As a Girl Scout leader for more years that she wished, my mother sometimes sought inspiration for troop projects from sources other than her own imagination. One such aid was a magazine called "Pack O' Fun" and her subscription seemed to run for years. I know it was still arriving when I was a teenager and she had long-since abdicated her woven-newspaper mats and paper bag puppets duties to a woman we all knew was a real Girl Scout leader, someone who could construct shelter in the wilderness, glare us into having mayonnaise on our sandwichs even though it made us gag, and remain unflappable when cornered by a flash flood or forest fire.
When I find myself in situations that feel like one of the infrequent funny episodes of THE X-FILES, I can draw a line of the bizarre back to "Pack O' Fun" and the issue, must have been March, which suggested leprechaun sacks of gold as party favors...made from used tea bags glamoured up with spray paint and glitter. I was and have been happy and willing to recycle and find creative uses for discards but this went too far. Forever after, any family party plans included at least a mention of "Pack O' Fun" and that particular extreme of thrift.
Which brings me to my point - the fact that identifying the absurd is a skill handier than knowing how to spot poison oak. We all find ourselves, some much more often than others, in circumstances when the bubble in our personal level tips steeply to one end. This presents different choices, but the only one I can think of is laughing. Maybe not in the moment, maybe not on the spot, but certainly inside where our most wise and philosphical self has just noticed we've been swallowed whole by someone's vast, lunatic episode, disguised as normal behavior and rational thought. I willingly own that a used tea bag party favor rates pretty far down the list of human folly but it is a simple, clear example.
There was the landlord whose ad I called about as we were preparing to move, nearly 7 years ago. Our rented house had been sold and, having experienced one harrowing fire-and-evacuation scenario, we'd been thinking for some time of moving into the flatlands. When I called about the rental I said we were still twitchy at the sound of helicopters and sirens and thought life outside the red flag zone would be more peaceful. "Yes," said the landlord, "but how do you feel about snakes?" Turns out his property was even further up the mountain than our present location and, by his innocent-seeming yet telling question, we knew this was not the place for us. My son and I imagined a patio landscaped like a serpent amphitheater or the writhing ground beneath Indiana Jones as he dropped in to discover the Lost Ark. And we shuddered. Some are reptile people, some are not. Now any time we are presented with a hard sell of something that holds zero appeal, we ask each other, "How do you feel about snakes?"
During that same search, we found a pleasant-seeming cottage - on a flat street - with a large back yard, ringed by avocado trees which surrounded a raised square cement platform roughly half again the size of the house which we decided must be a landing pad for the mother ship. As the realtor had simply given us the keys and sent us out to look on our own, there was no one to ask but sometimes weirdness just shrieks to let you know it's there.
The absurd dwells among us and the sooner we can recognize its sundry disguises, the quicker we can get to stepping on down the street or remembering that we left the iron on or the kettle boiling and need to get home, get off the phone or call for back-up. Some of us are magnets for the bizarre. My father was one, thanks to his daily newspaper column which led readers to believe, perhaps not incorrectly, that he was a kindred spirit in their diverse searches for whatever Truth Is Out There. My mind remains open about things which we truly cannot explain but I'm very clear about snakes as houseguests and can still spot a used tea bag, gilded or not, across a crowded room.