HARK

Now I understand the dog that attacked my rake. I had no idea my rake was so noisy, its tines a tinny tintinnabulation. Geez even the leaves I am raking are noisy. This is going to change my whole relationship to pruning.

My second day with hearing aids. I got them so that you, dear reader, will not have to honk down my ear canal in order to be heard. What’s that you say? Right, that I’ll get used to them, that the clever old brain will adjust and I’ll stop hearing what sounds like a hailstorm of ball bearings. What about the jackhammer or that big truck tweeting ear-piercing back-up farts? Will I stop hearing them too? Really? From your lips to God’s good ear.

AT APPROXIMATELY 11:15 A.M

This morning I was raking ginkgo leaves when the heavens, a gray lid leaking a deceptively dry rain, opened and an angel sashayed forth in quite a bit of splendor. The angel, in a unisex leotard, alit on the branch of the rubber tree and bent down. I was, quite humanly, all astonishment but the angel beckoned so I approached. Like a magician’s trick, a gold medal appeared in the angel’s hand. Inscribed on the medal was the letter Q. “This is for you,” the angel said handing it over. Before I could admit my confusion, the angel said, “We in the celestial ranks acknowledge that you have just raked your quintillionth leaf.”

this was it

this was it

I don’t believe you, I hear you, good reader, protest. Show me the medal. Like Joseph Smith and his golden tablets, I’m afraid I can’t. Somehow it must have gotten swept up with the leaves into the recycling bin; same size, same color. I am naturally distraught, though I assure you I had no intention of starting a new religion or taking up polygamy. But not all is for naught. I have been gifted with the knowledge that in a world on fire, there are worse things to do than raking damp leaves on a drippy day, especially if you get occasional recognition for your persistence.

THE PRESENT

I told them I wanted either a brown sweater or a green sweater. I certainly did not want a brown and green sweater. It was hideous.”

I was so excited. By its weight I knew exactly what was in the box. Ice skates. But inside there were girly figuring skating skates, not the hockey skates the boys wore. I tried them on and I never put them on again, even though I pretended I was happy.”

“A cowboy shirt!  I was an Indian!”

I got a call last week from my sister who asked if our family gave presents at Christmas. It was surprising question: of course we did. How could she have forgotten the intense anticipation focused on the shiny packages under the aluminum tree? We opened presents on Christmas eve before going to midnight Mass. After we got home from church, in what every other night was an uninhabitable hour of darkness, we’d have a feast.  I can picture candlelight.  I am still enough on this side of the bend to know that there were no candles. Homemade bread,  ham and turkey sandwiches.  Miracle Whip.  And wine; the only night of the year we drank wine. Mogen David, always that. Out there in the desolate plains, that syrupy concoction. The wonders of commerce.  We thought it was great.  Finally, off to bed, to wake up midmorning to the most anticlimactic day of the year.  Maybe the century.  Merry Christmas.

I don’t remember a single present,” my sister said, and I tried to conjure a memory of one, and came up with nothing except a trace of disappointment. Shirts, belts, mostly things to wear. Certainly no books or records or anything conducive toward cementing our appraisal (mother’s) as the laziest kids in town.  I guess there were no really awful ones either because we remember those better.

I’m a bust at giving gifts. And getting them, though I’ve gotten better at the comedia of pretending. “Oh, lovely, a pair of figure skates. Just what I wanted.” My average at hitting the sweet spot is comparable to a journeyman infielder. Around .240. Of course there is the elephant in the room; the herd of elephants. We all have entirely too much shit.

Too much. Last week during the half hour I worked on a curbside garden four different delivery truck pulled up and double-parked. Presents presents presents. Now the holiday is blessedly past, the recycling bins are vomiting cardboard, totally hung over.

But this is a new year, and that is not the image to leave you with. Instead here’s this:

the gift

the gift

WHAT ARE YOU SMILING AT? 12-24-16

img_0026

fresh ginger

skype

the pie dish

and, if you forgive un-buddhist distinctions

there are more of us than them

bomeliads

senior transit passes

rain did I mention that

(the roof doesn’t leak)

and a bonus: I found the hole

the mice got in

yes there are

more of us

dirt, moist loamy dirt that

the rain has made tender

we could dig a hole and lie down in it

and pull

the maple leaves over us like a thousand

hankies in search of a thousand sorrows

cry for me your private argentina

or not

there are more of us than them

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To whom it may concern

thanks for the rain. More would be nice.

 

HAPLESS MALES 35

MR. CARTON CONFRONTS HIS DEMONS

After his recent trauma at his neighbor’s housewarming party, Mr. Carton took renewed delight in his simple house. Comfort at the shades that went up and down with the pull of a cord. Appreciation for the fireplace that accommodated real logs, lit with a match, even though most days were spare the air days. Satisfaction in the brass faucets that turned on and off with a twist of the wrist. Mostly off, anyway. The one in the bathroom leaked but that was a piddling annoyance. Overall his satisfaction could hardly be improved upon, and the same could be said about Charlene’s, despite the fact there had been in the past some sharp words between them about the desirability of a remodeled kitchen, Charlene stubbornly in favor and he stubbornly opposed.

The holidays were approaching. Charlene came home from work with a Christmas tree. If you knew Charlene, you would be as surprised as Mr. Carton was. Charlene was not someone to get in the wassailing mood. Mr. Carton knew better than to ask what got into her. For days the tree stood in a corner like the new kid at the orphanage. Finally Mr. Carton asked if she minded if he put some tinsel on it, maybe a few lights, and Charlene didn’t seem to care one way or another. So he proceeded. With Christmas trees, unless you are a very tasteful person, there is always the possibility, even the compulsion, to add one more ornament, and Mr. Carton had no particular loyalty to tastefulness. He trolled thrift stores looking for curiosities to drape over the needles. After a while a sort of theme emerged. Angels. They were not hard to find. The one he strapped to the treetop played Silent Night on a harp at the press of a button. Others blinked little strobes. Most were just the normal kind with dresses fanning from the velocities of flight.

Themes breed variations. Light needs dark. At one of the stores he found a wooden little devil. The demon’s perch in the needles surrounded by angels would be a kind of visual joke. However Mr. Carton did not stop at one. He began to focus on finding diabolical images of whatever incarnation, trolls, imps, gremlins, many the dreary backwash from Halloween but some with real personality and quirky talents. Eyes that lit up red. One that catcalled. Cute little devils especially excited him, as they do most people.

One evening, cinnamon-scented cider steaming on the stove, Mr. Carton was in his study when he became aware of a sound that, were it not so regular, might be mistaken for a mouse under a cat’s paw. Clearly it was something mechanical. Mr. Carton inspected the panoply of devices umbilically attached to the surge supressor. None of them had gone rogue for years, and he more or less trusted them to keep the peace.

The sound was barely audible but it was never inaudible. It was auditory water torture. He put on a CD of Earth Wind and Fire. The sound came through the music like a needle through a ball of cotton……cheep………cheep.

Mr. Carton took apart his phone. He turned off his printer and then the computer. The sound was louder now. It might be coming from the living room. Maybe from the Christmas tree. He had a moment of panic, fearing that he might have imported into his house an electronic bug under the skirt of one of the blinking angels or in the malevolent intention of red-eyed grimacing gremlin.

Here we should say that Mr. Carton, while proud of his intrinsic rationality, suspected to the point of near certainty that gremlins, virtual but demonstrably real, invaded electrical systems and one had to be vigilant against them. Not that he knew what vigilance entailed exactly but the willingness was there.

The cheeping persisted, every 17 seconds. Mr. Carton was halfway through dismantling the tree when Charlene got home from her Pilates class. After a half minute of reconnoitering, Charlene said, “It’s the carbon monoxide detector. The one in the hall. It probably needs new batteries. Have you changed them lately?”

What a peculiar question. Of course he had not. He had forgotten the device existed. The guy who installed it did so without asking. “You wouldn’t want to fall asleep and wake up dead.” How could Mr. Carton argue against that?

There might be some batteries in the kitchen drawer,” Charlene said. “They might still be good. I’m late for meditation. Bye. By the way, the pot on the stove has boiled dry. Don’t you smell it? One of these days you’re going to burn the house down.”

The demons lounging in the shadow of the Christmas tree mocked him. They would be in their element if he burned the house down. He decided to put them in the trash. They had worn out their welcome.

Change the batteries; that was doable. Double A. Did batteries lose power sitting in a drawer?

He replaced the old ones. Another cheep, louder, angry. He had one battery upside down. Sorry, he righted it. Cheep it went again. Aggressive. Cheep. Mean. Cheep. Hostile. He took the batteries out and was relieved the infernal device shut up. Two minutes of silence ensued. Balm in Gilead.

He was exhausted. As he usually did this time of evening, he sank into his easy chair and was about to cast off into oblivion when he sat upright with a start. What if the device was trying to tell him something? What if his snooze was the carriage that would bear him into eternity? He stood up quickly and opened the door to a cold blast of air, breathing in rapidly. It was raining, and drops were splashing onto the refinished oak floor. Charlene would kill him if it got water-stained. He closed the door and wiped the floor dry. The wall heater crackled, kicking back into operation. Was it trying to kill him?

Despite the risks, he sat back down in his easy chair to consider his options. It was raining heavily now. If he cracked a window would it make a difference? He stood and walked around the room. Did he feel like his own electrical systems were blinking out? The only feeling he could identify was an incredible sadness for himself. He was not ready to die and leave his happy home and his beloved Charlene, but he couldn’t keep walking around opening doors all night. He sat back down.

When Charlene got home, she tried unsuccessfully to rouse him and send him off to bed but she couldn’t. It was between two-thirty and three a.m. when his being heaved up into consciousness. His cellphone was insistently signaling a depleted battery. He usually hated the way it would always wait to do this until the wee hours of night but now he was so grateful to it for letting him know he was still alive.

HAPLESS MALES #34 (The reappearance of Mr. Carton)

OPEN HOUSE

“Stick Eastlake Cottage Style” was definitely a misrepresentation of the house as well as a potential marketing blunder. Mr. Carton had been friendly to the previous owners, the Ryans, and had visited the house on more than one occasion. He knew it had at least four, maybe five bedrooms and at least two and a half baths. It was not a cottage by any standards, as if people were looking for cottages. They were not. If it was a blunder, it was inconsequential. The house fetched a stratospheric price, paid in cash by a Twitter mucketymuck who, despite the price tag, decided it was alarmingly small and merited complete gutting. How can one live in a house without a four-car garage, a gym, and a solarium?

Caterpillars and trucks and cement mixers, most of which exceeded size and weight restrictions groaned up and down the steep hill, day after day after day. A mudslide put its reptile tongue into the street. A crane tipped onto a well-meaning Subaru. Oil shimmered on the asphalt in rainbow colors. The only thing that gained consensus on the block was the Twitter guy was a twit. That was Mr. Carton’s witticism.

Neither Mr. Carton nor his wife Charlene were willing to scuttle their resentments—four years is a long incubation—when one day they received in the mail an elegant invitation to a housewarming. The house was finished at last. The invitation made a stab at being ingratiating, acknowledging the disruptions of construction, adding a breezy plea for forgiveness. It came across as flippant. Charlene said at once she would not set foot in that monstrosity, but Mr. Carton hedged. It seemed a moral dereliction not to get some compensation for their inconvenience. A little was better than none. The spread would be extravagant, the wines premium. Mr. Carton was not one to get snooty when it came to a buffet.

He was, naturally, curious about the house too. What took four years? How did these young masters of the universe spend their mega-bucks?

Once inside the house it took about five minutes to come to a conclusion. Everything in the house was wired. The silvery blinds were opened and closed by sensors. There was news from electronic messengers in nearly every surface. Mr. Carton had been reading about houses like this, that it was the wave of the future whether he wanted a house like that or not. He was sure he didn’t.

The party was mostly happening on the patio. The mucketymuck—Mr. Carton assumed it was him—was lording it over a grill so hefty it had tractor wheels. Some of Mr. Carton’s neighbors, several of whom had been the most vituperative about the remodel, were basking in the charcoal glow of Mega Bucks. Mr. Carton didn’t bother to present himself.

The garden surrounding the ballroom was surreal in its colorfulness, as if someone had just bought out Berkeley Hort. On a long table in the ballroom festooned with floral arrangements was the spread, grand as it better be. Mr. Carton could barely pull himself away from the cheese plate. Plates.

All the doors in the house were open and nobody seemed to mind Mr. Carton snooping around. The glass side table he put his empty plate on had embedded wires. What marvels did the table accomplish? Mr. Carton tried to access his deepest desires regarding how a table might behave when being an ordinary table was too lame a destiny.

Mr. Carton’s curiosity was not yet sated, though his stomach was getting there. Alone inside the edifice he climbed the white-carpeted staircase slightly worried he might be tracking in something and that as a consequence the house would have to be gutted and begun anew.  Who in their right minds would put in white carpets?   At the top floor, the Variance that had been a flashpoint of neighborhood anger, he discovered what he surmised would become the master bedroom—the mattress on the bed was bare, the closets empty. Windows commanded the cinematic sweep of the Golden Gate. Despite his best intentions, Mr. Carton fell face first into a swamp of awe and envy, both of which he felt compelled to purge himself of immediately.

Wine did wonders for loosening the rust on Mr. Carton’s decision-making machinery. He was on his third glass. He decided on the basic method of purgation, at once symbolic and literal if he wanted to think in those terms.

In the adjacent bathroom—the word didn’t seem quite adequate for this chamber–experimentation succeed in getting the lights to come on and settle into a merciless glare. Which of these pads controlled the dimmer? He tried one and the door slipped sibilantly shut. Mr. Carton made a mental note of that switch. What other surprises awaited? He undid his belt and lowered his trousers, but before he sat he took a second look to make sure he had the correct destination. It may have been the apogee of some lunatic Scandinavian’s design career but it was still by any measure a toilet bowl. As he sat down it immediately flushed, which seemed disconcertingly like an insult he could take personally. He moved his arm and was amused when a decorous length of toilet paper unspooled for him. He repeated the gesture twice more. He couldn’t wait to tell Charlene about this.

The lights went out. Mr. Carton wiped himself and stood , pulling up his trousers. It was very dark. There was no flushing sound. Eventually he noticed a thumb-size light over what he guessed was the lavatory, and took small steps toward it. He put his finger onto it hoping that it do something but nothing happened. He felt his way back to the door switch. Where he thought it was. He pressed his palms up and down the wall. He couldn’t tell if he was hitting the switch or porcelain tiles.

The electricity had gone out. A fuse maybe. Surely a house like this, in  thrall to its gadgets, would have a back-up source of power. He knew that if were patient, his patience would be rewarded.

Mr. Carton could not hear any sounds except for a firetruck, then another, emerging from the station on Stanyan Street. Fortunately Mr. Carton had his phone, and his phone had a signal. He called Charlene, but Charlene did not answer. She was watching television. Her phone was in the bedroom. She was more likely asleep on the couch and would not look at her phone until ten in the morning. He left a message anyway full of the general details of his predicament. Should he call someone else? The fire department? 911? That would be his last resort. If he knew the hashtag of the Head Tweetster he could send him an SOS, but of course Mr. Carton didn’t even know what a hashtag was. LOL.

He thought his eyes might get adjusted to the darkness but there was not enough light to adjust to. His phone beeped but it was not Charlene, it was only a warning that his battery was running down. For some reason, this tossed him right into the deep waters of panic. He pounded with his fist against the porcelain making thumps that no one could possibly hear.

Time flowed like sludge. A half hour? An hour? Mr. Carton’s ears echoed from his halooing. No one came for him. He felt his way back to the toilet bowl and sat down again and in this thinking pose, began to think he was losing his cool. Maybe even a little of his mind. This was a nightmare from which it was time to awake, but he could not. They would find his body in a week. The prospect of this humiliating death depressed him to the point of tears, even though he knew that Charlene would come looking for him in the morning. Unless, of course, the whole grid had collapsed, as Mr. Carton knew it would someday, and here he was, stuck in a john. His sniffles echoed sympathetically from the porcelain walls.

He heard something else. A flush. A lovely sound. He moved his arm. The paper dispenser hummed and dispensed. The lights danced back on. Quickly Mr. Carton stood and punched the door switch and the door slid open. The bedroom was dark. It had become night. The bridge in the distance looked unaffected by Mr. Carton’s ordeal and his glimpse of Armageddon. He resented it as much as it is possible to hold a grudge against an inanimate object.

The party was still going on. Everyone was still outside hovering around the thirty-six burners of the outdoor grill. Mr. Carton snatched a bottle of wine from one of the metal horse troughs, hid it under his coat, and went home.