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Bigger things

A larger-than-life world that keeps getting smaller


Things are shrinking, according to Lary.

"I'm telling you," he says, measuring random stuff in my house, "things are shrinking." These days he carries a tape measure with him everywhere he goes. He moves to my refrigerator, retractable tape at the ready, and assesses its width, which is the same as it's always been. Everything is the same as it's always been, but that doesn't matter.

"Things are still shrinking," Lary says, "including tape measures. Trust me."

Of course I don't trust Lary. This is a guy who, a few years ago, tried to grind black Afghan hash into the pores of my canvas suitcase so I'd be busted by the drug beagle as we came through customs on our way back from Amsterdam. He didn't even try to be discreet.

"What the hell are you doing to my suitcase?" I shrieked as we sat at the airport waiting to board the plane with the rest of the cattle. But Lary did not even look up. "Your life is lacking drama," he said.

I almost missed the flight because I had to hose my bag off at the drinking fountain and then douse it with 10 different perfumes from the tester tray at Duty Free. To this day I am still amazed the drug dog didn't sink his teeth into my neck as I came back into the country. And it's funny I should mention baggage, because it's when the airlines got really strict about weighing luggage that Lary became convinced the universe is getting smaller.

"Fifty pounds used to be bigger than this," he said, indicating a carry-on bag loaded with his customary airplane supplies, which include Cheetos, white wine and forged documents declaring him a federally registered child molester. The food and wine are there to keep him from taking hostages in case the plane gets stuck on the tarmac, and the documents are there in case the flight attendant tries to seat him next to an adolescent.

Then he started measuring his cat Mona. But to be honest, Mona really was shrinking. Lary actually expects me to feed her while he's away, and he's away a lot lately. One time I opened his door and there was that decayed-flesh smell, and I thought, Christ, I really killed her this time. It wasn't Mona that was dead after all, but a rat she had killed to keep herself alive in between my appearances. After that, I was even less attentive, knowing if need be she could subsist on woodland creatures that roam the decrepit mausoleum Lary calls a home.

But Lary has stabilized Mona's shrinking process. It's the rest of the world he's worried about, and he's starting to get me worried, too. Just this morning I was laying there on the bottom part of my daughter's brand new bunk beds, looking at the mattress above me, trying to remember how my sisters and I used to make hammocks when we were kids. First we would take the blanket and tie it to one end of the top bunk and stretch it to the other and secure it somehow. The end effect was a big pocket of sorts, and we would climb inside and hang there like little larvae inside a cotton cocoon. I loved doing that. The knots themselves reminded me of a person's head wrapped in a turban, and the hammock their giant tongue.

Anyway, I was looking at Mae's top bunk wondering how the hell we all fit in there, giggling like we did. Surely bunk beds were bigger back then. Everything was bigger back then. The world was just so damn vast and unshoveled, full of mystery and funny turban-wearing people with giant tongues.

I remember a big field of mud next to our house, as expansive as the Sahara. I used to play in it all day, just mud. Christ, it seems even mud was bigger back then.

That last part is owed to our elderly neighbor named Rocky, who had a Polaroid camera as big as the seat on a bar stool. Once he took our pictures as we played and we got to watch them develop before our very eyes. We were so fascinated Rocky let us keep them. He was always telling us big stories about pirates who used to bury their loot in that very mud field way back when. He'd point to a particular landmark and say things like, "Pirates are notorious for burying their fortunes near crabapple bushes," and we'd rush over there and go digging for it, and damn if we didn't find something every time.

I realize now Rocky was burying it there himself. They were pieces of old rhinestone jewelry that probably belonged to his late wife, who I hear had died after cutting her hand on a rusty tin can. Afterward, every week or so, Rocky would scout a new spot and guide us to it, and we'd commence the gleeful process of uncovering new treasure.

Then one day Rusty came by to tell us of a new pirate site, and we simply declined the invite. It's not that we had grown weary of him, it's just that we had grown. When Rocky turned to leave, I could see he'd brought his Polaroid camera, and I almost called after him, but I stopped myself. I was on my way to bigger things, I thought, and people on their way to bigger things are too busy to uncover new treasure.

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