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.
Birth. Our nephew’s daughter entered Earth’s atmosphere in the vicinity of San Antonio. Hardly a moment later photos came as email attachments, precious new yet-to-be-swaddled human, her waxy white and vernix coat softening the blushing red. Other than in emails, this image was spared social media exposure as far as we know. The parents are commended.
The joy of a new family member spread quickly to the other side of the world. Our daughter in Seoul quickly shot back her observation. “Babies are gross.” Such candor attests to her lineage, and the adage: she is her father’s daughter. I’m so proud.
She’s right, you know. She, at birth, was no exception. None of us are. Caesar’s entry into life and exit from his mother, the method of which bears his name, was probably more especially gross. And of course all the accompanying baggage, you know, that cord and a couple of square feet of amniotic membrane, the child’s weight in placenta, have got to go somewhere and aren’t going to dispose of themselves.
Even the immaculately conceived Jesus, vaginally birthed in circumstances so abjectly humble as to emphasize the glory of his virgin mother’s deliverance, halos all around, angels attending, afterbirth lost somewhere in the hay, not unusual for that kind of place.
Civilization removes the grossness of childbirth. But there’s no escaping the reality. I was born in my father’s absence as was the custom in those days. He was in the waiting room down the hall. One could argue that my mother wasn’t even there. I don’t know if she was anesthetized for the event, also an easy option of the times. As for me? I don’t remember. And no manner of hypnotic regression will change that. What would be the point. My mother tells me she thought I looked like a red rat when she saw me for the first time. And looking at the black-and-white of me as a newborn, I’ve got to agree.
we know emperor penguins mate for a season, spawn, repeat with another partner next time around and never look back at what was with whom it was because, because, because of the singular focus at hand as both arch and bow as one as their instinctive bond doth command a commitment to memory unto bone and sinew through downy fir upon layered blubber, having survived the summer’s grazing under thinning sheets and menacing predators, and as the couple they are for the rearing of another half-clone of each, the call, the scream, the cackle, the chortle for which no human has a word that means the sound they make, distinguishable to each and to each only (until the fruit of their egg hatches into the din of its parent’s welcome) like a laser scanning (but not a laser because that’s visual) for the one-and-only barcode for which it abandons, indeed ignores all others in the huddled mass they join through darkest winter, mother and father, taking turns, sharing the responsibility of incubation until the happy reunion should will of Darwin allow as per the signal we’ve discussed, you know, the call of calls, the only one that matters, the one of the other, that is like no other, that of the partner of the moment, the moment being the here and now as much as their mutual identification results from a hear and now, the remarkable nature of which cannot be overstated no matter how loud the cry of one toward the other, yes, the penguin knows its partner to mission’s end
The nature of this venue does not put a premium on research. This is no publication of record. It’s the Internet. Worse, it’s a blog. A web log. A log on the web. It is a log of blurbs and nonverbal verbiage because it has not been verbalized, actually uttered other than through these fingers upon this keyboard, and then, if you are a tormented with cognition, the voice you are hearing as you read this. The difference is that I don’t talk this way, the way these words are coming out here on this screen, unless I am writing. Or do I? I don’t really know. Sometimes and not.
I remember very little of what I say when I say a thing or two verbally, using the articulation tools from my guts to the end of my nose. ((Some would include body movements, facial expressions and gestures often accompanying my speech.)) So, I’m discovering as these words accumulate on this log, I do not remember them as I thought I should or would. But that’s okay. They are here. That’s where the log part of blog comes in. That’s for what logs are. And the web, it’s for convenience, I suppose. Otherwise I probably would not have written here what I have written. But I did. I wrote them on this day, the 5th of November.
Upon hearing this date I’m reminded of it, of hearing the date spoken, verbalized, written about, cataloged, sung even. The singing part was what I couldn’t get out of my head. Instantly John Lennon’s song surfaced amidst the chemical flora and fauna playing with each other in the forest that is my gray matter. Some call it memory. I remembered the song, but not the title. Irony blesses my life again. This called for action on which the nature of this venue does not put a premium. ((Research. Remember? NOTE: First mentioned in the first sentence, first paragraph of this post.))
What I remembered most about the song was its finish, the last line. I dug a bit and found quite a few sites offered lyrics to all of John Lennon’s song catalog. To my amazement the first few sites showed different versions of the same song, different from each other, and certainly varied from what I remembered. The thing is, I don’t trust my memory as once I did. This is probably a mistake. I’ve discovered that I’ve remembered incorrectly far fewer times than not, even with younger, fresher minds at hand. Nevertheless, I could have sworn that Mr. Lennon ended the song Remember with “the 5th of November.” But the versions of lyrics I beheld through my “research” had omitted those words. ((Forgive me when I say that I felt like somebody was playing mind games.)) Anyway, I looked around until I found a couple of sites that did indeed agree with my memory. And so, I felt a lot better about a few things. Just couldn’t remember what.
Remember when you were young
How the hero was never hung
Always got away
Remember how the man
Used to leave you empty handed
Always, always let you down
If you ever change your mind
About leaving it all behind
Remember, remember, today
And don’t feel sorry
The way it’s gone
And don’t you worry
‘Bout what you’ve done
Remember when you were small
How people seemed so tall
Always had their way
Remember your ma and pa
Just wishing for movie stardom
Always, always playing a part
If you ever feel so sad
And the whole world is
driving you mad
Remember, remember, today
And don’t feel sorry
‘Bout the way it’s gone
And don’t you worry
‘Bout what you’ve done
o, no, remember, remember
The fifth of November.
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.
My wife and I each received the same email from my youngest daughter’s English teacher today. Teacher Conference sessions were approaching. Would we like a meeting? The short and simple answer is no.
Emails from teachers used to be a bad thing, particularly when concerning our eldest. Any classroom-originated communication was automatically cause for concern, usually an invitation for a meeting with the teacher, a couple of teachers, perhaps an administrator or two, and, what the heck, throw in a dean or a counselor or a principal or all the above. The more the merrier.
My wife would become a lioness protecting her cub. How dare anyone in the room think our boy was less than the gift God had bestowed upon all fortunate enough to gaze however briefly into his icy-blue eyes, eyes for which my grandfather was famous. I was usually no less than perplexed: at how and why all these resources of academic and administrative talent could be rallied and gathered, and; what was the big deal.
This was drama in the real world, unfolding around us as each teacher voiced issues concerning our son. Pressure mounted. My red ears would begin to glow, pulsing visibly.
Who was this kid we thought was our son? The drama peaked with my wife in tears, a few of the teachers red-faced and one of the assistant principals taking our boy into the next room for a quick and earnest–and from where his mother and I were sitting–an awkwardly private-but-brief one-on-one meeting.
At the end of the meeting everyone seemed to feel better. Interestingly, I don’t remember anything developing from that meeting, nothing good coming out of it other than a vague sense of “well, at least we’re trying” or that all involved seemed to be going through the motions as though to express such, for the sake of having it on record.
Of course, this was ten years ago. Things became much worse for our young son, our eldest child, before they got better. I’m comfortable crediting him with befriending sources of light somewhere along the way that guided him or illuminated signs toward alternatives that allowed him to make better decisions. His friends and teachers, particular individuals who know who they are probably made the most difference. He changed. His changes were age-appropriate, welcome, unexpected and wonderful. He brought great honor to his parents and family, his school and community. And he does still. And so do his sisters.
As for meeting with my youngest daughter’s English teacher… what’s there to meet about? Or, about what is there to meet? She’s got a ninety-seven average. What should I say to the teacher? Should I call a meeting of all of them, just for old time’s sake? “Hey, what gives with this grade average? What’s the matter with you? Is it our unstable home-life? You want to blame us for that other three percent? What, dear teacher, have you brought to the table to make up for it? Are you just not connecting with our daughter on some level that would shake loose that last three percent? What’s your problem?
Even bad memories become good memories. We look back fondly on difficulties that were because of the “were” part. They were and not are. And knowing this allows us to endure today and tomorrow because things awkward and unpleasant for the moment will soften through memory’s filter.