Saturday, January 31, 2015

Items of Note

Milkweed bug? Your guess is good as mine.
St. Andrews Cotton Stainers

Hermit crabs that have been sitting in cages in a boardwalk shop or pet store have lost their joie de vivre; pick one up by his shell and he'll just sigh, ensconce himself, and sulk until you put him down. Hermit crabs in the wild really like to be picked up. They see it as an invitation to play a friendly game of Pinch the Fucker. The object of the game, as far as you're concerned, is to drop the crab in the 1–2 seconds it takes him to reach under and around himself with that big nasty claw and break the blood vessels in the softest, fleshiest part of your palm. If you lose the game, don't worry. He's always up for another round.

Also—and this is true—if a hermit crab on a steeply graded surface notices you coming, he'll withdraw into his shell, and start rolling downwards. You'll be walking up a hill, and shells will be tumbling down past your ankles. Real inconspicuous.

Hermit crabs seem to have excellent peripheral vision. Don't ask me how I found out. It's much less interesting a story than you probably think it is.

Geckos are not exactly swift runners; they actually have the power of short-range teleportation. As you approach, BAMF! The gecko 4-D slips two or three feet in the opposite direction, takes a moment to recharge its internal warp drive, and will teleport as many times as necessary to shake you off its tail (so to speak).

The flap on a gecko's neck is called a dewlap. When the dewlap is extended, the gecko is either telling you that it likes you or asking you to fuck off.  Gecko communication is similar to the Japanese language in the extent to which meaning is determined by context.

Hummingbirds will sit and chirp for you if you're patient.

Sea urchins are like Zen poems. You can't help but admire the virtuosity of their craftsmanship, but they obstinately resist all attempts at exegesis.

A lot of people aren't sure who they are or what they're supposed to be doing. Of every living animal I've seen, sea urchins seem the least likely to be able to relate to this, to the angst of existence or the plight of persistent, unanswerable questions about life and the universe. They know exactly what to do at all times, and they might even have a good idea as to why they should be doing it.

The pearly-eyed thrasher has really a striking gaze. Some ornithologists have dubbed it the "insidious thrasher," but I've found it to be a quite congenial bird. Of course, as a critter known for its ruthless voracity and inimical effects on any species with which it overlaps, it must sense in us a kindred spirit.

Tropical axiom: at the bottom of any hole in the ground that seems just large enough for a huge spider to pass through is a huge spider.

We need to disabuse the public of the myth about roosters crowing at dawn. While they are quite vocal at sunrise, this period of activity is overstated. They are just as noisy at dawn as they are during the rest of the morning, the afternoon, the evening, dusk, and at around 2:00 AM.

Most people aren't aware of this, but roosters actually crow to share conspiracy theories.


1.) "COCK-a-DOO-dle-DOO."

Translation: "BIRTH-cer-TIF-i-CATE."

2.) "COCK-a-DOO-dle-DOO."

Translation: "BACK-and-TO-the-LEFT."

3.) "COCK-a-DOO-dle-DOO."

Translation: "THER-mite-IN-deb-RIS."

You won't find these facts being reported by any of the major news outlets. In the face of the mainstream media's pusillanimous silence on these matters, the responsibility of getting this important and real information out to the public devolves to intrepid bloggers such as myself.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Overheard in the Pre-K Classroom

An email from Hannah:

"Yeah, I want to go to college! I really want to go! I have lots of money to pay for college!"
[Later on in conversation]

"Wait, college is school? I don't want to go to college! I didn't know college is SCHOOL!!"  

"Maybe it was the devil!"
"Who's the devil?"
"He's green and he lives under the ground in the fire. When you want to do something bad like punch someone in the face, he whispers in your ear. . . DO IT."

"I'm sad because my grandfather is dead."
"How did he die? Did someone shoot him?"
[Confused look] "No. . . . "

"Once bad guys die, they go straight to lava."
"No! When they die they go to heaven! Heaven's probably underground us, I think."
"No!! When someone dies, they stay inside us. Forever."

"This is how my little brother counts to 7: 1, 2, 3 . . . then guess what number? 72! He gets crazy!!" 

"Yuck. . . yuck. . . . yuck. . . yuck." [FOR FIFTEEN GODDAM MINUTES STRAIGHT. Sitting in the corner just saying YUCK for fifteen minutes while I slowly went insane.]

Conclusion: children might not be all that different from normal human beings.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Something completely different

Three days later. I've packed a few suitcases and moved to join Hannah on Saint Thomas in the American Virgin Islands. It's a move I undertook with no small measure of trepidation.

When I tell people about the trip and try to explain why I feel so apprehensive about it, their reactions are nothing but incredulous. The way they tell it, you'd think I was moving to a tropical paradise or something.

Tropical, sure: it's the middle of January and I can go out on the porch quite comfortably wearing nothing but my underwear. But paradise it ain't. Hannah has been here since August, and she's still struggling to get into the swing of things. (And she's one of the most adaptable people I know.) One of her coworkers at the private school is raring to move back to Boise, Idaho as soon as the term ends. On the face of it, most people would say they'd rather live in the Caribbean than Idaho. But having lived in both, this woman is now happily choosing Boise over "paradise."

During the flight I sat in front of a woman who was coming to visit the island four months after returning to the mainland. She'd lived on Saint Thomas for about a year before that. For the better part of half an hour she explained to the woman sitting next to her why she left, and she left because she just couldn't take it anymore. It was driving her crazy. The high prices, the lousy transportation, the isolation, being surrounded on all sides by career drunks, having nothing to do but get drunk herself.

This seems to be a place where people from the mainland come to physically age at two to three times the normal rate (through a combination of cheap booze, cheap cigarettes, and fierce sunshine) while intellectually regressing at a rate of 1 to 1.5 years annually. By the looks of things, Saint Thomas is like an island-spanning college town without the center of higher learning at its nucleus. Generally speaking, people come here from the mainland to get shitfaced and laid between bartending shifts. Or to simmer in sun and rum after an early retirement.

I've noticed that people talk about living here the same way people up north describe living in New York. Unless you're already loaded, this isn't the easiet place to make things work out. Actually, I'd be willing to bet New York might actually be easier. At least it has subways and is eminently pedestrian-friendly.

Money's going to be problematic. This is not an inexpensive place to live. For instance: in the house that Hannah has been sharing with three other people, the "if it's yellow, let it mellow" rule is to be followed as a matter of economic necessity. Water ain't cheap. There isn't a room without an air conditioner built into the wall, but they're never to be turned on—not even when it's 95 degrees and so humid that the mosquitoes are actually doing the breaststroke as they converge on you. Electricity ain't cheap neither. Unless you're working two jobs, owning a car is a dicey prospect. Parts aren't cheap, repairs aren't cheap (where else are you going to drive to find another mechanic?), and the hilly terrain and salty air work hell on automobiles. (Right now Hannah's talking about renting a car on a month-to-month basis and sharing it between at least two people.) And it's absolutely necessary to know exactly where to shop for which things: groceries are expensive everywhere, but certain things are less pricey at certain places. I recently watched a friend paying nine dollars for a pint of soy ice cream. I passed a jar of Tostito's salsa in a convenience store that was selling for five dollars. A can of chunky Campbell's soup was running upwards of four dollars. A tiny bag of coffee (maybe eight ounces? maybe a little less?) was selling for eight dollars.

Don't ask me what kind of job I plan to get. I have no idea. It's something I'll have to start figuring out come Monday.

In New York, people bear with the crowds and the noise and perpetual rush and urban isolation because they're getting so much in return: the excellent transportation system, the vibrant arts/music/literary scene, the cultural pluralism, the museums, the good schools, jobs in myriad fields, the easy access to pretty much anything one could ever need, the readily available high-quality drugs, and so on. Saint Thomas has none of these things.

But it has feral chickens and lizards. And cacti and mangrove swamps. And zenaida doves and singing tree frogs. And coral reefs and sea turtles. And pelicans and frigatebirds. And easy access to Saint John and its swaths of protected parkland. And the woman I love and a magnificent view of the sea from the balcony outside the room we share.

Best case scenario: I'm able to walk over the resort bullshit and immerse myself in the coral reefs, the forests, the unfamiliar flora and fauna, meditations on the manifold historical and environmental problems this island presents, and friendships with any other resident mutants to whom the permanent vacation milieu doesn't appeal. And write a whole bunch of cool stuff while I'm at it.

Worst case scenario: the experience will foster a greater appreciation for life on the mainland, with all its warts and cold weather and nonsense.

I'm beginning to suspect that nonsense is inescapable, and the best anyone can hope to do is try find it in a flavor that's the least offensive to his palate. And maybe "paradise" is a state in which you acquire a fond taste for the nonsense.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Meristems (a prophecy)

Two years later. The maple tree outside the bedroom window has pushed out new limbs from the sites of the scars left by the snows the winter before last. You'd never guess it had lost half of itself.

It's January. The tree has already dropped its leaves. Through the interstices of bare branches I can see the first in the row of utility poles on the other side of the street, by all appearances identical to itself as it was twenty years ago.

In the breeze the maple's very last leaf performs a brittle shimmy on its petiole, waiting for a gust to lift it off to obscurity.

This will be the only record of this leaf, that there was on January 14, 2015 in a particular New Jersey suburb on a particular maple tree a particular maple leaf, senesced and shriveled and blanched by the sun, roused to a shuddering dance as it waits for

And there it goes. Exeunt leaf from history.

And the utility pole dreams cable TV and waits until its crows need a perch.

What are we waiting for?

every telephone pole will remember what it was, heaving out green branches to cast off the wires.

Monday, January 5, 2015

2015: Taproot Resolution

Here's to passing another milemarker! And let us also celebrate the typicality of the personal blogger laying out his intentions for self-improvement in the coming 365.2425 days.

I don't even want to revisit my list of resolutions for 2014. Many of them remain unaccomplished, but so much for them. There's always next year.

I have one specific goal in mind for 2015. There's something I recently read in the Analects of Confucius that got under my skin and into my imagination:

Confucius said, "Ah Sze, do you supposed that I merely learned a great deal and tried to remember it all?"

"Yes, isn't that what you wanted to do?"

"No," said Confucius, "I have a system or a central thread that runs through it all."

That's what I would like to find or construct for myself. I have a lot of interests—the various focii (as opposed to any single focus) of this little blog attest to that. But there's nothing that unifies them. I run off in different intellectual directions all the time, but my advances in one area never seem to amount to overall progress, because it's all disconnected, scattershot. Even when I look at all the fiction I've written, I'm at a loss to find some theme or idea common to it all.

It would be wonderful to cultivate a central taproot from which all of my other informal "studies" and pursuits extend as natural and useful outgrowths. I'm interested in ornithology, astronomy, behaviorism, the economic and social effects of mechanization, the position and uses of old media and art with the emergence of new forms, climate change, cartoons, the spiritual desolation of modernity and the ways in which it might be counteracted, arcade games, mathematics, and so on and on. But I'm an expert in none of these things, and my probes into any one of these areas aren't of much use elsewhere.

Maybe what I'm looking for is an ultimate sense of purpose. Sheesh. A more traditional unrealistic resolution to quit smoking, go to the gym six days a week, learn Spanish, do charity work every weekend, and master the unicycle might actually be more viable.