After breakfast Gareth waited for his tea to steep. Boiling water, loose black tea, clay mug, wait for exactly 5 minutes.
The zen of waiting.
Man (and woman) is a creature of habit. The schedules of sun and moon, winter and summer, have become the daytimers and computerized reminders of modern humanity. Waiting has grown to massive proportions in response to this net of time and action.
But waiting is not a natural phenomenon.
Hirsute cave dwellers scratching their coarse behinds acted. They waited only for what would eventually be known as acts of god, but for little else. In fact, according to some Ancientologists, the first definition of god was “He who makes me wait.” They did so grudgingly, thus forevermore establishing the odd nature of the relationship between gods and followers. “I obey, but I resent having to obey. But I obey. See, this is me obeying. But I’m happy. See. Oh, and by the way, can you make the cave elk visit our neck of the woods while I wait? Only seem fair… ”
The new gods are our clocks and computers and day books and spouses. These are the modern phenomena that make it impossible to eliminate the concept of time and its outcome, waiting. Time is such an arbitrary thing. Why this month I exist at the same time as Saskatoonian Manfred Wolinksi and then suddenly next month he and I will no longer occupy the space time and would, if we happened to meet, be separated by an hour-long continuum gap. Make it ridiculously hard to have a conversation if I do say so myself. And yet we all accept this as normal.
Every morning hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people get in their cars and rush to and from for 20 minutes all trying to get to the office by 8. Why? Because our “gods” say works starts at 8, or 9, or even noon. At 8:05 the streets are practically empty. But do sensible people start work at 8:14? Or 9:07? Or even 12:22? No. And why not? Because the religion we’ve built around wanting to wait has one basic tenet: Go forth and make things as hard as possible on as many people as possible.
And then wait.
For the tea.
For exactly 5 minutes.
Now wait a moment here! Who was that? There’s nothing in here about waiting, and that sounded damn close to philosophy. I said there were rules here, and there bloody well will be. I will not tolerate this type of anarchy. Will I not!
There will be no outsiders intruding in the narrative. No petty dictators-in-waiting to override my Triple O status. I say who speaks and who does not. And I will get to the bottom of this, yes I will indeed. Let’s see, according to my script we have, well, me. That’s important to establish, and we damned well did. Didn’t we?
Ah yes, there’s the old sod – I will have you know I argued strenuously against including him but was overruled. But there he is and we mustn’t ’fiddle’ with the author’s intentions. Mustn’t we?
Gareth, yes; the beaver, unfortunately; bunny, yes, although he isn’t listed as Edward–must have been a late revision; and of course… ah, yes, mustn’t get ahead of ourselves. That would be a tragic misuse of narratorial powers. Wouldn’t it?
But, no, not here, dammit, how about… no, no, NO, NOT THERE EITHER! Who’s been screwing with the text? I demand to know. There WILL be rules! I demand an accounting for this outrageous deviation from the plan!
… … ….
So, that’s it, is it? Silence. I am to be thwarted? We will see about that.
Eh-hem, khem. This story is NOW about a small lad named Gary who has a red wagon and loves his GI Joe astronaut.
Let us begin:
The Astro-Wagon: Part One
Gary is eight.
Gary loves his wagon.
His wagon is red.
It has four wheels and a long black handle.
There is a long white stripe on the side.
Gary pulls his wagon around the house.
Gary pulls the wagon down the sidewalk.
Gary often sits under the tree with his wagon and dreams of being an astronaut.
Gary has a GI Joe.
His name is Buzz.
He is an astronaut GI Joe.
Gary has been friends with Buzz for a long time.
Often Gary and Buzz ride in the wagon.
They go to the moon.
They zoom through the asteroids.
Gary and Buzz like to have lunch on the moons of Jupiter.
In the winter time the wagon stays in the garage.
But in the spring his mom washes the wagon.
His dad greases the wheels.
And Gary oils the handle.
And then Gary and Buzz blast off for adventure.
The Astro-Wagon: Part Two
Gary is an astronaut.
Buzz is a mission commander with Space Command.
He has been to space many times.
He is a specialist, but he doesn’t fly anything.
He has a pilot to fly his spaceship.
Gary is a pilot.
He flies all sorts of things.
Today he is flying a space shuttle; he isn’t going far.
He is just waiting for the …
He is just waiting for the COUNTDOWN …
Gareth is waiting for the countdown to finish …
GARY is just waiting for the …
The last few seconds on the microwave timer counted down: 5…4…3…2…1… “Bing!” Gary’s tea was ready and he took it out of the red wagon and walked out into the living room; from the previously clear sky came a rumble that sounded remarkably like a groan. And a sigh.
Gareth shrugged, sipped his tea and walked out into the waiting day.
Gareth had left home when he was 16. He had finished high school in two years and by some twist of fate he won a lottery the day he graduated. After a brief moment of overwhelmed shock, Gareth came to understand that he had won a car and not the millions-for-life main prize. But it was a rather nice car.
Being a non-driver at the time, Gareth immediately sold the car to a neighbor and took the money to the bank. Almost a month to the day later he lent $1000 to his friends Lenny and Leon. L&L were software nerds and they’d just launched a new mobile game and needed some ready cash to get it going. Gareth was more than pleased to help out; he liked games.
A month after that Bunny Bonanza was featured on a national syndicated show and L&L found themselves rolling in more ready cash than they could dream of. So they gave Gareth a return on his investment: $100,000. A month or so after that Gareth moved out and into an apartment. He had decided it was time to start his life.
So September found Gareth moving furniture and his odd collection of electronics up the one flight to his apartment. He’d picked up a lot of his parents’ castoffs and more than a few new toys. But all in all he was still pretty flush and stoked to try out the world from an adult’s point of view.
It was pretty boring.
The Day the Beaver Came
Swept through morning fog
Neither contrite nor wary,
Seeming compatriot on his daily jog.
Surveying his current pond
No matter to him,
Environs now concrete and lawn.
Sole Homo sapiens,
Young and brave, full of inaction,
Stares from the perimeter,
Bereft of a relevant faction.
The beaver pauses,
At the end of the lane
Boldly he glances,
At a young man’s sadness and pain.
“Why be alone,
When you have yourself?”
He utters quite softly,
“Nothing else ever provides such wealth.”
“Come, I will teach you,
The joy of the solitary”
He smiled and approached,
“Let us avant and be merry.”
So boy and beaver,
Trod on into dawn
Not one any longer,
Now the companions of song.
“Nothing makes a beer taste better than an icy glass,” thought Gareth as his eye wandered across the bar. “Unless it’s an ice-cold pint in the pub when you’re underage.” He smirked.
Gareth had been visiting this particular pub for the last five months. He liked it. It was dark and moody with just a hint of stale smoke, spilled beer and good cheer.
He usually sat in the corner across from the end of the bar. It put him near the waitress station and far away from the video lottery terminals. Gareth didn’t much like the kind of person who habituated the VLTs; while it was likely his imagination, they always reeked of despair and endings. Time seemed to have fled their auras, and they sat there waiting for everyone else in the bar to realize that there was no more, this was the end.
Gareth knew they were wrong. But nothing he could do or say would ever convince those near-corpses that hope or tomorrow belonged in this dim, cold room. Still, he watched the people, hummed along with the music and sipped his pint. Life WAS hope. Who cares if age seemed to breed despair. Gareth was young.
“I am young,” he declared out loud to the advertising-laden coaster. “And I still know how to have fun !” Gareth tipped his chair back and scanned the room. “I won’t lose hope like these lost souls. I won’t give in to the weight of a world not of my own making.”
As the waitress walked by and smiled, Gareth nodded and swept his hands by his near empty pint glass. The waitress’s smile broadened and she nodded back. Gareth settles back and waited for his next beer.
Gareth was in the bar that night for a particular reason. An old acquaintance from high school was dropping by and Gareth was steeling himself with a few pints to try and reduce the anxiety. High school hadn’t been his best couple of years and while he’d had a few close friends, most of the people from that period were more accurately counted as acquaintances.
This particular acquaintance wasn’t close enough to be labeled friend, but it was a close call. Still, meetings and reunions contained many unknowns and were thus a major source of anxiety.
It’s funny. Gareth had been lucky with his friends, but they still occupied a very precarious space for him. Rationally he knew none of the would ever reject him for things he said or did, especially if they were within that weird and quite broad range of things that were ’normal’ to Gareth. But still they tended to provided as much stress as joy and the prospect of dealing with an ’almost friend’ raised the risk level from manageable to insanely stupid.
And yet here Gareth sat.
“Hey,” Gareth heard drifting from the direction of the vestibule. He couldn’t see much more than a shadowy figure against the light streaming in from the open door.
“Hey,” Gareth responded, adding what he hoped was a note of happiness to his voice.
“Been here long?”
“Naw, just been here a few minutes,” Gareth lied. And then immediately started to worry about how to deal with the pints that were already on the bill. And what if the waitress mentioned something to imply he’d been hanging out steeling himself before this encounter. Christ, Gareth thought, what if it looks like we are being overcharged? Why do I lie like that when I get nervous? And why am I being such a wuss in the first place? Gareth sighed quietly to himself and said “How’s it been going, Rowan?”
Rowan grabbed a stool, sat and replied, “Come see, come saw,” in an exaggerated drawl. Gareth knew Rowan spoke perfect French. Bilingual schooling, summers in France, educated parents who spoke multiple languages, the whole ball of wax. But for as long as he’d known Rowan, the drawl had been a standard part of the act.
“How about you?” Rowan countered. “Hear you’ve been out on yer own for a bit now. How’s that wurkin’ for ya?”
“Honestly,” Gareth replied “it’s not such a big deal. There’s perks and then there’s bills. Kinda evens out if you ask me.”
“Yup, sounds about right.” Rowan smiled, which frankly, Gareth thought, lit up the room a bit and put him a bit more at ease.
“Uh, so, yah,” he began awkwardly. “I’ve actually been here a while. Just trying to sort out my thoughts, you know.”
Rowan grinned a bit wider. “You always were a thinker. I kinda liked that about ya. What I need to do to get a beer around here. Seems I need to catch up.”
Gareth’s face cracked a tiny grin, and he raised his hand. “Hey, Tony!” he yelled in the direction of the short woman by the till. This is going to work out, he thought to himself, and ordered some drinks.
The weather was warm as Rowan and Gareth strolled side by side down the alley behind the pub. The stars were just starting to appear in the sky, and as they crossed the boulevard and stepped onto the grass of the park, more and more of the night sky was revealed to them. Looking west across the grassy plain, Gareth could see the lake. More of a large pond really. They had tried many times to make it something people could use, but the cost of keeping it fit for human use was something politicians and neighborhood groups had been arguing about for years. Occasionally Gareth would spend a quite afternoon on its banks. Oddly enough the beaver never did.
“So it’s a deal,” Rowan said as they started down towards the walking path.
“Yes, I think it is. I can’t think of anything wrong with it, and as long as it’s good with you…” Gareth looked inquiringly at his companion.
“Then it’s a deal,” Rowan repeated.
One door closes and another opens, Gareth thought to himself. Trite but true. And, as it often did, his mind began to wander. I wonder who first said that? Is it one of those phrases that has just organically come in to being or is it out a book or something? Gareth had done a lot of reading over a short time in high school and sometimes the school facts, the Wikipedia surfing and the common knowledge of his parents’ pre-Internet generation just melded together.
Gareth resisted the urge to grab his phone and turned his attention back to his companion. It was too bad, really, because by the time he’d made it back to his apartment, he would forget that he ever wondered and thus never learn that it was Alexander Graham Bell who said “When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” He also wouldn’t discover that Helen Keller said something similar: “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” And all the googling and research and time well wasted that could come of such an important apparent discrepancy would never occur. Truly a first-world tragedy.
Still, Gareth would remember that walk for the rest of his life, so that at least was a reasonable trade-off.
The path curved around the lake and the light standards were fewer, adding a sense of both darkness and mystery, but also revealing more and more of what was obviously becoming one of the more glorious night skies of the year. The shadows of the two walkers grew and diminished as they crossed the park. The sounds of traffic and the hustle of people about their lives were muted by the trees and shrubs, occasionally bouncing oddly off the lake but overall simply existing in the background and adding to the odd experience of being alone with someone else. Eventually they turned left off the path and started up the hill among the tall pines.
“Watch the roots,” Gareth murmured. The two wound their way to the edge of that copse and stood looking over the recreational fields where kids and adults spent warm summer afternoons chasing balls and each other. Empty now, it had a lonelier quality with the edges well lit but the center areas tending towards gloom and isolation. It struck Gareth that the field was a lot like the cycles of his life. Dark and light, empty and full; always the light within reach if only one would reach for it. He smiled to himself and mentally shook his head. Wandering again, I see, he lectured himself. This night of all nights and you can’t seem to live in the now. It’s really going to be the ruin of you. He chuckled out loud at the inanity of his inner dialogue.
“What’s up?” Rowan inquired boldly. “Share.”
“Nothing, really. I just get going around in circles in my head sometimes, and then come to a full stop just before going off the crazy cliff. It always makes me laugh to think I’ve got some inner driving instructor with his foot mashed down on that extra brake they have, desperately trying to stop me and never succeeding until the last minute. Gotta be a stressful job, don’t ya think?”
Rowan stopped and looked him in the eye. “Wow. Got a way with the words, doncha? Maybe you should be writing a novel, or a song instead of screwing with this shit.” Rowan gestured ahead with a bow and added, ”But we’ve got things to do, so, as Picard always says, let’s ‘make it so’ and get this dog-and-pony show on the road. Meet me tomorrow?”
“Then I’m off and runnin’ like a hoid o’ toitles. Later, gator.”
Gareth watched Rowan for a moment and turned back down hill. Time to get home and check that the beaver hadn’t done something crazy like the flood the place. He rolled his eyes at the mental gymnastics that produced that image, and started planning what he needed to do before tomorrow.
Wah? Wuhz … ah. Ah. Oh, my aching head. That is most definitely not the way to wake up. What in the name of Woden’s seven hells is that infernal noise?
Oh, for the love of Mary and Joseph, that godforsaken box of metallic mischief is up to its old tricks. Work, damn you! Just work like you were destined to! Of all the fates in all the planes of existence, why am I the keeper of such a eternally selfish and misbegotten hunk of tin and copper? Do as you were intended! I command you…
Oh for pity’s sake … Fine. Just let me fill up this glass, and I’ll come see what has decided to inopportune you this time.
Ah. A spot of armagnac and I’ll be right to it. Should see about cleaning up around here, I suppose. Can’t always count on having the appropriate stemware if one doesn’t clean up, more’s the pity. Now, where are my glasses.
Aaah, must try and stop sleeping in the chair; back’s not as young as it used to be. Now. What have we here? Yes, just adjust this valve and, yes. Blessed silence. Why must this thing be so infernally loud? Would work just as well if it was, well, silent. I should say it would – probably better. So what’s your problem today? Was a time when you just didn’t want to work. Now you seem to be working too well, if you ask me. Not that anyone would, bunch of prissy machinators. That’s what they are. Probably made the contraption louder than it needed to be just to ruin as many people’s lives as possible.
So if I recall, this gauge should be … yes, it is. And this gauge should … Ok. So the dial here wants to bet at … yes. So if I open this panel all that remains is to … to … Oh my. That’s never happened before. And what is this substance? It … it … it reminds me of … of … It’s Sylvilagus nuttallii! It’s Sylvilagus nuttallii scat!
What is this? What is the meaning of this outrage? By all the drunken warriors in Valhalla, WHY IS THERE BUNNY POOP IN MY MACHINE!?!