that snail is not photoshopped. he was climbing steadily to the top of my least-forgiving cactus, like fleeing to the roof of a burning building. and he was making terrible time.
which noone much noticed. Recap: he went on TV in Feb. 2009, acting like he’d become a crazy drug-addled rapper. Then he waited a year or so for that media moment to pass, then he released a poorly publicized mockumentary in character. Now he’s revealed that it was a hoax.
And here’s my contention: I’m not sure he gets to decide if it’s a hoax anymore. That’d have been a really long, drawn out hoax, and one he played out real privately. I grant him that he’s not a crazy drug-addled rapper, but he’s definitely something. What I mean by that is: he’s whatever you become when you start very quietly playing out “hoaxes” with all your money, and all your friends’ money.
Like, if I wear a Doctor costume on Halloween, in public, that is a costume. But if I wear a doctor outfit alone, in my apartment, for months at a time? And stop going to school or work? It definitely doesn’t make me a doctor, but I’m pretty sure it’d signify that I had changed for the worse, and in a way that couldn’t be explained fully by my telling people I was kidding.
Two Sides to Simon
Simon lives in the wall. With all his stuff. He’s in all the walls of this house, actually. Simon passes from one wall to the next. He is small and shadowy. He has to stay thin! He has a briefcase that he carries, sidling along those dark borders, living in the frame of this family’s life.
I know this. I felt something like this before Lindsay ever told me about Simon, but now I can stand next to the wall and know whether or not he’s on the other side in his brown suit. I check when it’s quiet or rainy and I’m indoors, and I’m small but he’s about the same size, and I’m scared but not of him, cause I basically want him to be back there.
* * *
Dinner is normal at our house. We have a wooden table with a bench on one side for the younger kids, that’s me and my little sister Sam. We eat too much bread and butter and laugh a lot, in fits, because it’s the best. My dad is an incredible cook. My mom can only make Cream of Wheat and runny fried eggs, but my dad educates our palates; he teaches us that grilled cheese can and should be made on rye bread, and that store-bought chocolate chip cookies are for jerks (and that’s not us). I’m not sure my dad’s dinners are fancy, but they seem fancy because he’s a cooking dad, and that’s kind of fancy. As a family, we’re at our best in the kitchen.
For now Lindsay still eats with us at the table, even though she’s technically a teenager, and she drinks chocolate milk instead of Coke (like me) because she’s got integrity and she’s never had a cavity and she genuinely likes broccoli. Like, birthday-dinner likes it.
Anyway there’s a bright light over the kitchen table and we’re noisy eaters and the kitchen is a populist place, a community space, a speak-easy. Nothing spooky about it, and very little latitude for shadows. I imagine Simon either avoids the kitchen walls or else he dawdles there like an orphan at a toy-store window. Listening.
I don’t think about this during dinner. But I will think about it in the Dining Room, or the Living Room, neither which we particularly occupy. They are resorted to in times of rain, when we need space, and us kids maybe tell ghost stories—I should clarify that Simon is not a ghost; he’s just a Wall-Guy—and so these rooms become a dimension to themselves, a very reasonable place to check the wall for Simon.
He’s so quiet! But as surely as I’m breathing, my chest rising and falling so I can hear Anything over my breath, he is standing in there, also taking care to breathe quietly, and never injecting himself into our world. I worry about this; he’s the only one in there. Lindsay told me, but also I can tell. Nobody with a family could be that quiet. I worry about what he eats, and why he’s dressed for business.
Sometimes, leaning against the cool wall, I say “Simon.” for him to hear, so he knows I know he’s in there. I imagine giving him new clothes, and it jumps into my head to pass along my girly dress up clothes. But before I can giggle at this I get sad for him in those ridiculous clothes, and a little scared for his dignity, and I begin to understand the brown suit. I would carry a briefcase too, if I lived alone in a wall.
* * *
Today is drab, do you understand? There is a reason I am shoving dozens of slim children’s books in the crack under Lindsay’s bedroom door. She locked it, locked me out. She’s got other teenagers in there. So I’m emptying the tall bookcase in the hall, really flooding her room.
This has become routine. For example, I know that the Cabbage Patch series are good books for shoving because they are big and thin and rigid and cheap, so in they all go, under and in.
They’re miscreants, in there. Cowards. They could barely close the door on me to lock it, only after a long fight, and I’m only one eight year old. I swear to god these people are bad company, they’re all terrified of me. I chase them with my glitter baton and they run and shriek like pigeons. Honestly, Lindsay? These are my replacements?
Maybe I run out of books thin enough to fit in the crack, or maybe I hear Lindsay’s friends calling me a “spazzoid” through the door, because I back off after a while. It’s just me and the hall. The carpet is nubby. My parents are off busy, and the linen closet is full of stuff to look at: play-make-up, medicine, the three-story sewing box. Looking at this sometime-stuff, the stuff we ignore until we need it, I think this is a perfect place for Simon. If Simon ever came out I mean, if he needed a door, this would be it. I sit down in the bottom of the closet with the towels and sheets, and if Simon needed a real bed this would be where he went. I listen to the closet walls but I can tell he’s not back there now, it’s sadly obvious. Not because it’s too quiet, because Simon’s plenty quiet, but because it’s empty like everything profane, like TV golf and the unillustrated Bible and my dad’s work. It’s just me and some towels, so I bundle in.
* * *
I guess I fall asleep, and when I wake up enough time has passed that the lights in the house are on for evening and Lindsay’s friends are gone. I can hear my dad downstairs banging pots and pans. It’s dinnertime.
I pile out of the closet and open Lindsay’s bedroom door—which isn’t locked—and she’s not in there and there are no books on the floor—she put them away. The bookcase is loaded again. She must be downstairs. I look at her grown-up room; Simon could be in these walls. Me standing there with my hand on the doorknob, this is the kind of thing he’d be there to see. But I don’t have time for Simon now. Only for dinner, and TV, and the lights downstairs.
* * *
Sometimes we watch Roseanne while we eat. Roseanne is not a funny show. It is a depressing show. I do not get it, but my mom is into it, so here we all are eating dinner on the floor while it does its thing. Roseanne’s house is not technically less nice than our house, but theirs looks sad on TV. Their family room has lots of brown and our family room has lots of brown; their couch is worn and so is ours, but the feeling is different, so when Roseanne’s on I bring a book to the couch, a big hardback with colorful illustrations, to fight off the drabness of the show. I gaze at the witch’s gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel, or at the blond farmgirl getting chased (and having her hat stolen) by the farmboy—because there’s something super exciting about that chasing and stealing that I can’t put my finger on.
Of course Lindsay’s the first person to leave the room after dinner. I’m the second. Sam either likes Roseanne, or likes my mom’s lap enough to tolerate it, but soon I’m done eating, and she’s useless for playing with in this condition. Up I go.
I can run up stairs as quickly as I can run down stairs. I climb like I’m falling up. It’s just something I can do with my arms and my legs, and all the stairs can do is groan. Then I’m at the top, in the hall, and there’s still power in my legs, but since I’m already at Lindsay’s door all that energy just becomes my heart. Her door is open a little and there’s pink light inside. From that pink crystal lamp, no doubt, one of the things she got when they turned our playroom into her teenager-room. I push the door open a little and look in. She’s on her bed with her knees up. She looks at me over her book.
* * *
No, he wasn’t called “Simon,” he was called “The Sherlock Monster.” And I didn’t make him up or tell Laurie about him, she told me. When she was three. All the time.
She had sightings. He went in the playroom, she’d tell us, so we’d have to stay out of there and color with markers at the kitchen table. “The Sherlock Monster lives in our walls,” she said, and she was super scared of him, so I tried to add some helpful details. “He lives in there with his Grandma and Grandpa,” I’d tell her. “I can go get him. Stay here.” She’d wait uncertainly. Then I’d “fetch him” from the laundry closet, and come back with my hands curled up by my chest, doing my best gargle-voice. Which was pretty good, by the way. I would smile like a fly-hunting kitten—teeth slightly apart, my eyes wide and darting. “Lindsay?” She asked, the first few times The Sherlock Monster appeared. “Nooo,” I’d gargle. “I’m The Sherlock Monster,” and she’d start to cry. “Lindsay don’t.” “No, I’m nice,” I’d say, raising my eyebrows to show her, and petting her on the head and shoulders. “I’m a nice monster. Brrr. BrrBrrrbl.” Before long she was sending me up to get him. And if I was in the mood, or if she seemed to need it, down he’d come. But I don’t think I did The Sherlock Monster after she was five. So this “Simon” is, like, the grown up Sherlock Monster?
* * *
When Lindsay and me shared a bedroom, when I was little, we slept together in the bottom bunk so I wouldn’t have nightmares. She would quietly sing the Princess Diana song or make up stories about mountains. She moved her feet in her sleep. You get used to having someone there, so if you wake up scared you can say “Lindsay?” into the dark room and she’ll wake up. It’s definitely better like that. I never remember bothering about Simon at night, even though I slept by the wall.
This is one-third about the Joanna Newsom album Ys, and two-thirds about the month I spent on an archaeology work-study in Belize. Still, if you wanna hear a bit of what I was hearing when I wrote this, open the following in a separate tab for listening-while-reading: https://www.facebook.com/events/606717819401663/?ref=br_tf
Ys is tragic and foreign enough when you learn it in Los Angeles. In a car in traffic, it changes the color of the sunlight. It gives you a secret that you carry with you to your destination.
I learned Ys in Belize. I used it as a lullaby in the rainforest, to organize the rain pounding on the corrugated steel roof. It wore the humidity, Ys did. It became the strange bedfellow of my mosquito net, and helped me make sense of the cold they hadn’t told us to pack for, that sent us to bed with a sheet and a towel and a raincoat and every sock. In three layered shirts I learned Ys, and I would wake up hearing it and needing to pee, and grasping my flashlight and sending myself down the dark forest path that lead to the latrine.
The rainforest, with snakes that make your eyes bleed with venom and jaguars that don’t respect your intellect, because they’ve got their own, older one. Crouching somewhere, silent. All I heard was rain. These 3am latrine trips were my breaks from Ys. Too dark to see, drops of many raindrops coalesced on leaves in high trees, falling far onto me, or onto the mats of more leaves. Wet, heavy—space mattering more here, with so many intentions of so many living things. And here I missed my husband, who was a boy.
And I was grateful to get back into my cold hut and back into my white mosquito net and back into my headphones and it was so strange, how much of what you think is you that you lose when you leave home. And you listen to foreign Ys but it’s you, and you hear the rain rattle the world and here you are, and the bed is cold but you’re in it, and you will be the one still here when, two hours later, you rise to walk in the wet dark to eat a foreign breakfast that you will love, in part because it is familiar to someone. You will rely on this. You will know that all this is familiar to someone, and you will acquaint yourself with yourself, listening to Ys.
So much so…so much so…that when the plane leaves the one-plane airport in Belize City, which is no city, when the runway ends and the plane pulls up over the heavy heavy green, the green will stay on the earth below you, and you in your giant man-made bird will reach in your chest for the earth, for the forest which quickly made sense, to the food, to the people with their need, and it will be hours until you fly over LA but when you do it will be no forest, and very little sense; but you will realize, looking at the piles and piles of electrified human creation, that this is you too—maybe more than the forest. Tragedy, foreign, you—forest, city, Ys.