A Little Knowledge

Do you have a need to know? Due to recent advances in the field of international espionage, many of us are now privy to clandestine communications ordinarily reserved for those with a need to know, a strong desire to know it, and the knowledge to make sense of whatever it is we're about to know. Since I fit in only one of those categories, I was a bit surprised when I received an envelope containing three handwritten notes, all signed by someone called Redacted the Jackal.

The name on the outside of the envelope appeared to have been written in lipstick, which was smeared but for three letters: J, P, and A. I believe the envelope was forwarded to me in error, since I, too, have no permanent address.

Using every tool in my disposal, I have come up with nothing but a vague feeling of malaise, which I attribute to the bacteria and their disconcerting aroma. I leave it to you, dear reader, to decrypt these mysterious messages, if you're able.

21 February

Went out in search of Saint Bernard (a Lassie's eyes and an open mouth) among the quintessential penthouse crowd, but lost him in a bank of dropsy-curvy waves of gain. Warmed myself at the hearth of a lowly hunter before setting out again, this time without discounting the spatula or the braking action of tics and koans in the boneyard. Sir, this is no ordinary goosechase.

4 September

In this remote paradise the view is lost on the warning factions, who often break radio silence (a sergeant in garland is never transparent) with a purposed multifrequency scrawl designed to divert attention while they board up the train station. Sir, this is no ordinary island.

December 12

Since initiating contact six months ago, I remain fixed in my position that subject exhibits extraordinary skill in avoiding my gaze, the gaze of the local constabulary, and the gazes of those who do so only out of spite. No wingding programmer on the backslider's Web, he continues to practice his darts of perception, routinely nailing hammerheads cruising at 100 megabits per second, on the Nile, with cervix intact. Sir, this is no ordinary hacker.

Intrinsic Worth

You don't have to pay the piper to open the gate. The absolute value of a human beingthat is, without regard to signrenders the average Piscean in the shape of Gemini's bell-shaped curves, while the bullish Taurus inherits the finer points of Leo's voracious maw.

But mama's head, expounding on the spokes of the cosmic wheel, never promised us a rose garden. Post-natal drip, she said, will come and grow, wild and free, among the patches we sew on our bell-bottom jeans.

This is the promise of springthat immortal coilthat winds among the doubled strands of the helix that calls us home, for supper is but one repast on the menu of human possibilities.

Taste not, want not, and so shall it be until it dawns on the piper to open the gate.


Spider Bytes

Inspired and propelled by Angela, who never met a spider she didn't like. I've come to think of my little notebook computer as a playground of sorts. More than just a centrifuge for words, its keyboard offers hours of pleasant distraction for the impossibly small jumping spiders that have lately taken residence in my hair.

Watching a hatchling as he hopped from key to key, exuberant and playful as only the very young can be, I wondered what sort of neighborhood he lived in, and what he did after school. Did his brother take him to the playground to frisk on the teeter-totters and swings? Did his sister tie him up on the merry-go-round, spinning him faster and faster until centrifugal force reacquainted him with breakfast? What was his favorite cookie?

Aghast, I asked the question again, louder this time, and with greater concern. I knew I could not expect an answer; the tiny spider had already disappeared below the C. Alarmed, I began to pry the spacebar from its moorings, knowing full well that eight legs are better than one, but determined to prove myself wrong. Too late. The tot had already found his way through the hard-disk enclosure, and by the sound of it, was having the ride of his life on the spinning platter within. Then I heard a different sound.

I wasn't expecting good news when I arrived to pick up my disk from the forensics lab, but I didn't want to be laughed at, either. The technician smirked as he pointed a finger at his head, making a clicking sound with his tongue as he pulled a make-believe trigger. I looked at my shoes, pretending not to notice the spiders dangling from my eyebrows.

"So . . . the disk . . . is there . . . ?" My voice was hoarse.

"Any hope?" The technician was smiling, but his eyes were hard.

He pointed to a sheet of paper on the counter. I picked it up, and felt the blood drain from my face.

Cause of failure:

1) Persistent cookies

2) Spider bytes

Please pay this amount: $1,756.09

Have a nice day.

"Will you be using your credit card today?" asked the technician.

Looking back on it now, I should have known. I should have remembered that spiders are people, too; the attraction of the web is undeniable; it doesn't matter how many legs you have on. I shouldn't have forgotten that I was young once, and maybe twice, but you're only as old as you feel after you toss your cookies from the merry-go-round, or the hard disk.

I should have counted my blessings, instead of my legs.


The Bloating Crumbs of Rhetoric

Swollen with rhetoric What is it about rhetorical questions? They seem so innocuous on the surface, but after holding them underwater for a few minutes they stop their playful thrashing and become sullen, like a two-year-old.

Taken out of context, such questions hold very little water, like dehydrated fish with no pensions to tide them over until the next wave of liquid assets arrives by land, by sea, or by the way outlined in section seven, paragraph three of the Uniform Code.

While codifying mere uniformity is hardly a solution in itself, applying a second layer of oil carries risks that extend beyond those generally considered appropriate when seafood is at stake. Certainly, beef is a different animal altogether, though the sum of its parts is in many ways equal to the whole, lock, stock, and barrel.

Of course, unlocking the powder keg won't keep it from rolling into the water during rough seas, but isn't it just like a two-year-old to use "no" as a hedge against inflation? Like your father's post-holiday belly, crumbs are easily brushed aside, but that won't keep them from accumulating under the table.


A Remarkable Feat


Where paraphraseology is the goal, nothing says "you betcha" like a good parallel, because right angles don't measure up when the time comes to pitch the tent before turning in with a good notebook. As it turns out, wilderness exploration makes a mighty fine soup for those with a taste for linguistic adventure, which is where Craig Conley comes in and removes his shoes. Thus primed, he's ready to illuminate the crannies in the spaghetti of words and spaces he refers to as When in Greece, largely because that's what I decided to call it.

The rule of thumb, then, is this: When exploring a wilderness of words, leave only footnotes. This is precisely what Craig has done, as you will discover as you join him on his walkabout, which commences below the line you will notice presently, after your eyes move past the small dot at the end of this sentence.

When in Greecei

by Jeff Hawkins

Among the more provocative questions debated aboveii the water cooler this week, "self-reincarnationiii, huhiv?" generated more than its fair share of interest by adherents and passersby alike. While the answer to the question may seem, at first, to require an ex partev knowledge of the botanical sciencesvi, a more direct solution can be obtained by first asking how many livesvii might be crammed into the average catviii, then dividing the result by a half dozenix of the udderx. This gives mu, which we immediately recognize as the plaintivexi feline utterance used to summon the butler, Yeatsxii, so that he might refill the vacant cream dishes left on the floor by the careless hand.

Even if those dishes had been bluexiii, the very idea of replicating lives on the flyxiv begs yet another questionxv, then one more: Why cats? Why cats?xvi While the rest of us muddle along, dodging sparksxvii thrown from the axle of the cosmic wheel as it spins, half greasedxviii, toward the window where billions are servedxix, the cat has only to wish itself a new itinerary, and providencexx responds.

Merexxi coincidence? Perhaps. I do not claim to understand Greekxxii.


i Initially a play on "When in Rome," the "Greece" in question will play on fast-food "grease" by the end of the piece.

ii The water in the cooler has evaporated into a "word cloud."

iii This is a play on "self-recursion," a form of infinite nesting (not to be confused with "infinite empty nesting," referring to revitalized marriages when the kids leave home).

iv It's no coincidence that "huh" is a palindrome; palindromes are common in peptide sequences, meaning that human lives loop in the very strands of the DNA.

v i.e., judicious partying.

vi This is the "pot" calling the Grecian Urn black.

vii The rhetorical answer is, of course, nine.

viii The average cat crams 56 prey animals into its mouth each year (24 rodents, 15 birds, and 17 lizards).

ix Why divide nine lives by six? Mathematically speaking, six is nine upside down.

x Hawkins will milk some rich wit with this "udder." The bovine allusion will yield "mu," the famous Zen answer to whether or not a dog has Buddha-nature, even as it echoes "the cat's meow" (synonymous to "the cat's pajamas"). "Udder" also sets up a pig-Latin conjugation: udder/utterance/butler.

xi "Plaintive" echoes the mournful "plaintiff" alluded to the judge's ex parte order.

xii It's little known that William Butler, Yeats earned the comma before his surname while sailing to Byzantium.

xiii "No substitutions" is the common policy on a "blue-plate special."

xiv This is the fly attracted to the leftovers on the blue plate.

xv "Begging the question" is a form of circular reasoning, though don't say that within hearing distance of Aristotle's premises.

xvi Indeed, the word "caterwaul" is of imitative origin.

xvii "Dodging sparks" is an echo of "dogs in parks," chasing their tails in pursuit of Buddha-nature.

xviii The original aphorism was: "The squeaky cosmic wheel gets the oil."

xix This seeming reference to a McDonald's drive-thru is actually an ancient metaphor for the vaginal canal. However, any allusion to sexual lubrication is product of the reader's corrupted mind.

xx Providence, as in Providence, Rhode Island, a clever allusion to the Greek island of Rhodes.

xxi This echo of the cat's meow is nearly the omega word.

xxii The joke, of course, is that "coincidence" is of medieval Latin origin, not Greek.


Memory Dreams

Memory scan Felix dreaming in a house of shards
A shattered stream flows in his veins
The hacking trough between his knees
Holds mucus for the pens of thieves.

The smoldering light of a smoky moon
Paints downbeat shadows on his eyes
A Cheshire scat to bring the news
Of top hat Felix and his high-hat blues.

Dishpan bands in an elevator draft
Flow hither and yawn to the viselike script
Tales that wagged the dogs of summer
Frozen in time by the hands of the drummer.