Editor’s note: “A man dug a ditch” is a short story by Joe Imwalle. It is the first reader-submitted piece of writing to be published on Hoppinworld.com, and hopefully not the last. Send your submissions to John@Hoppinworld.com. Big thanks to Joe. Enjoy.
A man dug a ditch.
The ditch ran the length of a building.
Beads of sweat fell from his brow as he dug.
He hit a rock with his shovel.
The rock was not a rock.
It was the shell of an old turtle.
He dug it up.
Inside the shell was a small universe.
It was stuck to the shell.
He pushed his finger in it.
It felt like moist cake.
He scooped some out.
Stars fell from the caked bits.
They were wet and oily.
Star oil trailed down his wrist.
He dug his whole hand into the shell.
He pulled it back out.
He squeezed the little known universe in his hand.
Planets and more stars oozed out.
They oozed out between his fingers.
He opened his hand.
He leaned in closer.
Inside, he saw the remains of a densely populated area.
They had built up so much in the name of progress. He could tell just by looking. At some point it had become obvious to everyone that the progress had progressed too far and was now wreaking havoc on their lives and spreading strife and misery to all corners of their world and beyond into their cosmos.
Their suffering was over.
The man told himself their suffering was now finally over.
He dropped his shovel and flung the universe back in the ditch. He decided now was a good time for a nice long lunch break. His boss was gone for the day scoping a new construction site. They’d only just broken ground two days ago.
Yes, a real nice long lunch break and no one to bother him.
Joe Imwalle, 2015
I wore some shoes that got waterlogged. I took off the shoes and the socks when I came inside. My wife saw the wet socks and said they were disgusting.
Hey man, Jesus wore socks, I told her. With sandals? Was Jesus the type of guy to wear socks with sandals? Only when it was cold.
Most of the comments I get on this blog are spam. I mark them as such, and they get deleted. Every time I mark one, I think about the digital tidal wave of spam and wonder about the day when I’ll give up doing this.
This morning, a poignant bit of foamy spray flew off of the tidal wave and landed in my inbox. I imagined a frustrated writer pounding away at a grimy beige keyboard, in a country where coffee is grown and cigarettes are smoked indoors, awash with this tidal wave of futility, practicing her craft in spam comments for 18 hours a day.
I myself personally in the midst of the whole works discovered somewhere down pretty much sad.
Nelson Mandela was a very inspiring figure of the twentieth and early twenty-first century. I remember that as a kid, I watched him walk out of jail in South Africa. It was a tall signpost marking the path to a better version of humanity, one that we still walk on today. When he died earlier this year, it was a time to be sad but also to reflect on his greatness. Anyone who saw Mandela walk from jail with his fist raised in triumph knows that Mandela endured when he was alive and his memory will endure now that he is dead. I’ll teach my kid about him.
In the past year I’ve had dental insurance coverage, something that I haven’t had for many years. I’ve taken advantage of it to the tune of three fillings and two deep cleanings. In November, I’ll go back for more. Now that I’m covered, I’ve signed up to be hurt on a semi-annual basis.
After an appointment, I was paying at the front desk when I saw, taped on the wall behind the receptionist, a photo of the waiting room done up for a party. A middle aged woman in a beige outfit stood underneath a sign that said, “We Will Miss You Mandela”. I understood totally- the death of Mandela brought back many memories for me, of my family and of my young self learning how to be a man with a strong moral compass to help me know right from wrong. I told the receptionist that Mandela was important to me, too. I was impressed that they had honored him in this way. She gave me a funny look. She turned around and when she saw the photo, burst out laughing. She told me that it was the going away party for the dental assistant who had worked there for many years, Manuela.
Last night I go out in the garage looking for Nami. She’s in the driveway, under the hood of her car, wearing the headlamp that I use for night bbqing.
“What’s up?” I said.
“I’m changing my headlight,” she says. Fiddling with the back of the light, trying to get it off. “Who knows the last time it was changed,” she says, fiddling more.
“Can I help you?” I said. Inching closer. I’m like a politician, I come for the groundbreaking and then again for the ribbon cutting.
She looked up at me. With the lamp, it was blinding. She had a look on her face.
“You can go inside because you are bothering me,” she said.
I squinted, glad to be relieved. A few minutes later she came back inside, job done.
I was a fat kid, people gave me titty twisters on the school bus. I turned up the Eazy E and looked out the window as the straw colored hills of Morgan Hill rolled by. When I took the Presidential Fitness Test, the result was that I was not fit. It was no surprise.
My teacher, who taught me to code Logos on beige Apple ][e’s in the computer lab, which I loved and was good at, handed me a rope and asked me to climb it. It was attached to the ceiling. Of the gymnasium! Later they took us out to the monkey bars to climb poles. I got the wind knocked out of me and saw stars.
We played Dungeons and Dragons at recess. I was the Dungeon Master. We didn’t have books to follow, just one twenty-sided die. We took turns rolling it and then I made up what happened. Who died, who killed the Dragon, who saved the maiden, who got turned into a bird and then a donkey. We huddled in the shade of a small tree in the parched clay school yard. It was dusty. I sweat from my armpits.
My grandmother told me that she didn’t believe in Hell except for Ronald Reagan who was going for closing halfway houses and defunding disability programs while governor of California. Arnold Schwarzenegger had helped to design the test. They’re both going to Hell, I thought.
This morning I pedaled past a road crew spray-painting dots to mark the installation of a bike lane on the short bridge at San Antonio Street up and over the 101 freeway.
The two-lane bridge bridge is part of the best bicycle route from East San Jose to Downtown. Unlike most of the rest of the route, there are no bike lanes. The combination of the lack of lanes and the sight of cars whizzing by on the freeway underneath creates a sketchy leadership vacuum for both driver and cyclist. Cyclists sometimes ride the wrong direction or walk the bike on the sidewalk. Drivers usually increase their speed five or ten miles an hour or more, gunning it to get over the hill. I always get a full head of steam on the descent and blow through the stop sign at the bottom in suburban joy. I got a flat tire and the guy who fixed it told me that his pitbull got big thorns in his paw from the trees that grew there.
Back to the road crew: it was three guys in fluorescent vests, and their truck. I cheered them on.
“You’re our first customer,” said one of the guys, a goateed Latino man in a mesh safari hat and wraparound mirrored shades.
“Woohoo!” I hollered. I was in the moment.
“If we had any paint!” the guy yelled back, weirdly.
I kept pedaling and wondered what was in the van.
When I rode back home that evening the stripe hadn’t been painted and only the dots remained. This town. The dots were better than nothing.