I hated the people in Austin, but I loved the birds. So with the exception of the loons, the big, shiny grackles and the feral parrots, I was relieved to get out.
I was also delirious from lack of proper sleep, and overwhelmed by the feeling that my heart was going to explode, which had stuck around after angrily pulling at my pashmina tassels for lack of prayer beads. No amount of study, prayer and trying to space out in the overly spacious bathtub at my disposal managed to shut it off. (Instead, this happened.)
It’s not a bad feeling, but it’s exhausting and extremely difficult to pass for a normal person when these feelings flare up. (And I’m already weird. Too weird for Austin, apparently.) I felt like a mistreated show dog any time I had to rein it in to shield my sister’s sensibilities.
But she’s never really grokked to my personality, so whatever…I guess.
After an encounter with a wonderfully helpful stewardess, I was staggering around my designated terminal, desperately trying to find a way to take the edge of the sensation of pulling apart at the seams. I wandered past a gift shop, and realized I hadn’t bought any souvenirs. I had lofty plans about Stetson hats, but I knew damn well I’d never be Dr. Crawford (or Dr. Quinn?) and the price of food in Austin had blown a hole in my budget.
But a collection of copper cuffs caught my eye, marked at around $12. That wasn’t going to kill me, and they looked like they were stereotypically Texan enough at first blush. I rushed in to get a better look, circling the rack for something that was bland enough for me to take home, when one snapped into focus.
I’d been eyeing bracelets like this to swear my oath on, and I no longer have the luxury of coincidence. I dug out my wallet, snatched it off the rack and tried to approach the till casually, even though my seams were ripping and I thought I was going to die.
The cashier did not pick up on this in the slightest.
“Whoah,” he said appreciatively. “This thing is gonna give you, like, plus-one-thousand coolness points.”
Don’t fucking DO THIS to me, I thought. I stopped talking like this in 2011. Was this person younger than me? By how much? What is it like to live as though Diablo Cody writes your lines and Edgar Wright fine-tunes the delivery? I was fascinated, and in my ridiculous state I was so oddly offended.
“Thanks! I think so too,” I said.
I left the newsstand-sized store, shaking off that weird and involuntary throwback to being fresh out of high school. I didn’t have the energy to be confronted with being in my early late twenties. Not right now.
Doing Weird Pagan Shit isn’t like in the movies, especially not ones that feel like Wes Andersen called the shots. The cuff didn’t glow, or vibrate, or tingle. I couldn’t worry about whether something had gone wrong because of my failure to pay attention, though in my floppy and highly suggestible state that was unlikely.
I got my first answer in Houston, when my jacket went missing after changing my shirt and changing my mind about washing the mustard off of my pashmina. It was the first week of January. The entirety of Texas was freezing. Philly is already like the surface of Mars this time of year, especially so when you’re landing there at night. I needed all four layers to survive.
There was no time to eat, drink, or nap, and definitely no time to go searching for the interfaith chapel. (Austin doesn’t have one.) I would have to find that jacket real damn fast.
After wasting valuable time walking around in circles, I eventually ran back to the bathroom to find it still by the sink, untouched. Given my strict time limit, I sprinted back to the gate, nearly bumping into people, to find that my flight had been delayed.
Cue a very loopy Sally Fields moment:
By now I was running on about 3 hours of atrocious sleep, dehydrated, and sweating like a racehorse. There’s a joke in there, somewhere. I stumbled getting onto the plane, and when a flight attendant saw me limply fanning myself, she handed me a cup of water. She even came back to check on me when the drink cart came around to make sure I was feeling better. I’m not sure if having my sleeves rolled up and the air conditioning on full blast was a ringing endorsement of my state, but it made her feel better.
After 5 hours of clutching the little leather pouch that held my pocket altar and new oath ring, I deplaned in Philly and walked right into this:
The thing about signs is that they are always, at least superficially, mundane. Falcons hang out in trees because they’re birds. Airport stores stock bracelets because they make good gifts–with feather motifs, because it’s the Southwest. Planes get delayed for all kinds of reasons. There are murals in the Philadelphia airport because it’s Philadelphia.
The key component is that you notice them, or that the timing is suspiciously convenient. It’s often not the object of your gaze being manipulated, but your gaze itself. It is far easier to commandeer a vehicle that you already have permission to drive. (And, yes, Baader-Meinhoff phenomena factor in, too.)
Either way, as I was being sent on a detour around a glitchy exit gate, it all seemed like approval to me. When I finally got home, I awkwardly placed the cuff on Loki’s altar, and climbed into bed.
Part of my brain was still revving, thinking “what have I done,” but the rest of me was just relieved to be somewhere familiar, where my gods and I had personal space, and to have this step out of the way because my recon side called for a piece of metal on my arm. I would worry about that once I had some actual sleep.
4 thoughts on “Counting My Feathers, as the Bells Toll”
Grokked! Is that a reference to Stranger In A Strange Land? I’ve never heard anyone else use that word apart from me, although lots of people must have read that book.
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It is! I think I personally picked it up from “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” by Tom Wolfe when I was really into New Journalism. But I did also read most of “Stranger in a Strange Land.” It’s been over a decade, though, so I remember very little besides the word “grok,” and I had to check how it’s conjugated lol.
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Yes, “grok” is the one thing that has stayed with me from that book for many years. It must be about time to give it a re-read. Great attention to detail to check the grammar of a fictional word! 🙂
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