Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Illustrations by Akemi Shinohara.

Ideally, letters from my father would come accompanied by drugs. Whatever drugs were necessary to offset the effects of the letter. There'd be a Valium or a Xanax to swallow with water and then -- in just 20 minutes -- I'd be ready to read. Some messages would come with the smallest dose -- the tiniest most adorable Valium taped right to the postcard. Other letters, such as this one, would come accompanied by a very serious quantity of barbiturates.

As this is not the case, I help myself to the bottle of whiskey that lives inside the freezer door.

It appears my family is genetically pre-disposed to write letters. Mad letters. It runs in the family -- along with alcoholism, suicide, mania, delusions of grandeur, violence and a certain ineradicable charm. The men also undergo sudden total hair loss at the age of 60.

No pill has yet been created for letter-writing. Trust me, if there was a cure, we'd cram it down each other's throats. It'd be in all the meatloaf.

My father does not send me one letter. He sends me parts of eight letters, written over a span of several months. Some of these notes are very sweet -- others breathtakingly petty. He argues all sides, excuses, and curses my brothers and I.

He hints that I'm his favorite. He hints that I am lousy and messed-up and, anyway, enduringly insignificant.

He also says that I am very harsh.

I write letters of my own. (As I said, I suspect it's genetic.)

For example, the following, to my employer:

Due to the wiring of my brain -- an entirely mistaken job, done super-fine -- I am receiving the distress signals of other species. As if I didn't have enough troubles already, without the horrors of frogs and owl panic and the kind of resentments that can only be harbored by bristlecone pines.

While noting my abysmal job performance, I hope you will keep in mind how remarkable it is that I arrive to work at all. I am able to navigate one of the world's most convoluted public transit systems. I even dress myself. In the midst of all these messages.

Because I must listen to all of it. The hissing complaints as the Earth heats up like a skillet. Sir, you must not allow yourself to imagine that even old ice enjoys to split and melt.

It is to my advantage, certainly, that people in my family are more adept at writing letters, than actually mailing them.

My father never even mentioned a developer. Not once. The important thing, he said, was to make sure the land stayed farm forever. And if the farm failed, well, it'd go back to brush and the deer and the rabbits could have it.

This was how things stood when last I saw him. Between then and now however, a developer called him up and offered him a million dollars.

"Sure!" he said.

I am really not looking forward to losing all of my hair. Even in my armpits. Even on my balls. I suspect that I will be significantly less myself without my eyebrows.

I worry about all this despite the fact that, if my hair lasts 25 more years, it will outlive every iceberg and every coral reef. My hair will flow longer than several of the world's major rivers.

My hair is going to outlast the world as we know it. Then one day it will all, suddenly, be gone.

Why do I always think that somehow I would be more all right, trudging across a gutted landscape, if I was really, really cute?

Certainly my hair will outlast the family farm.

I was the sort of kid who, when taking tests, with only five minutes left on the clock, could only panic. Or else concoct the most outrageous fantasies. Even true or false I could not manage, to say nothing of geometry.

Such a person is at a tremendous disadvantage, showing up just now on the planet. What can be written, what can be done, when there is no longer the illusion of time?

The fact that members of my family must interpret each other's letters is a small but evocative example of the law of karma in action.

I was rather stupendously naive, I guess, to imagine that such valuable land might be entrusted permanently to the rabbits and the deer. A farm must have money. Money that will now sit in the bank and earn more money than pumpkins ever will.

That is, until the next disaster: drought, flood, frost, hail. My father taught me that a hailstorm costs a hundred thousand dollars a minute. When it will all, suddenly, be gone.

Disasters are not what the were for my grandfather. Disasters are increasingly reliable. The year does not run as it did. Everything grows more extreme.

My father has sold the orchard for ten minutes.

Volunteers wash sea turtles using dish soap and rinse the oil from their prehistoric mouths. The eyes of the turtles are delicate however, and someone somehow has figured out that the way to clean the oil from sea turtles' eyes is with mayonnaise. These turtles which were endangered even before the spill. Such as the Kemp's Ridley, of which only 3000 were said to survive, before the spill.

All clean, the turtles are placed in tanks. Because there is nowhere in nature for them to return.

It is astonishing, the rapidity with which I have sprouted opinions since discovering I am powerless.

I am one of those people who say that this is still worthwhile. Even now. One whose eyes still wash themselves, grateful to those who do what they can, even here at the end, even with mayonnaise.

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