The Barbie Fetish

June 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

vulture

The singing of the creek was all that was left inside the tiny crooked cabin that had once been our home. It was now surrounded with scraps from our feast of life. Picking through the rubble, putting the probably useless mementos: the grade eight washers, shelf clips and assorted doohickys into my already jammed pockets, I chanced to discover, laying face down in the dirt, the decapitated head of Peaches and Cream Barbie. Our sons had delighted in teaching our four year old daughter how one could rip Barbie’s head off, and then jam it back on, leaving the tiny beauty queen almost good as new. Perfume Pretty Barbie, Tropical Fun Barbie, Magic Prom Date Barbie, all had faced this pre-adolescent guillotine, but poor Peaches and Cream had not been lucky enough to be resurrected. She had been separated from her body, perhaps by some randy kitten.

Barbie seems like an icon of sinless lechery. I’m sure she’s what God’s girlfriend must look like. Her fifty-three-Olds-bumper-guard breasts, three-quarter inch waist, and melon-smooth crotch epitomize some form of asexual eroticism: a vamp Madonna, virgin whore. Man in god’s image against nature. Not wanting to condemn such high art to ignoble oblivion in the recycling center of my pockets, or to lose her in my garbage can of a car (had I not succumbed to paying eighteen dollars for this girl toy and her endless TV promotions?), I searched for a place where her chances of rebirth would not be jeopardized by my slovenliness. In a flash of brilliance I took the metallic band that held her long golden tresses into a stylish coif, and stretched it around the rear view mirror of my car. Somehow Barbie’s wayward body never materialized, and that Peaches and Cream head became like a pair of fuzzy dice, bobbing mindlessly above my dash.

We had a Chinese junk when I was young. It was an elegant and fragrant object that I loved more deeply than any inanimate thing really deserves. They say that junks are built without written plans. Instead, a master builder sings a song. The song lasts just as long as it takes to complete the junk. Ours appeared to have been whittled totally out of teakwood logs. Each hand-hewn piece was carefully though crudely carved, each stroke of the workman’s hand, each verse of the song, was perfectly recorded in the tiny cut marks. It had two wide, deep blue cartoon eyes painted on it’s bow. They say the builders believe that a craft must have eyes in order to find its way. I started to wonder if perhaps Barbie’s perky eyes watching the road ahead of me might keep me out of some ditch some day, and I gradually began to see her as a necessary component of my car. One day, gleaning through the junk that always seems to materialize in my pockets, I came upon a bright yellow plastic poodle barrette. I save such bits of flotsam with the hope that I might find some use for them before finally consigning them sadly to the landfill. A neatly trimmed poodle seems somehow spiritually akin to Barbie and so I felt it appropriate to make this barrette a gift to my Barbie head. Clipping it unceremoniously into her hair, I felt an inkling of some jumbo spiritual awakening.

I wonder if Barbie noticed the day my son said, “Look dad, a hawk!” as a huge black bird swooped majestically across the road. It was barely three feet above the pavement, and ten feet in front of the car. It banked and headed back, now five feet in altitude, and we stopped and got out to watch it. “That’s not a hawk,” I said in amazement, “It’s a vulture!” We watched that ugly, evil, black bird turn back and forth across the road attempting to gain enough altitude to cross the canyon. Like a hawk, its flight was soaring and efficient. But this vulture’s flight was the zenith of efficiency. To it, a wing beat seemed worth a zillion dollars. Even our presence could not dissuade it from utilizing this thermal, and it stalwartly continued, refusing to give up even a speck of the energy it was so jealously conserving. It would pass out of sight as it turned around a bend in the road, and then return to cross within ten feet of us, gaining a few feet. Then in an instant, as it passed in front of us, it carefully turned its wrinkled red head toward me and I made eye contact with its deep black eyes. Suddenly and miraculously, it was no longer the big ugly bird it had been a moment before, but a perfect and noble life. I now saw its flight as a Zen thing, no clutching, no waste, just clean function. Each time its huge, smooth, black form and long elegant wings passed us, it became more and more wonderful. Each turn was more thrilling than the last, and we came to love this magnificent creature. As we watched in awe, the beautiful figure finally turned and soared across the canyon to pick up another thermal on the far side, still with no more than the slightest twitch of its feathers. When it was gone, we missed it. I felt a funny kind of emptiness in the passing of this shining and transcendental experience. I was back in the world of Barbies and poodles. In that world I felt silly at falling in love with a vulture. As we drove away, still in awe of this incredible aeronautics display, we thought about our new friend’s life in its new light. I imagined it feeding on some squashed squirrel, and saw the same efficiency and easy passage in the world. It did not kill, only clean up. It was not the coward of its former life, but the master of a life not in challenge, finding sustenance in the leavings, and satisfaction with what is. I imagined a new nation devoted to efficiency and harmony with the symbol of the vulture on its seal.

We had “returned to nature”, establishing a little compound of tents and trailers on our eight oaken acres as we prepared to build a new home. Our vacant land, already densely populated by the likes of fox, rabbit, coyote, owls, ands hawks, now swelled by one goose, three cats, some odd number of kittens and six humans. Our kittens disappeared one at a time, until there was only one left. She was sad and lonely and missed her sibs. She was my least favorite of this litter, but when she finally failed to show up to eat for a couple of days, her passing was the saddest for me: no more frisky fur playing in our tipi. She epitomized the tragic side of life consuming life. Each night a large unseen owl would perch in a tall sycamore across our now silent creek and call a haunting who-song. Once it’s dark shadow swept across the road as I walked to the “porta-poop” (as the kids call our chemical toilet). I had them place the thing a couple hundred feet from our little compound, mostly to avoid the stink, but also to draw us out into the natural world. I have often been enraptured by stepping naked, still drunk with sleep, into the cold middle of the night to take a pee. My eyes, used to the darkness of their lids, always see more stars, more detail in the chaparral, more small nocturnal things, than in any other darkness. I then, subtly altered, gratefully take this magic world back to bed with me, and cook it in the oven of my dreams. Regretting my romanticism a little as I continued down the muddy trail, I passed a neighbor who had taken one of our kittens from the last litter. I asked of its fate. It too had returned to the earth. “Probably an owl,” she said, “maybe a coyote.” As I sat in that tiny smelly room, I imagined our terrified little kitten screeching in the bloody talons of that dark form, and with that image, the owl, once wise and good, became transformed into a cruel murderer. That vicious owl became the summation of the inescapable evil in all things. Why couldn’t it be more like my new friend the vulture? The vulture had no need to rip my pets to shreds. It had found a way to live lightly, without the screaming fear of the meek. But it was probably a coyote I thought.

Driving down the freeway the next morning, a large brown form on the shoulder caught my eye. “Hmm, that looked like an owl” I said to myself. Then, in the instants that followed I reflected, “No, these musings must have transmuted that shape into an owl in my minds eye.” But reviewing the image I wondered if, “Perhaps that really was an owl.” Compelled by my often dangerous curiosity, I pulled over. Backing perilously up the freeway’s shoulder, I thoroughly expected to discover some roughly owl-shaped lump of dead-dog, muddy-rag, or rusty-muffler. As I drew closer, I realized that it was indeed the body of a large horned owl. Amazed, I reverently picked up its perfectly intact corpse, studying it’s beautiful feathers, once-powerful great, hooked beak and surprisingly sharp talons, and placed it carefully in the back of my car. I continued on my way pondering the owl’s, and my own, fickle mortality. Was this the very individual who had so greedily executed our kittens, punished by the gods of overpasses and pets? How had it come to expire in such an owl-forsaken place, and what quirk of circumstance and coincidence had conspired to rob it of its once noble, now ephemeral, life. I could not help but to guess at the answers. Even if by some broad serendipity this was our kitty bandit, I was struck by a deep sympathy for the departure of this proud, if obscure and distant, cousin. When I got home I hooked its large, menacing claws over the extension cord that I’d strung out to the tipi. Hanging upside down, it spread its giant, beautiful wings for the last time, powered this time by gravity and not our once shared and wondrous spark of life.

I felt sorry and inexplicably responsible for its demise. A neighbor happened by and asked what I planned to do with this owl. He informed me that he had a barrel filled with the skulls of small animals, and that if I didn’t want it, he would like to have the skull of my owl. I certainly didn’t have the heart to dissect this sad and lifeless thing, so I replied that if he was willing to cut it up, he was welcome to the skull, if only he would leave the wings and talons for me. A friend of mine, when I was little, had the wing of some large bird on a shelf in his bedroom. I had always loved to study that wing. I would stroke the feathers and marvel at its phenomenally complex forms and engineering. I treasured the way the disheveled feathers would miraculously mend themselves with a gentle caress. Our neighbor left the wings and talons on top of our trailer for me. Someday I’ll have to go and see his skull collection.

Driving, again with my son, down into the valley, we were struck by the sight of twenty or thirty large birds in the huge old eucalyptus trees that line the road. Above, another thirty or so birds circled in a gigantic spiraling column. “Vultures!” he exclaimed. I quickly pulled over, and we stood beneath the gnarly old trees to count and watch. What were they doing here together? Had our new vision of them made their common presence only now visible to us? Perhaps they were here for road kills, or maybe it was a stopping place while they waited for the air to warm. Where had they come from, where were they going? We found we knew almost nothing about these outcasts. We knew at least they were not going to murder our kittens. I picked up some of the hundreds of black feathers that littered the ground underneath the big trees, put them on the dashboard, and drove on. Suddenly, one light downy feather leapt out of the window, and I grabbed the rest as they hovered, fluttering between the glass and the plastic of the dash. I was surprised to discover that I cherished those feathers, that they were some spiritual link with those great birds, and I was very sad to have lost one. Fearing to lose any more, I took the rest and tangled them into Barbie’s golden dynel hair, clipping them in with her poodle barrette. Looking at them there, she suddenly became more real, losing some of her sterile Barbiehood, and I saw her as an symbol of human life out of touch with, and trying to regain, the natural world. She was grateful to me, I’m sure, for bringing her closer to the earth.

Occasionally, the mother cat will bring a rodent into the trailer and tear it to bits. We wake to the gruesome sight of squirrel foot here, tail there, half-eaten skull sucked clean of little squirrel brains over there. My sweet purring friend is transformed into a fiend by the full moon, and engages in horrible bloody orgies of death and violence while we sleep. Cleaning up the gory mess, I took up the poor squirrel’s tail; admiring its beauty, and out of pity for it’s vanished life, I tucked it away with the unpaid bills.

Cleaning my car is a trivial task that I somehow often postpone until I am in mortal danger from the diet soda cans piling up under my brake pedal. In some ways I love a mess. It reminds me of the rubble on the forest floor, and carries the history of my living. A clean orderly environment is beautiful, efficient, and I do love it. A disorganized and messy space it embarrassing, unsightly and inefficient, yet I also love it. There is some perverse beauty in smashed fenders and piles of trash, scarred hands and bare muddy feet. Shiny shoes are nice but they, like Barbie, seem to live in some world that does not really exist, except in our imaginations. Bare muddy feet, on the other hand, are the essence of life on, and with, the earth. I always know where I am when wearing my home grown soles. I have found that when walking barefooted on a trail in pitch darkness, feeling the stones, ruts and scattered leaves with my toes, a clear image of the trail appears in my mind, and I can easily find my way. I know more clearly who and where I am, whether on grass, asphalt, rocks or broken glass; whether the ground is wet or dry. And my shoes never get wet. Anyway, when I have finally filled the two trash cans it usually takes to finish the archeological dig that is cleaning out my car, I often feel a twinge of loss. The popcorn bucket from that great movie, a single muddy little sock from an afternoon of blissful play in the creek, the wrapper from that especially delicious burrito, all those little mementos of the lost moments of my life, now just so much garbage. I sometimes try to soothe that loss by reintroducing a little history into the space. This one day, while reattaching my Barbie head to the now sparkling clean rear-view mirror, I was struck by her incompleteness. In some, no doubt, deep spiritual insight I remembered the dead animal parts I had stashed away. I climbed up on top of the trailer and got my owl talon, now bleached and aged by the sun and rain, and found that by some miracle of providence it fit perfectly into the hole that was meant to accept Barbie’s long slender neck. Then I rummaged through the bills, found the striped brown squirrel tail, discovering that by the same divine intervention, it too would fit perfectly. Taking the poodle barrette from Barbie’s hair, I clipped the tail around Barbie’s neck as a stylish fur collar. I was suddenly stunned by the beauty of this object that had evolved inside my car.

Pondering, with mixed embarrassment and delight, the awesome significance and beauty of my Barbie fetish, I shared with my wife the complex symbolism of my charm. I realized that it summed up a lot of how I felt about life. But it lacked a little something. A link to the earth perhaps, something inanimate perhaps. In a flash, I envisioned my talisman with a crystal clutched in its talon. As I described this vision, she extracted from her purse an almost perfect octahedral crystal that she pried into the claws of my fetish. Providence had again blessed this now holy object.

I brought the Barbie fetish into a friend’s home that we were gratefully house-sitting. I wanted to share it with some old friends who were visiting for the holidays. I had started kindergarten with these guys and remained best friends through high school. They are still my closest friends. The next day I left for work, forgetting my Barbie fetish. I was surprised to find that I was actually very disturbed at the thought of my long commute without Barbie’s sky blue plastic eyes watching the road for me. I even considered returning 5 miles to get her, making myself late for work. I felt off balance and disoriented, even lonely. But reason prevailed, I drove on, and naturally, no ill fate befell me. I was forced to stay away at my job for a few nights. By the time I got back, my family had returned to our compound which by now consisted of two trailers, five tents and our beloved, if often this winter quite literally, icy tipi. They had found Barbie and packed her, but somehow her squirrel-tail-with-poodle-barrette collar had become lost. I tried to hide the depth of my disappointment. A few days later I was back staying overnight on the job. I had been away through most of the holidays, and large rifts and tears had formed in our family under this stress. My wife felt abandoned and lonely. I worried that she no longer cared about me, and the kids struggled to remember what I looked like. One day she called to tell me that she had “performed a gruesome act on my behalf”. She had seen a dead squirrel in the road and had stopped, gotten out her eighteen year old Swiss army knife (I have probably donated twenty to the entropy well in the same amount of time) and cut off the still warm tail, aghast as she watched the dark purple drops of blood ooze from the stump. She told me that it was tucked away in the bill basket, and that it was waiting for Barbie and me. I knew at that moment, with absolute certainty, that she did really care about me. In fact, I was amazed to realize that I have never been more moved by any gift. Our daughter delighted in meeting me when I finally returned home with a replacement yellow plastic poodle barrette.

The Barbie fetish is whole again. Sometimes the rough dirt road leading out to our home jars the metallic band that holds this heavenly object to my rear view mirror, and I find that Barbie is staring at me, and not watching the road like she should be. I always turn her around. I have since discovered that the little plastic knob that switches the mirror into it’s night position (and that I have never seen anyone use for that function), fits perfectly between the two strands of the metallic hair-band, and keeps her facing diligently forward.

The angel that is not, between the good evilness, and the evil goodness, surrounded by life consuming life, clutching perilously to a stone. That is my Barbie fetish, and I guess, that is our existence, brought into being by the magically mundane.

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