13 September 2010

Cramped Quarters

Day 281

Dear Diary,
Sometimes the walls in here change a little. Everything gets hard and tense. It's been happening for awhile. But lately, at those times, I like to push my head down into the small space just below me. It's snug and close and my head just fits. When it happens again and again, the big movements stop. My whole vessel becomes very still.

This happened last week, again and again. At first it was very tight each time. The vessel became still as it repeated. Then, slowly, it wasn't so tight any more. At first it almost seemed like the walls were trying to push me out. I guess the only place for me to go would be down, but I don't understand how. The snug place below me doesn't seem to go anywhere. Everything is still dark, anyway. I liked the feeling of the walls, though, even though I don't know where I would go.

Anyway the walls pushed like that for awhile and then they just stopped. I wonder what would happen if they would keep going.

Sometimes, when I kick my feet or move my arms, I start to feel what it would be like to straighten them out. I think I might like to try that. But there's not very much room in here; it seems to get smaller all the time. I have to nudge everything around in order to get anywhere.

Still hearing the same noises. Whoosh, and a high song, and a low song, and a bouncy song.
I always hear the whoosh, but sometimes I stop paying attention to it. I notice that sometimes the songs all sing, and sometimes only one or two of the songs, and sometimes none of the songs. Sometimes I hear songs that don't sound like the main ones. I like the high and the low and the bouncy songs the best.

That's all for now.

09 September 2010


I'm not sure who or what Tibet is, but I always see that "Free Tibet" bumper sticker, especially when me and my friends go riding in Big Sur.

I wonder if people are doing it? Freeing Tibet? I wonder if the bumper sticker makes a difference to Tibet. Does Tibet know that people in America are putting it on their cars? Can the people who read the bumper stickers free Tibet? Can the people who put on the stickers? Maybe people just feel so helpless to free Tibet, all they can do is put up a sticker to show what they wish would happen.

My mom says you can wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one fills up first. Which I think is another way of saying that a bumper sticker slogan isn't worth shit to Tibet. Or it is worth it. Seems like the things worth less than and the things worth exactly shit are still worth about the same.

I don't know why my mom says that about wishing, either. Maybe it's so we don't get our hopes up on things that can't happen. She wishes things too; she just doesn't say them out loud. She stays up half the night wishing, because my brother can't come home. Except she calls it praying. She has about a dozen different statues; I don't know who they are, but they take up enough space in the living room to start asking rent. There's incense and candles. She does it quietly at night and doesn't say anything about it. She pretends she doesn't do it too, because in the morning she acts like she just got up. Even the cooking smells in the morning don't cover up the incense. This morning I was fed up with no one saying anything.

"Mom," I said, "it smells like the sausage has something in it."

"What do you mean?" she said. She didn't turn from the stove to show her heavy eyelids.

"I dunno, something holy and sweet."

Now she did turn. She just stared at me.

"Mom, are you awake? You look like you've been up all night."

"Eat your breakfast and mind your business," she said, turning back.

"Fine, mom, but every night you pray is followed by a day without him. Nothing is happening. They're not even letting him write. And he's not an American citizen, so how is America supposed to care about him?"

She was quiet for awhile.

Then she said, all softly, "They did a story about him on the radio. People know about it. If people know, they can do something. That is enough of an answer for now. It's something."

"But people don't care, Mom!"

She didn't answer.

I tried again: "The radio doesn't have anything to do with all the saints in the living room!"

Still quiet.

I had one more: "You can wish in one hand--"

"Shut up! Shut up!" And then she started swearing in her mother's language and banging the spoon on the pan, so my grandmother got up and started yelling too. I just took my breakfast and left everybody in the kitchen. I said goodbye to the dozen saints and walked to school.

After school, when I got to work, people were quiet and kind of giggling. I put my stuff in the locker and asked the blond girl what was up.

"Eric put something on the dune," she whispered. "Dwayne is mad."

Dwayne is the manager. He's okay, but he gets too excited about little things. When he's mad at someone, he gets all perfectionistic with everyone.

"What did Eric put?"

"Go look."

I looked around for Dwayne. He was talking to Josh at the register about putting the bills in straight. I grabbed a broom to look official.

There's a huge sand dune between the beach and the highway, and people write stuff on it with all the pine needles and other junk. It's like a big billboard, because all the people on the highway can see it when they drive by, and all the people driving up Fremont. You could probably see it from an airplane if you were low enough. You can see it right from the drive-through window, too. Today the dune said "McDwaynolds".

I stepped away from the window before he saw me. I wasn't supposed to be working the window tonight, so I would definitely get yelled at if he saw me there. I wondered if Eric would still have a job, or if Dwayne knew who did it. I just kept quiet and busy until my shift was over.

That night when I got home my mom was gone. She's usually home, because she gets home from work at six, and I went with my friends after I finished work because it was a Friday. So there was no leftovers because she wasn't even there to make dinner; only cold sausage. My grandmother started following me and scolding me. I just walked by her and sat at the table. Maybe what I said at breakfast was too mean. I miss my brother too. But it was stupid of him to go there, just for fun. Maybe it was his money, but you can still make stupid choices with your own money.

Grandmother was still behind me, talking. Now she was saying something about the sun, and how it goes over the whole earth. She was getting on my nerves and I wanted her to be quiet for once. I told her in Spanish, "The sun stays still and the earth moves around it, Grandma. Everybody knows that. Go to bed."

Usually when I talk back to her she just yells at me louder, the same thing, but now she sat down and said, "The earth goes around the sun, but the earth spins, too. And so the sun sees every part of the earth every day."

"Whatever, Grandma," I said in English.

"The sun sees Junior every day," she said.

"Oh, now you too. And I bet you see him every day too." I didn't feel like speaking Spanish. I was just tired of this stuff. I ate until I was tired of her sitting there watching me, and then I went to do my homework. She didn't follow me.

Mom was there the next morning, and she looked the same as ever. I didn't say anything, I just ate quick because I had to work a morning shift. But before I walked out she said, "God cares. As long as he will listen, I will tell him. And people can care too. But if you never say anything, how can they care?"

I walked to work thinking. How did she know God cared? Or people? People just do what they want, just like my brother did. He thought he would be heroic or funny or something. He and his friends went to Iraq. They're not soldiers or anything; they just went to make a point. The radio says they were just hiking when the Iraqi soldiers captured them, but I think they meant to get caught.

Either way it was stupid, because there was no way to get back home, where they all have moms who probably all stay up at night, praying, wishing, asking God to listen. Mom always reminds me that he sees everything, but she usually only says that about bad stuff we do. So maybe he got what he deserved. He did something he shouldn't have, and now not even Mom's prayers can change things. So even if he does see my brother, it's just like the sun sees him. Neither is going to make a difference by seeing him.

I got to work and clocked in. I was a minute late. I hurried to get to the window and Dwayne walked by. He didn't say anything to me; just gave me a little nod. I got situated but there weren't any cars, so I glanced up at the dune. Someone had rearranged the pine needles. It said, "Free Jr.".

07 September 2010

The Cabin in the Woods

The ants at the cabin were enormous. They were, in memory, at least an inch long. They assembled their hills out of little granite pieces the size of grape-nuts, and the good hills stretched a few yards. There was a hill on the side of the road, just below where our drive met it, and it stretched all the way to the bend in the road. If you were about on foot, you knew you were almost home when you reached the bend with the ant hill.

Some of the ants had red sections, but most were black. The occasional ant found his way into the cabin and was swept out after lunch. Apart from that they left us alone. We did not leave them alone. We drove pine branches into their colonies and waited for the frenzy. We poured the remainders of our soft drinks down the hole and watched them splutter out. I always wondered how they could crawl around under all the tiny rocks, and where and how they quarried the uniform bricks of their houses.

Sometimes we found a dug-up hill, which, I was told, was the work of a bear looking for a treat. It didn't bother me, bears devastating ant-hills less than 100 feet from our cabin. What troubled me was a creature of such great size and little dexterity hunting ants. His appetite must be huge, yet how could he collect these insects with any accuracy? Isn't that why God made the anteater?

The fire seemed to cement the hills into a true structure. They had stood there, low and quiet, while the rest of the forest roasted, and afterward you couldn't collapse them by standing or jumping on them, much less driving a branch in. The ants must have slavered over each granule with fire-activated glue. I wonder whether the ants could live deep enough in the ground to survive a fire, or if new ants come to live in deserted colonies and clean out old ants' cremains.

03 September 2010

On the Merits of Books, or, A Book is Not a Novelty

When you read a good ways into a book, a real book printed on paper and bound, you can squeeze together the pages you've read to measure how far you've come. You can see how close to the middle or the end you are by the thickness of the pages. Then, once you finish the book, you can put it on your shelf next to your other finished books. Look at all the pages you've read!

When you give a book as a gift, you can write an inscription on the inside cover in your own handwriting, commemorating the occasion of the gift. Sometimes, books have blank pages in the back you can tear out and use at need.

Another great thing about a book is how you can take it camping or any other outdoor destination, and if someone kicks sand on you at the lake or it falls out of your backpack, you can pick it up, dust it off, and miss none of the utility of the book.

You can leave a book in the car in plain sight, and when you return to your car, the book will still be there, and your car window will not be broken. Even if it's a scorching hot day, you needn't worry about that book in the car.

A cookbook will often sustain wear and tear from working in a kitchen. But even if you splatter it with sauce or catch a corner on fire, the recipes will still be usable; the pages will still turn. If you take a book into a crowded public place like a bus or a sleepy private place like a hammock, a book can take the abuse of a shoving mob or the squish of a rolling body. Even if you drop your book in water, though the pages will never lay as flat as when you bought it, you can still read it.

If you read something especially resonant in a book, you can use a pencil or pen to underline it and add your own notes. And if you read a book you know a friend or acquaintance will appreciate, pass it on.

When you need a little extra cash, cull the ho-hum reads from your shelf and take them to the used book store. Maybe you can get enough money for gasoline, or groceries. Maybe you just need more money to buy books. Many used book stores offer more in trade than they do in cash. Trade in last semester's required titles and buy next semester's for a bargain.

Books can be collected by municipal libraries and arranged on shelves for easy browsing. In addition to housing books, the physical plant of a library hosts other community functions, such as a story time for children, homework help for students, volunteer opportunities, and meetings of various kinds.

Very few operator errors occur when using a book. Books never need a fresh battery and can continue to be read indefinitely after a power outage with no loss of capacity or impact.

Books limit their utility only to the literate.

Books can be piled in a heap and burned.