Friday, October 2, 1987

Isadore and Its Man

I had a class called "Humanities" in my senior year of high school; it was basically field trips for credit, both big group field trips and little individual field trips (there were many and you picked a set of them). One of the individual field trips was to Bay Tree Park in San Mateo, where there was (naturally enough) a large bay tree, older than the development around it. One of the assignments (we were to pick one of five) to complete after visiting it was to write a story. It was later published in the high school literary journal, One Hand Clapping.

I imagine it being rendered into a teleplay. "POV shot: Tree."

Isadore and Its Man

The man sat at the base of the tree, explaining.

"They want to cut you down, Isadore. They want your wood. They don't understand about you. But I'll talk to them. I'll make them understand!"

The tree with the name Isadore simply stood. It closed up its stamens, for night was falling. It went to what we must call sleep -- for no human can understand the nature of trees -- until the next day. The man put out his fire and did the same.

When the sun reached the topmost needles the man was gone. The tree with the name Isadore didn't know that. It only knew that the warmness against its body was gone, but the sun's energy was back and it could produce again. Water and food circulated in its bark. It grew slightly larger -- the tiniest portion of a small ring. The tree grew and circulated and photosynthesized all that day, and the next.

On the third day the man was back. The tree did not know that the man was back. The man said, "Isadore, they're going to make me move. They're going to take me away from you. But I won't let them! I need you, Isadore! I can take care of you!" The tree with the name Isadore felt its leaves shake as wind from below brushed them.

The next day the man was there again. The tree began to understand -- although trees cannot understand in a manner that is sensical to humans -- that another being was in its area. A being who made the wind move, a being who was warm and sometimes created hotness. The tree with the name Isadore could not hear the man or see the man but he felt the closeness of the man when the man was there. It began to recognize the presence of the man.

For many weeks -- the tree did not know or care how many, and indeed it could have been three days or ten years -- the man stayed. He fed the tree with nutritious chemicals and the tree protected him from sun and rain. The man spoke to the tree, and the tree spoke to the man. Neither comprehended, but both knew "friend".

Then weeks later -- or it could have been years, or days -- another man came. The tree did not understand. How could there be two of Man? There was only one tree, one Isadore (although the tree did not know that the man called it Isadore). The second man spoke to the first man, but it was not the same way that the man spoke to the tree. The second man was unpleasant. The tree wished that the second man would leave. The man felt so too, although how the tree knew this it had no idea.

The second man spoke to the first man for a little while longer and then left. The tree was happy -- although trees cannot be happy in any way understandable to humans. The first man went and spoke to the tree, leaning against it, as he had done so many times.

"They're going to call the Forest Service on us, Isadore. They're going to cut you down. The companies want your body." The tree felt dew along its trunk. For some reason it was not happy any more. It felt very sad, or something as close to it as a tree can be.

The next day many men came. Some of the men were taking the first man away. The tree wondered -- as much as a tree can wonder -- why he was leaving. The tree wondered if he would come back.

The other men were doing things the tree didn't understand. Some of them felt around the tree with a tape. Others stuck sticks in the ground and made marks on a flat thing with a small stick. But the sun was falling so they left.

They returned the next day. They got a large metal flat thing -- totally foreign to the tree. The men got next to the tree with the large metal flat thing. They started to cut.

The tree screamed, and the man heard.

Thursday, September 17, 1987

Red Pen

I wrote this in the hour after an unhappy incident with a student teacher in my junior year of high school. (Writing this was without question the most productive time I ever spent in trigonometry class.) It was published (the next year) in the school literary journal, One Hand Clapping. Since the story is essentially true up to the third paragraph, it was amusing to the students who remembered the incident when it was published.

We used "Ralph Peterson, Jr." as a standard anonymous name on the literary journal after he had been run as a fake candidate for student body president the year before. (I took it upon myself to run him for Student Union Assembly chair at UCSC in 1989; I don't have any of the posters we produced for him, though, or I'd put them up here.)


Ralph "Papa" Peterson

The student came into the class angry. He didn't like the teacher; he didn't like the work she assigned; he didn't like the books she made him read. But he came. He sat down peaceably. The bell rang. Announcements were read. Papers were passed back. his essay was dotted with corrections that -- more often than not -- were arbitrary. His anger increased. Dittoes were passed out.

He corrected a ditto, giggling and smirking. He found many mistakes. More than she had found on his essay. He giggled as he marked with red felt-tipped pen. He wrote, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach," in big dark red letters. He finished. He waited for the right moment, giggling to himself. Then he handed the red-splotched paper back to the teacher.

She was not pleased. She stood in front of the student's desk. She said, "Come outside."

The student replied, "Red pens. Three touches." She nodded.

They went into the hall. Another teacher came. The second teacher officiated. The student and the first teacher began walking apart. They turned to face each other.

The officiating teacher shouted, "Go!" They began. They thrusted. They parried. They lunged. The teacher scored, the student's sweater acquired a spot. Then the student scored. A red splotch appeared on the teacher. The end was in doubt. But twice more the student scored. Two more blood-red marks were found on the teachers coat. The second teacher called it over.

The teacher and the student slowly reentered the class. The other students stared. The old teacher took the student's desk. The student went up to the podium and spoke.

"Let's continue, class."

Monday, May 11, 1987

Stopping by the typewriter on a sultry evening

This was dedicated to my high school English teacher.

Stopping by the typewriter on a sultry evening

(To M. C.)

Teacher this is I think I know.
His room is in the hall below;
Essays I write have made me fear
The grades I get, so very low.

My typewriter must think it queer
To start without an idea near.
I go on as my fingers ache
As on the page the words appear.

It gives its line-end bell a shake
As through the book my fingers rake.
I only hope I'm ab'l to leap
To bed before the dawn shall break.

To doze leads on to something deep,
But essay mine, it will not keep;
I've pages to write before I sleep,
And pages to write before I sleep.