Perforated Lines (you can't resist 'em!)

a beach peace officer
-- Monday, September 13, 1999 --



11:40 a.m. Talk about a guilty conscience. Whoa. I suppose it's the nature of being an American, a Caucasian, a Catholic. Or is feeling a general free-floating guilt a natural function of being a mother, a wife, a female in a culture dominated by the god-like ten-thousand commandments of advertising? It's a given that you're never good enough.

Sometimes the formless foggy guilt coalesces and grows tendrils in the night and sometimes -- like last night -- gaaa. It actually knocks on your door. At 3 a.m.

We were sound asleep. Tossing and turning, it's true, but definitely asleep. I was dreaming of phrases I could have added to yesterday's piece to make it better. I dream in HTML most nights now, creating absolute links between scenes and relative links between stories; underlining, coloring, lining up paragraphs and centering tables. As I reported yesterday, I'd never forgotten to write a piece before. The horror of it was heavy on my mind, a new and different version of the old forgetting-to-go-to-class dream. Usually algebra; often history. The teacher is always wearing red, mostly a wool blend, by the way. She's very angry.

I thought I'd gotten a handle on a proper ending for the sin-piece, because it's a subject so near and dear to my heart. It's a sin to tell a lie. It's a sin to be proud. It's a sin to slack off. Catholics carry their sin and their spotty pasts around with them every waking moment, mortal and venial, like high-strung Dalmatians. Jews throw their sins into the sea once a year and are done with it merely by casting their hate to the winds. I got some nice shots of the ocean Saturday evening and I had the greatest picture for the bottom of the Sunday piece, but I was feeling just a little guilty about it.

I was proud of the pictures I took of Igor and the birds, and obviously I was also supposed to be praying. But instead of focusing on the moment I was looking through the cop-out of a viewfinder and framing shots. That was -- chi-ching -- a couple of sins right there: omission, pride, give or take a bad example or two. And then, as the sun was going down on the way back home, I didn't have any money with me, but I nonetheless stole, or clumsily tried to steal, a picture of this guy's snake.

Stealing is stealing, I suppose. The man had set up an exhibit with his snakes and a bunch of brightly colored birds, and he had a sign that said: "Confront Your Fears." The idea was that you could pose with his snake and if you had a camera, you could take a picture and give him a donation. Ok, those were his rules. He had a sign. He was tired and the moneyied crowds had gone home and he was not in the mood to be charitable. I had some quibbles.

You be the judge. It was the end of the day and the snake was no longer on his fancy wooden perch. Instead, he was quickly slithering home, just like the rest of us. He was also crawling over some nice perforated lines. Get it? The idea spoke to me. But the longer I hesitated and tried to act sneaky and steal a picture, the more snake was folding into his little plastic cage and the less picture I was getting. They're faster than they look.

So, here's an aborted picture of sin. It's a little sloppy and unfocused; strictly amateur and small-time and not very well thought-out. It's merely venial. But, where do you draw the line? Stealing is stealing. I will go back and give him a donation. That should fix it.

That's not what I told the police last night, however. I heard the front gate scrape open. Immediately I was wide awake. It's amazing, isn't it, how a part of you is always alert, always hearing, even though you're sleeping? Well, I heard the gate, my eyes popped open, I saw the arcing strobe of their flash lights and I heard the static pop and sizzle of their walkie-talkies. Then the loud knocking.

The worst thing about it? I was expecting them. Ever since I saw my first war movie and identified with the Jews, I've been expecting them. I have such a guilty conscience, you wouldn't believe it. I never forget the bad things I've done. It's only a matter of time, I figure, until they come for me. At night I become Susan Hayward -- screaming and hysterical: I Want to Live! The Snake Pit! I was in no rush to grow up after seeing those movies.

But this time, I was spared. This time it was not the Journal Police. Can you believe it? They had the wrong address. Hey, no problem, officers. I'll just go back to sleep now. After I say ten-thousand Hail Marys and make an act of perfect contrition.

it's a sin to lie

Tomorrow? Still under surveillance.


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