The blistery stripe on Gamma’s forehead, the doctor said, and the blistery spot on her cheek looked like something she called “Kontaktdermatitis”. She prescribed antihistamines. Gamma had come into contact with a blade of grass whilst playing in the woods near the river. It’s also important to know she inherited her hayfever from her father, who is me.

For various reasons I decided to go for a run Sunday morning. I ran from our house to the river, about half an hour, 45 minutes. The chest pains weren’t so bad so instead of running home I turned left and ran upstream, intending to return home in a big circle, big giant circle, instead of boringly retracing my steps. Running up the river got boring too, though, plus it was a lot farther than I expected, so for a change I took a left on the next trail I found heading into the forest and quickly got thoroughly lost.

This is no problem in that particular forest, because, I figured, it’s not like the region is unsettled. Go far enough in any direction and you eventually come to something manmade, like a road or a town, or you come to the river and that takes you back to civilization.

I followed a road that turned into a path that turned into a trail that turned into a bunch of bushes. Then I scared what I figure was a deer because it ran off into the woods a lot faster than I hope the wild boar that live in the woods can run. Then I came to some water. Then I found a couple deer trails and followed them for a while, because deer are always going someplace, you know deer. Always a destination in mind. Except these particular deer seemed to take a perverse delight in constructing dead-end deertrails leading to bodies of water, which turned out to abound in those woods, or solid walls of summer-green vegetation.

I was jogging along all the time, crashing through brush and grass and leafy shit. My tight, clingy running pants were all green in the front, green with these velcro-type vines that were sticking to me and slowing me down. Wild hops grow in the area, and it quickly became obvious that the first clotheslines must have been based on ideas some caveman got running through woods like that and all of a sudden boing, you know?

My clingy pants, besides interlocking perfectly with the velcro-type vines, only went halfway down my shins, leaving an exposed area that was beginning to blister. As was the rest of my body, the front half, because these functional running clothes I was wearing wicked the perspiration from my skin professionally, but provided little protection from whatever I was allergic to in the bushes there.

In the deepest part of the forest, the forest’s rectum if the forest were a giant whale, tangled up in vines, ducking under a dead tree, I told myself, Pay attention. Pay good and close attention right now. It’s not every day you find yourself stuck inside a metaphor like this.

I got untangled and kept running along a path that turned into no path, and that eventually intersected with my road, and I followed that and two hours after I had left found myself back home, uneventfully except for not getting eaten by a big furry German shepherd a lady was walking without a leash, etc etc.

Thanks to Gamma I had the antihistamines and the antihistamine skin cream and that helped a lot, but my crankiness knows no bounds today. Plus, boy are my legs sore.

The reflective property of slapstick

In the conference room, delegates listen to speakers through plastic devices that fit over one ear. Or they listen to the translators through them. Interpreters I mean. Plastic ear cups are connected to your chair by a curly plastic cord that stretches out to about 6 feet when you forget about the cup and get up and walk off before twanging back across one or more surprised fellow conference participants (just the cup not you, normally). This is very funny to watch from a distance, and yesterday I discovered it to be equally funny, in a slightly embarassing but what the hell life’s too short to worry about stuff like that way when it happens to you. By “you” I mean “me”. Although the possibly Malaysian delegate didn’t find it especially funny to have the thing snap back at her, and the probably Chinese delegate gave me a downright dirty look. Lighten up, dude. It’s only a plastic ear thing. Happens at least once per conference, sometimes more.

Top secret

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(Originally posted January 2004)


Little girl: Hallo.
Parrot: …
Little girl: Hallo.
Parrot: Hallo.
Little girl: Arschloch.
Parrot: …
Little girl: Arschloch.
Parrot: …

First Communion

They sit at a long table where the altar usually stands and the priest speaks and they all sing. It is a sunny day. They each go up to the microphone and say something one by one, except for the fat kid who shakes his head when the teacher talks to him, and still refuses to speak when she drags him up front. A big painting of Mary in front of my face. All the men wear suits, like Alpha said. All the kids wear white robes and the girls have wreaths of baby’s breath. One boy stares at the paintings on the ceiling, mouth wide open. So I’m not the only one.
They get bread. It tastes like bread, Gamma says afterwards. They drink wine. Alpha tells me they get real wine. They’re eight years old.
Then frankfurters in the room next to the church. And coffee. At home we eat schnitzels a caterer brought and cake and ice cream. The cake has a white and pink marzipan frosting Gamma and I peel off because neither of us likes marzipan. Underneath is chocolate frosting.
We lounge around. Some of us take naps. Alpha leaves on a business trip. Clouds start to roll in, there might be thundershowers later. The air has that feel to it.
We return to the church in the afternoon. More ceremony and singing. We give back the robe and pay some money, for laundering the robes maybe. Gamma desires a walk so we walk and not where I usually walk, she leads the way.
We hear a siren. That’s an ambulance says Gamma, whose world is drawing into sharper and sharper focus.
We see lots of people she knows. Kids from school. We walk around the village. Past farms and flower gardens and vegetable gardens. Lots of lupins blooming, while mine haven’t even grown spikes yet. Same with peonies, mine are barely buds and look at those lush blossoms.
Gamma tells me you feel just like a princess on your first communion day. She shows me the old building where the showers and locker rooms for the old soccer field used to be. Shows me the broken windows, tells me about sneaking in there with a girlfriend once, exploring. People are cleaning up a wreck out on the highway, far off. Blue lights still flashing. A truck from the fire department carries off a silver van. More are still in the ditch.
A couple is out walking their big white dog. They are the parents of the open-mouthed boy in church. They tell us they took him for a walk after everything was over and he started crying and said he just wanted to go home and watch TV, he was overwhelmed.
Gamma and I hold hands and walk along the field. We bump into a little friend of hers out in the field with her little brother, taking turns looking at the wreck with their dad’s binoculars. We talk to them and Gamma looks through the binoculars but doesn’t see anything special, just a red car.
Further away, we look back. Here in the fields the sky is huge, broad and high. The clouds are black in places and brightly lit in others by the setting sun. The fields just beginning to turn green, bordered in the distance by green hills with mountains beyond that. A few houses, the edge of the village, with a row of tall poplars between them and the fields. At the base of the poplars, two little kids in summer clothes looking at a big wreck with binoculars.
Next to a field of wheat we stop and watch swallows diving after bugs. We watch a bug hurry through the air over the field until we lose sight of it. The green wheat looks especially soft, the green hairy bits standing up from the grains of wheat make it look almost misty. A tractor drives past on the track and we get out of its way.
Take a good look, I tell Gamma. Remember all these gardens and vacant lots and fields and farm houses. They’ll all be gone when you’re my age.
Why? she asks me. I try to explain. It makes her sad and I wish I hadn’t gotten started. I don’t want to make my kid sad, I just want her to remember the lupins and peonies and kids out on bikes and standing in the dusk and swallows.


Nothing like finding yourself naked and twisted at the bottom of a teeny plexiglass shower stall (sort of an inverted Ardha Matsyendrdsana), looking sort of up at the ceiling and sort of over at the grout an inch in front of your face, with a twisted knee, wondering how you are going to get out, and a little girl asking if you are okay, to make you question whether the reduced mildew problem is worth the effort of squeegeeing the inside of the stall after every shower.


My youngest daughter, her name is Gamma, can bilocate. She did it last night after dinner. We had cleared the dining table and were sitting there talking and getting ready to do what we do after dinner, practice cello, play a game, brush our teeth and go to bed, whatever, depending on the person. My father-in-law often takes a walk around the village at that time. My mother-in-law lies on the sofa with her leg-bending machine and her crutches and suffers from her knee-replacement surgery that prevents her from doing anything beyond dispensing criticism and instructions on matters great and small.

She, my MIL, got up from the table with great effort and limped, sigh-propelled, back to her sofa. We all talked about whatever we were talking about when suddenly Gamma pointed and shouted in a voice simultaneously awed and narky:


For that instant, Gamma was two other places: in a large tent crowded with the halt and the lame and an evangelical faith healer (I SAY THROW YOURAH CRUTCHES DOWN AND WALK! THANK YOU JESUS!) and in a police station, on the good side of a two-way mirror, pointing out a suspect in the line-up (THAT’S HER! THE ONE WITH THE “CRUTCHES”!).

Okay, so trilocation, seeing as how she was also still at the dining table. And her grandmother metamorphosed temporarily into a crab, a crab caught in the headlights, a crab hypnotized by the snake, and both quickly scurried back to the table to fetch her forgotten crutches and yet not quickly seeing as how she was unable to walk without them and moving quickly would undermine her status as one unable to walk without crutches.

We floated, suspended in a timeless bubble of impromptu delight. Then the clock resumed ticking and Gamma went and brushed her teeth.