Poets and writers drink more intensely. Smoke more intensely. Worship God more intensely. Poets and writers fuck more intensely. Poets and writers give more willingly-- spilling the alphabetical marrow of their souls out into the albino sonogram of hope that is the page, hoping some stranger whom he or she has never before met turns to his crafted syllables in time of dire need and somehow finds solace, finds laughter finds a friend.
Sunday, May 26, 2013
Burt arranged the glass to the
mermaid carousel in the mist of Founders narthexhoping
the lulling sway of the water pump would relax the students into an environment
conducive for academic growth. He placed it next to the mascot of our beloved
Fightin’ Squirrel clad in patriotic garb holding up a copy of Johnny Tremain
goading college students to READ VICTORIOUSLY into battle.
The goal was to make the library a hip place to be.
"Think of it as a giant fish
tank—an aquarium for excellence." Burt says, explicating how he heard a
thump near the dam at Lake Havana with Miss Kewanee two weeks ago before prying
the fin free from the grin of his jet-ski propeller.
As interior decorative consultant Burt is assigned the task of locating
intriguing monuments for display throughout our building. Last September he
recruited a thirteen foot tall Rubik cube a liberal grad student whittled out
of drywall and claimed was art. As pre-dawn custodians our task is to thoroughly
windex any smudges and graffiti from various building shrines as well as to
catch the library gnomes in the early morning hours before they pillage the
shelves and jam up the copy machines with faded date due slips and jinxed copy
cards. Because CAMPUS HUMANITARIANS IDEALIZING DIMINUTIVE EQUALITY
prohibits the destruction of lilliputians, we suck the thumb sized creatures into
the trunk of a Hoover, later depositing the gnomes near the one armed
statue of William James even though by the next morning they seem to have
made their way back to the abandon card catalogue section of the building, much
to the chagrin of the part-time reference librarian.
But it was the mermaid tank that
would save us. Carousel in semblance, Burt placed WiFi carrels around the exterior
glass chirping out visuals of young scholars lost in a studious fantasia as
they extrapolated quantum binomials or crammed across Excel
documents. At the ribbon cutting ceremony he toasted to the genesis
of a new dawn for the Lewinsky-Baker library, before a bevy of media
hounds interrupted him. Due to the misty additives the water inside the
tank was a bulbous crown of dust and the mermaid would not be completely
visible for two days. The petoskey -colored silhouette blimp that floated
inside the mermaid tank looked more like a manatee than the mythical creature
it was purported to have been. The media seemed dubious and ready to carp in
“Don’t worry, the mermaid will
eventually begin to come around.” Burt told us while handing us a special sort
of sanitizer to disinfect the edges of the fish tank with—informing
us that it was part of our job to feed the mermaid a special alloy of
anchovies, dill weed and herring three times a day.
you believe this?" Kirk said, over our early a.m. smoke break, holding up
a palm sized tile of Rubik cube that the 'brary gnomes had pried loose in the
middle of the night. "Another piece of Burt’s bric-a-brac to
Later that week the mermaid began to
reveal herself. I had just finished lacquering up the dated spindle kiosk in
what was left of the Herodotus Lounge when Kirk notified me of the sound of
bubbles expiring from the top of the mermaid capsule. The students had arrived
for RUSH orientation a week before and there were already graffiti’d
hieroglyphics promulgating the immortality of certain frats stenciled into the
side of the mermaid’s prison. The additives in the water had begun to clear and
in the center of the tank floated the mermaid, the most beautiful hybrid
between fish and female I have ever seen.
was something about the mermaid. Her hair was the color of a forgotten penny
found in the bottom of a car ashtray—a wiry bushel of bronze that seemed to
sway above her bosom like a whimsical stage curtain. Her emerald fin stretched
below her cottage cheese flavored torso like an upside down question mark. But
what allured me most about the mermaid was her eyes. A peaceful button of
unblinking moss. The lone olive stranded in the martini chalice long after the
cocktail party has ended.
“She’s beautiful.” I told Kirk, still
enamored with the twin pebbles of her eyes.
“She’s fat.” Kirk responded.
“She’s not fat.” I told Kirk.
"That mermaid looks like
it should be modeling fins for Lane Bryant." Kirk added while trying to
swipe the guts of a stepped on 'brary gnome from the bottom of his steel-toe
“I wouldn’t call her fat,” I told
Kirk. “I would call her ample. I would call her extravagant.”
“She’s fat.” Kirk noted again,
padding his upper pocket for a pack of smokes, cursing under his breath that
Burt isn’t going to be happy when he sees this.
All registered students at HillSide
Plus gain instant access to Midgard, our university’s virtual cyber world
distillate. Inside Midgard the students can look like any college student. Many
classes are conducted solely inside the portal of Midgard, with students simply
plugging up their Spindles and entering meadows of infinite cyber
possibilities. Every academic text and online journal Lewinsky-Baker has to
offer is available within the clime of Midgard—as is every other library in the
country, granting students instant library loan and imminent perusal of almost
any text imaginable.
The onset of Spindles and Midgard has
really wrought havoc on the antiquity of academia. Gone are the days when
students huddled around laptops or reviewed recorded lectures from the
digitalized socket of their cell phones. Even more gone are the days when
students used to check out books. Gladys’s stats from circulation show that she
checked out only two books in the last week and they were both in braille. The
bookstore even went bankrupt and transitioned into Hookah-Smoothies a few years
back. The library was hurting hard until they hired Burt.
“That thirteen foot sized Rubik cube
brought in a huge Euclidean convention last year.” Burt reminded us at the
staff appreciation luncheon where they give us each a free Frisbee with our
buildings motto on it.
“Unlike the time you turned the
Herodotus lounge into a casino.” Kirk uttered, looking into the initials of our
university on the Frisbee.
Autumn semester convenes with
crimson leaves skirting into the entrance of our establishment and new freshman
elongating their Identity Features in Midgard so as to confuse technologically
wizened professors. About a week into the semester the mermaid became a salient
feature on the Virtual campus tour, prompting students to abandon the screen of
their Spindles and witness the anomaly with their own eyes.
The first two
months the mermaid became the campus cynosure. Lines stretched all the way from
the customer service oath mural. Initially students would idle in line for up
to two hours, texting visuals of themselves standing in front of the elegant
legend. Cheerleaders held pep rallies, temporarily
placing a Fightin’ Squirrels football helmet over her copper tresses in
support. Professors organized office hours in the sight of the spectacle,
gesticulating with their arms as they argued about the infinite possibilities
of the human condition and the ongoing mysteries of the world around us. Mathematic professors would use part of her
glass abode as a translucent note board, scribbling out various equations
before nodding.A ten percent rise was
noted in academic exploration students changing their major to marine biology.
Public patrons would even abandon the inky
tint of their privacy screen on the old Mac’s to see what all the fuss was
Theatre majors seemed to take an
almost a cultish following congregating around the mermaid, watching her furl
her fin in jubilation as they recited lines from You Can’t Take it With You.
Burt had a promotional picture taken in front of the mermaid with a foreign
exchange student from Darfur, each of them holding up a screened Spindle with
the words MOBY DICK flashing across the screen. He even scheduled an elder
anachronistic society member to portray Hans Christian Anderson and host story
time for the dole-eyed inhabitants from Bethany home.
The mermaid even served as the
centerpiece for the 200 dollar plate champagne and sea food fundraiser dinner
which left Burt whistling out the tune of “We’re in the Money,” while Kirk and
I cleaned up.
There was even a waiting list for
students volunteering to help feed the mermaid herring and dill weed
The Lewinsky-Baker library seemed to
be back on track.
Mornings after vacuuming up ‘brary
gnomes I would again lose myself in the deep pine of her eyes, wondering what
narrative lay behind the dual orbs of her vision. There were questions I wished
to inquire of her. I wanted to know where she came from. What her passions
were. How her ferrotype reproduced.
“I think the mermaid is lonely.” I
said to Kirk, one morning, after we shoveled marine vittles into the tank.
“You’d be lonely too if you looked
like that.” Kirk snapped back.
I wanted to know what she thought of
us. I wanted to know if there were mermen.I wanted to know if she missed the place she came from. I wanted to know what her world looked like as
seen through the veiled tank of the aquarium lens.
“Looked like what?” I inquired.
“She’s huge. Look at her. She’s like
an all you can eat shrimp buffet.”
I continued to ogle the mermaid,
noticing how the gills that dotted along the side of her neck resembled two wispy
treble clef signs. As I fell deeper into the puddle of her eyes, I wanted to
hear her sing. I wanted to hear the sound of her voice emanate within the prism
of glass. I wanted to simply to hear her song.
“It must suck to be locked up like
that—look at her eyes.”
“You are locked up like that, look at
your job.” Kirk barks back in my direction before handing me a bottle of
disinfectant as he points to the smudges my nose left on the edge of the
aquarium, telling me to hurry up, the building will be opening soon.
Around midterms the fascination
with the mermaid began to wane. The mermaid tank began to exude a noticeable
stench. Burt blathered something about
it probably just being some sort of mermaid menopause thing before leaving for
know how she can smell that rancid,” Kirk observed, one morning, while placing
the mobile of daily air fresheners above her tank, “it’s not like she has never
taken a bath before.”
returned to their Spindles and variegated cyber vistas and the building became
quiet once again. Less and less students sought out the mermaids company,
leaving me more time alone to gaze into the emerald gloss of her eyes. Twice I
thought I saw the pink hyphen of her lips move as if to tell me something. As
if to sing.
A former spelling bee champion
espied me gawking at her one day and inquired if I knew that in the first
trimester human embryos develop vestigial gills and a very small almost fin
like tail, so that maybe the sole raison behind me drooling over this dolphin
is that I see something latent in myself that I had somehow lost long ago.
I don’t know why you are so
obsessed with what it sounds like,” noted Kirk. “Haven’t you ever seen the
movies. Every time a mermaid tries talking out of water in the movies it always
sounds like a siren is going off and people have to cover their ears.”
wonder what the mermaid would say, that’s all.”
what it would say,” retorted Kirk. “You’re a loser. I’m fat. Feed me.”
Things gradually got worse. The
odor was so bad that even the ‘brary gnomes refused to enter the building. An
unseasonably amount of seagulls seemed to linger outside the entrance to the
building at all hours, one even surprising Gladys in the drop box one morning. Burt came back all burnt demanding to know who
crawled into the Narthex and died.
The library became known as the
home to the fat, smelly mermaid.Even
the cyber enhanced mélange of the mermaid in Midgard made her look like
something that might up-chuck Jonah. Students held tuition protest rallies
referencing the mermaid, claiming that if the University could support a zoo
for overweight cryptic creatures why couldn’t they splurge on a decent half-
functioning whirlpool in the student center.The thespian portraying Hans Christian Anderson turned out to have a
mild case of turrets triggered by the scent of dill weed, leaving the Lewinsky-Baker
library with threat of a lawsuit. A week later student Senate issued a
statement that bacteria from the mermaid’s tank was almost solely responsible
for the recent outbreak of pertussis on campus.
Finally, a post-it one morning from Burt that fat fish
needed to be disposed.
Kirk and I moved the mermaid out of
the library on the last day of finals, placing the creature on a book gurney
that once housed the Oxford English Dictionary in the early 90’s. Burt hoped to
air out the Narthex over winter break and hopefully recruit something less
noisome to the propagation of human thought. Kirk was convinced that we could
get a good price for her from some cannibal on ebay, but I insisted on taking
the mermaid down to Nuclear ravine, feeding her into the creek near the
Christmas tree reservation.
“She weighs more than she looks,” added
Kirk, noting that our healthcare plan doesn’t cover hernias.
As we hoisted her off the gurney
and placed her into the back of Kirk’s Chevette dried scales scattered
everywhere like stale New Years eve confetti. The eyes that had once enticed me into a daze
of green pastures were now the color of used sandpaper. I sat in back, cradling
the beautiful fish, using a plastic spray bottle to squirt water into her
gills, asking her just to hold on. To this day Kirk still claims that the foul
odor was imposing on his sense of direction in the midst of Holiday traffic. When
I noticed her gills seemed to be winking out what could only be intuited as SOS
signals I dumped the remainder of the water across her neck and pulled her out
of the vehicle myself, carrying her in my arms, running. I think about her eyes
now, as I look at the guppy I keep for a pet in the campus prayer room, occasionally
fishing out a curious library gnome, trying not to fret over Burt’s latest
campaign to endorse literacy. I think about what her voice might have sounded
I think about her song.
She died in my arms across the
street from a garish display of Holiday lights with a giant balloon of a side-burned
Santa Elvis caroling Oh come all ye faithful in the front yard, the owner of
the house coming out with a shovel, cursing at me, asking me what the big deal
is, requesting that I move that fat smelly dead fish out of his driveway right