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Tiny Adventures



On a Tuesday afternoon in October, I bought a new trashcan.  It sits near the island in the kitchen, glossy and new.  I glance at it several times over the course of dinner and see how it fills an otherwise empty space and carries out the most boring of utilitarian tasks--hide the coffee grounds, yogurt containers, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Pumpkin wrappers from prying eyes.  In a day or a week, it will disappear into the background like the toaster and the vodka bottles, but for right now, the newness gleams.

Regrettably, it cost far more than it should have.  Trash cans, I believed, should cost about as much as two submarine sandwiches, two drinks, and a bag of chips.  This one tallied several drinks from the top shelf, oysters on the half shell, and half a tank of gas.  It proclaimed itself as an ergonomic marvel and design award winner which seemed silly as it looked like the trashcan my grandmother once had.  Nonetheless, it hid my candy clues better than the old plastic bucket we had used and the kitchen had stopped smelling of peanut butter and coffee beans.  At the dinner table, the team decided it was a marked improvement and that the forces of chaos and rotting Romaine had been defeated for the day. 

The tiny adventure that brought back the spoils of a new trash can also included mailing bills, getting the dry cleaning, and deciding that I would spend Halloween as Ernest Hemingway.  I had planned on bailing on the entire Halloween costume entirely, but members of my domestic team would take that hard.  So, after work, I stood on Steamship Wharf in the building wind from the north east and under the settling clouds, and decided that in a sweater and a whiter beard, I could pass for the great Papa.  

I do not have his life.  My life rolls by with the placid monotony of mail, tide, and lunch in the cafeteria.  Bulls do not fear me.  Ignorant fish swim by undisturbed.  I haven’t had a fist fight in decades.  My Pamplona, my Paris, and my Cuba all come with homework assignments, Common Core, and a water view.  The Grand Adventures have shifted and I am left with only tiny adventures about buying trash cans.

And that’s fine.

By the time I graduated from college, I knew I wasn’t going to be an Olympian.  Our future as Golden Gods fades with the applause and the birthdays.  Someone is prettier.  Someone has a better voice.  Someone went to Iowa Writer’s Workshop and was introduced to an agent.  In adulthood, we realize that riches, fame, and success come unfairly to those who were born to other fathers, at other times, and in other places.  Powerball Millions will always be won by office workers in Scranton and not by me. 

The Golden Gods live only for themselves.  Their art and their money free them from feeding the cats and taking out the trash. They have exciting lives that bring them riches, fame, and the ability to sign your name a thousand times.  Excitement brings destruction as well, be it from drugs, bankruptcy, or crime.  They live in the time of the comet when great things come and go.  Hemingway lived through two wars, sold millions of books, won the Nobel Prize for Literature and shot himself. 

Let the comets pass by; I only want to see the slow whirl of constellations over Cisco and the occasional meteor.  Let there be boredom and sunshine and tomatoes growing on the vine.  Boring lives require more courage than you would think. Parents die, babies are born, and sickness grows like mold, forcing everyone to smile at it and live day by day.  You consume courage like coffee. 

Each tiny adventure weaves another thread into the blanket.  We go out and buy groceries.  We bring the recycling to the dump.  We bring cupcakes to school.  Every tiny adventure is a small victory against chaos and indifference; a shiny trashcan to hide it all away.  We ease someone else's pain, we set things better for a day or a week or a month before something else breaks and then we try to fix that. 

A thousand tiny adventures brings Halloween, the island’s best holiday.  We make trips for candy, we sew together costumes, we make cupcakes, we hang jack o’ lanterns from the gutters and record spooky sounds at the door. You stand in your costume, you smile, and you give out candy.  Whose life isn’t better with a piece of candy?

The Hemingway costume did not require much beyond some powder and an old sweater.  Someone more creative than I might have added some manuscripts, or a typewriter, or even a pen, but I decided to carry an old copy of “The Old Man and the Sea” and make the best of it.  (I had to explain myself far more than my English teacher heart would have liked.)

At the Halloween parade, I was joined by Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog for a slow walk up the cobblestones and a dozen pictures.  The island stood there, in all of our silliness, smiling at each other, taking pictures, and enjoying a quiet night without comets.  In dark, our costumes faded and we returned to being islanders.

Later, after we picked the choicest bits out of the boy’s candy, I retired the sweater and washed the powder out of my hair and beard.  I retired Papa for the year, happy to only pretend.

Bob Barsanti's novel, Milestone Road, was published this summer.  His previously published book of essays about Nantucket, Sand in My Shoes, is available here.