Wednesday, October 23, 2013

An Interlude Containing Zebras

About a quarter of the people who visited the last post answered the poll. Sheesh, y'all. There's still time, if you want to vote.

The recordation idea of the poll springs from the same place as today's post. Certain stories of mine are unsaleable, either according to mountains of rejections or for other reasons, but are still worthwhile in my eyes. I thought that recording these pieces in my own mellifluous voice [laughter] and posting them on my website might be interesting for all of us. I'll wait a bit longer for the poll to tell me whether or not there's interest enough in this idea to make it worth my while, but in the meantime here's one of those pieces in prose form.

This is nonfiction, after a fashion, and I wrote it at Esalen within the parameters of a writing exercise related to the alphabet (see if you can pick up on it, she said dryly). I got compliments on it while I was there, and I think it's pretty okay for a flash (I don't write flash especially well), but it's too gimmicky and a bit too self-centered for me to feel right about sending it anywhere. So you get it, instead, all 640ish words of it. Enjoy.

Self-Assurance from Z to A 


You're driving down an ordinary stretch of road near the Hearst estate. Xenophobic as always, you don't want to care why everyone's pulling over. What the side of the road has to offer doesn't matter, shouldn't matter. Versions of this tendency echo up and down your life – the desire not to run with the crowd, but to sit above the crowd and analyze it; to grok why pop music is so popular without admitting that you dance to it alone with the curtains pulled; to live in culture while retaining a vain and threadbare awareness that culture is a cesspool of lowest common denominators; to rubberneck at what's on the side of the road while insisting that you are too cool to actually pull over and get a good look. Under this glamour of distance is a hunger to know all things, to experience art and life both high and low, so you hit the brake and peer out at the grassy hills that surround this stretch of Route 1.

The zebras, no different in appearance than the picture-book animal image you've had in your head since early childhood, are grazing among ordinary cows, which are exactly as chill about this exotic sight as you wish you were. Some of the lookie-loos are snapping pictures (nearly all of them are, in fact) and this sets you on a whole other train of thought about why people try to capture the uncapturably bizarre experiences of life – which, of course, you yourself will attempt to do later, at your laptop.

[Right now, actually.]

Questions bubble up in your mind about where the zebras could have come from, why they're here, how they can just be grazing with the cows, thoroughly unaware of how incongruous they are in the wild, in public, not behind a zoo wall but a mere wire fence, like a rancher's. Perhaps the zoo of Xanadu in Citizen Kane gave birth to this sight, two zebras escaped from the ark to start a family on this hillside. Or maybe they're part of a weird experiment about putting zebras out on the California coast to see if they adapt to a cowlike life. No explanation you devise seems feasible, but this whole vision is infeasible, crowds of tourists pouring from tilted sidelined cars to snap pictures of wild (?) zebras grazing away.

Maybe, in their zebra brains, this is the African savannah. Lesser creatures have relocated to California, after all, to become film producers and entertainment lawyers.

Keeping your foot over the brake, you ease by, gawking like the rest, still insisting you're not a part of this scene. Jeez, zebras aren't that cool. If you tried to get a better look at them, it was only because you wanted to check them against the cartoon in your mind once or twice more, to make sure your picture of them is thoroughly accurate. Hell, anyone would want to look at zebras out in the open like this, right? George Plimpton himself might not have resisted the urge to gawk. Following the lead of the intermittently braking car in front of you is the safest way to drive this stretch of road, anyhow.

Every moment that you watch the zebras, you wonder with more and more fascination how they got there, and whether they feel like they belong on a hillside populated with cows – larger, fatter, slower cows. Duller cows. Cud-chewing cows. But you notice that as they graze, nonchalantly, they look happy to be where and what they are – satisfied with their dry grass, not remotely hung up on their own rarity or the attraction and novelty of them which has drawn all these passers-by out of their cars. And you force your gaze forward and drive on.

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