New Stories for 4/27/2015
Since this is a nature essay, I should explain that while my body is located in an experimental forest, it is so far from its senses that all I smell is the sour pungency of a warm beer and the pitiful pool of wax at the bottom of a controlled flame near the air vent of my computer. Since I am here, and outside is there, I strain my ears to hear early dusk sweeping the landscape of its dust, settling early layers of dew on each sword of the sword fern which will sink imperceptibly lower to the ground as it gathers the burden of night, or the yellow grosbeak who fed well this day and spreads its shallow fibers in a low thicket while the beetles continue their work of gnawing tunnels and laying eggs for tomorrow’s pileated woodpecker shrieking the forest awake. But that is outside.
Here, Johannes Sebastian Bach makes shape with sound, isolates me and somehow reminds me of we; that we die alone: Et un Spiritum; the bass vocalist speaks and plans, the music is the organized shape of linear progress. Then quandary, the unison of spiraling shapes, the de-centered self in communion with the divine. Finally solace and acceptance, the triumphant trumpet when we’ve let go of our need to know.
My dad’s so twentieth century. F’real, though, he tries to be cool, but everything he does makes him stick out like a total noob. “Jake,” he says, patting my shoulder in what he hopes is a fatherly way, “the world hasn’t changed. People have all the same hopes and fears they ever had, no matter what the calendar says.” This from the guy who still pines for his old computer keyboard. Mom threw that out years ago, back when pretty much all of Western civilization went forty-gig universal WiFi. Poor old Pops still hasn’t figured out how to talk to the web through his implants.
“Dad,” I remind him, “we don’t use calendars anymore. We have nanos for that. Join the planet you live on.” I think Dad might be the last surviving Alzheimer’s patient. He’s adorable, I swear, even when he slumps around the house bitching under his breath about living in the goddamn Matrix. The Matrix was an old two-D sim for kids. Like I said, he’s a fossil; but, you know, he’s my dad and, like, what can you do.
Pacific Northwest rain has a spiteful, insidious quality, as if it was deeply committed to causing despair for anyone who is unfortunate enough to be caught in it. I was weary from battling a torrential downpour while driving along Interstate Five in my Toyota minivan. It was an ungainly, wedge-shaped vehicle, and it already had more than 200,000 miles on the odometer. Doug and I had left Eugene around five o’clock, after our intentions for a romantic getaway had refused to pan out. We’d spent the weekend arguing and threatening to split up as soon as we reached home. Neither of us had uttered a word to each other for over an hour.
As we pulled into the northern outskirts of Portland, the art-deco neon outlines of the iconic “Waddles-Time to Eat!” sign appeared by the side of the freeway, and I smiled for the first time in hours. It was impossible for me to be depressed when I saw that sign, since it was my favorite landmark on the interstate. “We’ve never eaten at Waddles” I lamented.
My greatest ambition was to be a football hero. Evan’s too. Evan’s my twin brother. We look so much alike that even our parents couldn’t tell us apart. In high school we were the smallest kids in the whole school. Smaller than lot of the girls. But that didn’t hamper our football aspirations.
I wanted to see my picture on the cover of a game program and on the first page of the sports section in the Journal. We’d seen movies about Knute Rockne and Crazylegs Hirsh and the greatest of all, Jim Thorpe, and we wanted to be them.
Over six seasons, first in junior high and then in high school, we warmed the bench on the sidelines, waiting for a chance to play. On the practice squads we were used sparingly at halfback and tried our churning legs as kick returners, and finally we were switched to defensive backs, which seemed absurd because we were too short to guard pass receivers, even though we certainly had the speed and could leap like crazy. I thought we were pretty damn good in practice, but Coach never seemed to notice. The problem was he was afraid we would get hurt. I guess he thought it was all right for us to get hurt in practice, but not in a real game. Oh yeah, that made a lot of sense.