Small Confessions

Mr. X used the school’s PA system to call me from homeroom to the music room. I knew what it was about, but remained remarkably calm as I made my way down the hallways of our sad little school, the smell of damp and mothballs catching in the back of my throat.

[Confession: I had signed out one of the trumpets from the school’s collection over the weekend, and through a series of (then) hellish but ultimately (as in now) comedic events, managed to damage the instrument very badly.]

The music room was not, as I had expected, empty. There was a class in full swing and everyone went silent as I entered the room and found Mr. X standing in front of them, right next to the ruined horn. He’d propped it up in its case on a stool and opened the lid: a mangled metal mummy put on display for all to see.

[Confession: I was fully ready to cop to the damage I’d done. Had mentally prepared for it in the hallway. But something about Mr. X having the class ready in wait, as witness – something about the theatrics of the whole music room set up turned me around on that.]

“One thing you should know about me: I don’t get angry. I get even.” That was what he told every class at the beginning of the year. It was delivered as a joke, but not to be taken as such. Not entirely. Standing there, called out in front of the class (mostly kids I didn’t know, but I few I most definitely did), standing in front of the messed-up trumpet, in front of him, I now knew that for sure. It was hardly a joke.

[Confession: At first, I thought it was an extremely funny thing to say: “I don’t get angry. I get even.” That particular brand of sardonic humour was, like, so in back in the day.]

“Do you know what happened to this trumpet?” he asked, loudly, and without preamble. And of course I did because, not only had I done it (or rather, allowed it to happen), but my name was on the sign-out sheet for exactly one trumpet (though, to my great benefit, it had taken a day or two for that particular trumpet to make it back into class circulation).

The students whispered (“she did it!”). Some laughed.

“No,” I answered. “I don’t know.”

“Because it looks like someone’s beat the hell out of this thing.”

“Wasn’t me.”

The teaching assistant (some young guy whose name must have been something like “Allan”) held up the sign-out binder. “It says you signed out a trumpet.”

“I did.” No lie there.

I remember the silence that engulfed the room as Mr. X, Allan and I stood there (a trumpet is not the trumpet, is not that trumpet, is it?). As the class quieted and settled in to watch.

I learned a lot about silence that day.

[Confession: My bowels had turned to ice. I was so sure they had me and would have probably admitted everything had Mr. X not chosen to speak in the very next moment.]

“OK. You say no. You say you don’t know. Go back to class.” It was clearly an admonishment, a small victory via public humiliation. But I think: his as well as mine.

He remains the only non-white teacher I ever had growing up (this includes elementary, middle and high school). So it also felt like a betrayal.

[Confession: I stopped taking music after that semester, although I signed out the exact same trumpet, (after they’d fixed it), at least twice more before the end of term using, of course, the new sign-out sheet in which date, name, instrument and INSTRUMENT NUMBER were prominently listed.]

Mr. X never mentioned the trumpet to me again. I never paid for the damages or was (officially) labelled the culprit. The other students quickly tired of the intrigue and scandal (such as it was in our pathetic little ‘burg) and moved on to the next thing, whatever that was.

A few years later, when I learned he died, and that he’d been killed in a skiing accident, I remember thinking: No way.

[Confession: But what I said was, “Just like Sonny Bono.”]

Yes. Just like Sonny Bono. I confess, I said that. I confess, I could have done better. I confess, that if in this whole story there is any fault to find or blame to assign, it’s not to be found anywhere I can imagine.

 

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P.S. Fuck you, Allan.

 

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Filed under Death, Education, People, Race, School, THE PAST

Open Secrets, Vol. 11

  • Remember awesome?
  • Many vs. Various.
  • It’s all a numbers game.
  • Why not take a stab (or two) at it?
  • Noble Dogs vs. Average Men.
  • Sure, makes logical sense.
  • Too much rope.
  • Civility vs. Humanity.
  • Do you care to brand it?
  • Try twisting it off.
  • All these sad dudes everywhere.
  • Definitely Mortal vs. Technically Immortal.
  • Pretty’s a lot.
  • But everything?
  • It counts. Until it doesn’t.

 

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Filed under Death, Interruptions, People

Little Fallen Kingdoms

1. The Flower Man Cometh

Summers in the city mean patio dinners in the evenings; the sultry air, the cool breezes, the relaxed conversations – the city, for once, forgetting to take itself so seriously. A good time to catch up; reconnect with old friends, meet new ones.

Eat & drink. Be merry. Etc.

Then there are those who don’t (or can’t?) get into the swing of things. Those who fail to keep the hard-earned peace. Those who seem determined to spoil it, everything, for everyone.

Know who I mean?

His stories were boring, which would have been fine if not for his demeanour: the way he demanded attention, adoration, even, for this startling mediocrity. The way he was convinced (and tried to convince) that he deserved it. The way he interrupted if not speaking, or spoken to.

You know who I mean.

We all saw the Flower Man from across the empty street, one from a fleet of flower peddlers who roam the city’s summer’s night, flitting from patio to patio, selling puckered roses. Pressuring people to buy them or, lo, forsake love – reject it completely as a concept, never mind a possibility, forever. A hard bargain.

No one really ever wants a flower from the Flower Man.

But it was he who called him to our table, waving empathetically like a drunken sailor come off from the docks: a desperate fool. A fucking cliché.

Only $5 a rose? He bought one for his girlfriend, pulling out the sweaty bill from his front pants pocket which such flourish I wondered if he even noticed (or cared) that the flower was already wilted, already halfway dead.

Probably not.

Rose installed in his girlfriend’s waiting hand, he turned to us expectantly. The Flower Man turned to us, expectantly.

Follow the leader.

The people around us looked away, some cringing, knowing that they would surely be next. The Flower Man can be most persistent, and unforgiving. Who counts as a couple and who does not? The Flower Man decides, apparently. He alone knows love’s bounds. The roses have no say in it whatsoever, poor things.

“Pretty flower for a pretty lady?” The Flower Man asked my partner.

“We’re not together,” I said, gesturing to myself and Stephen.

“We’re not together.” Three small words that did just the trick, banishing the Flower Man from our table.

Now.

Do you believe it magic? Because those words spread like wildfire – engulfing the patio, cleansing the night.

“We’re not together.”

Every table with a purported couple, each having one speak for the other:

“We’re not together.”

No more roses sold that day. Not at our patio, at least. Whatever became of them it at least wasn’t that.

 

2. Punchline Botanical

Flowers are a joke, aren’t they?

You buy a bouquet of flowers. You put them in a vase. You watch them die. They die sl-o-o-owly.

I bought some the other day on a whim (as a joke for Stephen) and we giddily put them in a used pickle egg jar, installed them in the corner of the living room, and forgot about them.

What else is there?

IMG_8403

Except. Now, I catch myself, looking at the flowers and thinking…nothing in particular. I realize this is because I have nothing to add. Nothing whatsoever. They are dying, and doing it slowly, but that seems so far away from the present moment – and they are more than pretty; they are lovely in their resilience, their pomp and glamour – that what does it even matter that that’s the truth?

It’s not a lie, or a denial, the fact of the flowers. Their presence is irrefutable.

What sorcery is this?

 

(2.5 How Does Your Garden Grow?)

(I planted a garden this year, out back behind the house. I figured just a plant or two. I was convinced I would grow bored and abandon them before summer’s end. They’re plants, after all. Easily replaced by more of the same. Or not. Who cares?

And yet. I spend hours at a time out there. In the garden. Tending to the plants (so many plants), fulfilling their needs. Basically, making sure they are OK – and more than that, thriving – and no matter what havoc the sun is wreaking on my skin; no matter how my already tender back hurts. No matter the rain or the shine.

They have a power over me I can’t yet explain, or account for. Something that brings me out there with purpose, if not a real sense of time going.

And it does not matter that they, the plants, do not care one whit about me, and never will.

Don’t they?)

 

3. Flower. Power.

Dr. Ellie Sattler saved the day (T Rex notwithstanding). She did what needed doing, and she did it well.

It does not seem all that obvious at first, does it? Salvation from a paleobotanist (more plants, dead plants and long dead plants at that), especially when there are dinosaurs around, some of them bloodthirsty. A few, perhaps, out for revenge.

But that’s what happens when you underestimate power & presence. When you misjudge, devalue, miscalculate.

“Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth.”

Stop. Smell the roses.

(But mind the puckered ones).

 

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Filed under City Life, Hobbies, Interruptions, Places, Plants, Pop Culture

Open Secrets, Vol. 10

– Civility will not save you.

– Riddle me thus!

– The irreparable future.

– (Sometimes the fight picks you.)

– Who? vs. Who Dares?

– Now is a long time.

– Wonder about the premise?

– (Well, yeah.)

Whose: responsibility, choice, mans is this?

– Everyday, just so many heartbeats.

– Parts beyond wazoo?

– Who You Are vs. Who You Are Right Now.

– So many wrong words until the right ones.

– (If ever.)

– Someone to love vs. Something to behold.

– Oh! The inhumanity.

– Remember the punchline.

 

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Filed under Change, Interruptions, People, Time

Stranger Readings

When and wherever I see a stranger reading (the subway, the park, the doctor’s office), I always try to figure out what is it they’re reading. What, then why.

How being obvious.

(Or is it? There are times the pages are obscured, and I just have to imagine they’re there and also being read. Also, there are so many assumptions in “How,” isn’t there?)

So, why? Why that book? Is it the content? The author? Is this a project, or a pastime (or both)?

Is this good?

More: good in all sense or semblance of that word, “good.”

Tell me stranger: Do you know something I don’t know? Maybe you know something I do.

Also: Maybe I could tell you a thing or two. I have books too.

Then: “Books are dead.” Did you know that?

Finally: Yes, dead. Read for work. Reading is work. Work to get paid, or don’t work at all. Getting paid is everything, or it is nothing. Anyway, no one likes their job, which is the same as work. Don’t be a sucker! A show-off! A conceit!

Never concede.

Books are dead.

***

Now, of course, I wouldn’t take things so far down that particular logic hole; the rabbits there are deranged.

This is nothing that should be done. Stranger readings ought to stay that way.

This is just an exercise.

The premise being ridiculous.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Communications, Death, Interruptions, Language, People, Routines, Words

Open Secrets, Vol. 9

– “At least” is not “better than.”

– Polite vs. Kind.

– Emoji your way into my heart.

Crying: wolf, game, me a river.

– Refuse (garbage) vs. Refuse (you).

– Follow up please and now and often.

– Better this than that.

– Expected Result vs. Desired Outcome.

– Your wants; my needs; their prerogative.

– Complicated vs. Complex.

Social: butterfly, media, suicide.

– Text yourself away.

– Facts are memories too.

– Do you meme it?

– Tragic Beginning vs. Comedic End.

– Brought to you by solar power.

– At least there’s that.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Change, Interruptions, Language, Words

The Chubbalobster

A friend texted me “Chubbalobster” the other day. Monday of this week, in fact.

I can’t get into the specifics of the Chubbalobster right now. But I will tell you it was a, sort of, brain hiccup we had during our undergraduate years. We were anthropology students strung out on ethnographic method! It was bound to happen – this perfect collision (or is that collusion?) of manic giddiness and prostrate misery that resulted in a thing called (for whatever reason) the “Chubbalobster”…and then just as easily, it seems, utterly forgotten.

But the other day, it popped into his head.

Chubbalobster!

“So what WAS a Chubbalobster?”

Damned if I knew.

He told me that I drew it once. Did I? And then I realized that he was right: I did. I did draw it, once. Once upon a time I drew a – I drew the Chubbalobster. I’d just totally forgotten about it. Or rather, I failed to remember.

Very different.

So I drew it again, the Chubbalobster, to see if I could. But now I realize that this rendering of the Chubbalobster may or may not come close to approximating the original.

Chubbalobster

Doesn’t it? Or does it? I just have no real idea. Neither does my friend. But it is a Chubbalobster if not the Chubbalobster and that will have to be enough for everybody.

Chubbalobster. It’s been years and years. Years since I’ve remembered, years since that particular neural pathway has been fired up, years in which you, Chubbalobster, and for all intents and purposes, did not exist.

And yet, and then: “I think you drew it once didn’t you?”

***

A working definition of Chubbalobster, now that I’ve got some bearing on it:

[Chubbalobster: Among the things from your past pulled from other people’s memories.]

I am not sure if I am comforted by that.

Confounded, surely. Yes, without a doubt.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Friends, Language, Names, Words

To Death

At a certain indefinite point, I became, and remain, wary whenever someone invokes someone else’s name in relation to my memory of that person:

“Do you remember X?”

Yes, or no. Maybe?

“They died.”

This keeps happening: I learned my mother’s cousin died this way. I learned a friend died this way. I learned two former co-workers died this way. And another friend; they died this way.

One way or another, they died this way:

“Do you remember X?”

“They died.”

I learned a stranger’s friend died this way while she was speaking to another friend as we all rode the streetcar together:

“Do you remember X?”

Yes (in this case, yes).

“They died.”

I say wary. Wary, yes, but not offended, or indignant, or upset. Just primed now, for the inevitable.

***

There are, I suppose, other ways to learn that someone’s died, but they seem to be lacking in conviction (if not intentionality):

I have some terrible news. There’s something I need to tell you. This isn’t going to be easy, but…

Maybe not conviction, then, but something closer to certitude, declaration…substantiation. Status. All of these things and not one of them.

They died.

Alternatively:

They’ve passed. They are no longer with us. They’ve been called home.

Again seems lacking; again seems beside the point.

(Are you sure?)

(“Home.” There’s that word again. Home.)

They died.

If there’s a better way to say it, I’ve not heard it.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Death, Family, Friends, Language

Dog Days

Louis recently had 14 teeth taken out in a procedure that quickly became a marathon operation, complete with dramatic skips and beats in which he, in his fright and confusion and special doggy frustration, tried to fight his way out; in which his breathing became abnormal (though it stabilized at just the right critical point for the work to continue); in which his teeth, while seemingly normal from the outside (and thus, primed primarily for a cleaning) were actually abhorrently rotten on the inside (hence the transformation of his dental work from standard to complex to troublesome), and in which the resultant financial cost went from the low $$ to the high $$$.

Yet, it was nothing, this being his 4th major procedure (2 back surgeries for herniated discs; 1 for a snapped ligament) in his 14 long years of doggy life. He’s since recovered, as he has 3 times before. He acts as if nothing had happened, though there is less and less of him for anything to happen to as time goes by.

Dog Days

The absurdity of this dog. The absurdity of it all – all of it, our life together.

In a 1972 letter to Jane Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut mediates on the nature of death, having perused the copy of Markings, Dag Hammarskjöld’s memoir, that Jane has sent him:

“I open it at random, and I find a lot about dying meaningfully, and about sacrifice and pain and mysterious destinies…Are you really tuned in to this sort of stuff? Should I be? Well – I’ll try, but it’s not my style. I, for one, am glad I didn’t die in Africa, although that opportunity was mine. I still believe that a dog is going to kill me, and it scares me – and it pisses me off” (2012: 192).

There are fates worse than death, just as there are a million ways to die. Vonnegut’s is the closest that comes to mind as being, if not right, if not justified, if not even true in its most tangible sense, than fair.

Harsh, but fair. More than fair.

This dog is going to kill me.

 

 

________________________________________________

Vonnegut, Kurt. (2011). Letters, ed. Dan Wakefield. Delacorte Press: New York.

 

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Books, Death, Dogs, Health, Pets, Philosophy, Relationships

Open Secrets, Vol. 8

– Cheese it (every time)!

– Actually, that is exactly who you care.

– Hot Take vs. Cold Open.

– Just bury it in the news cycle.

– The lesser of two evils is only the devil you know.

Kill it with: kindness, love, fire.

– Bad News vs. The Worst News.

– Few or not many makes little difference.

Hard times: ahead, behind us, now.

– Found Objects vs. Lost Causes.

– Butter makes it better; extra butter makes it extra butter.

– Mild Ambitions vs. Wild Aspirations.

– Your kids; my dog.

– Miserable Truths vs. Beautiful Lies.

Better to be: interesting(?), loved(?), present(?).

– Leader but not boss.

– Nice vs. Nice Enough.

– Skin deep is still just a little bit deep.

– Eat your cake, and have it too.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Children, Food, People, Philosophy