Wanda and Sadie

photo: lisadaly.com

photo: lisadaly.com

Wanda and Sadie – A Dream August 5, 2014

She was Sadie’s new friend. They were in the other room together. We could hear them talking and laughing. When they came out they had made something decorative that was wood and was glued together. We were given a kit to build as well. It consisted of a wooden frame that seemed like the sides of a boat but supported only with cross braces so there was no hull integrity and would never float. Inside we put wax ivy vines, and any other stuff we wanted. Wanda watched us and gave instructions on assembling the frame but gave us no specific instruction on the inside decoration but encouraged our artistic creativity. She was a strange girl, cute with long straight dark brown hair combed aside to expose her round cherub face. It was her eyes that gave her away. There was something she was reluctant to reveal to us, something she was actively hiding. She would sometimes glance at us as if expecting us to discipline her. As if she was doing something she should not be doing. I was growing suspicious but said nothing. I tried to watch her for some sign of what she was hiding without being too obvious. We then all sat on the floor around the walls of the unfurnished room with our decorative “boats” on the floor in front of us. Then Wanda showed us how to light them. I watched as Wanda and Sadie sat Indian style in front of their fires intently focused and silent, watching them burn as if part of a secret ceremony. The feeling grew that something was being hidden. That Wanda was keeping something back and the bond developing between them, though apparently an innocent childhood friendship, had a deeper more sinister aspect that Wanda understood, if exposed, would cause our disapproval and a dissolution of their friendship.

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Epicurus on a Motorbike – A Critique of Grace Cathedral Hill

EpicuriusMotorbike

Grace Cathedral Hill by Colin Melloy – Performed by the Decemberists

Note: It is encouraged that you listen to the song before reading this exposé.

The song Grace Cathedral Hill, upon first listen, is a whimsical, affectionate story beginning with a young man and his distressed girlfriend who seek solace by visiting a church and lighting a holy candle.  As this seemingly simple love story develops over an evening, it comes to illuminate the intrinsic human enrichment found in contemporary life in contrast to a traditional theology lingering from a past age.

Grace Cathedral Hill
All wrapped in bones of a setting sun
All dust and stone and moribund
I paid 25 cents to light a little white candle

The opening lyrics describe the cathedral “All wrapped in bones of a setting sun”. Mentioning bones in connection with a church cathedral evokes the image of the bones of saints, or relics, associated with European cathedrals in the Middle Ages. But these bones are the current remnants of an ancient religion. The “setting sun” not only sets the scene for the story but includes the narrator’s impression about this institution. Following with “all dust and stone and moribund”, restates his sense of decay surrounding the church. His girlfriend, experiencing some unstated anguish, has them light a candle at the church. The cost of this act, though diminutive, is paid for with legal currency. With the last line of the verse, the outside world begins to leak in.

For a New Year’s day
I sat and watched it burn away
Then turned and weaved through slow decay
We were both a little hungry so we went to get a hotdog

It is New Year’s day. He watches the candle burn away with no effect on him and likely little relief for her. Then “I turned and weaved through slow decay” furthers his impression of this church (or taken metaphorically, all churches and traditional religions) slowly decaying.

The “hotdog” line of the second verse snaps us from the poetic imagery of a dusty medieval structure to the crass baseness of the moment, “We were both a little hungry and we went to get a hotdog.” It may seem that the poet has fumbled the lyric, abandoned his lofty vantage, possibly through incompetence. It is a jarring clash from a moody introspective on the crumbling grandiosity of a Gothic Christian theology to the introduction of a desire for a most common, lowbrow repast. However whimsical the juxtaposition, it introduces an immediate, sensual world, punctuating their leaving of the shrouded, mystical, ethereal order of religious ascetic. The intent again is contrast as the last line of the verse injects the outside world. Is it always immediate, fundamental human needs that imposes upon spiritual reverie? We know that this obtrusive hunger will be temporary satisfied with the lowly and always available hotdog.

Down to Hyde Street Pier
The light was slight and disappeared
The air it stunk of fish and beer
We heard a Superman trumpet play the National Anthem

The trip to Hyde Street Pier for a hotdog embraces the Epicurean experiences available in modern life. This is a world of sensations, and every sense is engaged. The implied taste of the hotdog, the visual change of daylight to dark, the malodorous smells of the harbor, the sounds of street music all confront their sensibility.

We have abandoned the mythologized saints and martyrs, the lingering beliefs and ideals of our ancestors’ society. In our world we find the trivial, the mundane and even the profane with a “Superman” trumpet rendition of the National Anthem. But it is immediate and real, with an alluring existential buzz. This is our reality, not ideal, certainly not high minded. But when experienced as a sensual mosaic, it can be a very agreeable, even soothing part of life.

Some way to greet the year
Your eyes all bright but brimmed with tears
The pilgrims, pills and tourists here
Sing 53 bucks to buy a brand new halo

The emotional distress of the girl is still present. We are reminded that even the church’s spiritual imperative cannot exist separate from the monetary realities of the objective world. Money is repeatedly associated with church functions. Lighting a candle involves 25 cents. Then the “pilgrims, pills and tourists” lament the $53 cost of a new halo. The song does not suggest a corrupt or greedy church, but acknowledges that even this enduring “spiritual” institution has always existed in a financial and political reality.

Sweet on a green eyed girl
All fiery Irish clip and curl
All brine and piss and vinegar
I paid 25 cents to light a little white candle

The same dichotomy that is found in experiencing modern life is reflected in the character of the girl. She is portrayed not as ideal, as popular songs often will, but as a physical entity. Like the contrast found on Hyde Street Pier, she is similarly portrayed as cute (green eyed, clip and curl) yet as a real living creature (fiery Irish, piss and vinegar). Again this dichotomy between femine idealism and human realism is both accepted and embraced. Interestingly this later disparaging line, “of brine and piss and vinegar”, occurs at the same structural location in this verse as the earlier verse’s depreciating reference to the pier which “stunk of fish and beer”.

The chorus:

And the world may be long for you,
But it’ll never belong to you
But on a motor bike
When all the city lights blind your eyes tonight
Are you feeling better now?
Are you feeling better now?
Are you feeling better now?

In the chorus the boyfriend tries to depersonalize and distance her suffering with a philosophical overview that life is not about possession or control. His actions suggests that the joy of life comes from experiencing it. His sensual remediation concludes with the exhilaration of a nighttime motor bike ride through the “blinding lights” of San Francisco, further advancing the Epicurean ethos of the healing effects of enjoyment and appreciation of life. This last interposition seems to work. His compassion is emphasized by the repeated verse “Are you feeling better now?”

Our daily experience is an immersion in transient interactions that are the products of a complex social and technological order. In this song these ordinary sensual experiences, compassionately applied,  manage to accomplish what contemporary Christian sanctuary alone did not. It wasn’t until experiencing the fortuitous pleasures of modern community life (fast food, music, social assembly) and the sensory stimulation of machine age mobility that her human anguish was eased and her spirit revived.

The millennia old conflict between supernatural belief and objective philosophies has grown naturally from the human thought process. Both have appeal and both will likely always be with us. This simple story in song personalizes and  encapsulates those ideas without acrimony or antagonism while humanizing the contention through nonpartisan characters in a loving relationship.

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Island

mountain 2There was a man who lived on an island
And there was nowhere to walk because the island was a mountain
And every day he would do something
Each day he carved away a little of the mountain at the bottom
And one day there was a path that went all the way around the island
His children found that they could walk around the island
And then they began to do something
And every day they carved away a little of the mountain
Today the island is a castle where his grandchildren live
And the grandchildren still do something

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My Ozymandias

desert car

Think of the millions of humans that have preceded us and the millions that will follow. Even fame is no hedge against anonymity in the long run. Our lives, in the end, are of no more consequence than an erroneous letter carelessly typed then deleted with a key press from our computer’s screen display. So be very careful when typong so that you do not have to immutably destroy any unwary characters.

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Dios Está en la Máquina

yelcho

The modest tug cabin was crowded to twice normal capacity by the time the last skiff load of men came onboard. The new arrivals were giddy with the revived hope of going home. Although the two crews spoke different languages, the presence of new faces after 18 months of isolation proved to be tirelessly fascinating for the rescued party. The tug’s crew was thrilled yet stood off somewhat from the new arrivals. Living in harsh elements, unwashed for almost a year, these men, unshaved in their greasy clothes looked more savage than civilized. Ultimately their unfettered joy was irresistible and the steamer crew pleasantly accepted the rescued men’s stares and senseless chatter as they set about their jobs in getting the cutter away from impending danger and back to Chile.

Those crew not immediately engaged either kept watch at the prow or politely stood by leaving all the galley tables and chairs that this ill suited boat could offer for use by the rescued men. They watched in silent amusement as many of the ragged, emaciated men cradled a lit cigarette in one hand while drinking and eating with the other, these being their first tobacco and spirits for 10 months. Their elation was only mitigated by the news of the madness in Europe and the continuing war with its millions of dead. Wolsley was on the bridge with Captain Pardo, binoculars at hand, watching for ice, while The Boss, after watching the men eat slipped off to the captain’s quarters to write a letter to his wife.

For the rescued men, it all happed very fast. A couple hours earlier they were routinely listless and despondent, doubtful if a living soul knew they were still alive. Now they had eaten their first good food in months and were reading mail and recent newspapers. Rickinson sat at the table with his comrades, cigarette and empty glass in hand. The unfamiliarity of the enclosure with its painted industrial walls, hung with kerosene lamps, was numbingly welcome. More dream-like than real. Even this simple workplace décor was cognitive overload after the oppressive bleakness and unrelenting cold of that barren rocky Antarctic island. Here was sanctuary among the common products of civilization inside the relative luxury of the Chillan cutter.

Yet it all seemed almost too familiar, like the dreams he had often had after the loss of the Endurance. But this was finally real, though possibly not. By some horror he might be startled awake by the thunderous crack of splitting sea ice to find he was again in the hut, with the merciless wind blowing pebbles and ice into his sleeping bag through chinks in the shelter’s rock wall. Would he ever be able to sleep again without nightmares of the howling gales that lasted for days or the monotonous sound of the waves lapping the rocky spit.

He looked around. Some of his crew were now helping the cook, Charlie Green, prepare their meal of lamb, potatoes, and dumplings with onion. Rickinson had washed his face and hands but was ordered by The Boss, along with the others, not to cut his hair or beard, which were still matted and black with seal and penguin grease. Something about publicity.

He moved to the stern now, standing alone he watched the receding ocean, still clear of pack ice, flow ice or bergs. But the sea was getting heavy and a change in the wind could bring the ice back with vengeance. He lit another cigarette and was quickly mesmerized by the trailing wake. Still something unsettling stirred in his brain. Something previously important that was now immediate and real. The deck vibrated under his shoes. There was music playing somewhere. A regular bass note and numerous sympathetic notes spinning within. It slowly filled his being with a yet undefined awareness. A familiar ubiquitous vibration beckoning from a past existence. He looked up to see the stars and noticed a trail of gray smoke that tracked nearly opposite their motion, dissipating over the water’s white foam wake.

Abruptly he turned away leaving his empty glass, a half-consumed cigarette protruded from his tangle of whiskers. He stepped knowingly toward his destination, walking toward the bow, along the narrow planking which passed between the cabin and the gunwale. The moon was gibbous and lit the foam tops of the rising sea. He continued forward until he found a door penetrating the cabin side. He opened it looking down into the dimly lit bowels of the cutter. Even without light the atmosphere was unmistakable. The smell of sulfur, the grating rhythm of the shovels, the perfume of steam and hot oil all blended to form a wonderful familiarity. He climbed down the steel companionway and moved past the firemen who paused, leaning on their shovels in the firebox glow to curiously note his presence before resuming their subterranean task.

The engine room, aft the boiler, was impressively clean. A testament to the discipline of the chief engineer who stood carefully tapping the governor control lever with an open end wrench while noting the rpm’s before recording the boiler level and steam pressure. His duties tonight were more pressing than usual. Far from safe harbor he had over 500 miles of treacherous ocean to steam in order to attain the safe landing of the renowned crew of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

Rickinson found the engine room to be gloriously warm and soothing. He removed his Burberry and knitted navy cap for the first time in recent memory. The engine, he noted, was running at top speed but not under full power. He noted the valve action, closing early in the piston stroke, conserving the steam entering the cylinders yet maintaining rated speed. His trained eye swept the scene. There was nothing unusual, the occasional drip of hot water from gate valve stems, the periodic whiffs of steam from the valve boxes, and a faint mist of pressure and lubricating oil escaping from the high pressure cylinder packing glands. Brass oilers dripped their amber contents on precise joints while oiled wicks meticulously doled protective lubricant to constantly moving parts. The Corliss valve gear clicked the rhythm like a maniacal orchestra conductor. It was a carnival of motion and sound. The steel and brass crossheads silently tracked on their oily guides, the polished piston rods extending powerfully and precisely through their bushings, then retracting the full stroke length and repeating this every second like monstrous clockwork. The massive segmented flywheels with radiating spokes each nearly as tall as Rickinson spun with silent authority from the combined effort of this orchestrated system.

He ran his fingers across the raised letters on the cast iron frame “Muir & Houston, Glasgow”. He now knew with certainty that this was no dream, as this was more detail then even his engineer’s mind could conjure. Precision beyond his recollection, thoughtful, calculated design beyond his ken. This was real. The culmination of generations of inspired genius, building one improvement upon the other. This was the crowning achievement of enlightened civilization, the hearth of the industrial revolution. He basked in its radiance and the spirit of its powerful breath filled his soul, as victuals alone could not.

Just as medieval cathedrals prominently announced the engineering achievements of their day so this pulsing and breathing creature no less majestically heralded the achievements of modern man. He stood by the heat of the compound cylinders and swore he would never forsake it again. He humbly appreciated that this engine alone, this hulking savior, conceived and built in Glasgow, twisting this propeller shaft with more force and tireless dependability than three hundred straining oarsmen, was delivering him home. Back home to the Great Britain from where they both originated. “If you believe this to be the Devils work, let my soul be damned. After this bitter campaign some time in Hell mightn’t be that undesirable” he spoke to the straining clamor of machinery.

Manuel Blackwood, one of the engineers, saw Rickinson standing, transfixed near the compound cylinders. Even if they had had a common language, the steel hull amplified the operating engine noise enough to discourage casual conversation. Yet conversation proved unnecessary. Manuel handed him his long necked oilcan and rag then followed Rickinson around the engine as he pumped the thumb lever filling each oiler until it was topped off. Then, without provocation, Rickinson’s hand began shaking uncontrollably. Manuel took the oilcan then deftly pulled a clean rag from his coveralls pocket, wiping the spilled oil from the brass and glass oiler housing. He then helped Rickinson to a nearby wooden chair along the bulkhead. The rush of sea water directly beyond the hull was ominously palpable. After sitting him down Manuel stooped and moved in and with an affectionate tone spoke something close to his ear in Spanish. Rickinson was calmed by his words as if he understood and he smiled back and nodded at his companion’s kindness. The meaning, at that moment, did not matter, as they each knew what both understood.

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Tom’s Revelation

The three silently checked into the hotel. The tallest handled the money. Saying only enough to conclude the transaction. His eyes watched carefully where the money went, how the drawer was opened, how it locked, where the key went. The clerk was polite, precise in his routine, his distrust well hidden when he handed the three the key with a hint of a smile. The tall one barely nodded and the three moved as a wordless shabby assembly toward the elevator.

“The operator will be back in a moment if you can wait.” the clerk spoke. Jessie took frequent piss breaks and it was not unusual for him to be absent when someone needed a lift.

Without acknowledgement they steered for the stairs. The tall one pulling open the door and the other two following him through. The former elegance was everywhere, even in the stair well, with its white marble window sills beneath tall broad windows at each landing, the brass handrail capping the decorative iron banister. But Tom, the tall one, thought only about the cash drawer which now held nearly all of their money, enough for a single night’s stay in a single room.

They climbed the stairs with the same unhurried resign, their shoes producing an uneven rhythm on the worn stair tread. Ted, short and stocky, carried their only bag, a duffle with a one broken hand strap, thrown over his shoulder.

When they pushed open the door at their floor they stepped into a small lounge adjacent to the elevator door. A few overstuffed chairs and a couch bordered the dimly lit space and a small group of men sat and stood smoking and talking. One man with long dark hair extending from a large bald spot dominated the conversation.

“Memphis, what a hillbilly hell hole. I wouldn’t go back there right now if you paid me ten thousand dollars.” All eyes were directed on Jimmy as he spoke and all within earshot found their brain uncontrollably resonating with the last three words out of his mouth. His voice emanated from deep within a wing-backed chair whose cushion seemed to rest unusually low between the padded arms. Those same three words also caught the attention of the new arrivals who now hesitated before pressing on to their room. Yet once inside their room they stayed only long enough to deposit their bag before the voice of Jimmy drew them out again like a force field. So they stood with the others, listening for something innately promised in his authority, a sentence or word that would touch their lives and finally deliver them to a taste of the success that once was Jimmy’s. “…the fucker never paid us man and we had another gig in Denver or we would of stayed and beat the livin’ piss out of him.”

This guy was bullshitting and Tom knew it. Tom did not nod in approval after each pronouncement but instead listened for a misstep, a falsehood which he could challenge and expose this guy to be just a loser with a big mouth. He wanted to light a cigarette so when the moment came he could gesture with a fresh fag between his fingers but he only had a couple of stubs in an otherwise empty pack. “…we couldn’t involve the law, hell, we traveled with at least a pound of grass, plus the coke, acid, speed and god knows what else that fans laid on us.” Again Jimmy paused at this image, aware of his audience, allowing time for maximum cognitive saturation. “The last thing we needed was the law so we said fuck it and got on the bus for Denver. Twenty thousand dollars plus a piece of the gate. He still owes us today.”

Believing he found his inconsistency, Tom decided it was time to nail this charlatan when the elevator doors opened to a single bell tone. A collapsing metal gate was pulled back by the frail operator and there emerged a woman into the stale, smokey scene. Maybe it was the contrast, her bright clothing lithe against the stained wallpaper and worn carpet. Maybe it was her smell defying the stale cigar smoke and cheep whisky. Maybe it was her Kabuki white legs and face beneath her short skirt and straight black hair. But an Egyptian Queen stepping out of that elevator could not have been more startling to Tom and he lost all conscience thought about cigarettes or challenges or cash drawers.

“You can’t imagine how much money we were cheated out of those two years of touring.” the voice continued “At one point we didn’t have gas money for the fuckin’ bus. We had “Kitchen Lovin'” at the top of the charts and no money for gas.” The woman walked steadily toward the voice in the chair. Her presence, her proximity fired some dormant synapses in Tom’s brain, something long extinguished by drink and drugs and the struggle to get by. “We filled five thousand seat halls across America with insane fans night, after night, after night, after night.” She stepped around the chair to one side of Jimmy and sat on his far knee so not to block him from his audience. Only his head could now be seen above the chair. “Everyone wanted a piece of us, to see us or touch us or be near us. We were gods. We were star studded fuckin’ gods.”

Her neck carried her face slightly forward of her body. The beginning of the space between her breasts was just noticeable through her sheer top though her breasts were hidden by two black rectangles provocatively placed like the pen strokes of a 1950’s movie poster artist.

Tom, leaning against a wall with one leg cocked so his foot was flat against it, watched with new interest. Jimmy spoke on but Tom was not listening anymore. One thing was not disputable, she was Jimmy’s woman. At one of Jimmy’s dramatic pauses, Tom finally pushed himself away and spoke up.

“I think I can help you man. My name’s Tom.” He moved to the chair extending his hand, which only the girl acknowledged by limply offering hers. The unexpected touch of her skin made him pause, almost forgetting what he was going to say. “I’ve got an old friend, more like a relative. Lives near Memphis.” He reluctantly moved his gaze to Jimmy while still holding her hand, “He’s got some connections, knows a few people, could maybe put us up while you tried to get some of that money you’re owed or whatever… maybe we could talk later about it, in private, in your room…. or in my room or whatever’s cool?”

Jimmy never spoke or looked at Tom. After an uncomfortable pause, Tom dropped her hand and moved back toward the wall then went into his room. Closing the door, he heard Jimmy’s monologue start again transfixing, inspiring, entertaining. His friends remained out there. He was happy they stayed out there. He needed to be alone, to think. It was something important that just happened. Something that was not about money or drugs or avoiding the law. Something maybe he lost along the way.

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Miller’s Tale

In Shillingsworth one fateful day
A plan was baked, the people say
To find the hidden Treasure of Peru

The crew, hand picked by Miller Dale
The week he was released from jail
Planned those years he simmered in the stew

November had its coldest day
The crew commenced to sail away
All hands complained, that is, all but a few

Among them was the Salty Geek
He kept his tongue, to never speak
Unless he was addressed or spoken to

The spot was marked with a marlinspike
They sailed the shore ’til it came in sight
A happy restless greed was all they knew

The crew had gaily disembarked
With pick and spade they dug where marked
To a man, it seemed a lifetime dream come true

Then a spade rang hard and all talk stopped
Each knew it was the silver box
When Miller Dale pulled out a 32

The cops they heard the shots that day
Knowing Miller would be back this way
As they lay in wait for him to make his move

They bound him back to jail once more
His murdered crew all on the shore
But one, still on the barque who had eschewed

He found the hole, the silver box
Untouched by Dale, still under lock
Forgotten by the patient boys in blue

The silver box, the Salty Geek
Upon a skiff down at the creek
Slyly floated off to somewhere new

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In Need of Lawyers

Sex is a disgusting act at worst. At best it is messy, smelly, sticky process poking around with your nether bits at another human’s nether regions at appallingly close proximity to the discharge points of their disposal system. Yet while all this is inarguably fact, sex somehow manages enormous appeal with the right person, under the right circumstances.

I had a coworker, a woman, who was married, whom I much enjoyed seeing. We did not see each other that frequently at work, being assigned different office groups within the same company, but when we did, we both took care, beyond necessity, to prolong the interaction. Yet the marriage thing kept it casual for me, and probably removed any personal expectations. It was my knowledge of that binding legal contract that caused the psychological barrier that prevented me from any serious thoughts of this acquaintance going beyond a social, workplace relationship.

One evening I had left my apartment building curious over transfer of a property deed a favorite uncle had given me. It was a nice evening, warm but breezy, and I walked into town looking for a lawyer’s office. I remembered it being in this old revived district just south of the main street of town.  I proceeded by walking through a narrow alley that opened into a great public area surrounded by little stores and offices. I had heard that this space resulted from the demolition of a large central building allowing the surviving buildings to be renovated around this open park, a serendipitous outdoor mall. But when I arrived at where I remembered it being, I discovered it was not where I remembered. I was standing, confused and disoriented in this plaza, at the center of this cluster of quaint stores and professional offices and these old repurposed brick buildings. The disjunction must have triggered my becoming acutely aware of the space and size of this plaza I felt in a dream where things you expect are not what you think.

As I pondered this problem I saw her and, at almost the same time, she noticed me. I began to explain my confusion until she interrupted to say that she too was in need of legal services. She added that she had no pressing business and offered to accompany me on my search. It brought me no little joy to see her now for the first time in non-professional circumstances and we readily agreed to walk together. As we meandered through the park, I found, in addition to my pleasure of being with her, also the need to periodically concentrate on my orientation in attempting to resolve my dislocation. I tried to picture the other businesses surrounding the misplaced office. We walked like this for some time without talking as I silently struggled to home in on the actual location. Finally my thoughts began to clarify and the veil lifted. I decided that it was likely located at a new commercial strip just outside of the borough that was designed to look like old downtown.

I told her of my error and where I now believed the missing office was located and she had no objections to accompanying me on a much longer walk than I had originally intended. With this resolved, I was become aware of my growing pleasure at being with her in these leisurely circumstances. As we walked I began to pay conscious attention to fall of her hair and the pattern of the print in her summer dress which I had previously only subjectively processed. The evening was approaching dusk and although not near dark the sun produced a cool diffused lighting.

Upon arrival at the roadside business strip I spotted the office just as I remembered. Being past business hours it was naturally closed. I had no other expectations and it appeared of no consequence to her. We stood in our accomplished quest, an empty parking lot bordered by closed businesses, devoid of other people. With no further quirky objectives I asked her why she needed a lawyer. She answered, quite offhandedly, “I intend to get a divorce.”

After a pause she continued. “It was you who helped me realize how it might be. How kind some people can be. I knew I was unhappy but I might not have come to this conclusion without knowing you. I used the image of you for this moment, to get me though this difficult decision. I hope I do not seem presumptuous. I know nothing of your private life. I am not asking any more of you. Just by your being someone thoughtful and kind you have made a difference. If no more comes of it I have no regrets.”

As the words left her lips the world tilted noticeably on it’s axis. News of a dirigible attack could not have been more stunning. We were still standing in the same spot as we had a second before. We did not move, our clothes were the same, though only slightly ruffled by a breeze. We aged imperceptibly in those seconds but a ponderous gate had lifted, a barrier as massive as a great canal lock had evaporated. My brain was pumping endorphins like a leading Grand Prix driver on his final lap. She was no longer a friendly coworker but an attractive magnetic field. A physical force pulling me powerfully toward her skin.

I was as weightless as a dandelion seed. Gravity had released me. Physical bounds disappeared. I no longer looked at her, but I had already joined her as an extension of me. Connected in a way that now compelled me toward that other connection that would substantively and neurologically commingle us, though fleetingly, into a unified presence. We a particle, a singularity in a space and time defined only within our quantum universe. As real as gravity and impalpable as curved space. We stood in the darkening dusk of the deserted lot, not there, not anywhere.

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The Cost of Fresh Vegetables

I consider myself a compassionate person. I do not wantonly kill insects, except ticks and mosquitoes and other dangerous pests. I never kill spiders. As a reluctant wartime draftee in the army my second greatest fear was having to kill someone else. Yet yesterday I planned and methodically killed a wild animal. It was unsettling and it is with me still. I had come to know him over the summer. He was a very shy vegetarian, of no danger to me or my family. Usually whenever I would see him he would be running away with a funny waddle at my approach.  Sometimes, if he happened not to notice me, I could whistle and he might sit up and look with feeble myopic eyes for the origin of this enticing call. He was a source of curiosity and charm and never a threat. But he made one fatal, unforgivable mistake. He had repeatedly dug under my garden fence and foraged through our crops. At times sampling the cucumbers or topping all of the soy bean plants. He acted like a spoiled kid in a candy store. I was forced to take action.

My yard is rather wild, partly meadow, varied and lush and plenty big enough for the both of us. Yet he was tempted by the fruit of our garden and succumbed. This year the vegetable garden is really the product of my daughter’s labor. Vegetables to me are a side dish. I like meat. I’ve sometimes wondered how may entire cows I have eaten in my lifetime. I have for some time contemplated the hypocrisy of my meat preference given my abhorrence to killing. But I seriously doubt I could be satisfied eating only vegetables, unless maybe Doritos and peanut butter and Chips Ahoy would be included as vegetables.

Like any empathetic gardener my daughter set out the “Have a Heart” trap. It was bated in the morning with an apple slice. In my experience I usually I find the bait is gone without a capture. That evening, while walking home from work, I noticed it was sprung. The end doors were down and latched. I stepped over the fence, walked to the trap. Squatting down I looked into the eye of our sad, frightened nemesis. I can only describe it as a weighty sense ambivalence to see my groundhog looking back, defiant yet almost embarrassed at his captivity. His calm was disturbed by my presence and he briefly charged the latched doors at either end to no avail.

I quickly realized that the trapping having been successful, I now needed to do something with him. I doubt if I released him there that he would have learned his lesson, no matter how horrifying this experience may have been for him. In fact he may have learned to avoid the trap in the future. I could have taken him far away and released him but I knew this to be illegal as he would only become someone else’s nuisance. I was wishing that the trap had killed him instantly and my remaining chore would have only been to dispose of the body. I felt a growing sense of responsibility to this hapless creature. Not knowing how long he had been confined to the trap I realized the necessity of finishing the job before nightfall.

For the first time in my life I found myself earnestly contemplating various forms of lethal processes. Shooting, gassing, suffocation, electrocution, poisoning, strangulation, immolation, defenestration. Having grown up watching TV and additionally having been trained by the military, this should have been a simple matter. I own a 12 gauge shotgun which belonged to my father, but I could not imagine shooting it through the wire of the cage without destroying the cage and maybe having some of the shot fly back at me. I could not club him inside the cage and if I opened it I’m sure he would be gone before I could wind up for a swing. I considered poison gas such as carbon monoxide, which I have heard puts you to sleep before you die. I could put the cage inside a closed cardboard box and take it to the car and direct the exhaust inside. However, I know for a fact that cars today put out very little CO and instead emit mostly non lethal CO2. I could have just moved the cage out of my way and passively waited allowing him to dehydrate and starve. And although that seemed the easiest, it also seemed very cruelest solution.

Whenever there is some bit of information I need to know, the lyrics to Love Vigilantes, the name of The Lone Ranger’s horse, the inventor or the Segway or in this case the slaying of vertebrates,  I do what all modern humans do, I go to the Wikipedia. Such a cool, civilized thing to do. In researching this, I found that drowning appears the preferred method of getting rid of squirrels, rats, groundhogs and other critters. It is relatively neat, quick, quiet and dependable. So I got my tape measure and checked the diagonal of the end of the trap. Yep he is still there. Does he wonder what I am doing? Then measured the diameter of the rain barrel that collects water for the garden. The trap was several inches too big. This data collection proved pleasant enough, providing temporary digression from the chore itself. Like building a nice sturdy gallows. However much I liked working on these logical problems, I felt that I was procrastinating. Meanwhile, the trapped animal uncomfortably awaited the results of my research and the day was growing dim. I probably could have recruited some assistance from my daughter or son in law, but I decided it was best to do this alone. I wanted it to be done solemnly, respectfully, and as painlessly as possible. Without small talk, masking humor or gratuitous chatter.

It was time to act. I carried the cage to my truck, lowered the tailgate and set him just inside. I expected this would be his first ride in an automobile. Yet he seemed unimpressed with our technology. In fact he immediately shit in the truck bed. We drove down a descending road towards the river. Just before the steel truss bridge I turned onto Creek Road whose windings reflected the turns of the unseen river now mostly hidden by trees. I was watching for a secluded pull off. I knew of a public preserve up the road where the creek was easily accessible but I did not want to have the bikers, joggers, dog walkers and little kids watching in horror as I drowned a helpless, furry caged animal. I expected there would be a final desperate struggle, thrashing, crying and fighting.

We rode passed a small dirt pull off on the creek side. Turning around at the preserve I returned and parked the pickup on the dirt shoulder. There was a worn path through the woods to the river. I did not allow myself the luxury of thought. My mission was clear. I opened my door and pulled off my shoes and socks and put on a pair of worn out sneakers. It was quiet enough I could hear the flowing water. I dropped the tailgate and carried the cage without looking at my prey. I waked to the water’s edge and surveyed the rocky bottom through the transparent dark green water. I waded almost halfway across the creek holding the trap increasingly higher, to keep it out of contact with the water. Once the level was up to my knees I stopped and looked around. No one was in sight. It had been a wet summer and the creek water was of substantial depth. I could have easily waded to the other bank and released the poor guy to the green fields beyond knowing there was little chance of him crossing the water again to return home. But I knew that horses grazed on that side and the hazards of groundhog holes for horses was unacceptable.

I submerged the trap, steady and slow like the motion of a machine carrying out a manufacturing operation. I intended it to be a reverent slow, like a coffin lowered into the ground. The groundhog seemed unmoved as the water rose above his legs and continued to rise above his head. The trap was now on the bottom and almost completely submerged but for one corner which was just above the surface of the water. The little guy put his nose right up into that corner. I moved the trap a little, closer to the middle of the stream and now that last corner was submerged. The cool moving water engulfed him. The reflex to breathe is unstoppable. I watched the bubbles intermittently came out of his nose in decreasing quantities. I thought about the air in his lungs being displaced by the liquid. He looked straight up at me from beneath the surface until his eyes closed like a cat peacefully napping. His left incisor was hooked on one of the wire strands at the top of the cage but there was no attempt to chew through the steel wire.

When he seemed expired I released my grasp on the trap handle and waited a couple of minutes more. Despite the moving water, the trap stayed in place on the rocky river bottom. The deed was now irrevocable. My mind and body relaxed. My hand now free, I stood erect and used this moment to look around. The cooling water flowed around my legs, still clear enough to see my feet, unmuddled by my intrusions. I could look maybe a quarter mile up and down stream before the river bent out of sight. There was not a man made object nor sound here. No sound other then the interminable sweep of the water. I was standing in a fairly straight section of the creek surrounded by mature trees on both banks reaching over the gulf of river. They almost enclosed it but for an irregular swath of sky. The setting brought a welcome serene. An unexpected reward somehow for this ugly unpleasantness, a moment of quiet thought. “This is a good place to die” I told myself. I could only wistfully dream of my own death transpiring among such transcendent surroundings.

On leaving the water the matted, dripping fur formed an inanimate heap inside the cage becoming more burdensome with each step. The contents soaked and heavier than before caused the wire handle to gnaw into my fingers. I found a clearing under some trees, opened the cage and tipped it up on end. The lifeless mass slid out with the white belly fur exposed and vulnerable. I had the urge right him, but I thought I heard a gasp come from the pile of fur. I watched attentively for another moment but detected no further movement. I was anxious to leave. I carried the empty trap back to the truck. After changing out of my wet sneakers. I was intent on slipping away from the scene and leaving behind all of the associated discomfort of my action. I started the truck and began driving toward home relieved but unconvinced that this was the best solution. Almost immediately I saw a man and a woman on a leisurely summer walk in the opposite direction, obviously enjoying this scenic rural road. I wondered if they had seen me return to the truck with the empty cage, witnesses to my mortal deed. I was startled when they waved at me with an exceptional friendly enthusiasm. Had they no notion of what I had just done? Did they mistake me for someone they knew? Would they be so amicable if they knew the methodical malevolence of which I was capable? I clumsily attempted a friendly wave back.

It has been of some consolation that the groundhog released his life so serenely. It has allowed me to believe that he was resigned to his end and maybe he was relieved that it did not involve sticks or knives or frightening barking dogs. When he was lured by the sirens of our cultivated vegetables he must have known he had left the familiar smells of his natural meadow and he must have sensed the ominous presence of human incursion. “I knew better yet I dug under their fence and ate the tops off those soy beans.” I like to believe that he also sensed my remedy was not retribution and that it was carried out without bravado but instead with reluctance and respect for him as a fellow earth creature.

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Gregor and the Cure

Gregor touched her skin. It was cool and smooth and perfect. An electrical signal ran through his body originating and concluding at the brain stem, causing every organ and muscle a slight anticipatory convulse. Her breasts quickly responded with flesh mound conifer alertness, pushing the nipples to a soft anxious attention. A stirring in the girt now focused to a salient point, a prominence, firm and charged. A lightening rod of potential building to that promised, inevitable leveling calm of release. His hands smoothed the rest of her body, The stomach with the mysterious and magical navel, source of energy and illumination. Then the inevitable moving down ending at the mons and its moist terminus, not the source higher consciousness of but the entry point, the data port, the fleshy connection to others. He inserted first one, then two fingers in preparation. His individual physiological purpose about to be fulfilled if only for a fleeting instant in the cosmic chaos everywhere else.

Though quietly, Gregor becomes aware of the opening door and he detects the padded footfall of others present around the bed. From his opine perspective he can see four people huddled at bedside. He had momentarily forgotten where he was. He recognizes the doctor, his understudy and the two nurses. “We decided you should have some epinephrine just to be on the safe side.” He held up a vial of white crystalline powder and passed it to a nurse for preparation. He lies back, his hand still resting on her mons, fingers curled still aware of the waiting warmth of abandoned purpose. He imagined the white suspension, he would soon be swallowing, bitter but quickly done with. Then he heard one of the nurses speaking “Hello Pert” she called out. Another woman in a starched nurses uniform, walked through the room. She was new on the job. Gregor had not seen her before. She had the face of a favorite aunt, affectionately distracted by obvious glasses with heavy rims, her blue eyes enlarged by the lenses. She tried hard not to stare at him and the surrogate, uncomfortable at the intimacy of the situation. He looked back at the team and saw them measuring a brown liquid into a half gallon sized plastic tub. He grabbed it from their hands and looked inside seeing it half filled with white creams and unmixed colored chemicals still to be blended into the conglomerate. “Look, I am ready to fuck here.” He tossed it into a nearby trash basket. The team looked at the doctor and through his surgical mask he spoke. “Fine, we’ll go.”

Once the room was empty, he continued, the spell only partially broken. He realized he had found something this session. Something non prescription, something way over the counter, something he had not counted on. It was always there but muffled by the din of responsibility and expectation and synthesized desire. He was cured and he had cured himself. It required quiet and time and realization but it was always there and knowing this was the medicine.

He lay enlightened and contemplative. This is the grounding of our humanity. The compelling force beneath the politics and food and work and social responsibilities. The reason for living. It is under everyone’s clothes, behind all the curtains and doors and facades. Shrouded, invisible, often un-acknowledged, sometimes avoided but real. Programmed but natural, passed down genetically from life’s beginnings. Fleeting and temporary in each of us but perpetual in our species and all others on earth. Invisible but as constant as the our planet’s revolution around the sun.

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