"Polar Bear Eating Marshmallows in a Snowstorm" contemporary
Faith in Snow
I remember a playground conversation from when I was in the first grade back in the Mississippi Delta. Actually it was more of a heated debate. It was about whether or not snow and Santa Claus were real, or if they were both just made-up things adults told to kids about Christmas. Most of us knew that Santa Claus was just a story but that snow really happened, even if it hadn't yet happened for us in Greenville, Mississippi.
But there was this other boy Philip White who was absolutely convinced that snow was as make believe as flying reindeer, just one more myth about Christmas.
I remember the look on his face. He thought we were complete idiots. How could we believe in this white tasteless ice cream that fell out of the sky on Christmas?
I remember yelling at him, "No it's real. Daddy says it can happen on other days too, not just Christmas!"
I also remember being completely shocked a few years later when I learned that there really were animals called reindeer, only they couldn't fly.
How strange and complicated the truth could be.
I've often wondered what will happen to our collective memory when things like polar bears and monkeys and frogs become extinct. Will these creatures become like unicorns and mermaids and be regarded as nothing more than myths? Will future Creationists insist that these animals never existed, that they were just made up by scientists as evidence of evolutionary theory?
Here is a short story I wrote called "Polar Bears Eating Marshmallows in a Snowstorm."
Polar Bears Eating Marshmallows in a Snowstorm
The teacher stared at the little boy like she might slap his face. He had used the worst profanity that he knew. "Polar bears in a snowstorm!" was what he said, and it was worse than
fuck or bitch or even dinosaur. Now the teacher would have to tell The Church.
The Church didn't like people talking about the made-up animals of the past. Things like unicorns and tadpoles and frogs. Monkeys and things that looked real were especially bad, but all the imaginary animals that scientists had made up to "prove evolution" back when the liberal media controlled the world were generally inappropriate. You weren't supposed to talk about them. Of course you could mention them in normal conversation, but only if you made it clear that you believed in them about as much as you did blizzards or snowstorms.
The phrase "Polar bears in a snowstorm" was derived from the phrase "And dinosaurs are as real as polar bears eating marshmallows in a snowstorm," which was what you said to a person when they wouldn't stop pulling your leg. You could say the full phrase in front of adults, but the shorter "Polar bears in a snowstorm" was just the opposite. It was what you said when you really wanted to show contempt for everything. It was like saying the word
goddamm or motherfucker, and little Stevie aged six had stood up out of the blue and yelled it across Ms Tammy's classroom.
Of course Ms Tammy wouldn't really tell the Church. Threatening to "tell the Church" was what you said to kids when you really meant you weren't messing around. It was like saying you were going to kill them.
Ms Tammy told Stevie to sit back down, but he was squalling hysterically. He knew she would never tell. What was going on with him?
Then Ms Tammy saw the trickle of blood and the steel stickpin jabbed in the flesh right below Stevie's eye. Josh Singh was sitting one row over, trying as hard as he could to look straight ahead. He was holding a drinking-straw pea-shooter underneath his desk. Ms Tammy jerked him up and took him out of the room. If there was one kid she wouldn't mind reporting to The Church, it was Josh Singh.
Perhaps she would ask Brother Jonathan what to do about Josh. Brother Jonathan was always so helpful with advice about the children, and he said he never told the Bishop anything.
Back to the playground debate about the existence of snow and Santa Claus:
It is strange how central this playground debate has become to my adult life, to all our lives. The relationship between faith and dishonesty really is the central question of our age. Among other things, it asks whether or not our society has enough of a grip on "external factors" to deal with life-or-death issues such as climate change, or is truth just whatever happens to be convenient for political purposes. I am not just talking about cynical manipulators like televangelists or ad execs or CEOs or politicians. I am discussing something far less cynical. Why genuine believers should feel that God needs protection from certain ideas is not rational, but faith is not a rational process.
In the Bible, God asks Job, "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the world?" In fact, there is much in the Bible that blasts any mere mortal who would claim to have full knowledge of God's plans past, present or future. Yet believers typically act as if they have a monopoly on truth. It seems to be their defining characteristic.
Does Evolution or Global Warming contradict the revealed Word of God, or merely our
interpretation of the Word? Is our faith in God or is it in our creed, what we were taught to believe about God? You get the impression that some believers think God has it out for anyone with a questioning mind, as if a questioning mind is incompatible with any form of religious belief. Does God have it out for "smart people"?
The four gospels contradict each other as to certain basic facts about the life of Christ. These inconvenient mistakes were obviously made by the human authors or editors after the fact. This raises the question, why would an omnipotent God allow these mistakes to remain?
Perhaps this is a deliberate comment from God Himself about how He intended scripture to be read. After all, if God intended us to interpret scripture as literal history, why did Christ continually speak in parables?
I also wrote another short story about extinction and revisionist history. It's called "Frogs, Monkeys and Unicorns."
Frogs, Monkeys and Unicorns
The AC was out again, and Darrell was eating a popsicle on the tile floor of the bathroom. It was too hot to be in the living room, so he had moved to the bathroom and lain down, and he had used his folded-up teeshirt as a pillow so that the skin of his bare back could soak up any coolness he could find. He squirmed closer to the bathtub while he ate the popsicle, but that part of the floor was warm and clammy too.
Darrell was sweating. He gave up trying to get comfortable and focused on eating the popsicle. It was melting too fast to be enjoyed, and he kept having to raise it out of his mouth because the ice hurt his teeth too much.
Darrell studied the popsicle in the intervals while his teeth recovered. He thought that if he tried to bite off a small part of the end, the whole thing would break off the stick, and that would be too much. Unless maybe if he bit it from the side, he wondered.
Darrell rotated the popsicle sideways to see, but before he could decide if it would work, some of the juice dripped on his cheek.
Darrell wiped his face with the back of his wrist. As he turned his head, the popsicle in his other hand accidentally brushed against the toilet bowl. Darrell froze and looked at the bowl from the corner of his eye. “Shit,” he said.
Darrell looked at the toilet, then at his popsicle. He couldn't see anything on the popsicle, but he was still disgusted by the thought of eating it. The fake lemon smell of the bathroom disinfectant was making him think of the time he had spent two days on the same toilet with a stomach virus. They all got that virus. They had all spent days on that toilet.
Darrell reached to throw the popsicle away, but then remembered it was the last one.
Darrel inspected the popsicle closer for any signs of hairs or specks or anything unclean. Then he held it to one side so that it could drip some more on the tile beside his ear. He wanted it to melt. He decided that the melting would wash off the outside and get rid of any of the surface that had actually touched anything.
Darrell put the popsicle back in his mouth and looked around the room for anything to distract himself from thoughts of pubic hairs and lemon-scented bathroom disinfectant.
On the wall was an old calendar with pictures. The calendar was years old, but Darrell's mother had saved it for its pictures. Darrell hated it, especially the phony pictures.
In the picture for June, there were people eating a picnic outside on a blanket, like in an old-style picnic like people used to have. There were wine glasses and plates and a basket, and the people all looked like models, and they were beside a natural stream of some kind. The water in the stream was impossibly clear and clean like they always show in the movies, and in the background, there were trees taller than a house, fuller and greener than any real tree could ever be. The whole scene was so impossibly perfect that you thought it had been spliced together with Photoshop or some other sort of computer software. It was all fake, and Darrell hated it.
Darrell decided he would change the page of the calendar. It wasn't the month of June anyway. Maybe November's picture wasn't as annoying.
Darrell was too hot to stand up. He finished his popsicle and scooted around so that he could slide his bare feet up the tile of the wall to where the wallpaper started. Using his big toe, Darrell pushed the bottom of the calendar up so that he could see what next month's picture was. It was something orange and white, but before Darrell could tell what it was, the tack came out of the wall and the calendar smacked down onto the tile beside him.
Darrell picked up the calendar and balanced it on his chest. He opened it to what he thought was the first month, but the pages were stuck together from the endless humidity, and the calendar opened to the June picnic again. Darrell said “dammit” and slammed the calendar flat on his stomach. Without looking at what he was doing, Darrell began to fiddle with it, peeling the corners of the pages apart with his fingernails. He worked slowly and carefully, staring at the ceiling while he worked. The apartment upstairs was unusually quiet. Maybe their AC was out too.
In the downstairs apartment, the TV was blaring. Extreme 15 or one of the other shopping channels. Darrell could hear it clearly through the concrete beneath his head. "This is our most exciting assortment yet. A must-have for all serious collectors..."
Darrell could also hear the sounds of someone washing dishes. They were home, turning on lights and TVs and cooking and making it hotter. Their AC was apparently working. He hated them for it.
Darrell finished peeling apart the pages and the calendar and waved it like a fan to make sure that they stayed unstuck. The fanning felt good, but even that slight effort made the sweat bead on his forehead and in his armpit. It wasn't worth it.
Darrell balanced the calendar upright on his chest and flipped it open again. Again it opened to the phony June picnic, but this time Darrell had no problem flipping the next page over.
July's picture was just as phony, men riding horses through vast fields of spotless green with ice-covered peaks in the background. Why did his mother have junk like that? "You know the world wasn't always this way, you know" is what she said. He hated when she said that. How would she know? Had she ever seen mountains with ice on them?
Darrell threw the calendar at the door, and looked for something else to do.
On the back of the toilet were some magazines and stuff. By stretching just a bit, Darrell managed to knock the whole stack over with his fingertips without getting up. Most of it turned out to be junk mail. There was a catalogue of teeshirts and posters, mostly album covers and other "alternative" junk aimed at college students. Nihilistic and cutesy all side by side. There was a teeshirt with the anarchy symbol, the mushroom cloud made in photo-mosaic from a million Ronald McDonald faces, posters of little fluffy kittens and puppies. There was also a print of that painting Darrell really hated. What was it called?
Of course. "Polar Bears Eating Marshmallows in a Snowstorm." Shit, of course. How could he forget that? There was also a print of that other one, "Frogs, Monkeys and Unicorns." He hated them both. He hated them because he didn't believe in any of he the made-up animals of the past. To Darrell, these things were as fake as the pictures of the impossibly green grass and trees that his mother loved so much. They were fake, unreal, and the people who believed in them were always the touchy-feely type who had some irrational need to convince you to believe in them too.
If these things ever existed, where were they now? Could people have really changed the world so much? And why were the animals all so improbable and fantastic: dinosaurs, eagles, mermaids, penguins, tadpoles and frogs. Tadpoles and frogs had to be the worst. A fish that grew legs and came out on the ground and hopped around like a rabbit? How could anyone believe in tadpoles and frogs? No, his father was right. They were all just imaginary animals that scientists had made up to "prove evolution" back when the liberal media controlled the world.
Darrell threw the catalogue onto the rest of the junk mail. It was too hot to stay in the apartment. He would get up and go to the mall. There it would be crowded and noisy, but at least it would be air conditioned. In fact, if the smog alert was still in effect, he could ride the bus for free.
The thought made Darrell smile.
Darrell got up and scooped the junk mail off the floor and replaced it in a stack on the back of the toilet. Then he picked up the calendar and its tack and stuck it back on the wall. He saw that it was now the month of February according to the calendar. In February's picture, children were wearing what appeared to be astronaut suits and playing in powdered styrofoam. They looked ridiculously hot.
"Faith in Snow." "Polar Bear Eating Marshmallows in a Snowstorm," "Frogs, Monkeys and Unicorns" © 2006 Joe Moorman www.riversonfineart.com
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