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Such A Day ...

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wonder bread truck

I am still too full of the stupendous wide awake dreams from yester-yore's Walking-With-The-Giants Day to sleep.

West of here the skies and the hillsides were putting on a spectacular show, the kind you usually hear about from other people who saw it and you think: "Damn, it's just like when I missed those phenomenal meteor showers back in the late-90s or some time. I forget – but I missed them and that's on me for-ever..."

I missed a lot of wonderful stuff in my adult life because I just didn't want to be bothered. "Leave me out of it," was my motto. On a drinking spree, the rules changed and everyone wished I had stayed home.

Staying home was just plain ignorance on my part and a symptom of my depression. I knew it was not safe for me to be along with myself: I was my own worst baby-sitter back in those awful days of fear and self-loathing. A ratty kind of paralysis would come over me and I didn't want to move and I couldn't nap because of the 800 cups of coffee from the morning.

I just wasn't thinking it through: Most accidents occur in or near the home. And yet I'd rather lie on my sofa during that period and contemplate the chaotic route of a water stain in my ceiling. Or just study the paint and wonder about death. It was easier, if dangerous and self-destructive, than driving with a friend to go look at birds and waterfalls or hear some crooner with a bag of songs that needed woodshedding.

I forgive myself for those hours wasted in self-absorbed isolation. It was a massive misunderstanding between me and the present. I dwelt on the past a lot in those episodes. Not good.

watkins from slatterly oct. 20, 2012 But wait, yes. There was some good. Please step into my way-back machine here between the margins and infinity.

I was the baby in a three-sibling unit. There was a great disparity in years between my older sister (almost 5 whole years) and my brother (nine). So naturally I got to work my brain for what little was in there to play with. Since I wasn't morbid or a philosopher yet, I preferred action.

Often, before school started and warped my brain and turned an all-American kid into a subversive, I would take my dog the Beef to The Brook for explorations. By the time I came along a stunning lake and wetlands were dwindling, encroached on every side by just plain old shit: A coal yard and railroad tracks, auto body shops, a bar called the Elbow Room, a laundry.

I got to play with nature on the last few acres of a previously fecund, protean and – never mind. This is no word to express my spiritual affinity to that stunning wetlands and marsh I only got to know for a short short time. When my 10th birthday rolled around, the entire lot was filled-in with nothing but broken cinder blocks, tarmac and dirt.

Unbelievable the number of things killed and displaced in that atrocity. And some of me, too, went with it.

I had the whole brook mapped in my head – my sister and brother had introduced me to it. I knew all the spots where painted turtles basking in the sun slid off sunken tree branches; the carp and water snakes did their carp and water snake thing and the little pond gagging with pollywogs bubbled and twanged with an ensemble of bull frogs, some with tones two octaves below middle C.

The pond was really a big spring-fed mud puddle. Shallow, but alive as those overcrowded scenes of tropical forest fauna painted in books that give a boy the sense that that much life will always be here.

Then I learned there were exciting things afoot that would bring some of that pond home.

My brother convinced my Dad to build a fish pond in our sideyard under the overgrown yews, and after a lot of beer and resistance, he finally did. Dad and my brother dug out the hole, about 10 feet by four feet and three and a half feet or so deep. Dad mixed the concrete, lime and plaster, carefully built supports all around the hole, lined it with mesh and tarp and covered it with the mix. It took two weeks because Dad didn't like to work on shit he didn't get paid to do.

But he also designed and built a fish catcher for dragging shallow ponds. It was a big rectangular screen box with an oak pole running down the middle and it was heavy and only meant to be dropped and pulled up. By a very strong man, like my Father. Only my father wasn't going fishing, my brother was. My brother was scrappy but that kind of physicality was not in him.

Douglas, that's my brother, decided to test it on that little puddle of a pond one late spring day. And he let me come with about four or five of his buddies from the Union Steet Gang. On the very first drop, Dougias strained to lift the screen. It was squirming with a million pollywogs and a couple little fish he wasn't much interested in.

He tipped the screen gently as he could and let them back in the pond. It seemed shameful not to bring all those pollywogs home.

On the second drop, he lifted the net and good god almighty there was the biggest greenest bull frog any of us had ever seen. This I swear. I have not beheld anything of its likeness in pure density and size ever again. It wasn't because I was little and made things big to lie.

Ask Dennis, the Indian guy adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Jones's, SE's parents. They were from Texas. Dennis whooped and hollered and swore to almighty that "fro'g" was his. The frog seemed pretty unimpressed by us. Maybe it hadn't quite taken in the situation. It squatted there looking darned self-possessed for a prey animal that just got hoisted out of its murky lair. Being big can give you confidence like that.

Dennis leapt for the frog and I don't think I saw the frog actually fly but it must've hopped right over Dennis and into the hummocks and marsh behind him and Dennis whirled around screaming in a Southern drawl "tha fro'g is mine, ya heah! Mine!" He dashed into the muckiest place on earth repeating that phrase for a full five minutes until it was clear the animal had shape-shifted and none of us could trace it. It was like some marvel of olden times, the one that got away. Only We All Saw It!

Dennis was a madman always. He became the first and only one in my brother's gang to get hooked on heroin. He once grabbed my bike right from me to go "run an errand" and his red puffy face was slick and his eyes swampy and he scared me. I got the bike back. My brother went and got it.

The morning sorta died right then. We didn't quite get over the frog's miraculous appearance nor its incredible escape. The event had exhausted the spirits of the older. They took it personally, like that's the way it was always gonna be for the poor craphounds of the working class.

My brother was sensitive and catching oodles of pollywogs didn't set well with him, so after a half-hearted dip of the catch, he once more turned the screen over and dumped the animals back into the dark water.

I didn't understand. Surely there were more frogs? Maybe one even bigger!

Nope. My brother couldn't be persuaded. He was resigned. But not like a teenager should be resigned. He was resigned like the character in the Old Man and the Sea.

And this after only three dips with that rig my Dad, a master carpenter, made and it was solid-built!

I don't know if it got used much more than that one time.

The pond Dad built was later stocked with goldfish my brother caught with bread balls at the very tame Brightwaters lakes. But our damn fake pond kept getting dirty and filling up with leaves. We knew nothing about aquaculture. Sunk on the north side of the house where we buried all the dead cats and dogs, it was not a lucky place to sustain life. Today someone might say "bad Feng Shui" and offer a lucky bamboo plant to increase good fortune.

Eventually, maybe even within a year, my brother returned all the fish to the lakes and the pond became a dry thing to rake leaves into. That job, fell to me.

– Franklin Crawford, up late remembering good stuff

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Last Updated on Sunday, 21 October 2012 18:24  

Opinion / Letters