Saturday, March 22, 2014

Yes, we are tiny, but we are mighty

Lacking the ability to gussy up the scene, let me just say that the sunrise this morning was real pretty. It was pink and there were birds over it and it was like spying on God through a View-Master.

I don't like being ambushed by beautiful nature because it does that thing, that same stupid thing that tragedy and first love and all that stuff does, where it grabs my brain and screams "OH MAN! YOU'RE TINY AND THE WORLD IS BIG!" and I suddenly hate myself for being excited the night before when I beat my wife's Tetris score while playing Gameboy on the toilet. 

I realize then that I may not really know what excitement is, or what concepts like "personal best" or "fulfillment" could even look like. 

And with that realization, I groan in pain, knowing that some kind of epiphany is probably on its way. Some thought, possibly a life changer, a philosophic doozy, lurches forward to be born.

But at the critical moment, just as the head crowns, there is a sound not unlike stifled flatus, and instead of delivering a baby, I only deliver a deflated, baby shaped balloon, the best of my thoughts diffused back in to synaptic patty cake.

I scramble for my notebook anyway, thinking I better at least pretend that I was going to take seriously whatever it was I almost thought, when I see the little note I have written to myself and my blood freezes and I want to die, just die already.

Now I am not some kind of snob; I enjoy most of the things that the rest of humanity enjoys: rice, Carol Burnett. 

But many modern comedy motion pictures are inaccessible to me. 

I look around at other people laughing and I just feel sad. I want to ask them, what is here? What do I not know that you all do? Give me the secret information so I may laugh at "Here comes the Boom" with you. 

I bury my face in my popcorn and pray that eating and laughing are interchangeably acceptable in the eyes of society. See look, look, I have a soul, I'm eating this popcorn, ain't I?

The thing that worried me about "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" was that lately I have noticed a downward trend in my ability to politely tolerate the majority of situations that constitute "being alive".

Take small talk, for example.

I used to be able to fake it, even get into the act of it a little, but for some reason these days it hurts me physically to do it. 

I wonder if everyone I keep chatting with might be some kind of psychic vampire secretly infiltrating the earth for the sole purpose of telling me tomorrow's forecast and then draining me dry as I stumble over a response. 

If so, then the vampire Queen must be the poor, genuinely good woman who translates for the deaf student in our class. 

I have written of her before; she is the real deal: kind, considerate, respectful. 

I even wrote in her birthday card, "You are the nicest person I have ever worked with" and then I tried to draw something which I was not sure even what it was going to be, and it ended up looking like an anthropomorphic pickle filled with remorse.

As much as I admire this woman, I am unable to have a conversation with her. Something in me starts a little countdown timer that will surely result in my entire head exploding if I do not somehow end the exchange prematurely.

My excuses for getting out of small talk with her have literally been as lame as fakely stammering "I have to-have to" and then slowly walking backwards from her.

She stopped me in the hall to tell me how delicious the school pizza was that day.

"Because it was warm. It was really nice that it was warm, they had it in a box, you see," and she drew the dimensions of the pizza box in the air with her finger. "Normally they have it in one of those serving dishes," her hands shaped the dish,"and its barely covered, so it's cold. But today, it was really nice because it was in the pizza box", she made the box again. "It was nice and soft, you know, not hard and dry, it's nice for the kids to have soft, warm pizza."

I have no idea what my face was doing, but inside, it was taking me all the mental grit I had to stay rooted to the spot and hear her out about the warm pizza. She kept using the word "nice" and it became like profanity; harsh to the ear and kind of tacky.

"I just thought it was really nice to have it like that," box shape again,"I'm going to tell them or you could tell them how nice it was and how much the kids enjoyed the pizza today. They could actually chew it because it was soft, and very flavorful when it's warm." 

Somehow I knew that it could not go on, that I was going to scream uncontrollably and run directly through the big glass windows at the end of the hallway. My eyeballs must be bulging out, I thought, they just have to be.

Let the Rapture come before this woman smiles shyly and speaks the words "soft pizza" one more time.

The primal kernel in my brain that dictates my most basic functions somehow got a word in, and urged my feet backwards.

"I just-just-" There was now a foot between us and a crack of light.

But she is much kinder then me.

"Oh I know you're busy," she said, signing what must have been "busy", but looked like killing flies with maracas. She patted my arm and walked on.

I almost sagged to the floor. What's wrong with me, I wondered. This is what humans do. They talk about things. The littlest of things, even. It's not hard. You just make your mouth say words like 'oh' and 'great'. When in doubt, just smile. You're human, aren't you?

It was the gravity of this question that I carried with me into the screening of "Beverly Hills Chihuahua."

I came back out, after ninety-two minutes, and was not sure of the answer. My armpits stank and there were bite marks on my thumb from where I'd clamped down on the skin.

Everyone around me was smiling and recalling favorite bits. I had prepared my line already: "I knew Delgado would get his smell back."

Delgado was the disgraced police dog whose failure to protect his human partner had lead to his dismissal from the Mexican police force. The trauma of the experience had left him unable to follow a scent. Only when things are absolutely dire, when Chloe the Beverly Hills Chihuahua is in danger of being lost forever, does Delgado shatter the mental barriers handicapping his nose and redeem himself by saving the day.

"Did you like the movie?"

"I knew Delgado would get his smell back." The person asking me looked confused. Forgot to smile, I thought.

The interpreter approached me hesitantly, signing already as she neared. 

"Did you like the movie?" Her hands dug down in invisible dirt, searching for a lost bone.

I smiled big. 

"I knew Delgado would get his smell back."

"Uh-huh," she said, and patted my back like I was a child. "I liked that part too."

On the bus ride back to school, the ambient conversations around me played tricks on my ears, sounding like thirty quiet voices whispering "Chihuahua."

Ms.Pam greeted us with her usual lunatic electricity. 

She bobbed her head as she counted each student coming through the door, not convinced that we were capable of bringing back the same number of kids that we'd left with.

She grabbed the last guy through the door, and began to interrogate him about the movie.

"Now, was there just one Chihuahua, or a lot of them?"

He rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

"I don't willy know," he said, after a moment.

"Oh," she said. "Oh." Her eyes unfocused, and drifted towards the sky outside the window.


  1. Happiness? My most recent discovery of a broom - mop combo thrilled me. I thought was that was strange. But in reality the new device is much faster than my traditional mop and far far cheaper than aLL those early morning info much mercials. But I am strange because I enjoy mopping. It is an exercise program that will keep me alive and I save some money because my wife was paying someone too much money to clean that business segment and doing such a poor job that my renters were complaining. I die gress. Again, you are wonderful but I have only read a little bit, so I must return to your words. Hope your Spring is springy filled with crickets chirping and birds birding abirduntly.

    1. I think burned pizza is such a terrible thing, and my delivered pizza is fairly reliable. I actuaLLy have a nice collection of smaLL cardboard boxes, they are quite handy.

      After five years of semi-retirement I am becoming veRy busy printing, my own little factory, tis cool. Not every minute of it of course, as software can be horrible. But robotics improves commercial art manufacture, several of our devices have vision, this is the future.

    2. Chihuahua is my most favorite Spanish word to mispronounce. I do "cha hoo ah hoo ah". Something else Spanish, I was sitting inside a Taco Bell and you could read the ad signs backwards on their windows so I was trying to read them as Cyrillic alphabet style to see what they sounded like as Russian words. Sadly I found nothing worthwhile (funny).

    3. The exercise of mopping might keep you alive longer, esb, but eating at Taco Bell is very, very dangerous. Not too Springy here, yet, but soon i think.

    4. Luckily I spend far more time mopping than I do eating TB. Running the printing press is going to keep me in shape too. I think I have a current backlog of 350 shirts ...

  2. I know how you feel Gween. I'm lucky that my husband is the king of small talk so I started doing what he does. Now, I can talk to any and everyone about what they're going to do on the weekend until I'm blue in the face. But still to this day, when i'm doing it, I feel like an awkward goon while I'm doing the talking and a complete asshole when i'm done.

    1. Oooh I hate that post-small talk shame and remorse! I get that too. I still feel it from conversations I had back in high school.

  3. The older I get the less able I am to do the small talk thing. I think I may eventually turn into some sort of curmudgeon or old lady with multiple cats.

    1. Hi mandy! Its definately gotten worse as I age as well. I was very sorry to read about your rejection letter but I really liked your post about it and I know you will get something through.

  4. Wow, I can't wait to go see Beverly Hills Chihahua. I hit the small talk wall probably around the same age as you are now. Trust me that you will never ever be able to tolerate it again. Don't even waste your time trying.

    1. Oh you should see it. It hurts your brain. You are not giving me much hope for a small talk recovery though, Rick.

  5. I'm with you... I can't do the small talk thing either and if by some miracle I do manage it for a while I never know how to end it so I usually back out slowly while suddenly avoiding eye contact. I'm terrible at being people. Luckily, my husband is the talker so all I have to do is stand in the background smiling and nodding for the most part. :)

  6. Oh god, this is one of your best posts! I'm not even kidding. 'draws a box again' i'm dying here! Include this one in your book for sure! This is like having only the best skittles left, but then you find that there is a whole 'nother bag! I have to send this to my mother. THAT'S how good it is! 0__o
    I was so awkward the other day that i actually screamed ata man who innocently walked up beside me on the sidewalk, (god, kill me) then my trousers started falling down while my daughter was giving money to a charity collector for dementia and when she asked what it was i responded with 'its for when old people loose their tiny minds' and the i wanted to die 10,000 deaths, but i still had to buy milk before i could go home.

    1. Why did your trousers fall down? Thank you for the kind words!

    2. My body shape is roughly 'beach-ball with boobs on sticks'. Wearing pants of any kind is a challenge.

  7. Nicely written!

    Silence is underrated.

    Here's hoping you get your smell back...

  8. Hi Gween: I can totally relate to the small talk thing as I have an uneven ability for making with small talk that is pretty tightly tied to how much much of a hold depression has on me at a given moment. I'm convinced that some of my coworkers give me looks of pity behind my back because my behavior on some days displays a degree of social awkwardness that would make a hormonal teenager seem like a seasoned diplomat in comparison.

    If it is any consolation to you, many artistic people in the writing field, including the truly great such as Virginia Wolf, used their struggle with depression, etc., as fuel for creative work. I know this is something you are familiar with from past disclosures and I don't advocate going without treatment, but acceptance of it as part of our internal working is important. Besides, it's our struggles and how we deal with them that molds our character and makes us interesting as people. Some of the nicest and least complicated people I know also make for the most boring long-term company. Please continue to be interesting--I like you that way!m NEOCLEO

  9. My youngest LOVES that movie. LOVES. He also LOVES Chihuahuas. My favorite part is when the band of Chihuahuas saves them from the mountain lions! Exciting and unexpected! I'm afraid I can't relate with the talking issues. I have inherited the ability to talk to almost anyone about almost anything. Sometimes it's stinky.

  10. THIS is definitely book-worthy. One of your best yet. You nail this whole "human condition" every time, but this post was particularly poignant. Maybe it was the Chihuahuas. I don't know. But this one I can picture in a book.

  11. What's worse is when small talk becomes one-sided real talk. This weekend I had a guy tell me endless stories about all the places he'd been in America....but it was like "Wow the mountains in Colorado are awesome!" or "People move fast in the city, that's why I love living in Brooklyn." And "Man I really like Cape Cod".... but without telling me anything interesting, or even specific, about those places that would make me have compassion for his human experience. I didn't have the heart to tell him, I too had been to all of the same places and lived through many life affirming scenarios. I think the personality of such a conversation would have been lost on him. It's much easier to just say, "Whew, I'm glad this winter is over" and move on.

    But sometimes I get angry and write songs about it and post them on the internet:

  12. We're all just pond skaters...pond skaters...pond skaters...