I approached the theatre on Lavalle y Esmerelda with the intention of seeing Gatsby. I’d heard reviews both raving and hating and wanted to glimpse the glam myself. However upon scanning the billboard, I couldn’t find any listings.

“Ya se fue el Gran Gatsby?” I asked the man in line in front of me, friendly-looking, in maybe his early 50’s.

“Si, solo quedó por dos semanas,” he replied, holding something in his hand.

“Que rápido, quería verlo!” I said.

“Claro, no sé… Bueno, si no podés ver el Gatsby, querés ver Rapido y Furioso 6? Tengo este boleto que es, como, dos por uno— nos daría entrada por treinta pesos.”

I re-scanned the billboard, checking out the other options. I didn’t recognize anything else, and this guy was saving me money, so I decided to go with it. He paid, I paid him, and then I followed him into the theatre lobby where I found myself being presented to a group of people.

“Mira, esta es mi familia.” The man— Roberto— proceeded to introduce me to a woman who I think was his wife, and then to each of his four children, two younger, two older. The younger kids were a smiley bunch. The teenagers were also smiley but they wore those embarrassed smiles of ‘Dad’s doing it again’, a smile I remember quite well myself. I kissed cheeks and shook hands, bemused, as they asked me questions about who I am and why I exist and what part of Brasil I’m from. “Estadounidense, de Boston,” I replied. Apparently my accent sounds Brazilian. OK, I’ll take it, maybe I’d be good at Portuguese.

I learned that the rest of his family was going to see a different movie, a comedy, so Roberto and I would be seeing the Fast and the Furious 6 together, alone. Fine by me. This was all very random, I thought. Roberto interrupted my thoughts by shouting, “Foto! Foto! Un foto!” So I posed with his family while he took a picture of us grinning near a cutout of Iron Man. He told me that his daughter would share the photo with me on Facebook. She overheard, seethed. “Papá!” More exasperated smiling, and then it was time to enter the theatre.

We sat next to each other, squarely in the center row. It was a pretty full house, with the seats in front of us occupied by two couples who were far more interested in making out than watching the film. We shared a pack of tropical flavored mentos, and he offered me a piece of gum. I accepted. The movie started.

It was cheesy but awesome. Come on, it’s the Fast and the Furious SIX— at this point you know what you’re in for: impossible action scenes, hot chicks, unbreakable bones, absurd explosions, and the classic Vin Deisel one-liner melodrama. Perfect. Exactly what I paid for.

But there was something else familiar about this situation. There was a man next to me; laughing when I laughed, wincing when I winced, caught in the same predictable sequences of suspense and relief. He, taking up the entire arm rest, leaning forward during the car chases, letting out that roar of gladiatorial bloodlust as the bad guys are stopped in their tracks.

I know this feeling.

I didn’t realize I was crying until I tasted my tears. And then I realized, and realized, and felt that rigid rage build as my body went stiff and my fists shook fast and furious in time with the explosions onscreen. A car flying through the air narrowly misses Vin Deisel’s head and I hear that familiar cackle and realize that it was me, not him, and then realize, and realize, and feel my rigid body clench anew and tears spout like oil from when BP fucked up.

I know this feeling. I remember having felt it so many times. Rambo. Conan the Barbarian. Blade. True Lies. All the Terminators. Van Helsing. Hellboy. Marvel everything. Judgement Day. LOTR. Hidalgo. Hell, even the Three Stooges. Lost in Space. Watching fucking Raffi with my father. Cookie monster singing, “healthy food, tastes so good…”

I miss this feeling. It is so painfully familiar and bountiful in my memory, but now so uncommon. It’s not the same as being with friends, male or female, regardless of the activity. It’s not even a particularly social or interactive feeling, as most communication was conveyed through grunts and yells or perhaps the rare ‘whoop’. But it was part of the bond that I shared with my father, and it is gone and irreplaceable, and I miss it dearly.

The movie ended without Roberto realizing anything about my condition. I wrote down my name on a napkin so that his daughter might be able to facebook me that photo. We started walking out of the theatre, exchanged a few remarks about the movie, and got out to the street, where I stopped him—

“Una cosita” — “Si?” — “Bueno, sobre su familia. Es muy linda. Guárdala.”

Essentially, I told him to value and protect his family. I then told him in one quick sentence that my own father had passed, and (building off of a Vin Diesel one-liner from 10 minutes earlier) delivered that damn cliche that you never know what you have until it’s gone, which I’m not sure I always agree with, but it was a busy street and we were on our way. He gave me his card. I smiled. We shook hands and parted. I walked off and cried.

For the Squirrels

I remember that windy morning, dragging the blue tarp up a mountain of leaves, straining with all of my might until he noticed my struggle and flourished the leaves away. He wore a red and black patagonia, and blue jeans with a thick leather belt and boots. Real boots, “that could be run over with a truck and still last you a lifetime.”

I got tired so he told me to pick up acorns. The oak tree in the corner always managed to distribute its hard-hatted offspring evenly through the entire yard. I squatted and began a collection, dropping a handful-a-second into the bucket, first making a hollow gunshot noise, until the bottom was covered and I could safely relish the swift “thunk” of acorns on acorns. Dad never picked up acorns, except to show me how to do it, and then he picked them ferociously, challenging me, “what, you can’t keep up? I’m gonna get ten times as much as you in one-tenth of the time— how do you like them apples?” He loved that movie.

Eventually the red-gold yard turned green, and the first bucket had long overflowed into the second and third. Three mountains of nuts. “That’s a lot of nuts.” I said. “That’s a lot of nuts,” he said. “What are we going to do with all of these acorns?” I asked, staring up, eyebrow raised. He surveyed the buckets and bit the inside of his cheek. “I’m not sure, let’s clean up and go inside for dinner.”

We gathered the leaf blower, and the blue and the red and the bamboo rake, and the trowel I had been using to dig for worms, and hung our manly equipment on the garage wall. We bent down together to take off our boots.

But then he spotted the recycling bin, pink and full next to the downstairs freezer. Lying on the top of the bin was a partially smushed gallon milk container. He thought for a second, turned his head, picked it up, and blew forcefully into the top so that the carton assumed into its original form. He tore off the label, whipped out his pocket knife, and cut from the rim, down and around and up again, so that the carton become scooplike and open. “What are you doing?” I asked, confused.

“For the squirrels!” he exclaimed.

“For the squirrels?” I questioned.

“For the squirrels!” he exclaimed, again, jumping to his feet with his boots untied, clunking as he bounced his way to the barrels on the other side of the garage.

“For the squirrels!” I exclaimed, understanding. I leapt to my feet with my boots untied and scurried after him. I squatted next to him as he threw massive handfuls into the carton-scoop.

“This is BRILLIANT” he announced, throwing one last handful into the carton and bounding out the garage door, headed for a corner of the yard where the squirrels roamed free and hungry.

“Mhmm, now the squirrels will NEVER go hungry during winter!” I trotted after him, laughing as my boots threatened to come flying off. I arrived as he finished half-burying the carton so that the acorns were at ground-level. He padded the dirt back into place with a trowel. “Come on, we’ve gotta make DOZENS of these!”

We made dozens of carton-scoops, each brimming with enough acorns to make the most stone-faced squirrel faint with delight. We embedded them around the yard, and come winter, we even made sure to shovel the snow off of each of them so that hungry squirrels might be able to find them. “For the squirrels!” we laughed together, again and again.

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It’s now ten years and one tragedy later, and I, wearing the red-and-black patagonia and blue jeans, stumbled upon an original carton-scoop. It was hardly concealed and full of soil, and its sight brought this memory into the corners of my eyes. It’s a relic from a reality that has long changed, now fuzzy and gilded with time.

But it is not a sad memory, rather, it is brimming with joy and love and poignance; it is crisp and untouchable and permanent, and it will always be with me. For me, it illustrates the importance of perspective, that life is the way that you perceive it to be. There is no reason that yard work or shoveling or tedious problem sets must be tedious or offensive. There is similarly no reason why a golden sunset or a gathering of friends must be joyous. Our existence is governed by interpretation— how we associate event with sentiment. This is not necessarily a subconscious occurrence: we do have agency in interpreting each of the facets of our life. Crumpled plastic in a bin does not in itself feed a squirrel — until you let it! So in the grandest sense, redefine the boundaries of your life. How might you reinterpret garbage into happiness? Where is your sadness merely a result of diseased perception? Look carefully— it is often a choice. Find new perspective. Acceptance is a cardboard prison. Knock it down and look around; do any squirrels need feeding?

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Mantis: a Memoir

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He handed me a flashlight. It was one of those oversized yellow things with the enormous battery that allegedly lasts for 5000 hours but is unfailingly dead as soon as you really need it. He had taken the battery, electronics, and light bulb out, so as to create a little compartment inside.

“I didn’t have any other containers, so I had to improvise,” he said.

I tried to unscrew the top of the flashlight. My adolescent fingers strained eagerly.

“Let me help you with that,” he smiled. He took the flashlight in his powerful hands and loosened it before handing it back to me.

“Go on, look inside.”

I twisted the cap off and let it fall to the floor of my garage. I peered inside. Last time, it was a meadow vole.  A few months ago, it was a baby snapping turtle. In the past he had brought home garter snakes, baby chipmunks, injured birds, and small large-mouthed bass that he had caught in local ponds. What next?

A triangular head swiveled almost 180 degrees to stare me in the face. Two long antennae trembled furiously, searching the air for any sign of threat. Four spindly legs stretched out, clinging to the sheer yellow plastic, and two more were held upright, coiled against its abdomen. It stared at me, swaying eerily, meeting my starry-eyes with its unblinking, alien stare.

I looked up at my dad, unaware that this four-inch insect would become a central and omnipotent figure in my young life.

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My dad gave me my first mantis when I was 13. He was driving down some rural road in Western Massachusetts when something hit his windshield. He stopped the car, went to inspect, and wound up catching the mantis (unharmed) in a flashlight container. We named her Preya the Chinese Mantis. I wrote this memoir for my Sociology class earlier this year. These were just the first few paragraphs– if you’re interested in reading more, feel free to email me at acantrell (at) wesleyan (dot) edu and I’d be happy to send it to you.

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