(Unless you get stuck.)
The waterpark was full of people and some people seemed happy and some people seemed tired and just about everyone was wet because there was water flying practically everywhere. The food was terrible and the place was echoey and loud and some children were tired and wanted to leave after 20 minutes which was awkward because it had cost so very much money to get in there. The floor was damp and cold and slippery. Everywhere, not just in a few spots. It was impossible not to think of foot fungus. It was both cold and humid at the same time, which seemed weird. And yet, and yet, the time spent with children, even the cranky ones, felt like a gift, watching the other children zoom by with manic grins, while some sat and moaned in an irritating way, a way that endeared with a sort of fierce affection, the kind with teeth perhaps, the kind that the slight smile doesn’t even begin to hint at, realizing perhaps what a small blessing it is to comfort a small child who has no problems at all except a little tiredness, a little hunger, a slight irritation at the surrounding hubbub, a general feeling of boredom. Yes, I’m here for the little things too.
(It’s really not.)
Ordinarily, Ogden Forbes McDougleflaps wouldn’t have taken the second sugar in his coffee, but today was a special day! There were only sixteen slices of cake and he’d gotten the 3rd and 15th, one more than that scoundrel, Nefario Von Babbeesnatch, had gotten. Ogden had despised Nefario from the moment he’d set eyes on him, the way he combed his hair in a spiraling circle around his head, the way his bowtie glimmered greenly in the sun, the way his spats seemed to repel the muddiest of streets and remain glistening and pure. Yes, Ogden thought, it was the spats that did it. Ogden didn’t begrudge him the spats, oh no, it was the purity of the spats that really troubled him. No self-respecting person would let their spats remain so pristine, especially on the muddiest of days. How could a person walk across a muddy field and not get muddy? It smacked of angelic presumption, it did, and Nefario was no angel! Even his moments of charity were suspect, like when he offered Ogden the 14th piece of cake. Ogden had refused, but through some–yes, let’s go there–miracle all others had declined that 15th slice. Mmm mmm, Ogden thought and said, before taking a large bite of the cake. He did. And promptly cracked a tooth on the silver coin hidden inside the cake. “Nefario!” Ogden cried, in fury and in pain.
(I could’ve sworn it was Sephiroth, but apparently that’s a Final Fantasy character.)
Jane had been out front with the chalk and the sidewalk for quite a while. Ma put the final touches on the bronze sculpture she’d welded together from scraps she’d picked up at that old scrap heap down the way. Dad popped those apple turnovers he’d been fussing over for the past hour or so into the oven and brushed some flour off his hands. They both peeked out the window at their little sweetie scribbling furiously on the sidewalk with her piece of chalk. Awww, they said, or something like. They they went back to their parenty to do list items.* A while later, after several to do list items had been crossed off, they peeked out the window again. Jane was standing next to the sidewalk while some neighbor kids hopped along the sidewalk in a line. How cute, they said, then noticed that the line stretched down the block. Those parents wandered outside to see what was what. “OK, Bobby! You can’t land on Hod or Chesed! Those are blocked off!” Jane cried. Bobby tried to hop along the sidewalk, faltered, and one foot thudded down. “Aww shucks,” Bobby said. “Back to the end of the line,” Jane said, “You’ll never reach the divine hopping like that!” Bobby raced back down the line, grinning. Kids these days, the parents said and wandered back inside.
* A little cross-stitch–a centaur battling a hydra–and the car’s oil change.
(Or maybe it’s 2713 N 45th?)
The diner crashed down. Frank dropped his omelette plate on the floor (Farmer’s Banquet Omelette, side of bacon and a cup a fruit) and you just know he wasn’t gonna clean it up. Flora sighed and mopped the spilled coffee up off the counter, because what else was she gonna do? No one else around there was gonna do it. Marge pulled herself back up into the corner booth and went back to slurping her coffee and doing her sudoku. UNflappable, our Marge. Geraldo, the cook, shouted “Order up!” and slung the two eggs poached, two flapjacks, and a whole mess a bacon onto the counter, squinted through the window, and said, “Seem to have landed.” Flora nodded, grabbed the plate, and dropped it off at my table. Well, there was nothing to it but to tuck in, so I did. Not every day your diner survives a flight-by-tornado. I heard the sound of some faint, high-pitched voices outside, singing, and growing slowly louder…
(Although it does seem to happen on its own most of the time.)
It happens all day and all night for everything that lives, from the duck-billed platypus to the humpbacked whale, surfacing to breathe from the breathless depths. From that baby’s first breath all the way to the end, that breathing just keeps on going. It only seems difficult when you think about it, all the lips and tongue and teeth and throat and nose that get involved, the air going back and forth, back and forth, and under it all there’s this rhythmic beat that’s easy to miss, unless the air is still and silent all around, perhaps the nighttime or a quiet patch of sun. Press that finger to find the pulse and maybe you’ll notice your breathing while you do, without thinking about it. And then I’m thinking about my eyelids shuttering up and down. It’s not a machine, but it works and works and works, even when we’re sleeping, even through the darkest night or a napping patch of sun. And now I’m taking a deep breath and thinking, just thinking about those breaths. It only seems complicated when you think about it. Sometimes, like breathing, the words just come out, like they come in too, those groovy ears. Other times, each word feels like a piece of wood chopped in half, a small stack, growing, ready to burn. When we choose not to speak, that’s good, sometimes. Other times, there’s only breath. That’s got to be good enough, somehow. What an amazing thing it is, breathing, what it means. I’m still here. And now I’m still here. And now I’m still here. And now I’m still here. Breathing.
(Trying… to… imagine… it…)
Once upon a time there was a dumb man. He was so dumb that he couldn’t think of any yo mama jokes, even though his mama had a lot of terrible personal failings, so you’d think he’d have a lot of great source material. He was also so dumb that, in spite of being blessed with great wealth and prosperity and an abundance of, well shit, just about anything anyone could want, he turned his nose up at all of it because it wasn’t a big enough pile of, well, pointless shit, when you got right down to it. He was so dumb that he heard this story about King Midas once and decided that it would be super cool if everything were covered in gold. And then he made that happen. (That gold saw really didn’t work out so well. Also, the gold steak knives. Also, the gold scissors. Gold’s soft, you see.) He was so dumb that, on the infinitesimally* rare occasion when someone else made an overture of friendship, he didn’t even recognize that that’s what was going on. He was so dumb that, shit, he was given pretty much everything (and I mean everything) his heart desired, but he still treated it all like a big heaping pile of shit. Now that’s dumb!
Moral: I’d feel sorry for him, only he’s just too dumb.
* Argh, had to look this one up too. Two many Ss. Just like molasses. Only I spelled it “molassess” and lost that spelling bee. I mean, kind of an embarrassing word to go out on, considering all the cool words I (can’t remember) spelling correctly.
(Or are you just glad to see me?)
Juncko Skazzarak the wizard’s voice was raspy from hours of incantations. What he wouldn’t give for a lozenge! You never read about wizards getting sore throats in those adventure novels that Yarbalast the Portly* was always carrying around, nose stuck in, etc. Juncko wouldn’t be caught dead reading those, the covers, yeesh! But he had a read a few on the toilet here and there, to pass the time, etc etc, while taking care of personal affairs, so to speak. Anyway, Juncko really preferred the menthol cough drops. They reminded him of the eucalyptus trees back home, but in a good way, not like orange marmalade, which was the bad way. Don’t get him started on orange marmalade, pretty much everyone thought after, really, well, first meeting. Wizards often met over breakfasts, so this did come up rather a lot. Juncko’s voice was sore because, quite frankly, he wasn’t a very good wizard. He’d missed the accented syllable on the 23rd passage of the Convocation of Illustrious Netherworld Beings Ill-Met By Moonlight (lesser version) for the Magickal Purposes of Ascertaining the True Time not just once but three times. All the wizard shoppe had were the damned cherry ones and those Juncko could not abide.
* Not because of the weight he carried, but because of the weight he carried. Should it have been “the Porter”? Come on!
(They’d make pretty sturdy shoes though.)
Millicent Toujoulaueab bestrode the puddle like a mighty colossus, etc etc. Some worms wriggled a bit on the wet ground. There was a break in the rain, although Millie’s raincoat and boots were still wet, and no sun actually shone through the clouds, there were only different shades of grey, flowing in layers across the sky. Millie laughed. Jumped. Landed. Splash! This rain was good for something, anyhow. And Millie ran off down the street, laughing. The sun shone through for a moment. Everything glittered. A rainbow arced across the sky. Millie’s knees were wet with mud. Someone walked a dog six or seven blocks down the street. A squirrel ran off down a tree and up another one. There was the smell of chimney smoke in the air. The sun went away, but Millicent didn’t care. She ran off too, just like the sun. The worms still wriggled there.
(I think you know who I’m talking about…)
Grorm the barbarian strode purposefully through the foul wizard’s eldritch lair, massive sword clutched in one hand, while the other trailed one finger along the dust covered stones of the wall. Grorm sneezed. “Filthy wizards!” Grorm cursed. “Too stingy to hire a cleaning service.” Grorm bellowed in rage and his inchoate burst of anger echoed throughout the sorcerer’s cramped and twisting corridors. “Yahhh!” Grorm yelled, his massive boot knocking the last door down onto the floor. More dust flew into the air. Grorm sneezed three times in quick succession. “The devil take you, wretched warlock, or I will!” The room was full of books and scrolls and loose sheets of parchment and more books, books on shelves, books stacked on the floor, quills just lying all over the place, there was even a crocodile head or two, but mostly just books. Really it was pretty out of hand. A figure sat with his back to Grorm at a desk at the far end of the room. Grorm strode manfully forward and tripped on a stack of books, tried to get up, but his foot slipped on a piece of paper and he went down with a crash, more dust flying into the air. There was another sneeze. “Damn your eyes, you squint-eyed mountebank!” Grorm staggered to his feet, eyes red and watering. The figure at the desk wheeled around. Yup, wizard. “Oh ho ho, you dull-witted oaf. So you’ve come to match your mettle against the magical, mystical might of Mooglorb the… er… Mighty?” The wizard cackled and stood, arms raised, magical energy beginning to pour through his fingers. “Jubba jubba croopa poopa…” Grorm threw his sword through him. The wizard wheezed his last. “I expect you’ll be wanting my magical swords…” Cough cough. “Nah,” Grorm said, plopping some tiny reading glasses onto his nose, “I came for your books.”
(I opted not to eat at the Subway…)
Gaius Asclepius Pontius Maximus Erratus swore under his breath. “By Hades fevered breath and all the unclean sandals of Hercules!”* It was hot and dusty and dry and all he’d had for breakfast was a handful of berries and nuts or something.** His sandal strap had broken. Again. “Just my luck, curst by the gods, or etc.” GAPME rolled his eyes heavenward, slung his bag of turnips* over his shoulder and trudged off to the Colosseum, sort of shuffling his left foot so that his sandal wouldn’t pop off. He kept getting rocks stuck in there. He was half tempted to throw his sandals at the blind, one-armed beggar, but then realized he hadn’t dropped any coins in Mercury’s temple for a while. Still, that beggar didn’t look very fast… A herd of swine rushed through the street, nearly knocking him over. He shook his fist at the swineherds and swung his bag in he air around his head. A couple of turnips flew out.**** One hit the beggar on the head who felt around in the dust for it, took a bite, and smiled. GAPME shook his head. He had some turnips. He’d do something with them, he wasn’t sure what. He was sure he’d make oodles of denarii!
* In Latin, obvs.
** It was ever thus.
*** Or the Ancient Roman equivalent.
**** It was a pretty shoddy bag.