My life's decades are the number of fingers on a well-formed human hand, not including the thumb. We could say the last five years ((half decade)) have been the thumb, half-a-thumb, anyway. I pretty much finished off the first four fingers and skipped to the next hand to use the index finger then jumped back to the thumb on the first hand as though an afterthought. These last five years have been opposable. Does that work in this context? Opposable? Do I need to explain? ((Too bad if I do.)) The details of what make this so are... what they are and don't matter other than they make up something that is opposable.
One fifth of one hand standing opposite its fellow digits completes each of those digits and is useless without them. I don't care that you know my age or not, so I'll leave the math to you just for fun. The other odd finger, the index as we mentioned and the only finger counted on the other hand, makes an easier task of moving a few remaining peas with accompanying gravy onto any clumsily-held fork.
Lately I've been noticing more individuals without all their digits. I'm most impressed when they don't try to hide it, but don't make a big deal about it. No etiquette exists, officially, and why should it. I've shaken many hands, or partial hands, and I'm less shocked or taken aback each time a person presents his or her hand as a greeting. Extended stubs, knobs, gnarled and twisted hands and fingers, often result in warmer communications than from the fully-fingered. The stories they tell without saying a word, are epic. I am fascinated, dare I say, gripped.
I met two older gentlemen brothers. They were well older than I am now. Let's just say I hadn't quite finished the decade of my third finger. One of the brothers hands were some of the oddest hands I had shaken, had seen, and at which gestures I marveled. I've got pictures of these guys somewhere I'm sure I will never find under whatever papers in whatever boxes I may never unpack again. But the photos are there. A few were published along with the story I was writing that occasioned our meeting. The photos show two men with hands. As far as I remember, the brother with the deformed hands made no effort to conceal this difference. In so doing he exhibited confidence enough to offer no hint that anything was missing. And so, nothing was missing other than our perception of his missing hand.
His accident, I learned, was from chasing coyotes away from livestock, something he'd done most of his life without mangling his hands. That particular time he must have been distracted, probably overconfident. Long and short of it: he held onto the stick of dynamite a half or even a tenth of a second more than he should have before throwing it. I didn't find out what happened to the pack of coyotes he was after. But by the time we got to this part of his story, it no longer mattered. Neither did it matter what happened to the livestock. Not to me, anyway. ((But I think it would have been pretty cool had he gone on telling the story including the fate of the coyotes. That's pretty hardcore ranching. "Blew the suckers away," he would snort. "Oh, yeah, and my hands, too. Hah, hah.")) His thumb vanished into a pink spray, dissolving into what sure must have been a difficult time of life that squeezed him tightly.
An early childhood memory: playing with fire before the age of accountability. The twins who lived in the house behind my family's house, would meet me at the back fence where our two yards joined. We would bring our plastic soldiers and model cars and whatever supply of flammable liquid (we could get our hands on) and a reasonable supply of matches. This was something we did as naturally and as predictably as the lawns getting mowed and meter readers jumping fence after fence with their clipboards.
The twins brought their older brother this time, and he had a new tool, very cool, very exciting. He pulled out a glass syringe. His father was diabetic. The syringe was an artifact of the day's technology. The clear-glass syringe yellowed as it filled with gasoline. One of the twins scraped a match head and the brother squeezed the inner plunger stick with his thumb, holding the syringe between his middle and index fingers. The fuel, in its narrow and compressed piss-like stream, passed through the flame on that tiny match head and exploded into a fully formed miniature firestorm that would incinerate the little foxholes we'd set up. Plastic green snipers were still being hidden under the plastic army trucks, carefully being placed with my own two little hands. No procedure was in place for an all clear signal, no "fire in the hole!" shout-out.
I don't remember seeing the match getting struck. I do remember seeing the brother dip the syringe into the jar of fuel and then pull back and the plunger. I remember thinking that the flame would probably squirt out of there so fast that it would knock over whatever it hit before it burned it. I also remember an unspoken but certain and urgent prompt to move my hands, to pull them toward my chest. And as though for what seemed no reason at all, I jerked my hands toward sternum as fast as I could. I cannot tell you how close the flames came to nearly landed on my hands. I would be interested in a high-speed film recording of that event. It was, terrifying. It was dramatic. The four of us burst out with unison "wow," or something like that, each remarking how close that was and that we should be careful and all that. But within a minute our young brains had moved on to other distractions, still in need of further exploring, discovering limits we had long passed while looking for things that our two hands could do.
Boredom is not necessary, neither is it illegal. Resorting to subjects, verbs and objects that are illegal often serves as boredom's potent antidote. For a while, anyway. Until one becomes bored with whatever illegal activity, hormones will surge, chemicals will churn life into the dull grey soft matter that is the hardware of consciousness. We are children squishing ants on the front porch. Nothing wrong with that, even kind of addictive. And it never gets old until we do.
Let’s turn things up a notch. That bird over there needs a rock thrown at it, we think, and throw one in its direction not intending to hit the target, which it does. The sparrow falls quickly, unaware of how or why or even that it has become acutely inert.
A few years later another juvenile ensemble has assembled, waiting to pounce. That kid with the new bicycle (sweet tufted banana seat, suicide handlebars, nothing but chrome for fenders) sees them staring at him. He innocently leaves it unlocked in front of the drug store. The glass door doesn’t even shut before one of the boys mounts the stingray and flies it to the next neighborhood. Hey, it’s something to do. The dork comes out holding a candy bar he will never eat. Sick with loss, new emptiness where his new bike was a few minutes earlier, safe, solid and real, all his, suited to no one else. How dare anyone ride it but him. He must walk the city block to his home. It’s a joyless hike, the distance compounded as barefooted forced march. The void that is his loss weighs on him brutally. That fine machine, the envy of the other boys, the most significant physical extension of his personal identity, the thing that got him from place to place in style, gone.
The dork rides shotgun as his father steers the Impala through the neighborhood streets. Decades will pass until father and son both relive these moments in dreams they never share with the other. It never occurs to either of them as they reflect on this memory, a horrible experience transformed into a sweet recollection, time together, so long ago. And there it is: the stolen bike, still recognizable under the all the disguise from a hasty black paint job. The thief later becomes a friend.
He remembers the time he returned to check on the carcass of the fallen sparrow a few minutes after he’d killed it, but it was gone.
It wasn't a squirrel. It was a gargoyle, I could tell the difference easily. I fell in love with it immediately. What a concept. Who would have thought of placing a gargoyle at the edge of a roof about thirty feet above a suburban lawn? Perhaps a gargoyle would think to do so. More likely the gargoyle would do so without thinking. What thought was required? Just do it. It's the natural thing. Which is probably why our gargoyle looked so naturally positioned.
Source: Flickr Creative Commons
He is not of clay or plaster, we have learned. And we have named him Vesparo, not knowing his real name or if even he has one. He answers to Vesparo and he eats the handbills, circulars and advertisements left on our porch and lawn. To our knowledge he does not eat those who leave the handbills, circulars and advertisements left on our lawn. Vesparo is close to the family of geckos who congregate on our porch ceiling. They get on well, joking and playing games into the early morning.
So, when I tell everyone we have a gargoyle on the roof of our house in our quiet suburban neighborhood, how nice, they must think, for this time of year, all hallows and all that. But, no. This is the real thing. I don't think he's going anywhere. We love him, Vesparo. He is real. He is very much alive, as are, as far as we know, all of the children who live on our street and in our neighborhood.
Somebody had shelled out some big bucks for this family outing. It wasn't me. I never is. It was probably Grampa and step-Grandma. It's what they do. It's amazing and wonderful, so generous, so memorable.
The Ballpark in Arlington was new. No scuffs on the polished pavement floors, no bumps or chips along the glistening walls, no hinges squeaking in the stadium seats so clean they might as well have been sanitized for our protection. I remember entering the stadium through a glorious corner gate that is probably architecturally aligned with first base. St. Peter comes to mind. But memory enhances visual associations with emotional experiences, good, bad, and to all extremes. So please understand this is in my head coming out here through the tips of my fingers, hardly virtual at this point, what once was real, actual, walking and breathing a physical experience.
Lot's of air. That is, not many people where there yet. No worries about breathing the same breaths as everyone else. The game wasn't for another couple of hours. My wife, our three children, and I followed our hosts into the elevator that opened to a nearby TGIFriday's. Something about bold stripes, checkered tiles, and new furniture begs to be soiled, tried, tempted, tested as if on a shakedown cruise. Whatever is in the way will be tripped over. Whatever is slippery will be slipped on. Whatever sharp edges of new chairs will catch fabric and rip a hole in it will catch fabric and rip a hole in it. Full of nicely broiled burger and accompanying fries such a burger commands, the men's room visit took some pressure off and broke my heart.
My favorite one-hundred-percent-cotton Hawaiian-print shirt I had purchased oh-so-many-years earlier at the Banana Republic at the Dallas Galleria (when they offered such apparel) had been torn. The new bench I had been sitting on, I concluded, snagged it, ripped it, exposed the pleasant rounding of my back (my white undershirt, anyway) from seam to seam. Heck, I blamed it on the bench. Truth is I had worn the shirt so much it could have torn with sneeze, so thin was that section of cloth. My favorite shirt was ruined. (For the record, had I known people were associating me with Jimmy Buffet because of that shirt, it's brightly printed parrot, it would have not been my favorite shirt. I do not show my allegiance to any style of music through apparel. That's why these days I were all black.) Most embarrassing was the thought that I had been wandering around with my torn shirt for who knows how long. Probably not long. No one looked at me funny or anything. So, I wasn't too worried about it until I had to walk back out into the restaurant. That was the closest I think I've ever come to that dream where you're walking around naked or in your underwear. Anyway, I made my way to the manager, made my case, and he happily gave me a polo-type shirt from the gift shop as a replacement. It was yellow, that shirt.
I think the Rangers were playing the Mariners. The seats were excellent, a dozen or so rows back from the Texas dugout and a bit toward home. This was probably the best view of all players who bat right handed. This was fine-America. Splendid America. Best seats at a baseball game at a new stadium. What else: a new shirt; stuffed with burger-and-fries; with the beautiful young wife and our three young children, and the grandparents and an uncle and aunt and or cousin or two or three. Like I said, somebody had shelled out some bucks for this outing.
People began leaving about halfway through the game. I couldn't understand it. But I hadn't been paying attention to the game as much as to the experience of being with everyone, and the event itself. Mariners were winning. A Ranger had just struck out and was returning to the dugout. The stadium countenance changed. The mass of departing souls slowed, some even returned as all hushed, gasped, then applauded. The only thing that had happened was A-Rod had trotted to home plate. He was already a superstar, but not yet the superstar he would become. I was amazed at how absolutely natural he held the bat, how humble he seemed, embarrassed even, at the attention, as though genuinely afraid who would not live up to whatever was expected. And so the pitch. I watched through the binoculars as the young player swinged a swing with such power that the ball would have done anything other than what it did if the bat had connected solidly. The ball went straight up, back, over and down. A scuffle ensued a few rows ahead. A happy bald guy with a gut as round as the ball itself raised his fist to smattering applause isolated to the area just below us where everyone could see his prize.
A-Rod, still at bat. My father informed us that he had been having trouble hitting lately. That it was because he must feel guilty. He received about $20 thousand per game. Someone with A-Rods upbringing would have difficulty reconciling such earnings with the earnings of those back home whom he surely must think more worthy or some other grounds, if not baseball. The next pitch brought another swing of what must have wielded stunning power, so effortlessly. Nothing happened. I marveled at how a player could handle a piece of would so elegantly and gracefully, such an iconic tool, so powerfully, so effortlessly. Nothing happened. Did I mention that? So effortlessly. All that power. No effort. Nothing happened. Wait a minute. Nothing happened. No effort. It looked like no effort because, hey, he was using no effort. He wasn't even trying. He was just going through the motions. I was pissed! I wanted to walk right down there and chew him out. Did I have to be restrained? I don't remember. Five years later, my bold-and-cocky years, I most assuredly would have to have been restrained if at all possible. I remember thinking that had I forked over all the money and effort to make this thing happen with a family, the hundreds of dollars spent on tickets, the logistics, the fine seats... if I had paid for it I would have been in A-Rod's face. How dare he not even try. How dare he make as much money by striking out during one game.. as much money as I would make that year! Oh, excuse me... the whole league was due to go on strike in a couple of days. Oink. Oink. Pigs. All of them. Alllll, of, them.
We left. I remember the highlight of the game was on the way home. It wasn't our journey home. It was at the game. Right where we were sitting. An extremely scantily clad lady made her way down the aisle as close to the dugout as she could get before security caught up with her. She passed right by the seat where I sat. Her adventure took up a good minute of the radio announcer's workday. Who was that woman? What did she say? Was she chewing them out for not trying?
I told this story to a nice lady I met today at the 7-eleven during my daily Big Gulp run. I had just dropped my wife off at her part time job, ducked in to this place on the way home. The routine. I always get a refill. It's cheaper. And so this lady was kind of in my way as I was reaching for a cup lid. Something inside reached up and made me say to her: "I really want to see a good movie day. I don't know what it is about today. And I probably won't go see one because I'm too busy right now and..." "They have some good one's over at the Angelica right now,"she interrupted me. Knew where I was going. She started naming them, the movies. Told me she was going out to the new ballpark in Arlington, the Cowboy Stadium. That's when I launched into the story above. "Was that the time that woman tried to make it to the dugout?" I was stunned. "Yeah, but by then we were on our way home. We heard it on the radio." "That wasn't one of my better moments," she said. "Here, let me get your Big Gulp for you."