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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Same Old Similar New

What at first seemed to be the norm would later turn into the radical abnorm. But then it was time to stop putting off the inevitable, lumber out of bed, and go track down once and for all whoever invented mornings. It was a cruel joke, us being the punchline. They probably thought it a novel idea at the time of its inception, but the sorry morning was destined for failure from the start. Weighing the perks against the drawbacks, it seemed obvious. The time of the day they picked to have it was sorely doomed. And trying to follow the act of sleep is inviting trouble all around. Not to mention that sleep can be narcissistic to the point of asking for multiple encores. Whatever comes after would have to be anticlimactic. Add to that the fact that sleep comes with pillows — anybody just strive to top that, and go down in quicksand trying.

On this day of days, I would take on the role of covert operative, so secret that even I was unsure of my own title, but glad to be doing it. I always got up for those sort of gigs. As a child, I loved being clandestine even though I couldn’t spell the word, and now all that training of sneaking through the cupboards and hiding under beds was paying off. Even years later, it was still difficult to refrain from infiltrating the cupboards in whatever abode I might find myself in. Zorro had his mark, and me, I had to raid the cupboards before I would leave a place. People knew their Nilla Wafers were in jeopardy, and they’d lock them up if they thought I was on their trail. This eventually got me on the outdoor beat, where Nilla Wafers were nearly extinct, if not for picnics, from which I had my pick. Not quite cupboards, but beggars can’t tell people their sob stories when they’re dealing in espionage, and I was wallowing in it.

I was to frequent the midtown park and track down a supposed agent from stealth forces before he could identify his target, promising to be an apt challenge for my acumen. More details than this would complicate the issue past its relevant parts.

All I had or needed to go by was that he/she/it spoke an unusual Pidgin dialect, although since being fluent in four other languages and doing a mean impersonation of Jackie Gleason, it would be difficult to get him/her/it to show the aforementioned shortcoming.

Upon entering the park from the east side, I bumped into a fellow in a Gaelic trenchcoat and immediately asked him what he thought of the local transit system in general, as well as how he would summarize the concept of onomatopoeia. His response, though brusque and uncharacteristically non-committal, suggested a genuine unfamiliarity not replicable by most stealth agents. We exchanged business cards, tipped our caps, and went on our way.

I chose a strategic spot near the playground, since playgrounds are typically frenetic, replete with distractions, thus ripe for producing illusory effects. In short, it would be the ideal environment for my desired cover.

After polishing off three chapters of The Communist Manifesto without incident, I turned my attention to my picnic surroundings, trying to ascertain what, if anything, was out of place. One entity would carry with it unique traits that would differentiate it from the rest of those present. The cumulative flow of the crowd, the billowing leaves on the trees, the rhythm of the playground swings, the yapping of dogs of various and sundry breeds… these all came together into one whole. But one thing would be out of step, if I could just key into it. All that is natural flows, but that which is not natural is intermittent, haphazard, non-random, and thereby artificial, thus giving itself away despite its best efforts, by its very nature.

The best way to “see” is to block out whatever you don’t need to see. There was much around me I didn’t need to see. It was just noise, and I placed it into the backdrop. This left me four points of reference that were competing for most unlike themselves. Now reduced to a simple multiple choice question, the answer would soon become apparent.

A clown juggling on a unicycle thought he had me fooled, but I knew he was a plant. I didn’t know how I knew, but I did. Instinct doesn’t come with explanations, and if you wait for them to come, you’re gonna miss a lot of buses.

I anticipated the patterns to unfold as they always did. To the well-trained observer, these processes can be timed with the precision of a meticulously orchestrated sonata, where each instrument comes in on cue. Life plays in various rhythms, though few notice.

A conspicuously inconspicuous man at 6 o’clock had caught my peripheral attention. His blank stare betrayed his thought processes. He was looking nowhere and looking everywhere. Unlike everyone else, he appeared to be concocting his thoughts rather than merely living them.

I became further suspicious of him when I noticed he was talking intermittently into his umbrella. I thought it a peculiar conversation tool. I thought that, because I would’ve opted for a croquet mallet or an opera ticket. Perhaps it was all a matter of style, but nonetheless I thought it prudent to make a note of it. I regarded him closely from that point on. I made it a point to blink only when he did so that he wouldn’t see my eyes closed. I was in his grill and he didn’t even know it. Or if he did, he didn’t give any indication. He continued his pattern of glancing around at nothing in particular.

I turned slightly in his direction to point my cuff link camera his way. This was going to be my moment in the sun, where all the planets would converge on my behalf, the elements at my behest, the setting to become my stage, where I direct the cast to the finale.

In an instant, he turned into pixie dust, and I thought that was rather inconvenient for him. Only the umbrella remained. But I dare not touch it. After an awkward pause of about 18 minutes, which was followed up by another awkward pause of about 6 hours, and then a comfortable pause of 29 seconds, I walked over to the dust, which had already started forming very tiny dunes reminiscent of a miniature beach possibly frequented by really small people. I regarded him further. Once having been convinced he was no longer staring at me, I scrawled in his aftereffects the words “Lyle Was Here.” I didn’t know his name, but I took him for a Lyle. I thought if he wasn’t, the dunes would have to make the correction, because I wasn’t to be responsible.

Sure enough, the next day when I returned to that same spot, it now said, “Lyle Wasn’t Here.” The dunes had spoken, garnering from me a newfound respect. And the umbrella? It was long gone, possibly opened by a vagrant and caught up into the wind where it would be tossed like an ill-fated Caesar salad and then sold at an auction for a fraction of the original cost. But it was inconsequential. It was so inconsequential that nobody thought about it anymore. They thought instead about the absence of umbrellas. And the fact that anything but umbrellas could be seen. This was all that occupied anyone’s minds. It was as if brainwashing was going on just prior to the rinse cycle.

I wiped away the message, and then carved out, “Then what is his name?” From that point, I could think of little else to do to while away the time for that day, so I called it a day even though it had already been called one on the calendar. Not wishing to be redundant, I deferred to the calendar and thought of other things I could call it instead. Upon further reflection, it seemed rather pointless to be naming it something else, and I had no idea how I had gotten backed into that corner. I called for a recount and pleaded the fifth. And then I punted. To say I was desperate would have been like saying a monk was on fire, because it didn’t adequately describe the situation.

When I came back that next morning, the message had only been updated to say, “What’s whose name?” This was a rather quaint predicament we had here. I wiped it clean again, and scrawled, “Lyle’s. Duh…” I seemed to be dealing with amateurs here, but I stayed patient and focused on the task at hand. This would require perseverance of the most extreme kind.

As fate would have it but par for the course, I wasn’t able to return the next day because of my poorly planned double hernia operation. They were having a two-for-one offer and I couldn’t very well pass it up. So I sent a courier to the park to take a picture of the dirt. While I was reclining in the recovery room, the courier brought me an assortment of color prints to display across the table. Finding the picture I needed, I misread the caption the first time, but then I realized after clearing my eyes that it said, “jk, it actually was Lyle.”

I was growing a tad irritated, so I wrote to whoever it may have concerned, “This is getting somewhat tedious. Can I text you?” And of course, I had to wait until the next day to find out. The suspense was nearly unbearable. Nothing I did for the remainder of the day could compare to my anticipation for what might transpire on the next. Breathing was about all I could handle. I forced myself to breathe just out of curiosity.

So on Thursday, I sojourned down to the park once more, eager for the next revelation, only to find inscribed “Excuse me? You want to text a pile of dirt?” I could tell this was going to be challenging. I checked with my cell phone company, and they didn’t have any plans that seemed to fit my current needs.

I mused at the sudden lack of options I now had. The sands sifted through my fingers and became part of the destiny of the progressing wind. I was a sail being directed by its wiles. I gave it a little time to see if it wanted to change course. It didn’t. So I didn’t ask it to.

With nothing left to do and nowhere to do it in, and having looked around for missing as well as found clues, I decided it would be prudent to pack it all in. My mission had now completed in a most incomplete way, though I had accomplished the primary objective, which was to rid the world of arch enemies while still retaining all the other kinds of enemies.

My report would contain a synopsis of my encounters and the accompanying lessons learned. I would tell of the near fatal mistake of confusing my earpiece with a clam shell. Of the symbolism of the dunes as a horizontal passage through the hourglass, oddly making it more linear than its inherited chronology. Of the pastiche of obligatory dunes-as-life scenarios, of the will of the human spirit to carry on in the face of all obstacle, of the notion that nothing is cut-and-dried with the possible exception of beef jerky, of the simplistic nature of art which parrots an undersimplified lifestock, of how obfuscation keeps a lot of people in business and a lot of other people wondering what they overlooked, of umbrella as metaphor only to the extent that it isn’t already the center of all we attempt and capture within our few decades roaming around the planet like a horde of banshees late for a dinner appointment with the establishment, as if dining somehow had to be rushed into as well as being ubiquitous in the social arena (would you like parsley with that, madam?). Of mice and other minutiae. I would contain my report within those bounds, a soliloquy for half history. And then I would wriggle back into the woodwork, to not be seen, heard, or rumored until the delicate equilibrium of the universe was once again disturbed, for a call to have my services rendered, rescuing the elements back to stasis for a time, while ever-approaching the ideal. Which is why we can never return to a norm that doesn’t exist, the lesson now learned.

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