It was one of those stories which The Scientist knew he would never tell, one which he barely wanted to recall to himself, and he was quite certain that no one else had witnessed it; but the fact that it WAS a story which COULD be told – more precisely an actual event that had actually happened, something that existed, something of at least mental record – was strangely disconcerting to him. It wasn’t a big deal as far as big deals go. In fact, it was something most would have a chuckle over and move on. But, it spoke of something inside of him, a flaw, he suspected.
As he lay on the floor thinking about the day (after a half-hearted attempt at a few situps followed by instant regret for the large mocha latte he’d consumed thirty minutes prior), he recalled the event clearly, recognizing, yet again, that most people would have laughed it off (and even gladly shared it), and being, yet again, not quite certain why he could not.
He had awoken relatively early that morning to go over a presentation he was making later that day. He wanted adequate time to look over the slides he had prepared, even though he had already done so a dozen or more times the day before. He found public speaking tolerable only when he was prepared, and wanted to know his slide deck inside and out so there were no surprises, no pauses, no chances for uncomfortable, frantic shuffling of thoughts to find the next thread. After powering up his laptop, he had noted that the thumb drive containing the latest iteration of his presentation file was missing from his bag, and assumed it had fallen out in the car.
Sighing, he threw on a light coat over his t-shirt, briefly thought about changing out of his gym shorts, but decided against the effort. Spring may have officially come, but someone forgot to inform Winter that her time was up, and the last few days had been miserably cold and windy. Such was life in the Ohio River Valley.
As he goose-stepped across the yard, he found himself, despite the bitter chill, admiring the “work” he’d done on the landscaping the previous weekend, work which admittedly amounted to throwing some grass seed around, and adding some straw-type material the somber guy at Lowe’s had recommended down over the top of it. Even though rudimentary, he felt that it represented an improvement, and he hoped the home owner’s association would think so too. He vowed that this would not be another summer of schizophrenic letters from the HOA about how bare his yard was in some spots or how his grass (and weeds) were taller than the 3 inch limit in others. Maybe even the appearance that he was trying would get them off of his back this year, allowing the guy with the grass ruler and an evident abundance of time to bug someone else.
As he admired the work he had done, he briefly thought of Charles Phillip Ingalls, the patriarch in the Little House novels which he read as a kid, about how he had toiled and built and hunted and fought off wild animals for his family in the untamed wilderness of the old American West. As he imagined the first signs of grass beginning to sprout from the bare spots on his lawn, a pride began to swell in him, and he began to ponder that HE could probably survive just fine in the rustic and dangerous environs of the early west, could shoot wild game and trade with the natives and build a homestead and provide for a family, much as he was taking care of this very lawn.
Head held high, he reached the car and opened the door to peer inside, feeling under the seat for the missing thumb drive. Suddenly, a ferocious-sounding dog snarled not more than two feet behind him! His heart dropped into his shoes, and he made a noise that, in retrospect, sounded not unlike that of a plastic novelty chicken. For a moment – just a brief sliver of time – he was certain that he was going to die there in the driveway. This was not how he had pictured his death, not that he was certain he had ever pictured his death, but being certain that if he had, this was not it.
He quickly turned around, hands raised in self-defense and made a frantic chopping/stabbing motion; if he was to die prone on a cold driveway in a pair of tattered gym shorts, he would go down (literally) swinging.
It took him a moment or two to realize that there was no dog, at least not one that he could see. Momentarily confused, heart thudding, he shifted slightly to glance around, and that’s when he noticed that the zipper from his jacket was rubbing against the inside of the car’s door frame, and the sound it created was remarkably like that of a dog. A snarling dog. A ferocious dog.
A zipper. His own zipper. A ferocious-sounding zipper, but a zipper nonetheless.
Lying on the floor now, giving up any pretense that he will complete these sets of situps, he shakes his head yet again.
Unbelievable, he thinks to himself, If the grass doesn’t grow, I’ve got absolutely nothin’ to show for myself.
Rolling over to push himself off of the floor (and realizing by doing so that he should probably add push-ups to his “workout” regimen), he stood and stretched.
“Charles Ingalls,” he sighed to the room. “Gracious.”