Friday, July 16, 2010

“Park Daze” by Christina Murphy

He was a Park Ranger, always amazed at the trash left behind in the woods and in the garbage cans. Pampers filled with odd colored greenish-brown baby shit, broken plastic trucks and cars, dolls with deep blue eyes and curly blonde hair missing an arm or two that had been ripped off, twisted off, bitten off—who knew? And the beer cans and bottles strewn everywhere along with empty cans of Pringles, wadded up bags of Cheetos, and potato chips and pretzels in various flavors including honey mustard and jalapeño.

He always felt he was walking in reverse through time—that once these items were in stores, then in people’s homes, and now in this waste land of discarded objects. He imagined the children who once treasured the dolls and the plastic trucks, or the mouths that consumed the beer, chips, and hot dogs. The idea of the mouths devouring ferociously unsettled him the most. At one time he was a waiter, and the customers were the worst combination of horrible, combustible moments—hungry, tired, screaming children getting on their nerves and embarrassing them, demanding, and impatient. And all of it directed at him, the one who was supposed to satisfy their needs and do it in an instant. And he raced around, gathering up tacos and burritos, nachos and quesadillas, and for the children tiny hamburgers the size of his fist. All of this to be washed down with sodas in large red plastic glasses. If the children could not hold the glasses, the parents would do it for them, pouring the sweet, syrupy liquids down their throats with one hand as they ate their food with the other.

The moment he focused on people’s mouths as they ate, he no longer could do his job with any sense of equanimity. Everywhere in the restaurant there were mouths opening wide for huge, sloppy bites, chewing, swallowing, going for more. It was an obsession, a fixation. No one looked dignified eating in the quantities and the speed that these people ate up everything in sight. The mouthfuls of chips that were consumed in frenzies of hunger and greed unsettled him the most. And his heart was troubled by the people who were fat, often too fat to fit comfortably into the booths. They had to suck in their stomachs to slide into the booths so that they could consume plates and plates of food from the buffet. All the fat people, with their little fat children, eating and eating and eating, so filled with food that they were almost comatose. The looks on their faces were euphoric—I ate all that! It was perhaps the only way some people’s dreams came true—an endless buffet of food there for the taking. No limits, no end in sight, meeting all desires, and assuaging all hunger. He knew they would eat from the buffet until they were full and then eat some more because there was such a huge difference between full and satisfied. They would never be satisfied, not if they ate every scrap of food on the buffet—or in the entire restaurant. They knew it, he knew it, and he could not live with it.

He left the restaurant shortly after that, on a day in which a man easily approaching 400 lbs. ate seven bowls of flan for his desert. The caramel sauce on the flan ran down his face and stained his shirt, but the look on his face with blissful. It was as blissful as he had ever seen anyone look, and that was the moment he could no longer work there. The man—his cheeks puffed full with flan, his eyes glazed in delirious pleasure, his lips glistening with the caramel sauce that rolled slowly down his chin—was in a frenzy of desire and need. Watching the man, he knew—one more sight like this and the sense that the world was meaningless would never let him go.

Now he worked in a wooded junk house as a Park Ranger. Trash and more trash—all of it to be picked up, thrown away, and carried off by the garbage trucks to a landfill twelve miles away. Birds circled above the garbage as it was dumped. For them, it was a feast. They never knew what might be in the trash—chicken bones with some strands of meat attached, pieces of hamburger buns, perhaps even a stash of potato chips that had escaped being crushed and broken in the truck. There would always be something—of that he, and the birds, could be certain.

He imagined the toys, too. The dolls lying face down and staring into the mounds of trash, or lying on their backs looking at the clouds and wondering what it might feel like to be so free. But the cranes and bulldozers would take care of those dreams, grabbing up chunks of trash and then rolling over the piles until a perfect flatness was achieved. Everything would be buried quietly beneath. At least until the next load of trash arrived that he had helped gather from the camp sites, the garbage bins, the trails. Another wheel from a plastic truck, another broken doll, cans as far as the eye could see, and bits of broken brown and green bottle glass spread here and there like pebbles in a stream going nowhere and everywhere at once—into the heart of some mystery he knew he would never understand.

No comments:

Post a Comment