these alien shapeshifters spied on our planet for centuries, so long that they began to look like humans and sound like humans. then they were bold enough to come on down and here we are, surrounded by the clones of the shit birds we are.
When I was five years old I wanted to have a life’s work. I didn’t know what that meant. I just overheard my mother use that phrase. She said it as if it was something very valuable, something not many people possessed, only the very lucky few. She said she was not one of those people. As far as she could tell, she would spend the rest of her days doing other people’s laundry and taking out their trash. So I asked her, if you could have a life’s work, what would it be? She thought about it for a moment, and then said, you know? I can’t think of anything!
I was not happy with that answer. I was only five, and didn’t have much experience with the world, so I couldn’t think of anything either, but I decided right then and there to make it my mission to have a life’s work. I locked myself in my room and told myself I couldn’t have another pretzel until I’d thought of a life’s work of my own, and since I loved pretzels more than anything, you can tell I was really serious. I stared at the walls of my room. I stared at the floor. I stared at my toys. I looked out the window. That was when I had my big idea.
I grew up in a small city in the mid-west where everybody had a lawn, even the poorest of the poor had a small patch of something in their back yard, maybe it was only weeds, and maybe it was mostly broken cement, but they counted. Even my mom’s sorry excuse for a backyard counted for a lawn. I looked at that patch of dirt and dandelions and I said to myself, George? (my name is George). You are going to make that lawn count if it’s the last thing you do. But no, I said to myself. Not make the lawn count. Count the lawn! That’s the thing. I was going to count the lawns, every last lawn I ever encountered for as long as I lived.
I did not originally have a target number in mind. I thought maybe there were about a hundred lawns in the world, and at the time, one hundred was the biggest number I knew. I didn’t hesitate. I was never a dawdler. I ran right down the stairs and raced outside and started counting lawns.
It wasn’t enough to see them. I had to physically occupy them in one way or another, even if only for an instant. That’s how I came upon the strategy of “one step, one vote”. I ran up and down the street, “tagging” every lawn in the neighborhood with either my right or my left foot (never both). I soon got quite carried away, so carried away in fact that by the time I counted my forty-fifth lawn I was already blocks from home and had no idea where I was.
When the police woman found me all I could tell her was that my name was George, and that my house had the sorriest excuse for a lawn, and that my mother did not possess a life’s work whatsoever. I don’t know how they ever tracked her down, but they did.
Of course I never told her what I was up to, not then, and not ever, not even when I graduated from high school some eleven thousand, two hundred and eighteen lawns later, and not when I graduated from law school, where I studied property law and amassed a total of twenty six thousand four hundred and ninety lawns by the time I passed the state bar. Somehow I knew it was nothing to be particularly proud of, especially on those occasions when my life’s work got me into trouble.
I was something of an expert on trespassing by then, but even experts make mistakes.
Still I kept my secret, even under severe cross-examination and throughout the lost years I spent in prison when I stepped on no lawns at all. I can promise you that the first thing I did on my release was begin to make up for all that time. I racked up hundreds more within my first few months of freedom.
I became a connoisseur of lawn treading. I began to resist the urge to stomp on every mere patch, reserving the right to refuse steps for lawns that didn’t measure up to my increasingly lofty standards. Now my lawns were required to be cared for, to be respected if not always treasured. My lawns deserved a degree of dignity. Somewhere in the back of my mind, a figure had begun to take shape, the number 45,000 began appearing in my dreams and randomly occurring to me even during daylight hours. Perhaps it was a shadow, a reflection of those early forty-five, the first I had counted before I got lost and had sat down by the side of the road, sobbing and miserable and certain I was doomed forever.
Now, as I approached the numinous integer, I applied my standards ever more rigorously, until there was hardly a lawn that qualified for my attention. I stalled out in the mid forty-four thousands, and for an entire sixteen months I stepped on nary a lawn. Finally I decided to break through this blockage, this self-inflicted obstacle barricading me from the achievement of my life’s work, and I resolved to trod on every lawn until I reached that sacred figure and that once I did, my journey would be complete. Only then could I rest.
So you see, your honor, that’s what I was doing in Mrs. Jenkins backyard on the evening of the 27th. I was certainly not attempting to break into her house, and of course I always wear all black when I go out counting lawns. Doesn’t everyone?
(the narrator would like to think that this story has been illustrated in the manner of the classic children’s book, Millions of Cats, by Wanda Gag: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millions_of_Cats)
(the author would like to credit their good friend Ileen Dranchak who inspired this story)
The going was good so you know. I had heard about this spot from that person of a certain age and gender who hung around the coffee shop most days until they remodeled it for way more seating and then it was such a pain to squeeze between the new tables trying to get out so that person stopped going there. The spot was tight and out of the way. I would never have found it otherwise. I used to go fishing for sea glass and this spot was a miracle. The going was so good! It was also always low tide between the cliffs and I understand that seems impossible but there it was. Low tide forever and sea glass out the yin yang if you know what I mean. The rope that dropped from the cliff was kind of frayed and the three hundred foot drop was a bit much I will admit. I didn’t think about the way back up. I guess I figured love would find a way and I was in love with that spot. I didn’t even listen to the vagabond cursing in the parking lot about the tourists ruining everything because that is their one and only mission in life as far as I can tell. We came, we took a photo, we ruined. Something like that but in Latin. My pockets were stuffed full, so full of incredible sea glass I didn’t even notice when the tide came in for the first time in the history of the world. I could still hear the vagabond laughing though. It sounded like the ocean.
In his song “Oh Sister”, Bob Dylan wrote “time is an ocean, but it ends at the shore”. I’ve had that thought tossing and turning in the back of my mind in the several months since I learned to play it on the piano. Not the ‘ending at the shore’ so much as the ‘time is an ocean’ part. What does it mean to think about time in a different way, to visualize it otherwise? Time is not the seconds or the minutes or the days or the years. We all know about its relativity, how it seems slower when we’re young, faster as we age. Three minutes waiting in line is so much longer than the same three minutes dancing to your favorite song.
Riding the ferry across the San Francisco Bay to work the other morning, I was just staring out the window at the water, watching it move in all its directions, pushed by the boats, drawn by the tides, shuffled by the wind. And the thought came to me that every little flotsam floating on its surface would only see its own trajectory, would assume that everything else in the world is flowing along with it, unaware of all the other movements. So we each move and change along our own paths, occasionally criss-crossing or encountering or colliding with others on theirs, but for the most part never encountering, never seeing, never imagining all the other infinite things and beings on all the other infinite journeys they’re on. Time is nothing but “all the things” continously changing, from the subatomic to the universal and all the ranges in between.
Time is an ocean and ‘it ends at the shore’, which means (to me, at this moment) that that “time” is something personal, that belongs to you. It’s your time and yours alone that can end, that gets ‘washed up’, that ceases to be conscious of changing and eventually ceases to be one thing that changes but instead breaks down into many things that take up their own travels and changes on their own paths.
First they came for the recyclables. We didn’t have any recyclables, and anyway we were beginning to doubt that whole idea. You know, China, all the sand on the planet, microplastics in the deep deep sea, and so on. Then they came for the trash. We had a lot of that, so we were glad they came. Some of the trash, I admit, contained potential recyclables. What’s the difference, anyway? They said they’d come again for the compostables but by then we were all like, fuck it, how should I know? We had enough decisions to make. Free shipping or two-day for a nominal cost? Just go with the recommended brand or do a little more looking around? Take the car or ride the bus? Ride the bus? Are you kidding me? What am I, twelve? I’m sure the recommended brand is just fine and free is free. The only thing I’m sure of is that everything comes in a cardboard box, with another cardboard box inside, where the recommended thing is wrapped in plastic, hell it’s made of plastic too. Makes you want to run right into traffic.
After colliding with the rainbow, Jakester was seriously injured. They rushed him to the emergency room at the nearest hospital, but the hospital had been shut down by the governor due to a simple misunderstanding. The next nearest hospital was a day’s trek away across the unwelcoming tundra. They put Jakester in a barrel of dry ice and sent him off rolling down the dunes. The only one who stuck around was Rodrigo, who took a smoke break and watched the barrel ease to a halt after a while. Rodrigo was not cut out for this line of work. He was barely twelve and could only chug a half a beer before throwing up. Jakester, on the other hand, was the kind who collided with rainbows. If he could do that then anything is possible, Rodrigo thought. He shrugged, tossed the joint and took off running. Someone else was going to have to finish the job.
For some time I waited by the water fountain outside the family restroom at the gym. I thought maybe if I stood there long enough I would suddenly become inspired to go in and work out. I hate working out. I also hate water fountains. I hate the fact that with a water fountain you both always and never know what you’re getting. It’s going to be water but is it going to work at all? Is it going to work too well? Are your pants going to be ruined or what illness might you catch from merely coming in contact with the cold grey thing. I was stalling. I can often avoid doing the things I don’t want to do by mentally listing all the things I hate. I can go on for hours if not days. I hate it when I do that, but then I also love it because procrastination is my god and my art. I once waited eighteen whole years, hating every minute of it, until I became a legal adult.
I used to think the flowers were pretty. Now I just think they’re showing off their ass to bugs. I don’t know anyone who likes bugs. No, I take that back, I do know someone who likes bugs. But that doesn’t matter. Because all the bugs are going away. I heard that someone played a flute once and the bugs went away or maybe it was snakes or rats. Anyway, I don’t like flutes. I think they’re for cows. I know what I’m talking about. I knew a cow once. Another thing I learned is that people who think the Earth is flat think that Antarctica surrounds the whole thing and somehow keeps you from falling off the edges. It makes sense when you think about it. I mean, it makes sense that people who believe in stupid things have stupid things they believe in.
When your best friend is a raisin there might be cause for some concern. Angelina of course never told anyone that her best friend was a raisin. She wasn’t dumb. Ray-ray, as she called him, lived a comfortable life in a matchbox in her dresser, cosily tucked away beneath a tangle of various loose socks. Angelina liked to mix and match. She had other friends. Some of them were even people. She didn’t much trust them, though. She had found out the hard way that secrets can be used against you, even silly, harmless ones. Middle school was hard enough. There was no way she was going to let anybody harm her Ray-ray, and she would never betray his secrets either. Only she knew his deepest, dark desires and she was determined to protect him, no matter what.
Poetry in Translation
Oft at noon in idleness
I lie beneath thy shady trees,
And list the sighing of the breeze,
The splashing of the waterfall.
And hear the lowing of the kine
While browsing on some far-off slope,
The wood dove cooing while I mope
And sink to gentle slumbering.
It’s cold and windy and the stupid cows and birds keep making noise and I’m just trying to take a nap ok. That’s right I said it. Stupid cows.