After Closing–a Haibun

Victoria C. Slotto, Author

Photo: findingtheperfectworld.blogspot.com Photo: findingtheperfectworld.blogspot.com

I sneak into the Pub after closing. The air still zings with the echoes of poets and their words. Energy pulsates. I touch words leftover, discarded in favor of others. I can’t let them lay there, rejected, so I scoop them up and slip them into my pocket, bulging now with promise.

It’s time to clean up, I know, but I’m in no hurry, so I slip into a booth in the back, light the candle and spread the words on the table, ignoring the scent of ale that still pervades the room. I realize I won’t be able to use them all tonight, but promise them I’ll keep them for another time.

Someone slips a key in the lock of the front door that I’d secured just minutes earlier, and flings it wide. Before I know it I hear a couple of voices, then three, then another…

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The Night We Stayed Up, Counting Lightning

Another summer day, another golden chapter in the story of stinging sunburns, chlorine, and fresh watermelon, comes to an end. As the grapefruit sun juices itself atop the sharpest peak of the Rocky Mountains, the beggar sky rushes forward to drink. The blood-orange manna rolls down its chin and then its neck, staining its blue skin brilliant shades of orange, pink, and yellow. Following the feast, the sky lapses into a deep, deep slumber. Except instead of sweet dreams, its sweet supper induces bitter nightmares- blurry, dense, tumultuous nightmares. The sky rolls over in its heavenly bed. Then it starts to snore.

Twenty-seven…twenty-eight…twenty-nine… Steven and I perch ourselves on the windowsill in our shared bedroom and count the number of lighting bolts exploding from the sky and collecting in the earth. Together we will spend the next 2 hours watching the sky and earth communicate. But you see, their conversation is a scholarly and thoughtful one, and sometimes several minutes pass before vocalization occurs. It makes no difference to us. We scrutinize the sky like the most meticulous detectives trying to unveil secrets tucked up under the clouds. Sherlock Holmes and Watson.

Our bedroom is on the upper level of the house. We live at 4304 Muirfield Drive. From our windowsill we can see for miles: the brown ocean of prairie; the Harley Davidson building at the edge of town (just this year it was blown over in a windstorm); and farther still, the silhouette of the rock giant, Pike’s Peak, named after Zebulon Pike, an American explorer of the late 18th century.

Our beds are both twin-size and have matching plaid comforters. Each bed has a hand-painted headboard with a tropical fish in the center. Similarly, the wall that the headboards rest upon is painted in shades of blue waves, with fish stickers glued to it. I used to lie on my bed and stare at the wall, finding faces in the shades of blue. They stared back at me, but it wasn’t creepy. It was home. Tonight, the faces sleep under the mask of the night, but the semi-frequent flashes of lightning startle them.

Thirty-five…thirty-six…

We had an aquarium once, with real fish. It was a freshwater. Fifteen gallon, high. Eight or nine fish. One frog. A couple of albino snails. It sat on a dresser against the wall opposite our beds, centered with the gap between them. I want to say that we loved it. But then I might be lying. Probably what happened is what usually happened with the “stuff” we had: it was novel and remarkable for a moment, but sooner or later lost its luster, and something else stole the spotlight of our fancies.

When we were younger and one of us had nightmares, instead of running to our mother and father, we would wake the other up, and slide our beds together to create a “super bed.” That way, we had the other nearby, as a sidekick, to battle the wretched dreams. Embarrassingly, I think I woke him up more often than he did me, even though I am the older by three years and three months. But that didn’t matter to us. There was never societal or hierarchal pressure for me to be a “big bad brother.” I didn’t have to appear tough when I was around Steven. When my girlfriend of two and a half years broke up with me last December, I cried into his arms for at least several minutes.

Forty-eight…forty-nine…

In the distance, the rain starts to fall; a grey, slanted smudge confirms this. It won’t be raining in Pueblo tonight. Storms often have this funny fear of Pueblo, and they circumvent the city as they tumble across the Midwest. When it does rain here, Steven and I race leaves in the little currents that develop alongside the curb. The first leaf to enter the gutter wins. When it does rain here, my siblings and I secretly pray for a hailstorm, while our parents pray for the cars and flowerbeds. When it hails, the four of us, Steven and I and our two older sisters, put bike helmets on our heads and run around outside in it. The sky loses its marbles and so do we.

Fifty-seven…fifty-eight…

Once during a hailstorm, I was parading around the yard with my helmet and swimsuit on, and a hailstone struck my big toe on my left foot and cracked the nail.

Fifty-nine…

Another flash illuminates the night. What terrible dreams plague the heavens tonight! In the distance, the prairie dogs are shaking with fear in their burrows: the jackrabbits, too. The birds departed as soon as the first drops splashed upon their wings. In their startled flight, did they shed any feathers?

Sixty-six…sixty-seven…

The feathers will be soaking wet by now.

Sixty-seven…

The frog died. All of the fish, save one, died, too. The albino snails lived, I think. Yes, they must have, but I cannot remember what we ended up doing with them after it was all over.

It was a Sunday. We had just gotten back home from a family trip. Don’t ask me where we were; I cannot recall. The tank desperately needed cleaning. Steven, my mother and I transferred the fish and the frog and the albino snails into a bucket of water and proceeded to clean the tank. But the obligation of Catholic mass interrupted the cleaning process. We left the fish and the frog and the albino snails in the bucket and went to mass. When we got back, all of the fish had jumped out of the bucket and onto the carpet. Later, we discovered the dead frog and began to ponder the unsolved mystery of its death. It was still in the bucket but for some unknown reason was floating, unresponsive. The bodies of the fish had gone limp and grey. We frantically scooped their slimy grey bodies up with our bare hands and put them back into the tank, where they promptly sank to the bottom, like silver coins in a wishing well. The irony was that these “coins” were both the means to the end and the desired end of our most pressing wish: live, live.

After half an hour, one had regained its color. It swam amongst the corpses of its former “tankmates” like nothing unusual had happened. Like it hadn’t just eclipsed the face of death and made it out alive. We buried the dead fish in the flowerbeds. Good fertilizer, my father said.

Seventy-one…seventy-two…

We left 4304 Muirfield Drive to a new home down the street when I was fourteen. I had spent the past eleven years of my life at 4304 Muirfield Drive. I had shared a room with Steven for that long, too. Our new house was three times larger than our old home. My new bedroom was more than twice the size of my old one, and I had it all to myself. But for the first few weeks after the move-in, Steven and I shared my queen-size bed. Our twin beds had been sold and our matching fish headboards were in storage. Steven didn’t have his own bed yet.

I remember one night Steven woke me up and claimed that something had bitten him. I rolled over in the darkness and turned on the lamp. Sure enough, red, inflamed abrasions stuck out of his shoulder. As if struck by a lightning bolt, we leapt from the bed and yanked off the sheets. A smashed scorpion lay in the exact spot I had been sleeping. Apparently, after stinging Steven, it had crawled across the bedspread toward me, but was smashed by me rolling onto my back in my sleep. Amazingly, there weren’t any marks on me. We awoke our parents, who treated the stings with some ointment, and sent us back to bed. Surely not to go back to sleep? I thought. And we sure as hell didn’t. For months afterward, both Steven and I checked, no, scrutinized our beds before sliding into them. I think he might still do that to this day.

It wasn’t home. It still isn’t. It is too big to feel homey. It is too new. I still have dreams of 4304 Muirfield Drive. I dream that I still live there. I dream that we still have Joey, our sugar glider, who after escaping his cage and defecating all over the house, was given to a neighbor whose cat ate him one night. But in my dreams he is alive and well and defecating healthily. I dream of the thirteen steps that lead into the basement and I dream of the wooden porch that gave me more than one nasty splinter. But mostly I dream of the bedroom I shared with Steven.

No, it will never be home. But now that I am away at college, I have learned something else, something more important. The location of home is irrelevant compared to the people of home. I lay in my twin-sized bed at night, with my roommate laying in his, and I imagine that it is not he, but Steven who shares the room with me.

Eighty-four…eighty-five…

We have a Play Station. We have a Game Cube. We have bikes and board games and action figures and toy cars. We have plenty of “stuff” to do tonight, but this evening calls for a change in pace. It calls for an acknowledgement and appreciation of the elements of the planet, and here we are, responding to the call. The lightning flashes. Ninety-seven… Our room progressively darkens and welcomes the shadows of the night, but neither of us dares to reach for the light switch, even though both of us are still a little bit afraid of the dark. Flash. Ninety-eight… At our young and tender age, we have already developed an appreciation for ambiance, and nothing is going to spoil this moment. This is home.

Ninety-nine…One-Hundred.

 

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Those Eyes

You are eating honey with chopsticks.

The honey is (of course) slipping off of them and

Landing on your Santa Claus face.

It crystalizes the bleach-white hairs in an amber-like fashion.

They are enveloped and suspended in the golden goo.

I tell you that you have honey in your beard.

You chuckle- your desert lips part to reveal

Three oasis teeth in a vast landscape of

Tongue and gums and space.

Your face folds on itself indefinitely.

It is a skin skyscraper.

You are pitifully old.

But your eyes, your

Eyes are the carnival.

They are rollercoasters and

Neon lights and summer nights and

Cotton candy. I envy those eyes.

 

I offer you a napkin.

 

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Slinkies, Spotify, and Steven

Well, I should be doing homework right now. Instead, I am listening to Spotify and playing with a green slinky that I got for free a few weeks ago. It says “Google” on it. It’s awesome. But the slinky is irrelevant. Right now I want to talk about my Spotify account and why it is so important to me.

I have been living away from home for over two months now. Although I have seen my family many times since I went away to college, I still miss them a lot.

Tonight I began streaming music on my Spotify account, and halfway through listening to The Killer’s “All These Things That I’ve Done” the music abruptly cut out. Across the top of the screen was a yellow banner that read, “Spotify has been paused because your account is being used somewhere else.” I smiled and resumed the music. This happens every now and then. My brother Steven and I share my Spotify account. The reason why is because it is a paid premium account that gives the user a lot of extra benefits. In short, Steven decided he wanted to mooch off of my account and, being the awesome big brother that I am, I let him. So both of us use the same account, but the catch is that Spotify doesn’t allow a single account to be used on more than one device at a time. When he tries to stream music at the same time I do, we both get cut off and the yellow banner appears. Shortly after Steven joined my account back in June, we agreed that since I am the one paying for the account, I get to keep streaming music when this issue arises.

My point is that while I used to get annoyed when Steven used my account at the same time I did, I don’t anymore. Since I see him a lot less frequently these days, I actually like when this happens from time to time. Along with texting, phone calls, and FaceTime, these “Spotify interruptions” are one of the little ways that I stay connected to him. Whenever the music cuts out and the yellow banner appears, I like to think about where Steven was when he tried to access my account and what song he was trying to listen to. Also, I love opening Spotify and seeing all of the new songs that Steven starred when I was away. I listen to all of them and leave them starred, even if they are awful. In a way, this shared account has become an interactive experience. I love it.

The Spaces Between My Footsteps

I clench a fist of lawn

But do not pull it out.

It sits smartly in my hand

While snugly in the earth.

Photosynthesis.

I can perform it, really, I can.

My skin drinks the photons

Of the sun

And in turn, my body laughs.

This is what it means to live.

I walk my shoelaces,

They drag behind me.

But my mind is back there with them

And my heart has germinated

And I want to get to where I am going

But at the same time

I want the spaces

Between my footsteps

To last forever.

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A Thought or Two About Myself

So a couple weeks ago I turned in my first college essay. The prompt was to simply answer the question: “Who Am I?” It proved to be pretty difficult for me to answer, which didn’t surprise me. I am not particularly an introspective person, and thinking about my identity and sense of purpose in the world, etc. required me to leave my comfort zone a bit. But, I did. And I wrote an essay. And I have decided to share it on my blog. So here it is.

A Thought or Two About Myself

            Life, for me, has always been a game of fitting into different roles. Who I am internally is pretty consistent. However, what I choose to show others changes constantly. I evaluate the situation, see where I fit in best, and adapt my personality accordingly. This may sound like a poor character trait to many people, but I disagree.

I think everyone partakes in “role playing” to a degree. For example, think about interviewing for a job. If you consider yourself outgoing and energetic, but then realize that your interviewers are very stern and mundane, you aren’t likely to be one hundred percent yourself during that interview, because you want to do well and you want the job. My point is that I do not think that showing different sides of oneself to different people is a bad thing. I think it is completely necessary if you want to succeed in life. Just because you love yourself just the way you are doesn’t mean everyone else does, too. You have to be willing to adapt.

Sociologist Erving Goffman developed an interesting theory about varying presentations of oneself. During his lifetime, he theorized that all people partake in “theatrical presentations” of themselves that can vary to a significant degree, depending on whom they are around. What Goffman came to conclude is that people have multi-faceted personalities, and choose with each encounter, which side or sides to reveal.

Now, I said above that I fit into whichever role I think needs to be filled. Well, that’s not entirely irrefutable. There are people who I can open up to a little more. These people, family and close friends, know a side of me that is closer to the “real deal.” But really, if you think about it, the only person who truly knows who we are is our self. Everyone else has to interpret what we decide to show.

I have always been loyal to those who I am closest. My mother describes me as a golden retriever: loyal, endearing, and eager to please. One of my strongest values is “family first,” which sounds obnoxiously cliché, but has rung true in my life for as long as I can remember. The family unit I grew up in is definitely responsible for who I am today, but not in the way one might think. My family has always pledged to love and respect all members, regardless of which “life path” he or she decides to choose. This accepting environment has allowed me to try new things and question my beliefs and upbringing, ultimately refining my sense of self. I am not a carbon copy of my parents.

I have always been a doer. My dad describes me as a beaver: hard working, goal-oriented, and productive. I remember deciding in the third grade that I would write my own book, and that same night, I cranked out twelve chapters! Granted these “chapters” were each half a page long and typed in 18-point font. My point is that I follow through. Usually. I say usually because I have learned over the years that I cannot do everything I want. Time has proven itself to be my worst enemy. I am always thinking of ways that I could be more efficient, could cram in a little extra into my schedule. But I am never satisfied. While I may be a beaver, I unfortunately am not a time lord.

However, when something deeply inspires me, I throw out all reservations and pursue it with alacritous passion. I embody this passion and make sure that whatever I do is authentic and exceptional. The most recent example of my “gung-ho” attitude was when I established a health and wellness club at my high school. Within the first month of school, the club initiated the district’s first school-wide recycling program, brought the anti-bullying organization, Rachel’s Challenge, to present to the student body, led a suicide prevention campaign that raised 500 dollars for the Pueblo Suicide Prevention Center, and attracted over 100 members. And that was only the beginning. When the spark of inspiration ignites within me, expect a wild fire.

I have always been a sensitive person, but when I was younger, it was actually pretty pathetic. I remember in second grade playing a game called “Around the World.” The premise of this game was to see how far you could make it around the classroom, competing against one other student at a time in answering a math question. The teacher held up a flash card with a simple multiplication problem and the student to shout out the correct answer first got to move to the next desk and challenge the next student. I remember being undefeated and utterly indefatigable. I was on a roll and had almost made it “around the world.” Eventually another student got the best of me, which was fine with me. But then the entire class started to cheer. I immediately felt singled out and humiliated. I still remember the color rising to my face as I buried it into my folded arms. The class was simply relieved to see a change in pace, but at the time, it crushed me. My insecurities and resultant oversensitivity followed me throughout much of my elementary school years.

Of course, as I grew older and matured, these instances stopped affecting me so drastically. However, I also believe that joining my first club swim team in the third grade helped progress this maturation. Swimming for Pueblo Swim Club was a full time commitment and our workouts were exceedingly rigorous. Even as a nine-year-old, I was pushed beyond my comfort zone and expected to keep up with the older swimmers. Joining the team marked the beginning of a decade of gasping for air and eating like a shipwreck survivor after practice. One instance of the “tough-love” my coaches showed me was when we were doing “pigs.” Pigs were when we went to the deep end and pushed off the bottom right against the wall, then pulled ourselves out of the water on the ledge until our arms were fully extended, dropped back down to the bottom of the pool, then repeated that process for a predetermined amount of time. At the end of the pigs, my coach was upset that we had snuck in half-second long conversations each time our bodies were out of the water. She said we were slacking off and made us re-do the pigs. What particularly affected me was when she turned to me and said,

“What’s the matter, Paul? Are your scrawny little arms too tired to do this over again?” Yes, swimming definitely toughened me up. However, I can still let little things bother me, even after all of these years. I am not made of stone. And frankly, I am glad that I’m not. Stone sinks in water.

One moral that I always abide by is to be inclusive and respectful to every person I meet. This has become far more than a “grin and bear it” mind frame. I believe that every single person I meet has value, has something valuable to share, and every single person deserves the benefit of the doubt. I like this way of thinking. It has truly contributed to my happiness. Of course, there is a line between being kind and respectful to everyone and being a pushover. Every day I learn, and every day I refine this moral and redraw the line with more precision.

As I stated at the beginning of this essay, what I choose to show other people can differ from who I truly am. This is not because I am “fake.” In fact, I believe it is the exact opposite reason. I have never felt comfortable being unreserved around people I don’t know very well. It feels phony. Instead I like to ease into things, relying on my method of inclusion and respect, and slowly revealing a bit more of myself as time goes on.

I’ve realized that college is a time for self-centeredness. I don’t mean this in a bad way.  College is the time for us to show the world who we are and what we have to offer and it is the time for us to declare our dreams and go out and use resources and make connections and make those dreams come true. And, I have realized that I am not comfortable with doing any of that. Instead, I am trying to see college as a time for building genuine friendships, not for the purposes of having connections in the future, but because the friendships are an attribute to my happiness. I do not see college as a time for me to show myself off. Instead, I want to make my college experience one filled with new ways of thinking and living, and I want to expand my realm of knowledge and experiences while I am here. And I can only hope that everything else will fall into place. Have I found any of these things yet? Who knows, it is still too early for me to tell. But I will continue on this path because it is the only one I know and so far, life has been pretty fantastic. That’s the way I operate and that is who I am.

Summer 2013

As I sit, slouched, in my cluttered kitchen while eating leftover Chinese food from a take-out box, I begin to reflect upon my summer vacation of 2013. You see, I’ve reached the point of my summer break that I like to call the “summer slums.” Now, the summer slums mark the portion of summer break where everything kind of settles down and everyone prepares for the new school year. The typical traits I possess during the summer slums include boredom, lethargy and an overall deflated mood (hence the word “slums”). The realization of the upcoming academic year begins to set in during the summer slums, and this year in particular I have been ever reluctant to face that realization. This is because in 7 days (ONE WEEK) I will leave my hometown and go to college.

Don’t get me wrong, I am very excited to attend college. But this summer has been absolutely perfect. It has been exactly what I envision the ideal summer break to be, summer slums and all. And I find myself growing increasingly attached to this in-between time of my life, where one chapter has just ended (high school, childhood), and another is about to start. I find myself extremely reluctant to say goodbye to the summer lifestyle.

And it’s always been this way, really. Ever since I can remember, I have been particularly fond of the summertime. Out of all my childhood memories, the ones made over the summer have a certain warmth and glow to them that can easily coax a smile from me. It is a detachment from reality, almost like a dream. Summer has always been, for me, a time of carefree jubilee. Yes, that rhymed and yes, it was completely necessary.

But let’s focus on this summer. How should I describe this summer? Simply labeling it as “perfect” like I did above is nondescript and fails to adequately portray these past months…. This summer has kind of been like the Chinese food I just finished eating!

Hear me out. The Chinese food was a chicken and noodle dish with lots of vegetables, and included pineapple and jalapeños. Each bite was a unique variation from the last: the sweet and spicy flavors continuously complementing each other. Due to the irregular shape of the take-out box, the food was unevenly heated from the microwave, so that one bite might have been refrigerator cold while another was scalding hot. These leftovers, seemingly uninteresting and mundane, are actually a spot-on metaphor for my fantastic summer!

This summer was a hodgepodge of family and friend fun, relaxation, and self improvement. There were  dozens of “sweet” moments such as reading a book or lazily lounging in the sun. Equally as frequent came the “spicy” events such as bike riding or hiking with friends, and taking a road trip with my family. And until now, there was never a moment when I wasn’t captivated, engrossed, and completely content with whatever it was I was doing. Ah, the euphoria!

But in all honesty, it all comes back to my friends. Without them, my summer would be nothing.

Here are some of the summer highlights I’ve had with my friends off the top of my head (be warned, most of these are situational memories meaning if you weren’t there, they don’t mean much to you, kind of like an inside joke):

  • renting and riding around on cruiser bikes in the rain
  • watching one of our own perform music outdoors for the public
  • having a barbecue
  • spending nights looking at the stars on top of a hill in a golf course
  • doing arts and crafts together
  • countless movie nights
  • sending our love to each other through not-so-secret house/car decorating
  • going out to a nice restaurant in nice dress clothes
  • completely drenching our nice dress clothes in a nice fountain
  • getting sno-cones at the River Walk
  • watching the movie premieres of both Despicable Me and The Conjuring
  • going to see Imagine Dragons at Red Rocks together
  • What Are the Odds?
  • eating homemade chicken tacos
  • attending a local musical
  • going night swimming with glow sticks in the pool then going to a hot tub instead
  • P-diddle
  • welcoming home a friend who had been gone for a month
  • helping out at a day camp
  • traveling to Denver to visit my friend’s sister for a night
  • playing telestrations
  • making homemade ice cream
  • “watching” Teen Wolf
  • going on originally innocent walks around town that quickly turned out to be us messing with everyone around us
  • free pie day (almost) every Wednesday at Village Inn
  • Liberty Point at night
  • scavenger hunts, including Chinese Fire Drills (although I missed this)
  • renaissance festival (and this, too)
  • eating homemade food made by a different person every time
  • having my belly button violated by just about every one in one night!
  • the morning after at Cracker Barrel
  • watching a meteor shower
  • laying with two of my best friends in the front of my yard and feeling so very happy
  • getting word of the day and (sometimes) sharing it with each other
  • And lastly, although I’m sure there are many more, one of the biggest “friendship” highlights of this summer were the little things. The moments of intimacy between friendships and the self disclosures and revelations which came about during the awkward silence following a movie or laying in the grass and looking at the stars. These little moments of colloquial conversation such as discussing our greatest fears or asking each other for advice on a dilemma truly molded the love and empathy I feel for each of my friends.

As the final week arrives, I hope that my case of the “summer slums” passes quickly so I can enjoy the last few days with the people I love the most. As each of my friends head their separate ways, I can only hope that they find that sweet and spicy balance to their lives away from home. I wish all the success and friendship to each of them at each of their respective universities, and lastly want to let them know how much, so much, I value their friendship in my life. I love each and every one of them. I used to think that having friends like the ones I do didn’t happen in real life. I look around and see so many people who have crummy friends or who are a crummy friend to someone else and I feel bad for those people. I really did luck out.

Here’s to you, summer 2013. You truly rocked my socks.

Peter’s Shadow: The Untold Truth

I have been beyond bored over the course of this nine hour drive from El Paso to Pueblo. I’ve been experiencing the type of boredom of which I’m sure we are all familiar; I begin one activity to keep myself entertained, but then quickly flutter to another and then another, unable to find prolonged interest in any of them.

But during this interminable span of minimal neuron activity, I have had a few decent moments of insight and/or realization. Right now I am going to share my revelation about Peter Pan!

When Peter Pan loses his shadow in the Disney cartoon (I’ve never read the book, but I’m going to pretend like he loses it then, too) he is trying to reattach it to himself because it is one of the few commonalities he shares with normal humans, and it is very important for him to have it in order to remind himself of his own mortality outside of Neverland.

Keeping his shadow attached to him is important, because his life in Neverland is so unreal. Think about it: Peter is a boy who decided to leave the normal world and live perpetually young in Neverland. He is surrounded by enchanted creatures that the real world deems “fictitious” and he can fly, all on his own, which is humanly impossible according to the laws of Physics. He clearly has many reasons to become detached from his old, mortal life, and really, from reality altogether. But he cannot avoid longing to preserve a bit of who he is, and one of the things he can identify as being exclusively him is his shadow. His shadow reminds him that yes, he still does exist. He can look at it and declare,

“Hey! There’s my shadow! Created by my opaque body blocking light rays! Evidence of a tangible object interacting with the universe! I must exist!”

My argument in short: without his shadow, Peter Pan cannot truly prove to himself that he still exists.

I am convinced that his quest to retrieve his shadow is more serious than the game of “cat-and-mouse” Disney made it out to be in the movie. Analyzing Peter’s character, I can confidently make this inference.

If somehow, the laws of science were broken and my shadow dissappeared (and I still existed), I wouldn’t be upset. If anything, I’d be happy because not having a shadow would mean I could never lose in shadow tag (or win either, I suppose)! I’m just kidding, but I don’t think it would be something I’d miss, or even notice at first. For Peter, it is much more. He keeps tabs on his shadow, because it serves as the bridge between fantasy and reality. He needs his shadow around to fulfill that sense of “self” we all are searching for as humans.

Okay, maybe that was a tad far-fetched…but hey, a nine hour drive will do that to you!

Why I’ll never be a Spanish speaking, musically accomplished ninja…

My Summer 2013 “To-do” List:

  • take a weekly martial arts class
  • learn to play the guitar
  • learn to play the ukulele
  • read every night
  • practice my Spanish
  • work out every single morning at 8 A.M.!
  • practice the piano and get good again
  • start a blog

Well, the summer is already half-way over and I have yet to take a single martial arts class. Or learn the guitar. Or the ukulele. Or go through those Spanish tapes. Or work out. Or wake up before 8 A.M. for that matter. Wait! I woke up, one time, at 6:45 to go to Water World! Oh! And I just started a blog, too! I’d call that making progress!

But on a serious note, I haven’t made much of a dent in this list. In fact, the only bullet I can kinda sorta cross off is “start a blog,” because here I am, blogging. So I guess that counts. Granted, this is my first post and I will most likely quit after a few of these. Then I’ll have to “uncross” it.

I always do this. And I’m sure I’m not alone. We all make plans to better ourselves or explore our interests in an attempt to broaden our realm of knowledge and/or capabilities. But then that pesky thing called reality gets in the way and we realize that we can’t do everything. Or maybe a more direct culprit is distraction. For me specifically, the biggest distraction right now is the app, “Candy Crush.”

My “ideal” life-style is a super-ultra structured one where I have a set routine every day and I stick with it and remain productive for my approximately 14 hours of attentiveness. For instance, in my ideal summer life-style I would wake up at 7:30 every morning and work out from 8 to 9 then eat breakfast and take a shower and be ready for the day by 10:30. Then I would do all of the things on my “Summer 2013 To-do List” for pre-determined time increments and go to sleep early enough to wake up at 7:30 again the next day and do it all over again! Doesn’t that sounds fantastic?!

Okay, maybe a life that extreme is not what I am desiring. But my point is that I wish I could just be a bit more productive and actually do the stuff I promised myself I would do this summer! Why is it so hard to manage my time during the time of the year when time is so plentiful?!

Who knows, maybe if I actually keep this blogging thing up, I’ll be inspired to try the other things on my “to-do” list, too!

Coincidentally, it looks as though I have a full set of lives again on Candy Crush! :D

Better get crushing!

The Tale of the Eno Hammock, the Limbless Tree, and the Cherry Pie

At CU-Boulder, during the warm months, Eno hammocks, suspended between two trees are a common sight. Students will read, sleep and study while cocooned in the durable, yet comfortable fabric of their Enos.

I bought mine on an impulse. It was one week before finals started, and the weather was really starting to warm up. I was studying Calculus with some friends outside one of the dorms surrounding Kittredge Lake. We quickly noticed a student “hammocking” across the lake in a vibrant orange Eno. He looked so serene under the shade of the trees as his hammock gently swayed back and forth. We all agreed that a hammock break sounded nice, but alas, none of us had one.

“Let’s go get one, right now,” my friend, Emily said.

“Right now?”

“Right now.”

Naturally, I spent a huge chunk of my remaining time at school in my green and blue double-sized Eno. I read, slept and studied (but mostly read and slept) in it, and quickly realized that this had become one of my top ways to kick back and relax.

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me and my Eno, under the cherry tree (you’ll learn about the cherry tree later)

The first thing I did when I moved back home (even before I unpacked my boxes (I actually still haven’t unpacked (oops))) was head to University Park, the park nearest my house, and search for two trees close enough to suspend my hammock between. I was quickly disappointed. No such pair of trees existed. There were so many pairs that were juuuust out of reach, and I was beginning to give up hope, when I realized that I didn’t need two trees to hang my hammock. All I needed was one good tree. And before long, I found it. Deep in the park, this tree had two branches jutting out at almost 90 degree angles from the trunk, and spaced perfectly far apart in a fashion so conducive to hammocking I figured it was fate.

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my hammock under the tree

And of course, it would be this tree. You see, this tree and me had a history (can’t read that without rapping it in my head). It had always been my favorite tree in the park, because it’s branches used to grow all the way to the ground, creating a hemisphere of leafy coverage. I had picnicked beneath it’s branches and taken several “artsy” photos of it, before all of its low-hanging branches were cleaved from it a few years back. Since then, I hadn’t visited it much, but now I’d found a new reason to start again.

I hammocked at that spot a few times before I left for South Africa. I considered bringing my hammock with me on my trip, but decided to leave it behind to conserve space in my suitcase. Toward the end of my month abroad, I was beginning to really miss home, and thoughts of family, my dogs, and hammocking under the tree filled my head. Within the first few days of returning home, I went back to the tree for what, unbeknownst to me at the time, turned out to be the last time I would hammock from it. I took my dog, Gracie, read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, then packed up and went home.

The next day I returned to the tree, only to discover that the two branches I used to support my hammock were gone: cut off cleanly at the trunk, with only sawdust remaining. Presumably, I was very distressed and spent several moments just staring at the tree. It looked so lopsided now :( This couldn’t have been a coincidence. Somebody cut these down because I was hammocking and they didn’t like it. I decided to investigate.

Naturally, I called Pueblo Parks and Recreation to inquire if somebody had complained about me and if maintenance then came to cut off the branches. As the phone rang, I kept constructing all the different scenarios that might possibly play out once the person at the other end picked up. You know what I’m talking about: when you expect conflict between another person, so you rehearse what you will tentatively say, and predict what the other person will say back and yada yada yada. Of course, I would start the conversation politely, but if things got out of hand, yeah, I was totally ready for a throw-down.

“Hello?” The man on the other end said.

“Hi, yes. My name is Paul Rastrelli and I live by University Park. I’m calling because one of the trees at the park I used to hang my hammock from had it’s branches cut off. I’m just wondering if somebody called you guys and complained and if you know anything about that.”

“Paul Rastrelli? This is John Gordon!”

As it turns out, one of the security officers at my high school whom I was close with also worked for Parks and Rec. After I explained in more detail my fondness of the tree and the suspicious correlation between my hammocking and the tree’s multiple amputations, John wanted to meet me at University Park and see the tree for himself. We met fifteen minutes later at the playground and proceeded to walk to the tree.

“You know,” John said, “hammocking is not allowed in the parks.”

“Really?” I asked. “Why not?” Even though I already knew the answer.

“Because the straps could damage the trees. But let me be honest: we have way bigger fish to fry than somebody hanging in a hammock.”

“Yeah, but I actually use towels to pad the straps,” I replied. “That’s what they have us do at CU-Boulder.”

As we neared the tree, John inspected it for a few moments, speculating that this was indeed the work of maintenance, due to the indication of a chainsaw. He pulled a radio out of his pocket and (no joke) radioed the “main tree guy” of all the parks in the city and asked him if there was any report of recent trimming of trees in University Park. The main tree guy replied with a negative.

“Well, I really don’t know who did this,” John said as we walked back to our cars. “Maybe somebody just forgot to report it at the office. But these cuts don’t look like they were made to benefit the tree. I’ll let you know if I hear anything.”

Well the mystery of who cut off the branches remained unsolved because John never got back to me. For days I mulled over what I knew. 1. The tree had the two branches I needed to hang my hammock cut off. 2. According to John, it looked like the work of maintenance because a chainsaw was used, but 3. The tree was harmed, not helped, by the amputations which points to a culprit other than maintenance. 4. I was not technically allowed to hammock in the park. It all seemed too incidental to be a coincidence. I was still convinced that the branches were cut off because of me. I thought of leaving a note on the tree asking whoever cut off the branches to “please call me at (insert my cell number here)”, but decided that all I would receive would be endless prank calls.

By now you might be wondering why the hell I still cared about figuring all this out. The tree was already limbless. That was an irrevocable fact. Why didn’t I just let it go? Well, first of all, I did end up letting it go, eventually. But I guess my answer would be that I wanted to chastise the person who cut off the branches. I envisioned myself acting as a diplomat for the trees in the park, preventing future senseless acts of violence against them, as ridiculous as that sounds. Also, I really wanted to have the last word in this whole ordeal.

Except none of that happened. As of now, I have yet to figure out who cut off the branches and whether or not I was the reason why they did. But I’ve stopped trying to figure it out because (here comes the silver lining): I found another tree!

It happened about a week after the incident. That day I was particularly missing my Eno and decided to return to the park and look once more for a suitable tree. The cherry tree I ended up finding is on the polar opposite side of the park of the first tree. At the time, it was covered with thousands of ripe sour cherries. It is the only tree I know of in the park that produces fruit. I now use two of its branches to hang my Eno, its shade to keep cool while I lounge, and (get this!) its cherries to make cherry pies! It turns out that the sour cherries are perfect for making a bomb cherry pie, and I’ve made two already!

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look at these little nuggets

My family has returned to the tree with me to collect more cherries to freeze for future use. Apparently the season for sour cherries is short because all of the remaining cherries are already starting to rot. And if you are concerned like I briefly was about this tree being cut down, the people who live near this tree don’t mind if I hammock there. I asked them and they said they couldn’t care less, and acted kind of weirded out that I was even asking them in the first place (if only they knew).

I guess the moral of this lengthly tale is that sometimes you just have to let the past go, because when one door closes, another opens. (Feel free to insert any other cheesy message here) But the weird thing is that my family has been visiting that park for 16 years, and until I found the cherry tree a few weeks ago, none of us knew it existed. So maybe a better theme would be: explore every corner of what you think you already know, because you never know what you might have overlooked.

Ladies and gentlemen, the cherry pie I made from scratch:

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showing my pie off to my friend, Kristina

 

-Paul