The Happy Circumstance of Your Mom Being Gone

Argent came over to hang out with us the day that Liz Chaplin got my friend Jippy to tell me that if I asked her out, she’d go out with me.

“Using gasoline as an accelerant isn’t that crazy,” Argent said. “I know that people make a big deal out of not playing with gas, but if you’re not an idiot about it, it’s fine.”

We looked at Argent with looks we wanted him to read as “what are you talking about?”

“I mean, you guys light stuff on fire anyway, right?” he said.

We all nodded or intoned a low ”yeah.” Argent made the gesture you make with your hands in front of, palms upturned, akin to a shrug, that says, “we have to admit that I’m right, don’t we?”

“I do it in my garage at home all the time, and I’ve never gotten caught, never burned anything down. Like we have this hole in our garage floor, and I found this old metal pipe that’s this long,” Argent held his hands 12 inches apart,” and I put it in the hole, and then pour some gas in there, drop a match down it, and boom, shoots fire almost to the ceiling.”

We all laughed, against our will. I laughed against my will. Argent didn’t hang out with us, which had been fine with us, or me, because he felt unmanageable. He wore clothes with sports insignia. He followed, and considered himself a fan of, specific professional sports teams, for reasons that we, or I, couldn’t understand. I could understand why someone would enjoy sports, but I couldn’t conceive of how someone could choose a particular team to follow.

“I do that in my garage, without anyone finding out. And my garage is connected to my house, unlike yours.” He waved a hand around to draw our attention to the structure whose threshold he stood inside. ”Not to mention the happy circumstance of your mom being gone.”

Jippy shook his head like he was trying to swing a spider off his nose. We called him “Jippy” because his younger brother called him “Jippy” because his younger brother even at eight years old could say only the words “eggs” and “gun” clearly,

“Cool,” Jippy said. “Lighting gasoline on fire sounds cool. I’ve mystified my mom by burning off several cans of PAM cooking spray. Do you know PAM brand cooking spray? It creates a pretty neat blowtorch if you use it in conjunction with any kind of kitchen lighter. The ones with the triggers. But that was a few years back.”

He shook his head a few times. Jippy’s default vocal attitude made him sound like a gameshow host at a cocktail party.

“What I think is really cool,” Jippy said, “is your jacket. You support the Bulls’ basketball team?”

“Yeah,” Argent said in a way that made it obvious that he was wondering where this line of questioning was headed. We were all wondering where this line of questioning was headed.

“I couldn’t help but notice,” Jippy said, his eyes focused at a spot five feet left of Argent’s knee. “I guess because I supported the Orlando Magic for awhile when I was 12. Because a basketball team with magical powers sounded ideal to me. Basketball without magical powers seemed fine, just not quite as interesting.”

Argent stepped back into the garage. He picked up a roll of paper towels, rolled several off into a bundle, and lit this on fire. He tossed the flaming bundle onto the ground in a gravelly divot in front of the garage. The sheets unballed themselves a bit as they flared up, then turned to leaves of ash-paper that glowed orange, then turned black and crumbled in the breeze.

“Very cool,” Jippy said. “Even devouring some paper towels, fire truly is an elemental force, and inspires, in me anyhow, both awe and respect.”

Argent ignored him.

“See, lame,” he said. “Without an accelerant there’s no flair to it. You want to feel the heat on your forehead, some sweat. Get your own personal sprinkler system going.” He took several jumpy steps backwards and grabbed the gas can.

Another spasmy bout of head-shaking overtook Jippy.

“Picking up that other thread of conversation, I actually went so far as to buy an Orlando Magic baseball cap. Then I was unsurprised but still disappointed to confirm that the team possessed no magical powers. I never bothered to learn the name of a single player on the team. I found the hat several months later, in the wet part of the basement, under a have-a-heart-trap, ruined. All moldy. The little stars of magic around the logo, that accompany and signify magical deeds accomplished, all black with mildew. As was my love for the team the hat represented.”

Argent tore a train of paper towels off. He soaked the remaining roll in gasoline.

Jippy’s stream of language and Argent’s determined series of actions worked together to incapacitate me.

“Let’s light these,” Argent said, in a voice that made this seem unassailably reasonable.

“I tried buying hats that had nothing to do with sports teams after that,” Jippy said. “I tried to wear hats that someone in James Herriot’s Yorkshire might wear.”

“Shut up, Jippy,” I said.

Argent twisted the loose paper towels into a sort of fuse. He poured gasoline over the fuse. He ran the fuse to the roll.

Jippy moved towards Argent as Argent stuck his hand into his pocket and retrieved a lighter. The rest of us stood there or sat there.

“Don’t light it,” Jippy said. “I tried the indirect approach, but I think you should stop. All that’s required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.”

Argent kicked Jippy in the knee. We stood there. Argent lit the paper towel fuse on fire, the flame ran to the paper towel roll, which grew like a bush of flame. The dry grass around the front of the garage caught fire. The overflowing contents of the trashcans just inside the garage caught fire.

“Stomp it out,” I said. I was walking towards the garage.

“Don’t,” Jippy said. He pointed to the gas can, which sat just a couple feet away from the trashcans. “That’ll catch in just a second.”

We moved away. The gas can caught and exploded, threw flames further into the garage. Our bike tires expanded then exploded. The whole garage was on fire.

Argent walked over and stood next to me.

“I love Liz,” he said. He walked to the street and away.

We moved further away from the garage, as sweat grew on our faces. The flames from the garage burned without any concern for our opinion of them. They danced as if we were not watching.

“Argent will probably get arrested for this,” Jippy said.

We all just nodded and sat there.

Reuben, who’d been silent this whole time said, “I think I love Liz, too.”

I told him to shut up.

Jippy walked over and stood in front of me. He was about to say something when my mom pulled up in the car and the push mower exploded.

The Happy Circumstance of Your Mom Being Gone

Found: Meditations on Rag-Wool Gloves

I found these thoughts written on the blank back pages of a used copy of Hermes Trismegistus: Truth or Source of All Truth?.

“October 29
I just went looking for my gloves. I have two pairs. One is the pair that I don’t give a handful of deer-droppings about. (Don’t worry about the handful; I’m wearing gloves.) They’re black Thinsulate gloves. The other are these fingerless gloves which have a flipbackable mitten flap. It’s the glove equivalent of the flip-up shades that convert normal glasses into sun(glasses). They’re rag-wool gloves, an oatmeal color. I love them. They’re cheap. There’s nothing special about them except that I get to indulge my childhood whim of fingerless gloves without sacrificing the sensibility full-finger covering mittens. It isn’t that I simply use the rag wool gloves more. Both pairs have their use. Black Thinsulate gloves: used for heavy snow interactions (shoveling, sledding). Ragwool gloves: looking great and feeling fabulous.

What if our desires create vortices around the things we love. What if my desire for my rag-wool gloves attracts the notice of other forces in the universe, causing them to desire the same thing? What if those forces lead to one of my rag wool gloves going missing? Sucked up by the world that is within this world, further in.

My love for the rag-wool gloves creates a gravitational field around them. Other forces (cosmic, supernatural, household) desire them, because of my desire for them. It’s like how the sun bends space. Massive objects cause space to bend around them, and the result is gravity. My love for a given thing causes a pool of gravity around that thing, which causes the thing to attract the attention of the various forces (see above), which results in the loss of that thing. I can always find my black Thinsulate gloves, I can never find my rag-wool gloves.”

Followed by this:

“October 30
Meditating on this, I’ve realized that my love for rag-wool gloves bears no comparison to my love for my wife and children. The gravitational pull around them must be exceptionally strong. If this is true, the attraction of the universe toward them must result in their loss.

If I want to keep them, I must learn not to love them.”

Then this:

“October 31
Having considered this further, I think the danger is posed mostly to things that cannot return love. When love creates a bond, the gravitational pull becomes so great that the aforementioned forces cannot impose themselves on, or affect it. So I must love my wife and my children, and do what I can to evoke their love for me, to the greatest extent possible, so that the gravity of our love will never admit our loss to each other. I think that this is the secret of eternal life. I think we will live forever.”

I bought the book at an estate sale last Saturday, and found the above text later that same day. It’s given me much to think about concerning my own wife and children.

Found: Meditations on Rag-Wool Gloves

Trace and the Magic Weedeater

Trace told us something weird. He was friends with the lady on the corner in the house next to the bank. He spent a lot of time talking with her about the history of Sweetditch, our town. No one else cared about the history of Sweetditch, except for Trace and this old lady. Trace knew the history because he collected newspapers. The old lady knew the history because she was old.

She really liked him. They’d talk about all the old tragedies and banalities of the town. The hardware store burned down four different times, which was a tragedy made banal through repetition. They talked about how someone took a shot at the mayor in the Halloween parade. Sweetditch is a town of 1700 residents.

One day he brought her mail in with him and found a letter of notice from the city. He asked her what it was about and she told him that the bank was complaining about her yard.

The yard wasn’t well-kept, but it contained only organic mess, grass going to seed. Trace asked her what they were going to do, and she said they were going to hire the city landscaping crew to deal with the lawn and bill it to her. Trace told her he could handle the yard and asked if she had any equipment. She said that maybe she did. Trace said he’d look around, and when he said that the old woman told him if he found anything in the attic to leave it there and not mess with it. She said, “Don’t even go up there.”

Then she died.

It turned out that she’d left the house to Trace. He was 20 years old when he inherited the house and its notices from the city. He didn’t move into the house immediately, so problems with the yard were easy to ignore. But then he stopped by to check the mail one day and found a letter marked “final notice” from the city. The notice included an itemized estimate of what the landscaping crew would cost him, and he began searching desperately for the tools to handle the yard.

The garage contained a number of greeting card display carousels and a desiccated squirrel husk. He went up into the attic.

He opened the door. The attic was empty, except for a weathered weed-eater. He grabbed the weedeater and went to work on the yard.

He barely noticed the work. The weedeater’s line did not wear out, nor did its fuel burn up. He started to wonder what kind of a weedeater this was. It had no identifying marks, brand, or even notes of instruction about flipping the switch to choke, then pressing the primer bubble slowly, and so on. In fact, as he thought about it, Trace couldn’t remember priming the machine or even pulling the cord to start it. He began to believe that he’d willed it on.

He’d done an impressive job. He looked at the trimming against the garden box, and did not find lash marks on the wood.

But there was a spot around one side of a tree that he’d missed somehow. A large clump of sow-thistle. He couldn’t believe he’d missed it. As he approached it, an enormous toad emerged from beneath it.

“Cut it down,” the toad said. We all laughed as Trace told this part.

“I will,” Trace said.

“Cut it down and I’ll give you a chunk of solid gold.”

The weedeater was going again. Trace cut down the weed. As the line slashed through the stalk, the toad’s head came flying off, hit Trace in the side of the head and startled him. He looked down at the toad’s body. He saw a gleam of gold. Actual gold. He pulled the gold from the body with some effort. He put the weedeater in the garage with the greeting card carousels, took the gold, cashed it, and then went and bought a lawn-mower.

The next week he mowed the lawn again. He finished with the mower and got the weedeater. He came around to the spot where he’d seen the toad. This time the sow-thistle was gone, and in its place was a huge clump of dandelions, knee-high and thick. The clump parted and a young goat came through.

“Cut it down,” the goat said, “and I’ll give you a handful of gold coins.”

Trace hesitated. But he didn’t know the goat. The weedeater started and he cut the dandelions down. The goat’s head came off, and stuck in the chest cavity Trace found the gold coins. He cashed the coins and went out and bought an electric hedge trimmer.

The next week, as he came to the same spot. This time he was shocked to find a tall tulip growing there.

From around the side of the tree stepped a beautiful girl.

“Cut it down,” she said, “and I’ll give you an entire sack of gold.”

Trace stared at the girl. He’s not a monster. He dropped the weedeater. He knew he was in love with the girl. He took her hand.

“And then I married her,” Trace said. He seemed to be finished with the story.

“So,” one of us said, “you’re married to her now. Where is she?”

Trace turned away, hands to his face.

He told us that while the tulip lived, she lived. At first he’d put one of those mini-greenhouses over the flower. A few days after he did, his wife developed an impressive glow. Trace began to worry about her, outside unprotected. One morning, while she was still drinking coffee and reading a book at the breakfast table he went outside and very carefully uprooted the flower. When he came inside, he found her floating slightly above the table still drinking coffee and reading. He scrambled for a pot, and once he had the flower replanted, and set on the kitchen sill, he stuck his head into the dining room and confirmed that she was seated again.

One morning though, as he walked around the yard, he felt the air change. He ran inside. He looked for the girl and found her still in bed. She was smaller, and had a sunken look. She woke and smiled.

The days grew colder and grayer, and the girl seemed to collapse into herself as brown spread over the flower. She asked him to move the pot into her room and by the bed. He did.

Finally, she’d grown so small that, when she asked him to, he picked her up and placed her in the pot. She touched the desiccated stalk of the flower with her hand. It shriveled and curled down, covering her. He said he still had the pot on the sill in his room.

None of us believed Trace, but none of us could deny that he deeply felt his story. We said we were sorry for his loss.

“She’ll be back,” he said.

Trace and the Magic Weedeater

Chalk and Lacey, Part I

Chalk and Lacey, Part 1I started eating chalk after I got the job as a meter maid. I say meter maid, because meter man isn’t specific to someone who checks parking meters; I might have been a meter reader — a more masculine occupation — but I wasn’t. I checked parking meters. I scratched at tires with the chalker. I checked back. I ticketed. I started the summer after I finished college. When someone asked my girlfriend, Lacey, what I did she would say “He works for the city.” Lacey, your smile lies crooked across your straight, white teeth, and you did not lie when you said that I work for the city. Lacey was relieved when I eventually left the job.

The supply room contains six chalk boxes, twelve pieces of chalk in each, two boxes each of three different colors, white, red and yellow. I approach the box. I smell the chalk. It reminds me of perfect, clean stones under clear water. I open the box of white chalk and look in at the cylinders. They lie there like sardines in a tin looking somewhere else. I remove two of them and hold them. One for me, one for the chalker. I drop one in my pocket and turn to take up the chalker and notice dust on my fingers. I raise my hand to my mouth and then the door opens and I start in a small way. My chalky hand goes to the chalker. I smile at Dale as he enters the closet. Dale drives around emptying the public trash cans. He’s here for absurd, scented can liners. “I’ll tell you what,” says Dale, who usually tells me what, “I can’t wait till we kill this pack of liners and get unscented. I hate the smell.” I agree and I feel sorry for Dale, who has to work with physical objects he hates. There’s no pleasure in that kind of work. He leaves, I finish setting the chalk in the chalker. White dust in the whorls of my finger tips. I lick them clean.

One night over at Lacey’s place, we were having dinner and watching our shows. A commercial for hand sanitizer – set in a classroom – came on, and I followed the blackboard in the background, watching for the chalk. The teacher ended the commercial by writing the name of the sanitizer on the board, and I felt pleased. Chalk doesn’t make it on TV very often. I like to see it represented. My hand went to my pocket, and a nub of chalk I planned to eat on my walk home. I got lost looking forward to the walk home, when I would walk, listen to an Audiobook of “The Sun Also Rises”, and eat chalk, and then noticed too late as Lacey’s dog, Kip, chewed an obnoxious Scandanavian pattern into my leather shoes by the door. Kip, Lacey loves you, but I do not. I would feel no loss if you fell out of the window of Lacey’s third story bedroom and yelped at the sudden contact with cement. I would not waste the chalk necessary to outline your body on the ground.

Most people do not understand that chalk is a perfect taste. It boasts no complexity. It functions on one level of taste, a clean, flat taste. The complexity of chalk exists in its texture. The texture moves from crunch to dust to paste, and I love that transformation.

The first time I tried the chalk, I didn’t think I’d ever try it again. From my whole experience I’m convicted that you need to respect most social boundaries. Tiny transgressions lead to bigger. Once you lick chalk off your fingers, it’s easy to nibble a crumb, and once you’ve nibbled, you’re going to have to try chomping into a whole cylinder. You just shouldn’t ever start.

I didn’t like that I stole the chalk. That weighed on me. But no other product approached what I could get at work. So I stole it. But I found a way to compensate. I started writing one premature ticket every day, for someone who was within 15 minutes of their deadline. The tickets cost the perps 30 dollars a piece, and I don’t know how much chalk that buys, but I’m guessing a good amount, more than I was taking. 30 bucks a day, five days a week, 150 extra dollars a week. I picked this sad blue toyota pretty often. It had a bumper sticker that expressed a strong opinion about people who drive minivans, and which got at least a ticket a week anyway. The car didn’t seem to learn its lesson and I didn’t feel bad at all.

This idea worked better than I expected.

Continued in Part II, here. Concluded in Part III, here.

Chalk and Lacey, Part I