A idea I've been kicking about in my head...maybe the beginning of
The day before she died, I think my grandmother tried to kill me.
Every night before I went to sleep she would tell me a story. And not
just the same few stories over and over. She would tell me a new
story every night. She would only retell a story if I asked. I
usually did. Her grey eyes would shine whenever I asked to hear one
again. Those eyes would also glint like a cold knife whenever I
became impatient and asked for two new stories in one night. I can't
recall how often she would scold, "How do you expect me to tell you a
new story when you haven't finished hearing the one I told you?" I
think she meant I should think about it for a while in case I was
missing the point.
It isn't unusual for me to come across one of grandmother's stories in
a book I would read or a movie I would see. But it happened much less
than I expected. I think she pulled a lot of those stories right out
of her own head and was trying to put them into mine for safe-keeping.
The last story she ever told me was the only one I think I'd ever
I was eleven years old. I was sprawled out on the floor at my
grandmother's feet. She was quiet for a long time, rocking slowly and
gazing out the living room window at the snow. "Douglas, I'm going to
tell you about God and the first animals."
"Oh, this one's about God?" I said. A lot of the stories were about
God. Often, God had a cool name like Vishnu, Zeus, Allah, or Ah
Kinchil. But that night it was just God.
She ignored me in the way she would when she knew I didn't need an
answer. She went on "The animals you see all around you today are not
the first animals. They are the second. I will tell you why."
She had my attention.
"God created the first animals gave them intelligence. Unlike the
animals of today, these had the ability to look at their own past to
learn from their mistakes. When they had learned from their past,
they could then better prepare themselves for whatever they might face
in their future." She turned those clear grey eyes on me as if she
expected me to speak. I looked up at her and remained silent. "This
was a great help to them at first. Sadly, there was an unforeseen
consequence. Unlike human beings, they were mere animals and had no
higher purpose. Whenever one of the animals contemplated too deeply
about their own purpose they would realize that they had none. With
the discovery of this knowledge, their hearts would break and they
died of utter despair." She looked down at me. "Imagine how it feels
to find out that, however hard you may try and whatever great deeds
you may accomplish, all amounts to nothing in the end. Not a single
As time went on, every kind of animal would ask realize this of
themselves. They all met the same fate. Except one.
One animal survived by never looking too far into the past or the
future. One animal avoided stumbling upon the one truth that could
completely destroy it. The animal accomplished this by creating
distraction upon distraction. So clever was this animal that it
invented distractions to distract itself from all the distractions,
lest the truth become too obvious." Grandmother paused to see if I
was confused. I didn't think I was.
"One favorite distraction was to try to look and act like human
beings. They were so very clever, in fact, that they became better at
apearing human the humans themselves." Her voice had been dropping
lower and lower as she said this. She leaned down towards me and
continued. Her voice was little over a whisper. "To this day, the
greater part of the people you see everyday are not God's Chosen.
They are the animals, pretending to be human in order to protect
themselves from the terrible knowledge; still preventing themselves
from questioning too deeply about their own natures."
Grandmother always told me that every story she told me was true. If
I told her I thought it was false she would tell me that I was looking
in the wrong place. Other than in her stories, Grandmother had never
lied to me. Not once. This was not lost on a boy who had been told
contradictory information from almost every other adult he met.
Grandmother was also unique because she would always tell me when she
didn't have an answer. At that moment in the story, I had a very
"Grandmother, how do I know you're not one of those animals pretending
to be human?"
Her eyes flashed again but her voice remained a whisper. "Foolish
child! The question you should be most concerned with is how do you
know that you are not one of these animals?" I stared up at her with
wide eyes. Through the large window behind her snow began to fall.
She held my gaze with her grey eyes that seemed sharp enough to cut
you open and see everything hiding inside you. I'll never forget her
eyes. My own eyes were large and brown and seemed to carry none of her
strength. My lower lip began to quiver and I felt my eyes stinging.
Grandmother smiled. She seemed very tired. "Go, young one. Go find
out. Keep your eyes open and try to see what you really are. Then,
if you die, you will know for certain. But if you live, then you will
understand what a life can truly be." She hugged me and I went
silently to bed.
Grandmother died the next morning just as the sun was coming up. In
my grief I buried all that I knew of her. The years passed and I was
no longer able to see my grandmother in the same delicate features
that my mother and I carry on in our own faces.
Until this morning, I had almost entirely forgotten Grandmother, her
last story, and the childish fear I had felt upon hearing her telling.
I was trying to shave by the dim light of a bare bulb. The mirror
itself hadn't been cleaned in a long time. I was halfway done and had
managed to cut myself only twice when I saw them. My grandmother's
steel grey eyes were staring fiercely at me through the grime on the
silvered glass. I yelped as I nicked myself again and threw the razor
into the sink. I grabbed a towel, scrubbed furiously and looked
again. I was wrong. Those were not my Grandmother's eyes in the
mirror. They were my eyes. Sometime between last call at the bar, my
stumble back to my apartment, and getting up for work this morning, my
brown eyes had become a stormy grey.
Now I'm late for work, Grandmother's final story is echoing in my
head, and I'm as afraid as I was the night before she died.
I finished shaving, got dressed, and jumped into my car. As I turned
the corner out of the narrow-laned parking garage, I ran the stop sign
and was nearly broadsided by a garbage truck. "Easy, Doug," I told
myself over the pounding of my heart, "Pay attention to what you're
doing or you're going to get yourself killed."
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Monday, April 04, 2005
I watch very little television. I average less than 20 minutes a day and I'm almost never the one that has turned it on. If it wasn't for National Public Radio, Google News, and Slashdot I probably would have no idea what was going on anywhere...ever.
I donated some money to NPR this week. Two times, actually. Once because they asked so nicely and the second time because the donation was going specifically to the blues programs I listen to on Sunday evenings.
I'm trying to sound cultured here to balance out what I'm about to confess.
I love the Charmin Bears.
The commercial where the animated family of bears dance around in an animated forest with animated Charmin toilet paper and then go behind a tree to do their animated business. I roared with approval the first time I saw it. "Go little bears! Hide your shame!"
The commercial works on so many level. Well, at least three. The bears using a tree as a make-shift toilet paper dispenser? Deliciously ironic.
Hm, I don't think I've ever used the words "deliciously" and "toilet paper" so close together before.
The commercial marks a brave new chapter in animated hygiene commercials. It dares to answer the age-old question: Does a bear shit in the woods? The answer, my friends, is yes. With Charmin toilet paper. As a family.