Thursday, June 12, 2014

Snails and Snake Oil: Solving the Problems of the World

There were a few hours earlier this week where I was really, really angry. Muttering, hissing, arm-waving angry. I wrote inflammatory things all over the inside of my head. Biting, bitter, well-placed words that would sting. Not like bees, but like jellyfish - that all over under your skin can't get it off you kind of sting. I took it out on the snails that keep eating my broccoli plants. Slimy vermin. I wasn't really angry at the snails, though. They are a mild annoyance. A challenge. But they suffered the brunt of my wrath. Whatever. They deserved it. They ate my plants.

I think I'm getting old. I emailed this to my sister this morning. "I think I'm getting old." The context had nothing to do with snails. It was a glorious hand-painted chiffon wrap with an owl in flight all across the back of it. She loves owls, but feared it was a little much for small-town Oregon. "There's a part of me that gets larger every day that says 'Screw it. Just wear that sucker out.'" I told her. "I'll be like the 90-year-old ladies that you see in purple velour and rhinestones and giant sunglasses," I said. This is how we talk to each other. She knows what I'm talking about. "Do it," she said. "I will, but not with this." I'm not overly fond of owls.

Did you know that the whole "wise old owl" thing is mostly based on looks? Those owly eyebrows and stuff? That actually, as far as bird intelligence goes, they are not that bright? Crows are much smarter. And pigeons. No one says "wise old pigeon" because pigeons are inherently silly looking. And "old crow" is not much used in a complimentary way. Imagine that. We make assumptions based on appearances that are categorically untrue. Who knew? I suppose some of those assumptions about owls come from that old Tootsie Pop commercial, too. Pshaw. The media doesn't influence opinion. Certainly not advertising. Don't be silly. Ah-one... ah-two-hoo... ah-three! The world may never know.

Here's something I know: You should never decide to do a whole mess of squats and lunges "to relax" the day before you coordinate, set up, serve, and clean up after a wedding. Bonus knowledge: You should definitely not wear three-inch heels while you do all that. Here's something else I know: If you are knuckleheaded enough to do that, you should most certainly have an army of gracious, generous friends to back you up.

A good friend called me last week. I haven't actually spoken to him in about 15 years. But we're Facebook friends, so we don't actually have to speak to each other. He's trying to sell me some magic oil that will cure my scoliosis so I can run a marathon. He also wanted to tell me that he owes me a ride on his Harley because of a pact we made when we were both young and restless. I had forgotten about the pact, but I'm glad he remembered. It made it all right that he's a huckster and snake oil salesman. I love all kinds of people.

I stood in my yard and stared at the weeds and laid all the people that I love end to end like dominoes, matching the little dots where they intersect. I ran out of room. They filled up all the space in my head and pushed it all out of bounds. I love rogues and Republicans, capitalists, communists, conspiracy theorists, and conservationists. I love misogynists and mystics. I love brats and boors and babies. I love complainers and champions. I even love someone who hates vampires. These are not abstracts. I could name at least one person that I love enough to help them move to fit each of these categories. And loads more. And it's not that tight-lipped, condescending, tolerant kind of love. It's the whole heart, jubilant, let me hug your neck kind of love. And they love me, with my bad decisions and my towering private rages and my scoliosis and snail genocide.

If I didn't love a snake oil salesman because I think he's full of crap, I would not have enjoyed the sweet reassurance of talking and laughing with an old friend as if we'd only spoken last week, rather than last millennium. If I couldn't get past the vampire hating thing, I would have had to set up 150 chairs all by myself. If I eschewed people who made me angry - really, really angry - I would be all alone. And then I would have to find a way to get rid of myself, too. I don't claim the wisdom of the pigeon. I don't really need to. Because screw it, I'm getting old and there was that whole squats and lunges incident last week to prove otherwise. I believe in a higher wisdom because I know what a knucklehead I am. That wisdom, much maligned, often mocked outright, says: "As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend."

For few hours earlier this week I was really, really angry. I was angry at this world that judges by appearances, that believes the hype, that mocks and maligns without a shred of understanding, that babbles and chatters and says nothing, that aggrandizes itself, excuses itself, entitles itself, and that makes me feel old. I killed some snails and I answered the phone and I laughed and I stared at my weeds and I laid all these people who hold my heart end to end and there was no end in sight. No end. The whole irritating mess of them all locked together with their intersecting parts. I couldn't find a one of them that I could spare. Not even one. And they are all part of this world, too.

I'm getting old, but I'd like to stay sharp. And, as anyone who has ever taken a field trip to a colonial village and watched the blacksmith can tell you: if you're gonna sharpen iron, sparks are gonna fly. I'm sorry you got caught in the crossfire, snails. You are beautiful, but you have got to stop eating my broccoli.