Archive for the ‘Stories’ Category
As you observe this ritual, you notice that the person engaged in the task is clearly doing it wrong. The process itself…the order in which things are being done…is inefficient. The way in which the funnel is used, the kind of container used to store the paraffin, the choice of device used to trim the wicks, and so on–all can be improved. You wonder how it is that these people could have survived here a year being so stupid about something as basic as maintaining and lighting the hurricane lamps they use every day.
What a dumb-ass you are being.
Two years ago, I attended my best friend’s wedding. I made the cake. When I got married a year earlier, she was my best man. Last Sunday, a bunch of people were going on and on about my cakes (I make about one every two years but they are very famous and frightfully expensive) and this reminded me of her and the amazing times we’ve had and toilets in Japan.
Let me explain.
Barry and I found a car that was not being guarded and the door was open, so we climbed aboard. We walked through four cars, including a Pullman sleeping car. We had never seen a sleeping car except for in the movies, so this was kind of fun. We made our way to the car where the family had set a “home” for the trip. We picked out our seats, grinning that we had beat the system and were in our seats before everyone else. Then we waited. We waited a bit more. We wondered why it was taking so long for everyone else.
My heart would be racing and my breathing labored. I would be in the house, often in the basement or in the scary front hallway that was blocked off by a bookshelf on one end and turned into a side office full of mimeograph machines and file cabinets (my father had a home office). I would hear the sound…
I almost didn’t get cast. I was friends with the director, Greg, who invited me to read for the part. Then he couldn’t decide whether he liked me in the role or just liked me. Luckily for me, his assistant director liked me too and told him to stop dithering.
As an aside, Greg had a better than average reason to be wary about me. The night we met almost destroyed his reputation on campus.
I had turned 13 years old the week before I started working there, and that was a summer job that would turn into a volunteer position and eventually a year-round job. During this time, as was the case before and since, music was not really especially important to me, and I continued to have a very passive relationship with that particular fine art. But there were individuals who influenced my tastes. New people, whom you have yet to meet.
In addition to the friends I already knew, I met some new people. I can’t give their real names, and you will soon find out why. One of them was “Tim,” and the other was “Mark.” Mark and I became friends just sitting next to each other in poli sci class on the first day. Mark introduced me to Tim.
“Let me put my cards on the table.” The marshal picked up his badge, returning it to an inside vest pocket. Then he fished in an outside pocket to produce a curved stem pipe and tobacco pouch. Taking his time, he casually filled the pipe, tamping down the tobacco with his index finger. Before striking a match he raised his eyes to Charley. “I’m looking for a Texan. He’s been involved in several bank holdups, and lastly, he was one of the gang involved in the train robbery at Mesquite, Texas.”
Considering the times, you might think these two played cowboys and Indians after school, or war games, or maybe even ranchers and rustlers. Everybody else did, at least if they were boys. But these two developed their own game, an after-the-war game, and not even WWII, recently ended, but the Civil War. They never actually gave it a name. It was just the game they always played with each other.
After all, there was the same old perkiness in his step this morning, the same tugging-on-the-leash excitement he always had at going on a road trip, the same unquestioning loyalty and snuggliness, and even though he could no longer get into the car himself like he could just the year before, he gave every appearance of having a great ol’ time. Every bit of him this morning belied what I knew to be true, that the seizures were coming more and more often, that they twisted his little body into impossible contortions that would have done Linda Blair proud, and that each time wrenched a howl from him that broke my heart when I heard it, even jarring me from a sound sleep with only the memory of it in my ears and the dread knowledge of what it had meant.
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