Friday, July 25, 2014

Mole Birds

There was a drawing contest.  "Mole Birds" should have won, but, it only got a B.  "Nick" got a B+.  Here, have a look for yourself:

When you have twins you end up in the undesirable position of judge.  That's a fact.  I understand all parents have to do this - give points for dives at the pool, biggest splash contests, timed obstacle runs around the play ground, "stupidist face," best messiest face after a pile of ribs - but they have the out of 'Oh, he's bigger/older/younger than you.'

I don't.  Around here, it's pretty much a fair fight, an even playing field, a match-up of equal wits and ability.   It bothered me at first, I worried that someone would have to loose.  Yeah, I hear ya, that's pretty much the point, isn't it?

"Mole Birds," despite its inexplicably perfect title, got a lower grade for only one reason.  Under the tree, where the mole is, that whole area was crumpled, he'd carried it downstairs and crushed that whole bottom quadrant in the process.  Dude, dudes, neatness counts

It is one of the things I would put on a list of stuff that I think boys should know.  But, I don't like lists because they are ever-expanding, or at least should be.  No I prefer the parable, the narrative, the story.

Neatness counts encompasses a number of smaller points, again, a problem with lists.  Respect your tools, for instance, might fall under that.  I knew a guy in college who was always dragging his guitar, a lovely rainbow Alvarez, around with him.  He'd toss it down anywhere, let it get wet and cold and steamy and all that.  I pointed out to him one time, that, well, "Dude, it's your guitar, show a little respect," he laughed it off.

Later that year, I stood by helplessly as he did the patch-of-ice-dance as we were walking to a party on Church Street.  You know the bit, feet sliding crazily, finally stabilizing, and then off again.  Arms windmilling madly, grasping for balance.  Stability finally gone, he succumbed to the inevitable, his legs shot out in front of him, he faced the gray sky and fell back on the sunburst guitar with the force of two men.

I can see it now, hear it now, even smell it now.  I can't say it is good for a guitar to be smashed to kindling, but, it is a peculiar joy to see one smashed.  Strings fly comically.  Thin, cold, brittle, dry, wood splinters against an icy sidewalk, pieces skittering into the street.  What a sound it makes, at first a sort of guitarish thwoooongish wail and then a heartbreaking crack that echoes off the First Methodist Church and past the Second Baptist like a prayer.  You could smell it, too.  The dust of the road and time, the ash of cigarettes and the memory of every song sung, that wistful inside-a-guitar smell, let loose like a specters from a grave, then caught in the wind to catch up with the prayer.

After thirty years he still grieves, I'd guess.

I got a football for Christmas when I was, well, I really don't know, eleven, ten maybe.  I'd never had my own ball, relying on a old ball of my brother's, and I was stoked.  I loved the ball, football was a year-long sport when I was a kid and I used that ball a lot for a year.  I can't really remember how or why I left it out for several weeks in deep winter,  I do remember finding it.  It was deflated and cracked and, well, defeated.  Ruined.  Back in those days, things weren't plasticized, so nature had its way and I lost my beloved ball.

Neatness counts means take care of your things.  Honor your things.  Honor everything around you - the people, the trees, the food, the water. 

So, "Nick" got a better grade, even though I found the title a little indulgent.  Also, he misspelled eagle as eagel.  Ya'll know I love that about him.

I think if Zack would've gone with this, he might have been given the better grade.  I mean, it's a very nicely rendered snake-tailed-wolfcoon-zebra-cat, with a "puppy thing."  It's A- material, and it is still in his sketchpad, bonus points for that:

I do not know how to pronounce this little dude's name, Zozris,  but I sure do like it.

You know what, I feel like I left my story dangling, the smashed Alvarez one, that is, not the deflated football one, no, I learned my lesson pretty quickly with that one.

My friend gets up and the guitar looks like, well, sun-baked roadkill, I mean it is done.

"I think you broke it," I say, my tone not as empathetic as it should have been, in retrospect.

"Yeah, I think I did."  He bends down surveying the scene like a forensic anthropologist and, after some tragic looks, his face becomes resolved and he has decided, as I have, that it is, indeed, broken.  And then he does the unexpected, he grabs the neck of the guitar, twists it like  one might a lame rabbit, and wrenches it off, breaking the last splinters of wood and freeing the tendrils of strings.  He then puts his foot on the strings, pulls hard on the neck, and frees the last of them so that only the sunburst neck, red at the bottom, yellowing up to the natural wood at the top, is left.

He unceremoniously kicks the carcass of the guitar into the gutter in front of the church, a befitting end I remember thinking, shoulders the neck like a rifle and says, "Let's head on."  I thought it very stoic and cool at the time.

At the party, everyone grieves his loss.  Dudes bring him beers and offer him cigarettes.  He is the center of attention, all the girls hug him and console him as he wears a look of loss, seeming to bear it as well as possible.  The tragedy permeates the atmosphere with sadness, the party becomes a wake.  We sing sad songs on guitars pulled from the safety of cases and offer ours to him, but, no, not tonight, he says.

Many hours later the party is winding down, I am waiting for him at the door, bundled against the cold.  He comes down from upstairs, red-faced, drunk I assume, still holding the guitar neck, on the arm of the prettiest girl in the whole Theater Department, a grad student.  She drapes his coat over his shoulders, and walks on out holding his other hand.  As he passes me, he does one last unexpected thing.  He looks around to be sure no one sees him, pokes me in the chest with the tuner end of the neck, smiles and winks.

"Maybe it ain't broken after all..."

Yeah, add that bit of wisdom to the damn list.  Know what your tools are for...

From Marci's  "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

"Gatorade is like kids' beer."

Yes, well, I've got some 'splaining to do...

Thanks, as always, for showing up again.  I am always happy to know you were here, whenever, however, whoever you are.


  1. I hate grades on art more than lists. Those drawings are wonderful and all A worthy in my book.

  2. This is a beautiful, well crafted story, though I would like to pose an argument regarding lists. You state that you don't like them because they are ever-expanding, but aren't narratives as well? For instance, did your friend eventually replace the guitar, or was his new enlightenment enough to sustain him? Did Zack learn that neatness counts? Did Nick learn what it means to win via a technicality? These are all mysteries that you left, purposefully I know, but you left them nonetheless.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is, don't be so hard on lists. When done well, they have a structure: a beginning, a middle and an end. A great list will take the reader on a journey: surprise them, educate them, make them laugh and make them shed a tear.

    Buzzfeed on the other hand, I think we both can agree, is utter nonsense.

    1. I only pick on lists to be a contrarian, Dan. I occasionally see one I like, it's just that I prefer a good story. Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  3. I enjoy your contrarianism and enjoy a good argument. Thanks for providing both.