The Zipper

Some people are indifferent about bugs. They don’t love them. They don’t hate them. Bugs are bugs. Oh, look…it’s a cricket on my shoulder! What an amazing little creature!

Not me.

A cricket lands on my shoulder, and I don’t even give it a chance to be identified. As I slap whatever it is far into the yard, I shudder and squirm while making a pitiful, crybaby-like face as if I just witnessed someone slowly chewing a mouthful of live worms.

I go through the same physical gyrations whenever I see a spider larger than a dime.  Especially if it’s within six inches of my face and closing fast, such as the time I was cursed with rotten luck while riding my lawn mower. I had been cutting the grass for about an hour—eyes down, focused on the pathway—when, by chance, I happened to look up, and spotted a zipper spider, known for the zipper-like design spun in the center of their webs. They are black and yellow, and make Death look more approachable. Websites will tell you zipper spiders can get up to 1.5 inches long. This is a lie. Their bodies alone are the size and volatility of a hand grenade, and legs like knitting needles.  Other unreliable sources will tell you the spiders are basically harmless, that they only deliver a bee-like sting. Another lie. Zipper spiders can devour goats, flocks of birds, and human heads in an hour. It is my personal belief that they can also hurl large stones over fifty feet.  It’s not a matter of whether or not you can escape their super glue-like webs, but rather how fast you can run.

I was all white knuckles on the mower as panic coursed through my brain. I took my foot off the accelerator, then began madly stomping the metal floor board where a small brake pedal was located…somewhere.  How many thousands of times had I stepped on that brake pedal without looking? And now, as I coasted closer to the spider, my size 13 shoe was failing me.

Six inches from nose-planting into arachnida vampirea, my foot finally found the brake pedal. I hit it hard, but that might not have been the best decision as the sudden change in direction lurched me forward…

*           *           *

Maybe this isn’t a story about my fear of spiders. Maybe it was never intended to be all about me. Maybe it’s about understanding and acceptance. Maybe that’s a stretch?

I don’t think so.

One more inch, and I would’ve touched the web. It would’ve been my end. The zipper spider would’ve consumed my head within the hour. But there was no chance as the miracle of the mower’s reverse pedal backed me safely away.

Twenty feet out, I stopped and shut off the engine. My heart pounding, I needed to cut the grass beneath the web and beyond. I had only one option…destroy the spider.

I went into the house and snatched a broom from the pantry. It’s always been my go-to weapon of destruction when dealing with domestic critters. I’ve shot many scorpions across the kitchen floor like they were hockey pucks. And spiders…oh, I’ve cleared countless pathways blocked by their annoying webs.

The spider hadn’t budged. It was positioned directly over its zipper webbing. Even standing six feet away, I felt extremely vulnerable. Ok, I might have exaggerated a little. So it didn’t eat goats or flocks of birds. So it really was about 1.5 inches in length. So what. It still had the ability to mess with my mind.

I turned with my left side facing the spider, then took a batter’s stance, holding the broom like a bat. Eye on the target. One mighty swing and I’d smash it out of the yard.  But then came the memory of my Little League baseball coach from decades ago. He was always reminding me of the basic fundamental tenets of the game. “Don’t just swing at any pitch,” he’d say. “Make sure it’s the right pitch.” How many times had I swung at pitches too high or too low and, in the process, struck out? How many times had I walked back to the dugout feeling dejected because I knew I had made a poor decision? Too many.

The zipper spider’s web—what an incredible architectural construction of innate ability. Despite how much I detest spiders, I could not deny its impressive geometrical design. The spider’s survival was dependent upon the strength and placement of its web, which had been spun between a vegetable garden’s fence post and a bush. Outside of violent weather and brush fires, the web’s integrity was vulnerable to one major threat: man.

Knees bent and feet slightly more than shoulder width apart, I settled into an athletic position. To generate the most power, I shifted my weight to the back leg. Like golf, the most effective swing comes from a relaxed grip, but the mere presence of the spider forced my hands to choke the broom.

Make sure it’s the right pitch. 

What could possibly be wrong with this pitch? I hated spiders, and this particular one was right in the strike zone. But in the moment of giving myself the green light to swing, I was interrupted by a moth that had carelessly flown into the web, and with no hope of escaping. There it would perish, destined to be a meal for one.

Sure enough, I watched the spider quickly react to the vibrations of its web, before spreading its legs over the moth and silencing it.

I found myself not favoring the spider’s predatory mastery, nor seeking to interfere and save the moth (how I would have accomplished that, I have no idea). I relaxed my grip on the broom and brought it down to my side.  Watching and accepting the scene as a whole, I let the spider be. Even though my annihilation of the spider could have been defined as “natural” since I am part of nature, I chose to isolate myself from such destruction, and admire the mechanical engineering required to stabilize the web. I was embarking on an understanding of just how mathematical spiders are. Their innate knowledge of trigonometry in relation to angular tensions is unmatched within the animal kingdom.  As much as I hated this spider, I decided not to swat it to smithereens, but basically gave it freedom to move about my yard. For a moment—well, several moments—I wondered if I had simply lost my mind.

*        *        *

Some people are indifferent about bugs. They don’t love them. They don’t hate them. Bugs are bugs. Oh, look…it’s a cricket on my shoulder!  What an amazing little creature!

 Yep, that’s me.

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2017

A Matter Of Taste

I need to say a few words to the breakfast cereal companies of this country…

Part of me wants to take a baseball bat to your knees, drag you helplessly into a bowl of spoiled milk, and then watch you drown in soggy misery—all for insulting my intelligence.

But since that might come across as a bit harsh, perhaps I’ll just settle for asking you one question: Really?

I mean, really…must your cereal boxes inform me that the cereal in the photograph has been “Enlarged to show texture”?  Do you think I’m going to file some sort of class-action lawsuit for false representation of the true-to-life smaller size cereal inside the box? And why print the disclaimer with a font whose letters are no bigger than dust mites? If you want to say it, then say it…”ATTENTION CONSUMERS!!! THE CEREAL FLAKES IN THIS PHOTOGRAPH ARE FIFTY TIMES THEIR ORIGINAL SIZE.  OUR ONLY INTENTION IS TO SHOW TEXTURE.  WE DEBATED MAKING IT LARGER, BUT THAT WOULD’VE MADE THE FLAKES LOOK LIKE COW PATTIES…AND ANYTHING RESEMBLING DRIED POOP WOULD CERTAINLY GET US IN DEEP DOO-DOO.”

If they’re not showing texture, then it’s “detail.”  And if neither of those suits their liking, then companies like organic-conscious Kashi have taken their disclaimer not just a step further, but in an obscure direction. In fact, it’s hard to discern whether they’re serious about their word choice or are just flat out playing with us…

Extremely hungry, I was shoveling in spoonfuls of Kashi’s Cinnamon Harvest.  I repeatedly plunged my spoon into my bowl at such a voracious pace, I nearly bypassed the chewing phase and went straight to swallowing.  Slurping the milk. Smacking my lips. I can eat with the best of toddlers. And then, staring at the cereal box, I saw it: Kashi’s disclaimer…”Enlarged to show taste.”

Taste?

Since when can you see taste? That’s like biting into an apple and saying, “Boy, this sounds red.”  Just doesn’t make sense. I truly appreciate Kashi’s attempt to wrap my brain around the unthinkable, but entering any kind of fourth dimensional thinking goes way beyond the simplicity I prefer when looking at a cereal box.  When I try to comprehend a picture showing taste, all I can manage is a monstrous migraine headache.  Multiply my pain and suffering times…let’s say…one million people who eat Kashi cereals, and you’re not only looking at pharmacies that can’t keep up with the demand for headache drugs, but a class-action lawsuit demanding justice served through compensation.  Personally, I don’t think Kashi’s disclaimer has a prayer in a court of law.

But Kashi is not the company I’d have my crosshairs on.  It’d be Kellogg’s.  That’s right, the mother of all breakfast cereal companies. I, of course, would elect to represent myself.  After all, I know cereal.  It’s been the staple food for my entire life. At any time of the day, I can engulf a bowl of cereal like taking in a nice breath of fresh air.  Move aside you unqualified attorneys…I got this!…

 

Supreme Court of the United States

Ros Hill v. Kellogg’s

(Official transcript)

Elena Kagan, Associate Justice, presiding

 

Justice Kagan: “Mr. Hill, you are representing yourself in the case, is this not true?”

Me: “Trick question, your Honor?”

JK: “Mr. Hill do you know where you are?”

Me: “Thirty feet from you? Thirty-five? Your Honor, I’m not trying to be funny, but just answering the question.  I could’ve said third rock from the sun and that, too, would’ve been a correct answer.”

JK: “Mr. Hill, it’s now going on thirty seconds into this hearing, and you already have two strikes against you.  One more strike and I shall have you escorted out for contempt of court.  Am I being clear, Mr. Hill?”

Me: “Yes, ma’am—I mean, your Honor! Sorry, sorry, sorry! Please don’t strike me on that one.  An honest mistake, your Honor.”

JK: “Let us begin…Mr. Hill, I see that you are suing the Kellogg’s Corporation for the amount of $329 million for ‘bafflingly fraudulent advertising’ showing taste.  Bafflingly? Is that even a word?   Mr. Hill, I must ask you…Is this a typo in what I’m reading? Just how can you show taste? And how did you ever come up with that highly exorbitant amount?”

Me: “Good questions, your Honor.  $329 million is derived from my birthday…March 29. I figure if you’re gonna get a gift, then make it a birthday gift!  Moving on…Kellogg’s has a subsidiary company called Kashi, and on the front of the box of Cinnamon Harvest it states: ‘Enlarged to show taste.’ And I’m like, enlarged to show taste? Like what the F? I mean, like really?  Your Honor, I sense we’re on the same page here.  Quite a bafflingly mess, isn’t it?”

JK: “Mr. Hill, I need to say something.  And I’ll be blunt. Just how the hell did this case make it to the Supreme Court?”

Me: “Your Honor, I’ll be happy to answer that, but first I must ask one thing:  are you allowed to say ‘hell’ in court?  Cuz I almost dropped the F bomb a minute ago. And I’m thinkin’, if you can say hell, then I can maybe get away with f—.”

The last thing I remember was Justice Kagan putting three fingers in the air, just before some burly Marine-like dude put me in a choke hold and dragged me out of the room.   I wasn’t sure if the applause was for my great oratory or my strike-out at home plate.  I can only presume the former.

Miraculously, justice did prevail.  Well, sort of.

Though Justice Kagan denied my request of monetary compensation, she did acknowledge and reward my pain and suffering in her Opinion:

“It is with a strange unfolding of my Opinion regarding Ros Hill v. Kellogg’s that I have found an unfortunate understanding for a need to compensate Mr. Hill.  I say unfortunate, because I plain just don’t like the guy.  However, Justice never favors on the merits of likes or dislikes of personality.  Mr. Hill not-so-eloquently stated that ‘a million other poor souls whose minds are bent and harmed from trying to figure out Kashi’s fourth dimensional brain-fart, taste-enigma” should receive equal distribution for the amount of $329 million. I have denied that request.  However, as difficult as this is for me to say, I must agree that Kashi’s taste disclaimer is…god forgive me here…bafflingly bizarre.  It is with sound mind that I do hereby order Kellogg’s to compensate Mr. Hill’s mental anguish with 329 boxes of Cinnamon Harvest, all to have the exclusive disclaimer that will say: ‘Enlarged because it is.’  Happy Birthday, Mr. Hill. This case is over!”

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2017

Expect The Unexpected

Whenever we ran by Jupiter, we had no choice but to pick up our pace.  After all, Jupiter’s gravity was never to be taken lightly.  And when your running partner was Moe Johnson, well…all you really cared about was self-preservation.  In fact, if the forces of Jupiter’s gravity were to somehow sneak up on Moe and annihilate him, then so be it.  Sure, an unfortunate ending for Moe, but at least you got your ten-mile run in.

Let’s rewind the scene if I may…

Fulton Ranch Road, just on the outskirts of San Marcos.  Moe and I had decided to do a long out-and-back run on a road that was entirely caliche. There were no fences, just rugged countryside where longhorn cattle roamed.  Jupiter was the largest steer on the ranch. He was massive with a horn span that could easily skewer Moe from head to toe.  One quick, swift flick of the head, and Jupiter could send Moe sailing into the air like a rag doll.

It reminds me of the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey when early man discovers tools, and with tools he discovers power.  The scene transitions into the future of the space odyssey as early man, in his discovery of using a bone as a weapon, throws the bone high up into the air.  In slow-motion, we watch the bone flip end-over-end up into space.  That trajectory—that endless flight of bone—is how I perceived Moe would have travelled, had Jupiter had his way with him.  And there I would stand, looking upwards, thinking, Wow, look at you Moe!  Not only are you in the movies, but you’re headed into the future! Farewell, my friend!

Of course, Moe never did make it into the movies nor did he ever travel into the future.  But he did take flight, thanks to all sixteen-hundred pounds of Jupiter who had decided to charge him. The memory of Moe is still quite clear as I watched him evade Jupiter’s attempted manslaughter, and sail over a large cactus. In his moment of airborne grace, he flew with the look of confidence, as if exclaiming to the world, “I GOT THIS!!!”

If you’re curious where I was this entire time…well, I was a few strides ahead of Moe, having foreseen this inevitable moment, and sped off the caliche road to hide like a coward behind a large stone water trough.  I would have fought off Jupiter, but elected not to as I was quite familiar with Moe’s powerlifting records.  Besides, he was older and wiser than I, and it would have been premature of me to suggest any plan of escape other than whatever Moe already had in mind.

And then he hit dirt—hands and knees first, like four twenty-pound kettle bells simultaneously thudding to the earth.  You would have thought from the sound of his fall that Moe was just going to park his body right there and surrender his fate to Jupiter. But giving up was not an option. Moe had grown up on hockey rinks and had basically lived out of weight rooms. If he wasn’t living in a state of pushing his limits, then by his standards, he wasn’t living at all. One hard crash to the earth was nothing more than a paper cut to Moe. Adrenalized, he was up and running towards my cowardly hiding place in no time. “Can you believe Jupiter!?” he shouted, short of breath. “He tried to kill me!”

And there Jupiter stood on the far side of the cactus, staring at us as he swung his head back and forth in disgust. And there we stood, looking at each other, our heads swinging back and forth as well, and wondering, Now what?

*                    *                    *

We plan our runs. We know where we’re going. We know our pace. We know if the route will be hilly or flat, long or short. We know that if our hamstrings are sore, we’d better monitor them a little more closely than usual. We know if our legs feel heavy or fresh. We know a lot going into a run.

But what we don’t know are the unexpected moments that lie ahead. The unforeseen encounters. No different than everyday life, that’s true. But running has a way of heightening our awareness. A way of seeing the world with a bit more clarity. Whether it’s contemplating a thought or seeing something out of the ordinary, when we run our focus becomes sharper. We are, without a doubt, in tune with our surroundings.

I once ran alongside a butterfly that stayed even with me for nearly 200 meters.  In its bouncy, erratic flight, it held my pace three feet apart from me. Everything—I mean everything became secondary. Even the fact that I was running seemed to blur.  I once had a similar experience with a deer that ran parallel with me for over a quarter of a mile before disappearing into the woods.  It was truly as if it knew we were moving together—as if some sort of communication was transpiring.  I could not ignore the magic of that moment.  Unable to write it off as mere coincidence, I soaked up every second we shared between us, and acknowledged the deer as a momentary gift of the uncommon. But an insect?  Was it even possible that the butterfly was acting upon some form of a thought, or a recognition that I wasn’t a threat? Was it possible that amongst all of its natural innate instincts, that something as miraculous as a chemistry between us was at hand?  Or was it just pure luck that I got to run, undisturbed, with a butterfly for an eighth of a mile?  Either way I looked at it, one thing was for certain: running had amplified an experience that gave a whole new meaning to the term, “the butterfly effect.”

*                    *                    *

But not all unexpected moments while running are uplifting. Some stop you in your tracks and wrench the emotions straight out of you. These are the moments when you wished you had taken a different route. When it would have been better to have woken up with a slight fever to keep you in bed for the day. But run you did, and the events leading up to that unexpected moment could never be reversed…

Everything was fine as I ran on the sidewalk along 15th Street in Austin. It was a typical busy Friday afternoon with traffic having arrived in full force. The term “rush hour” seemed a slight understatement.  Perhaps “mad rush hour” was more apropos.  I had just crested a hill when I heard the screech of tires, and a sharp, loud cry of a dog.  No…no, no, no. Don’t look. Don’t get involved in this. Just keep running. This is someone else’s business. There is nothing here for you. But I did look, and that was the moment I immersed myself in the unexpected and unfortunate scene.

The driver who had hit the dog failed to stop, and continued on, leaving behind a line of cars that crept by with curiosity.  I ran out into the street and knelt before the dog. It was a mutt—a male, maybe 15 pounds with brown shaggy hair. His eyes were closed as his head lay in a small puddle of blood. I picked him up, and set him on a patch of grass where I checked for signs of life, but his life was gone. He had a collar with a license tag.  I didn’t know his name. I didn’t know where he lived.  I didn’t know what to do, except let the sadness overcome me and honor his presence with my sudden grief.  He was somebody’s companion.  He had gotten loose, and this was his last day.  A car pulled up next to me and stopped by the curb.  It was a couple in their twenties.  The girl was in the passenger seat, her window rolled down, and her eyes red from crying.

“Oh my god,” she sobbed, “Is that your dog?”

“No,” I said, “I was on a run just now when he got hit.”

“This is so sad. Is there anything we can do?”

“Could you take him to the nearest vet clinic? Maybe they could find out who the owner is.”

“Certainly,” she said, “We can do that.”

Her boyfriend got out of the car and opened up the trunk, where there were some old blankets.  Before we wrapped the dog up and gently set him inside, I petted him several times before telling him goodbye. It was the first and last time I would ever see the dog.

Life is fragile.  It can snap in an instant.  It can be taken from you when you least expect it.  I ran in mourning for three miles back to my apartment. I couldn’t shake the thought of the owners who would eventually receive the phone call.  To this day, over thirty years later, whenever I run in Austin, the memory of that dog always finds me. I didn’t want to get involved with its death.  I wanted to stay clear and move forward.  But once the couple drove away, I remember feeling like I had done the right thing—that instead of ignoring or abandoning him, I had taken care of the dog right after his final parting moment.  It was the least that I could do. After all, he was somebody’s best friend.

*                    *                    *

Unexpected surprises while running can not only awaken you to your surroundings, but can stir a sense of discovery within yourself.

Years ago I once finished a run at Sewell Park on a quiet Sunday morning. I was going to take a post-run dip in the river when I noticed a teenage boy shooting a basketball at the outdoor court. It had been years since I had touched a basketball, let alone shoot one.  Though I played the game for most of my life up to age 20, there came a point where distance running became my fitness addiction.  But on that Sunday morning, something in me said, “Shoot the ball.”

I walked over to the boy and asked if he wouldn’t mind if I shot a few.  He passed me the ball and pointed to the rim.

Running had consumed me.  I was training for the Houston Marathon, logging up to 80 miles a week.  Weight lifting, swimming, biking—any form of cross-training was non-existent.  I was 6’4” and weighed 165 pounds.  Friends said I was too thin, that I looked weak.  I dismissed their comments as ridiculous.

Standing just inside the 3-point line, I spun the ball backwards in the air and let it ricochet off the court, before bouncing back to me.  As I held it loosely, I could tell that the rhythm of the game hadn’t left me.  But as I looked at the basket and prepared to shoot, an unexpected thought occurred:  Damn, that basket looks far away.

The instant the ball left my hands, was the instant I changed my life.  There was no denying what I had just felt—the shocking discovery of the absence of strength.  All my friends were right…my shoulders were bony, my arms were rails, and I was unable to shoot a basketball three-quarters of the way to the rim.  It was more than an awareness of my weakened condition.  It was an outright disaster.

One shot was all it took.  I turned my back to the boy, and walked away.  I must have done 200 push-ups later that day.  From that point on, my entire outlook changed regarding overall fitness. And I must say, I owe it all to that basketball.  Funny how things play out.

 *                    *                   *

Here’s my advice to anyone who runs:

Take it beyond running, and take in your surroundings.  You might surprise yourself as to what you’ll discover. If something piques your interest, stop and look at it.  Oh, don’t worry, your guilty conscience will get over the cardinal sin of stopping during a run. Become familiar with running in unfamiliar places, and, in doing so, expect the unexpected.

Copyright Ros Hill 2017

I’ll Be Giving Birth To A Book Soon

If you’ve been wondering why my stories have not been appearing as frequently as usual over the past few months, it’s for a good reason:  I’m working on a book that will be published this year, titled, Taking Out the Trash: Everyday Stories of Life, Loss, and Laughter. It’s a collection of 50-55 of my stories.  My artwork will also be included, as I am creating small illustrations to hint as to what each story is about. (Below, see low-quality photo examples done by clueless author himself. But good enough to get the ideas across…or at least he thinks so.)

Gathering everything that is needed to be sent off to the publisher is nearing completion.  It won’t be long before I’m posting more stories about such critical topics as cereal boxes, dental appointment freebies, and bug people.

Until then, it’s—literally—back to the drawing board.  And, not to forget, it’s Wednesday night…time to take out the trash.

 

Ros

“Super Tiny Little Bags of Peanuts”

“The Bathtub”

“Fixing Monday”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Drool King

Who are these people who can so easily put their fingers in their mouths and send out a loud and high-pitched whistle? It leaves you wondering if it’s more of a trick than them actually doing it.

The other day, Jane, a 78-year-old friend of mine, stood next to me as I attempted to get someone’s attention in the distance. Not exactly knowing what I was doing, I shoved my two pinkies deep into the sides of my mouth.  I’d seen people finger-whistle many times before, and I felt like I was doing what would create the right sound.  Unfortunately, instead of a seasoned whistler, I think I looked more like a fish caught on two lures. But that wasn’t nearly as bad as the sound I created—like the muffled hiss of an angry raccoon.  And though hissing raccoons don’t drool, this one did.  Like a Saint Bernard, I drooled down my chin only to make the mistake of quickly whipping my head away from Jane, which only guaranteed slobber slinging across my face.

I get frustrated when I fail at something that seems so simple…like the skateboard.  It’s a piece of wood on four little wheels, four inches off the street.  What could possibly go wrong at four inches?  My tailbone, wrists, elbows, knees, hips, chest, and back is what.  I’d probably make a full-body lift-off into the air like I had been ejected from a race car.  And then there are the jugglers—those kids in the park who talk to you about whatever it is you want to talk about as they juggle four, five, or six tennis balls.  Could there not be a more deceptive skill than juggling?  Two tennis balls, and I can juggle with the best of them.  Add one more and I’m fumbling around in all directions like I’m dodging a swarm of bees.  I know, I know…these things that people do…they just make it look so easy.  They’re not world-class athletes.  They’re just average Joes and Janes.  And that’s the thing that kills me…if they’re average, then what am I?

As my daughter, Bailey, would often remind me throughout her sarcastic childhood…I’m a loser.

Certainly I’d perform the whistle on my second attempt. I put my pinkies back in my mouth, but this time not so far that it looked as if I were probing for my tonsils. I set them in half-way, then blew out the same repulsive sound while spilling more spittle down my chin, understandably causing Jane to shudder and squirm.  I mean, I was an analogous disaster at work:  part fish, part raccoon, and part dog—a hybrid mess gone wrong in the animal kingdom.

“Is this what you’re trying to do?” says Jane, putting her two index fingers in her mouth.  Jane sends out a whistle that pierces my ears with a sharp delivery.  I’m awed by how easy she makes it look.  How many years had it taken her to perfect this penetrating shrill?  The person, whose attention I had been trying to get, turns immediately. I wave to him, and he waves back.  Just a friendly hello was all I was after, as I take full credit for the whistle.

“Really?” says Jane.

“Really,” I say. “Now watch this…”

I put my index fingers in my mouth so they’re positioned in a “V” with just a small space between the finger tips.   IT WAS THE INDEX FINGERS!!…NOT THE PINKIES!!…HOW EASY IS THIS!!!???  I am doing exactly as Jane did.

One deep inhalation, and then I blow air forcefully through the gap.  Such power. Such precision.  Such slobber stringing over my lips.  I’m a disaster.  Even the raccoon hiss is gone.  It sounds more like a suction device during a dental procedure.

“That’s pretty bad,” Jane says chuckling. “Prehhh-ty bad.”

I look at Jane and her god-awful righteous smile.  I want to say “to hell with it,” and push this near-80-year-old woman off her feet.  I want to tie her to a skateboard and send her speeding down a hill.  And though admittedly ill-behaved, before I do that, I want to spit on her feet and tell her, “Farewell!”

But I can’t.  There’s a bit of a problem…I’m out of saliva.

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2017

Five Mississippi

On September 11, 2001, America united as a single population.  We put aside our differences, and patriotically held hands. The color of our skin and our political views mattered none. When was the last time you saw that many flags proudly waving in this country?  There were no reports of Hollywood celebrity marital dramas. No one gave a damn about them.

That was until time passed.

We certainly don’t need another catastrophic terrorist attack to realign ourselves. But seems to me that we do need something. Let’s face it—we’re bickering, screaming, tweeting, snapping, posting, and walking against anything and everything.  And the enemy? Ourselves.

We are entertaining the world with our discontent.   It’s about time that we sought a little reprieve.

*          *          *

It’s funny how time—the most available commodity of all—is, quite often, hard to come by. We all wish we had more time all the time, but apparently time, which never ends, is in short supply…at times.

The other day, as I was at the gym, I watched a repair man standing on top of a ladder, replacing the batteries in a wall clock. The clock had been slowing down, its hands lagging to keep up with regular time. Almost as if it had been conserving energy in an effort to stay alive, as if it knew its time was almost up. But it was soon to be powerless as he unscrewed the cover of the battery compartment.  I found it ironic how he had to stop time in order to keep time going.

In an attempt to open a new package of four batteries with a screwdriver, the package shifted in his hands, and the batteries toppled and clanged down the ladder’s aluminum rungs before hitting the floor and scattering in different directions, like mice evading a cat.

“I do not have time for this!” he vented in frustration. “My time is too valuable!”

His time? I thought. What makes his time different from my time? I mean, don’t we all share the same time together?  At any given moment we all share the same duration of time.  And if you look at shared time as shared moments, the perspective shifts from objective and scientific to connective and personable.

Regardless of our differences and disagreements, we share the same moments at any given time.  Imagine if the entire U.S. population decided to acknowledge five seconds together.  Five seconds of time. Or better put, one moment of shared experience.  There are over 31 million seconds in a year. Am I to believe that it would be nearly impossible to get everyone to set aside their troubles for five seconds? Certainly it’s possible.  We’d call the event “Five Mississippi.”  It could be a sort of truce to show that we can, in fact, collectively share a moment.  And if, by some miracle, we should pull it off, then who’s to say the following year we can’t shoot for…hold on to your seat!…ten seconds?

It shouldn’t take a couple of skyscrapers collapsing to the earth or a careless and unforgiving hurricane named Katrina to wake us up and unite.  It’d be nice if we took it upon ourselves and made a conscious effort to find some middle ground where all of our angst and criticisms could be set aside.  Acknowledging five seconds together as a nation could be a start.

And just what would we do for five seconds? That’s easy…we’d go silent and recognize that for the first time in history (without the nudge from a crisis), Americans agreed to make time for one another. Now that’s something to entertain the world with.  Lord knows we have the technology and resources to make it happen.

Seems to me it’s just a matter of time.

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2017

The Tree

I was getting ready to swim at the city pool, when I noticed a little girl in a stroller. She was parked next to her grandmother who was sitting on a bench. The girl’s sister was in the pool practicing with a swim team. It was a perfectly normal setting, with one exception—what she was doing with her hands. She was tapping, scrolling, swiping, and expanding the screen of an iPad.

Or perhaps this was normal—the new normal. I can remember when cell phones first hit the market, and how astonished we were when learning someone had bought an iPhone for their 8th grader. Seriously!!!?? And now, twelve years later, you’d be hard-pressed to find a 6th grader who doesn’t have one.

I was amazed by this little girl in the stroller—her fingers nimbly operating the iPad.

“How old is she?” I said to the grandmother.

“She’s—”

The girl beat her to the answer by quickly punching two fingers into the air. I had to chuckle at this inaudible interjection, as I was fascinated by the immediacy of her emphatic sign language. There was almost something mature about her action.

“You’re two years old?”

She looked up at me with a smile and said, “Yep!” Not just a two-year-old yep, but a confident yep—a confidence that showed in the way she adeptly worked the iPad. And as unbelievable as it may seem, she displayed something that comes with the air of confidence: the telltale signs of impatience when the iPad’s internet connection responded slowly to her touch.

Two years old. How quickly they learn. How quickly they master. And so easily distracted. She should be watching their sisters swim. There was an engagement that was missing. The well-crafted lure of technology had stolen her attention. The spray of water from the swimmers’ flip turns that occasionally hit her bare feet, and the coach’s raised voice giving instructions to the busy swim lanes did not grab her attention in the least. At two years of age, she made me wonder about the future….

*        *        *

“Mommy…what’s wrong with it?” said the five-year-old girl, pointing upwards at a large tree. “It doesn’t do anything.”

“What do you mean it doesn’t do anything?” Replied the mother, kneeling next to her.

“I swiped it. Nothing happened.”

“Oh, that’s because this is a real tree. Out here in the park things are different. This tree not only provides shade, but it’s a place for animals and insects to live.”

“The trees in our backyard don’t have bugs or animals?”

“No,” said the mother, putting her arm around the girl’s shoulders. “Our trees are iTrees. They’re different. They’re interactive smart trees. You can learn everything about nature from an iTree’s trunk touch screens.”

“But no bugs or animals?”

“On the trunk screens, yes.”

The girl looked at her mom with a perplexed face. “But no real ones, right?”

The mother paused for just a moment, then said, “Yes, that’s right.”

“But why?”

Turning her daughter so they were face to face, the mother put her hands on the girl’s shoulders, then said, “Because iTrees use the latest technology. Nothing provides as much information. And nothing entertains you like an iTree.”

She went on to tell her daughter about the iTree’s Labyrinth Limb System, a technological breakthrough that bore edible, imitation hybrid fruits. LLS did this through a conversion process whereby 3D imagery became 3D Sculpt—the quantum next step beyond virtual reality. “In fact,” said the mother, “we’ll have our first non-pollinated fruit soon, after ArborTech installs our apple iTree next week.”

As her mom continued, speaking far beyond her daughter’s grasp, the girl’s attention waned when she spotted a blue jay flying overhead, then disappearing inside the tree’s canopy. “Our iTrees don’t have birds,” she said.

“That’s true,” replied her mother. “But they’re working on that. It’s only a matter of time until they figure out the necessary technology to attract them. Let’s be thankful the trunk touch screens can tell us anything and everything about birds.”

The mother stood up and took her daughter’s hand, telling her it was time they headed back home. But there was a slight resistance as the daughter pulled back. “Look, mommy! Look!” A second blue jay flew into the canopy, and moments later the two birds could be seen, appearing to dance in flight as they sprang in and out of the tree.

“They’re playing. Possibly courting,” said the mother.

“Courting?”

“Yes, like they’ve found each other. Like love.”

“Ha!” The girl laughed. “Like love birds!”

The girl slipped from her mother’s grasp, and walked up to the tree, where she reached out and let her small fingers travel along the rugged crevices of the tree’s bark. Her nails skimmed through and collected fragments of small patches of soft, verdant moss protruding from the wood. Traveling up along the trunk, she saw two ants, a beetle, and three ladybugs. “Mom, where are these bugs going?”

Her mom walked up next to her. “I’m not sure. I suppose looking for food. Let’s go home and ask the iTree.”

She grabbed her daughter’s hand, but she resisted again, then slipped free. “Honey, we should really be getting home. It’ll be dark soon. And you know how pretty the iTrees glow at night.”

“Mom, do you think they’ll marry?”

“Will who marry?”

“Them.” Her daughter pointed at the two blue jays continuing their flight dance.

“Silly. You know birds don’t marry.”

“Do the iTrees know it?”

“I seriously doubt there’s any information about birds getting married.”

“So iTrees don’t know everything. They don’t tell you about birds in love either, do they?”

“Well….no, you’re right.” The mother looked up into the tree’s canopy, as a small cluster of leaves fell towards her. She extended her arms, then cupping her hands in hopes to catch one, and caught two. She sandwiched the leaves together and gently massaged them between her thumb and index finger. They were textured and firm; fresh off the vine, so to speak. Above her, the blue jays chirped in their playful chase.

Her daughter took her other hand and placed it on the tree’s trunk. “Mommy, feel how rough the tree is.” The girl pressed her nose against the bark and took a deep whiff. “Smell it, mommy…it smells nice.”

Her mother did just that, closing her eyes as she inhaled—the aroma of a moist forest. When was the last time she had smelled this? When was the last time she had roamed in the woods? Years? Decades? Yet how quickly her memory recalled the tree’s scent. Experience, she thought. It was everything. The iTree was smart, but could not relate to experience. It couldn’t evoke the feeling a child gets watching two birds dancing in love. It couldn’t capture the essence of this moment.

She looked down at her daughter who was watching a ladybug crawl on the tip of her finger, her eyes full of fascination. “Honey,” she said, “my mother once told me about a time when I was a little girl. She said I was about two years old when I was at my sister’s swim practice.”

“Aunt Jessie was a swimmer?”

“Yes she was. And a good one at that.”

“That must’ve been neat watching her swim.”

“Well that’s the point of my story. For so long, I really never watched her much. My mother said I was always playing games on my iPad, which was a big clunky computer-like device they had back then. Anyway, she said one day she took it out of my hands and said ‘No more!’ She said I needed to watch my sister swim, and that I wasn’t the one to blame, but rather it was she who gave me the iPad to keep me occupied. She said it was a big mistake on her part, that I wasn’t noticing what matters.”

With slightly squinted eyes, her daughter tilted her head and asked, “What matters?”

There was a brief pause as she looked at her daughter whose attention was back on the ladybug, watching it now crawl up her arm. Her mother cracked a smile and said, “What matters…is this tree.”

“But mom, you said it’s getting late. Shouldn’t we go now?”

Her mother’s smile widened a bit more. “No,” she said. “I think we’re perfectly fine right here.”

Copyright Ros Hill 2017