As is our habit, the dog
walk is in the evening. Oz and I head over to Novitiate Park at dusk. In clear violation of Santa Clara
county ordinance 11.5 stroke whatever-whatever, we enter the grounds after sunset and stroll on the dirt trails.
These days the stars are bright. Some nights you can see the Milky Way through the light pollution.
Since my Lasix surgery my night vision is pretty bad. I rely on Oz to keep me on track. She's closer to the ground and as an official member of the animal kingdom has senses heightened in areas I lack.
While I was admiring the negative magnitude and appropriate juxtaposition of Sirius, Oz touched my hand with her nose to alert me to the presence of some big black shapes in the brush around us. I was only slightly startled by the horse-sized blobs because my cortex kicked in and neutralized my hind brain to assure me the danger was nil. (Or, maybe I was too bored to worry.) When the shadows scattered I thought of this story:
"Earl was the kind of guy whose eyes were perpetually focused at a distance so that he seemed to be looking through whatever it was that was in front of him. It made people think he wasn't paying attention.
But he just needed reading glasses."
When the deer fled I went back to looking at the lights in the sky, which to me are blobs or splashes against the black of instead of pinpoints. This is due to my eyes having been cooked by lasers.
The good news there is that I can see in the daytime just peachy. But night is quite a different story. I might as well be taped up inside a cardboard shipping box, FedEx'ed to Alaska for all the good my eyes do me on earth at night.
On the return path of our dog-walk-loop I stumbled into one of the gates they close at night to keep you from going into the park after hours. And we can spend a whole day talking about what "after hours" mean when speaking of an undeveloped mountainside, and the whole concept of private property comes to mind as well in that conversation. As in - mortal beings can't actually "own" anything because the whole "it doesn't go with you when you die" thing invalidates the entire notion. "Yours" is only yours because you get enough people to go in with you on the idea, and no matter how many people agree not to mess with the pieces of earth you say are "yours" there's still the time element because it's pretty certain 10,000 years from now nothing is going to stay yours. You cannot close what is not yours. The Caesars had to give up the palaces, so the idea of "closed" is about as idiotic as you can get when discussing a geological structure that has been there since before humans.
Such are the mental digressions of a dog walker.
After stumbling into a gate I could not see I decided to embellish the story of the presbyopic guy to make it more interesting as it bounced off the interior walls of my cranium. Now it goes like this:
Earl never looked people in the eye when they spoke to him. For him, it was the sky.
He tried to make sure he was outside whenever Mr. Oosterhout confronted him. That way he could see the sky quite clearly.
"Did you hear what I said?"
Oosterhout confronted Earl several times per day. Usually the words were accompanied by little flying puddles of spit that hit Earl on the face. (Earl would wait till Oosterhout left before wiping his cheek with his sleeve.)
"Yes. Face the shelves," Earl would reply. Or "Yes. Sort the screws." Or "Yes. Unpack the new saw blades." He could answer before questioned, because Earl did the same thing at the same time on the same day of the week.
Earl had never missed completing a single one of his tasks in seventeen years of Ace hardware store employement. Yet, the owner reminded him of every task on every day -- and the irony was apparently lost poor Mr. Oosterhout who could find Earl every weekday in the same place at the same time, performing his assigned task with celestial regularity.
"Earl, are you listening to me?" Oosterhout had just said, catching Earl in the parking lot between the warehouse and the store, the latter having just come from stacking bags of decorative redwood bark chips as was always the case on Tuesday mornings between the end of May and beginning of September.
"Yes. Untangle the wire bin," Earl said, staring intently at the light blue above, struggling against his instinct to wipe a drop of Oosterhout's spittle from his cheek.
Now as is customary in such stories, the action here comes from a change in unspoken human policy. For you are asked to believe that our characters have behaved habitually for the entire lifespan of an American teenager and that during that period not one blessed event occurred outside the realm of what had become usual for the hardware store proper and these two people. Stories must be about change, and it is indeed a change in the owner's behavior that triggers these life events.
What was it that caused Mr. Oosterhout to vary from his life's course? While we can never be certain it wasn't a bad dream, and angelic epiphany, or a sudden concern about his own mortality, we can be sure that once again human events are altered absolutely through the application of individual free will. And we must presume this is the case for Oosterhout this day.
For the first time in seventeen years, Earl's boss asked him a new question.
"What's up there, son?"
"UFOs," said Earl.
"Really? You see them?"
"No. But I'm trying to."
"For God's sake, why?"
Mr. Oosterhout sighed. He put his hand on Earl's shoulder which made Earl flinch. He took his hand away.
"Is there something I can do to help you out? Is everything okay?"
"I'm pretty good," said Earl. And then after a long uncomfortable silence it was Oosterhout's turn to stare at the sky.
"What if they're really there?" Oosterhout asked.
"Then, it's different."
Earl took off his Ace Hardware smock and handed it to Mr. Oosterhout who accepted it without comment. And for the first time in seventeen years instead of heading into the store to untangle the mess of wire left by customers in the electrical aisle, he got into his car and drove west to the Pacific Ocean.
On a beach in Santa Cruz he took off his shoes and socks, stuck out a foot, and felt the cold Alaskan current on his toes.
"Um. That was sweet," says the blonde haired girl, "but those two paragraphs in the middle have to go. And the 'looking at the sky' stuff doesn't work for me."
"If I take out the two paragraphs and the looking-at-the-sky stuff, there's like, two sentences left."
"Maybe you should write something different."
"I threw in Alaska," I say. "I figured you'd like it."
"It was gratuitous."
"I could have said it was the Mexican current."
"Ok. The Alaska part was good. It was the last sentence, though. Maybe it should be the first sentence. We should go back to Alaska."
"And I could go back to spec'ing billing systems for the government and directing cruise tourists to the old Russian Orthodox church. I need to find less mind-numbing work in Alaska before I go back there."
"But we had more eagles."
"There are indeed more eagles in Juneau than Silicon Valley."
"Not to mention the fact it's just plain cool to be from Alaska. The Discovery channel has a whole week of programming on Alaska. They call it, 'Alaska Week'."
"How come we're not watching it?"
"Because every day is Alaska day for us and there are still Alaskan plates on the jeep. I figured it was redundant."
"I want to see Alaska on TV."
"That will just make you homesick. You're already too homesick. I don't want to exacerbate it."
"Yes. Indeed. And the story."
"The one I wrote."
"You try too hard to sound like Kurt Vonnegut."
and so on.
Our house is full of ghosts.
Some people think this is a plus. There's a website called "Haunted Los Gatos" that highlights the haunted buildings in the town. It's maintained by a realtor, who specializes in selling Los Gatos real estate, and especially haunted houses.
I did not buy my house through her.
And I suspect the "haunted" part of her sales pitch means: max-fixer-upper. After all, we all know ghosts like to live in buildings that are or should be condemned. And while nearly condemned buildings should be cheaper than more easily inhabitable spaces, this industrious realtor has found a way to: pump up the value.
There are people in this world who assure me the meaning of life rests in the pumping of value.
It sounds fine to me.
We don't know the name of our ghost but we call her Elizabeth because the prior owner, Elizabeth, died in the room in which we now sleep and so we presume she has something to do with our haunting.
But there's really no way to know.
Our haunting works like this: stuff appears in places different than where you remember.
"How come those weird yellow plastic pointy Dutch shoes are on the kitchen table?"
"Didn't you put them there?"
This could be just bad memory on our part.
Our haunting also works like this: "Elizabeth, please find me my 14-gauge romex stripper."
"How come there's a wire stripper in the coffee pot?"
Which could also be some sort of nearly-a-senior-citizen brain fart.
The blonde haired girl says she hears Elizabeth during the day, but I have spent many days and nights alone and with her in our house and have never heard a peep which could be attributed to a ghostly presence. This may be due to our proximity to a major traffic artery. Elizabeth would have to generate some serious sonic pressure to be heard above the road noise. The typical ghostly, "ahhhh," or, "woooooo", is drowned out by the sound of passing 18-wheelers.
"You should have your Monroe Institute friends over for a seance," says the blonde haired girl.
The words come to my head, "Oh, they don't do that kind of thing," but I stop myself. I've never had a seance. Maybe they're fun. Maybe we could get to the bottom of the, "where the hell did my $70 iPod auto-aux connection cord go to?" problem. Maybe I could pump up the value on the whole ghost issue and sell tickets. Maybe then I could go back to Alaska. I would be known as the rich guy who doesn't have to work because he's figured out how to make ghosts work for him.
Or maybe I would go back to writing specs for websites for the Alaskan Department of Motor Vehicles.
On the other hand, perhaps I could find another way to introduce arrhythmia into life's heartbeat. That's what we're looking for, after all. All these UFOs and ghosts and Mythbuster explosions - it's all about variety. We want that things aren't really as repetitive as they seem. We're pumping up the value on life. We hope that before our own time runs out we get to experience something that hasn't happened before because the same old thing grows stale or rusty, but in all cases, cheap.
We know the habits that we call "home" and give us comfort eventually kill us. There needs to be an explosion louder than a popping cranial artery.
Thus I have purchased several EMF detectors, the same type used by the Ghost Hunter guys. Thus I have procured a geiger counter from E-bay, and have the plans for a gravitometer I will construct as soon as I can figure out how to obtain a perfect 2-ton titanium cylinder. I will detect the spirits and speak to the dead and note the location of the last UFO landing.
Aliens beware. I am watching the skies.