synthetic zero

What I Did on My Vacation   

     Scronch, scronch, the soles of my feet rub against my

boots slowly slapping the crushed sand and rock of the

narrow desert wash.

     "Once you resign yourself to walking, you can look

around and enjoy yourself."

     "Are we having fun yet?"

     "Are we there yet?"

I am afraid I am going to get blisters. I grabbed my

father's boots by mistake; they almost but not quite fit

me perfectly. My tee shirt is completely soaked from sweat

and yet it is not very hot; whenever we stop I freeze from the

light breeze as I lean against a rock in the shadow of the

sloping walls of the dry wash. (There's some secret trick to this;

if I concentrate hard enough, it will all become effortless.)

"So what's your favorite color, Susan?"

     "Blue. At one time it was the"

     "color of the sky at sunrise, you know, when you look

at the sky in the direction away from the sun" "it's been

getting lighter recently"

I slip on my Shintaido shirt with the bright red circular

design, and over it my faded blue denim shirt. This is my

favorite shirt to wear when I am hiking in the cool; for

some reason it is pleasant to be cold in that shirt. Morning

air, especially, feels very nice, refreshing, in this shirt.

     "It is amazingly cold." Everyone is lying about in

their sleeping bags. We just finished dinner; sandwiches and

the quesadillas Michael insisted on making for everyone (Ben

says "Michael just wants to show off his stove.") Night

has fallen though it is only seven o'clock; it is wintertime

in the desert. We are about to go to sleep.

     "It's below freezing."

     "No, I lived in Michigan and I know it couldn't be that

cold yet."

     "Well, at least it's below forty."

     The stars are rotating ever so slowly over our heads.

"What are we going to do if we don't find water tomorrow?"

     "Are you being fatalistic again, Carolyn?" Susan's

voice flies up from somewhere past the foot of my

sleeping bag.

     "I've got two liters." "We'll make it. We'll just

have to go back if we don't find any water."

     "What if there's a huge puddle of oil under the car?"

prompts Jun, and we pelt him with tomatoes.

     "Slow down, slow down!"

     Michael is driving the car at two miles per hour over a

sandy rocky desert road on the way to the start of the trail.

We hit a dip in the road, and as the car eases over the edge,

we hear a scraping sound at the back.

     "We can get out if you want, Michael, no problem." Ben

has a smile in his half-serious voice as he says this.

     "Don't worry about it, Ben." Another bump, and a scraping

sound this time.

     "We're about halfway there." We're eating lunch at the

top of what would've been a waterfall if there were any water.

The canyon continues on here much as it did before the falls,

flat and wide and bouldered. The stone here is smooth and warm,

and it is a nice sunny place to sit around together.

     "Michael, I have a question for you. Why do you go hiking?"

     "To get away from people." He waves his hand at the

other five of us, smiling.

     Ben looks up. "Well, I do it for the outdoor experience."

Ben chooses this moment to hold Susan closely and they both

smile into each other. He is a large Mongolian warrior with

kind intelligence.

     "He has the potential for anger, though." Pause. "He had a

choice between the dark side of the Force and the light side,

and he took the light."

     "We're all glad he did, Ben."

     Ben's father started backing the car out of the driveway.

A string of colored Christmas lights passed by on the right.

It's a very long driveway; Ben's house is hidden down at one

end of it: you can't see it from the road, really.

     "So where are you guys going?"

     "There are these Indian ruins out in the desert, papa.

Forty rock houses up in this canyon."

     "How many of you?"


     "Oh, the Seven Samurai, eh?"

"Where is Matias?"

     Everyone is moving, dancing, the lights, red, yellow, and

blue, are flashing, in the dark there is laughter and music.

Ben sits across the corner from me; I am not dancing. I feel

a great difficulty in moving, a residue of the social paralysis

I sometimes felt back at school.

     "I don't think he's going to make it." Too bad; I was hoping

we could live up to Ben's dad's epithet.

     Susan asked Ben to dance with her but he doesn't like the

music they're playing. She's out there anyway; in fact most of

the people dancing right now are girls. She's dancing with a girl-

friend of hers; it crosses my mind that she might feel a

little uncomfortable dancing while Ben and I are just sitting

there watching her; I shrug it off, though, and just watch her.

"So what do you think about love?"

     Carolyn and Michael are arguing up ahead of us.

     "I like to shoot down the idea of love. When you fall in

love you realize how trivial everything is."

     We catch up with them. "No, you become more interested in

everything!" objects Susan, who happens to be in it, everyone


     "Michael just needs to find someone that's like him."

      "Do they have to be similar, Carolyn?"

     You know, Mits, very few people fall in love with the people

they think they do, especially if they think the person they are

in love with is in some way "related" or "in sync with" themselves.

     "Of course! Otherwise they'd have nothing to talk about."

     I laugh. "Love is a good conversation, then."

"We thought Michael was deranged."

     Ben raised his hand as though he were holding something.

"He held this bone out and said, "'Telephone, Ben!'" This struck

us as very funny and we laughed spiritedly.

     "We kept on trying to ask him if he found a good place to

get water, and he just kept on waving this bone around!" I

took another bite of Susan's mom's curried chicken. I was sitting

on the floor, using my chair as a table for my apple cider and

plate of rice, chicken, and salad. Susan sat at the coffee

table on the other side of my chair.

     "What I said was, 'Here's a bone, Ben!' I thought he might

like it." To the rest of us: "And he left it up there, too!"

I finish off my water and put the empty bottle back in my pack.

We hear a yell in the distance. "Hey, that was Michael."

     "Did you find any water!!" I yell. Another unintelligible

cry. I look up the canyon but can't see anything. Ben starts

to put his pack on. "Let's go."

     "One yell if you find water!" Susan calls after us.

     "Two yells!" I call back.

     "Two yells, o.k.!"

     Ben turns around. "Stay there, though, even if we find


     Susan doesn't say anything.

     "Stay there, OK?"

     "O.K." she says finally.

"Love is a good conversation, then."

     "That's right, Mits! I bet you've been in love."

     "Actually, I was being sarcastic." I glance at Susan.

"I disagree with you, Carolyn. Though I don't know anything."

Susan smiles slightly at this.

I began to crawl under the coffee table, over to where Carolyn

and Susan were sitting on the couch. Susan said "Look what's

coming up from under the table!" I popped my head out next to

Carolyn's knees. Susan was lying behind her, and I was looking

right into her face. This was an uncomfortable position, so I

turned over on my back and put my head on the floor. There was a

narrow wooden bar running the length of the table which I had

to lie on; I felt as though I were back in the desert

"It's really strange to sleep with your head lower than your

back," says Ben to Susan.

     Again we are looking up into the bright night sky,

Orion rising, the hazy arc of the Milky Way, faint stars

just barely perceptible, in the thousands; one is frustrated

to pick out one of them, though you know the sky would be different

without them.

     "And my feet are lower than both!"

     "Hey, I just saw a shooting star! That's the first

one I ever saw in my life."

     I am wearing the gloves I just found hidden in some

corner of my backpack. My head is near Susan's, though I lie

north-south and she, Ben, and Jun are east-west.

     Michael is also facing north-south. "Mits, imagine the

plane of the sun's orbit as the plane of the ecliptic, right?

Now look at the Milky Way. See how our solar system is tilted?

Doesn't that give you a feeling of depth?"

     I look up and imagine the disk of the solar system hanging

in deep space, askew to the massive disk of the galaxy, and deeply

inhale. "Jesus, Michael, you're right!" we swing along a moment

together through interstellar space, silent, vast.

     Susan laughs softly at our excitement. I stick my hand out

into the night and notice how big my gloved hands are against the

sky. It reminds me of when my brother and I used to play with

the lamp in our old room; we'd put our hands up to the light

and make huge shadows of our hands, magnified on the walls, and

pretend a huge hand was coming down to grab us or something.

I slowly bring my hand down toward Susan's face:

      "Aaah!" Susan lowers her light hand down toward my face,

she moves it up and down. I laugh and as she keeps her hand

there I reach up with my free hand

"Michael! Michael!" "Do you think he got into any trouble, over

the ridge or something?"

      "I don't see why he'd go there. Hey Mits, come look at this!"

I follow his voice down the slope. Smoosh! My foot hits some

mud. Surprised, I look down, and there's water, a tiny trickle of,


and we clasp hands, I hold her hand for a moment . . . then let go,

and she leaves her hand hanging there, limp, for a time, and finally

pulls it back up.

   The (my) point is, one must see others as one sees them and

not how they see themselves. That is why most of this time you

don't know what the hell I'm talking about because I go around

seeing you my way without telling you what it is I see in you.

"We found water up there! There was a little pipe running into

this barrel, and a small area you could camp in." Michael and

Ben were just entering camp after an exploratory hike up the canyon.

The rest of us were sitting, talking, enjoying the water we'd

found lower down.

     "Did you find any ruins?" Carolyn asks.

     "Yeah, about twenty or thirty rock houses. They don't

look they way you'd expect," Ben says.

     "What do you mean?"

     "They're just these walls, pretty short-----"

     "Most of them are set into the wall of the canyon," interrupts


     "Well, I don't want to lug our packs up there. Still, I'd

like to take a look. Anyone up for a hike?"

     "How far is it?"

     "It's about as far from the corner there as we are from

the corner." The canyon goes in some three hundred meters then

takes a left turn.

      "You mean it's just up there and then again?" Susan says,


      "That's right." "Well, I just don't want to take our packs


      "That's OK," laughs Ben, "cause there aren't any ruins up


People are getting up to leave. Ben's little sister Anna is running

about, offering people cookies. She holds the dish up to me. "That's

o.k., Anna, no thanks."

     Ben and Susan are hugging each other up on a rock and

I am standing there and Susan glances at me while they hug

     I shake Michael's hand and bid him goodbye, call out a

goodbye to Carolyn and Jun is already out the door. I walk to

the entryway with the crowd. Anna runs up to me and I take

her hand firmly and swing it up and down, pat her on the back;

Susan is standing there my hands are full Susan stands there

with a resigned hand waves then disappears out the door I forget

about Anna and head for the door looking out and wave "Goodbye!"

she is running down the stepping stones into the night.

              .               .               .

     I am sitting alone in the darkened room on my sleeping bag.

Suddenly I realize that what I have been doing, my friendly

simple relations with my friends is not the natural, direct

route I was thinking it was, but really in my giving

     Love for Susan

     I had to find my path.

A brilliant sunrise greets my departure from Ben's house; without

hesitation nor drama I wrote a short note to Susan, an ordinary

note, and to the strains of Jose Avenal on the tape deck flew down

the freeway towards home.