The best moment of the day

You read this post at Whiskey River so you are on the lookout.
Say you are putting on your pants and trying not to step on a cat that likes your feet in the morning.
The bed is already made, underwear is already on, and pants are next.
Gray pants, part of the gray suit because there are no holes in the pockets of the gray suit yet, unlike most of the black suits, and you are not in the mood to chase keys and hearing aid batteries around the lining of your suit jacket today.
You remember pissing your pants in your mom’s car when you were a little boy.
On the way to the train station, you tell your grown kid about it.
It was hot in the car, and I had to pee bad, you tell her. I thought, if I just let out a drop or two, maybe it will cool me off.
Your mom often drove all over town, what she called running errands, and took you with her.
It was hot, your bladder was full, and when you finally let a drop out there was no stopping.
Imagine your relief when she didn’t spank you. You had thought you were going to get it.
Your kid says, huh.
Imagine it had taken you all the years since then (even though you almost never remembered that event) to realize she had locked a little boy in a car on a hot day, and had not bothered to consider whether he might have a full bladder, and he was not to blame.
Huh.

On memory and reality

My little brother sent me some short videos this week.
It went like this: he transferred VHS tapes to a DVD. Then he played the videos from the DVD on his computer, and filmed the monitor with his iPhone. Then he sent me the iPhone videos via a social media site, and I forwarded them to my family.
The quality of the videos was of course poor; not only were the original tapes nearly 30 years old, each step transferring, copying and refilming degraded them further.
And yet: they were still superior to my own memories of the events — a visit we paid to my family in the United States when our oldest daughter was one year old.
Alpha and I are now older than my parents are in the videos.
The house in which we sing Happy Birthday has since burned in an arson fire, and then been torn down to make way for a mall parking lot.
Some details were only slightly surprising: Beta is a serious baby in the video. I remember that she was a serious baby, but she was even more serious than I recall.
Some details contradicted our memories entirely: for 30 years, we have told Beta she never crawled, just went straight from rolling to walking. But in the video she crawls just fine. She was a fast crawler, chasing my parents’ wiener dog all over the living room.
To be honest, the videos freaked me out a little.
The speed at which time passes, for one thing. How people just die, two people from the video, for example, but time just keeps going.
But we know that. What really freaked me out was how the evidence contradicted our memories. I know I forget things. We all forget things. I know I have forgotten most of my life, when it comes down to it. But to see blurry, grainy but genuine evidence that even the little bit I remember is false, that’s freaky.
It’s one thing to read somewhere that memory is nothing but stories we tell ourselves, and that any particular memory is altered to a greater or lesser extent with each re-telling, but to actually see the proof like that makes you wonder what else you’re wrong about.
What grudges you’d be better off dropping.
What pain you could let go.

Perseids

I feel like such an idiot.
For days I’ve been thinking about the Leonids and when the best time will be to watch them.
And the best place.
Lying in my hammock staring skyward.
And it’s the PERSEIDS!
Moron!
The Leonids aren’t until NOVEMBER!
Jerk!
Plus the Leonids make me think of Brezhnev.

7 things

At the window in Connemara
I see seven things my father loved:
a brand new sunrise in a rainy sky
ponies in a grassy pasture
trees bending in wind
a white shed
heavy machinery (a red backhoe)
a wood plank corral
his granddaughter, still asleep
me, reflected
8 things

You remind me of somebody

The god of the office goes to the advent market between the two big museums, across the street from more museums (on the one side) and a palace on the other, because it has a Christmas post office and his wife wants to mail Christmas cards with pretty holiday-themed stamps rather than the ugly printed stickers all the post offices have now. He is in a hurry because he only has an hour for lunch and it takes an estimated 30 minutes to get there from his office, unless there is heavy traffic, like today, in which case it takes 45 minutes to get there, meaning he will be at least half an hour late getting back to the office today. The god of the office reminds himself that everyone else at the office habitually comes back to work between 15 and 60 minutes late after lunch, everyone but him, and he decides to relax.

In this relaxed state, the god of the office searches the advent market for the Christmas post office but following a meticulous search determines there is none. There is a photo booth where it was last year. So he walks back to the parking garage to fetch his car and return to the office.

On his way there he notices a couple standing at one of the high, round tables people stand at at the advent market to drink their mulled wine and hot punch. The couple are looking at him with recognition.

What, thinks the god of the office, who considers himself invisible and therefore is uncomfortable being noticed.

There are four possibilities, he reckons. These are, in order of diminishing likelihood,

  1. They are wondering what a hobo is doing with so many Christmas cards;
  2. They are wondering if they have seen him somewhere before and if so, Where.
  3. They are wondering if he is some sort of artist, because who else has long white hair?
  4. They have him confused with some specific person.
  5. They actually know him and are insulted that he doesn’t recognize them.
  6. They find him attractive. Anything is possible, the god of the office reminds himself. There was a guy on the teevee on the science channel who was in (erotic, not platonic) love with a power plant, he reminds himself. So who knows?

Six things.

The god of the office, having changed his appearance, has grown used to not being recognized by people he hasn’t seen for a couple years, so being recognized, or “recognized”, feels weird.

He can’t stop wondering about the people.

They had that look you get when you see someone famous and want to be discreet. He had it himself when he was walking through town one night and saw Michael Haneke and his beautiful wife swaying drunk down the sidewalk, laughing, that look where you’re thinking, OMG MICHAEL HANEKE AND SPOUSE! ACT NORMAL!

Maybe they thought he was Michael Haneke, the god of the office thinks. Long white hair, white beard, beautiful wife.

What is Michael Haneke doing with all those Christmas cards, they might have asked each other.

And why is he wearing that shabby coat?

P.S. he is only 20 minutes late to work, and is the first one back.

Being invisible was just the tip of the iceberg

Suddenly the Invisible Man is besieged by old snapshots.

Snapshots on the walls of his daughter’s empty apartment when he drops off something.

Including one of his wife wearing fairy wings and waving a magic wand while his daughter, as a child, regards the camera with a sober expression.

Snapshots in frames on his desk, or taped to the walls.

Including one of his wife smiling in a blue swimming pool, holding his daughter as a toddler, also smiling.

So much sunshine and smiling.

There are more. In one he carries his daughter on his shoulders. It is from before he became invisible. It is underexposed and he has black hair and a black beard and looks scary. His daughter is hugging his head. They are surrounded by flowers.

(It is the older daughter in most of the pictures, because the pictures of the younger daughter are mostly digital, and lost forever, or somewhere hard to recover).

Looking at all these pictures would be bad enough for the Invisible Man for the nostalgia alone but it’s worse.

The Invisible Man thought being invisible was bad, but it was just the tip of the iceberg. The snapshots goof up time and the Invisible Man becomes unstuck and encounters all his past selves, and the past selves of those he loves.

If you think being invisible is bad – and listen, it is, robbing banks is fun only so long – becoming unstuck in time and encountering all your past selves really sucks.

Because it turns out every single one is a stranger.

Those past selves you remember don’t even exist.

Memory is funny that way.

And in many cases, not every single one of these past selves is someone you’d care to remember.

There is a reason memory does that.

This is why forgiveness is so important.

Because sometime the snapshots add up and time dissolves and then what?

He calls his wife and apologizes.

Water under the bridge, she says.

Sunk cost.

Meat Locker

Now, when Odin hears “meat locker”, he thinks of discovery scenes in uninspired thrillers where an investigator finds out where the killer was keeping his victims and why it was so hard to calculate time of death, and where an important character is ultimately trapped and their blue skin covered with frost while they try in vain to 1)break the door open and 2)get a signal on their phone.

But as a boy, the meat locker was where you kept the meat. Mom would say, get your coat even if it was summer and you rode in the station wagon to the Bi-Lo Market on Highway 99, the bell ringing over the door as you entered the store, and went back into the meat locker where you could rent space and where they kept a side of beef they had raised, and which a man had cut and packaged in white butcher paper in exchange for the other half of the animal he had shot from his truck, then hoisted on a crane mounted on the bed, opened in a flood of gore with a small chainsaw (to the amazement of neighborhood kids watching) and gutted right there in the field.

Now everything in life is bewilderingly and confusingly malleable and relative, but at that time the world was solid and given, the meat locker and the man who ran the Bi-Lo and everyone else just were, requiring understanding and comprehension as little as the mountains on the horizon or the macadam of the parking lot.

Everything just was and always had been and always would be, amen. Everything was mysterious, but there was no other way it could be, understanding was neither possible nor required. People were what their uniform said they were or what your parents told you. There was no death and no age and no change. There was only scratching a dog behind the ears or on the sweet spot on its back that made it pedal with one leg, the soft texture of a horse’s nose, the grain of the boards on a wood fence, the taste of wild blackberries dusty from the road and warm from the sun. Adults did what they did, mysterious. You went to school. You read the short articles at the front of every section in the World Book Encyclopedia about the evolution of the letters of the alphabet, and learned new words from the unabridged dictionary.

Everything was solid granite, and what is there to understand about granite?

The inside of the meat locker is white.

The light is dim but your eyes adjust.

When he finds himself in a universe in which time has stopped, or become malleable, Odin returns to the meat locker and observes the events of his life as they hang suspended in the fog his cold breath makes. He walks among them and studies them from all angles and perspectives.

As a boy, things were mysterious but this was no cause for alarm, it was their nature and it was the nature of a boy to be ignorant and mystified.

As a man, things are sometimes confusing.  Sometimes you think they are not confusing and that you have everything sussed, and sometimes you do but sometimes you find later on that you were mistaken, or you are mistaken but you never find out and either no one else does either, or they do but are too polite to tell you. Things happen fast and are confusing and sometimes you figure them out and sometimes you do not.

So in the meat locker, in the absence of time, Odin has a rare respite from things changing faster than he can figure them out and can approximate wisdom by looking and looking until he finds an angle that makes sense. He can find the opportunity in a crisis, the lesson in a failure, and the good intention behind something that had hurt his pride.

It’s all hanging there on hooks in the cold, amidst the meat.

He can look until his lips turn blue, if he wants.