— From EF —

            We go to the ocean every other Sunday, even if the weather isn’t beachy. If it’s too damn cold, we point the Prius at the waves and eat our picnic in the car. This time, a beloved friend was visiting, and we were determined to go out on the Portuguese Beach peninsula no matter what. Coats and sweaters and windbreakers and caps and earbands were found, and off we went.

All that wintry stuff stayed in the car, because it was calm and sunny and warm, all of a sudden, bam, just like that. We clambered out to our favorite spot, spread the tatami mat, unpacked the hamper, and settled down to enjoy watching Mama’s uncharacteristically calm face. The only thing that could possibly make it better would be pelicans, but in the last few years I haven’t seen any up here, just from Monterey south. I love those majestic buggers and miss them mightily. Sometimes I say “I wanna pelican,” but it doesn’t work.

Just as I was telling Arturo how I used to love watching those creatures soaring past our little outpost, a pelican appeared. Bam. Just like that. And then all his pelican friends and relations, at least thirty of them in a long, long line. My heart went into overdrive. It wasn’t just the beauty, it was the timing.

Last fall, while visiting Jo and Fra, we were driving home, up the long winding Tuscan gravel road, and Fra was laughing at his badger story. Some time ago, a badger was ambling up the middle of the road and wasn’t about to yield his right-of-way. Fra had to slow down and creep along for a whole kilometer at the badger’s pace until the beast finally turned off into the underbrush.

I’ve never seen a badger. I started laughing and whining like a little kid, “I wanna badger! I wanna badger!” And bam, just like that, here came a badger, right into the middle of the road. (His exit was fortunately a block away.) Jo and Fra stared at me and said, “What else are you going to ask for?”

I didn’t know it would be pelicans.

 — From CB —

            Friends speak of their lives. They post on Facebook or send an email or come to dinner or sometimes even talk on the phone. They speak of their garden or the crankiness of their teenager or their separation or their exciting new plans or the death of their father or their own unexpected diagnosis. I say what comes into my head, hoping that my words aren’t merely grunts.

And yet, most of the time, that’s exactly what they are. I might want to say that I know exactly what you’re experiencing and I feel for you like a brother, in your success or bereavement, and here’s my advice. . . But often it’s better just to grunt — to verify that you’re there and you heard.

I’ve spent my whole life crafting words, so one would think I might have greater skill in using words when they really matter. It doesn’t work that way. Writing a play, the dialogue is never, ever just right, and I may find myself fiddling with phrases in a piece I’ve played a hundred times. As a kid, I discovered that even the deluxe box of Crayolas didn’t contain enough colors for me: there must be some undiscovered color, never even dreamed by humans, that would be the only right one for the witch’s deep eyes. Likewise, the English language is unmatched in its fecundity, yet fails us when most needed.

A distant friend who’s recently suffered two terrible losses in a three-week span wrote that, apart from feeling numb as a hammered thumb he felt a strange freedom: Right now, no one I love is dying. I can’t find the words to respond, so I’ll leave the task to Elizabeth. Perhaps he found the words to express his pain because he truly feels it, while I grope feebly for words because I only feel the pain of my feeble groping.

And why is it that I’m brought to tears by fictional characters, my own or those of others — the death of Steerforth in David Copperfield, the dementia of Lear in Lear, the bafflement of Chuck in Hammers — but for actual friends can manage only a moment of stunned silence before plunging ahead on the worklist? My own armoring against the suck of the nightmare? What finger will penetrate my hazmat suit and touch me where I feel it? Will I have the words for it then?

 — From the Fool —

            My friend Joe has a bumper sticker: Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. So I asked him, “So then what’s the solution?”

“What’s the problem, Fool?” he said.

Well, I said, it seems like lots of people are getting shot, and if you can’t do something about the guns, then whatta you do?

He didn’t see any problem with people getting shot. Too many people, he said. The more that get shot, the less you’ll have to put in jail.

But what about the two-year-old that shot his mom at Walmart? She wasn’t a crook, she was a consumer. If all the toddlers and the nut cases keep on mowing down the consumers, what does that do to the GNP?

He had to think about that, but I knew he’d have the answer. “Follow the Constitution, which is the unseen hand of the Market,” he said. His logic was, the Constitution guarantees guns and free speech and the right to vote, but nowhere does it say shooting people violates their rights. If somebody’s not making a speech or voting, there’s nothing in the Constitution that says he can’t be shot. “All these laws that say you can’t shoot people without a reason, that’s all liberal crap. Why keep and bear arms if you can only shoot ducks? They even tell you how many ducks you can shoot. Some day we’re gonna have a plague of ducks.” He was on a roll. “The Lone Ranger shoots all the guys that don’t shave, and the town gets back to business.”

Joe gets that dreamy glazed look in his eyes. I can’t tell if he’s envisioning the future or if he’s dead drunk.


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© Bishop & Fuller 2014

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