One, Two Buckled, My Shoe

two white metal chairs

He had had one hundred thoughts in one hundred and one days. That meant that there were one hundred thoughts less, or properly speaking ‘fewer’ to have. Those days and those thoughts were gone. With regard to such counting, whether forwards or backwards, brave and young Stephen Dedalus claimed that he was lucky to stumble upon a good thought once in a fortnight, or every two weeks. Likewise, in Fitzgerald’s Gatsby, there’s no six piece thin affair but a gigantic orchestral hullabaloo about every fortnight, too. Again, then, with regard to the former, that doesn’t seem to be a whole lot, in truth, especially in the age of adolescence, that newfangled notion that is time’s comfortable muskeg people get stuck in between childhood and being grown up today—ever since the average human lifespan became rather ridiculously long, attenuated to the slow decline of sloping downward into a near horizontal buzz along the manmade asymptote of near nothingness for decades of palliative discomfort and some peculiar kind of peering out somewhere. As to the latter, having a festive lawn party under a tent with a couple hundred uninvited guest who come in from nowhere, that seems to be obscene in its frequency, as was the intent of Fitzgerald to display and Mr. Gatsby to purposefully have, to drag in the diamond dregs so as to perchance collect his lost pearl Daisy, if not purloin her. As for the ticket-taker whose story begins this lacklustre note, he had taken to mind once as a child that numbers themselves worked like this: you start with 1; you double that and get 2; and after that (3) you’ve got many. And, while he also, with his little handheld penlight ushered others into the movie theater velvet quietly to their seats when they arrived a bit late for the show, and was very helpful to them, he kept, like a bushy-haired, gray-tailed autumnal squirrel losing more than half its acorns due to luck, fortuity, and nature’s misfortune, his remaining day’s comments mostly to himself.

Man With Underground Tools

tools

He had crawled on his belly in the dirty gravel below the joists with an air filter mask strapped to his head all morning long. He had a spray bottle of poison, a little flashlight, a long-handled hammer, and a steel chisel. These were to chip out spots where ants had eaten into the wood, and to poison any he saw. Down there below the house in the crawl space, he closed the vents by hand and stuffed the closed vent openings in the foundation with leftover pink fiberglass wads of wool that were lying on the ground since he’d pulled the wool out last spring. The whole job was dirty and hard and he had done it ever since he was a very young man for nearly thirty years. He hit his head against the same pipes he always hit his head against. It hurt the same way it always felt stupid to get hurt. He sprayed the poison along the cinderblock joints the same way he always did, lots of squirts to be sure, twice a year, spring and fall. For extra, he’d brought along a staple gun this time and stapled up some of the falling paper he’d noticed had fallen that he’d tacked years back below the rolls of insulation stuffed between the joists. It was a dirty job. It was a dirty and gritty job.

When he closed the vents underneath the house, it grew darker and darker. The only light was his little flashlight. Its batteries were pretty bad to begin with and the glow from it just grew worse and yellow. He turned off, while he was down there, the underground water line with a twist to the handle inside that fed the line to the outside garden faucet. It was a dirty job. But if he didn’t do it, the outside pipe would freeze, and he’d have to replace the outside pipe, the outside faucet, and the outside fittings. He’d have to remember when he got out of the crawl space to open the outside faucet now that it was turned off from underneath. Otherwise, the water already in the pipe would freeze during winter, and when it did that, trapped at both ends of the line, it would expand and bust open the whole brass apparatus, and he’d have to replace everything just the same as if he had never turned it off from underneath to begin with. That had happened once or twice, and that was an all around mess and a waste of time.

Once he got outside off his belly, he unclipped, and then ripped off the dirty mask that had covered his nose and mouth and through which he been breathing in and out with labored filtered breaths air the whole time. Once he had smelled the fresh smell of autumn again, he realized that he had left his good, long-handled hammer next to the three joists where he was hacking away the pulpy wood to stop the carpenter ants’ damage in the dark. That hammer, even though it was his good solid one, could stay where it was. What did it matter? He had his short, light, cheap hammer if he really needed it. His good hammer could stay in the gravel until spring.

Backyard Gardening At Home

weathered barn

Even the blackened green leaves were picked. I had left them crumpled on their stalks last week, dismayed. Again, half the basil I had left to wither. That was years since I’d made such a lapse. But many plants in a brighter, sunnier patch were fine and rich and quickly plucked. These leaves filled my large yellow glass bowls, and I tipped them into my kitchen sink. Last evening I had returned since I heard the night would be even colder. A small stack of some wood I had left unchopped for a friend to practice on I’d promised to save it for to split last year still stands a year later. And soon I’ll be splitting another cord myself. In pesto, there really is no great difference between the batches I’ve found in taste, unless the one that’s made from autumn’s leaves is a bit more grassy and slightly bitter. Aside from cobwebs growing on the plants, it really would be rather wasteful not to use them all. And, besides, I am the only one looking on the basil growing now. With olive oil and garlic and sea salt and finely chopped hot cayenne peppers grown from my garden, too, plus pine nuts and a touch of parsley, it’s very, very tasty. And how sweet the smell when all the garden plucking is on my fingertips. Still, when I make it all, I’ll separate the neglected leaves from the fresher ones, and be myself comparing the two, eating from carefully enough labeled containers marked with scribbled-upon masking tape taped to the lids, when I thaw the many portions I will have again from the freezer for meals and company when I have some all winter long until next summer comes.

Broken Snow Tree

fallen yellow leaves

The jar of walnuts was almost empty. And the cords of wood, they were stacked. Stovepipe clean. Winter was a-coming. The coffee beans, they were still ground each morning, an hour before the sunlight curled around the mountaintop, by hand. It would be wise to crawl beneath the house and wrap the wool again, or build a solid box, around the water heater tucked below the floorboards. It was going to be cold. Thank the dog of Egypt, there were a good half dozen blankets to keep a body warm. Thank the rows of cans stored in the cupboard. Thank the garden crop of summer, and fall, and all the good things of the earth grown for eating that will be stored. All it takes is the planet’s reaching a tilt of twenty-three degrees away from the Sun, life’s fiery provider, to pull a sweater over in the chill of evening or the early blackened morning. It takes nobody to realize these things, a steadfast cycle so easily missed in the great bustle of the world’s seething metropolises or the company of others.

European Architecture

park bench 2

It had been what was called The Old Woman’s Winter. This had been explained to him as a warm spell during wintertime when widows, mostly, would go to the park and, standing, open their winter coats. They would stand, warming themselves, before the winter sun. Confusion, disorder, and the drift of things over time (and times) makes things unclear. It had seemed certain that this custom took place in Hungary. It had seemed certain that this custom took place in Russia. This is the way the architecture of time itself works. It mixes memory and desire. It mixes the blossom and the bole. It mixes what has risen and what is already fallen. (And moreover, Nature, his mother once told him, does not care an iota for the life of Man.)

But, still! Somewhere long ago, he still recalls quite perfectly: “Lichtlein schwimmen auf dem Strome/Kinder singen auf der Brücke.”* And it becomes as though these things, whatever ‘things’ are, like memories, were in stacks of photographs. And that these stacks of photographs themselves were of different sizes and of different finishes. And could be stacked—sorted—accordingly. According to size and finish. But some of them were so close! So many of the pictures were, in fact, identical in form: in shape, in size, in the color of their surface, and in the sheen of that finish. Stacks of different things, different times, different places became—like memories—stacked in the same stack—where they did not belong! But it was not possible anymore to tell exactly where anything did. So, it became impossible, and next to impossible, to distinguish Vienna from Budapest from Moscow anymore, while these cities were of course forever altogether different.

*[Lanterns swimming on the river/Children singing on the bridge].