The List

This is crazy, I’m not kidding you—I couldn’t make this shit up. All of a sudden while I was walking along the pier this seagull just flies into me, almost whacks me in the head. And while I’m staring after this stupid bird I see it’s carrying a piece of paper in its beak, and when it opens its mouth the paper drops and blows in my front of my face, swirls around and gets caught against the leg of a bench like a kite stuck in the power lines or something. I pick it up and take a look, expecting some kind of doomsday prophecy, God’s message from a stinking seagull. But it’s not. It’s just someone’s trashy old shopping list. They needed milk.

Yeah, I have a job. It’s nothing special. I wake up and go there and come home, and I guess I just live, you know? I guess I walk a lot—through town, down the streets, not really knowing where I’m going. Sometimes for the hell of it I look at a map before I take off, but then I mostly just follow whatever street looks good to go through, sometimes the little alleyways. My friends ask me what I spend my money on (because I work my ass off, and my job isn’t as slouchy as you’d probably think, but I never really spend that much) and I tell them—shoes. I wear them out. Holes go straight through them. Shoes like that are the best though, the really busted kind where the rubber is cracked and the soles are worn down in the front and the laces are all ratty and stained.

I can’t decide whether to hang on to these or toss them out someplace and let the wind grab them and run away. What would someone say if they found this stupid old piece of a french fry bag flying around with writing on it? I wonder if that seagull would come back and find this paper, too. Someone told me once that birds use paper and hair and stuff for their nests, and I wondered if it’d work for these scraps. They’re not all that impressive. But if I was some bird that needed to make a nest in a hurry I probably wouldn’t care all that much.

I never cut class because my dad would have a cow, but I would come by here during the year sometimes, too, walking down once jail—you know, school—let out and pretending it was summer already. I like it better now. I can come nice and early in the morning and stay for as long as I want without getting nagged at too much. Everything just moves around going on their own paths, and I like being able to walk around and watch. It might seem a little weird to you but it doesn’t to me. Besides, my walks are good. I see lots of neat stuff.

Back in jail there was this batty old teacher who kept trying to get me interested in math. She would be doing a problem up on the board, see me scribbling something on my margins or this wrapper or something, and call my name with this smile that was almost like she wanted to apologize, make nice, be friends. Nothing personal, I just can’t hold all that math stuff in my brain. Numbers fly out and I can’t make them happen the way they need to on paper, so I stop trying and just write down words instead. I like seeing stuff written out like that, I like it a lot. Reading isn’t as interesting. I guess that’s probably the reason my English grade is in the toilet. A lot of times I forget that there are other people’s words I need to read and then I get to the test and only want to write something crazy. On my last exam she asked a question about plot and I wasn’t all that sure of what to out down so I told her about that stinking seagull, just without the profanity and stuff. She just circled it and wrote a big question mark on it, so I crumpled the test up and chucked it in the trash.

Wouldn’t it be neat if we used the wind more? It’s real funny when you think about it, but the only time people really use the wind to move around and stuff is when they’re out sailing in the bay or something. I was out there again today, watching stuff. The boats were over there in the water, leaning back and forth like they were dancing to some kind of music. And the seagulls were flying around in patterns like they were dancing too. But see, even airplanes aren’t that great—the closest thing we can get to a bird, for really using the wind at least, is a boring boat.

My shoes are worn through again. Maybe I shouldn’t keep buying such crap shoes, I guess. But I went out to get some new ones and I walked someplace new, something happened. I got caught up in a dumb tour group because they just stand there in the way and gawk, like the pigeons in the park, and take pictures of rocks and gates and each other wearing silly hats.  And I was trying to get past them, getting angry that they were going crazy over the shit I see almost every day, but then some little part of my mind asked if I had it wrong, like I should be the one who gets so happy to see every little thing just because I’m the one who sees it all so much. Maybe. I don’t know. But I think it might be good to start looking harder at stuff. I’m not going to start wearing the hats or some fanny pack though.

I went back to the pier where I got that shopping list to take a break from walking, and I see this little girl feeding crackers to the seagulls. Her ma was there on a bench, hair blowing around her face, half reading a book and half watching her kid. Maybe she was the one who made the list. Maybe her husband drank all the milk but she really needed it for her coffee. Maybe the little girl spilled it or put it in a bowl for stray cats or had a fake tea party with it or something. She looked like the kind of lady who wouldn’t yell. She might get angry, yeah, but she wouldn’t raise her voice. She’d say something low and frustrated, then feel bad and agree to clean up the mess and rub her forehead like she was tired. I think I was staring at her, because she gave me a funny look for a second, then my face got kind of hot because I was embarrassed and I looked down and started writing this on a receipt. I make up a lot of stories about people in my head, and I always think want to know if their real lives were more interesting or more boring then the ones I come up with for them.

Ever think that all these streets are like veins? And blood goes through them, right, like all the people rushing around, but then the city grew up and it’s like it got into nasty drugs, turned into a junkie. And the veins got all expanded and turned black and hard, and it just doesn’t seem all that good for you. You wonder, at least I do sometimes, what’s the healthy good stuff and what the bad stuff is.

I bet I could try and be a writer or something. Better than being a stinking mechanic, or a salesman somewhere, or a suit. Whatever, I don’t know. This just feels easy to me, not like math or science or that shit. Everyone’s always saying you can be anything you want, right? All you have to do is work real hard. Well, I can do that. I work hard now, and I know that I won’t slack off on it. And when I’m older I can think about how it all worked out for me in the end. I can write about seagulls or something.

It’s really something that you’re reading this right now. Of all the crazy things that could have happened to this little piece of paper, it ended up with you. I’ve been writing stuff on the back of these scraps all summer long, and I’m keeping all the dumb things in a drawer, but school is starting back up again and this’ll be my last one, so I’m letting it go. Where’d you find it? I’ll tell you how I got this one—some stupid seagull gave it to me. It only sounds like bullshit because it’s true. I remember when it happened, how I wanted it to actually mean something. There’s not much a dirty old shopping list can do if you want it to be important, unless you just happen to pick it up and look on the back and find a message from some random kid you’ll never meet in your life. Not knowing where this is going to end up isn’t all that bad though. I try to picture you, whoever the hell you are, finding it, and wondering what it went through to get here. Or maybe it’ll just get caught up in the wind and blown someplace into the blue sky, or the blue water. Or just get run over by a bus. But then you wouldn’t be reading it right now and I’d be all wrong about it anyways.