I dug out an old can of house paint to do a little touch-up painting. I popped the top off and looked down into the can. When the paint fumes wafted up to my nose, the smell immediately took me back to when I painted the apartment almost four years ago. My anxieties shifted to those I had at the time, my mood changed, my posture adjusted itself. It was completely overwhelming for just that one moment. A second later, it had passed. It’s not that 1999 was a really exceptional time, but the sensation was so sudden and strong and also completely unexpected and fleeting.
I’ve dusted off two stories from my old Geocities site and dressed them up in Beans for Breakfast t-shirts and invited them to the Beans for Breakfast second birthday party: The Sound is a story about not getting enough sleep. The Corrrect Answer doesn’t strike as much of an impact as I remember, but I still like the title.
Before sitting down at Top Pot, I scanned the titles of the books that decorate the shelves near my table. A dirty gray volume with the title An Almanac For Moderns caught my eye. I pulled it down and looked through the first few pages. It was published in 1935, written by Donald Culross Peattie. The name “Richard G. Allen” was written on a bookplate pasted onto the inside front cover.
I looked through the book. Starting with the first day of the astrological calendar, there’s a page for every day of the year. There are twelve Lynd Ward illustrations scattered through the book, one for each star sign. For each day there’s a half-formed story, a short reflection on nature, or a “this day in history” anecdote.
I read a few random pages, then turned to the last page to read the essay for my birthday. I skipped back and read today’s essay. Then I flipped back a few pages, stopping where I saw some handwriting. There was an unpunctuated sentence penciled in so lightly that no impression had been made on the page – just a faint lead mark.
I skimmed through the rest of the book, looking for more handwritten notes. There were several words underlined or marked with question marks. A few paragraphs were marked off with a bracket in the inside margin. A handful of pages had an “x” or a checkmark at the top of the page. There were names written on the corner of some pages – “Norman”, “Mike Gates”, “Dad”. These notations were spread sparingly throughout the book – maybe one page in twenty was marked in some way. The line I’d found written under the November 22 essay was the only notation of more than two words. The essay on that page was short – ending halfway down the page. Handwritten right beneath the last line:
Today I went into the army
About three years ago I met a girl in a coffee shop. I think her name was Nicole. We had a few strange conversations over the next couple of months and that was it for awhile. Several months later she walked up to me at the same coffee shop and said, “Hi Kyle.”
I answered, “Hello, it’s Jeff actually.”
In the course of the confusing conversation that followed, she referred to an email she’d sent me. Though we’d traded email addresses, we’d never actually exchanged any email. Later I made the connection between “Kyle” and the never-received email. I fired off an email to her, explaining that she’d confused me with someone else, the subject line was “mistaken identity”.
She replied, saying that she’d gotten Kyle’s email, thinking it was from me, and at one point had even denied to Kyle that he’d ever written to her. (Wow. That sentence could be lifted from the chatter of a couple of high school girls.)
I wasn’t able to fall asleep until really late last night. I was woken up this morning by the sound of my neighbor sanding the moulding in the hallway outside. (We’re slowly repainting outside. I’ve meant to do my part, but after missing the first couple of painting parties, I’m out of the loop and haven’t been able to find a place to start. I’m a procrastinator.) I wasn’t able to get any more sleep through the grinding whine of the sander, so I ended up having a pretty rough and scattered day.
I was shit on by a bird again today. I had it coming, I guess – I chose to eat lunch outside at Ivar’s, where there are signs posted encouraging customers to feed an aggressive pack of seagulls. I had another near miss a few weeks ago, a bird hit my backpack that time. I think this only happens when I’m in a bad mood. It’s nature’s way of telling me to calm down. Okay, maybe not.
When I stopped at a bookstore earlier, the book I was looking for didn’t turn up. Though I didn’t feel like browsing, I forced myself to stay awhile longer and look through the new releases. I always have a tug of meaningless Catholic guilt when I go into a bookstore and don’t buy anything. I browsed the new releases absently, paranoid that my tired posture and heavy jacket were making me look like a shoplifter.
The fog obscuring the base of the Space Needle this morning reminded many long-time Seattlites of the early days of its construction. The Space Needle was built from the top down – the saucer and the top third of the base were suspended above the ground for several months in 1962, before construction of the legs of the structure were completed.
A little girl at the coffee shop today was wearing a sticker on the back of her hand – the little label from a banana bunch. Not Chiquita, it was another brand. In my day, if you were lucky enough to get a stickered banana, you would apply the sticker to your nose and say, “I’m a Banana Nose”. Alternately, if you were feeling generous, you could stick it to your brother’s or sister’s nose and point at him or her saying, “Banana Nose”.
Now that I think about it, I realize that, after Banana Nose had been used a couple of times, I may have been the only kid who found this behavior funny. My family might have just been humoring me the whole time.
I remember when it all came crashing down around us. I gave my overly sensitive little sister the Banana Nose treatment one morning. She’d either forgotten about Banana Noses, or she calculated that plenty of time had passed since the last use of The Banana Nose and decided she might be able to get some sympathy out of the situation. (At the time I probably didn’t considered the first theory.) So she went to our mom and complained, “Jeff called me a ‘banana nose’.” My mother mildly rebuked me, “That wasn’t very nice, Jeff.” I was both disappointed by their flagrant use of selective memory and surprised that someone might consider “Banana Nose” an insult. And that was it – the end of the days of the Banana Nose.
At around 5:00 today, there was a flurry of activity around Westlake Center. Not people – birds. There had to have been thousands of birds swarming between the buildings and trees, their bird-chatter louder than the sound of the rush hour traffic. For a moment, a group that took flight from the top of the Westin Hotel flew together in formation – the shape of a perfect arc, matching the curve of the cylindrical tower they’d taken off from. Then they scattered back into chaos.