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.

Bye, Phil

phil

My uncle Phil died on Saturday. He was 86. I don’t want to write a long, emotional thing here, but I don’t know.

My brother sent me this picture. I was kind of numb until I saw this, then I cried so hard the cat got worried.

Listen, I was trying to remember my first memory of Phil, and it turns out to be my first memory at all. I was maybe two. He was carrying me on his back, down the path between his filbert orchard and his garden. A row of blackberries was on the left, the filbert trees on the right. Do you know the smell of filbert trees?

Beyond the row of berries was his large vegetable garden. The path led from his barn and chicken house between his junk pile and his wood pile, past his garage and tool shed, to his house. On the right are the fields where he had cows and my dad would later have horses sometimes.

Phil is carrying me, and I say, “Phil, you’re a pill.”

The rhyme interested me. And kidding with Phil.

There are a lot of things here. They are central to me, and they all come from my uncle. Everything I am, or very very much of it, is thanks to uncle Phil.

And this one image, this one memory says so much about him.

He was always carrying someone in one way or another. He lived to help other people. He was never rich and never had money, but he always had a twenty for you when you were broke, there was always cash in his birthday cards, or a check. He never had money but he made the world an abundant place and then he shared that abundance with everyone.

He helped my folks a lot. He helped all the relatives, he helped old people, he baby sat nieces and nephews. When I was in college I worked with him recycling metals and paper, and washing windows, and he shared the proceeds with me way more generously than he ought to have.

He financed my first trip to Europe by selling government bonds. I worked after school jobs and summer jobs to pay him back. He financed my second trip to Europe. I paid him back for that, too. Never once did he mention it or ask me to repay him.

And he was this way with everyone.

Always a twenty. Always a box of tomatoes from his garden. Always some eggs from the chicken house.

He took us camping, and his pack was always the heaviest, despite the rocks he hid in your pack as a practical joke.

Dinners were fun times. If you looked away, he stole your food.

I won’t go on and on here,  although I could.

He took pictures. It was like having Diane Arbus in the family. He took many thousands of pictures since the 1940s. Always the camera. Always posing us. Or taking candid shots. We were often, Oh, Phil, not another picture. But, now we have dozens and dozens of albums, dating back to the 1940s. It’s a precious thing.

Little did we know.

And funny thing, he liked word play, especially spoonerisms, and I like words too. I have a garden. I like practical jokes. And it’s not only me. My brother has a garden and chickens. If you go to his house, he will give you vegetables. He takes care of old people. And my sister is that way too. And my cousins. Phil was central to all of us. We all want to go to Hawaii again. He got us started with that. We all like to travel. If you look away, we will all steal your food.

So, Phil. Abundant and funny, practical jokes and generous. I am not monkey man strong, though. Things have their limits. He was not a big guy, average size about, but he would come home from the mountains with a truckload of waste wood he had salvaged from some logging operation, to burn, and dude – there were logs in there that filled the bed of his truck. How did you get those in there, we would ask him. I just put them in, he would say.

And he had an arm. He liked ball sports. He was athletic. I’m none of these things. I remember him one time, he was up on a ladder picking pears. I was bugging him about something. Then I ran away. I got clear across the field. I thought I was home free. How far away was I? It felt like miles. I was running and laughing when a rotten pear hit me right in the lower back so hard that half the pear went up my shirt, clear to my shoulder blades, and the other half filled the crack of my ass. It was the most perfect rotten pear shot known to science.

I started crying, I was so shocked. It shouldn’t have been possible! No one can throw a rotten pear that far!

I don’t know how old I was. Forty? Or nine, maybe? Something like that.

So, Phil. I could go on and on. We were driving down the street once, and a guy on the sidewalk spazzed out and fell down. Phil stopped the car, ran over and helped him. Would you have? At the time, I would have just ignored it. But he got the guy into the shade, found out what was wrong with him, got help.

I think the guy was drunk. I think it turned out he was drunk, but I also think I’m making that up, or made it up then. He may have had a seizure, it was a hot day. I don’t know. It was just a weird, scary guy, and Phil didn’t even think, he ran over and helped him.

I could go on and on.

On and on.

Ljubljana etc etc

My trip to Ljubljana last weekend was a lot less confusing than my previous trip five years ago because they have the Euro now. Otherwise I noticed few changes. They still like rollerblades there. The women are still charming and beautiful, the men are still long-legged and tall with smallish heads (i.e. exactly wrong place for me to buy clothes), all are well-dressed. I don’t know if all of Slovenia is like this or only the capital city, but they’re good dressers. The Viennese looked, upon my return, like cheap slobs.

Present company excepted, of course.

A couple days ago I wore my new suit. It differs from my old suits in several aspects. One, it is new and they are old. Two, it is not black. Three, it fits. I… sometimes you just reach the point where you say, you know, fuck it and buy clothes that fit and not that are the size you want to be to motivate you to get to that size. Boy, it was comfortable not feeling like a bumble bee squeezed into a wasp outfit.

Looking back on your life, it is like badly-made Swiss cheese, I was thinking just now, out strolling around the neighborhood. Mostly solid cheese, with a few giant holes in it so when you slice it to make a sandwich, you’re all, WTF is with this big hole?

And the ham is looking through, and the structural integrity of the sandwich is compromised, and a thick layer of mayonnaise and mustard is trapped in the hole, unless you fill it with a slice of pickle or tomato.

Also: my tortoise escaped. We’re going to hang posters around the neighborhood. We’re more concerned and upset than I had expected. The fact that it escaped was not exactly surprising – it’s been trying to tunnel out for the past five years – but it’s still a shock to see that it has gone over the wall.

Also: the kids are in the United States now. Hi, kids. Hope all is well.