January 18th, 2016
I had community service today despite being it a holiday. We went to a park to clear brush that had been swept into homes by the rain.
It was easy and it was hard, certainly dehydrating but nothing too upsetting. We’d hike up the hillside and load a drag-bag with branches and carry them back, across the park, to load up the truck. From up on the hill I could see far in the North and East, mountain ranges that snared travelers in winter, the mountains that killed those who looked for a better life beyond their home.
I imagined, even still I think of it, the Bronco breaking down if I were to try to leave this life behind. Something would break in that old heap of parts and I would be stranded on the side of the road, unable to afford help and waiting for someone to recognize me.
The park was in a very nice part of town. The men and I stood out in reflective vests, taking orders from a man with a gun. The women doing their stretch classes there seemed very… distracted. As I write this now, I’m tempted to write that as they stretched their legs and their circulation began to warm their lower halves, they thought about the last time their husbands had shown an interest in them. I’m tempted to say their distraction was drafting a scenario in which they could follow one of those “bad” men, sweating at their labor, into the hillside where no one could see or hear what happened. There one of those men would take off his sherbet colored vest with the neon yellow stripes and use his great strength to pin her down so that if her husband ever learned her dark secret she would be absolved of responsibility.
I’d like to write all that but they were looking at us like we were a bunch of rapists. Which… is somehow not that different than the scenario I wrote. Huh.
There was a man there, a grandfather with a toddler, sitting at a table right along our path. I could tell from the beat up guitar, it looked like it had been pulled out from underneath a cart in old town. I could tell that they didn’t live anywhere near there.
He struck rapid Chinese chords from this chipped, toy guitarron. His granddaughter danced in circles. Neither seemed to care much how close we got or watched with unease as the others did. It was sort of another sign that they were not from there.
One of the men working that day had Ratfanger’s. At first I thought he might be just overweight. His skin was a pastel yellow, like Easter, and before long every time a car passed he would clap his hands together. By the end of the day the ritual had become two claps and a whoop.
Ratfangers, for people who haven’t had to learn to spot it as quickly as I have, causes the reward center of the brain to go into overdrive. It’s part of the reason they put on weight, but only part. Most significantly, they begin forming habits and superstitions almost immediately. Random things get reinforced and they get reinforced hard. The guy today, I guess he was brushing his hands together when the reward center lit up. A car was passing by and he seemed to think that his sudden sense of euphoria was caused by putting his hands together whenever he heard a car.
He dropped three different loads of brush down the hill because a car passed as he brought them down and he compulsively threw his hands together.
I looked at the foreman but he just seemed uneasy. The protected status of people with Ratfanger’s… well, I don’t think he knew what to do about it.
I had to sit next to the guy on the way back, so I pulled my vest over my face and pretended to sleep against the window. My chest began to hurt being so close to him and the fresh scar tissue began to tickle.