J u l y   2 0 0 1

Guest Writer

A brown study
by Troy Eggleston

oredom is irrelevant when considering time's precocious chokehold.

Productive culture is a thing of the past, a farce, bullying those of us that prefer a tent to the sky. My sloth is legendary among the passersby, and I need not an excuse for it.

Not one shred of courage does it take to produce an army of puffed men morally obligated to occupy their hurried lives, pursuing one folly after the next. They have the laborious task of momentum, which is a horrible, gruesome thing. It catapults the restless into unforeseeable walls, birthing scars that eventually shade the conscious mind.

No, I have the courage of a true man. Not to boast, but my stamina is unprecedented. I can endure weeks, even months, of absolute nothingness.

In fact, these last few years have been my most listless of all and I must confess that I am pleasantly unscathed. I refuse to use the word "enlightened," simply because that requires the task of thought. I do not feel the need to think about how I have grown or overcome certain obstacles. I do not need to dwell on my misfortunes or my so-called glory days. I am the here and this is the now.

My dreams in the oversleep offset the sanest sunlight-swirling captions of the have and have not. I indelibly confess that they are my softest hours and within them I wake reluctantly each day. That is neither fault nor direction, just a satisfactory feeling I get from sleep.

Mornings are relative. They are a period of first development. It is presumptuous to believe that this must always occur in the a.m., when the dew is fresh on the ground and tiny birds whistle away.

People occasionally say to me, "But don't you miss the mornings?"

I do not know how to miss something that has never left.

This morning I awoke to the sun at center stage, pouring its arrogant dance through my window. It was hard not to resent something that needed so much attention. I was still trying to tie the delicate strands of my dreams together: the ocean scene with the dancing seaweed, and then those telephone lines just crashing like that and sinking into the earth.

There is futility in abstraction. I stumbled out of bed and headed towards the bathroom and immediately turned the "hot" knob full tilt in the shower. Steam thickened the room. The running water delivered a static to my ears as my mind cleared within its hiss.

Maps were divined, ideas reminded. It is the catalyst of my peace movement.

My priorities were kept to a minimum. I was able to ponder the fate of the Milky Way and still make it to work on time. Rarely was I under the grip of the "claws of anxiety."

"Them are like an eagle's talons," my grandad would say. "They just dig further and further in, and then carry you away to someplace you don't even want to be."

I was right where I wanted to be, home, half asleep and sitting on my toilet listening to the dynamic fuzz of urban water crashing out of an antique shower head. Although my living space is about the size of a generous master bedroom, I was rather happy.

"Happiness is a bony specimen, it always needs nourishment, and don't be ashamed, boy; masturbation is indeed nourishment."

I stood up to clear the fog off of my bathroom mirror with the back of my hand. I stared back at myself for the brief moment it allowed. There were no revelations to be found. I noticed no significant creases or marks of aging. Although I approach 30, the so-called inevitable weight of gravity had not yet begun its march down the alleys of my face.

I attribute this phenomenon to two things, the first being my affection with sleep. I can easily nap away 12 hours of the day without experiencing a sense of guilt or lethargy. The second is my ability to tune out stress. Stress is usually the result of pettiness, and I try to absolve myself from that demeanor.

Although the condensation had resumed its cloth-like effect, I still stood there just thinking while staring at the block of haze before me. My thoughts began to travel back to my childhood, toward the embellishments. Each of us is sculpted from dying hands and the circumstances that lead us to our excuses are now but mere reflections of fate. My secrets are defenseless, my memories fine-tuned so that my dictation does not crumble upon me.

Growing up, I had a friend named Eddie, who was obsessed with his baseball card collection.

It was his distraction, a way for him to dissolve, to hide from the ubiquitous shadow of his father. He was kind to his cards. Tiny plastic folders protected each one, whether it was an M.V.P or a future minor leaguer.

Every cent was spent on baseball cards. He collected bottles, mowed lawns, sold lemonade. He even made a miniature baseball diamond with real dirt and stadium lights of aluminum foil and would charge ten cents admission to see a game in which he painted jerseys on tiny plastic army men and made them swing bayonets at an imaginary ball.

"I'm one Johnny Bench and a Steve Garvey away from a set." Eddie would say to me as if the discovery of those two cards would make his young life complete.

"Insignificant." My grandad taught me that word when I brought home my first report card.

"Insi-what?" Eddie started to ask before interrupting himself.

"No, listen," he began again. "I heard Topps does that. They make some players really hard to find. My friend Daniel, who actually has this year's Johnny Bench, said there's only three of them out there, and two of them are in Ohio and the reason they're in Ohio is because the Reds are from there. I can't believe that. That is so lame. So now I have to trade with him if I want to make a set and I'm sure he is gonna want something big time."

"I'm going home," I said.

"Hey, guess what."

"What?" I asked, uninterested.

"I have a friend whose uncle lives somewhere in Cleveland. That's in Ohio, right?" he asked in his high-pitched voice.

"It is."

"Is it the capital? Anyway, my parents only give me $5 every two weeks and that only buys about eight packs of cards. I asked Ted, you know Ted, he's Jimmy's older brother. Well, I asked him if he would buy me as many packs of Topps as he could when he goes and sees his uncle. I figure if I even have a chance at getting a Johnny Bench, then I have to give him at least 30 dollars. He's leaving in four days. I need that card. Daniel wanted my Mickey Mantle rookie card that my dad gave me. He would kill me if I traded that card."

Eddie had it all worked out. I was staring down at my bare feet wondering how long I could stand the heat of the concrete.

"What?" he asked anxiously, his eyes bouncing back and forth like a sugar-induced pinball machine. You could tell just by looking that Eddie had issues.

"I didn't say anything."

"Oh. Hey, if you know anybody that has this year's Garvey, tell me, okay?"

"I will," I said, leaving Eddie to his own devices. "If I come across one I'll be sure to tell ya."

As it turned out, his friend came back with half the cards Eddie expected, and a new pair of sunglasses. The friend said that Topps were twice as expensive in Ohio because the Indians were so bad. And after ripping open each pack to find only the familiar faces of sub-par players, Eddie went home in despair.

He began losing sleep over the idea of never having a complete set.

I went to visit Eddie one day a few weeks after that encounter. He answered the door in his Dodger pajamas. I immediately noticed that something was swollen about his center of gravity.

"What's up, Eddie? Wanna go over to the lake? I'm walking over to my grandad's to get some cane poles and earthworms."

"Not today. I feel like staying home. Guess what."


"Daniel is such a sucker," Eddie confided. "Hey -- you didn't find a Garvey card yet did you?"

"Not yet; haven't found one yet. So, you been okay? I mean, it's been awhile since I've seen you out."

He looked away nervously, sort of digging his fingernails into the side of his head.

"Yeah," he said after a serious pause. "Well, I've been having weird dreams, you know? Like, don't laugh, okay? But I keep having this dream that the card, the Johnny Bench card, is almost within my reach, and then a big, strong burst of wind blows it away. I chase after it for what seems like forever and right when I realize that the card is far gone, floating in the clouds, my wiener sort of gets itchy. It starts itching so bad, like the worst itch ever, and right when I go to scratch it, it just falls off. It falls off! The next thing I know is it grows these two weird purplish wings and just flies away in the sky right next to the Johnny Bench card and then Johnny Bench starts laughing and pointing his finger at me and my wiener starts laughing too and it laughs so hard that it starts to pee from the sky and the next thing I know is I wake up and my bed is all wet."

I couldn't help but laugh a bit. It was an immediate reaction. Kids laugh at the word "wiener," and besides, I felt a little awkward receiving the information.

"Don't tell anyone or I'll kill you," Eddie said. "It's not funny, and I've been wearing a cup for a week because I want to catch the thing if it does actually fall off while I'm sleeping. This is really scary. I can't tell my dad because he'll think I'm queer or something. And besides, I don't want him to find out about the trade."

I had all kinds of strange imagery floating in my head that kept reeling round and round.

"I had to do it," he confessed. "I mean, I had to. I traded the Mickey Mantle for the Johnny Bench."

I cut the tape in my head when I noticed that Eddie had begun crying. I knew why he was so distraught. Eddie's father had quite the temper. If he ever found out that Eddie really was the stupid little shit he'd been calling him all these years, then poor Eddie might end up with a whole new battalion of scars.

Eddie's father, a large man who liked to work with his hands, had a stubborn affection for old things and never acknowledged anything that didn't exist back in his day. He coached his son's Little League team, the Eastside Mechanics -- named after his small garage on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. He was adamant about what he called a "pure swing" and wooden bats.

"There's no damn aluminum on my team," he would say proudly and often.

He was tough on Eddie, relentlessly tough. And Eddie, fearful towards his father, became one of the better hitters on the team. His father would always boast about his son's future in the big leagues, saying how his swing was not unlike the great Mick.

"Son," his father would preach, "you have to keep your elbows up, feet planted, be ready."

One day, Eddie had a particularly bad game with the bat. His father considered this a public embarrassment and demanded an explanation at the supper table.

"It's like you forgot everything I taught ya. Your swing is rigid like one of these robots they're making these days. There'll never be a first-place team of robots, boy. You can take that to your grave."

"Honey," Eddie's mother chimed in, passing the potatoes, "leave him be. I'm sure he already feels bad enough."

"Son, go get that Mantle card I gave ya and we can see what a pure swing is all about." A large piece of gristle stuck between Eddie's father's gray teeth. "The Mick is Mr. Baseball, ya know. Maybe just the sight of Mick's cherry-blossom smile will stop your slump. Go get that card, boy, we need good old Mick to help us out of this jam."

Eddie looked into the big, blue eyes of his mother.

"Well, honey," she smiled back with a lemonade voice. "Go get that card for your father. Maybe it will help. You never know."

Eddie's heart dropped.

He thought about running, a straight sprint to the door. He tried to stall, a tactic poorly designed for kids like Eddie.

"Yeah, Mantle's great, dad. But what about Johnny Bench? He might help. I mean, he's a good player."

"Bench? You're comparing Johnny Bench to the great Mickey Mantle?"

"No, dad, not really. My room's a mess, though. It'll take awhile to find it."

Tiny beads of sweat trickled down Eddie's slight forehead.

"Well, you better find it, boy. Now go! Me and your mother will sit here and wait."

Eddie ended up locking himself inside his bedroom. He coughed up his confession on a piece of paper and slid it under the crack of the door.

Eddie's father waited long enough and walked straight to Eddie's bedroom, banged on the door and bellowed, "Boy, come on now. Where is that Mantle? You better hope to criminy you didn't lose that card. That would be a mighty mistake."

"It's there. Under the door. I slid it under the door."

Eddie was perched up beside an open window, just in case his father happened to kick down the door with his big, greasy boots.

"You traded what! You little shit-bag! You little piece of weed, I'll kill ya! Let me in so I can kill ya! For a freakin' Bench! You dumb little shit. Let me in, boy."

Eddie's father pounded relentlessly on the door until Eddie's mother came by to suggest that the neighbors would call the police again.

"You better stay in there, boy," Eddie's father warned, "all summer and all winter. Next time I see ya, your twerpy body better be decomposed."

Eddie stayed in his room all summer. I would occasionally walk by his window, where I'd see him staring listlessly at the tall palm tree that stood in his front yard. I would wave, and sometimes he would wave back. Sometimes he wouldn't.

One day, while he watched some kids play stickball, Daniel and I happened to walk by. We couldn't help notice Eddie's pale, yearning eyes. He looked sick, less alive then the kid we knew.

"Hey," said Daniel, "I hear you're holed up for awhile. Sure miss trading cards with ya."

"Come here," Eddie snapped through the open window.

"What? I'm in a hurry."

"I'll trade ya my whole set of this year's cards for that Mantle back."

"No way, dude. That Mantle is a hard card to find. My dad said that if I hold on to it, it might get me through college."

"Aw, come on. I'll give you last year's set, too. Two sets, Daniel."

"Did you ever get the Garvey for this year's?"


"Well, then it's an incomplete set, isn't it."

"Please. I need that card back. My dad wants to kill me."

"What else is new?"

"Please, I'll give you my Atari, too."

Daniel's eyes lit up. He was a sucker for Space Invaders.

"I don't know," Daniel said, as if still reluctant about the deal.

"Come on. You always say how you wish your mom would buy you an Atari."

"Yeah, but this is a rare card. I wouldn't just trade it for anything."

"Come on, Daniel. I'll tell Jimmy that you have a crush on his sister."

"I don't even like Elaine."

"Jimmy'll beat you up good. He owes me a favor anyway, because I mowed his grandmother's lawn for free."

"I don't have a crush on Elaine."

"Well, trade or no trade?"

"Okay, okay. But I don't have a crush on Elaine."

"Whatever." A big, gracious smile came over Eddie.

Which is how I remember him after all these years -- with a big, gracious smile. I sat back down on the toilet, thinking about Eddie.

Rumor was that, about five years later, he ended up trading the Mantle card he so painstakingly got back -- for a quarter sack of brown Mexican weed and a lava lamp.

I thought about reasons. Everybody has a reason. There is a reason for my sloth, but just how deep and tangled it is may fall into the category of speculation and I don't have time to grab at ghosts. Last I heard, Eddie was a queen living in San Francisco. I imagined him in a pretty blue dress and high heels, makeup running down his worried face. Older men would stare at him in silent disgust.

"Who is that?" they'd wonder. "That certainly isn't my son." And the women all know he's not a woman and they scoff at him for even trying. His thick hands are wrapped around himself like a curious lover.

"Hugs, kid," my grandad would say. "There are different ones for different people. We all fall into one another sooner or later."

Later, grandad got into handshakes. He said they were just a hug of the hands.

My daydreaming began to wash away the time. I decided to proceed from my foggy notions and continue to the next movement.

Usually, I let the hot water cool to a frigid room temperature, and it is then I reluctantly emerge from my think tank. Today, though, had a sense of anticipation attached for some unexplainable reason. The sun was out for the first time in weeks, and although it is the evenings I enjoy, I decided I would take an out-of-character stroll through town before work.

I stood up and turned the knob counter-clockwise. The water retreated, revealing many other layers of the morning. It is the bottom layer I think I appreciate most. It suffers the weight of the world without relinquishing its beauty; without knowing how beautiful it actually is.

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