I just wrote this, inspired by my favorite author, J.D. Salinger, who passed away yesterday.
During the summer, I'm usually the one left to look over my little sister Mimi. We live in a suburb outside of Los Angeles, in one of those new “community villages" you read about in the Real Estate section of the newspaper. Around here there are no summer camps, just malls in development, and people in cars. So Mimi and I just sort of walk around the neighborhood, looking for things to do. We would bike instead of walk, but I have a hurt ankle.
Mimi is a little canary bird, always singing these songs they teach kids in kindergarten, about Christopher Columbus, Native Americans, and California grey whales. I think she has just about every color of leggings: turquoise, maroon, lilac purple. My mom calls her “Mermaid,” which she loves, but she's my sister so I'm not about to give her any pet names. We get along pretty well...considering that she likes ponies and I like silent films and Architecture.
Mimi is the type of kid that is overly friendly. I say “overly,” because I think sometimes it rubs people the wrong way. She has this habit of walking right up to people and getting in their faces. Like the other day, we were outside the bagel shop, and there were these two men in suits, obviously having some kind of important business meeting. I say this not only because they were wearing suits, but also because they were intermittently making calls on their cell phones.
And so, they're going about their business, and Mimi just decides to walk right up to them, so close that she's really just a few inches away from their faces. She's really small and short, so when she does this, she's like this little creature below them, staring up at them with freakishly big eyes.
She then shouts “Hello!” loudly, into their faces, and I'm so embarrassed that I have walk a few paces away from the incident, pretending not to know her. The two men search around for her guardian with their eyes, but then carry on like Mimi isn't there. So, of course, she says again, “Hello!” this time so loudly that they can't help but lock eyes with her.
Well, they finally say “Hello” back, but quickly get up from their table, briefcases in hand, and leave the bagel shop. I think Mimi is the cause for their retreat. I decide that I can be her brother once again, and firmly take her hand, pulling her in the direction of home.
On most summer days, Mimi and I just walk along the sides of the roads, picking up sticks and trying not to get hit by cars. Seeing roadkill, as we often do, is usually a cause for excitement. Mimi is horrified and interested, at the same time. We make names for the dearly departed too, like Sir Stinkbert the Skunk, and Lady Nutmeg, a squirrel. Sometimes I imagine what being flattened by a car would feel like, and whether it would knead out my freckles.
I thought messing around by the side of the road was great fun until this past Saturday, I was hit by a car.
Mimi and I had just named a possum, Chester Uglybottoms, when this silver sports car came zooming towards us. I, of course, pulled Mimi out-of-the-way. But I was still in the road, and the car just didn't stop. My ten-year-old body flew up onto the windshield, and rolled back onto the ground. I don't actually remember much of the accident, except right after it happened, I remember hearing Mimi screaming.
The driver stopped, got out of his car, and walked over to where I was lying. One would think that I wouldn't wake up, at least not so quickly, but my eyelids slowly opened, and I saw the person who hit me.
A tiny man peered over me; he looked like some kind of sideshow character out of a David Lynch film. He had a comb-over hairdo and a bright facial complexion that made it look like he was wearing blush and lipstick. “Oh, dear,” I heard him whisper. He pulled out an embroidered handkerchief from his pocket and wiped a couple of sweat tears off his forehead. Mimi looked at the man, and then at me, whimpering. I could tell she didn't like the man, aside from the fact that he ran me over with his car.
A few phone calls were made by the man. Then he asked Mimi if she would like to make a phone call. I could see Mimi vehemently shaking her head. She was afraid of the strange-looking man and didn't want to have anything to do with him. I managed to say, “Mom. Call Mom,” and Mimi bravely took the phone from the man and dialed the only number she knew.
After the accident, Mom didn't want Mimi or I playing along the side of the road anymore. Our days of learning to pass the time in suburbia were not over, but a certain phase of both our lives was. Mimi was turning six next month, and my mom would then stop calling her “Mermaid.” I would stop claiming I had a hurt ankle whenever there was something I didn't believe I could do well. Mimi would become a little more cautious, not going up to random strangers in town and getting in their faces so much.
Sometimes I look at Mimi, and I see a little mermaid who is daydreaming about one day growing up. Other times I look at her, and see a little devil who is trying to get me into trouble with my mom. Still, Mimi and I remain close. I don't exactly show it all the time, but I do love her, even though she is beginning to put rhinestones on everything she owns.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
This is a short story I wrote in college to enter in a scholarship contest. "In Defense of Sloth" was the subject we were given.
A funeral eulogy is a belated plea for the defense delivered after the evidence is all in.
-Irvine S. Cobb
I am a squirrel and I move fast.
“Take it slow. Take it easy” was what Sloth always used to say. Sure, Sloth was lazy as hell. We all know that. He would rather starve than have to reach out and grab a leaf. In the end his laziness got the better of him.
I remember when I first noticed Sloth’s starving condition. I told him, “Hey Sloth, you don’t look so good today.” He looked skinny for a sloth, probably weighed in at no more than twenty pounds. I asked him, “You eating?” He told me “No.” No, he wasn’t eating.
Sloth was too busy to eat. You’re all laughing, and I know it sounds crazy. Sloth wasn’t active his entire lifetime, but he always seemed to have an explanation for all of his inactions. Either he was dreaming, meditating, or just finding images in the patterns and curves of tree bark, all of which made him too “busy” to climb trees with me, to look for food, or even to procreate. He was a strange creature to be sure, and I know many species were skeptical of his lifestyle, but one thing remains true: he was a great friend.
“Take it slow. Take it easy.” Sloth first presented me with this motto after I had my heart attack. The only time I’ve known Sloth to move anywhere from his tree was when he visited me in the hospital during recovery. When my wife reported to me that he had arrived--that he had actually dropped from his post on the tree and crawled over to see me, I was shocked and touched.
“Squirrel,” he said to me sluggishly, “What makes your little heart quiver so?” Sloth was sure that my neuroses, which physically manifested as quick, spastic motions, had been the cause of my heart attack. “I’m always afraid” I replied. “Of what?” he asked me, looking directly at me with his lazy eye. Peering into his calm albeit off-centered pupil, I realized and responded, “I don’t know, Sloth, I don’t know.”
I knew from then on that Sloth had changed my life with his simple wisdom, and by slowing down I would never be the same irrational, overanxious squirrel that I had previously been. I haven’t had any health problems since.
Sloth could stop the craziness of life to a grueling halt. He paused to observe life slowly and carefully. He appreciated nature to its minute details and had all the time in the world to enjoy nature’s vitality as it occurred around him. He gave himself to sleep because it was the best way to dream. And though his last sleep was forever, I know in my now normal-beating heart that he is having a most profound dream.
In defense of our dear friend, Sloth, whose slow existence influenced and intrigued countless creatures, and who saved my life, may he rest in eternal laziness.