Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Late Again

When I was in elementary school, I was late nearly every day. Every night, the principal would call my mother for yet another parent/teacher conference. On every call, she would be pulled to her wits’ end.

“She left home with plenty of time to make the walk. I told her not to dawdle. I just don’t understand.”

This is how I learned the word “dawdle”. But I still did not see how it applied to me. I was not a dawdler. I had very important business to take care of on my mile and half walk to school.

Being a hippy mountain town, one day the principal decided to detour on his bike ride to school to follow me. His plan was to observe my dawdling, no doubt, and hurry me on my way.

On the call that evening, my mother was irritated. “Why didn’t you hurry her along then?”

“She talked with each dog in each yard she passed. I didn’t have the heart to interrupt her.”

“Certainly petting a dog or two wouldn’t make her late,” mom reasoned. Allergic to every non-human creature and thus not a fan of fur, mom could not sympathize with my constant entreaties for a dog of my own.

“Well, she really talks to the dogs. And this was after she’d stopped at a Christmas tree at someone’s curb and proceeded to pull every single strand of tinsel off. Then she continued to an open meadow and stashed the tinsel under a rock. After showing it to a few dogs.”

Some days my walk-to-school business was more monumental in nature. One morning after a good snow, I felt it was very important that I practice the cursive writing we were learning. I climbed the fence into the local middle school’s football field and inscribed my name in lovely, looping, 20-foot tall letters by shuffling through the virgin snow. It was a thing of beauty. Not to mention a practical use of new scholastic skills.

Except for the dog conversations, these other events were just one-offs. They were not part of my over-arching walk plan.

Foiled in my quest for a fur-bearer, I decided I wanted a bird. Every morning, the field across from my school was filled with feeding black birds. I knew I would have one.

During the warm months, I practiced various approaches to the birds searching for the one what would not scare them off. During the winter months when there were no birds, I plotted and schemed so I’d be ready for their return. Finally, I had a sure-fire solution: I would bring a blanket with me and throw it over the flock. Surely it would trap at least one before they all flew off.

The plan had a kink, however, that I couldn’t see my way past. Once I had captured my new bird, what would I do with it all day until the walk home? I couldn’t bring it to school. The nuns wouldn’t have pets on the campus. I was afraid to hide it in the blanket off school grounds. What if some other bird-coveter found it and all my efforts were wasted? I couldn’t very well turn and take it home right then because, well, then I’d be late for school. And I couldn’t wait for afternoon for the walk home because, as my careful reconnaissance had shown, the birds only fed in the field in the morning. The blanket plan was flawless save for the issue of bird storage.

Sadly, I never did figure a solution. But my bird-lust must not have been so covert. For Christmas that year my parents got me a blue parakeet that I named Clifford after the big red dog. I was an early fan of irony. Clifford died the next day while I was at school so they got a replacement Clifford hoping I wouldn’t notice. I did notice but called him Clifford with no “2” appended to his name. I could play their denial game too. Clifford the Imposter, however, died immediately as well. It seems taking a parakeet through the snow world between the pet store and the car was just too much for the little things. After C2, the store had only green parakeets so the illusion of parakeet survival could not be continued. My parents ‘fessed up and I had to admit, having finally had one in a cage wasn’t the fanciful experience I’d imagined. I lost interest in birds. Turns out they just weren’t as conversational as dogs.

I found other necessary tasks to occupy my daily school walk between dog visits. That Spring, I busied myself surveying the intricacies of my school route which I then reproduced on an accurate map. I put my stamp on my town by renaming all the streets and paths of my route after my favorite horses: Arabian Way, Thoroughbred Trail, Clydesdale Cut, Pegasus Path. Unfortunately, the city planning commission did not take my improvements into serious consideration; the first of many disappointments in bureaucracy.

The year after that, I moved from my mountain town out to California. My new school was much further from home than my old one had been. My dad got me a fuchsia bike with a banana seat, a basket, and pink handlebar tassels. We rode the route on a Sunday so I’d be able to do it myself.

I started my California school as a bike commuter and I made it to school on time. As far as my parents were concerned my punctuality must have been because the bike was faster than walking. That wasn’t it. I’d have stopped more if I wanted. I did miss my tinsel collection from time to time. But the thing was: my dad wasn’t allergic to pets. Now in California, I finally had a real dog of my very own and I had to hurry home to walk him. Plus, the added bonus of his companionship meant I had someone to talk to while I built my new rocks-from-people’s-yards collection.

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