If I could keep a diary, it would say this:
Lots of things make sense to sensible people.
That makes no difference.
But I don't keep a diary, so those words float around in my head along with a dozen bad jokes that have no punchline and about a hundred quotes I wish I could remember.
What I think I'm trying to say to myself is that common sense is not belief. If we believed everything that made sense, most exercise machine companies would be out of business.
Sensible people wouldn't get hangovers or wake up on the floor.
We would all have umbrellas and hats when we were outside in the cold.
No sensible person would ever hear that, "I just want to be friends," talk.
Bookstore shelves would be filled with unsold writer's guides.
Because talking about writing is not writing. Reading about writing is not writing. Watching the The Hours, or Adaptation or Shakespeare in Love is not writing.
Writing is not masturbation, though lots of time it can seem that way. Most humans have masturbated in their lives, and most have written. Writing is usually planned, masturbation, not. One thinks: "Ok, I'm going to allot some time for writing today."
Both are entirely self-indulgent activities. Few are the Palm Pilot notes to remind a sensible person to do "it", but there are plenty of tickler files reminding someone to make time to write.
Survey those same people who when presented the opportunity of an empty house, a cosy sofa or a well lit desk, and time with nothing to do should spend it writing, and see how many who call themselves writers have been writing, and how many have been doing the other.
By the time we reached the Saint we'd been on the mountain side for nearly a day. Santine's lips were cracked and bleeding. The faithful had passed water along the miles long queue, but we only dared sips. We turned our mouths skyward toward the rain that offered respite against the jungle heat, felt the cool along our faces. Took off our hats and prayed.
Eleven miles from the town we reached the summit and the head of the line. Her assistants' clothes were in tatters.
They took Santine. I knelt in the dirt.
"Por favor, Madre Santa. Pido el intercession del Dios."
The Saint laid her hands on Santine's head and breast. We prayed together for a moment, and then the assistants hurried us away.
As I positioned Santine on my back, the Saint paused and asked, "Usted no cree?" Her eyes were deep and gray. The lines in her face etched as if in stone. There was a great weight upon this woman. What sin had brought this burden to her?
"No, Madre Santa. No creo."
"Yet you carry this child. And tomorrow, another. Dia, despues del dia. Porque, senor?"
"Madre Santa, I am a thief and a murderer. It is my punishment to carry a sick child to you every day."
The Saint smiled. "And so without your sin, these children would not be cured."
I said, "I am a simple man, Madre Querida."
She touched my cheek, and bade me kneel. Then she kissed my forehead.
She said, "Se presenta, el buen peregrino. This day, I am healed."
Then, she vanished.
And assistants brought the first of the faithful to me.
I have strange ideas in my head all the time. Lots of times I think, "I should write this down," but I don't because I'm doing something else.
The other day I was driving to the hardware store to buy some wallboard anchors to hang a shelf and I thought, "What if Jesus Christ and Judas Iscariot were brothers? Or, what if they were actually the same person, reincarnated and folded together in time so they existed at once? Because what kind of God creates a being he loves and knows will damn himself forever by betraying the supreme being? And how could an omniscient, supreme being be betrayed unless he allowed it to happen? And what insanity would drive a sensible middle-eastern rebel to attempt to betray the creator of all known things unless he'd been preprogrammed to do it and so had no free will--but he had to have free will because otherwise he couldn't be damned?
"If there's any value to the whole story of the passion, then, it had to be either that Christ had no idea he was actually God and neither did Judas, or they both did and they were acting out a script that had to be followed."
All this happened in my head until I parked my Jeep in the spot in front of ACE Hardware. Then I tried to remember if I needed the quarter-inch wood screws or the other ones, but my crisis of faith had wiped out my memory. So I bought a bunch of screws of every size and when I got home I realized I hadn't gone to the hardware store for screws, but rather, for wallboard anchors.
So I had to go back.
They have a disease there is no name for, in a place the rain seldom sees, a dry African plain where men hunt for food with dirty rifles and spears fashioned from tree limbs hardened in flame.
She examines the victims one by one, and the brim of her straw hat presses against the childrens' heads when she lifts them nearly lifeless into her arms.
The desert inferno is an irrelevant annoyance to her work. She has not had water in hours.
"My son won't eat," says a man in broken English. A strong French accent:"Help my son."
"Qui. Je comprens," the American says. I snap the picture: the tall blonde researcher holding open the child's eye, staring into it. Now she palpates the chest. Now she looks into the ears.
"My son," says the man, in tears as she hands him back the limp body. She waves her hand to bring the next one. He is sobbing as he staggers away.
"What is it?" I say, loading a fresh roll.
"If I knew that, we wouldn't be here," she says, stethoscope against the chest of a young African girl.
She pronounces,"This child is dead." The parents know. They had to do something.
I snap the picture.
"Do you know what's happening here?" she says. "I take samples. In a year, maybe I come back with a vaccine. But these children will all die."
"Is this the value of life? If you don't know what causes the disease--"
She stops and stares to make me understand.
"Go help bury the dead. Come to me if you get the shakes. I'll need a sample."
I open the aperture. Set a faster speed so the picture won't blur.
Previously submitted to arcanamundi's quest
An idea wiped out my brain while I was walking my dog. I remembered that the daughter of some friends had gone to Africa to study elephant migration patterns for her PhD dissertation. She was in Mali for nearly two years. The entire time she was there she spent only a couple of weeks collaring elephants and tracking them with GPS radios.
The remaining ninety-eight weeks she spent hunting down her stolen equipment and bribing government officials to let her track the elephants she'd collared.
In the end, she didn't track the elephants and she didn't get her PhD, but her assistant lost his foot in a terrible accident between the only two motor vehicles for one hundred miles. When the whole elephant thing fell through she went to Siberia to study bears. And then to Brazil to study snakes. Now she and her monoped manservant are studying some kind of bird in Costa Rica.
I was thinking I could write her story. The story of the endless PhD.
But I never do.
Coffee and Bananas
They say it's blasphemous to put milk in Peet's gourmet coffee. It dilutes the true essence. The musky esthers. The traces of sweat from the foreheads of the Andean bean farmers.
I was getting that lecture from Dena when Lynda came in and took the last banana.
I blurted something like, "Hey. I had dibs on that," but she ignored me, peeled it and munched on it, smirking.
Roger pushed past me to the coffee machine. "It is too fucking early for this," he said to Lynda. As I saw what Lynda was doing Roger added, "Women like you should not be allowed to eat bananas in the workplace. Isn't there a company policy about that?" he said.
Lynda ran her tongue over the fruit.
An elbow in the ribs from Dena reminded me I was staring and someone made a crack about sexual harrassment that went ignored because today Roger was wearing one of his Jerry Garcia ties. It was a tip-off a customer was going to be in the office with us.
"You got Koyama from Sony in today, right?" Dena said. When Roger nodded she added, "We gonna fuck or is the foreplay going to last for the rest of the quarter?"
"My, but we're a bit grotesque this morning," Roger said. He took his Peet's black and so avoided the lecture.
"We need the goddamned revenue," Dena said. "If we can't book Sony, we're not going to make payroll in December. Jim's going to have to go to the board and try to get a bridge, and then we're going to face dilution beyond the comprehension of your tiny brain, and our little engineering friend over here is going to quit and join Cercom because the stock is better. Then we're screwed. So go do whatever that sales dance is you do and get us the fucking contract."
"The sales cycle takes time," Roger said. He saluted her scowl with his paper cup of coffee and turned to go as Brian waded through the crowd of us in the breakroom and poured himself the dregs from the pot. He set it back down and started to leave.
"Hey," Lynda said, stopping him. "Can't leave an empty pot, Tonto. You know the rules. Or is making coffee too complicated for you?"
"Did you hear about Mike?" Brian said, turning to face us. His eyes were bloodshot and tearing. His brow knitted.
Dena told him she hadn't.
Roger said, "Uh oh. Don't tell me he's not coming in today. He's on with Koyama this morning at 10:30. He'd better get his ass in here."
"Well he's not gonna," Brian said, and his voice cracked.
"Why not?" Roger challenged. The women softened. I could see their shoulders drop. They leaned toward him while Roger and I crossed our arms across our chests. Office dynamics. I was getting good at measuring it.
"Because he's dead," Brian said. "Heart attack last night."
"Heart attack?" Dena said. And now she put a hand on Brian's arm. "He's only, what--32?"
"Not anymore," Brian said.
"He's married," Lynda said. "I think I met his wife at the Christmas party."
"Two kids," Brian said. "A third on the way."
Roger said, "Holy shit." Because I'm not more creative, I did, too.
The five of us stood there staring at our feet, breathing hard. I couldn't believe Mike was dead. Only yesterday we went to lunch together. We talked about a problem he was having with a computer he'd built for his oldest daughter. We talked about cars. We talked about politics.
What did it mean he was dead? How could that be? Thirty-two year old engineers don't just die of heart attacks.
When Dena slid her arm around my shoulders and shook me, I realized they were talking to me.
"It's up to you, now, sport." She said it twice.
Roger said, "You have to do the demo for Koyama at 10:30. There's no one else. You can do it, right?"
"You're our man," Dena said.
All I could get to come out of my mouth was, "But--Mike--" because I was thinking we'd worked together for the past eleven years and our wives were friends and weren't we supposed to be going downtown with the wives to see "Cats" this weekend?
Dena said, "We need the revenue. You can do it. We're counting on you."
"It's a -- save the company -- situation," Lynda said.
Roger said, "Our bonuses depend on it."
So I did the demo. Four days later we went to Mike's funeral. The day after, Roger closed Sony.
Lynda cleaned out Mike's office. She mailed the boxes to Mike's widow, who sold the house, took the kids, and moved back to where her parents live in Nebraska.
We hired a new guy to take his place. He likes fruit, just like Lynda and me.
Now there are three of us competing for the office bananas in the morning.
It's odd the things that stick in your mind.
In the men's restroom in the Rathskeller at University of Miami, there was graffitti above one of the urinals that said, "Reality is for people who can't face drugs."
Lots of times in my life I've felt that was true. Nothing has more impact than reality that seems to twist itself around time and reason.
I remember when I went to Rick's funeral I saw his body in the casket and I thought, "This is a joke. We were just talking a couple days ago. He's not in bad shape. Look at him. This is just his sick sense of humor."
But he didn't get up out of the casket. It wasn't until they lowered it in the ground that reality hit the hundred or so of us co-workers who had been with him up till the moment he died.
It made everything seem fake. I felt drunk. Not a part of the world.
Suddenly all the strange ideas I had seemed safe and normal in comparison to a world full of bombs and terrorism and cancer and clotted arteries.
Does it make me feel any better to write than to think?
Honestly. Most times, I don't know what it's for.
In my mind is stuck this: when we were dating, my then future wife came out of the ladies' room and said: "There's writing in the stall. It says, 'Next time, make HIM sleep on the wet spot.'"
She does. All the time.
Maybe writing is reality.