Let us pause, and appreciate “Airplane!”! Let us appreciate picking the wrong week! What else do we do? How else do we teach ourselves horrible gross painful great things, but by picking the wrong week for whatever?
Last night when the dogs careened inside after the day’s final adventure, Calimari performed some extra galumphing on the Project Room rug and I thought I saw… something. It was dark in the room and the thing itself was dark, just an oblong manifest smudge. I thought it could be a piece of wood, as Callie is a big fan of placing those carefully throughout the house. She’d dropped whatever it was and was dancing and leaping in joyful preparation for entering the living room, so I picked the smudge up. I tingled with visceral, primeval horror at how soft and wet it was. And hairy. I knew immediately that it was the biggest, grossest hairball Frances had ever expelled, and that Callie now had a taste for them, and life would be worse, forever. I held it gingerly between two fingers and hurried to the trash can in the kitchen, where the light also wasn’t on, but which received the glow of the still-bright dining room. I looked down at the hairball and almost expelled one myself, for this soft wet oblongity had a face. A face and small paws and oh God. I was on my way to that trash can and I just kept going, only faster now, and lifted the lid and flung it in. A mouse? A chipmunk? Once the lid shut I realized: what an inadvisable place for a small dead thing. But what are you going to do? I washed my hands and went to bed.
Seeing the little body for that infinite second, prone atop the rest of the trash before the lid floated down, really took me back. Back to…well, to the last time.
Here I will real-time pause to internet-check the legality of what I’m about to tell you.
Ok! Seems cool.
When I was in high school, I wrote for the school newspaper. I’m sure I wrote some blah blah normal articles about canned food drives or teachers getting awards or some nonsense, but what I really did was co-write the most ridiculous, fabulous, improbable column ever, with my friend Paul. I do not know how we even got away with this. We would just write whatever came into our fool heads–and while we respected each other’s fool heads very much, they were different enough that we would usually take turns, sometimes inter-column, sometimes intra-column, which contributed to the otherworldly battiness of our prose. Paul’s sense of the writing craft tended towards mildly disturbing call-outs of all our unexamined assumptions about the nature of reality, and mine involved sharing strange facts I’d unearthed (a cockroach without a head will die only of starvation; you can write a check on anything!), and what I can only call lifestyle tips, essentially the tip being “go ahead and have my taste, ok?” I recall one column recommending Braeburn apples, Madonna’s “Ray of Light” album, and bean-and-cheese burritos with rice, guacamole, and pico de gallo (all of which remain important favorites. Go ahead and have my taste, ok?).
Paul was, and is, very brave. Or he may just not be afraid of anything. But the nature of his reality was immediate and unfettered, and his ideas were always bonkers and great and alarming– the ideas themselves, and their ramrod finger pointing to my own fetteredness: I didn’t have ideas like his. One time, Paul got the idea for a hard-hitting investigative paparazzi adventure wherein we would look through the household trash of another member of the paper’s staff, a member we both found fascinating, inscrutable, and absurd, a budding celebrity for sure. He was also on Paul’s bus route, so we knew where he lived. (We attended a magnet school and we all lived insanely far away. We had to be on buses at 6 a.m. No wonder we were such little maniacs.)
We struck late at night, but not so late that no one could be awake to alert the authorities. I remember quietly lifting the lid of the big curbside can, undoing the weak little knot holding the top bag shut, and starting to paw inside, certain we’d be arrested or straightforwardly shot on sight.* That top bag seemed like it had been planted there for us by the “Entertainment Tonight” fairy–it was full of sentimentally-saved private things, like Valentine’s Day cards with scalloped edges, and old drawings. Total jackpot. I watched the darkened house in cold terror as we lifted the bag out of the bin and put it in the trunk. Our clunky clanging convinced me that it was all over and that someone righteous would be out momentarily to bring holy, deeply deserved wrath down upon us, but we made it into the car and crept to the end of the road, headlights off, before gliding away into the night with our loot.
We didn’t look at the haul until the next day after school, meaning the bag of garbage sat in one of our trunks for quite some time, which intrigues me now. We settled onto my front porch, sitting on the painted concrete, removing item after item from the black plastic bag for careful consideration. I remember a weighty guilt at peering into the lives of this family, though I don’t think we found out anything the slightest bit racy, sad, or even very secret. Except, perhaps, for when I put my hand in, and closed it around something different, not a piece of paper, and pulled out a dead rodent in full rigor mortis. I remember that I didn’t understand what it was until I could see it outside the bag, and then the motion of my emerging hand began to speed up as the white afternoon light hit, and then my movement transitioned into a shrieky fling, and the dead body landed several feet away.
I will say that when I juxtapose my reaction to last night’s small dead body with what happened when I was 16, I can see real progress. There on the porch with Paul, I shook and swooned and just could not deal. Dear, wise Paul was very supportive: he found a bag, fetched the animal, and buried it in my backyard. Sometime after the shrieking but before the burial, we naturally began to consider just what this ex-rodent was doing in our future celebrity’s family trash, anyway. We’d landed on it being a hamster, on what evidence I cannot now imagine, so we had to conclude that a family pet had died, and that this was the honor it received, the honor the family felt due. Put in the trash to be found by maniacs and flung about; my God. We were disappointed in them, and annoyed that we couldn’t ever in a zillion years just ask and find out for sure, because then we’d be admitting to what we’d done to discover it, and the future where we can google “illegal to look through trash?” and find out “no” in a blink did not yet exist, for better or for worse. In the end, what we did was publish our findings in our fabulous column. We gave the whole farce just a third of our space before moving onto to other affairs, and we framed it with delicate nonchalance, not telling a whole big story, just something like: “this month, we bring you selected contents of x’s trash.” I can picture the list, carefully constructed to obscure whether we’d actually gone through this poor young man’s trash or were just being obliquely funny:
- Several old Valentines
- Senior Gabe Saucedo [bolded, yes, as required by our style manual]
- A dead hamster
Just as I can still see last night’s ex-rodent, slick with doggy saliva, its awful tiny paws all curled up, I can see the one from 1996, right in the moment of its revelation, just before my disgust registered and traveled down my arm to loosen my grip, sending the small body into flight. Now, almost 20 years later and with more taxonomy under my belt, I’m pretty sure it was just a rat. Probably one that climbed, as we did, into the family’s trash, to see what might be there to suit its ratty little needs.
I am not sure though–you know? I believe our budding celebrity is still trying to bloom, and he’s endured enough from us, so unless I am directly and persuasively contacted by “Entertainment Tonight,” the full story will die with me and Paul. Slick with saliva, or surrounded by Valentines, or however we end up.
* A note upon the reposting of this: as I read this line now, I go, “ugh, that’s mighty white of me.” And I want to change it, but I’m going to leave it and write this note instead, because as I as a white person get about my necessary white folk work, I’m going to read things I wrote in the past and go UGH…and that’s part of what we are afraid of, we fragile whites, so…here look, it’s ok. You just read a thing you wrote, and go UGH, and keep at it.