t so unlikely, given proximity and the hour, which he’d have to confirm but which could well have been one of the scheduled breaks between class hours). Two young women sharing a hushed conversation, the one on the left (the left when seated, not when standing in front of the bench, “bencher’s left,” as he’ll now refer to it) speaking through obviously labrose lips, while the one on the right – on the bencher’s right – had the higher pitch to her voice and a slight lilt that she’d learned to mask over what must have been a decent number of years, and after their requisite exchange of hiyas and hellos, he’d recreate the exchange from memory as follows:

Left: Did you tell Doug yet about the thing you bought?

Right: What thing?

Left: That thing you bought. The thing the came from the shop in the Mission?

Right: Oh no, I don’t think I’m going to tell him about it. It’s embarrassing.

Left: Well, you could always suggest that it’s something you bought for the two of you to use together.

Right: Actually, no. I don’t want to use it with him, not after the thing with the fruit.

Left: You still haven’t gotten over that? It’s a phase – you’ve got to let it go.

Right: Well, I know. It’s complicated. Anyhow, I gave it a try last night – without the thing, I mean. I even bought a bottle of wine. That stuff I drank at your house that one time, that I liked so much and that warmed me right up. Mer Lot? [Note that this, were it Sly’s transcription from a mental recollection, would be drawn out as pronounced, with obviously bisected phonetic syllables and even an obvious pause between the two]

Left: Right, Merlot. But how’d it go?

Right: We got caught up in studying and forgot to drink it.

Left: Oh honey, listen. Just buy a really smooth record, something with a little jazz to it, something that makes you snap your fingers or groove just a little, you know? Put it on, open the wine, and let it happen. Maybe even, here’s an idea, warm yourself up for a few nights with the new toy, you know, by yourself? Get yourself in the mood before you go all-in.

Right: What? New toy?

Left: The thing you bought? I can’t believe you’ve pushed it this far back into the subconscious. Weren’t we just reading about this?

Right: Oh, right, that. It’s just I’m so tense lately. And the fruit, I know, I should get over it. But you should have seen it. And it’s such a shame– I mean, I like him so much. I should just go for it. Do you want to go record shopping?

He would really have to make a note to check out the psych classes. And women really bought those things! He’d always assumed it was something men bought for their women, or to, well, to test certain things for their own selves risk-free. Or, on their own selves, he supposed. In their own selves? But now – anyway! One ten-minute conversation on a bench, and all was straight in his head, or relatively straight. Or perfectly straight, as far as this one very specific slice-of-life was concerned.
And this example only barely scratched the itch of what he now knew after one cold listen. He turned the corner and made his way back through to the insides of the doors, ready to give the tape another whirl. After he stopped in for a pee, which at this point, was at the very top of his must-do-right-this-second list.

Rantula

December 22nd, 2009

There’s food just ahead, but failing to find a faithful thread, we tread delicately.

You go first, telling me to step where you step (it’ll be safer for you that way, you say), but I wanted you to hold my hand instead. I don’t mention this to you (I’m hungry), and although I could have just swung over on my own, I don’t want a fight, so sure, he can take the lead for now.

We do pass a week-old morsel on the way over. You pretend not to see it, and I can’t be sure if you saw me tuck it between my cheeks. Surprisingly empathic of you!

You asked “Does it titivate you when I leave out my tittle?”

What sort of a question is that? If we had more time, we’d not forget the tittle. But we’ve only got, what, another twenty minutes, max, and I may be greedy, but I’m not insensitive.

Then later, “What should I do here?”

Again, a masterfully futile question. Everyone knows East must win and concede a fatal ruff-sluff. But I’m tolerant, and explain it to you without the jibe. But you still don’t get it, and I have to repeat myself. And I hate repeating myself. Hate, hate, hate repeating myself.

But I do. I repeat myself. I’m patient, and you eventually get it. I’m glad.

At nights we like to spoon up, like everyone, I suppose, though neither of us can actually sleep like this—there are simply too many legs between the two of us. So after our post-rompous squeeze, we both pretend that we’ve long dozed off, and both silently sigh when one of us musters the mettle to turn over.

In the morning there’s food again, but this time it’s an easy path over, and we head there side by side, but still you don’t think to hold my hand, and although the trek is a safe one, you could have been more thoughtful. And I’m hungry again – not quite as desperately so, but you take the first bite this time. You ask again the same questions on the bridge, and again I repeat myself, and that night, you don’t even pretend that we can fall asleep with our legs in natty bundle, and you roll straight over. And it’s then I realize that this web ain’t big enough for the two of us.

Slimy Sculpin

November 15th, 2009

“I know exactly where I think we are.”

The “we” mentioned here was, to the rest of us, a he. To him, Sly Skulpin, the self-muttered “we” could have been a royal inflection, or the work of something more classically known as psychotic. Mental health notwithstanding, his utterance was directed outward, at the municipally kept fields, the dog-friendly ravines, and especially the benches, as he tore through the park in search of something that was, if not identifiable to those of us outside the “we,” was at least (and this much without a doubt), misplaced.

How many benches can one park have, anyway? In the case of this one, the answer was rapidly approaching the uncountable, or so it seemed to him (or, as the case may be, them). Whatever it was he’d misplaced was obviously identified by landmark of bench alone, without regard for the fact that there were an uncountable number of same-seeming benches in this park. The park offered no shortage of more identifiable landmarks, as large city parks are wont to do, with nicely woodcut signs offering bucolic trail names and you-are-here maps at every intersection, but whatever it was Sly was hunting with increasing anxiety had been positioned “just behind a bench, just right of center from the bench-sitters’ perspective.” If prodded, he might add, not without a fair amount of reluctance “I hid it beneath some leaves. Hid it pretty well, actually.” And then “I’ll find it. How many more benches do we still have to check out?” Another one of those unanswerable questions, or at least with an answer it’s best not to think about. Best to just scramble onward.

And he was nothing if not a professional at the finer points of scrambling, which, come to think of it, is not unlikely as the source for the tourettics now on display. It went on like this, then, keeping a wildman’s fixated mix of determination/detachment while finishing what he suspects to be the first complete round of the park, then, as he had initially ploughed in with no actual system, making a second pass in what, to our eyes, might be mistaken for “order.”

No luck. Gone. He had, perhaps obviously, left behind a surreptitious audio record device, a nice one, fancy, and most importantly, hot his, hoping to do a little spontaneous field research, nothing peeping-tomish. And enumeration like “nice” and “fancy” is no joke – miniature tubes, electric motor, rugged and durable, top-of-the-line in both quality and cost, which, if adjusted for inflation to today’s dollar, would amount to a whole damned lot. He’d supported it gently on the grass behind, well, the bench, and covered it thoroughly with surrounding leaves, which seems the sensible thing to do, if there was any sense at all in leaving high-end commercial electronics to spend a day in a city park unattended.

Ruled by his own obligarchy, then, both the obligation to find it and that not to get himself good and fired, he circled back a third time, this time asking questions. “Have you seen anybody in the park with a brand new, although slightly leaf-covered, potentially, Nagra?” Wasn’t garnering him much; bemusement at best, and at worst (from those whose ears were unfamiliar with the brand might mistake it for a term of far more offense) righteous contempt. He tried another approach, this time with importunate need for sympathy. “I don’t suppose you’ve seen a very large but portable reel-to-reel audio recorder? I left it in the park earlier today, you see, just behind a bench, but it’s gone now. I can’t believe that anybody would have taken it. It’s just unlikely. Unbelievable.”

If anybody had seen anything, or even had sympathy to give, they were holding out. A dejected slump on an indistinguishable bench, with face hard in hands, led him to perk his ear – surely, this would be right about the time the tape went out, and if nature’s irreducible randomness had taught him anything, it was that the thing would click just as he was on the verge of giving up. He listened for the audible click of the end of the tape. Nothing. He moved on to the next bench. Sat, this time with dejection marred by the slightest hope. Nothing, of course. Got up, circled the bench and tried it again, toning down the verisimilitude. No. Next bench, same scene and now, of course, this was nothing short of a medial digit raised to fate itself. If despair had been affected in the slightest up to now, he wasn’t coming up short now. It was well after he’d stopped counting benches, which itself was at around thirty, that he crossed to the far side of the park when he saw it, in all its metallic majesty, overstuffing a wire garbage can by a lot, and as far as he could tell, as he approached and embraced it with the fervour of a newly returning long-parted lover, unscathed except for a popsicle stick stuck to a side and the butt of what was unmistakably (in appearance, locale, and era, so much so that he didn’t have to add olfactory validation) a marijuana cigarette. “Groovy,” which he registered immediately as the most uncharacteristic word to have escaped his lips, and which he vowed hereafter not to let happen again, although the thought of the machine’s adventure made him actually bend an arm and stroke it where it might, if fully anthropomorphed, sprout hair. It was getting dark, so he cut short the happy homecoming and took closer inspection: the tape was still rolling, with another fifteen feet of reel left, tops. Not without some display of reverence, he placed it onto the ground and let it run its course, still not quite believing his luck or losing himself in a scenario replay of the machine’s travels. He stood over it until the familiar click, then gathered it again and hoofed it, double-time, back to the studio. He might just make it back unnoticed.

If there’s one good thing about working for a university, and there’s at least one good thing about just about anything, it’s that the environment seems to be closed all the time to some people, and open all the time to others. Our Sly was just such an Other, given to maddening hours lost to his own ears, and for him, the door was always open, proverbially if not in a way that prevented him from juggling the thing on a hip while navigating various handles, each going deeper behind veneers from the world at large. The thing was portable, true, but that didn’t make it handle-able. He hipped it to the last door, that of the audiovisual studies department just as Flax was ready to clock out, as was evidenced by the other identifying badge of academia at the time: the one-shoulder-slung backpack and the underarmed textbook of one’s most opposite-sex-attracting course.

“To tell you the truth, I’m a little shocked that you got it back. If anyone else worked here, I’d have bet against it, in fact. Uh, Sly? It’s a little sticky here.”
“Oh, sorry about that. Vanilla ice cream, I think. Maybe a little fudge-like stuff. Should come right off with a cloth, but I took the best care of it.”
“Sly, the bottom’s covered in wet leaves.”

Introducing Sly Skulpin, just the sort of guy who’d completely forget the underside of things. “Some field stuff, you know how it goes. Instructions came straight from Professor Vinnie himself. It’s just leaves, right? No big deal?”

“Do I really need to remind you of the fact that I lent this to you completely off the books?” Then, after not many seconds, “Right, I really do.”
Of course he does. This is the secret of Sly Skulpin’s survival. Or one of them, anyway.

Having removed the reel, deleafed as well as he was capable of, and retreated with the tape to the Professor’s after-hours office, which doubled now as his own pad, the Professor being of the always-closed style of the academe, who kept his mandatory office hours in a coffee shop in a gross effort of juvenilia, and who performed real office-related tasks god knows where. Sly, on the other hand, used the office for all but the most menial of university-related tasks. It was upon its mirrors that his pick-ups were practised, and on its typewrites that his screed scrawled. An inspiring place, and, given that it was entrusted as his own, and he, therefore, as a surrogate professor in his own right, it was his to lose. The entire place, freakishly, was his to lose, and now, looking at the recovered tape before him, he had, for the first time all day, a sense of what that loss could do to a guy.

He dipped deep within the well of his self-restraint to find the patience required not to spool the reel immediately, and instead, in deference to his afternoon’s ordeal, gave a second of cerebral hat-tip to it. It had been discovered, despite his thoroughness at concealment. How? Prima facie, it could have been someone walking a dog. Dogs are born for trouble, and it’d be just like one to dig it up as treasure to an unsuspecting owner. Anything else it could be? Though most people aren’t likely to walk behind the benches, it couldn’t be ruled out. Someone could have tripped over it, and god only knows what sort of twang –that- might leave embedded on tape. What else? A homeless person, someone living in the park, who knows its leaf patterns well enough to have immediately seen through even his remarkable camouflage? Not impossible. Someone following him, who dug it up immediately after he retreated from eyesight? But the greater question was, who would go through the effort of exhumation of something of obvious value only to pitch it with indifference at what, he was now certain, was the exact opposite end of the park? This meant toting forty pounds of equipment (with a moving audio reel at the top) at least three hundred yards. Not a task for those lacking in intrepidity. He’d almost thought a reenactment hopeless when it occurred to him that of course, it was staring him down: everything he needed (and then some, to be sure) would be right here on tape.

Recision

August 10th, 2009

A little habit for the excursive kept Adele cuffed to the checkout of her own free will, where an admitted bout with trivial compulsions kept her in a known place all day for a pittance in pay. At least she wasn’t lost these days when emerging from her fog, always waking up welcomed by the comforting flicker of the barcode reader. And with so much to do and so many to see, chances had slimmed of falling into her derelict daze, and that wouldn’t be missed. She was on her way, one jar of organic cashew nut butter at a time.
Right, organic. It wasn’t your paper-or-plastic sort of market, not for our Adele. She’d thought, smartly, that the health-food co-op type might be met with those more understanding of her condition. These were the slow-food movers, those born of social politeness and understanding (or an affect theretoward), those for whom a lack of speed is an appreciated sign of the meticulous, the thorough. And so, at a pace later described in the language of the painful or interminable, Adele’s mind went off on its own while she scanned labels and zipped credit cards for endless lines of reluctant shufflers. Only the children were candid enough to express impatience; the moms generally preferred knowing glances, shifting weight, and on occasion, crossing into the express line, where their exceeded purchase limits were tacitly ignored with the barest of sideward tilts. And those who deigned to wait became proud and masterful time biders, with countless minutes, some considering themselves waiting artists while others beam with the social nobility of an almost medieval ability to tarry. Adele scanned while they waited for as long as she could see through her mental brume, and when she couldn’t, by this time those who might take notice were ensconced in these fantasies. It worked for them all.

The afternoon’s reverie was snapped just in time for the mathematical quandary the likes of which’d put hair on your crest, as Adele’s aisle’s belt was loaded with wild rolling locally grown Mcintosh apples (whose price she could never remember). They have to be weighed, and with apples it’s always a delicate process, with they always threatening to roll right off the scale and she trying to make absolutely certain not to try and check their balance as her fingers added weight to the scale and sauced the whole procedure. It was hard enough with one or two of these rolling daggers, but she was looking at thirty, forty apples at least, and was just far enough out of her fog to wonder what this lady planned to with such quantities of deep-skinned delicacy. A decision would have to be made here, the sort whose paucity here was a condition of her gainfulness. Willing her uncertainty out of existence, glancing twice, no, three times, at the patron and uttering a mental Caveat Emptor, she began the most delicate procedure of lining up apple after apple on the belt, apples so fresh their sugars could be smelled through their skin and even through even the hemp candles and tabouli take-out that generally pervaded the joint (or maybe it was just her imagination because situations like these lend themselves to heightened, if not trustworthy, sensory engagements). So, sensorily here but lacking in aquacity, she continued lining them up on the scale, barely breathing and hoping the others were too, focused to the point of chesty perspiry, and once the bottom of the scale was full, carefully, she began a second row, slightly wobbly at times but structurally sound, she’d determined. And when the second row was complete, she affected the work of the ancients and created a third tier to her pyramid, this time with the weight of clearly shifty patrons building quite the queue, an admixture of the restless and the awe-struck, and when she finished this third story, the to-stack pile was down to five reasonably sized fruits. And while sleight of hand wasn’t her trick, she knew her tower of apple well enough to shift around a few blocks and add one of the free-floaters to the third layer for perfect-squared support, leaving her just enough for a fourth story and a topper. One of those attention-getting expectorations from somewhere down her line brought her back just as her palming hand was positioning the fruit about half an inch from its resting place, which means, of course, that focus was broken, the apple stirred, and her own hand unsteadied, forbidden from finishing its task at hand. And all this meant was that the whole stack, of what was now well-established as fifty five brilliant deep red bits of luxury priced fruit, came tumbling off the scale, over the belt, striking knees, children, carts and baskets of those rendered silent by their rounded open mouths.

There was no apology necessary, the manager had later noted by interruption of her usual self-recrimination. Everyone is accepted here. “But you must be more careful with the fruit, Adele.”

Hide and Pique

May 12th, 2009

Manny the boy slinked inside after a particularly rough day at school, checked the house twice to make sure his mother wasn’t yet home from work, then got to work himself. It had been nearly two weeks since he’d come to the realization, with crazy sweaty-palmed chiromantics, that the secret he’d kept closely guarded from the maid had somehow gotten misplaced. It was time he found it already. He slinked himself onto the sofa and asked of his brain – come on, tell me, what did you do with it – he would whinny while worrying that he’d never again find it. Why’d he hide it from the maid, anyhow? If it was only the mother he’d been hiding from, he could’ve just tucked it under his bed, in his top drawer, anywhere. But no, it had to be the maid, the maid who made a living off the dust of his secret space.

He went into the kitchen for a bag of chips. He didn’t like chips, but thought that maybe he’d hidden the secret in the bag. That’s one place the maid wouldn’t claw her way to, he thought to himself, and one of the few places he hadn’t yet checked. He ate all 9 servings recommended by the label on the back of the bag before admitting that the secret probably wasn’t there.

Just then, his mother walked through the back door, catching him with the empty chip bag: Manny (she wound up for a serious question, which he knew by the way she prefaced it with his own name), why are you gorging on an entire bag of chips just before dinnertime? Is this about your father? Do you think I ought to call that counselor? Manny (there it was again) are you okay?

It was too much for his salted palette to bear, much less his far from barren belly. If the maid found the secret before he did… the thought barely escaped as it seemed suddenly in a race with the chips who were changing direction in mid-stream. He excused himself and flew toward the bathroom. The thought won, incidentally; it did make it out before the chips, only by a thread.

As he lay praying with his head to tiled sky, he thought hard about the things he thought might lead him to the self-concealed non-disclosure. What was it that he so desired from that secret? Had he ever actually known the secret itself, or just known of its existence? Was he perhaps only unable to find it because the maid had gotten to it already? Would he ever know? He could hear his mother on the phone in the other room, to the counselor no doubt. The words “eating disorder” gave form and focus to his ears as he carried on his recall. School hadn’t been so bad, really; he was simply unable to focus, not knowing what he’d done with that secret. Had the maid acted strangely when he’d seen her last? Actually, he hadn’t seen her enough: maybe she always acted strangely when she was doing her job. He probably wouldn’t be able to go through someone else’s every thing without acting a little strangely.

His head tilted lazily to the side and he saw the bottle of shampoo, the hand lotion, the shaving foam. Immediately, he remembered. Ingenious; how could he have forgotten? The chips—they had had a purpose after all, nothing disorderly about it. He wouldn’t need to shave for at least another year, and the one time he used the foam, it was really more for the verisimilitude of smell. He hadn’t been able to smell it of course, but he was certain others could. Making sure the door was locked, he stood squaring off with the bottle taking preparatory deep breaths before the showdown. He won easily, grabbing the bottle before it grabbed him, and satisfying himself with an expectorantly audible Aha upon removing the cap and discovering the slip of paper tucked up inside it. He slowed down now, carefully with still-shaking hands withdrawing and unfolding that he had been so seeking, not without a sliver of incredulity at having forgotten for so long.

He unfolded it, noticing nothing on it, then it came to him: it had been a decoy. The secret was the deficiency of a secret. All he had hidden was nothing, and it had been nothing that had driven him mad.

Or had he written it in invisible ink? It was hard to say.

Garden of Bleedin

April 16th, 2009

The continuous anxiously tapping fist on the door was itself geographically incongruous; this was supposed to be the land of rapping once then calling out while entering, if lore and media were to be believed. But there it was, the shock of a dovish mop with teeth freshly polished to match and bared reflexively.

Hi you two, watching a movie? Looks nice and quiet. Listen, I wanted to show you my garden, so that you can take what you want whenever you like. Remember the other night, I told you to help yourself? You like vegetables, right? Come on, come on up and I’ll show you.

The faintest hint of impatience is there as four feet are clothed: a slight shuffle from one foot to the other, or a barely perceptible sniffle that may have just been authentic snot-recoil. But we’re ready before long and plodding up the hill.

So, you two have a good time the other night? That was some party, huh? I was surprised my daughter turned up with her boyfriend; we had a huge argument last time and I hadn’t spoken to her in a year. But it was good to see her. These things often work out, you know? And you two were a big hit – everyone kept coming up and telling me that my new neighbors seemed really great. So here’s my garden – I always make it too big, and I don’t even eat half this shit. But you two should help yourself. See, there’s some broccoli here and cauliflower. I can’t even eat the cauliflower: gives me painful gas. And here are tomatoes, three kinds: little cherry tomatoes, big acidy ones, and um, something purplish in between in size. Here’s some basil: you like basil? Goddammit there’s already a flower here. If you’re ever in here and see flowers on the basil, cut them off, will you?
I have no idea what the hell this stuff is. My ex-wife always gives it to me, so I grow it. Cilantro? What the hell’s that for? I don’t know what kind of people can stomach that shit anyhow, but it grows up nice and seems to keep the bugs off my tomato plants. Or maybe I’m just imagining it. But you two should help yourselves.

There are some pumpkins over here but they won’t be ready for another couple of months. You know something funny? The other day at the party, I told a buddy of mine – you met him, Howard, the big guy? I gave him fifty bucks and asked him to buy me some fireworks. And when he came back, he reached out his hand and told me he’d gotten some coke instead, that Jimmy was bringing the fireworks. I was high as Einstein’s kite the whole time – you couldn’t tell, could you?

Ah, hell, it wasn’t Einstein with the kite. Edison? E names are all the same to me. But really, you couldn’t tell, could you? Because my daughter was there, and my ex-wife. Look at this eggplant – it’s looking really nice for so early in the season; you should help yourself to as much as you want; otherwise it’ll go to waste just sitting out here.

Facial Mask

March 26th, 2009

If my hand had a mouth it would be saying ouch right about now. Instead, I’ll just pull it from the hotplate and try to remember next time. Not so close.

(Ouch)

Next time I burn my hand like this, I’m going to punish myself by dropping a bar of soap down my trousers and keeping it there until it starts smelling of oatmeal. Really, anyone who’s ever had a go-round with a hotplate will tell you that it is primarily motivated by fear of burning, desire to burn, and willingness to burn. It is especially beholden to the sweet romance of corpuscles des mains.

I’m not suicidal or masochistic. Not even an idiot, for the most part. You know how when you hurt something, you have a tendency to re-injure it while it’s still tender and vulnerable, even though you’re injuring yourself in ways you’ve never before done? Say you drop an bellbar on your big toe, then for weeks after, you’re stubbing your toe on bookshelf ends, clumsily kicking a door closed, tripping in the middle of the night over a sweatsock, ad lapsus ellipsis…

The same thing is happening here. Almost. Ever since the time I tried to sleep, I’ve been burning my hand on the hotplate.

(I don’t get it either)

But it was worth it, to try and sleep like that. Worth every last blister and nearly worth the cost of bandages. And even though I convinced myself that I couldn’t possibly sleep and miss a beat of the microtuft of that minipuff of a near-snore causing my nape to register seismographically; I couldn’t bear to doze off and think I might miss that deep down-winding exhale which was nothing short of song. It was somehow the best sleep there is, while only rarely slipping into a more literal acknowledgement of the act. The sort of act where the effort itself is the reward. Where the means are ape-chosen right along with the ends, where wakefulness is wittingly surrendered, no more wanted for the self than a freshly-baked birthday chocolate-angelfood-swirl. Where it’s quiet.

But ouch!

The knowledge of inimitability costs some shut-eye, maybe. Or it’s just a reminder of what it was when sleep was nearly here? Either way, I’ll let you know when the oatmeal’s ready.