Thursday, June 28, 2007

split personality

Obsessive-compulsive Urbanite Goes to the Jungle

I stepped off the volunteer bus, took tired strides toward the dining hut, and THWACK! Big, nasty bug in the eye. It was huge, not your average garden variety fungus gnat. And I have eyeball phobia—I’m afraid of mine and yours. My hands flew up to my face and I blindly asked whoever-was-there-no-one-in-particular where the bathroom was.

It’s difficult to get that clean feeling from an icy cold trickle, roughly the diameter of a spaghetti noodle, and a bar of natural soap that until your unsuspecting hand came upon it, served as an overstuffed sofa for a squishy little lump of baby lizard. Baaadd neeewws, I reflected, I’ll just dry my hands on this old pink towel, carefully avoid the sleeping towel frogs nestled in the folds, and make haste for my hand sanitizer.

Now, I realize that facing the prospect of not being able to wash one’s hands for the next ten days may not induce the same hyper-neurotic, paralytic dementia in everyone. It just so happens that if I were asked to describe what I thought hell was like, I would answer that hell is having perpetually dirty hands combined with an eternity of inadequate water pressure.

Passionate Naturalist in the Jungle

I stepped off the volunteer bus, smelled the rainforest smell and, strolling gleefully toward the dining hut, got my first close up view of Machimus cingulatus. It was enormous, much larger than the average garden fly. After carefully handling the beautiful insect, I went to wash my hands before indulging in the fresh yucca chips and homemade salsa set out on the table.

It can hardly be called “roughing it” in the jungle if there is a sink with running water just a few steps outside of your tent. Thankfully, the baby lizard lounging on the bar of soap reminds me that I am, indeed, the minority life-form around here. I turned to dry my hands on a soft, pink towel and, to my delight, spotted several sleeping tree frogs nestled in the folds. This is heaven, I thought.

Now, I realize that lizards and frogs may not be the first things that come to a person’s mind when asked to describe paradise. It just so happens that if I were asked to describe what I thought heaven was like, I would answer that heaven is sharing the sink with a baby gecko in the middle of the rainforest, and realizing that we all belong here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

the real truth

It’s not that I wasn’t smart enough to pass the fourth grade.

I was plenty smart, ninety-eighth percentile smart. Reading was my favorite subject and I looked up the words I didn’t know before I was asked to, just for fun. That’s how I learned what tangible and nomadic meant. Science was my second favorite. When our class was learning about weather, I memorized all the different types of clouds and their names: cirrus, nimbus, stratus, cumulonimbus. Over and over I said those names, letting them roll and sweep and bounce through my head. Just thinking those words was fun. It was the same with birds, and then constellations: Orion, Ursa Major, Cassiopeia, Cygnus. I knew more constellations than anyone else in the fourth grade. And Math was always easy, just boring.

So when Ms. Jostess requested a parent-teacher conference to discuss Why Autumn Is Failing The Fourth Grade, my parents were a little surprised. Then they were a little more surprised to find out that I hadn’t done a single homework assignment since oh, about the second week of the school year, which was almost over now. I was doing fine on all the in-class activities and my test scores clearly showed that I was capable of doing the work, so why hadn’t I done any homework? they all wanted to know.

I lied and said that I didn’t know it was supposed to be turned in; I accidentally threw it away; I didn’t understand it; I didn’t have time; it was boring; I lost it; my sister stole it; and, yes, my dog ate it.

But the real truth is that I quit doing my homework once I realized that if you didn’t do your homework, you had to sit on the bench during recess and you weren’t allowed to go out and play with the other kids. The other kids said I was ugly and stupid and weird and had big teeth and too many freckles and they threw dirt in my hair and tried to pull my pants down, so going out to play with them at recess was the last thing I wanted to do. I’d rather sit on the bench.

I thought I had found the perfect solution: don’t do my homework, don’t go to recess.

That’s why I was failing the fourth grade.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

here's a little ditty with summative modifiers, can you find them all?

The Coquí (pronounced ko-KEE) frog is so named because that is the sound it makes. Or more accurately, that is the sound of its mating call (which leads me to wonder what we would be named if we were so named for the sound of our mating call, but that's another story). And if you are in the middle of a Puerto Rican rainforest at night, this is the sound you will hear—all night long—a moonlight sonata played by 2000 piccolos all tuned to a slightly different key. This is the inimitable call of the Coquí.

It is said that the call from a single frog, whose mature size rarely exceeds a full inch in length, can reach 100 decibels at only a meter away, a noise level roughly equivalent to that produced by a chain saw, jack hammer, printing plant, riveting machine, or speeding express train.

This sound will accompany you wherever you go and no matter what you are doing—to bed, or trying to sleep, for instance—but it is especially prevalent if you are in fact crouched amidst the wet, leafy understory where the population of human is outnumbered by Coquí 50 to 1 in a single bush, a good ratio if you are a human crouched in the bush for the sole purpose of spotting and capturing the tiny, bug-eyed amphibians.

Speaking of bugs, those are also in the bush with you and the frogs. However, because I spent a significant amount of time crouched in Coquí habitat, I prefer to remain ignorant of the actual ratio between human and insect population, surely some ungodly factor that one should not contemplate if one is to continue frogging in the Puerto Rican rainforest at night.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

d.h. lawrence cover, very humbly in honor of

Under the Oak
~D. H. Lawrence

You, if you were sensible,
When I tell you the stars flash signals, each one dreadful,
You would not turn and answer me
‘The night is wonderful.’

Even you, if you knew
How this darkness soaks me through and through, and infuses
Unholy fear in my vapor, you would pause to distinguish
What hurts, from what amuses.

For I tell you
Beneath this powerful tree, my whole soul’s fluid
Oozes away from me as a sacrifice steam
At the knife of a Druid.

Again I tell you, I bleed, I am bound with withies,
My life runs out.
I tell you my blood runs out on the floor of this oak,
Gout upon gout.

Above me springs the blood-born mistletoe
In the shady smoke.
But who are you, twittering to and fro
Beneath the oak?

What thing better are you, what worse?
What have you to do with the mysteries
Of this ancient place, of my ancient curse?
What place have you in my histories?

Under the Oak
~Decomposed by me

You, if you weren’t such a placid idiot,
When I tell you there is something terribly bizarre about existence,
You would not turn to me with that dumb look on your face and say,
‘Ooooo, the nightshade is so fragrant.’

Even you, if you could comprehend
How the balmy hues of darkness descend and press upon me, complicit
In ungodly musings, you would get it through your thick head that
I’m actually serious about this shit.

What I’m saying is that
We stand here as if this oak is an innocuous thing, but in its presence
My soul’s eternities stream away as if lured by some soil-born dream,
And I know an old Shaman stirs in my essence.

Listen, I’m telling you I am bound to this oak, this gorgeous agony,
My own life is struck from me.
I’m telling you this unbridled empathy implores me, and I bleed
Ages of sympathies at the foot of this tree.

I can see a kind of devastating beauty
Even in the midst of this disastrous date.
But who the hell are you, flitting about like a vacillating Tit,
As if you share my fate?

What makes you so much better? I know what makes you worse.
You have no clue about the mysteries
Of my perceived reality, or of my wretched writer’s curse.
You have no fucking idea who I am, or how I’ve suffered through my histories.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

tales from an expert bus rider

The following are entries from the wildly anticipated Diary of a Neurotic Bus Rider due to be published whenever the #20 bus shows up so that the author can deliver the manuscript to the publishing house. The #20 bus has been known to be completely unreliable and therefore has caused the author to be late to work, class, happy hour, and other important functions on occasion and through no fault of her own.

April 24, 2007, 7:46AM, #20: Why did I sit in this seat? How could I have not seen that disgusting Kleenex wadded up on the floor? Disgusting-Kleenex-depositor must have been sick. Now I’m sitting here and all the sick germs are parading up and down the seat, my pants, coat sleeves, and into my ears and nose. I should get up and move to another seat. Just get up, look casual, grin, and MOVE! But then someone might think I was weird or something, to just get up and switch seats for no apparent reason. Yes, that’s right. I’m worried that the man wearing Mickey Mouse ears and debating loudly with himself whether Elvis prefers maple bars or French crullers will think that I’m weird for getting up and, quietly, moving to a different seat. I’ll just stay here and suffer.

April 24, 2007, 6:28PM, #15: With a solid twenty years of experience, I like to think that I excel at bus riding. Although I was standing at the bus stop, I missed the bus due to being totally engrossed in David Sedaris. Had to wait another thirty minutes for the next bus. Got on the next bus, but bus driver was a lunatic, angrily screaming at passengers for reasons unknown. Had to get off the bus. Waited thirty minutes, got on bus again, opened David Sedaris again, missed my stop. Had to walk twenty minutes back home. Fortunately, when I called my friend to explain why I would be late, he relayed this pertinent advice: “You have to get on the bus, stay on the bus, and get off the bus!”

Saturday, June 2, 2007

yes, it's just me

I was craving saffron risotto fritters, and when you’re craving saffron risotto fritters, well, really nothing else will do, so I took myself out to one of my favorite restaurants, the only place I know to get said SRFs. I waited an absurdly long time to be acknowledged by the bartender because, “Oooohhh you’re dining alone I’m sorry I thought you were waiting for someone else I didn’t realize you were by yourself I’m sorry.” Yes, it's JUST ME, which means that I, more than the cooing, kissy couple next to me, deserve a drink. I should have left but I really wanted my fritters, you know?

Also, I’m in the business, and when a single diner comes into my restaurant, I’m very nice and I do whatever I can to make the single diner feel comfortable because I’m a single diner and I know that it’s usually an uncomfortable, at the least, experience.

So anyway, I’m all awkward and gawky at the bar next to cute couple with accents, receiving bad service and sucking it up because I want nothing else at the moment but saffron risotto fritters. And a mojito.

And in a way, I guess I also wanted someone to just be nice to me.

When I finally get my drink, there are two small, black straws in it but one of them is about ¾ inch shorter than the other. What the hell? I had to keep evening out the straws to get anything out of them so I looked like an idiot and my fingers got all sticky.

Then, my SRFs were delivered. I picked up the lemon wedge and squeezed . . . lemon juice right into my eyes. My eyes teared up so badly that I couldn’t see and I was trying to wipe them with my sticky mojito fingers.

Now I looked like a blithering, ridiculous single diner crying alone at the bar over saffron risotto fritters. And you know what? That’s exactly what I was.