Friday, August 31, 2012

55: Viral

Two weeks on the island together and we’d nearly forgotten: the sun and the sand, the bikinis and the drinks have a way of wiping the mind of its troubles. After getting back home to a blizzard and picking up the kids, it was almost like it’d never happened, until our hotel video went VIRAL!
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FFF-55 Vol. XLIII. Tell a story in exactly 55 words. Go see G-Man.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pitiful Souls

This morning I had an encounter with a wounded animal. A fawn, to be exact, spots and big ears and all.

It all started while driving to work. I'd left early, and I was looking forward to being extra productive. The traffic was starting to slow along a road where the speed limit is already 25 mph. Each car in the small, gathered clump of traffic was swerving away from the curb in somewhat the same manner as when a biker is on the road, except these swerves were more deliberate, around a tighter circle, and faster, with less of the courtesy and care that usually comes with avoiding something moving on the side of the road.

When I came close enough, I could see it was a fawn. It was frantically trying to get up, but it was against the curb, and its hind legs weren't doing what they were supposed to. It was then I realized just how careless and callous a human would have to be to drive past this wounded, clearly terrified, baby animal, especially in such a deliberate manner.

Full disclosure: I considered doing the same thing myself. As I've said, I was running early, a rarity for me. And probably like everyone else, I didn't really know what I could do. Based on what I could see, there was nothing I could do to actually save the animal. My next thought was, if I chose to do anything at all, I'd better get it off the road. This fawn was a wild animal, and though I didn't fear that I'd get hurt, I was sure I'd get dirty. I don't dress up for work, but I wouldn't even pick up my own dogs wearing the shirt I chose this morning unless there was some emergency to handle. I'm not vain, but I dress nicely for work about as often as I'm early, and I didn't really want to ruin either.

All this went through my head in a second or less, nearly enough time to keep driving and go right past. I'm not a heartless man by any stretch, but I've done this before in comparable situations, as recently as this past weekend (though I'm sure that racoon was dead, and someone had already stopped to 'help' it). Today, it was most likely my initial thought about the other drivers who'd gone past that motivated me to actually stop my car next to where the poor creature was struggling on the road.

Just a warning, the story doesn't end well. I followed through on my good intentions and moved the fawn off and away from the road. Sure enough, my hands and forearms were filthy, not only with dirt, but the fawn's hair and sweat. Like my own canine confidantes, deer apparently shed when they're nervous.

The fawn still couldn't stand. Its futile struggles to get up only made it more of a danger to drivers should it be left there and end up back where I'd found it, where I'm sure it wouldn't be so skillfully avoided as before. I hadn't helped; though it didn't seem to be in pain, it was obviously scared, especially when I came near, touched, and carried it, so after setting it down on the ground, it fought even more to get up.

I've had first aid training, and though I was under no illusion that I knew what to do in this particular situation, I looked its body over for signs of injury. I felt its bones, an easy task with this small and lanky animal. Even though its hind legs weren't working, I felt no breaks or sharp turns in the legs or hips, or anywhere along its back. None of the joints were bent at an odd angle. I touch its head, but more because I was trying to soothe it than diagnose its injury. I thought to take its picture, but for some reason that seemed cruel.

It bleated weakly, softly, not necessarily because it was weak or wounded, but because it was young. Deer bleat, like sheep, did you know that? I'd heard it was true, but sometimes, though you may not question them, things like that don't make much sense until you experience them. I've actually heard a doe bleating loudly in a northern Michigan forest a dozen or more Novembers ago, probably having been shot by a bad hunter (good hunters try to minimize or eliminate their prey's suffering, and aim to kill instantly with their first shot). That sound was one of frantic terror; the doe knew she was going to die, and probably knew she was being tracked. It was haunting. This morning, the sound the fawn made was one of a simpler feeling: confusion. It clearly had no idea what was going on.

Looking between the fawn and the road and imagining the worst, I made my next goal to move it to the other side of a wooden fence surrounding the adjacent property. Assuming the animal could eventually stand and walk away, I thought it unlikely it would try to jump the fence to go back across the road. I picked it up--it weighed less than my dog, not more than 50 or so pounds--and tried to lower it onto the ground while standing on the road side of the fence, but I'd only lowered it a couple feet when it jerked its body and fell. Looking back now, if the fawn's injuries had been some kind of broken bones, I would have only made this worse. It's scary how easily the best of intentions to solve or soothe a situation can make it worse, or even push it over the line beyond recovery. Fortunately, that wasn't the case today. As I climbed the fence to straighten out its back legs, which had become crossed, again in the hope that it would somehow recover if left alone, another car had stopped, and a woman exited. She came over and climbed the fence, too.

I was glad for this woman's presence. Though neither of us really knew what to do, nor were either of us comfortable with the idea of leaving the wounded fawn alone. I was already invested, whatever the outcome, but she still had the choice. It is because of her that I started to seriously consider that I couldn't handle this, that I'd have to call some civic authority. The woman told me she'd recently watched her horse suffer in the same way, struggling to get to its feet, but unable to because its hind legs wouldn't work. This memory was obviously painful to her. The woman left, and I decided then I had to make some kind of phone call.

I moved my car off the main road and onto a dirt street along the other side of the property. I called home and had my daughter look up the phone number, then got in contact with the police. They'd already had calls, but I knew the address of the property, and so provided it. I tried to see if someone was home, but less than a minute after ringing the bell, a police motorcycle had arrived. I showed him where the fawn lay, still struggling, still confused. I should have known what was coming. In truth, I would have been surprised if the cop had said anything but, "I'm going to have to shoot it." But that's what he said.

I accepted this, not knowing any other alternative. I crouched to touch the fawn one last time, in some effort to express regret. It was still afraid of me; my touch did not soothe it. I made whatever spiritual expression I could, but there was no recognition, no inter-species barriers were broken between us. I turned to walk away as a police car pulled up, and I knew the first cop was unholstering his weapon. I heard the shot and looked back just in time to see the upper half of the fawn's body that could still stand fall.

I was neither shaken nor numbed, and this confused me. I felt, and still feel, sadness, but this was tempered by the short reach toward a better solution where none existed. Most assuredly, I was as dirty as I feared I'd be, but not enough that I needed to go home to change, and it no longer concerned me anyway. Back in my car, I continued driving to work, but I did not continue my radio program, and I could not continue to eat my mobile breakfast. Something had changed, but I couldn't tell what. My only thought was that I, and the woman who'd stopped to help, would really be the only two people in the world who would mourn this, if that's the right word for how you feel about a wild animal you can't help save. We'd encountered it, I'd carried it, and just like that, in one policeman's shot, it was over.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

55: Irreconcilable Differences

At some point, it becomes more about doing than waiting. Unmet needs have a way of sinking into the cracks between people, and freezing in the cold, and breaking the two even farther apart. Eventually, this becomes inevitable.

That’s what she said to me, anyway (or something like it), before she walked out the door.
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FFF-55 vol. XLII. Tell a story in exactly 55 words. Go see G-Man.

Friday, August 10, 2012

55: Rakoff Collage

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FFF55 Vol. XLI. Tell a story in exactly 55 words. Go see G-Man. A bit of nonsense constructed from thirteen titles associated with or by the late David Rakoff.

Farewell, David Rakoff

David Rakoff has died. He was 47. He had cancer.

This story, "What You Lookin' At?" (Act 3), was my introduction to David Rakoff. In it, David talks about a trip he takes to go climb a mountain. It's not really the content of the story, but the way he tells it so timidly, with such vulnerability, that instantly drew me into this man. Because most of the monologue is spent describing events other than those involving the actual mountain, this story is a self-exploration that anyone who's ever felt inadequate can identify with. It's beautifully written, and told quietly and intimately, as if he and the listener are the only two in the room. Eventually, he talks about being on the summit, having made it in spite of his own self image. He says, "the only one casting strange glances of disapproval my way is me," and marvels at the thought of himself as a man who climbs mountains. I identified with these sentiments so heartily I almost had to stop the car the first time I heard it, and still need a bit of privacy whenever I listen now.

When This American Life (TAL) put on a stage show ("What I Learned From Television") in Chicago in 2007, I happened to be in town. I saw David Sedaris and became enamored with Dan Savage. I admit this is when I truly fell for Sarah Vowell, despite my pre-existing fandom and all her stories I'd heard before. David Rakoff was in the lineup and had performed at other shows on the tour, but wasn't there that night, which was disappointing.

When TAL did their first broadcast event in 2009, "Return to the Scene of the Crime", my wife and I were there. For TAL's second and more recent broadcast event, just a couple months ago, I procrastinated and missed it, and not having kept up with David Rakoff, didn't know he was sick, and didn't realize this might be my last chance to see him perform. When I listened to the radio version, "Invisible Made Visible", David tells a story about losing the use of an arm due to his cancer treatment, and once again brought tears to my eyes with his expression of self-doubt, being threatened by self-defeat, and then ultimately standing to dance on the stage despite his dangling limb. The part of me that identified with David most, that embarrassed child afraid to show himself to the world, was glad to have been at home the night of the show, sure that I'd have burst into a moment of inconsolability while sitting in a theater full of people.

Years ago, I took a chance and emailed David to express my thanks for...well, everything of his I'd ever been exposed to. Although he'd never been portrayed in any capacity as anything but a quiet, humble man, I never expected a response. I'm not one for fan letters, and I'm always sure anything I ever have to say to anyone I admire will be taken with a grain of salt and responded to with a polite but impatient smile. David not only replied, but expressed great surprise and appreciation that I'd written him. For the life of me, I cannot find the email (God knows I didn't delete it), and this upsets me greatly, but it makes me infinitely happy that I could fill at least one small moment of this man's life, which he shared with me so readily and selflessly, with happiness.

Thank you so, so much, David Rakoff. Rest in peace, you will be greatly missed.

Update: Here is Ira Glass's tweet/TAL blog post on David's passing:

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Next Level

I want to be smarter.

I want to be able to not only do basic stock homework problems in multivariable calculus, but visualize the surfaces, the areas and volumes, the vectors and vector fields, and how they interact all at once. I want to understand and retain literature well enough to appreciate and behold the emotional and artistic history it represents. I want to be able to write and speak just the right word for exactly the feeling or thought or action or object I am thinking of. I want to be able to learn about the Mars lander, Curiosity, and truly wonder at its scientific and human potential. I want to be able to read Hugo and Flaubert in French, Chaucer in Middle English, Kafka in German, and ancient texts in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic. I want to understand brush strokes and color and perspective, and be able to make scenes and memory and thought come to life on canvas. I want to understand writings about the mathematical properties of classical music. I want to rise above the timid and limited and windowed understanding of every bit of knowledge I've ever been exposed to, and knit it all together in new and truly enlightened ways, and see the world the way the Masters view it, from their mountaintop. I want to really experience this world and this universe and this life.

This is what I wish. Were I to one day find my magic goldfish, I would not ask for money, power, property, influence, or lovers. These are all things anyone can have with enough hard work. I wouldn't ask for perfect, eternal health, or super powers, or special abilities. These are things nobody will ever have, and I believe there are good reasons that are placed beyond our comprehension on purpose. No--I would ask for understanding: time for and exposure to those endeavors that make humanity wonderful, the capacity to understand and retain the knowledge, and the mental dexterity to assimilate and apply it to something greater than myself. Were I to be bold on that day, I would also ask for some small measure of creativity, with which I would hope to make the world more livable for those around me. I would want to share this great gift in such a way as to bring hope and health to the diseased and disenfranchised.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Haiku: Talent

Oh, things I could do
(If only you would let me)
To give you pleasure!

Join the fun!