I ❤️ My Wife, and Dragons, Not Necessarily In That Order

There are a few advantages to being stuck in Atlanta traffic.  Not many, but there are a couple. Because I like to keep these essays around 1,000 words I will not be listing all the downsides to being stuck in Atlanta traffic. If I did I might wind up with a 4,000 page screed about how traffic drives ordinary folks mad, sometimes ends in violence, shaves cumulative years off an individual’s life, destroys the sperm count of otherwise viable males, puts unwanted wear and tear on brake systems and transmissions, lends itself to obesity, pollutes the air, and causes us to appear foolish as a species to the rest of nature, who ponder us in pity from roadside nests and lairs. 

So one of the very few benefits of traffic is that I get to browse through a library’s worth of bumper stickers; some clever, some tedious, some obvious, some outdated. Every once in a while I get the car whose whole back is covered with far left or far right outrage, driven by motorists who seem to allot all of their money to bumper stickers rather than to personal grooming products. The completely baffling ones are my favorite, and it was just such a rear panel I happened to be trailing the other day, caught in a tedious slog on a stretch of highway for which there is no exit, and thus, no escape. It gave me plenty of time to indulge “The Projector,” which is the big movie screen of my mind, usually showing odd experimental films in the vein of Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais, and Stan Brakhage.  

The car in front of me was a nondescript minivan displaying two almost identical bumper stickers, one on the left side and one on the right side. The one on the passenger (right) side caught my eye first. It proclaimed, “I ❤️ Dragons.” 

Ah yes, I thought. Who doesn’t love enormous, winged, fire-breathing beasts swooping down to terrify, and sometimes devour, entire villages of simple peasants? The fellow in front of me obviously had a big healthy imagination, and I smiled in approval. Then my eyes went over to the driver’s side of the bumper, where another very similar sticker proclaimed, “ I ❤️ My Wife.” 

Hmm, I said. That second one kind of threw me for a loop. It wasn’t the message itself so much as both messages together that had me perplexed. I spent the next few miles weighing each sentiment in turn, as I sped toward, and fell away from, the two statements as the stop-and-go traffic proceeded in true accordion fashion. Luckily I am a philosophy major, and my infallible logic proceeded thusly: 

This fellow in front of me loves dragons

This fellow in front of me is married

Ergo: This fellow in front of me is married to a dragon. 

Quod Erat Demonstrandum, as they say. Really, there was no other possibility. The pockmarked minivan was driving slowly and steadily to some demonic aerie atop a mist shrouded mountain, where his reptilian spouse would be flapping her wings, burping fire, staring at him through vertical pupils above smoky nostrils, demanding to know where he has been all day long while she tends to their children, or incubating eggs, depending on how you look at it. 

“ROAR!” she would say. 

“Traffic,” he would explain. 

Quit talking crazy, I told myself, knowing it was far too late for that. Well then, fire up the projector. Scene: man arriving home from his job in tech support, eager to show his wife his new bumper sticker declaring his ❤️ for dragons, which would’ve made his wife’s heart go 💔, and her head go 🤯, and her mouth go 🤮. 

“I wish you loved me as much as you love your 🤬’ing dragons.” 

“🤔,” he says. 

Back to the bumper sticker store to buy another decal. This one, the “wife” one, placed on the driver’s side bumper in a hasty manner, lopsided and rife with air bubbles, while the “dragon” sticker was applied with the care and detail that went into the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I fully believed that the driver in front of me ❤️ed dragons. I wasn’t quite convinced that he ❤️ed his wife. Even the placement of the bumper stickers was telling. The ‘wife’ sticker was on the left side, which is the side that it is safe to pass on. The ‘dragons’ sticker was on the right side, the side it is dangerous to pass on. The man seemed to be suggesting that a car may not pass on the right side, where you may hit his dragon, but feel free to pass on the left side, where you may run down his wife. 

I wished him the best of luck as I turned off the road. Hopefully wherever he was headed to was a place full of playful dragons, and non-judgmental spouses, a place that offered some mystical peace from whatever the modern world was trying to wring out of us. 

Curiosity Killed the Caveman

I breathed a sigh of relief the other day. My mailbox had been approved by the Postmaster General. It was stamped into the metal on the door. I had never noticed the issuance before that moment. It made me wonder whether it had always been there, or whether the Postmaster General himself had come by recently with an engraving stamp to grant his formal blessing that the tiny metal box at the foot of my driveway was indeed fit to contain, for a short while, United States parcels and postage. It is human nature to seek approval, and for those of us who are most desperate, the approval of the Postmaster General will have to do when none other is available.

I was forced then to consider the Postmaster General. Who was he and what qualifications did he have? Was he an elected official? A military adjunct? Could it be a woman? Was there a Postmaster Sergeant and a Postmaster Lieutenant? How had he become an expert on what type of mail receptacle was appropriate to hold letters and flyers? Was he an expert on Quonset huts, covered bridges, and other forms of arched containers both large and small? Had he performed a thorough diagnostic on my mailbox’s front door hinge, the only part of the letter holder that, as far as I could tell, might be subject to a gradual corrosion from usage? I pictured him dressed as a Third World military dictator. A Hailie Selassie look-a-like, with gold epaulets and a bright sash and a sword, riding through the neighborhood in a stripped down jeep with a mounted M-60 in the back.

Later on in the day, during my afternoon walk, I made it a point to stop and check all the mailboxes to see if they too had been granted legitimacy by the Postmaster General. All of them were approved. Except for one. And I wasn’t surprised.

She lives at the end of the block and she is an artist. Her medium is metal. She is to sculpture what the maverick filmmaker Stan Brakhage was to experimental film. I can appreciate the creativity but too much of it would surely drive me insane. Her front lawn looks like something out of a Tim Burton movie. It was obvious that she had made her mailbox herself, and that it didn’t need approval from a Postmaster General, or anybody else. It was an ornate piece of polished copper buried in a shrub that I realized looked a bit like, well, either like an orchid or female genitalia. I suspected her intent was the latter, since etched in careful calligraphy along the side was the caption, “Fe-mail Box.” I crept up to it, sensing that I was being watched from somewhere within the dark recesses of her artist’s dwelling. Carefully I opened the lid and almost jumped out of my skin as I peered in and realized somebody was looking back at me. There was a human head in there.
*
Forget cats. Curiosity has killed a whole bunch of stuff over the course of history. Let us go back to the beginning. Consider two Neanderthals living in the same crude shelter. Cave mates, as it were. The original odd couple. Both of them hear a lion roar outside. The first caveman, the curious adventurer type, fastens the uni-strap of his loincloth over his shoulder, grabs his puny spear and trots out to confront the bestial howl. The second fellow, cautious as he is, decides it would be better not to run out and investigate the cat’s cries. Something about the screeching just seems like bad news. So while the first caveman is outside satisfying his curiosity, the second caveman tucks himself beside his little fire and points his ear toward the mouth of the cave. For a few minutes there is human shrieking and the animal’s own caterwauling, both of which eventually subside. The little man ensconced in his rock dwelling wonders who won the battle and is given the answer by way of his former cave mate’s head rolling back at him, coming to rest at the edge of the fire with a look of supreme idiocy across his lacerated face. The lion outside devours the rest of Mr. Curious and then enters the cave and starts poking around. The survivor, contemplative and fearful proto-man, knows that if he plays his cards right he can have the whole rest of the cave to himself from now on. So he invents the shrug-and-go-limp method of conflict resolution, or what is known as tonic immobility. He plays dead, watching through an apertured eyelid as the enormous cat nudges him a bit, sniffs and then pisses on him before skulking away to sleep off the rather substantial meal he has just gorged himself on. The surviving Neanderthal, covered in animal urine, jumps up in victory. It is his genetic code of abject cowardice that will be passed down through his lineage. He keeps his old roommate’s head nearby to remind him that some mysteries are better left unsolved. Make no mistake. Curiosity is as ruthless as cancer.
*
I offer the above allegory because the head in the mailbox scared the shit out of me, and I almost felt that there could’ve been a loaded gun in it, rigged to the door, ready to blow my snooping head off. After a minute I peeked back in. There was a mirror in the far end of the mailbox. I was looking at myself. No sane Postmaster General would go near that thing.
Artists are creepy.
More Alembics to come.