Instead of interacting with the voices inside my head as a solo effort, I’m sharing with you. I’m still figuring out who this person is in the story, so it’s a multi-parter. I’m not sure how many yet, but I know it’s more than one… hence the multi-parter statement!

Lost and Found

I was born with a cattywompus compass. Don’t judge. You came with one too. All of us came with a cattywompus compass. Some needles spin more erratically than others. They get drawn in and pushed aside by good and bad magnetic forces. Political correctness would demand I say every positive and negative force, but you know what I mean. I mean good and bad, so I said good and bad.

Some needles don’t spin at all. They point dead at some false north. My needle does all of the above, swings, dies, twitches, twirls, spins like a fan blade on high. Sometimes for a moment, it’s distracted by truest North, and pauses. The best I can hope for is to be caught looking down, eyes on the trembling needle.

I learn more than I’m meant to know, and have tendencies to share even more. Sometimes knowledge takes my hand and leads me like a magnet into trouble. It lets go, but I just keep on walking, needle twitching to beat the band. Actually, I shouldn’t, can’t, and won’t blame it on knowledge. It’s how I chose to apply it, my lack of choosing to, my ignorance in how to. It’s like when I use the wrong lotion, and find out later that I’ve got bad sunburn.

When I learn something’s wrong, it’s too late to apply knowledge. Plus, my corner market is always out of unburn lotion. A thousand times I’ve asked for the kind without the S. All I see on shelves is sunburn lotion. I need unburn. Unburn. Still, it’s fascinating being myself, and the uneasy comfort in not knowing if trouble is down this that or the other path. I’ll know full-well afterwards, so I might as well walk, or in my case, roll, into it. Am I not making sense? Here’s me starting to make some sense: I stayed up too late getting sunburned by history. Better?

My learning comes in alphabetical order, thanks to a set of old encyclopedias I bought for $12.75. I’m sure by now some bored body shoved most of that contents online, but who wants to stay up late staring at a sterile, two-dimensional screen, when whoever doesn’t want to stay up late like that can stay up to live all three dimensions? Four if you count touch. Five if you include sound, paper rubbing against itself, or better, paper on skin. That’s human contact on each page, my friend. I think we all need more of that. I for one don’t need less of it.

Reading real words on paper can transport us to the sixth dimension of pain. Try opening a paper cut on a computer screen. Go ahead. Try bringing blood. I’ll wait. A paper cut is rare, but as inevitable as pain inflicted by a sad story, and almost as real. Flesh always loses, doesn’t it? It’s that weak. Flesh should be on the inside, protected by one an organ we don’t need and often remove for convenience.

Did I say that the encyclopedia set was originally $15.00? When I noticed that incompleteness was part of the set, I wheeled myself to a thrift store worker (easily identified by his, “Hello my name is blank,” name tag). I pointed out that S was missing. All volumes were present and accounted for except for S. I asked if a set is $15.00, how much without what’s not there?

I go from searching for a missing S in unburn lotion, to finding everything except a missing S somewhere I’d expect an S to be. The worker didn’t understand, so I informed him that most encyclopedia sets contained not only one S volume, but a double-volume for S, because, historically, S was one of the most essential letters in the formation of our universe. Ever hear of science? Sssssience! Duh!

He implored me to stop the S lecture,  then admitted that he’d reduce the price to $12.75, tax included, not a penny less. I said that would be fine, because a penny mattered little in modern society, and that we could live without them just fine, although their removal may require a revision of the saying, “A penny saved is a penny earned,” to, “A penny? What’s a penny?”

He seemed fine with that, because he mumbled what mostly sounded like whatever. He walked away in the manner I wish I still could, which is to say defiantly. I asked him to please walk away defiantly, only carrying the encyclopedias to the cashier as he did. He could do at least that much for me, and that’s what he did.

I offered him the remainder of the crispness of my $20 bill upon delivery of my purchase to the Out, Out Damned Spot laundromat at the corner of What Was and Do Over Streets. That’s where I work and live. He did. He put them on a folding table. I gave him $7.25, my change from the well-washed $20. I thanked him and said have a nice rest of your life. He left without a murmur of thanks under his breath.

He walked between the spinning machines and out the door. He didn’t even check for change in the slots. Nobody does that. Apparently, somebody does. Then he walked into the street without first looking both ways. Instead of turning toward the thrift store and back to work, he decided to cross the street. That was the last time I saw him, when he crossed over.

A few times, as I worked my way from A to H, I wondered what happened to him, and how close he was to his ledge. Sometimes people are closer to their ledge than we think, only we don’t know it until after we push too hard. That takes us back to cattywompus compasses, so let’s not go back. By the time I got to volume I, my wonder for the boy had turned to the letter I, and the many lovely words having the honor of beginning with it.

My dictionary listed good words that begin with I. My favorite is inexorable. I is also for the irony of starting my appreciation of I-words with one describing something impossible to stop or prevent, like a young man from walking into traffic, after not looking for stray quarters to make $8.00. If I had known, I would have yelled to look both ways not once but twice, or at least I’d have bitten my tongue hard enough to bring blood, anything to stop it from saying have a nice life. Who knew? Who can?

We live and learn, or die and don’t. Intransigent. That’s my second favorite I-word. It lacks the same flow-off-the-tongueness, but the meaning is just as interesting: unwilling to accept change. That made me stop searching my books. I slapped shut the dictionary and the letter I volume, because I felt too convicted to continue. That night I cursed the power of words, and what they mean.

Did I say that my encyclopedia set is hard-bound, two-tone garnet and beige leatherette? If not, I meant to. Speaking of forgetting, here’s the rest of the $20 story. This part happened before the missing S purchase and delivery part. When I plopped down a crisp $20 for the cashier, I grinned, because the gig was up. They knew I could have paid full price for the set, with money to burn (not that I would ever burn a cool five-spot). I‘m miserly when it counts most. One might even say wiserly, but that word would be as missing in the dictionary as S.

Here’s the true north of my compass reading. I found that $20 bill in the pocket of a pair of cut-off jeans shorts last week. At midnight, I do a clothing round-up of all strays, and deposit them in the Lost and Found by the front door. We need a bigger bin. That night, I found the shorts, three pair of purple lace underwear (sometimes they have good sales downtown, as long as you buy the same color and style that they have too much of) and one tube sock. There’s always one tube sock. Every night there’s one tube sock.

Anyway, I did my normal midnight rear-to-front wheelchair wheelie performance with hands full of replenished Lost and Found, only this time I felt crunchiness in the shorts. Once I stopped myself from crashing through the front glass, and got turned upright again, I fingered pocket-to-pocket. There it was, $20. It’s not unusual to find crunchy stuff in pockets, but it’s rare to find crunchy stuff worth exactly $20.

Did I say that the laundromat is where I work? It is. I also live there. Did I already say that? I live there. I sleep in the one over-sized dryer drum that doesn’t work. Hasn’t since the 1980s, and I’m sure glad. I toss and turn enough as it is. The zombies who frequent the place used to call me Laundromat Boy, but they’ve shortened it to Laundroy. I don’t mind. We’re all forced to live with labels. It’s better than Cripple or Crip.

Did you know that my encyclopedias were designed to be a 147-lb, 28-volume set with a total of 29,321 pages? I confess, I found it out on the internet. Sometimes I go there for stuff I can’t find in encyclopedias, like details about the internet. It didn’t exist when my books were printed. No, it’s not an oversight. It’s the internet’s fault. It’s just that new, relative to the timeline of history. That’s why I love history. I also love mysteries, like how many of those 29,321 pages I’ve got with my missing S. I’m figuring it out, one page at a time, one late night at a time, one sunburn at a time.

Crap. The zombies are tapping at the glass. Next time, remind me to tell you about my parents, and how I came to have one leg instead of twice that number. I wasn’t born that way. Originally, I came with a full set. I came complete with a volume S.

Those aren’t really zombies tapping. They’re living breathing humans, but the way they look inside the glass without speaking, and the way they drag body-bags of dirty underwear from their cars, you’d never know the difference. Except for zombie make-up. None of them wear that. Nobody wears make-up to come to the Out, Out Damn Spot laundromat.

Next time, remind me to tell you about my parents and the murder I participated in. It was mostly unintentional. I told Mom I was sorry and that I meant well, but she said she didn’t want a well-meaning kid, she wanted a well-doing one, and that because of me, the family would be sporting the black eye of grief forever, longer if possible. Remind me to tell you how afterwards, my mother drove me to th edonation bin of the thrift with the missing S, and dumped me. It was Christmas day, it was immediately after the murder, and I was twelve.

If I’ve got time, I’ll tell you about the waif-like girl who came in through the laundromat’s locked back door one dark and stormy night (that’s how I like to remember it). She just waltzed in, spun on strong ballerina toes, and did a ta-da type of welcome-me curtsy, like a starlet fighting off a bout of anonymity. If I forget, just say tell us about the love of your life. I’ll know which story you mean.

Well, I better wheel myself up front and release the deadbolt before the undead’s incessant tapping shatters glass. There’s nothing like restless zombies with pockets full of quarters to ruin your midnight. Until next time, remember to look both ways more than once. If you choose to not to, have a nice rest of your life.