entry_103My iPod’s wee foam earbuds don’t fit perfectly: the left bud is snug, but the right is a touch too tight. And this isn’t because the appliance is imperfect. My earphones are symmetrical, but I am not. I remember a time when this realization would have been cause for profound concern, because symmetry was just about all I had to rely on when I was a child–it seemed dependable as few things were. But time has given me an appreciation for the misaligned, the uneven, the drifted.

When I was a tyke symmetry was one of my primary diagnostic tools. I might use it to check whether the lump in the left side of my neck was on the right side too. Finding the lump’s twin meant that I was fine–I’d merely discovered another organ or some such. But a single lump was not a good sign. It was a rogue thing acting of its own volition, but most importantly, something that might spell the very end of order. Order without is like an oasis in the desert, but order within is essential during the formative years.

At least that’s what I focused on. The signs of asymmetry were all there if I chose to see them: a brown streak in my right thumbnail that lasted for several years, a mysterious scar high on my forehead that I discovered only as my hairline receded, the snap of bones in my left foot as I walked. Not to mention the Millennium Falcon. And eventually there came a time when I no longer needed the symmetry of my youth, and found value in imperfection. I even entertained the thought of actively exploring asymmetry for a time. I thought: What if I lifted weights only on one side of my body, and allowed the other side–as much as possible–to wither to lankiness? That would be like having two bodies at the same time. Multiple personalities incarnate.

Asymmetry isn’t truly something you have to seek to find however, especially as time goes by. Things do drift, until eventually it’s all you can do to maintain cohesion of form over the course of a day. In fact, occasionally I’ll awaken in the middle of the night and feel an odd pressure in my teeth. Having slept with my head at a certain angle, they have drifted just enough that I can feel them pressing against each other like tectonic plates. Then, in the mirror the single stark light deepens the creases in my face, particularly around the one eye I’m squinting to protect from the glare.

Maybe persistence, as we age, is something that can only be maintained consciously. Maybe the lines deepen when we smile because that’s when we forget ourselves, if for a moment. Maybe we shift toward something eventual only in our sleep because that’s when we forget who we are entirely. Should we awaken too suddenly perhaps we’d find our body parts gone nomadic, scattered like puzzle pieces, eyes in our chests and fingers down our spines.

If symmetry requires so much effort then, isn’t it merely fashion? Because if that’s the case then I have to think that crabs and flounders and Alfred E. Neuman are right, and maybe we’re just not living up to our potentials.

Art of the Tell

You’re dispirited to hear someone repeating the story they just told you to someone else, particularly because they’re telling it exactly the same way. What you thought was a witty, off the cuff aside is actually part of a script designed to make storyteller seem insightful. You overhear storyteller’s second narration of their interior monologue, every nuance and stammer identical to its first telling, but this time the words are inescapably cloying and dead, like the dark spot of a tick head buried just beneath the skin.

You feel vaguely annoyed at this person, and disappointed that they’ve effectively killed the picture you’d painted in your head. After all, a story is a living thing, and gives one a glimpse of something, while a recital is just a faithful spew of words with neither foreplay nor afterlife.

“So the dealer tells us that we’re no longer a match for the car he’s selling, because we’re just talking about the money, and when it gets down to that then there’s no magic. And I pause, and I’m nodding. Then I point to the words painted on the glass and tell him, we’ll we’re in the finance office, you know? And usually that’s as good a place as any to start talking about money.”

You remember chuckling the first time you heard that, but now you feel like a discarded puppet, and none too unique as you overhear storyteller’s new audience laughing in exactly the same way.

“Then, believe it or not, he grabs his leg and apologizes. Sciatic nerve attack. He’s been having them off and on for a few weeks now. And I’m thinking, I should clutch my chest and start foaming at the mouth. Two can play that game, my friend.”

Puppets chuckle dutifully.

There is no grace here, and the human race drops a few pegs in your estimation. And for what? You think you’re going to enjoy a bit of burlesque but are instead witness to a third rate pole dance.

The art of telling a story must change when your audience is made up of small groups in close proximity. You must know what to leave out of a story – don’t allow your cleverness to make you giddy to the point where your blowing your bundle all at once. Don’t rehearse, don’t augment, and never ever repeat yourself.

And, taking my own advice, the next time I have to tell you this, dear reader, I’m going to do it with my fists.


Walking up the block a few days ago I spotted a discarded briefcase in the gutter. It was open, and its contents, though disheveled by breeze, were in fairly pristine order. I stopped for a moment to peer down at what I could only think of as corporate spoor. It looked like a salaryman had recently reached the conclusion that there was an alternative to life in a suit. Seeing a Euro-slim briefcase just lying there in the gravel gave me a sense of hope; to think I might find a power-tie strewn over a parking meter up ahead, and a thoroughly-heeled Palm Pilot lying shattered not far from that.

Lost in my reverie I peered at the exposed contents of the briefcase until I could feel my blood in my temples. Pulse. Pulse. Pulse. I didn’t want to move, ever.

When I see an abandoned pile of papers my first thought is: What if I had to survive on those papers? That is, what if I had no food save for this briefcase, with its printed PowerPoint deck, a mini-stapler, a spiral-bound notebook, and three legal pads? Could they provide enough sustenance to keep me alive for three weeks? That gray-brown exterior, was it treated leather or some kind of naugahyde? Could one survive on naugahyde alone? Could I savor briefcase-skin cuds as I hunted for more abandoned briefcases? Either way, I would save the legal pad cardboard backing for last. After three weeks it would taste virtually identical to juicy, juicy graham cracker.

Flight is one way to survive, but my own thoughts tend toward fight. Or rather: how to survive within the system. Salaryman made it out alive, perhaps, and would frolic in fields of clover, and would reproduce. But his young would be soft and round as grapes, and ill-prepared for business meetings. No, his line was as good as dead. You can lead a man to water, but you can’t take the water out of the man. Or teach him to fish. Kind of makes you feel powerless, doesn’t it?

Working within extreme limitations is the thought that obsesses me. Could I get a job if all I had at my disposal was a jar of tongue depressors? Maybe, if I could craft a da Vincian flying machine out of them, and rather than glue or fasteners, using friction and gravity alone for structural integrity. Or by forming harmful weapons out of them. “Trust me,” I would say to the balding white man frozen behind his desk. “I know we’ve just met, and I’m threatening your life, and you have to do as I say or risk evisceration. But just allow yourself to trust in me for eight hours and I know I can convince you that I’m right for this job.” Could I pull that off? Would they keep me on once I sheathed my amazing tongue depressor weapons?

Now it occurs to me that it’s not so farfetched. Am I not fighting constantly for survival? Everyone around me is convinced of something, far beyond the point of questioning or even reevaluating. They know what they know, especially about me, and it’s a safe little place to be, comfortable, and smelling vaguely of lemon zest or almonds. And who can blame them? All of my triumphs of survival are happening on the inside, while outside I am docile, and staring, and sometimes disengage to such an extent that I catch myself drooling. But that’s the warrior’s camouflage, because the truth is that I can unleash at any given moment. I can still be anyone if I want to, probably. Except I wouldn’t be caught dead carrying a briefcase.


I put the cookies on the counter and my friend reaches for her pocketbook, but I dismiss her with a wave. “No no, don’t worry about it, sw- I’m buying.”


Immediately the world dilates into a single sharp white question: What just came out of my mouth?

“You’re sure?” my friend asks. “Thanks, Scamper.”

The part of my mind that most resembles a drill sergeant wrests control away from me, and immediately I’m relegated to autopilot. His voice booms in my head: “Do you have any idea how close you just came to compromising the mission, soldier?” Indeed I do, and it’s getting to be a problem. Apparently there’s enough noise in the cafe to mask the fact that I just came this close to calling my friend “sweetie,” and as I mechanically pay the man at the register I scan my friend’s face with my robot eyes, running a full high-definition analysis of her muscle tension, temperature, and perspiration. I seem to have evaded humiliation this time.

Oh, but my predisposition toward such gaffes goes back a long way. I can still hear my entire third grade class spinning around to face me, like small flowers toward the sun. I had just made the fatal mistake of calling on the teacher for help, only instead of saying her name, my mouth had formed the reputation-shattering syllable, “Mom?” The laughter began, coming from one boy initially, but instantly spreading throughout the entire class. Their little lungs went into convulsions, and they were barely able to keep the snot from shooting from their noses as the teacher shushed them to no avail.

Clearly my term of endearment threshold has been compromised by the fact that there actually is a sweetie in my life, but I’ve been rendered vulnerable because some association has subsequently been made between that term and anyone I feel any degree of comfort around. It’s that degree I’m worried about.

And if this is a neurological disorder – something I’ve suspected more and more recently – then the cards are stacked against me. Sure I’ve lucked out this time, but there’s no telling what kind of damage I may wreak if this behavior is degenerative. What if I call my brother “puddin” by accident? The horror of it would scar us for life. And rightly so, for we are warriors, and affection – even a slip – is unseemly. I can just see myself using the 2nd person familiar with a gendarme when we tour Europe a few months hence. I’ll end up in jail – for life when I refer to the magistrate as “my sow in rut.”