45,000 Lawns

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.

Lawns.

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 stared 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)

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Pink Salt Chronicles

I continue to find myself unexpectedly switching to a different timeline at the most unlikely moments. They are tricky things, these other worlds. You could hardly tell them apart if they did not give themselves away through subtle but unmistakable errors. I could provide an abundance of examples, but a couple of the most recent should suffice.

Case in point number one: Two days ago I was riding my bicycle in its highest gear – 21. I bought this bike more than a decade ago. It has always had twenty one gears; three on the left and seven on the right. I went to shift down as I was getting a little tired, and as I did I noticed the gear on the right went down from 8 to 7. Impossible. It never had eight on the right before but now I can clearly see the number 8. I just checked again. There are now 24 gears on this bicycle.

Case in point number two: Last week my wife and son brought a small shaker of pink salt to the kitchen table. What is this? I asked. Pink salt, they said. Now I know very well that in my original timeline there was never any such thing as “pink salt”, yet now my very own family is telling me there has always been pink salt. They tell me it’s also been a long-standing family tradition. Who are these people? They certainly look like my wife and son, and in every other respect they behave like them, but there has never been any such thing as pink salt. I would stake my very reputation on it if I had one.

It’s quite disturbing. The worst thing about all this is that nothing important ever seems to vary between these timelines. It is always trivialities. We still have war, greed, incompetence, racism, malice and misogyny. But now, I suppose, we are to be grateful for the sudden existence of deliberately mis-colored sodium. I won’t do it. I won’t comply. I will sit here and frown with dignity and purpose until the timeline shifts again. What will they think of next? Bread that’s served in slices?

Fragments from Books that Don’t Exist #100: Crosswalk of the Damned

CrosswalkOfTheDamned

Big Wrong stepped up to the plate and confessed he didn’t know how to fucking meditate. The friendly churchgoers at Our Lady of the Stop Sign didn’t take too kindly to his utterance.
“This here’s not for bad words,” Old Olga said, jabbing in his general direction with one of her gigantic lime green knitting needles.
“It’s nothing for confession, neither,” added Gloria B. while munching on a breath mint.
“Let the man speak his mind,” Little Wrong shouted from his pew way back in the back. “If a man’s got a need to confess then let him the fuck unload his weary mind.”
This was too much for Old Olga, who jumped up from her specially reserved bench up front and waved both needles towards the back of the room.
“I’ve had enough of the both of you,” she yelled. “Every week it’s the same gosh darn thing. Bad words, bad feelings, talking too much, saying too little, I don’t know why you even bother coming in here.”
“Mandatory sentencing,” Big Wrong said from his perch behind the pulpit.
“Yeah, we got to,” Little Wrong shouted from the back.
Old Olga shook her head and sat back down, once again considering her options. She could switch up churches once again. There was an Our Lady of the Telephone Pole right down the block. She’d heard good things. Or maybe she could check out M’Lady of the Beaker. They were serving until eleven and had a decent jukebox. One thing was for sure. She’d had enough of these jokers here. No respect. No piety. Don’t even know how to fucking meditate.

Really Bad Fan Fiction #7: Orphan Black

“Oy,” Sarah cried, “anyone seen my DNA? I know I left it lying around here somewhere. I’m pretty sure it was on a platter. Hey, what about you, monkey? Did you take my DNA?”

“Really, mom?” Kira was sulking on the couch, trying to hide behind a few large pillows. “I HAVE your DNA, at least some of it, but I didn’t TAKE your DNA. Sheesh. I’m so sick of your darn genome.”

“Now, now,” Felix scolded from behind the easel where he was busily painting nude portraits of his sisters, “don’t be a silly ragamuffin. Everybody knows that DNA is something your cells have, and you. are. not. your. cells. Am I right?”

“I lost my cellphone, too,” Sarah shouted from the bathroom, where she was turning out the cabinets looking for anything whatsoever she might have misplaced. Meanwhile, somebody started banging on the big metal door and Felix sighed and glanced over at Kira, fully intending for her to get the hint and go over and pull out the stupid screwdriver, but Kira wasn’t having any of it.

“I don’t wanna,” she pouted.

“Oh, all right,” Felix said. He carried his brush and paints along with him as he sauntered towards the door, ass out of his chaps.

“Who is it?” he called out.

“Bunch of bad guys,” came a gruff voice from the other side. “We’re here to grab the little girl, kick the bratty bitch in the head and stuff some wadded up rags in your own pretty mouth hole.”

“In that case, please go away,” Felix replied with a smile, and with a toss of his head indicated to his sister and niece that they should fly out through the window on a wire, race down the alley where no one was standing lookout, and hop into the BMW waiting at the corner where Art, as timely as ever, was waiting in the driver’s seat.

“Looks like rain,” Art said gruffly. “They won’t be able to follow us now, unless they patched into your nose ring with one of those bluetooth DNA trackers.”

“Blimey,” Sarah slapped herself in the forehead. “That’s where I left it. My DNA was right here on my face the whole time!”

Really Bad Fan Fiction #5: Doctor Who

Despite millions of years of having been everywhere, seen everything, and repeatedly fought ALL THREE kinds of bad guys that have ever existed, the Doctor is still not bored and is ready for yet another new adventure. Today’s Doctor is a cross-dressing Yorbik Tall Sloth and looks dashing in its furry green sludge vest and matching purple pantaloons. The Doctor has infiltrated a garage band intent on ruining the neighbor’s’ peaceful Sunday afternoon leaf-blowing activities. The band is making soothing sounds from axe-handles, whipsaws and pipe bombs. The vocals are provided by a glistening sea nypmh named Marla who whispers rapidly about claustrophobic shipmates and and their all-too-human biscuits. The neighbors are form-free Pescadillions who nevertheless manage to summon their inner demons in the shape of, you guessed it, DALEKS, who come streaming over the backyard fences making shrill beeping noises and blurting out threats involving fruitcakes and chocolate moose. Or mousse. Meese?

The Doctor thrills into action, dropping his banjo and picking up his brand new automatic toothbrush holder which coincidentally vibrates to the lower echelons of cosmic background radiation, instantiating a horde of rather sticky elephant mobiles, enough to temporarily confuse the DALEKS and make them spin around until they fall down and plead for mercy. The elephant mobiles by this time have turned into ice cream statues and are dripping messily all over everyone, including the Doctor’s new companion, a glyph from Leeds called Pancake Marmalade Jones. PMJ has a cellphone which serves no purpose in this episode, but is a flash-forward to some other episode in which something else happens, leading to other and more things to come.

Now there are blinking lights and a bit of fog and the the leaves that the neighbors had been blowing have become twenty-foot high weaponized mannequins with light green eyes reminiscent of a certain super-model-music-legend. These plastical forms are walking around like classic Frankenstein monsters and bumping into one another. Every time a pair collide another black hole rips through a galaxy, and if this continues for another two minutes and forty seconds without commercial break it will mean the death of the universe itself as illegal sub-atomic particles start misbehaving and cleaning out the pantry until there are no honeycombs left. Fortunately the Doctor has not forgotten the two five-syllable words required to immediately return the creatures to their proper forms as dead tree accessories cluttering up the pavement. Those words cannot be repeated because we forgot to turn on the captions and have no idea what the Doctor said. But believe me, it all happened just in the nick of time.

Really Bad Fan Fiction #2: Harry Potter

Harry, Ron and Hermione decided to go to America. They were sick of meat pies and chips and they’d also had enough of the whole wizards versus muggles rigamarole. They wanted to go where everyone had been created equal and endowed by their Creator. The first thing they did after landing at JFK and taking a cab through Queens was to get on a train to see the Real America. They somehow ended up in Racine, Wisconsin and got out to look around. Harry, Ron and Hermione were immediately impressed by the plethora of Dairy Queens and Chick-Fil-A’s available to the common bystander. The flavors, artificial or not, were much to their liking. It seemed like magic. You could order anything you wanted any time you wanted. There were even breakfast sandwiches at midnight.

Harry, Ron and Hermione got a room at a decent Best Western that even had a hot tub. That night while watching the local news they saw a story about a young woman who’d been stopped by the police for a broken tail light and had ended up beaten to death by them because she had been identified as black. Harry, Ron and Hermione didn’t understand. Hermione took it upon herself to look further into the matter, and discovered that even right there where they were, in far Northern America, the city had been deliberately segregated for generations, and quite a number of laws and regulations had their origins in a deep-seated racism.

“Looks like they have their own version of wizards and muggles,” she told the lads, “only here the powers aren’t special, they’re just rigged.” The next day Harry, Ron and Hermione set out to investigate the truth of the matter, each in their own way. When they got back together at an Outback Steak House for lunch, Ron got on Hermione’s last nerve by endlessly repeating “Bernie would have won” in response to everything she said. Hermione considered casting a silencio spell on her chum, but decided instead on a rather more simple “fuck you, Ron”. This curse reminded Harry that they were not too far from Lake Huron and suggested they go on a field trip there. “After all,” he said, “when they say ‘America the Beautiful’, they don’t necessarily mean its historical institutions. It’s the land more than anything else that is truly exceptional.”

 

Really Bad Fan Fiction #1: Spiderman

Peter Parker, the young superhero slash photographer, was out with his camera wandering around the truly shit parts of the city. He visited a homeless encampment under the freeway and, inspired by the works of Dorothea Lange, took a number of heart-rending photos of some unfortunates who live there. They were dizzy from hunger and dirty from outdoor living, and there was nothing that Peter Parker or Spiderman could really do for them. He could shoot webs from his wrists and that would be of no help whatsoever. He could swing from pillar to post all day long beneath that filthy iron superstructure and not one single rag would turn to even a hint of far-off riches. Peter Parker took his camera and his photos back to the Daily Bugle where he showed them to his tyrannical editor, Mr. Jameson. Jameson took a healthy bite out of his cigar and growled, “get the fuck out of my office you little pipsqueak, and don’t ever try to sell me this kind of stupid sentimental sob story ever again. No one really gives a fuck about these homeless people. They are no one’s priority, not now and not ever. Now go out there and find me some awesome shots of Spiderman kicking some bad guy’s ass. That’s what the people want.” Parker left the office feeling low and later confided his feelings to his girlfriend Mary Jane, but she was also kind of grossed out by the pictures. “I don’t even want to know”, she said. Mary Jane was just like everybody else. She was the girl next , and she was you too, and you know it. Peter Parker decided right then and there to renounce violence and crime-fighting forever. If I can’t help people who really need help, he thought, why should I go around supporting the police state, which can and does get along just fine without me? I might as well get a real job.