It travels from hip to neck for my purposes. Your trips are usually sideways and delicate. Your nails need trimming to that exact level, and when they are you spell out the commonest and most meaningful of words as I lie here on this mattress on a floor in this sleepy neighborhood. You try to confuse me with foreign words when you feel playful, but my skin is smarter than me. Translation transmissions thru firing chemicals make the pretend deception just all the more recognizable.

You tell me stories of when your grandmother would scratch your back as a child. You say she hummed Greensleeves as she painted pictures of your life ahead on your small spine. You say that was the most you've ever known of love and that your life turned out just as she sketched.

Sketch me. Tell me how it will turn out.

When we are back to back at night, as is our custom, our spines are firing like a dog's dreaming legs. They don't understand and it's not in pictures, but signals are being sent back and forth. You know more about me each morning. I don't mind.

I dream about being bent and hobbled with my aching back in an arc of cane-aided pain. You're there, standing straight and smiling. I feel glad that it's you who will be able to tell me how it turned out when we meet again.

I wake up in a cold but peaceful sweat and twist my spine to roll over and watch the back of your neck for just a few seconds before the dream begins again.

He was only fifteen.

It didn't make any sense.

He stared at his handwriting. He glanced at the blackboard and then at his paper. The blackboard returned fire with contempt. He stuck to his guns. He glared.

The classroom was your classic square design, populated with a score of potentials and a singular authority. The desks were arranged in a donut shape so that everyone could face the center of the room and each other. (Some stupid pinko hippie design, an older teacher would remark.) It was English. Third period. 11:30 in the A.M. An inside joke held by the faculty.

It was one of those timed writing assignments. The topic was a phrase, several words, chalked neatly for everyone to see. Write whatever you wanted, she demanded. One page, no more than an hour.

Typically, he waited and the acquiescence of the room filled his mind with thoughts of nothing. The collective noise of scribbling pencils and pens on wooden desks was the preamble to his daydream of nothing.

He thought of a guitar, a two hundred dollar used piece purchased from someone at work, and he wished he knew how to play it like a heroin-induced Kurt Cobain. He thought of the day that lay ahead, six more periods of the same. He thought of the girl sitting across from him, eyes he so yearned would lie upon his. She had a great rack. He was tense and rigid and his sweat crept upon his neck just as fast as angst on a Friday afternoon. He saw a tick on his desk. He thought of that tick that somehow crawled into the building through human carriage, a lone ranger of nature. It would later latch onto his leg, but he would never notice. He thought of everything.

He thought of himself. His physical appearance. The apparition in the mirror. The lines that edged his face, his angry eyes, his stern and weathered look. He wondered if he could incorporate this into his writing. He thought of what he would look like in five years. In ten. Twenty. Premature thoughts of back pains and wooden canes. He thought of what his years meant and how these years meant nothing and that the future ahead meant everything. A blink of an eye, his father once diagnosed.

A half hour went by with only a paragraph written on his college-ruled paper. Metaphors, metaphors, metaphors. It was water under the bridge. It was the death of Shakespeare, lynched by hired actors. It was the dull blueness of the sky that matched the dull blueosity of the ocean. A puppy barked in German, a frog stayed green in New Mexico. Trolls lived under bridges. It was Christmas Eve and flaming bags of shit rained down from the heavens like the Second Coming of Christ, a chapter he felt should have been included in Revelations.

Fifteen minutes left.

The ultimate metaphor: the bridge. He would write a short story about this guy who worked at a supermarket and hated his job. He hated his boss. The burden he carried and his mundane life. He would constantly lust after this beautiful girl (with great tits, just like the girl sitting across from him!), but he would never get the girl because she would be dating this jerk jock, varsity clad and straight out of an eighties teen movie, and geeks like him never get the girl. He would routinely hit her and treat her like shit. He would linger like a two minute old fart until one fateful day when he would tire of his female friend's abuse and confront The Boyfriend. He would hit him and --

-- she would not approve! Instead, she would slap our hero plainly on the face (OMG WHY DID YOU HIT HIM?!@#) and walk away with Mister Jerk Assholing Jock Motherfucking Motherfucker. Nothing happens. Our hero would ride off into the sunset with wisdom and experience forever ingrained in his soul. He would cross this bridge and it would be symbolic of something. He would also quit his job, confirming a somewhat happy ending.

He would channel this into eight sloppily penciled paragraphs and he would get his 'A', baby. He would get his fucking 'A'.

Pencils down.

Two days later, he would receive his grade, an 'A' written in red with an encouraging "Good Work!" jotted on the side of two-day old loose leaf paper.

It was the shittiest thing he had ever written and he wished he was dead.

Those who know me know well my antipathy toward children. Well, perhaps antipathy is too strong a word; let's say that my opinion of most of them is not favorable. I think that in about 95% of the cases they are inconsiderate at best, and often downright mean, at least to each other. Apologists might admit this but claim that they behave so while being innocent of any malice, and it just takes some time to teach them how to get along in a civilized society. I dispute none of that, I just reiterate that I don't want to be around them until that's taken care of. I believe this to the degree that, at the age of 25 when I entered into a sexual relationship, I sat through the Are you sure you know what you're doing condescension ceremony that is the usually required prelude to having a vasectomy.

While I'm polite to people who insist on doing so, my friends know that I'm putting on a false face when I graciously review pictures of a coworker's new baby — or, God forbid, they actually bring the critters around — though I draw the line at actually oohing and ahing. I may or may not be comparable in this to W. C. Fields, though I have, on multiple occasions, happily performed dogsitting favors for friends; whether people might think this makes me a bit better, worse, or less consistent than M. Fields, I neither know nor care.

Politeness and the performance of familial duties led me to travel three thousand miles from sea to shining sea to visit my brother Gary and his wife Sally a couple of months after they returned from Bolivia with their two newly adopted children; Clara, one, and Sam, five. Some close friends through the years have insisted that I be "Uncle Clarence" to their children when they later have some, but this was the first time and it was the real thing. And the challenge this time was of a totally different degree than before, as I would have to keep my game face on for two weeks. At least I declined their offer to put me up in their house, opting for a motel instead.

So I'm spending a few hours of each day of my vacation at their house, playing with Sam, watching Clara roll over onto her back, which is about the extent of her activities given that she's in a half-body cast. I also spend time after dinner cleaning up the floor around Clara's high chair; she really enjoys throwing food. (Cuteness factor: 0)

I took a road trip for a few days, visting Mitzi in South Carolina. Along the way, I picked up some stuffed animals and a silly toy for the kids, as any uncle/aunt/doting grandparent is expected to do. The toy, of course, was neat for an hour and then got tossed into the corner and forgotten about.

A day or two before my departure, I'm out in the back yard with them. I've been giving Sam horseyback rides, and now he's off inspecting a bug or something. A little less hectically, I'm relaxing in down dog, palms on the ground, back straight, heels not quite making contact, and Clara is slowly pulling herself along the grass under me.

And it occurs to me that this isn't the worst thing in the world. I'm still resolute in my determination to have no children of my own, but I can take some pleasure in hoping that this little time I'm sharing with my niece and nephew are helping them along the path from untamed animal to welcome member of society. Perhaps we've both been changed in some small way.

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