Animals v.1

Monday, August 7, 2006

Animals don’t decide. I mean, they make decisions, but they’re different, on a different level, flooring of a house verses its walls, if you know what I mean. The walls enclose the structure, but without the flooring, there’s no place to stand and you’re ankle deep in mud. Animals’ decisions are instinctive. Think of the mouse in the maze looking for the cheese. The mouse never considers which is the morally good route, all routes are morally equal; the mouse’s only worry is the cheese. Most people act like animals. And, as my grandmother always told me, something always seems to get lost when you have cheese on the brain. My grandmother also said that saying something doesn’t make it true. She was one smart cookie in an age of cheese eaters. She taught that living it is what makes it true. Here, I’ll show you.

“Who can tell me what Justice Cardozo was talking about when he said, ‘If the nature of a thing is such that it is reasonably certain to place life and limb in peril when negligently made, it is then a thing of danger’?” A room packed with blank faces looked anywhere but at Professor Handy. He was a distinguished-looking lawyer in his late sixties with a bright bowtie. Today it was yellow. “Anyone?” he continued, his voice growing quieter, his congested breathing audible in the microphone. “Come on, I know you know this.”

Professor Handy tended to ask easy, open-ended questions in the hopes of student participation. He always seemed surprised when nobody volunteered an answer. What he didn’t realize was that asking too easy of a question was as bad as asking too hard of a question. It was a point of psychology: if you volunteered an answer to an easy question, especially when everyone around you also knew the answer, it came out wrong. You became the proverbial brownnoser of the class.

But the professor wasn’t interested. While his eyes pretended to scan the room for volunteers, I knew where his gradual search would lead. Inescapably, he made his way to Melissa, she of the middle seat in the front row, she of the knee-high tights and the short skirts, she of the bright-eyed and the bushy tailed eagerness. Mouse, meet the cheese. Melissa’s bare knees stuck out from under the small desk attached to the lecture-hall chair. She leaned forward slightly and, when not frantically writing notes, chewed the cap of her pen. When Professor Handy caught sight of her, he grew flustered and bent over the lectern to shuffle his papers. The other students, who had tried to signal the end of class by glancing at their watches, gave up and began packing up their things, a gesture at first lost on the professor.

Soon the noise grew loud enough to draw the professor’s gaze from the lectern. The professor glanced at the gated clock on the wall, which provided three more minutes to finish the lecture. The professor always had big plans. He confided in me that he hoped for lots of discussions, to throw out philosophical points like bones for the class to gnaw on. He never understood where the time went. He spent so much effort reviewing the mundane learning—the facts, issues, and holdings of principal cases—that he never had leftover time to analyze and consider what he cared about: the deeper meaning of the material, where it fit into American jurisprudence, what the decisions meant for the time and place where it was decided, and, of course, what the case’s words would look like scrawled on Melissa’s naked body. He didn’t tell me that last part, but I knew, everyone should have known.

Professor Handy’s glasses slipped to the tip of his nose, and he pushed the glasses’ bridge against his brow. The nose guards dug in and he grunted into the microphone. The other students stopped folding their books and papers. Professor Handy looked up at the class with a forced smile. He felt something dripping from his brow down the side of his nose. He reached up with his finger, but it was only sweat.

“Papers today, don’t forget to drop them off.” Professor Handy waved his hand in way of dismissal. The large lecture hall exploded in activity and sound. The professor straightened his notes and placed them in his boxy briefcase. The students filed past the table next to the lectern, leaving a neatly piled stack of typed papers.

I sat in the front row a few chairs away from Melissa. I ignored the other students as they crept past the professor’s desk. Melissa waited in her seat until the students had left. Chuck’s face tightened and his forehead lunged toward his chin as Melissa rose and daintily walked over to the professor. She was not holding her assignment. Professor Handy had assigned the paper three weeks ago, and Chuck knew why Melissa was hanging back. She hugged her books to her chest and chewed on her strawberry colored lips. Chuck presses his thumb over the staple holding his five-page paper together. She was going to ask for an extension. Chuck felt his throat tighten.

Melissa stepped to the lectern. The professor began nodding before she said a word. Chuck tried to make out the words, but he was too far away. He couldn’t seem to get up. He watched as Melissa twirled her hair and spoke with her head tilted in this direction and then that. “The research is done, of course,” Melissa said, louder than before. She finished the research last week, spending two nights locked in the law library, looking through old books and taking copious notes, tabbing and dog-earing pages until she was satisfied that she had the information. But she wanted more than the information. She wanted to go deeper into the law, understand the nuances, the history behind the Justices and the world before and after the decision. She thought she would get to the paper over the weekend. She had finished her outline on Friday.


Chuck’s vision reddened and he breathed deeply in an attempt to escape this place. He found himself on a beach with sand and water and umbrellas. Scantily clad island girls served him tropical drinks with small umbrellas. The sky was clear. Then it wasn’t. Dark gray clouds tumbled in and an oversized raindrop fell from the sky. Chuck lifted the drink umbrella over his head. The sky slid open and an army of raindrops descended on invisible parachutes. The island girls stood smiling in the rain with their soaked hair glued to their naked backs. He thought to offer them his drink umbrella, but they carried a tray of drinks, all with drink umbrellas, mostly polka dotted in festive blues and reds. They didn’t use their umbrellas. At first it was imperceptible, then he saw it: The girls melted. Around where they stood, waxy puddles formed with multi-colored streams of yellow and red and blue flowing in all directions. The wind strengthened, and his drink umbrella threatened to rip and turn inside out. Chuck fought the wind and held the drink umbrella with both hands.

She’s giving her excuse again. Why does she waste my time. I should ding her this time, warn her that this won’t work. That there’s more to this something than nothing. I can’t believe she’s pulling this again. Do I trust her? No, not really. But how can I fight it? My rational brain says one thing, but her smell. She smells of exotic fruits, how can such a smell exist in this classroom filled by old books and wet feet? I don’t think her legs end, at least not where normal people’s legs end.

The teacher loves his students. He feels guilty for the love—he has a wife and two children—but he loves her and can’t stop thinking about her. She must know something. She stops by after class often. She has many questions, but she always waits until the crowd clears, and I always wait for her, fumbling with my stuff, rushing through the other student’s questions. Do they know? We usually continue the conversation in my office, sometimes stopping by the cafeteria to grab lunch before trailing the debate back to my office. My wife doesn’t know. She’s tan. How can she tan in the middle of winter? I know she’s not one of those women who spend their days in the tanning salon. My wife is one of those women. It’s waited effort on her. It’s not just her legs, she has a beautiful brain as well. She knows her stuff, understands the law, really has keen insights into the topics we discuss in class. Thoughts of his wife and two young children flashed through his head.

And it’s morning again.

The professor continues to look down at his papers as he talks to Melissa.

The professor caught a third student looking at his watch. The gated clock on the wall provided three more minutes to finish the lecture. He had big plans for today’s lessons, lots of discussions and philosophical points for the class to gnaw on. He wondered where the time went. It always seemed to happen that way. He spent so much time going through the mundane learning—the review of the facts, issues, and holdings of cases—that he never had leftover time to analyze and consider the deeper meaning of the material, where it fit into American jurisprudence, what the decisions meant for the time and place where it was decided.

I waited for the professor to look my way. He needed but to glance in my direction and my hand would shoot up. I was good for it, and he knew it.

He removes the green apple from the lectern, the oversized gavel that he never remembers to bang, and the line of two pens and a pencil he always has at ready.

The animals still wait. Chuck grows weary. Use the weariness as a way to explain the story. What is it Chuck’s waiting for? Is he the animal that’s waiting? That would make sense. He waits and waits, growing frustrated by not answering, not holding up my bargain. I’m the animal, the party animal, the righteous animal, the man who grows frustrated with the waiting. Where would this go? He talks and talks.

He blinked. The man was still talking. Still providing excuses. He didn’t seem apologetic, he seemed almost as if he knew it had been his right not to provide him with what he asked. They had an agreement and he was reneging.

The end of class. The professor collecting assignment from students. She goes to the front of the class, and sweet talks the teacher. She asks for an extension. He gives it. I witness it. I’m an animal. I can’t stand this kind of shit, this getting ahead on the backs of those providing the meat, the center of the curve. Her skirt is short and her makeup is better than usual. It’s not surprising. Why would she not? He’s an animal. He accepts her stories and excuses and doesn’t worry about what it means to the rest of the class.

She’s giving her excuse again. Why does she waste my time. I should ding her this time, warn her that this won’t work. That there’s more to this something than nothing. I can’t believe she’s pulling this again. Do I trust her? No, not really. But how can I fight it? My rational brain says one thing, but her smell. She smells of exotic fruits, how can such a smell exist in this classroom filled by old books and wet feet? I don’t think her legs end, at least not where normal people’s legs end.

Chuck in an animal who is jealous of Melissa, jealous of her relationship with Professor Handy, who he likes? Loves? Jealous of the grades, extensions, etc. she receives, Always looking for an opening to understand what she is after. He’s an animal, he’s trying to get ahead. He’s impatient and a teacher’s pet. He waits and answers all the questions in class, readies his assignment. Doesn’t talk with the other students for fear that they’ll use him to get ahead in class. He’s at school on a scholarship, and he intends to leave and get a high paying job. The rest of the class will wallow while he would get ahead.

He feels threatened by Melissa. She has a relationship with all the male professors. Professor Handy probably doesn’t notice but she does this with her criminal law professor. Chuck’s sure that she would do the same in her civil procedure class, except that the professor is a woman, a large, unsavory woman who barks at the class and has everyone, including Chuck, scared to talk after class with her.

Two perspectives: the animal of the jealous, ambitious: Chuck, and Professor Handy, who has a crush on his female students, and can think of nothing but their legs. He’s not a bad professor, but his mind is elsewhere at times. It’s not winter, it should be spring, warm weather in a cold place.

There are three: teacher, beautiful but tardy student, and stalker, the real animal who judges everyone, but never looks beyond himself. There all animals, all doing what they think is right in this situation. What is she thinking? She is thinking about the assignment. She wants to do a great job, and she worked all night on it. She is not evil, she is not dumb. She is dedicated, she has a lot she wants to say and needs the time to say it.

Three perspectives, three animals, all following their natures, all wanting to be something different, wanting to see people succeed, but not succeed on his dollar. He tries and cares, but can’t confront. The stalker likes her but can’t stand to see her get ahead, can’t stand to watch her ignore him. And she, she has grand ideals and spends hours each day and night worrying about those ideals, frozen in how great they are, unable to move forward without the drama, the anguish, and the short skirt. She spent more time picking out the outfit than preparing the work.

Something smells bad. He judges other people by their smells during this particular day. It turns out his nose was stuffed with acrid smelling snot.

This is my story. It happens where? Mental hospital, all good stories happen in mental hospitals. People die. Family is hurt. I get ahead in the world. I am a real estate broker. I may be a nice guy at home, but I’m an animal at work. I care for nothing and nobody. Five percent commissions? Maybe in loser land. But here, in winner’s lane, I ask for ten to fifteen percent to even start talking. And once people start talking with me, it’s all over as they used to say in some place better than this.

Maze and cheese. Who moved my cheese? I’ll tell you who moved your cheese, you piece of shit. Scrupulous. My head is full of pie and small beasts claw at my throat. My head feels stuffed with pillows and feathers shoot from my ears. Simple. Straightforward. Nothing to do with nothing. These are all things I’m not but wish I could be. Old and young. Smart and dumb. Clever and slow. Courageous and timid. Choice and no choice.

Rockets red glare. Why can’t I think of something that hasn’t been thought of before and write something that has been thought of. What’s the moral? The rightness? What is it I want to write? Blah. This is fucking annoying. The annoyance is HUGE.

Stupid thoughts race through my head. This is my art form. This is what I want to express. Do I want to make the world a better place? Is it through rational or emotional string pulling? Where am I off to? What am I hoping to accomplish. This is my problem. I can be rational. I can present arguments—hell, that’s what I do every day, why couldn’t I transfer that knowledge here? I can edit, I can display, I can do a whole bunch of good stuff. The question is, as it always becomes, why don’t I? I may draw and that might be something I end up bringing to this form. In short, I am searching for my art form, for my way of expressing myself. Why do I even want to express myself? Do I want to leave a mark on the earth when I pass? Do I want to educate or make the world a better place?

I know what I’m not good at: I can’t think up stories, or at least I can’t initiate them. I need an impetus, a foil. I’m not sure where or how that will come into being. Even now, as I tatter away on this keyboard in the back of the van, I’m not sure what I’m hoping to accomplish. I’m tittering and tattering away in my feeble attempt to find an art form. This has been the goal of to find a voice for art. It took me a while to discover art, to understand it as something other than the realistic duplication of the real world. My original view of art asked the question of how to duplicate what I see every day. What I didn’t realize at the time was that that is what art is, but the every day is such a subjective term, and what a person sees in the everyday is not what they see (as in photographically see), but what they feel, they think about, who they are, etc. There is so much more information than what one sees, that it’s a wonder it took me so long to find out that realism does not equal art. I’m slow sometimes, I see that now. I didn’t understand that before.

So if my art form is a search for a way of expressing what I perceive, then two questions come to mind: how do I do that? And to what end? For the second question, I should assume I do that for the reason anyone communicates: it is the hope to make a connection with another person. For all the “art for art’s sake” bullshit that flies about, the answer seems clear. It is not about acceptance or adoration, it’s about communication and connection. Saying something that someone else hears. So I want to communicate and connect. That makes sense for the end. But how about the how, how do I do it?

Part of it is obvious: I write words. This is what I enjoy doing and what I’m moderately good at. I put one word after another and I hope that they say something. As I’ve been doing it, however, it’s been lacking. I’ve been brushing up on the grammar and style, and forgetting about the content. That’s what I’m hoping to find. There is content out there, and I need to find out how to say it. I’ve discovered the what, now I need to find the how. Pictures, words, stories, musings, thoughts, feelings. It has to be something that someone wants to read, otherwise there is no way I will make a connection, no way I will communicate with anyone (w/the exception of the dedicated three).

I’m feeling a bit sick sitting in the van and typing this. I’m not sure if it’s the coffee or the bumps. Either way, I’m done for now.

I’m confused where this story is going. I have four different voices and none of them want to take this forward. I have the narrator and his talk of cheese and animals. I have the professor and his unrequited? love of his student. I have Melissa, and her sexy outfits, and her use of her charms to get ahead. I have Chuck (or the narrator) and his fury over Melissa—and jealousy? Does Chuck idolize the professor? Does he want to be like him? His T.A.? He can’t understand how someone so brilliant can make such a stupid, life-altering decision. He’s given a choice, and chooses the cheese. And all Chuck can do is watch him spiral into disaster. Of course, Chuck is the one who reports on him in the end, sends him to the ethical board where he is disbarred. How else can this narration end? There are those who eat cheese, Chuck assures the reader, and those who bait the traps. Or something silly like that.

Okay, so this changes the story somewhat. We have Chuck, who plots as the professor’s T.A. What does he hope to gain? Does it make a difference? He wants to get ahead. He is no longer jealous of Melissa. But that means Melissa has to become more interesting. She has to do something more than look pretty and get ahead. Is she disgusted by the professor? Is she the one escaping to the tropical island? I do love that scene.

Getting back to Chuck, what are his thoughts on the professor, at least in the beginning? And Melissa, is she in love with him, or only hoping to get a good grade? Ah, a love triangle. Chuck loves Melissa, the professor loves Melissa, Melissa loves Melissa. Narcistic woman? Say it isn’t true! So the assignment is a red herring. Chuck is a red herring as well. He’s as jealous of the professor—but I thought he was jealous of the professor, not of Melissa. He seems bumbling from the beginning. He needs to be more interesting, more suave, or why would Chuck be jealous of him? So complicated.

I don’t know if the love triangle is the way to go. Write it and find out. Stop procrastinating with these dumb notes.

Monday mornings, waiting for the juices to flow. There’s nothing there, I’m juiced out. Well, at least go through this stupid story one more time. I haven’t gotten anywhere fast on this one. What makes you think today will be any different? Melissa, Professor Handy, impatient Chuck. She said, he said, he did. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t even have to resolve.

Ah, stupid Tuesday mornings. I need to stretch a bit, see if there’s anything out there. “Hey, Jon? Are you there? I hear static. I do not hear you talking at all. Can you hear me? Do I really care if you can? Maybe this will be the greatest conversation. I’ll do all the talking, and you’ll either do the listening, or I’ll be talking to myself. Either case works for me. I’m not much of a stickler for the other side of the conversations.

I need guides and examples. I need characters. I have only thumbnails of

“Hello, Jon?” And he keeps talking and hoping. Why does he care so much? Annoying as hell, it is. I need a nap, once I nap maybe then I’ll be able to move beyond this not napping. This is not working so well. This morning writing with no idea of where to go. I need to plan. Use the Marathon’s method: plan the night before what you’re going to write the next day. Think it through. I have all day of idle (well, not exactly idle) time to work this through. Ah, I have nothing. No plans, no work, no nothing. Hang up. Please, hang up. The pain of the fake conversation is too painful.