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.

Little red hat

2014 is going to be the year Odin streamlines his life. The year he throws old crap away.

Like all his t-shirts with clever sayings on them.

Or not — his kids might want those, so he’ll hang onto them.

But his workshop, all this junk! And on top of that, the new beer making kit he got for Christmas. And not even counting the wet plate camera he hasn’t bought yet. Where to start?

Odin is sitting in the attic, telling his wife what’s in boxes so she can inventorize what they have in their attic prior to throwing stuff out. Odin is like, why not just throw it out and save a step. And he is also like, old magazines in this box. Painting canvases. Some sort of plumbing fixtures. Travel case for a harp.

In another universe, Odin has a temporary job taking inventory for some company. He is standing in front of a wall of televisions in a shop, counting them. The Space Shuttle takes off and then explodes. Odin sees two dozen images of debris angling through the sky, leaving a white trail.

Odin and his wife are doing pretty good in the cellar. They donate a lot of old clothes. Then, this box: ballerina duds. A princess dress. Like that.

A little red hat.

There is another universe, 20 years ago, it is the carneval season, children are being led through games at a public carneval party in the city hall.

About 20 years ago. Or only 12 — Odin gets his universes mixed up. It would depend which daughter, Thor or Loki.

Christ.

Through the blue haze of all the smoking mommies, Odin can see her, in her red hat, covered in confetti, wearing the red hat, dancing.

There was also a lady bug costume, he finds the hat to that one too.

Odin remembers a lady bug dancing, spinning in circles.

Odin and his wife box the red hat back up.

So anyway.

Today is the first work day of 2014. It is quiet out. Odin is not hungry at lunch time but he wants to check on the crows.

Odin strolls to the store. It is warm for the second day of January. The small grey crow swoops down and accompanies Odin to the store, where he gets peanuts and a curry chicken sandwich.

He sits on the bench and all three crows are there waiting.

It is such a quiet day, like the end of the world. Like the world could still decide 2013 was the final year.

The four of them eat sandwich, they eat peanuts.

What say the slain?

I dreamt someone on a motorcycle whipped my leg with a strap and captured me, I was balanced on the handlebars and gathered myself and kicked them to get away, and woke myself up kicking in bed. I asked the dream what it was and it said, what supports us binds us. It said, love. It said, vitality. It said, escape.

What say the hanged?

Memory is not carved in stone after all. It is reinvented all the time. It is stories you tell yourself, and you know how reliable stories are. You find a little red hat and make something up, because you know who wore it, and you know how much you love her.

May we always remember.

Careers in Science: Barology

The barologist does not study bars, nor does he think this is funny.

Some jokes are always funny, no matter how often you hear them, some are funny once, and some are tragic because they are so lame; these latter jokes are also known as Dad Jokes by some, and are best avoided.

One day, the barologist is standing there getting yelled at by his wife for something, and it dawns on him: I have slipped into an alternate universe, one where my wife is made at me for reasons unknown.

After that he devotes thought to alternate universes, and their implications.

There are alternate universes that are full-fledged universes, and there are those that are circumscribed; small eddies, looped-off instants, some only a second or two long, some a few seconds or minutes (rarely) that can be visited and revisited.

An example: the moment when the barologist and his daughter, who have been moving furniture, tilt up her heavy wardrobe, which they have moved into her living room, and the barologist is squatting there with his end of the wardrobe above his head, wondering if they will succeed in lifting it – that moment of not-knowing – will he get a hernia? Will his strength fail and it crash back down on top of him? Is he strong enough? Should they give up? Perhaps it is density that creates such looped-off alternate universes, because when the barologist thinks about it, the moment is dense with wondering, and not-knowing, and daring, and ultimately dropping all thoughts and fears and just lifting it, and the feeling of accomplishment when it stood.

The alternate universe the barologist is thinking about is about three seconds long, and he finds himself back in it now and then, squatting with a heavy wardrobe at arm’s length above his head.

Or, another one: a lady on a beach in Hawaii. The barologist is about 12, bored in front of his hotel, sitting in beach grass up the slope of a rather steep sandy beach, when a wave crashes right onto the lady and takes her white bikini, and her tan lines underneath are just as white. This is connected with two more seconds on the plane home the following day, when the boy barologist recognizes the woman, now fully dressed and on her way home too and he wonders if she recognizes him and what she is thinking if she does but she probably doesn’t.

Or, a blond woman standing naked in her upper-storey window as the barologist walks to work. Or, the barologist getting off a bus and slipping on the ice and falling on his hip and people asking if he is okay and the wind is knocked out of him and he says thanks, I’m fine, and limps offstage as fast as he can.

Or, et cetera.

The barologist wonders if it is too late to become a scientist of alternate universes.

Careers in Science: Selenology

What is the air speed of a swallow?

Tired of quoting from Monty Python and the Holy Grail to his teenaged daughter on their commutes into town, the selenologist orders a DVD online. When it comes in the mail, he opens a couple bottles of Radler, which he calls Kinderbier and watches it with her.

He tries to give her some context as she churns through information on her smartphone while watching and talking to him.

“When I was your age, we could do only one thing at a time. We had to get our information from books and our movies in cinemas.”

“Ja, ja.”

Here in Castle Anthrax, we have but one punishment…

“We watched this movie over and over and recited it and watched it until we knew it by heart.”

He looks at the box. “This was made in 1975. Thirty-seven years ago.” He repeats the word thirty-seven several times at different speeds.

“Thirty-seven years ago, the world was a different place. Telephones still had rotary dials, anyone could change a headlight bulb, and I was exactly your age. Okay, roughly. One year older maybe. But without your grace. Anyway we went to movies, mostly. Luis Bunuel, Monty Python, whatever. Different things.”

“Okay.”

None shall pass.

She laughs a few times, this makes him feel better because he didn’t remember the movie being this slow.

“Geeze. Thirty seven years ago, time moved differently. In my memory, the movie doesn’t drag on like this.”

The status update his daughter posted two minutes ago has seven likes and two comments.

Your father smells of elderberries.

“I have to watch Sound of Music someday, too. Being American and Austrian, and living in Austria, I mean.”

“Totally. Like, you’re like a trifecta or something, only without whatever third element would make it a trifecta.”

“Huh?”

“Forget it.”

“Anyway, this movie is engraved on the brains of a generation. I wanted you to see it so you would understand.”

“Okay.”

I’m not dead yet.