anthropomorphic tales


I have a tendency to anthropomorphize objects. Sometimes this is a ludicrous tendency, but other times it works to my advantage. One case in point is an old ’69 Volkswagen Bug I used to have. My first car, acquired used when I was nineteen, I wound up driving it for thirteen years. It started out red, but that summer a friend and I decided to paint the doors and fenders with comic book action words: zot! pow! whoosh! And one door read “Schlep!” The car became marginally famous around the Westside of LA and may even have inspired a Saturday morning children’s show.

I loved that car almost as much as I love my pets—it was so cute and round and creature-like, how could I not fall in love? But I admit that I used it hard, in the way the young and thoughtless will. It never complained, doughty to the end.

One night during my college years, I drove home from my night job, past midnight, and in a long stretch of urban wasteland with sparse lighting. The car just died, rolling to a stop on that dark street blocks from any telephone (this being in the olden days before cell phones). Though I tried and tried, the engine would not turn over. I sat for awhile with the vague hope that a police car might roll by, but when that didn’t happen and it grew later and later, I started talking to the car.

“Please start, little car. Just get me home, that’s all I ask, and I promise to take you into the garage in the morning. Just get me home—please.”

I tried the ignition again. The car started right up. I drove home (about three miles), and the second the wheels hit my driveway—no exaggeration—the car died again. I coasted to a stop, safe at home, and my little Bug had to be towed to the garage the next day. The mechanic said he didn’t know how I’d gotten it started the night before. Apparently, some wire in the engine had worked its way loose and without that particular connection, the car was impossible to start.

Now, I know next to nothing about the insides of cars, and I have to take the mechanic’s word about the wire, but I do know about loyalty. That car was loyal and maybe loved me back a little bit. I prefer to think that rather than that it was a freak coincidence, some hoodoo voodoo, or some other form of miracle or mistake. I like to think that sometimes when we really need them, even inanimate objects have an anima, some vibration on the sub-atomic level that responds to the need in our human souls. Do I care if this is irrational? Not in the slightest.

Many years later there came a time when my poor ancient little Bug couldn’t hack my long work commute any more. It groaned through the Sepulveda Pass on a daily basis, sometimes barely limping home, and required frequent trips to the mechanic. The frequent repairs finally added up to more than car payments and I was forced to make a hard decision: to use the car for a trade in on something new. As I handed the keys over and got into my new car to drive away, I felt I had abandoned not an inanimate thing, but a living creature. I could almost hear it calling to me, “Please don’t leave me!” That was probably a surfeit of imagination, but…

I still feel guilty.

Part of me first remembers sun and wind and water. My body encased in green things, I had brethren all around me also encased in green with our mother’s roots reaching down into loamy soil. We were surrounded by mothers, each with their white-tufted children.

Then came a terrifying noise, an unspeakable wrenching away from all I knew…and drowning, stretching, pulling horrors I’d rather not remember.

Another part of me has vague memories of a short, brutal, lumbering life on the Mother Earth’s surface, soon ended and buried away beneath her skin; of sinking deep, deep beneath that surface, vast pressures turning me into something thick and liquid. I joined with others, becoming one as we welled in our safe rock home. For eons we dreamed each others’ varied lives above on Mother Earth and beneath in her cold stone skin.

Then another terrifying noise, being sucked unwilling from our bed, of being bathed in acid and alcohol, stretching thin and strong, blending with the other part of me that once grew in the sun, becoming a whole once more: a thing made into other smaller things. Oh, the cutting and sewing! Pressed by a hot machine, tumbled in water and soap, tumbled again in terrible heat to dry, then folded over myself to be encased in plastic.

I resided there some little while, though passed from hand to hand, boxed in the dark, brought back into the light, stacked with others like me. Handled by many creatures, not as lumbering as the life I once knew, but not as green as the mothers, either.

Finally, I was removed from the plastic and nestled against skin. It’s a homey feeling, and I don’t really mind the bodily fluids I absorb. They’re part of life, you know? I think, “This is not so bad, to end up here.” Even when I am removed from the flesh and tossed into a container with others who have worn the flesh and absorbed the fluids, it’s not so bad. Brethren, I think.

But the brethren whisper of what is to come. “You’re new here. You don’t know what comes next. You won’t like it.” I shiver. “What?” But they don’t answer.

Soon enough, I know. I thought I was done with it for good, but no: tumbled in water and soap! Tumbled in terrible heat to dry! The others are right. I don’t like it. At least this time when I am folded over myself I am not encased in plastic, just stuck in a dark place with others of my kind. Not stone this time, but wood. Perhaps this is another place of dreaming, I think. And I do dream there for awhile, sometimes of life in the sun, sometimes of the many lumbering lives in ancient times. Sometimes I have nightmares of stretching and tumbling and heat, but you can’t have everything.

I am not allowed to dream forever, however. One day I find myself encasing flesh once more and it is again a homey feeling—but I know it will not last. That homey feeling is poisoned by the knowledge that I will once again be tumbled and heated. The cycle repeats endlessly, it seems, as my structure breaks down slowly, slowly. Others of my kind, older than me, get so frayed and thinned that at some point they disappear from our wooden dreaming place all together. Sometimes, on dark and quiet nights, I think I hear them crying out somewhere beyond the wooden dreaming place, telling tales of being cut into smaller and smaller bits and used to absorb foul substances. Eventually, their voices fade altogether and I am left to wonder if I just imagined them…and how long it will be until I know the terrible truth…

And it was a terrible truth, but it concluded well enough. I ended in another vast pile, somewhat like the one that encompassed my lumbering body, but not made of the Mother’s rich earth. We reside here in a great pile of discarded things, layer upon layer of us. Perhaps some day the pile will grow so large we’ll be pressed once more into the earth. Perhaps we will turn liquid again and be allowed to dream in peace inside the Mother’s cold stone skin.