My last house had a mail slot in the door. The mail hit the hardwood with an audible woosh or a dull thud. Most of what landed in my floor was either junk—postcards from direct mail campaigns, colorful but disappointing sale papers, or envelopes with plastic windows claiming urgency—or leftovers for previous tenants.
In the last few months that I lived there, I got postcards addressed to Brandon Strand. I assumed they were for a previous tenant or sub-letter. Someone I wasn’t familiar with by any means but whom I wished I could locate. The messages on the cards were silly but intriguing.
My father cheated on my mom once. I only know because I caught him. It was just like the time I walked in on my roommate in college masturbating. We exchanged a knowing, uncomfortable look, and neither of us ever said another word about it.
Secret knowledge like that undermines bold statements. If dad ever started to preach the importance of fidelity, I could hear his resolve creak.
His was a world of plastic five-gallon buckets, aluminum ladders, tool belts, and drooling paint cans. In his way, he tried to teach me what he’d learned. He taught me to tilt my coffee cup only when the driver drinks unless you want a lap full of hot coffee, that California air is charged with the silent power of the possible, and that slowing down is not the same as stopping.
The first postcard I got for Mr. Strand reminded me of my dad’s cryptic wisdom.
If you wish to walk
With feet ‘pon wings
Then, my son,
You must learn a few things
You must be patient
And make moves ever slow
Like those of the ancient
Lands down below
You must tickle hot buttons
With cool, cool fingers
You must suspend suspicion
Even as it lingers
You must be confident
And mind the edges
You must lie on the line
All the bets the other hedges
Strand’s correspondent was much more poetic than ol’ dad, but I get the impression that they’d agree on a great many things.
One day, just as I was picking up the mail, the knuckles of a fist met my door in an urgent manner. Sometimes the mailperson would have to knock to leave me a package that was too big for the slot, but this was not their knock. I looked through the peephole to see two men in suits and dark glasses who looked like television cops. I hesitated to answer but went ahead because I figured they’d already heard me come down the stairs.
“Mr. Strand?” one of them said as I opened the door.
“Um, no, I don’t know any Strand, though I have gotten some of his mail here.”
“We’re going to need to ask you some questions. May we come in?”
Their crossing the threshold of my front door felt like a stab. Their presence at the door at all felt threatening, but their being in my home made it sharp.
You’ve been in a situation that, once given the possibility of escape, no amount of money would keep you in, right? This was just such a situation.
“Can we see some identification?” the other one asked.
“Can I?” I shot back. They both unfolded their wallets to flash their badges and FBI cards. Total cliché move. Television cops. Slightly amused but satisfied, I pulled my driver’s license out of my wallet and handed it over.
“Mr. Brandon Strand, you’re under arrest in connection with the murder of Joseph Bean.”
“What? I’m not Brandon Strand! I am Joseph Bean!” He flipped over the ID I’d handed him, and there it was: my picture and the name “Strand, Brandon.”
With my body locked up, my mind wandered. The jaunting, one thought to the next, each only barely related to the other. My dad called it wing walking.
1. My earliest memory is a shadow. When I was little, my father had a motorcycle, and I used to ride on it sitting between him and my mom. My mom says I would sometimes fall asleep there, nestled between them on that machine.
I remember riding it at night, seeing our shadows stretching by on the ground as we passed the streetlights. My dad in the front, me in the middle, and my mom on the back, they fanned out beside us as we rode along.
I know that this is a true memory because there are no photographs of it to spawn recollection, and the only time the story has been told is by me.
2. Nature’s matrix reveals itself in a fleeting lattice.
The expression “the natural order” is commonly used to denote the way things ought to be or the way we expect them to be. Taken in a literal sense, it is an oxymoron. The heart of nature is chaos. Order is the anomaly in the wild.
As emotions drain, the geometry shifts from fractal to Euclidean, from what we see as chaos to our idea of order.
Holes like hives and sticks like snakes, Nature has codes. They’re better read as poems.
3. My roommate dropped out of college the first semester of our sophomore year. He got his girlfriend back home pregnant. He moved back to Alabama to work at his grandfather’s cash and carry, the “Feed & Seed.”
We called that poetic justice.
That’s really the only kind of justice. Poetic. There’s no justice in nature. It’s a purely human concept. Just ask Herbert Spencer. His most famous aphorism is almost always attributed to Charles Darwin.
He was wrong anyway. If the fittest were truly the ones who survived, then my old roommate would’ve been able to stay in school and further the species. Instead, he had to forgo being the fittest in order for his offspring to survive.
Natural selection is a farce if Nature is the same in every direction.
4. If human consciousness is an aberration in the selection process, then the aberration within it is its indefatigable need to perpetuate itself. How many bridges, buildings, and bombs were built to impress another so they could procreate? How many stories and poems and books written for the love of a mother or father? Our existence is one thing, our drive to survive indeed another, but for want of the love of another, we ruin each other.
5. Every house on my street has internal plumbing, pipes and tanks and valves that bring fresh, clean water into the house and move waste and dirty water out. Why does every generation hate the next? Because they’re all exactly the same, but they’re doing it all wrong. You’ll never hear a plumber praise the work of a previous plumber. The one before did everything wrong, yet the plumbing always does the same thing.
The kites I got in jail were all from the same person. He never revealed his name, but he regularly slid notes into my cell. Woosh. There were no poems, but always plenty of fatherly advice.
Roy Christopher is an aging BMX and skateboarding zine kid. That’s where he learned to turn events and interviews into pages with staples. He has since written about music, media, and culture for everything from self-published zines and personal blogs to national magazines and academic journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Communication Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. As a child, he solved the Rubik’s Cube competitively.