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Crouching on the floor to be closer to a bearded dragon lizard, it reminds me of other animals. Its nose reminds me of a snake’s. Its eyes remind me of a chameleon’s eyes. Its feet remind me of human hands. Its quick tongue reminds me of a frog’s. It has two eyes, two ears, a nose, and a mouth. Cats, hedgehogs, alligators, birds, humans, so many animals have these features. Many critters even have five fingers: this bearded dragon, turtles, bats, moles, lemurs, apes, bears, humans. Maybe we’re all more alike than different.
1am. My system must not be accustomed to dairy products, because that ice cream is a hurricane in my stomach. Bored sitting doing nothing, I pick up my phone and tap the blue and white Facebook icon. I slide the screen to the left to see a list of my Facebook friends. A neon green dot shines next to the name of a close friend. “What’s she doing up at this hour?” I wonder. But I feel comforted knowing she too is awake and on Facebook at this very moment. Just seeing that green dot makes me feel less alone.
She’s sitting in the cramped back of the mail car, waiting for a trainee to come back from delivering a package to a customer’s door. Idly checking her phone when she hears a bloodcurdling scream. She squeezes out of the truck. The trainee looks down at a snake with its fangs exposed. She climbs out of the truck and pokes the snake. It doesn’t move. She picks it up and laughs. “It’s plastic.” The trainee laughs nervously. Both of them walk to the front door. She places the snake on top of the package.
“Rated PG for bullying and crude humor” says the green screen after a commercial for a Nickelodeon movie. The rating agency thinks kids need parental guidance to see pieces of reality? It’s as if they don’t think kids can handle the real world. I think it makes kids stronger seeing TV kids survive hardships. It’s an “if they can do it, then so can I.” It lets kids know that they aren’t the only ones going through messes. It gives viewers empathy for the TV characters that can translate into empathy toward real people going through similar shit.
Two little boys about the same age were wary of each other when they first met. While looking through a beetle display in the knick-knack drawers, they exchanged animal stories. A few minutes later they sounded like old buds as they discovered they shared an interest in undomesticated critters. Behind them, their parents swapped horrifying pet stories. It was amazing seeing strangers adapt to each other so quickly. I think the NZ is a gathering place for outdoorsy people who don’t fit in, and in discovering that there are other oddballs in the world, they become confident nature nerds.
Dinner at my mom’s boyfriend’s house. First time. At the dining table my relatives don’t move. Staring silently at the huge salad bowl. Nervous chatter about pretty glass dishes. More awkward silence. My grandmother breaks the stagnant spell, reaching for the salad bowl. All are served. My grandfather whisper-asks if I’ll pass the jam. A soggy string bean dives off my fork. My great-aunt and I exchange secret ‘woopse’ smiles. Chatting grows louder and more relaxed. Caution lingers in their tones. Everyone helps clean up. “Awesome beans,” I compliment. The host leans in. “They were made with chicken broth.” I freeze.
“What about... people?” I tentatively ask a fellow home schooler. She responds, “I know a lot of people think that home schoolers are socially inadept, but I was raised with a lot of people from different ages.” Even though she isn’t as comfortable with peers, she would rather be comfortable with multiple age groups and weirded out around peers than the other way around. She continues brightly, “And even though I haven’t had the experiences other kids in public school do, I’ve had experiences that they haven’t.” She has reminded me that despite peer shortcomings, there truly are benefits to home schooling.
“These are baby crepe myrtles!” I happily point out tiny sprouts with red and green triangle leaves growing at our feet. “Really? Cuz they look like poison summac to me.” That night, my grandfather points to a mattress of ivy growing on top of a faded red barn. “That stuff on top is poison ivy!” It looks just like the leaves of a beech tree to me. I thought I could pick up any sprout growing in mulch and transplant it into a container and watch it transform into a beautiful tree. But no. The sprouts might be poisonous since I can’t identify them.
A bunny lay on the neighborhood road with its stomach torn open. Its actual stomach lay a foot away, a gray and squishy sack. Pink liver collapsed nearby. That afternoon when I went out for a second walk, a vulture perched on a fence parallel to the bunny. It raised its black wings as I strode closer. Then it bounced into the air and flew across the yard, a brown carcass clasped in its feet. The bunny and its guts were gone. All that remained were blood stains on the pavement. I was glad the bunny served a purpose in death. “Thank you,” I whispered to the shrinking vulture.
Banana gram and magnet words: Pea breath spoiling the Queen’s heated quail. Six glowing wax cubes donate a juicy fly to the zoo. I go to sleep but why. Fear no difficult thing. The stars in a story have a voice to illustrate the beginning. Full of spirit. I like my beautiful spine. Later that day in the ocean far away the hat totally wandered very softly and came to the awesome hot stuff. A zombie queen equipped with hens waddles up the pink nit evolution. Lobsters smoke puny peat food and dream they sail over the bow of ice.
Mash the glaze, flatten the rain, flit the very jaw that juices your joy. Invite the required chair, bottle the bird. The taxi groaned as it weeded. The long coil stunk while the torn beet grew rusty in the forgotten quagmire. For zooming qualification, your coiled spirit must be tagged in a lady cob tournament. Glades lined the wiry sun with its boned equal. Paint while you plunge into the cat. Type drama as you respond to the flight that destroyed your wisdom. If the queen’s bike jolts a taxi, my biter will type up the jar.
Luna moths don’t have stomachs because they don’t eat as an adult. They live off the power they gained as a caterpillar from eatings loads of leafy greens. Bunnies love greens. Their treats are strawberries and blueberries. Bearded dragon lizards also eat greens, as do turtles, guinea pigs, deer, bugs.... So why doesn’t the typical American eat greens? If animals eat processed foods they may get sick, so why do people continue stuffing themselves with junk? Stink bugs won’t slurp ice cream even though it’s similar to sugar water. Maybe people could take an example from animals and bugs.
“You wanna hold him?” “Yeah!” I put my hands near hers. She budges the snake so he will slip onto my hands. He coils himself into a figure eight around my wrists. “He’s handcuffing you!” she laughs. The other girl warns, “He has been known to climb through shirt sleeves.” With my free hand I grasp my t-shirt sleeve so the snake climbs up my shoulder. He checks out the top of my head, winding his tail loosely around my neck. The head supervisor asks, “You all right with this?” Is she kidding? This is the coolest!
Me: Whatcha doing now?
C: Waiting for food to be ready.
Me: We had toll house pie for dinner, and it turned out really good with pb added in
C: For dinner? Me: Yup why not
Me: Like you get it eating nothing but bread products. This pie has protein, flaxseeds, whole wheat flour, and granola crust
C: Mmm then maybe you should’ve told me that
Me: It’s a given that my desserts have flaxseeds and whole wheat flour
It’s oddly comforting to know that even though my sister is 6.5 hours away, we can still argue.
Many visitors loved the snake. They dared each other to touch it. Some could, some couldn’t. Toddlers had no problem petting the snake, but the older kids were hesitant. This makes me wonder if a fear of snakes is less evolutionary and more of a taught fear. The psychology textbook said that a fear of animals, heights, closed spaces, the dark, are leftover traits from the caveman era. Being scared of those things kept them alive. I know quite a few adults who are scared of snakes, but those toddlers showed no fear. They haven’t learned to fear snakes yet.
Our forearms lean against the table holding a large tank with blue gill fish. While watching the fish, she asks, “If fish have such a short memory, do you think they remember their hiding spots or just find them again? Cuz they all have their favorite spots.” I settle for thoughtful silence; both answers seem valid to me. We hear a scraping sound behind us. She turns around and walks to the turtle’s cage. “What are you doing, girl?” she asks with a laugh. I stand next to her. The turtle wedged herself sideways between a wall of the cage and her plastic container hut.
“I wonder if that’s soft enough for a candle.” I look down at the mini sunflower butter cup I made especially for my mom. She rises from her seat, opens a drawer, and comes back with a blue candle and a lighter. My sister and I sing happy birthday. Though it’s a cheerful tune, I feel sad. This mini celebration feels pathetic compared to what it should be. My mom takes 30 full seconds to make her wish. We clap as the candle blinks out. “My wish has already come true; I’m celebrating with the two of you.”
“So are you still helping out with the animals?” “Yeah. And yesterday I got to feed both snakes!” “Did you feed them a mouse?” “The small one got a mouse and the big one got a rat. It was so funny cuz both of them played coy with the rat; I dangled it in front of their noses and it took them forever to bite it.” “They wanted it stunned. Cuz they were alive, weren’t they?” “Actually they were frozen and then de-thawed in the microwave.” “Oh wow. Something sounds very wrong with mice being cooked in the microwave. Well you’re just learning a lot, aren’t you.”
After finishing up one customer and before the next requests his order, my new friend turns around and whispers, “Hi! Quick hug....” I lean in and wrap my arms around her waist. We let go and she returns to the line of customers. Content, I look around at the rest of the market. My eyes identify someone I’ve known for six years. I recognize her posture, the way her arms fold behind her back when she’s nervous, her laugh. I love hanging with my new friend. But no one can compete with someone I’ve known for a third of my life.
A familiar figure sits on a chair in front of a librarian. I wave and come over to stand next to him. The librarian shows him around the adult section of the library. “I’ll see you next week,” I say, preparing to go. He looks confused. “Aren’t you gonna look for books?” “I am. I’m going to the juvenile section,” I point to the other side of the library with picture books propped up on shelves. Looking down at me seriously he says, “You stay over there as long as you can. Cause the books over here are boring compared to them.”
Luna moths breathe through their abdomen. They don’t eat as adults. Their eyes are made of lots of tiny eyes which lets them look in every direction at the same time. The antenna move chemicals in the air for the moth to taste and smell. Luna moths have tubes for hearts. Since baby luna moths are picky eaters, the mom senses which kind of leaf her babies will like. The caterpillars molt five times before undergoing metamorphosis. A chemical emitted from the grown moth’s body helps break the cocoon. Once the moth crawls out, its abdomen shoots fluid through the body to let the wings open.
Being polite doesn’t make much sense. I was eating butter pecan ice cream right out of the tub when my dad collapsed on the chair across from me. “While I don’t care, that’s not really a good thing to do in polite company.” He nodded at my spoon digging for a pecan. “It’s because now the stuff in your mouth is in the ice cream. I do it all the time so I don’t care, but don’t let your sister see it or she won’t eat it.” Why go through the effort of digging out an ice cream scooper when you can stab your own spoon into the carton?
I answer the FaceTime call. My sister props her phone so I can see The Game of Life board. She and our cousin ask if I want the purple car, if I want to start at college or go directly to the path of life. I answer, and they position my plastic car accordingly. When I get a Share the Wealth card, they lean it against the phone’s camera so I can see what it says while they still have no clue its contents. It almost feels like I’m right there with them.
It takes more effort than I realized to make sure individual shots run for the right length of time. There are so many different second lengths for different effects. I usually do 0.4 seconds for each picture when a pipe cleaner person is doing an action, but the first and last pictures of that action need to be a bit longer so the brain can process the fast-paced movement before comfortably moving onto the next scene. More important images get longer time, up to a whole second, but if the time length is too long, then it looks like the movie is stalling.
What if at the end of everyone’s lives, scientists gave them the option of splicing their DNA with a horse’s and morph them into a centaur. What would it be like? Would we have two hearts, two stomachs? Would we eat hay chopped up and made into a Frosted Flake-like cereal? Would we sleep standing up? What would our furniture look like? Would we be more comfortable in a house that looked like a barn or a traditional human dwelling? Would we still drive? Would we have to wear shirts? Would normal humans with two hands and two feet shun humans turned centaurs?
“So what music do you usually listen to?” “Uh, it’s mainly metal,” I answer sheepishly, wondering if she will look at me as if I’m crazy, as everyone else does when I answer this question. “Nice! There aren’t many metal fans around here,” she says with a pleased smile. I admit, “When I tell most people, they usually give me a weird look.” “Aw. If you had said you listened to that,” she jabs a finger at the black radio playing pop, “I would have been like, ‘yeah, ok, that’s cool,’ but I actually would have been disappointed.” I beam.
Acquaintances have been asking me, “You taking any summer classes? No? Then what are you doing to keep yourself occupied?” The people have good intentions, but these questions are annoying. This is my first summer off since starting high school. I didn’t want to go to college because I was so burnt out from the struggle to finish 12th grade. American culture may decree that people need to say busy 24/7 in order to be successful. I disagree. One needs time away from work in order to stay strong and to give their fullest to the job. Endlessly working wears one down to crappy performance.
I’ve asked three people their opinion on playing with food. One said, “Kids can’t, adults can.” Her argument was that when adults play with food, they create art, such as braided bread. On the other hand, kids are just messy when they play. The second person I asked thinks that everyone of all ages should be allowed to play with food because it’s fun, and anything fun should be explored. She launched into a discussion of all the ways she plays with food: mashed potato gravy volcanoes, french fry boats. The third person doesn’t think it’s a good idea for anyone to play with food because it’s messy and improper.
He holds out a palm, offering wild blackberries to anyone who wants to try one. I pick one lumpy circle up and pop it into my mouth. “Where’d you find them?” “On that bush over there right by my truck!” I follow him to the bush. Pink berries grow at the top. He directs my gaze to the lower part of the bush where the black ripe berries are. After five years of walking around here, how could I never have noticed this miraculous bush? “Now don’t go telling anyone about it now,” he playfully warns. “I won’t,” I promise distractedly, still amazed that food can be picked right off a wild bush and eaten a second later.
i found a golfball in the rain
stuck deep inside the clay dirt ground
where trees this winter were cut down
this is the second ball I gain
showed it off to my vender friends
“It’s dirty.” “It’s your good luck charm.”
But my special friend suggested
“Plant it! Maybe it’ll grow.”
i planted it in my backyard
buried beneath clay dirt again
gave it some water, sun, and love
a seam cracked down the middle
the golf ball’s coating withered
out grew a gray metal pole
attached with a triangle flag
its roots turned into streams
its stem grew bigger flags
and at the top of every pole
grew a golf ball seed
The Tip Jar