REPORT A PROBLEM
The morning email from my realtor arrived in triplicate showing but one listing, a three-bedroom on N. Christine for $134k. I knew that it should be a decent house. I had lived in that neighborhood for 23 years. It seemed like a good deal, so I drove over to take a look. It was an uninhabited brick house on a corner lot. Up close, it didn’t look good. It was obviously uninhabited, with the garage lock jimmied. A pair of wide cracks ran that down the brick wall window to foundation like ivy vines had to be letting in water.
A GI Joe lies expired on the carpet. Having escaped the toy chest in the closet, he made the bone-jarring drop and the mad dash through the dark to the bathroom. There he crawled through the muck and damp, under constant capricious fire, and out into the hallway. We’re not sure what his story is, what dangers he faced, what pain he felt before running out of life on the high ground in the living room. We don’t know who he left behind, or what moved him to leave his home; only that he one time crawled his heart out.
A little girl Zoe dances across the floor, momentarily entranced by the chipmunks on TV, and then distracted by something else. I find that of all the people I have encountered in the past several years, the one who has the mind that most often mirrors my own turns out to be two years old. I’m not going to chase down the good or bad in this or even try to evaluate the frequency with which it happens, except to say it is a touch of some kind to look at another human being and recognize what she is feeling.
Happy July 4th! Bang! I heard my first bang yesterday, which is late for July 4th around here. Usually the noise starts about a week early. I get go work today—8 hours. The video store is dead. My entire shift is a stream of workers being sent home early. At 6:30 Lisa and Zoe bring me lunch. We eat on the lawn behind the building. They come back to get me at ten, Lisa pushing Zoe in the stroller. As we are crossing the parking lot, I see a bloom of sudden color on the horizon—my first skyrocket!
I started to write something, but stopped and started over. I had written it before, and I didn’t want to retrace those steps. I’m looking around the apartment and I have been playing this game of musical chairs with the furniture. I’m afraid, however, that when I get done, no matter what I do, there is not going to be enough room for everything. Something is going to end up getting dumped. Most likely it will be something I have previously dug from the dump, and I am thinking about a printer stand I found alongside Highway 7 in Canada.
I put a password on my computer about a month ago because I wanted to protect it from Michael Junior. Computers that he uses don’t last very long, and I need mine intact. This morning, when I put in my password, the computer rejected it. I know the “I” key isn’t working very well, and it is part of my password, and that may be why I had to put the password in ten or more times before it worked. At any rate, it scared me. And Michael Junior seems to not live here any more. I removed the password.
It’s Mug day. Mug is sleeping on the deck, and his damp gooey breath has filled the air around him. It condenses on the railing, sliming the spindles, and dripping to the deck below. As he snores, the sky changes color, the blue raining out. The air gets heavier, and it affects everyone who breathes it; it affects anyone who even sees it. He snorts, rolling over on his back, his shirt falling off of his chest. He scratches himself unconsciously with long dirty nails. A long lock of matted hair gets caught on a loose nail startling him momentarily.
I see the shadows moving through the slats blind slats and there is not enough of my mind in one place to chisel out 100 words. But, it has been suggested that I must start with where I am, and that is a hard place for me. It is poorly defined, and when I try to think about it I find myself swimming in thick viscous unreferenced pain. It’s obviously not something I am going to be able to tackle head on. I’ve been writing for a long time though, long enough to know how to deal with these problems.
I have a headache. I so rarely get headaches. A fairy-tale plastic ball about 8” in diameter balances itself delicately on one toe on the carpet. The headache races across my forehead and behind my eyes. The ball belongs to Zoe. I bought it for her while we were shopping at Meijer. She seemed to need a ball. She seems to need so many things. She seems to need so few things besides her mother. Her mother seems to need me, yet I am at a loss when I consider what I have to offer her mother besides another two-year-old.
After taking Lisa to see the condo and getting her nod on it, I gave Gary the approval to make an offer on it. I was to go down to sign the offer tomorrow morning at 8:30, but she convinced me that was probably too early for me to try to start my day, so I went today around noon. But there were problems. The condo already had an offer. The bank had been sitting on it for over a month. No, they didn’t want any more offers. They weren’t sure what to do. The condo was in offer purgatory.
I had decided to wait until later to do the 100 words, but that engine had already clicked to life inside me. The wheels were already starting to turn, small jewelry chains lifted by gleaming cogs as Zoe danced on the rug, her mother trying to convince her she DID want to wear pants. “Will it bother you if we watch a movie?” “No.” “Do you want to watch a movie Zoe?” “No.” But Zoe is already consulting the Mary Poppins box. She goes with Annie though. They watch a lot of movies, but they always go back to Annie.
The crowds are getting heavier along the street as the parade approaches, children riding their father’s shoulders, early-risers in their lawn chairs with coolers at their sides. The street still glistens from the morning rain, drops clinging to the grooves in the lamp posts, and I stand on the sidewalk waiting as a high school band clips toward me, tubas tapping time. A breeze lifts a baby’s curl. I am drifting somewhere as the uniforms pass, as the precision drill dress Harleys weave behind and the flags wave. The parade moves, and the crowd applauds, and I am floating elsewhere.
It is most probable that these senses I have of ripples extending around me in time are a product of an imagination not fully awake. Or it may be the inevitable buildup of lithium salts and Prozac in the water table (take a note to buy a water filter, except I worry about what is in those paper filaments). I wonder whether the fuzzy sense we have about existence is really just these overlapping ripples from adjacent dimensions bouncing us around. I wonder if existence is really as hard and crisp as a newly ripped-out liver drying in the sun.
I was feeling puny this morning until I ate breakfast. I scrambled some eggs and sausage for Zoe and me. Lisa didn’t want any. Zoe loves the eggs for breakfast thing. I don’t care for the taste, but my metabolism seems to level out on eggs for breakfast better than anything else. More of the two-year-old in me I suppose. Sometimes, watching her react to the world around her, I feel I understand what is going on inside her head and I think it is closer to what I experience than other adults. Maybe that is something I shouldn’t admit.
Oh, it’s back up. 100 words is back up and I am only two days behind. Lisa is fixing Zoe and me a hamburger omelet as I announce the site is back up. “Oh good,” she says. I wonder what she is writing on her side. Right now she is not writing anything. Right now, I clearly have the upper hand. We are all eating eggs and burger. I am he only one also typing. Zoe watches me as she eats her eggs stuffing them into her mouth with her hands. She is mugging for me. My eggs are gone.
There are holes in the trees. There are many holes in the trees, and these holes change shape and position as you move. The holes live between the trees and within individual trees. They leap from branch to branch during the day, squinting at the sun. At night they lay like silver clouds whispering to one another in soft voices. “Are you going to sleep tonight?” “No, not me. I never sleep.” “Me either.” A large cottonwood smiles, and sweeps several of the holes aside, tumbling them from the sky. They catch in the lower branches of a small maple.
Lester Young sat on his balcony watching the young towel-wrapped children racing out to the pool under the dark skies. It had rained for weeks, and the trout ponds were in danger of overflowing. The high winds had taken out many older trees and had ripped off one roof in the small village. They had come to see Lester that morning. Lester was an old soul, one of about a hundred scattered throughout the world in these strange days. Lester had told them to send the children to swim. Looking up, he could see the skies already beginning to clear.
Lester watched the children playing in the pool for a while, splashing in the sun, running along the deck, and then went back into his apartment. Opening the door, he saw the foil-wrapped pan on the mat just outside. Another goose, he thought. He smelled apples and nuts too. This one might be worth the eating. He lifted the still warm pan and took it into his kitchen, setting it in the oven to cool for his dinner that evening. He was thinking about the committee who visited him earlier, about how quickly and eagerly they had accepted his suggestion.
There had only been three people come to visit Lester this time, two men and a woman. He had invited them in. They didn’t look worried, as much as relieved. After all they had come to solve the problem. They looked at him expectantly, and he invited them to sit down. Two of them sat on the couch. The third, a very tall man remained standing. He spread his hands, and began speaking, “The rain…” And he stopped there. He had brownish eyes that played color tricks in the light. He was looking now into Lester’s Old Soul blue eyes.
Lester remembered the man. His name was Bill Fear. Before the world had come apart Lester had lived a somewhat normal life in a subdivision with Bill. During the coming apart Bill had fought Lester bitterly. He had spat on him in a public meeting, and had tried to kill him one night with a hunting rifle from behind one of the large trees out behind the pool where the children were now playing. Lester took a breath and slowly let it out. Sometimes he just felt tired. “The children can’t swim in the storm,” he had said to Bill.
The pair on the couch nodded in unison as Lester talked to Bill. This was true. Everyone knew this. “Send the children out to play in the pool,” said Lester. The pair on the couch looked at one another bright-faced as if to say, “Why didn’t we think of this?” Bill didn’t bat an eye. He didn’t swallow. Lester watched him. He was as resigned to the way things had become as Lester was. Bill nodded. “Thank you,” he said. And the group quickly filed out of the apartment, Leaving Lester to contemplate the new muddy footprints on his carpet.
Bill was somewhat of a leader in the community Lester knew. That was what he had wanted so badly when things were coming apart, when the heat of that summer had gotten so bad that the roads literally melted beneath the trucks, huge hunks of pavement rolling up around the tires and wedging them to a stop to cook in the sun before nightfall. How many meals society was from falling apart? Two it had always been said. Two had been the number alright. Then the power went off. The shooting and looting started. And then the military rolled in.
I receive a letter from Matthew. He was unable to open the NaNo document. He asks if I have bought a condo. I send him a primitive-Word-friendly copy of the NaNo and tell him I have signed another year’s apartment lease and that I have had a significant life change that is sort of explained in the NaNo and sort of not.
The response comes from eBay. Check out the latest items from my favorite sellers. I don’t think I have any favorite sellers any longer on eBay. I check it out any way. They do have some interesting stuff.
I was leaving the hair salon to pick up Lisa and Zoe at the play ground when I saw the jogging stroller parked outside a baby consignment shop two doors down. It was pointed at me, whispering my name. On three wire wheels, it looked like a sports car. I thought about Lisa struggling over pot holes and grates with the twenty-dollar umbrella stroller we got when she came to town. I went over to inspect. It had a hand brake for the front wheel, out of adjustment of course. I made the necessary adjustment while getting to know it.
The stroller was a pretty piece of technology, perfect for the long walks we liked to take across town, and priced at sixty bucks. It had a weather shield, storage pockets to put stuff in, double wheel locks, little buckets for Zoe to put her feet so they wouldn’t drag on the ground, and it folded up. OK, I bought it.
OK, it wouldn’t fit in my trunk. However, like any good racing bicycle, it had a quick removal device for the front wheel which made it perfect trunk size, if you didn’t want any thing else in the trunk.
With the techno-stroller in the trunk I went to pick up the girls, feeling guilty about my impulse purchase. I rationalized that we had discussed the stroller. I didn’t think the one we had was adequate for the use it got. Lisa argued that it was ok. It was too short for me to use for one thing, and the wheels were small, catching on almost anything. Zoe’s feet also slipped out sometimes to scrape the ground. There was no weather shade on it. It just looked like a bad accident waiting to happen, but Lisa insisted it was perfect.
As I drove with the techno baby buggy in the trunk, I was thinking I should have consulted with Lisa first, but I think she would have said no. Well, I thought, if worse came to worse, it was returnable for store credit and there were plenty of things in that store we could use.
But she loved it, and thanked me profusely when I popped the trunk to confess my misdeed. “It’s the most beautiful stroller I’ve ever seen. No, don’t take it out now. Zoe will go nuts.”
So I guess the stroller is gonna maybe be ok.
I think about my children. Even though most of them are now scattered into lives of their own, I dwell on them and worry about whether I am performing my duties as a parent correctly. It is not so much easier to do the correct things for a child of 30 than it is a child of 3. It is because above all else we are creatures of limited means, limited intelligence, and limited perception. We don’t always know when a problem needs solving or listening to. We sometimes forget and act like normal human beings or even children ourselves.
I have eleven writing minutes left, but Apprehensive does not want to write. Apprehensive wants to take a nap, to look out the window, or to rearrange the CD’s in the spare bedroom. Apprehensive says I have reached my writing goals for the day. Apprehensive says I should quit now, that the time was not the goal.
But, I argue the time was the goal. Just because I wrote so many thousand words here and finished a letter there does not mean anything. The time was the real goal I started with. I was apprehensive about making it anything else.
I have a new place where I write. It is a different chair in a different room. It is not so different from the other place I wrote, except the only thing I do in this place is writing. It is not a place I sit to pay bills or to gaze out the window. I don’t read here, play Sudoku, watch movies, or talk on the phone. The only thing I do here is write. This place is heavily associated with this one task. I didn’t mean it that way initially, but it seems to work well for me.
I was tangled in the chair this morning when my daughter called about her car, and couldn’t get to the phone four feet away. I will fix that some day; just not now. The diagnosis on the car was in. Stage one repairs: a starter, oil change, windshield wipers, etc., $300. Stage two repairs: Add radiator and hoses, $600. Stage three repairs: Add shifter bushing, $850. The prices seemed high. I gagged, and selected stage two repairs after quickly weighing whether I was up for driving to Lansing and making the repairs myself. So much for the budget this month.
The Tip Jar