Some Serious Ship

I learned two things today at the Army Post Office. First, there is a huge discount for shipping books domestically; second is that, among the contraband items forbidden to be sent (a list that includes porn, alcohol, and knives) is nuclear material.  

The latter begs the question: who the hell sends nuclear material through the Post Office? Everybody knows that shit goes through UPS. 

A Jolly Good Time

When you sucked on a Jolly Rancher long enough, they became this rubbery tongue depressor that changed the color of your mouth. They were not solid, like a butterscotch, which became a shard of sticky glass at the end. They were not chewy, like caramels, which fused your teeth together until saliva freed you, eventually. Name-brand Jolly Ranchers were something in between—a sticky miracle of science. 

You were not cool in the second grade if you didn’t have access to a Jolly Rancher at all times. I did not. I so, so, so desperately wanted that kind of connection, but my parents never bought them, and I never had the courage to ask. I knew the answer already, and I knew how irritated the mere request would make my father. 

The Glitch

I am astonished by the news that, due to a glitch in the space-time continuum, most of the United States experienced the same sixty minutes twice. Most of the country had slept through it. Of those who didn’t, I can only imagine the ungodly horror you had to endure as the laws of physics were torn asunder while you watched, helpless, only for everything to suddenly return to “normal.” For you, it is the present, but to the rest of the world, it is an hour into the future.  

There are some who call this event “Daylight Savings Time.” I call it what it truly is: a perversion of the natural order. 

Spooky Crap

I accidentally locked Newcastle in a storage closet for about an hour the other day. Upon his rescue, he left behind an unraveled roll of toilet paper. This seems like a normal thing for a cat to do, until you realize that there had never been any toilet paper in that closet. 

Not Another Dream Movie

I dreamed the ideal college/teen movie the other day. Well, maybe not ideal—the pretty, most popular girl in school made friends with the sensitive, nerdy boy without hiding it from her peers in order to preserve her social status. And her peers were cool with it. And the nerdy boy didn’t fall in love with the popular girl. So maybe that’s not right. 

However, all of the characters had to pool their individual, surprisingly useful talents with the cool, rebellious professor (nailed that one) to save a historic, nostalgic building that the unfeeling, corporate board of directors wanted to tear down for “progress.” So I guess the subconscious brain got that right. 

Also there was a wacky moment that involved hiding in a cupboard … I’m sure marijuana was involved in that. So I guess the subconscious brain got that right too. 

Clearly Nerdy Boy is based on me, the evidence being that he’d spent some time doing amateur IT work on Popular Girl’s computer, joked with her about blackmail, and, on his way out the door, told her, “I’ll be back with an anonymous typewritten letter and some demands.” 

Alas, my brain promptly forgot most of it upon awakening, as brains tend to do. 

A Brief Tale with Many Layers

I was strolling along on the sidewalk, minding my own business, when, suddenly, an onion. A red onion rolled down the hill. An onion with no apparent origin, for I alone stood on the entire length of the sidewalk. 

Was this a celestial onion? An onion of the gods? Was the onion passing through my story, or was I passing through the onion’s? So many questions. So many tears (because onions make you cry, see?). 

Movin’ on up to the Osten Seite

Unless I can weave a narrative idea around the random bits and pieces of misfiring neurons (as in the case of my unpublished-because-I-have-no-idea-how-to-go-about-publishing-it novel, The Long Trip), I usually don’t spend a lot time dwelling on dreams in my journal. However, sometimes, you kind of have to. 

Early, early this morning, the move that Kate and I will be making late winter floated to the forefront of my mind in the idea of a dream apartment. She and I had been looking around for a long time, and we had finally stumbled on a place that looked kind of beautiful. It was old, and so there were problems—for example, the thermostat was kind of beaten-up and unreliable, and the floors were freezing cold. Also, we’d be sharing the place with another couple. 

But that was also one of the draws, because they were good cooks, they were charming (the husband was a shorter version of Stanley Tucci’s character from Easy A), and their furniture was comfortable, tasteful, and extravagant. The place was also really huge. The kitchen was open, and could actually fit four people into it (as opposed to the one and a half in our real-world kitchen). Behind the bedrooms loomed a mini-auditorium/ballroom (Dream logic. Just go with it) with floor-to-ceiling windows that made great loading bays for the move. And—this is my favorite part—in said auditorium say a wood-burning stove for a bit of extra warmth in the winter, and maybe some hot apple cider. 

They asked us what we did for a living, and we told them, quite accurately. They told us what they did: they bought and sold authentic Nazi antiques, including posters, appliances, clothing, and the queen-sized bed that Adolf Hitler shared with Eva Braun before they moved to their bunker. With an excited squeal, the wife led us to the basement where she hid their prize acquisition: the basin that little Dolfy took baths in when he was just a baby. As you can imagine, we were horrified, but really, really classy about it. 

The worst part was we continued the dream trying to convince ourselves to look past their business*. I mean, I once convinced a potential roommate I was an Evangelical Christian to get a spot in his apartment (this is 100 percent true in the real world, FYI). Maybe this was just a job to them … That also meant ignoring the sheet music for “Deutschland Über Alles” sitting on their baby grand piano. The place had a basement

* This should probably go without saying, but, in non-dream world, Kate and I would have boogied the hell out of there, without even bothering to be classy, for reasons I shouldn’t even have to elaborate upon. 

All-American Gallic

What I am about to tell you is absolutely true. I have changed only the names of those involved. The events depicted occurred in the Year of Our Lord 2011, during the month of April. But the road that led me here had been paved six months earlier, in the lobby of a hair salon. 

“That’s an awesome jacket!” the receptionist said as she carried my battered, vintage, leather pea coat to the closet. “Where’d you get it?” 

“A place on Broadway and Houston in New York City,” I told her. As I waited for my designated appointment time to roll around, I poured myself a cup of coffee and added, “What was really cool was that I walked in the door to buy a black blazer like all the men in New York are required to wear, but the guy at the register wouldn’t sell it to me. He told me to go with brown, and even picked out a shape that matched with my body.” 

“Those places are really cool,” she agreed. “You know the one down the street called ‘An American in Paris’?” I shook my head. She prodded, “Just down the street?” I shook my head again. She asked, “An American in Paris?” I shrugged. 

“Anyways,” she continued on, regardless, “they’re a high-end boutique, so you don’t really get to pick anything out for yourself. I went in there for a dress, and the woman who owns it—she’s French …” 

“Imagine that.” 

“… and you tell her a ballpark of what you’re looking for, and she finds exactly what you need. Only for girls, though.” 

“That sounds really nice,” I said sincerely. I love women’s clothes. Part of that is my artist’s sensibility; I love color, shape, personality, and the mixture of all three. Yes, you can find these in the men’s department—and yes, the artist in me appreciates the smooth, masculine subtlety therein. However, men’s fashion is missing one important detail: women. I just love looking at women. It’s biological. 

And so, the following spring, I pointed to a gentle, hand-painted, pastel sign and said to my walking companion, “We should go here.” 

My friend Noel had never been to the DC area before. In fact, she had never been to an East Coast metropolis before. She had recently finished an undergraduate education at both a liberal arts college near her hometown and a university in western Europe. The sirens of her future are singing to her of riches, knowledge, love, and more if she would just follow them. She wants to follow her own damned song, though, and so she has taken a week to clear her head, consider her options, and goof around in the sandbox of our nation’s capital. 

And if there’s one thing I love to do, it’s goof around. And, as I said, if there’s another thing I love, it’s shopping.  

“Let’s do it,” she said with a smile and a nod. 

Since that day, we’ve told and retold the tale, trying to ascertain what exactly went wrong. Noel believes we should have left well enough alone when she pushed on the door, only to find that it wouldn’t budge. 

I told her, “The sign says to …” 

She shoved again. 

“… to knock,” I continued, “and they’ll …” 

With a click, a deadbolt slid open. She frowned, shrugged, and ducked inside; I did the same. 

Soft sunlight drifted in from the street through enormous display windows, illuminating row upon row of dazzling, yet somehow muted dresses, coats, and suits. The overall space was minimal, but somehow everything fit together without feeling remotely crammed. The shop, like the sign, was kind and inviting. We soaked it all in with a sigh and set immediately to investigating. 

Noel’s style tended toward vintage and soft, and as soon as we found a dress that matched these criteria, as well as her personal palette, she pinched the skirt and pulled it away from its companions for closer inspection. Her pose at that moment matched that of a simple cartoon figure in a bright orange sign on the wall that suddenly barked at me from the corner of my eye. The sign announced that Noel was committing a cardinal sin. 

“Um,” I started to tell her. 

Now, I’ve had plenty of time to meditate carefully on the events that occurred next, yet I still cannot comprehend them. The corner we occupied had boxed us in, surrounding us with two floor-to-ceiling windows and the row of clothing. That left the entrance. 

I am by no means a small man. Though my mass has decreased by about 25 percent over the past year, my shoulders are still wide enough to clog the only means of access to this particular corner. Not even vision could get past me. 

And yet, with nary a gust of wind, temperature fell, Noel froze, and a crooked old crone appeared before us the tape measure around her neck flapping about. Without violence, but with extraordinary menace, she eased Noel away from the rack and spoke with a thick, Gallic accident. “You should probably read signs before you try to shop.” 

Both Noel and myself were prepared to offer up an apology, but that was not to be. 

“This is not how you look,” shopkeeper told us, pulling on the skirt like Noel and figure on the sign had done. “No!” Holding onto the dress’s padded wooden hanger, she lifted it from the rack. “You look like this.” With great specificity, she returned it to its proper place. “And leave three-fingers’ space between articles. They get wrinkled if you don’t.” She repeated the offending motions. “Not like this.” She lifted the hanger. “Like this.” 

Noel and I made eye contact with each other. 

“This is not a secondhand store,” the shopkeeper explained. “This is not some mass-produced cloth. “This …” Again, she tugged on the skirt. “… is very delicate fabric. When you do this …” Tug. “… You damage this very delicate fabric. Do you understand?” 

She might not agree, nor might she even care; but Noel did, in fact, understand. More importantly, she wanted to escape. She believed, as did I, that conceding the crone’s point would enable that. She opened her mouth to do so. 

Unfortunately the question had merely been hypothetical. The woman gestured around the entirety of the shop. “This here? This is France.” 

Believing still that freedom meant following along, we nodded. 

“You?” She pointed to Noel. “You are American.” 

This we could all agree on. 

“That is why this store is called ‘An American in Paris.’” She examined both of our faces for any sign of comprehension. Luckily I was an English major and Noel is a Fulbright scholar, so we did grasp the metaphor. “American,” the crone repeated, “in Paris.” 

Certain that all of these basic facts had been absorbed by her audience, she advanced the lesson by combining them. “This is how an American shops.” She yanked on the dress. “This is how you shop in France.” She removed the dress and replaced it. “America.” She tugged. “France.” Finally, she concluded the lesson. “You are not in America. You are in France.” 

Noel and I looked at each other while the shopkeeper regarded us carefully. The concept of being an American in Paris was a tricky one, and the ability of folks like us to get it might elude us.  

She pushed through me, reminding us one more time as she passed, “Not America; France.” 

Once we were in the clear, Noel whispered, “Think she can hear us right now?” 

“I don’t know what to think,” I whispered back. 

“Let’s hang out for a little while so she doesn’t think we’re scared of her,” she said, “and then get out of here and go someplace less traumatizing.” 

That place turned out to be the Holocaust Museum. 

“Our People Are Just Ponds in the Game.”

When Odin, the All-Father of the Aesir, Slayer of Giants, Ruler of Asgard, who drinks mead from the skulls of fallen foes, hung on the World Tree for nine days, who kept him alive?

A squirrel.

When you buy a bird feeder that is absolutely, positively, guaranteed for life, double your money back, to feed birds and birds alone, who ends up eating all of the seeds?

A squirrel.

When I was in college, thinking of the simplest way to describe Robin Goodfellow, the Puck, maker of the most foul mischief in all the fairy realms, who did I think of?

A squirrel.

And when I left my house this morning, strolling to my car, with the sun shining on a fine Monday, who leapt out of the rain gutter and tried to kill me?

A squirrel.

I’ve never trusted those little bastards, they’re up to something; tormenting dogs and teasing my cats through closed windows; stealing food from parkgoers’ hands; watching us with their beady little eyes; tapping into powerlines with their black paws and chirping at each other in their secretive, rodent language; hiding in their bases of operations within in the facades of trees; collecting acorns for reasons we may never know; and today’s failed assassination attempt has revealed to me that they’re finally making their move.