Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Stepping out of the house I stood beneath that bright disk of the sun and watched the eyes follow me.
Stepping out of the house, I finally realized something was wrong with my shadow. I could not be completely certain. I grasped an old tin can and marked the top most part of my shadow. I took to leaving the house for my daily round of errands at the same, exact time. Was it a trick of the light, was the sun moving its position? My shadow’s length was growing. So, it seemed, I was growing. But the solar tests had too many possible anomalies to be truly trusted. I needed an external confirmation. Something more grounded, more solid than the slant of sunlight, than extrapolating my state from the incredulous gaze of passerbys.
There was Clyde the newsman. A fixture in the neighborhood for forty years, he had weathered the sea changes of this New York street with a stoicism and placidity of a professional sailor. He was unperturbed by human variability. He was not thrown off track by the spikes and pitches of a humanity whose full range and measure most of us cannot stomach. Clyde would give me the straight dope.
So, after three or four days of inconclusive solar experiments, I trotted down to the corner stand. Clyde was there, his pea cap high on his forehead, his yellow and black checked shirt open at the collar, revealing a tuft of cotton white chest hair poking up and concealing his bulging larynx. He had his customary toothpick rolling from side to side between his fat lips. He was making notes with a short pencil in a racing form. When I approached he looked up.
“Hello Mr. Vandemark, how are you today?”
“I’m fine Clyde, yourself?”
“Can’t complain. Can’t complain. The weather has been good and when it is business is good. So there you have it.”
I put a New York Times on his counter, a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes, a Life Magazine (a picture of Chairman Mao, a flapping, fluttering red flag of the Revolution as a pictorial back drop) and some pencils. Clyde put down his racing form and began to ring up the sale. I made my move:
“Clyde, we’ve known each other for how long?”
“Oh, Mr. Vandemark, I knew you when you were a little baby.” I added a pack of Chicklets to my little pile of purchases, red, yellow, gold, orange tabs visible through the crinkled cellophane wrapper.
“When I was a baby,” I said, baiting him, “so you’ve seen me weather quite a bit of change. Quite a lot of transformations,” I innocently postulated.
“Yes. Yes. I’d say so Mr. Vandemark. I’ve seen a lot of things change in this neighborhood, especially since the twenties. But you know the old saying, the more things change, the more things stay the same.” He laughed without emphasis as he tallied my purchases and to stall for time a tossed the black and white Daily News on the counter, a photograph of the portly mayor of New York City grimacing sweetly into the camera. I could see from Clyde’s expression that he was re-tallying the sum in his head.
“Clyde,” I made my move, “ Something is happening to me. Something odd, and I’d like you to help me get to the bottom of it.”
He looked perturbed but said quite congenially, “Well sure Mr. Vandemark, anything I can do to help.”
I leaned in closer to him. I was inches away from the moist toothpick poised between his dull red lips. I could see the spittle gleaming at the end of the cylindrical tip, a moist droplet poised to fall counterward.
“I think I’m growing,” I whispered.
“Growing?” he whispered back.
“Yes, I’m getting physically bigger.”
“How can that be?” he asked.
“I don’t really know,” I leaned in even closer, although it seemed impossible to get closer to the man than I already was. He took a cautious step back. He started to say something but then he stopped. Then he appeared to think better of it again and said, “You know Mr. Vandemark I was reading about atomic energy the other day in this here magazine,” he showed me the cover of a popular science monthly, a stylized red and blue atom in the technically incorrect orbital mode lopsidedly gracing its cover, “and it said that exposure to atomic energy radiation can cause animal or plant tissue to shrink or to grow.”
We looked at each other conspiratorially. We were a cabal of two, putting our heads together, trying to pluck out the heart of this mystery.
“You were in the war, weren’t you Mr. Vandemark?” he asked rhetorically, for he well knew that I was in the war.
“Yes,” I said, wide eyed, gullible.
“Which theater, European or Pacific?”
“European,” I said. He seemed slightly disappointed. I knew that he wanted to hear I was in charge of a garrison of troops in Nagasaki or Hiroshima.
“Maybe those Nazi’s got closer to developing the A bomb than we thought.” Clyde’s mind was working hard to make links. Making these types of acausal connections was proving to be the new post war American mania, McCarthyism, Communists in the wings, UFOs, and I was just as hooked as Clyde. All I needed his outsider’s eye view, even if his background information was skewed and paranoiac.
“There was something Clyde, something I was exposed to…. But I can’t speak freely about it, you understand.” He nodded. “I need something from you.”
“Anything at all Mr. Vandemark.” His desire to help seemed genuine.
“Just keep an eye on me, and let me know if I’m getting, well, larger. If I am, put one of these pink racing sheets on page 16 of my New York Times.”
He agreed. As I walked down the street and looked up at the crystal blue sky (what a day, what a supremely gorgeous empty sky) it seemed quite fitting that there was nothing between me and my ascent to that beautiful blank vault but the bonds of gravity. There was nothing there, just an unimpeded expanse of marvelous, gratuitous emptiness. I could feel (feel is not accurate, emote, intuit, emotate) my body arching upward, toward that indifferent dome.
And now I had a co-conspirator. It was no longer Homer and I continually cross referencing each other; of me taking continual measurements of the circumference of his head, the length of his legs, the width of his thighs and measuring them against mine!