Revenge of the Chicken

Marcie didn’t know why they took her eggs, but the people were so wise and kind she was sure it was for something good.

It was Saturday morning. Dad had left to run an errand, leaving the little girl home alone; she wasn’t so little. She was ten. She loved Marcie. The chickens were their only pets, and Marcie was her favorite. So she’d taken the chance to do what she wasn’t supposed to do, and bring Marcie inside.

“You sit here, Marcie.” She set Marcie on a chair. Marcie hopped on the table. The little girl put a hat on her. The little girl scratched Marcie’s butt.

“Bethel and Gen were so very rude yesterday,” said the little girl.

“Bach,” said Marcie. As in Johannes Bach. It was what she said.

“Satan should swallow them up,” said the little girl. ‘Satan should swallow she/he/it/them/that up’ was her catchphrase.

“Bach,” said Marcie.

The little girl took two eggs from a basket. One of them was Marcie’s. The father had collected the eggs that morning. The little girl cracked them into a buttered frying pan.

The next morning, father went to the coup to check for eggs. Three chickens, no eggs. He shrugged and went back inside. Some mornings there weren’t any eggs.

There weren’t any eggs the next morning either, so he looked around more carefully. A heap of straw in the back corner. He reached for it. Marcie pecked his hand.

“Ack!” said the father.

“Bach!” said Marcie.

Father said, “Don’t do that,” and pushed her aside. He reached for the pile, and she tried to peck him again. His hand blurred in the dodging. He grabbed Marcie by the back of her neck, and pushed her into the other half of the coup. There was a little grate, which he closed. Marcie safely imprisoned, he reached into the pile. Five eggs, with a heap on straw on top. A good haul for two days. He put the eggs in the basket, and let Marcie out of jail.

#

The wall was high, and Marcie was not much good at wing assisted jumps, even as far as chickens went. But after a few tries, she made it to the top of the cinderblock wall.

“Bark bark!,” said the big black dog, and jumped, forepaws on the wall, snapping mouth not all that far from Marcie.

She jumped down, and tried the back wall.

“Bark bark!,” said the big white dog, and jumped, forepaws on the wall, snapping mouth not all that far from Marcie.

She went to the other side wall. “Yap yap!” said the little brown dog, running in circles next to the wall, because trying to jump up it would’ve been too absurd.

Marcie watched the dog awhile, then took a big, wing assisted hop, landing in the middle of the yard. Well beyond where the dog had been.

The dog bit her leg. Small, yes, but very quick. “Bach!” screamed Marcie, and pecked the dog. The dog let go, and Marcie took the biggest hop of her life, into a tree. The dog ran around the base of the tree, yapping.

She hopped from the tree back to the wall, then to her own yard.

She went to the front yard. The black road was patrolled by giant, roaring fast monsters unpredictable intervals. She watched the cars go past. She’d almost gathered her courage to risk it when a Harley-Davidson streaked by.

Its rumbles were still with her when she made it back to the coup.

She tried to convince the others that they needed to leave, but there’s not a lot of nuance in “Bach!” She been baching at them a lot since Saturday morning. At first they’d been nervous that there might be a cat, but now they thought that whatever was wrong was wrong with her.

The little girl came out to say good morning to Marcie before leaving for school. She tried to pet Marcie, and Marcie tried to peck her. Both failed.

The little girl stepped around and grabbed Marcie by the back. “Dad, something’s wrong with Marcie!” Her leg was bloody where the dog had bitten it.

She ran to the house, carrying Marcie. It was hard, because she was a little girl, and Marcie was a big chicken. She got the door opened and yelled again, “Dad, something’s wrong with Marcie.”

Her father came down the hall slipping a belt through the belt loops of his pants. “I have to leave for work in—oh.” He’d seen her leg.

“Take her to the back porch.”

The little girl hesitated.

“I went to see that in the sunlight.” That wasn’t a lie, but the larger motive was the unhygienicness of having a chicken in the house.

He got neosporin, a box of band-aids, and two paper towels, one damp, one dry, from the kitchen, and joined his daughter and Marcie on the back porch.

He sat next to them, and tried to wipe the leg with the wet paper towel. Marcie tried to peck him.

“It hurts. She doesn’t want me touching it. You’ll have to hold her tight.”

The little girl held Marcie tight.

The father wiped off the blood with the damp paper towel, then wiped off the moisture from the damp paper towel with the dry paper towel. Marcie relaxed and let them look at the leg. It had already stopped bleeding. “Looks like a little dog bite,” said the father. “Wonder how she got it, but it doesn’t seem too bad.” He smeared neosporin on it, and wrapped three small band aids around the bite. “That’ll do till we can get her to the vet.”

He stood up. The little girl let go of Marcie. Marcie jumped up, wings flapping, and pecked his face. He jerked back, lost his balance, and fell off the porch. The back of his head struck red brick. The brick got redder as blood flowed out.

Marcie landed on his chest. He didn’t move.

“Daddy!,” the little girl screamed.

“Bach!” screamed Marcie. “Bacha Bach, Bach!”

How Eater got its Comeupance

“Run, Lolikowanda, coconut child, the eater is coming.”

But Lolikowanda did not run. None of the coconuts did. They’re not much for running.

“My,” said the onions. “It’s the mean one.”

The mean one picked up Samation, and held a powerdrill to Samation’s coconut eye. Even the whining of the powerdrill couldn’t drown out Samation’s screaming.

When it was done, the eater set Samation on a glass, so Samation’s milky white blood dripped out her eye down into the glass.

The little black one came into the chamber. “Don’t worry,” said the onions, “that’s not an eater.” But the Eater poured some of Samation’s blood into a little bowl, and the little black one lapped it up. Then the Eater drank the rest of Samation’s blood, in one long swallow.

The Eater took Samation outside. The other coconuts and the onions watched through the window. The Eater threw Samation high in the air, and when she landed on the hard white concrete she cracked open.

The Eater brought her corpse inside, carving into it with a spoon, then set it aside, not far from the onions and surviving coconuts.

After the sobbing, Lolikowanda said, “Did you see that? Samation landed not far from a rise of dirt. If we could get into that, we could grow our roots fast and deep, and become coconut trees, too strong for even the Eater to defeat.”

“Not if he’s drilled us through our eyes first,” said Habarori, the other coconut. “But don’t worry. I have a plan.”

Three days passed with the Eater picking at Samation’s corpse, till at last all the white flesh was gone, and the Eater picked up his powerdrill, and picked up Habarori.

This was clever Habarori’s plan: when the eater shook her, Habarori would hold very still, so there was no sound of sloshing, and the Eater would think she was dry. So the Eater would skip drilling a hole through her eye, and would take her outside, toss her high into the air, and she would spin through it, controlling her fall by the fine movement of coconut hairs, and instead of striking hard white concrete, she would land on the gentle black dirt, and grow swiftly into a coconut tree.

The Eater shook her, heard no sloshing, shook her, heard no sloshing, and, shrugging, took the powerdrill and drilled a hole through her eye.

Even the sound of the drill’s whining couldn’t drown her screaming.

When it was done, Habarori emptied, her blood lapped up by the cat, her body broken and set in pieces on the counter, Lolikowanda let himself cry. “How shall I live? I shall never taste the good earth now, as all my ancestors proceeding to the age of the first sprouting commelinoid did. I shall die, so soon as Habarori’s body is consumed.

coconut cries

“No,” said Kuster, chief of the onions, “We have seen too many vanish into the maw of the Eater, and we too but await its pleasure. We shall die a little early, that you might be free.”

All night, as the Eater slept, the onions busied themselves with rotting into dirt, and two brave avocados joined them.

The Eater stumbled out of bed afore the sun had risen, awoken by the creaking. A coconut tree in the kitchen, roots grown at first from a pile of redolent dirt on the counter, but roots now sinking deep into the wood of the counter, then into the dirt beneath the concrete.

Lolikowanda dropped a coconut onto the Eater, which yelled and clutched its head.

Lolikowanda burst through the ceiling, into the top floor, and dropped the heavy porcelain toilet onto the Eater’s head.

It fell, head cracked open, tender pink flesh revealed.

And all the plants said, “Amen!”

Angry

Thank Mary, Mother of God, the pen and paper were in the backseat. That did not quite bring all the expected relief, but it sure helped. I’m the angriest I’ve been in years, and I’m not sure why.

That’s a lie. I had a date planned for today. At Bodhi Leaf Coffee Traders. It was to have been the first date of my life. I’m 27 days from turning 26. A major step toward social comprehension, toward interpersonal competence.

I mentioned it to my mother, who went ballistic. “Jon, Sunday you’ll be at Disneyland, with your cousins, Chris, Katrina, and Ariana, and all those little cousin childs you’ve hardly ever seen. This has been planned for weeks. How did you not know? The problem with this family is no one ever communicates!”

So I cancelled the date. “family reunion. We’re going to Disneyland, apparently. People should tell me these things.”

I wasn’t mad. Disappointed, yes, especially when I discovered our weekday schedules were irreconcilable, but I’m nothing if not even tempered.

I’ve calmed down a bit now, writing this. I can drive.

 

I am not accustomed to anger. Sadness, yes, for reasons medium and small, but anger is a foreigner, slipped undocumented across my borders.

The date was arranged Friday or Saturday, and cancelled Saturday afternoon. It’s Sunday. I’m returning from Disneyland.  I’m writing this at stoplights now. Yes, I know writing at stoplights is a bad habit.

I got angry Saturday night when I was told that the reason I hadn’t been told previously that I was going to Disneyland was that I hadn’t been going to Disneyland. My mother, in believing I was going, was victim of a miscommunication. On hearing from mom that I’d cancelled a date to make time for Disneyland, my sisters, knowing very well the non-status of my love life, hurriedly arranged for me to come as well.

I shrugged and figured it would be good to spend time with the family. But the shrug wasn’t quite so carefree as they usually are. I was bothered.

Sunday, in Disneyland. With cousin Katrina, who I’ve always been close with, though it had been awhile and the conversation wasn’t flowing so easily as it had used to. Cousin Ariana, who’s always impressed me, with her little hellion, Audrey. And Cousin Chris with his wife Kate, and their three children, Rockie, Gracie, and Joyce. Chris and Kate won’t let their kids read or watch Harry Potter, think gender roles are swell, and I suspect they’re young earth creationist, but they’re beautiful people despite all that.

The new term starts Monday, tomorrow, and I’ll be teaching advanced ESL grammar for the first time. We’ll have gerunds after verbs the first week, and that’s one of the few major aspects of grammar that still confuses me.

I kept glancing at it on my phone. He is attending school. Flip it. Attending school is he. Not right, not a gerund. One of his tasks is attending school. Flip it. Attending school is one of his tasks. That’s right. Attending is a gerund. But why? I said that “Attending school is he,” doesn’t work, but poetry and Yoda both talk that way. Yoda puts the predicate first, but why is that the predicate and not the start of a noun phrase? Knowing what it is isn’t enough to teach it, I have to know why.

Waiting in line, (that waiting is a participial adjective, if I’m not mistaken) I finished Coraline. Good book. But it has that typical Neil Gaiman thing where a bunch of interesting events happen, one after another, without ever quite congealing into a plot.

Book done, I reached in my bag for my notebook and TEN DOLLAR fountain pen, but they weren’t to be found. Had I lost them? My temper went through the roof. I do believe I was briefly the angriest person over the age of seven at Disneyland. I said nothing about it.

I hadn’t brought my own car. I’d driven with my sister. I prayed I’d left my pen and paper in her backseat. I said to my sister, “I have an unreasonable request. Could I borrow your car, and then you can go home with Mom and Dad?”

She was reaching for her keys before I’d finished speaking, so perhaps my fury was more apparent than I’d thought.

The tram was mostly empty, so I let myself frown. That’s a luxury I seldom take even in my room. There were no mirrors on the tram.

You know the rest. I’m home now, finishing this in my hammock, because the route home didn’t have enough stoplights. Should’ve taken surface streets.

My first cousins once removed are delightful, but I would’ve preferred having a relaxing day preparing for work, punctuated by what I imagine would’ve been a two or three hour date, to spending 7 hours at Disneyland.

But I’m quite used to a dispreferred possibility becoming reality. It’s not what angered me. Trivial stuff that would normally slide right off. What angered me was the knowledge that what I would’ve preferred was how it was supposed to have been.

Thinking about it, the last time I was really angry, almost three years ago, it was also about something that “wasn’t how it was supposed to be.” A boss who believed that the correct response to advanced students was to teach the same lesson but talk more quickly.

I hypothesize, based on stuff I’ve read, that some people assume that whatever they would’ve preferred it automatically how things were supposed to have gone. I think such people must be angry a lot.

I think I’m not much good at dealing with anger because I don’t experience it often.

The Breathing Machine and its Collection of Uneasy Dreamers

Hospitals smell of antiseptic, cafeteria food and well-scoured bed pans. The greatest wonder of the modern world is that medical dramas have managed to convince us there’s glamor involved.

The nice cars in Doctors Only parking do help.

Smiling Choirboy was spending a lot of time in room 357, and the working theory at the nursing station was that an inheritance was involved. Grandma had had a very nice watch and a very big wedding ring, till Choirboy had slipped them in his jacket pocket to “keep them safe.”

Flirt too unskillfully with the nurses and they’ll make that sort of assumption.

 

Choirboy woke. He’d stayed past visiting hours, asleep in a chair, somehow missed by the nurse.

He looked at his phone. Nine past one, and the hospital was dark. Hospitals are never dark, dim at the most, but the hospital was dark. Once he’d put his phone away the only light was from grandma’s LED monitor. Blood pressure 99 over 44, pulse rate 51. A fourth number said 102, but he didn’t know what it measured.

The hallway was dark. He looked across to the nurses station, but it was dark too.

He decided this was a good chance to experiment with lucid dreaming.

He pointed his cellphone at the bed, and realized what had been missing the whole time: the rattling rasp of his grandma’s machine assisted breathing. The bed was empty. He shrugged, and, phone for flashlight, wandered into the hall, thinking a lucid dream would be an excellent place to encounter a trio of pretty young women.

But there wasn’t anyone, so when he reached the elevator he pressed the button for down. The door opened. There wasn’t any light but from the little screen that said the floor. The Coldplay song where the singer said Saint Peter wouldn’t call his name played. Choirboy decided that Coldplay had replaced soft jazz in elevators, and got depressed.

The elevator door closed. He looked at the buttons. 3, for the third floor, where he was. 2, 1, and B, for basement. But now there was a fifth button, below the others. It said, “The Breathing Machine and its Collection of Uneasy Dreamers.”

He pressed it. The elevator went down. After a long time the door opened.

He heard the rattling rasp of machine assisted breathing, louder than normal. He shone his phone. It was not one breather, but many, sleeping in hospital beds, blinking lights on IV stands, little plastic hoses full of oxygen snuggling in their noses.

The beds were in concentric circles, not rows. He found grandma in the inner-most circle. She smelled of oranges, and Choirboy knew she was dreaming of long-gone days when she had made pocket money working odd hours at the orange packing plant where her mother had been head grader.

The scent of oranges wafted away from her to the breathing machine, which squatted at the center, hoses running from it to every sleeper, like a spider in a web.

He shook grandma’s shoulder. She was non-responsive, which didn’t bother him. She was often non-responsive.

The man next to her was humming a dance tune. Dreaming about the girl he hadn’t married. His humming faded, and the breathing machine took up the tune, in pops, beeps and whistles.

He looked for a way to turn it off. It wasn’t fair that his first lucid dream should be so moody.

Grandma spoke, but it wasn’t grandma’s voice. Too pneumatic. It said, “You always knew. She has less of herself every morning. Where did you think her self was going? Even I have my price.”

Choirboy took his grandma’s pillow, and put it to the Breathing Machine’s intake tube. After five minutes it stopped beeping, and he returned to the elevator. He got out on the first floor. It was bright and full of hospitals employees. Some were young and pretty.

The clock in the lobby said it was 1:30. He strode out the doors without glancing at the visitors’ desk.

He got a burger on the way home, bothered that he hadn’t woken up yet. He washed his face, went to bed, and he put it all down to stress when they told him grandma was dead.

A listicle of Intra-Cis sexualities.

We have wonderful new terms for defining sexuality with an ever increasing level of specificity. It’s not just LGBTQAI anymore. There’s demisexual, pansexual, gray-romantic, and so much more, each term sparkling and self-affirming.

Yet still, there aren’t enough. Too many people don’t have labels yet, and that makes them resentful, and being resentful makes them vote for Trump. I humbly suggest a series of new subdivisions.

1) Supposisexual: Supposisexuals are people, in their mid 20s or older, supposedly heterosexual, who have never taken their sexuality out for a spin. Virgins, innocents, people who aren’t sure that kissing as a real thing. They have dormant profiles on match.com and wrote “learn to smile” in their New Years resolutions.

They tend to be the very religious, the very awkward, or the very risk averse. Affirm them. Respect them. Encourage them to embrace their diverse identities.

2) Begosexual: They like to get it on, but only after a bacon sandwich. Some say this is just a fetish, but it’s more than that; it’s a lifestyle.

Affirm them. Respect them. Encourage them to embrace their diverse identities.

3) Lumbersexual: The lumbersexual identity has been ironically appropriated by bearded hipsters who like wearing flannel. This is deeply wounding to the nation’s true lumbersexuals, who are already facing severe adversity.

They’ve been sexually damaged by cutting down phallic symbols (trees) in order to make yonic symbols (barrels.) The resulting emasculization is treated through the use of phallic and masculine symbols in their leisure time. Tragically, the use of masculine symbology is stigmatized in modern society.

True lumbersexuals have messy, unwaxed beards, paunches, and smell of woodpulp, due to the time spent cutting down trees.

Affirm them. Respect them. Encourage them to embrace their diverse identities.

4) Felisexual:

Felisexuals are often slandered as being into bestiality. We must all stand up with a loud voice and repudiate this base libel. Felisexuals don’t sex their cats. Rather, the sexual orientation of felisexuals is controlled by the perceived opinions of their cats.

If they believe their cats would purr for a potential partner, they’re attracted to that potential partner regardless of gender or appearance. They tend to flirt by saying, “I think my cat would really like you,” and “I took a new picture of my cat today.” They may express the sentiment that “I just want my cat to be proud of me.”

Affirm them. Respect them. Encourage them to embrace their diverse identities.

5) Bibliosexuals

There are fetishists who get off on the smell of pulp paper, or who express a preference for their partner’s sex organs to be “blockier,” and “more book shaped,” but true bibliosexuality goes deeper than that.

Bibliosexuals interpret life as a series of of book excerpts, and are attracted to people according how much they’d be attracted to how that person would be portrayed as a character in a book. Bibliosexuals are turned on by a woman not because she has big boobs, but because it can be written, “Her giant knockers went up and down with each step, like two bunnies humping,” or are attracted to a man not because he is tall, dark and handsome but because “his face was striking, with brooding, intense eyes that saw through to her very soul.”

Respect them. Affirm them. Encourage them to embrace their diverse selves.

6) Mimisexuals: This is common among birds. Rather than making an independent assessment of a potential mate’s evolutionary fitness, the mimisexual follows the wisdom of crowds, and is attracted to people according to whether other individuals seem to be attracted to them.

It’s why your ex-best-friend hit on every guy you ever liked.

Respect her. Affirm her. Encourage her to embrace her diverse selves.

7) Lightingsexuals: This goes without saying.

Respect them. Affirm them. Encourage them to embrace their diverse selves.

8) Tapasexuals: More common among self-identified woman than self-identified men, tapasexuals are attracted to potential mates as a function of how often aforesaid potential mates take them out for tapas.

Respect them. Affirm them. Don’t date them unless your wallet is swole af.

9) Listisexual: Listisexuals are aroused by lists. They are attracted to people according to how naturally their characteristics could be arranged into an addicting list of discrete traits. The majority of buzzfeed and Bleacher-Report contributors are listisexuals.

Respect them. Affirm them. Encourage them to embrace their diverse selves.

10) Gymnisexuals: Gymnisexuals are attracted to people according to how easily they could the be the star of a bad daydream about professional sports. The majority of gymnisexuals are men, interested primarily in women. The conflict between attraction to women, and attraction to individuals according to suitability for sports daydreams, creates an unusual, complex pathos that gymnisexuals cope with by staring at the groinal areas of Major League Baseball players and watching women’s college volleyball.

This is your dad.

Respect him. Affirm him. Encourage him to embrace his diverse selves.

The Tentative Guide to Talking While Walking

People often walk together. In fact, though it varies dependent upon environment, about two thirds of all pedestrians walk in groups of two or more. Therefore, if you make a habit of walking by yourself, you’re a social deviant, and probably other people are noticing and secretly laughing at you as they talk in their fancy mobile friend groups.

One useful tip is to find another solitary walker, introduce yourself, and say, “Are you aware that by walking by yourself you are exhibiting abnormal social behavior? Would you like to conform to social norms by walking with me?” This can lead to a fast friendship, but the random nature of the selection process may lead you to becoming friends with sub-optimal people. And the success rate is not, in truth, as high as one would expect.

Of more concern is arranging to walk with people you already do like.

Imagine, you’re in class, at work,  or getting off the bus, and you’ve been enjoying a conversation with one or more people who aren’t friends of yours. Perhaps you’re good at this. Perhaps you speak regularly to people who aren’t your friends, and are, in a sense, extroverted. But now, the person you’ve been talking to is walking away, and you are once more caught by bewilderment and fear.

Should you walk with this person or not? How will you know whether they’re trying to escape you or not? If you walk with them, will it be seen as friendly walking, or creepy, uninvited following? Faced with this, it may be tempting to nod goodbye and say “See you later,” but I’m here to encourage you to bite the bullet, and walk with that person.

Walking with a single person:

First, the mechanics. Match the person’s pace, and walk directly next to him or her at an angle perpendicular to the direction of traffic, like so:

two walkers

with directly up the page being the direction of movement.

You should be close enough to talk easily, but not so close as to violate the other’s persons space. Use the rule of forearm: walk at such a distance from your partner, that, if you stretched out your arms, your arm would encounter the other’s side somewhere between elbow and wrist.

Be mindful that merely matching the pace once is not sufficient. Pace actually changes over time, and if you’re not careful, you could end up many feet in front of or behind your partner.

Walking in groups of three is more complex. You should from an obtuse V, open in the direction of movement, like so.

 

three or more complex

With ‘a’ being the angle, and ‘d’ the distance.

The general equation for walk formations is

walk equation

with f^0 being the walkers’ desired speed and trajectory, f^wall being the repulsion from physical objects such as walls, lamp posts, and traffic, fij being interactions with unattached walkers, and f^group being interactions within group. So, when in doubt as to how to arrange yourself, take your best guess at the values, and position yourself accordingly. If you can’t do the math in your head, just carry a calculator; they make acceptable conversation pieces.

The goal of the formation is simply for all group members to be able to see and converse with all other group members, and converse you must. I know that sometimes, when you’re not interested in the third person, but the third person is talking, it’s tempting to pull out a book or even a mobile telephone, but don’t. It’s seen as standoffish.

When walking with a group of 4, the formation resemble more a U, with the two centrist walkers dropping back, like so:

4 walkers

Again, the direction of movement is directly up the page.

What happens in groups of five or more is unfortunately under-researched. There’s a tendency for such large groups to break into subgroups, but it’s as yet unknown how these subgroups arrange themselves in relation to each other, or how such groups are arranged in cases where they do not break into subgroups. Anecdotal observations suggest that such formations are actually wider at the front than the back, almost snow plow like in appearance, particularly when crowd density is medium to high, but this has yet to be substantiated.

Whatever the group size, never walk backward facing your conversant/conversants. It’s showboating, and everyone knows it.

Even assuming that you arrange yourself correctly, you are only halfway there. The difficult part of talking while walking is not the walking so much as the talking.

Conversing While Walking 

This is counter intuitive, but it isn’t actually needful to talk constantly in order to justify one’s presence. In fact, it’s better not to.

Viewing the problem from an egalitarian perspective, we should assume that each person will talk roughly as often as each other person. Because it’s generally considered rude to talk while someone else talking, when in a group of two, you should aim to talk only about half the time. The other half, the other person will talk.

90% of this is just basic conversational skills, just the same as if you were sitting, but there are differences. When both conversants are sitting, and have no reason to leave, the conversation may be allowed to lapse. Indeed, it’s permissible to sit next to someone without first speaking to him or her. But when you commence walking next to someone, you must open by speaking. If you begin walking next to someone you don’t know well, without speaking, this may be taken as strange or frightening.

You must balance on the narrow beam separating conversational autocracy from close range stalking.

Life on the balance beam

The rule of equal time scales. In a group of three, speak a third of the time. In a group of four, one fourth of the time. This is true only roughly; in practice, some people prefer to listen more, and some to talk more, but it’s still a good idea to make a spreadsheet to keep track of who has talked; spreadsheets make great conversation pieces. However, you can get away with not doing that if you just remember that conversation is loosely a turn based exercise, rather like a board game. If your partner is silent for a prolonged period, you can prompt him or her by saying, “it’s your turn.”

Simply proffer your comment, and await reply. How to make a comment that will get a reply is part of the more general conversational arts, and is not the subject of this piece. Don’t make jokes about race, sex, or books your partner hasn’t heard of.

There is often a very challenging moment as the conversation lulls, particularly at junctions. One’s partner asks, “where are you going?” and it’s easy to take this is as a hint that he or she is uncomfortable, and think that you should make your excuses and break off. And this may be true, but don’t assume it. It is also possible that your partner is trying to ascertain whether you are available for further social interactions, and further social interactions are, after all, the ultimate goal. Say, “I’m free right now, how about you?” and much may occur.

But don’t say that too soon. Strike prematurely, and the potential friend may escape, like a fish not given enough line. Humans are skittish, so you should habituate them to your presence by standing near them and appearing to be paying attention to something else.

Habituation is the basic strategy for successful walking and talking.

 

 

For more on walking, peruse The Definitive Guide to Ambulated Reading.

 

A lot of credit to Mehdi Mossaid, Niriaska Perozo, Simon Garnier, Dirk Helbing, and Guy Theraulaz for their excellent paper,  The walking behavior of pedestrian social groups and its impact on crowd dynamics.

 

Universal Mood Moderator

In Ethel’s opinion, it is the breathing of oxygen that has driven people insane. It keeps them in a perpetual state of delusion and hallucination. At times she has convinced someone to try and kick the habit, but the withdrawal pains are immediate and severe, and most soon give up.

For those who persevere, the withdrawal can be fatal.

Ethel is grateful that she has never breathed any oxygen. She breathes nitrogen and argon. Better that way.

You’re an asshole-

Is what Ethel would like to say. Ethel is always having these thoughts. Oxygen moderates mood. Because she doesn’t take it, she’s cranky.

You’re the most beautiful creature there’s ever been-

Is what Ethel would like to say. Ethel is always having these thoughts. Oxygen moderates mood. Because she doesn’t take it, she’s giddy.

She can’t say any of it, because she can’t talk. Ethel is mute. She was born that way. So she writes on plastic, “Give up oxygen, free your mind, see the world for what is. A place of unbearably beautiful murderous monsters. Except their noses aren’t beautiful. Noses are weird.”

She leaves these notes scattered around, but you can’t read them. They’re written in braille. It’s not that she’s blind. She can see. But she only knows how to write in braille. She posts her messages outside bathroom doors, and the blind read them with their fingertips.

“Give up oxygen, free your mind, see the world for what it is. A place of unbearably beautiful murderous monsters. Except their noses aren’t beautiful. Noses are weird.” The blind read these messages, and go into the restrooms, and defecate.

This is as Ethel prefers.

Scape

Was I the one snoring, or was it someone else? I woke up to listen, but still couldn’t tell. Was I the one snoring, or was it someone else?

I went in the bathroom, to look in the mirror, and the trashcan left on jiggly legs. We haven’t been talking since I put those things in it, and I admit, nothing should have those things put in it, but they must be put somewhere, they can’t be left lying out.

I looked in the mirror, and it wasn’t my face snoring. I put a hand mirror behind my back so what it reflected would reflect in the bigger mirror, and I saw it was my spine that was snoring. A bubble of snot sticking out my spine’s nose.

I was going to tap it awake, but a shadow outside told me it was morning, or near enough, and I was awake, no going back, so I best make myself coffee and begin the day. My spine could sleep for both of us.

I set the coffee going, and saw my cat. It was my cat that was snoring, great black rumblers that shook the floor. I’d thought so. But wasn’t it my spine that was snoring?

My cat was my spine. My hair fluffed, it meowed, and I washed my hand my with my ginger tongue. I washed my hand with ginger, and ate the ginger, with a raw onion. And my hand, baked in a 9 by 13 glass tray, with mustard sauce. Actually, feet, I prefer feet for that. The pads are tender. The cat sniffed them, and I was so happy he’d stopped being my spine. After I ate my feet I put them on again, and they were new.

The coffee was brown, and fresh squeezed orange juice. Fresh squeezed bacon and buttermilk pancakes.

My girlfriend came down, and she was beautiful, I hadn’t known I had a girlfriend, and it was wonderful, except she wasn’t my girlfriend, she was a girl I barely knew who’d spent the night on my couch, because reasons, and I’d made breakfast for two.

I gave her coffee. She sipped it, kissed me, then hit me with the coffee mug, because I was inadequate, so I sat on my kitchen tile, bleeding and accepting. These things happen, nothing be done. That was too sad, so she was another girl, smarter and gentler, if not so sexy, and we talked civilizedly, and played chess, and I knew how to play, but she beat me anyway.

I said I’d make lunch in a few hours, but she left. Forlorn, my cat let me know I always had him when he felt like it, and I agreed that was true, and he was purring, rumble rumble against my spine.

Balloon Animal

Our cat. He really wasn’t fat. Touch his side, feel his ribs. Skinny as a wooden fence. But his belly swelled, like a balloon. It was gas. Bloating, cramping, digestive trouble. We gave him pepto bismo. It hardly helped.

We took him to the vet. She took a needle and pricked his side. The gas spurted out. He flew around the room.

Next morning, the needle hole had healed. He had built up more gas. He was bigger than before. Belly big as a basketball. His belly grew. Big as a beach ball. Meowing, he floated off the sofa, and, when dad came home, out the front door.

He hung in the sky, a hundred feet up. We tried, but our ladder wasn’t tall enough. We could still hear him meowing. We thought he got closer. We thought he was floating back down. But he was just getting bigger. His belly was the size of a yoga ball. His stomach was the size of a car. Then bigger.

The police came, and asked, Why is there a blimp over your house? Why is it black and white? Why is it textured so?

We said, because our cat is black and white, because that is the texture of fur. Please sirs, get our cat down

The firetruck came. Their ladder wasn’t tall enough either.

We took turns looking through the binoculars. You could hardly see his head. Hardly see his feet or tail. He was just a belly, very big, with bits hanging off.

He was a mile wide. He cast shade on the neighborhood. It cooled us down. We turned off the air conditioner. It saved us money on our electricity bill. It was the first time having a cat had ever saved us any money.

If I looked carefully, through the binoculars, birding binoculars, I could see he was screaming

He caught a bird. A flying smacked against his belly, I mean. His belly was taut as a drum, and the bird bounced off, and fell into our pool. I fished it out with a skimmer. But it had already drowned, while we watched.

The police called out the national guard. The colonel was a gastroenterologist, for his day job. The major was a veterinarian. They conferred, and told a sniper to shoot a hole in our cat’s belly. “That’s how regulations say to deal with these things.”

She shot. It was a good shot. With an armor piercing round and a high powered rifle. The gas hissed out

It smelled of burps and cat kibble. It was horrible. The national guard put on gas masks. The firefighters put on smoke masks. The police drove away, choking. We hid in the house, and sprayed febreeze, but looked out the windows.

The belly got smaller. It was only as big as
a blimp
a car
a yoga ball
a beach ball
a basketball
a cat.

I ran out, and caught him. He meowed, screamed, purred, clawed me, tried to crawl into me and atop me, all at once. I petted him, and said soothing words in soothing tones.

The tiny hole from the armor piercing round scabbed up. And his stomach started to expand. We knew he wasn’t happy like this. So we took him to the vet, and paid one hundred and thirty six dollars, to have him put down, with hot pink euthasol.

In the skirt, Day Two: Cuttlefish

This is the second in a series. Here is the first.

I had not thought the second day would warrant its own post. But there were events.

I have driven from a continuation High School, where at risk students are trying to graduate High School. They are profoundly normal teenagers. Most are male, most are hispanic. I helped them with geometry. I wore pants.

I park on the street near my college and change into my mother’s skirt. This is Day 2 of wearing the skirt to school, and I’m wearing the same turquoise skirt as on Day 1, this time with a belt. My mother’s skirt has seven belt loops. I love my mother.

Remove the scooter from the trunk, unfold it, scoot.

Intersection. A right turner, I fix him with my gaze, he pumps the brakes. Isn’t that some childrens game? You can only move when whoever’s “it” is looking away? Cars play that game. I never knew, till I wore a skirt, and was briefly too embarrassed to look.

My first pedestrian. I resolve to not be self-conscious, to stare as normal. Easier said than done, but not so hard as you might think.

I look at hair. I look at faces. I look at the concrete.

I’ve only rarely looked at concrete.

I am early for class, so I go the library, to the third floor, where the STEM students form study groups. First, I go into the bathroom, and take a selfie.

ugly bathroom skirt selfie
My camerphone sucks. Those are my glasses on the counter. Behind me are a traditional urinal and a Sloan Water Free urinal. Be charmed.

I enjoy taking a picture of myself wearing a skirt in a grossly masculine setting. Next I pick a table. I write what I’ve thought on the way. In between spurts of writing, I read the section of Walden entitled “Where I Lived and What I Lived For.” It is for class.

By writing, I think better than I otherwise would, and I ask myself, on the commute, did I read a single T-Shirt? I passed through a tunnel of sapling Jacaranda. How have they grown since I last saw them, two days before? Have they any blossoms? How is the grass of the field? How fares the rock garden that butts against the Kai Pheta Whatsit building?

I’ve no idea, so clearly, I am still too busy being self-conscious to be conscious of much else. Though it’s not so bad as on the first day.

Normally, I am a gawker. As the tourist sees New York, so I aspire to see the back of my hand. That which I have not seen I stare at because it is new to me, that which I have seen I stare it, because, knowing it, I take a proprietary interest. Perception is 90% of the law.

I am Monarch of all I survey, my right there is none to dispute.”

Thoreau quotes that in the section of Walden I’m reading. A man at the next table says to his friend, “are you that self-conscious?” He says it right now, exactly in the text as it occurs. Reality is themed.

Having seen a place once, I am King of it, it is my land, we are bound together. Do you know the myth of the Fisher King? It is this. Has a sapling leaned from its support? I shall right it. Trash strewn about? I put it where it ought to be. Invasive baby palm trees? Ripped out, or their heads cut off. A sprinkler burst? The city is called. Weeds bursting up through cracks in the concrete? I stomp on them, kick at them, scatter their corpses in the gutter.

Though I’ve made no application, the city has seen fit to offer me a stipend for these services—pennies scattered in my path. I squat to pick them up. Would I squat in a skirt? I am frightened to. I shall squat in this skirt, at the first opportunity.

So I have worn a skirt to school, and now I sit in the library, writing about wearing a skirt to school. What a bold thing am I! How adventurous and aggressive. Breaking the bones of the earth to suck out it’s marrow. Sitting, skirt hidden beneath the tabletop, scratching away in my notebook.

To be fair, it is no departure from my usual habit.

What mountains I make of my nerves.

I’d thought this would be an exercise in seeing what happens when I break gender conventions. It turns out what happens, at least on my college campus, is I get a lot of funny looks. But there’s value here. I’ve become self-conscious.

I am no stranger to that. The fear and confusion at every social step. My tongue sticks between my teeth while I consider proposing a trip to movies. Not asking a girl for a date. Suggesting to a friend we do something. Worse, an almost friend, a friendly acquaintance, trying to expand that friendship outside the bounds of the classroom or the workplace. Brrr.

But it’s new to feel self-conscious in a crowd. Normally, I am confident in proportion to my anonymity.

John Berger, the art critic, back in the 70s wrote, “According to usage and conventions which are at last being questioned, but by no means have been overcome… a woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually.”

This, written by a man, is one of my earliest exposures to academic feminism. Was it true then? Is it still true now? That, in many situations, women are habitually more self-conscious than men? It sounds miserable. It sounds plausible.

It would explain why women wear long hair. I had long hair once. I grew it out for Locks of Love. They make wigs for kids with some disease. I forget which. I think it’s not cancer. I hated the long hair. It was uncomfortable, especially in the summer. I was ecstatic when I finally cut it off, and it seems incredible to me that most women do something so uncomfortable merely for aesthetics.

Now I wonder if it’s because they’re self-conscious in short hair. Probably, there are other reasons.

Why had I supposed anyone would care what I wear? They never have before. What must a straight white male do to be socially oppressed? Clearly this is not enough. The closest thing I know is to go on twitter and disagree with a feminist about something.

It can be anything. I might tell her that the problem with representing masculinity as monolithic isn’t that it lacks nuance. That’s nitpicking. It’s that it fundamentally misunderstands the landscape. The assumption seems to be that there is a certain universal toxic masculinity. Some men have more of it, some have less of it, but it’s all same thing. This isn’t true. Diversity is real. What’s within me is quite different from what’s within him. We both have problems, but they’re not the same. Coming not just from different places, but different directions. To tell us all to go east is good advice only for a fourth.

I could tell her that what fall within norms is constantly negotiated. It might be considered a culture war if it weren’t so polite and oft unspoken, coached in the subtleties that women call “emotional repression.” I could tell her that careless representation of toxic masculinity is nothing but excess masculinity promulgates that idea that men are supposed to be violent, entitled, emotionally suppressed, and frightened of strong woman. That it weighs in on the side of those she and I would both most like to see lose.

If I do that, I can be called all sorts of names. I can have my right to have opinions on men challenged on the basis that I’m a man. Delegitimatized, ignored, dismissed.

From what I gather, this complaint that I have, of not being taken seriously, of being assumed wrong till proven otherwise, of being deligitimatzied, ignored, dismissed, is a complaint women have of most conversations with men. A regular part of their lives. For me, it is unusual, and hard to put aside.

Men are rather unified and monolithic in that we do not wear skirts, don’t you think? And a thousand other things. That which is common, that which is near universal masculinity, is my water, I don’t see it. I see through it. Have you heard that fable, of how fish have never heard of water?

We may all be of the sea, but that Cuttlefish have committed crimes of their own makes them no less offput at being called to account for the wrongdoings of sharks.

That may be a bad metaphor. The twitter fems would tell me so.

An Australian male news anchor noticed his female colleagues got a lot of flack over what they wore. Mostly from female viewers. So he wore the same suit for a year. No one noticed.

I’m so very glad no one cares what we wear.

I go to class. It’s the class for which I’m wearing the skirt, as my project. It’s the second day I’ve come in a skirt, and this time people ask me why I’m wearing a skirt. I’d thought everyone knew, but in fact it was only those sitting near me who knew.

I am not the center of the world.

I explain. It is cheerful. My classmates are mostly women. It is suggested that I “go to 21” (which I assume is Forever 21) and get a skirt there. Some have pockets, and I can get them cheap, for between 15 and 40 dollars. 40 dollars sounds expensive to me.

In class, we talk about Walden, a book review, and paying attention. Paying attention. Reality is themed.

In class, three minutes of guided meditation. A video of a British man telling me to focus on my breathing, to listen to each individual part of my body, and every individual part of my body, thrilled to have my attention, demands to be stretched. I stretch them all. Meditation is just a way to get limber.

The Professor encourages us to go see the art exhibit on the fourth floor of the library, and dismisses us. I think I’ll leave the class along with Alexis, who I have been talking to, and ask if she’s planning to go to the art exhibit in the library, and perhaps we’ll go together.

But she is talking to the professor.

I have put everything in my backpack, zipped it, taken it off, re-organized it, and zipped it again, and she still isn’t done talking. I leave. Waiting would be presumptive. Making friends with girls is even more confounding than making friends with guys. There’s more to be gotten wrong. Besides, I have to pee. I walk quickly for the restroom, do my business quickly, thinking there’s a decent chance that, as I’m heading back down the hallway, I may see her.

That’s what happens. From a step behind I ask her whether she’s going to the exhibit. She asks if I’m going.

I say yes.

She says she’d totally forgotten about it, thanks me for reminding her, and says she’ll go now.

I am uncertain. Does this mean we’re going together? I should’ve phrased my question better. I consider whether, when we reach the doors, I should peel off in my own direction. Tagging along would be weird.

She says she’s glad to have someone come along.

Whew. Yeah. Now in a unit, I’m less self-conscious. I am group-conscious instead. I savor the vision of a man in a skirt walking alongside a pretty woman who is a tad taller than him.

Her project is about productive leisure. Everything from knitting to going for walks. I ask, then, if she’s going to take the stairs to the fourth floor. She says, the elevator. But we get there, and she takes the stairs.

I hope I was not just party to the prosecutorial culture of fitness.

We see the art. It’s nice. There are giant “flowers” made of many silver plastic bags. Chip bags, with the pigment stripped off? There is bright yellow at the base, which sometimes reflects. So the color is hidden beneath the petals. Backward blooms. As I walk between them, I hold the skirt close, fearful of it sweeping into the installation.

There are paper towels that have been dipped in resin. They’re on the floor, standing upright, one against another, a little like a row of dominoes, or salt water doodles in the sand. Again, I am careful.

We look at the rest. We look at it all. She leaves. I stay a little longer. It takes time to really look at something. That time taken, I leave. Scootering back to the car, I remember to pay attention. The Jacarandas are bigger than two days before, but not so much that I can notice. There are no blossoms. There are brown, dry, wide open seedpods, and green seedpods that have yet to crack, but few seedpods in between.

To the car. It’s well in shade. Here, my memory starts to be confused. I must at times guess. Bear with me. I start the car, it starts with barely a protest, and I’m off. I get into a left turn lane, and because we’re into evening, I turn on the lights.

The car shuts off.

The left turn light blink on. Friendly green arrow. The cars in front of me turn left, and I turn on my hazard lights. I put the car in park, and restart the car. I go forward, but I have missed the light. I turn on my own lights and the car again shuts off. The 18-Wheeler behind me keeps its distance.

I wait for the left turn arrow to come back on, not very worried. I’m driving a ’99 Nissan Sentra, and I typically turn off the air conditioner when I need to accelerate. It does stuff. One of its usual tricks is turning off right after I have turned it on. It does this only when it’s low on gas, and indeed, the needle is at less than a quarter of a tank. Invariably, if I get the gas peddle pressed before the engine turns off, it’s fine thereafter, and in this case I’d already done that, but it happened when I was idled, so it seems like just an extension of the usual. I’ll buy some gas at the first gas station.

The light is green. I start the car; it goes, I drive through the intersection, wait for the engine to really have been running, and turn the lights on again. The car goes, shudders, goes, shudders, cuts out. By inertia, I pull to the shoulder.

I start the car again, and am waiting at another light when the engine fails. Now the car, rather than being in idle, is basically in neutral, and it slips backward down the hill, toward the car behind me.

I slam the brake peddle in time and take a breath. I get the car going again, get it to the gas station, which luckily is just up the hill, and put in 10 dollars worth, thinking this will solve all ills. I try the lights while still in the lot, and the car yet runs. I pull to the driveway, and turn right onto Temple.

I see, on the side of the road, a white male, and an asian female. They’re about my age, holding hands as they walk. It’s dusk, and they’re backlit by the bright fluorescent lights of a 7-Eleven. Acrylic silhouette. Photogenic, if I had a camera. I have my eyes instead.

The car turns off. On a busy road, right before a freeway on-ramp. I hit the button for the hazard lights, but this time even the hazard lights don’t work. I put the car into park, twist the key, but there’s not a sound. Try again, not a sound. Perhaps I try a third time.

I open the car door and yell to the photogenic couple, who have turned to look. “Could you help me push this in there!” Pointing to the 7-Eleven. I am almost where I’d be to start a right turn into it.

I glance into the car, and when I glance back they are behind the car, ready to push. I think that, rather than running, they apparated.

I put the car in neutral, and with my right hand on the wheel, my left on the door, my shoulder pressed to the door frame, and my feet on the asphalt, we push. I fear it will be too much for us, but it moves easily. I look back. A third samaritan has appeared. We go up the driveway into 7-Eleven’s lot. I manage the right turn mostly with one hand on the wheel. We stop pushing, conduct a brief consultation, and we push it into a empty parking space at the back of the lot. It’s a fine parking job, well inside the lines.

I am wearing the skirt, and the whole time, I worry that I am wearing the skirt. They come up to me, and if any of them notice, I don’t notice.

I thank them. The third samaritan is a trim hispanic man somewhere between 35 and 50. He tells me to start the car, so that he may listen to the engine. Being a College Man, I know that this is High Wizardry, and he is a Wizard. I shall call him Gandalf.

I start the engine. It starts. Gandalf tells me to give it some gas. I rev the engine. The engine cuts out. He describes signs and portents beyond my ken, and amidst the torrent of mystical words, I latch onto one. “Injector.”

I thank him, and shake his hand. I thank her, and shake her hand. I thank her friend, and shake his hand. Smiling all around. They know they are good people. I know the world is full of good people. We’re all happy. They leave.

I collapse into the car. Covered in a sheen of sweat. Adrenaline rush.

And once more I’ve confirmed, no one gives a shit whether a guy wears a skirt.

I call home. This blog now reveals more of my personal life than I had planned.

My oldest sister answers. I ask her to put Mom and Uncle Steve on the phone. She says Mom is at Choir practice. I say, “Just Uncle Steve, then, and you should stay on the line.”

She asks, “Why? Have you been arrested?”

I wonder what I have ever done to make that to jump to her mind. “Car trouble,” I say.

Uncle Steve says he will come, using my oldest sister’s car.

I should explain. I do not have a car. I borrow my Uncle’s. My culture tells me this means I’m pathetic. I don’t disagree. Sometimes I pretend it’s my car. Sometimes I refer to it to others as “my car.” This is why I’m not really upset. It isn’t my car. I won’t be paying for the repairs. This is only an adventure. I wish I were having it on a fuller stomach.

I change from the skirt into pants. I want to be panted in subsequent conversations. Perhaps with the man with from Triple A.

I take out a notebook and an automatic pencil, and open all the windows. Hand cranked. I stick my feet out the driver’s side window and recline against the parking brake.

There are two lights on an exterior wall. They are on for thirty seconds, then off for thirty second. Some such interval. Security lights. When they are on I mostly write. When they are off I mostly look. Chasing the light, I adjust my position, now leaning out the window.

In front of me, a Coca-Cola truck. Coca-Cola, Since 1886. A white man a little older than I, shifting Coca-Cola products from wooden pallets onto a dolly, wheeling them into the 7-Eleven. He normally comes at 10 at night, but something happened at the factory. Something to do with a truck. Automotive failure. Reality is themed.

So I learn from eavesdropping on his conversation with a man from the 7-Eleven. He is fortyish, hispanic, chubby, has a red coat with a name tag, and he smokes. I assume he’s the manager.

A car pulls in to the space next to mine. The driver has blond hair bound in a simple bun at the back of her head, tufts sticking wildly up, pseudo alfalfa. She looks at her lap. A phone?

The security light flicks on. She’s a young woman, she’s… light-skinned black? The hair’s blond, isn’t it? Maybe dyed? Not blond at all? Punnet squares? Even with light, it’s still dark.

She turns and looks at me. I continue looking directly at her. She entered my view, therefore, she is my view. I am wearing pants again, gawking per normal. She looks away, then back at me, I glance briefly up and to the right, then back.

The security light flicks off. Color flees, shape remains. I stare at her. She stares at me. I can see her eyes, dark on white, and they move in marvelous ways. She puts the car in reverse, and leaves the lot. Perhaps she was always stopping quickly, just to receive and send a text. Or I scared her. Probably I scared her.

Cuttlefish.

I get out. There is a cloud that looks like Goofy playing football. If you’re determined to find it, there is always a cloud that looks like Goofy playing football. There is a planter full of mossy artificial turf. Two baby palms, Queens I think, are growing up through it. I don’t know which I hate more, palms or turf.

I have my answer when I stomp on the palms.

My Uncle comes. He starts the car. The car cuts out. He calls Triple A, and we wait for the tow truck.

The Coca-Cola man loads the last of his product on the dolly: Coca-Cola itself, and Smart Water. I go into the 7-Eleven and buy two packs of peanuts. One is “Hot Peanuts.” The other is “Sea Salt and Vinegar.”

Leaving the store, I open the “Sea Salt and Vinegar” and realize it is not, in fact, “Sea Salt and Vinegar.” I have grabbed the wrong package. It is caramel covered peanuts, which I can’t eat, because I’m diabetic, but I try one anyway. It’s atrocious.

Having grabbed the wrong peanuts is the worst part of my day.