How tall is a giant squid?
Dear Readers,"Mr. Squid? Did you answer this question a'ready?"
It was Jarwaun, my earnest and thoughtful young typist, who did bring this query to my attention.
"We totally answered that question," said my dear lab assistant-at-large, Rob.
"Can we answer it again?" asked Jarwaun, gazing up with eyes of enduring and endearing puppydogishness.
"Christ, J., we already answered this shit years ago," Rob had grabbed of the paper from little Jarwaun and peered down on the single sentence printed upon the sheet. "We got crazy piles of shit like this, and fielded tons of them, mostly because they're easy. I've got nothing against doing the easy job first, but still, we accept every question, and if we get wrapped up in fielding all the inconsequential shit, we just drive the good ones away 'cause people stop taking us serious."
At this I had to intercede. "Who is this we that you refer to, Rob?"
He waved his hands, "Ah, shit, you know what I'm saying, Lord A. This shit here is a team effort," and walked out of the room.
Jarwaun continued to mold his features into a whimpering puppy pantomime. "So, can we . . . I mean, can you answer this one?"
Frankly, I had found Rob's argument persuasive, and told Jarwaun as much. But relent he would not. "Maybe, yeah — I understand what you sayin'. But, like, I just had a . . ." he paused and drew in his breath. "I wanted to, like, answer the question in a specific way."
"How?" I asked.
And, dear readers, Jarwaun did then describe a most reasonable and pertinent plan.
He and I then did call upon our chief engineer, Devo, for the plan's review.
"You want to do what?" he asked.
Patiently, as though giving a careful report to classmates about the average annual rainfall within Ecuador, Jarwaun did repeat his entire plan from beginning to end, verbatim as he had described it to me. It was then clear that he had, indeed, written the plan out and memorized it.
Devo sighed. "Damn. I know what you said. I understand, like, the technical shot you are laying down — Hell, I'm even sorta gung-ho on it, just 'cause we've finally got the velocitator at 100 percent again, and this sorta thing is a good gentle test-drive for all the systems — I guess what I meant was . . . why the fuck do you want to do this?" He spread his hands out in the empty space, indicating the entire scope of Jarwaun's plan.
Jarwaun looked nervous, and he did withdraw for a moment. "I just . . . well, I . . . we should, like, take every question very serious. Yeah. That's what I want to do. Take this question serious. Every questions deserves to get took serious and given the most accurate answer we can do." He folded his arms across his chest. " People come to us with respect, we gotta give 'em respect back. S'only right."
I let the overly generous use of the plural first person go without comment.
Nonetheless, Jarwaun was possessed of both a clearly workable concept and a suitable — and, in fact, both idealistic and altruistic — defense for the bother. Furthermore, it has ever been the case that a lively plan-of-action draws me directly into the excitement of the fray, regardless of what the better angels of my nature might advise. Should I ever develop a leg and foot, then clearly this strategic excitablilty would qualify as my Achilles Heel.
I congratulated Jarwaun on his clear-headed and -heartedness, as well as his commitment to excellence. At that stage I additionally made a mental note to have Rob fetch a new packet of blue silken ribbons, so that I might return to my once-fortnightly Awards for the Certification of Excellence evening programs, with Jarwaun to be the first of my newest crew of office workers to be recognized for his simple enthusiasm and clarity of vision.
I even, at that moment as I gave in to the implicit argument Jarwaun was making, conceded that mayhaps it was pertinent for me to fully embrace this notion called "we," and to permit myself to be re-inspired to my vocation by Jarwaun's own work-ethic and commitment to goodfaith and quality workmanship.
In the mid-afternoon of the next day Devo and I travelled to the appointed locale for Jarwaun's plan's execution, guided by his directions, written with care upon college-ruled loose-leaf paper. I scuttled off the back of Devo's beleaguered towing vehicle onto the crumbling tarmac behind Jarwaun's school of learning, in which he was enrolled for remedial vernal studies.
Jarwaun did slip out of the building's backmost doors to meet us. Painted upon the tarmac behind the school building was a large outline map of these United States. He made his way from Minnesota down to Florida where I stood just beyond what should have been The Cuba.
He pointed out several features of the space to Devo, who then nodded, and we were ready to begin. With the help of cables and the hoisting pick, Devo was able to pull several of my metal-ensconced hunting tentacles and arms upward above my head. As the cable tightened and my fore-limbs ascended, I did lean the backward onto the remaining limbs, which I also began to spread out in order to better distribute my weight, but not so far as to substantially change my overall height.
Once my fore-limbs were at their apex, Jarwaun did ascend in a plastic bucket called a "cherry picker" to the very tip of my highest point. He did, from there, let dangle a long fabric measuring tape, spun out from a large black plastic reel.
"Yep," he said absently, "About 45 feet."
"What?" Devo yelled.
Jarwaun called down, "Hold on! I can't quite get a good measurement, 'cause . . . um . . . the tape is all, swaying around."
The tape appeared stable from my vantage, but I was in little condition to make comment, as I was obliged to remain focused on maintaining my balance: A gentle sway forward, I discovered, elicited distressing groans from Devo's grand truck, but if I did drift back, the cable would slacken and I was in even greater danger of toppling backward into who knew what kind of pain and dismemberment. I carefully moved each supporting tentacle backward and forward, trying desperately to master this strange talent of the upspace, The Balance.
For minutes on end Jarwaun looked upon the tape, muttered to himself, glanced upon the very door he had excited, shook the tape as to straighten it, glanced again, muttered again, shook the tape again, took up a tad of the slack, let more slack loose, et cetera. And for a long time I did think, "Is it not the 45 feet? Why is he uncertain? What degree of absurd precision does Jarwaun seek?" But on and on he did stare and shake the tape, and I did begin to become vexed by his steadfast work ethic.
And the truck did groan.
And periodically Devo would yell, "C'mon! Have we got a measurement or not? We need to get moving!"
And I thought, "We? We! It is I who stand here, almost toppling to, and almost toppling fro!" But I could not say such. I was too busy keeping from the toppling in question to comment on said toppling.
And still Jarwaun did fiddle and mutter.
And then, of a sudden, there came a commotion and hollering from inside of the school, and from out the back door emerged several older, larger boys who all wore identical athletic uniforms of the basketballer, and they were of the sweating and of laughter.
And then, all as a unit, they did stop, one standing in the Lake Superior of Michigan, the next upon the North Dakota, and the final out upon Idaho. They stared up at me. The cables did flex, and the truck did groan, and I did gaze down upon the trio with my optically perfect eye, and I saw in each of them a white hot terror that did make me hungry.
Finally one did speak. "Holy. Motherfucker."
And Jarwaun did suddenly erupt.
"Yeah, what now, D'Marco? What now? Y'all be pushin' up on me now, with your two little faggot buddies?"
Devo flinched at the word, but looked on silently as Jarwaun declaimed and his foes cowered. I swayed.
"Ain't no more knockin' my lunch tray, and ain't no more bustin' up my Auntie's windows, and ain't no more talkin' like you been touchin' on my cousin Alysse! And there ain't no more a'lot stuff; you got it? Ain't no more callin' me faggot when I throw a brick in gym. I miss a shot," his voice broke shrill. "If I's to miss a shot and then stick my dick in your ear, you still wouldn't be callin' me faggot, 'cause you know what's up now, don't you, D? Don't you, D? You hear, D'Marco?!?"
The boy standing in Lake Superior did look up at me most intently, and at that moment the cables did snap, and my steel-encased limbs did plummet to the earth, and one fell between each boy, and the whole of the fall did crack open huge craters in the tarmac as my steel-tipped appendages did dig into the terra firma, in one case wiping out the entirety of Kansas, and the other two boys did run away, but the closest boy, this D'Marco, did fall to his knees and cry.
I again, was shocked into silence, and could but hold my ground steadily, hoping I did not crush the boy.
He wept and wept.
"Yeah . . ." Jarwaun said, his voice weakening. "You, um, learning a lesson now?"
Devo lit up a cigarette and said, "I guess that clarifies some shit."
Jarwaun ran the motor and lowered himself and his plastic bucket. At the ground, he climbed out and walked out between my limbs to face the crying boy who was half again taller than Jarwaun.
"You . . ." Jarwaun began.
The boy cried, falling to his bottom, his legs spread in front of him. There was ominous darkness at the crotch of his short pants. His shoulders — rounded, drawn protectively around his precious, tiny heart — shuddered with the force of his helpless sobs.
"This is all about . . ." Jarwaun tried again.
"Can we be done now?" Devo asked.
Jarwaun walked up to the boy and put his hand on the boy's crown. Jarwaun held his hand there as the boy wept, and then he bowed his own head. "I'm sorry, D'Marco."
I have seen apologies, ladies and gentlemen. I have seen apologies, and I know them to be more than the words; an apology is in tone, and in posture, and in the intangibles of the slope of a shoulder, the angle of a wrist, the turn of the knee. It is less a gesture, and more an emanation from deep within a person. A vibration sent from the heart and the soul and the pneuma out into the world.
I have seen, and I do know, and I further know that Jarwaun was not sorry.
And then we did leave.
The boy sat on the state of Michigan and cried, and was crying still as we lumbered down the road, picking our way through neighborhoods both decrepit and tidy, overgrown and vibrant, wending our careful way back to my fine lab high atop the Renaissance Center.
In that time I did conclude that there was indeed no We, no Us, and that no matter how tall or short a squid might be, even when among friends, he would always ultimately walk alone.
Dear reader, I am 45 feet tall, plus or minus one or several inches. But the measure of Jarwaun, it is a mutable thing, and well worthy of our further attention.
I Remain Yours,
The Giant Squid
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Copyright (c) 2000, 2004, David Erik Nelson, Fritz Swanson, Morgan Johnson