My mind is wandering. I’m sitting down at Bauhaus, staring out the window at the traffic. A reflection shifts across the window and my eyes automatically refocus; so now I’m staring at the window instead of through it. I space out for another couple of moments. Then I begin to recollect my thoughts, and my brain registers what’s being reflected in the area of the window that I’ve been staring at. It’s cleavage. One of the women sitting a few feet away from me is lifting her shirt out to show her friend a tattoo. I jolt back to alertness, lower my gaze, and open up the book I’d been reading.
The name on the stubby-tailed dog’s tag is Dagwood. Dagwood is shy of the fluffier, one blue-eyed / one brown-eyed friend who’s been racing up and down the sidewalk, stopping short each time he reaches the curb. Dagwood hangs close to his owner, who is chatting with friends and intently rolling a cigarette. She looks at the dog nosing around her knee and holds the tobacco package open for him to sniff.
The other dog, the excited one, roams around bringing twigs back to his owner to play fetch with. The owner throws a twig and the dog catches it in mid air and eats it.
Dagwood’s left lip is curled out in a bulge, his mouth just kind of stuck that way after a yawn. He’s not bothered by this. It looks like he has a fat lip or like he’s sucking on a wad of chewing tobacco. One of the owner’s friends mimics the dog’s funny expression with her own lip, and the owner reaches across and smooths his lip down.
It was my grandpa’s birthday, probably his 89th or 90th. One of his gifts was a mug with his nickname printed across it. For a time in the twenties he had been a boxer, and for reasons that I’m not aware of, he fought under a pseudonym, Jeff. (I was named after him. I was named for a pseudonym.) His fighting name had been Jeff and that was the name on the mug. He looked the gift over and said, “Oh, a coffee mug.” Then he gestured toward me, “And it has his name on it.” I squirmed in my seat, uncomfortable about what I thought was a slip of senility. As I’m writing this, I realize that he was probably joking. It’s the same dry humor my brothers and I rely on.
Except for his sideburns, my grandpa’s hair was still dark at ninety years old. I thought he looked like the painting of Arthur H. Smith that hung in the main hallway of my elementary school. (Aside from the fact that my elementary school was named after him, I know nothing about Arthur H. Smith.) There was probably a time when I actually thought the man in the painting was my grandpa. Other students thought that the portrait of Arthur H. Smith looked like Harold, the man who tutored the other second grade class on their spelling words. When, for an assignment, we were asked to bring in family photos to share with the rest of the class, someone asked why Harold appeared in some of mine.
In high school I made a painting of my grandpa based on a photo from 1920, I think he would’ve been 27 or 28 that year. I took that painting with me when I moved to Seattle and have hung it on my wall through the various moves I’ve made since. It’s hanging above my desk right now. It wasn’t until I started writing this paragraph that I realized there must be a subconscious association between my painting and the painting from my elementary school burned into my subconscious brain.
Another tourist, I think Fiona said she was a German girl, was searching for a word. She asked Fiona, “What do you call the flowers that are yellow, and then they’re white, and they go ‘Poof!'”
After remembering the anecdote, Fiona picked a dandelion and blew away the dandelion fluff. To my confusion, this is what she did with it: She asked, “What time is it?” and blew a short puff of breath at the dandelion head. Then she said “One o’clock,” and blew again. And she alternated between blowing short bursts of breath at the dandelion and reciting the hours of the day, until all the seeds had been blown away. “Two o’clock.” Puff. “Three o’clock.” Puff. Etc.
A privileged glimpse at the English schoolyard dandelion ritual. The American dandelion ritual, or the one that was most common in my corner of Eastern Washington during the ’80s, involves making a wish and trying to blow away all the dandelion fluff in one breath. Maybe there are some regional variations, I don’t know.
I stopped handling dandelions when I was pretty young. Someone pointed out that each fragment of dandelion fuzz was a seed and that dandelions are classed as weeds. Blowing out a dandelion would be akin to planting a hundred weeds and I didn’t want that hanging over me head. (I was a bit neurotic and maybe a little sensitive about our lawn.)
I don’t remember what I ever wished for whenever I blew out a dandelion or a birthday cake. I always felt foolish making a wish, I could never think of something that warranted one.
[Correction 6/6/03: I misremembered. The anecdote at the beginning wasn’t Fiona’s, it was Tracy’s.]
The last shot I took with my old camera seems to be foreshadowing.
I got my new camera today and headed out to give it a test drive. Strangers everywhere were giving me advice – where I should go because I was obviously a tourist, what I should take a picture of. I must have seemed both confused and approachable.
One woman had an intermittent conversation with me over a two-block stretch of sidewalk. I was maneuvering around a number of people waiting at a corner – people waiting to cross or waiting for the bus. When I walked around a baby carriage, the mother spoke up, “I know what you’re thinking. He’s a little long to be in a carriage.”
I continued up the street, stopping every couple of minutes to take another photo. I was being a little shutter happy.
The woman strolled past while I was pointing my camera up at a flagpole. “I took photography in college too. But they didn’t give us digital cameras.”
“. . . Okay.”
I nodded a short acknowledgment when I passed by her again a few minutes later.
She was there when I stopped to fiddle with one of the camera settings. “There’s another sphere on the other side, just like the one you saw back there,” she told me, “It would make a nice shot – just like connecting the dots.”
A sphere? “Well, uh, . . . alright.”
She continued up the street.
Two helium-inflated balloons that someone has released: Each balloon trails a shimmering ribbon behind it. The balloons aren’t tied together, but they rise together. The wind blows them to the east, over Alaskan Way and then over the city. The green balloon moves steadily upward; and the red balloon keeps apace for a time, swaying back and forth beneath the first. The red balloon nods a few last circles around the green balloon’s tail, before the green one rises so that its ribbon is out of reach of the red. They continue their ascents separately.
A couple of photos in lieu of a larger gallery. I’m going to stop posting a regular Friday gallery in favor of posting photos with the usual text entries more often and irregularly posted galleries.
Every time someone gets up, he or she will shed a scrap of paper without noticing – maybe not every time he stands up, but definitely every time he stands up and “goes” somewhere. It’s a known fact. Going to the bathroom? Going outside? Going to the car? Going down the hall or across a bridge? Lose a piece of paper.
If you’re carrying your dirty dishes to the bus tub before leaving a cafe, a crumpled tissue will fall off your plate. As someone leaves his apartment building, he’ll reach into his pocket to feel for his keys one last time. When he pulls his hand back, now confident that he’ll be able to get back into the building later, a receipt will be freed from the pocket and will blow away into a corner of the entrance. Two friends who run into each other in the street and walk for awhile, arguing over a misunderstanding, will get to a street corner where one has to cross in one direction and the other has to cross in another. One friend will trip and drop his latte. He’ll bend over to pick it up (while the coffee leaks slowly out of the tiny sipper hole in the lid) and one of the extra sugar packets he’d taken from Starbucks will slip out of his shirt pocket and fall in the gutter. While waiting for the signal to change, the other friend will put his jacket on and a phone number will slip from a pocket and then away with the wind. If someone is going upstairs, she’ll drop a dollar on the landing. If she’s poor, she’ll only lose a dime. That’s the only exception to the rule.
If you noticed that you dropped a scrap of paper when you got up to go somewhere, then you must have dropped a second scrap that you didn’t see, because you never notice the dropped scrap of paper. If you don’t lose a scrap of paper when you get up, then you’re not really going anywhere, even if you think that you are.
There’s one barista who sometimes asks me what books I’ve been reading lately. Last time I asked him what he’d been reading, he said, “I haven’t reading very much fiction in a while,” in kind of a defensive tone. Today he was wearing a dark blue t-shirt with a picture of the galaxy on the front. There’s an arrow pointing out a point in the galaxy and the words, “You are here.” I had a shirt with exactly the same design when I was around eight or nine years old. I realized that it’s the type of shirt I would’ve considered buying up until pretty recently, except I would’ve dismissed it out of hand because I’d had the shirt when I was a kid.