Friday, August 16, 2013

my favorite thing i ever unburied

YOU KNOW HOW if there’s enough trash in a trash bin it’ll push the lid up a little? True story. I was riding my bike down Milam Street one morning a few springs ago when I passed a group of trash bins parked along the curb near the Houston Fire Museum. Three standard-issue municipal trash bins, wheels to the curb, were waiting to be emptied. Two of the trash bins were completely closed, but one of the trash bins, I noticed, was so stuffed with trash that whatever was inside was pushing the lid up a little. I suppose that’s what made me want to look, really, the way the lid was so invitingly cracked open, begging me to peep. It wasn’t pushed up much, maybe five or six inches, but I was able to get a nice long peek-a-boo as I zoomed past it on my bike.
     Whatever loose object was in there, preventing the lid from closing, wasn’t wrapped in a trash bag; it had a hard-edged silhouette. Whatever it was was smooth-contoured, plastic probably, oddly upright or erect, and machine-stamped with a short alpha-numeric sequence. That much I could see. I was going too fast to discern if they were letters or numerals or both.
     It might seem strange, perhaps, that the thing’s color was the last attribute I perceived before bringing my attention back to the gray pavement of urban traffic unspooling in front of me, but the lid threw such a heavy shadow over whatever was in there, dampening the range of hues to versions of muted gray. I was almost to McGowen when the name of the color came to me. Whatever was in there was — Caucasian. There was no other word for it. Some stamped plastic Caucasian something. Is it me — I braked my bike to a complete stop the moment the thought popped into my head — or was that a mannequin head in there?
       It was one of those questions you already know the answer to the moment you can put it into words. Not only did I know there would be a mannequin head in the trash bin, I knew which way it would be facing. I circled back onto the sidewalk, walked my bike on tiptoes over to the trash bin and creaked the plastic lid open, letting it slap against the squeaky backside. I’ll be damned. It was a mannequin head in there. A male Caucasian mannequin head.
     I grabbed the bald ball of it with a five-fingered grip, allowing the small bundles of trash packed around it to re-settle at the bottom of the tall bin. But I couldn’t get it out with one hand twisting it like that. The mannequin head, peculiarly, was much heavier than I’d expected, felt stuck somehow, so I started rocking it side to side in the bin. When I saw shoulders begin to emerge, then a chest, then an abdomen, it all made perfect sense. It was more than a mannequin head I was struggling to unbury.
     There was an entire mannequin head-and-torso in there — a very handsome, long, lean and legless, everything-from-the-waist-up, belly button and eyelashes even, just a flat bottom to stand on, European-looking table-top mannequin — whom I lifted up and out of the trash bin eventually. Except for his missing arms (which were still out there somewhere if his keyhole-shaped arm-holes were to be believed) the dude was in fantastic shape, no dents anywhere, clean as a whistle. What the spectacle must have looked like from the third-floor balcony of one of the townhouses across from the Houston Fire Museum that morning, a nude male mannequin sprouting from a trash bin. I spun him around and our faces met.
     It was so strange to find him in the trash bin like that, waiting for me to randomly rescue him, and, naturally, I wanted to understand who he was and where he came from. It’s silly, of course, in a circumstance such as this one, to expect a clarifying note to have been pinned somewhere, but in my not inconsiderable experience with mannequins, I knew I might find a name written somewhere, such was the case with Marie, so I scoured the ripples of his musculature for clues, tumbling him over in my hands to examine him from every angle.
     He was Danish, apparently. A label affixed to the small of his back said he was made in denmark. There was an oval patch of some sticky residue just above his left nipple — I wondered if firemen had been using the man-shaped piece of plastic to practice their emergency heart-monitoring skills on — and there was a stamped alpha-numeric sequence, G-10, on the roundest part of the back side of his bald head. No name anywhere.
     I love finding stuff in the trash, and I confess to a certain fondness for mannequins, so, needless to say, finding this mannequin in the trash was the highlight of my day. Who am I kidding? It made my week. When I pulled him up and out of the bin, I actually froze there for a second, holding him by his arm-holes, straddling my bike, too stunned to move.
     My first move was to make sure I wasn’t stealing someone’s awesome mannequin from, like, their moving boxes or something, mistaking them for trash bins. I looked across the street. I looked toward the Fire Museum. It was definitely trash day. There were trash bins all down the street. And the tall plastic box before me, I reassured myself, was definitely a trash bin. There were bags of trash inside it, for crying out loud. Which meant the mannequin torso I was holding was definitely trash. Which meant he was free for the taking. Yet somehow it seemed wrong to just snatch him like that, this handsome Danish half-man, municipal trash though he was, and I couldn’t help feeling like a thief when I tucked him under an arm and took off on my bike, pedaling home as fast as I could. I posted a picture to my Facebook page the moment I walked in the door.

     The following Sunday, shit got very weird. I was going through my Facebook page, harvesting dreams I’d posted the previous week and pasting them into a separate document where I archive my dreams, and when I got to the morning of May 8th, and I read the dream I’d posted that morning, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I came to a complete stop. This can’t be true, I thought, half-smiling. But there it was in black and white.

     I double-checked the dates. I scrolled down to my post from May 12th, the day I found the mannequin torso. I scrolled back up to May 8th, the day I dreamed I found the mannequin torso. May 8th is four days before May 12th. In other words, I dreamed I found a life-size muscular torso in a tall box and biked away with it feeling like a thief. Then four days later, I actually did find a life-size muscular torso in a tall box and bike away with it feeling like a thief. I wanted to doubt my recollection of the week’s events, but how could I argue with the evidence? My documentation was impeccable.
      Tibetan Buddhists place great importance on their tradition of hidden teachings, in which bodies of ancient knowledge are hidden away like buried treasures and revealed again centuries later when the right treasure-hunters come along to unbury them. Think of them as spiritual time capsules. A hidden teaching might take the form of a literally buried treasure, such as a relic buried underground, or it might take a more nebulous form, the first few symbols of a long-ago scripture, for example, concealed inside a stone, or a sound, a sacred syllable, secreted in an herb or tucked into a cloud and folded into a dream. A bean of cosmic wisdom, even, planted in the fertile ground of the very mind itself, might sprout a beanstalk of revelation eons later. I suspect those Tibetans are on to something. I only am left to wonder, at what point did I actually enter the dream? And did I ever leave it?