Durham News: Opinion

June 27, 2014

Robert Wallace: Particles for global consciousness

I sit in a café on 10th Street NW, in Calgary, Alberta. It’s a cool day for June, by North Carolina standards, but not by normal weather patterns for this part of Canada.

I sit in a café on 10th Street NW, in Calgary, Alberta. It’s a cool day for June, by North Carolina standards, but not by normal weather patterns for this part of Canada.

The streets are busy, traffic orderly but heavy. The barista’s name is John. He says he was named after John Lennon, though I don’t catch what his middle name is, or his last. Or the reason for his parent’s attachment.

The coffee shop is small; only a few backless chairs and some tall, round tables. The barista appears to know many of the customers by name, a good sign it’s a local hangout. I like listening to the banter between John and the customers. It’s friendly and honest, and sympathetic.

Music is playing in the background. Quiet music. Drums. A little chanting. John starts chatting about Lennon the poet, the philosopher.

“Living is easy with eyes closed,” he says to one customer.

A guy comes in and mentions that he’s filmed a recent TED Talk episode. He doesn’t name the subject. He starts describing where the episode was filmed and he and John toss back and forth about the location in Calgary, a non-descript spot on a road that I don’t catch.

“I’ve always wanted to attend a TED Talk,” John says.

Another guy comes in and he begins talking about a party that night. And then he starts talking about his dad. He says he gets up one morning and goes out the backdoor to let the cat out and his dad is in the yard digging holes.

“What was he doing?” John asks.

“Dirt fishing,” the man says.

“Dirt fishing?”

“Yeah, that’s what my dad calls it. He’s out there with a metal detector, hoping to find something.”

“Did he?”

“No. But here’s the thing. He asks me to go with him to the Yukon for a few days, to dirt fish.”

John laughs. “Did you go?”

The guy laughs back. “Yeah, I did.”

“It’s all about connections,” John says. “A road trip with your dad. To go dirt fishing. I love it.”

“Here’s the thing, though,” the guy says. “I spent most of my time in the cabin we rented, reading.”

“You went with him, man,” John says. “That’s all that matters. It all adds to the particles for global consciousness.”

Here’s a story about my dad. When my dad was sick and could no longer work, at night, after my stepmother had turned out the lights in their bedroom, I used to go outside and fire baseball pitches at the garage door. I’d throw as hard as I could so that I’d make such a loud noise I couldn’t think.

One day I came home from school and found the outline of home plate painted bright red on the garage door. My dad, despite his illness, had managed to paint it.

By the fall my dad was hospitalized again. I was working in a grocery store by then. I was 14 years old. One night, close to Christmas, he came into the store, while I was bagging groceries, with his dark sunken eyes and gaunt frame. He purchased a six-pack of Bud.

After work I walked the half mile back home. The house was dark except for the lights from the small table-tree my stepmother had put up the night before. My siblings were in bed, though I could hear quiet voices coming from their rooms. My parents were in their room too.

My dad had a workshop. He didn’t keep it locked. This was the early ’70s. I pulled my stocking cap well over my ears and entered the workshop with its smell of sawdust that covered the floor.

On the benches were my dad’s tools, chisels that had such sharp edges they could split open a finger with the slightest touch. On the lathe was a block of cedar, rounded on both ends. It was the last bat my father started. He said he always wanted to make a cedar bat and keep it in his room. He had started it after his first day of chemotherapy. As soon as the chisel bit into the wood he vomited, the sweet cedar forever a reminder of his contaminated body.

Several months later my dad died. This was after I had moved in with my grandparents and after my stepmother was killed in a car wreck, driving to see my dad in the hospital. But before then, when we were all still in the house together, managing but not managing, too, I used to go out in my dad’s workshop often. I would look at the bats he had made. Sometimes I would touch them. And sometimes I would swing them. I would swing hard and fast. My plan, always, though this has yet to happen, was to finish my dad’s last bat. I would put chisel to wood, and the cedar would fall on the dusty floor in fragrant ringlets.

Robert Wallace also writes fiction. See his latest story published by Scintilla Press at bit.ly/1pjMAOT and contact him at bwallace@nc.rr.com

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