Short Story of the Day, Autobiography, Leaving School by Ann Quin

“The leaves were sun-baked lizards, stirring towards the sea that churned its chain of silver snakes, which would, if given half the chance, coil round, pull him out of this urban setting, vomit him on dry land.”
― Ann Quin, Berg

Renner School House desks.

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Saturday, June 8, 2002


It was getting hot, really sticky and humid, as I walked around the point and stumbled into the mother lode. Working my way south along the shore I hadn’t found much; but here there was a north-facing shore and with the summertime hot southerly Texas wind all these cans and bottles were massed up – blown across Sunset Bay from the popular family picnic spots on the other side. Everything was mixed up in the big round clumps of grass that protect the shore or hidden in the gobs of bright green seaweed – mostly aluminum beer cans plus plastic soda bottles, thin Red Bull cans, and a plastic quart of oil.

I fell into a routine as I worked along the shore. I’d use the grabber-a wooden pole with a little swivel handle that pulled on a thin rod that worked the flimsy pair of plastic-coated jaws on the far end-to grab the cans and bottles and lift them out of the vegetation. I’d line them up on the steep bank, upside down – so the lake liquid inside, brown and green, would drain out. After a few minutes I’d return, pick up the aluminum cans for the blue bag, everything else in the black.

Across the cove I could see a group doing the same thing. They had a long aluminum pole with what looked like a net on the end and a whole swarm of kids running around with trash bags. Two guys in kayaks slid by moving into the thick vegetation of the inner cove itself, looking for floating tires and other crap, I suppose.

The ducks and geese that live there were getting pissed off at all this commotion, after convincing themselves that I didn’t have any stale bread to throw out. The circled and clucked and clacked and gave me the Evil Eye. A mother and five ducklings arced out of a hiding place behind a clump and swam off into a more protected part of the cove. Off to my left was a more open field lined with trees. A photographer was wandering around gazing up into the trees, looking for an artistic shot of the limbs, and eyeing me every now and then. I could tell he had no idea what I was up to. Past him, a couple had set up easels along the treeline of the thick bottomwoods, protected by a stretch of swampy ground. They were painting away, sometimes walking back and forth to see each other’s work. I wanted to work my way over to them and see what they were doing; but the wet ground kept me away. There was plenty of trash where I was anyway.

On past the painters was a colorful clot of balloons arcing over the road at a finish line. Lanes were set up, tables of water bottles, a big yellow elapsed time indicator, and an ambulance – set up and open with oxygen bottles, gurney, and a couple of bored-looking paramedics in blue uniforms. When I first arrived a flashing police car had escorted the winning runner through and now the rest of the race was streaming by.

I’ve always been jealous of runners. Not of how they look, but of the fitness needed to do these races. Even when I was in good shape and riding my bike a lot I couldn’t run. I was a strong swimmer and thought about triathlons (God, that feels like so long ago) but my ankles and feet couldn’t hold up to the running. The constant pain of shinsplints was more than I could take.

An older woman runner went by, her safety-pinned race number flapping in the warm breeze. She was hoofing it as fast as she could with the finish line finally in sight, making a loud guttural huf huf huf as she ran. I turned back to the water and poked at another clump of lake grass that was making a tinkling, metallic sound as the waves washed over it and pulled a goodly mass of cans out from under the blades.

The cleanup was supposed to last until eleven, but it didn’t take me long until both my bags were bulging full. I was getting really overheated – most everybody had worn shorts and T-shirts but I wanted some protection from the nasty trash juices and fetid lake water so I had worn jeans and a long-sleeve shirt. I was spattered with brown mud thrown off when I pulled cans out of the lake – so I guess I had made the right decision. After putting my bulging trash bags (black for trash, blue for recyclables) in the proper spot I walked back north to the Bathhouse Cultural Center where I had parked my car.

A younger guy and his cute girlfriend were walking the other way, carrying trash grabbers like me. Their bags were still stuck in their pockets.
“Having any luck?” I asked.
“Nothing,” the guy said.
“Well, I’ve already been by here,” I said.
“You must have done a good job, there’s no trash left,” his girl said.
“Usually there’s stuff along here in the clumps of grass,” he said,” most people don’t want to get that close to the lake.”
“Keep going,” I said, “Around the point there should be plenty to pick up.”
I felt for the guy; I could tell he felt diminished by the fact that somebody had beat him to his favorite trash spot and cleaned it out before he could get to it.

The second Saturday of each month an organization called For The Love of the Lake sponsors a trash pickup of the lake. I’m going to make that a regular thing for me – I’ve spent so much time at White Rock over the years it’s not too much to give a little back.

I’ll spend my Saturday morning picking up trash. Once you go to school and get a real job – knock yourself out to be successful – whatever the hell that means – you end up doing the stuff that you dedicate your life to avoiding, for fun. You buy a car and spend your leisure time walking, running, or riding a bike. You buy a big house and spend your free time doing yard work, carpentry, or plumbing. I always worried that if I didn’t work hard I’d end up as a janitor – picking up trash.

And now, a short piece of autobiography for today:

Leaving School by Ann Quinn

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