Ted (merovingian) wrote,

Education and Rust

When I was about seven or so, I spent a summer with my great-uncle's cousin out in the swamp. He worked as an insurance adjuster all day, so I was left to my own devices during the day, catching lizards, and fishing for crawdads on the rocks with bits of old cheese, and reading books about dinosaurs, and holding the metal bunny ears of his television while craning my neck down to watch television, and walking through the swamp and getting lost and a little scared and then finding the main road and walking home again.

Say what you will.

Out there somewhere in the swamp, I found this junk sculpture of a monster, rusty and intricate and monstrous. Whoever made it had cobbled together bulldozers and refrigerators and Depression-era tractors and twisted post-collision automobiles into a huge mass of claws and fangs and malice. I loved it and spent the rest of the day playing with it, risking tetanus and lacerations for a playground better than anything I could get in my big city home.

That night I told my great-uncle's cousin about it and he was dour. "That's not a sculpture," he said, "It's alive. It's the Red-Wrecker. It stalks the swamp at night."

For the rest of the night, over dinner and television and reading, he'd say things out of the blue.

"You'd better take time to think about the happy things in your life when things get bad," he'd say, "and really congratulate yourself on enjoying them and deserving them, or else the Red-Wrecker will come and get you."

"You'd better think in advance and anticipate troubles and make a plan or two for how you'll handle them," he'd say, "because if you just assume that blind optimism will get you through things without setting aside time to plan, the Red-Wrecker's gunna come get you."

Or "Eat slowly and focus on enjoying it, or the Red-Wrecker..."
"Throw stuff away or give it away, because if you have so much stuff you can't find it to use it, the Red-Wrecker will..."
"Spend less time worrying. Forgive yourself and figure out the next thing to do it fix things, because the Red-Wrecker..."
...you get the idea.

The next day I went out again and it seemed like the Red-Wrecker had gotten up and moved around, because it was in a different place and position, but I went to play with it anyway, all day long, fishing for crawdads in the pond under its outstretched arm, making up my own cartoons, catching lizards and reading my book, until at dusk I felt the thing twitch and saw a cloud of red dust as rusty gears moved just a little and I ran and ran and got home and laughed and cried and laughed and I didn't go out there again.

Looking back on that summer in retrospect, I'd assumed that the whole thing was some sort of premeditated moral lesson, orchestrated by my host, with wise words and scary drama to make it memorable.

But I had occasion to head back there recently. The big road is still there, but the area's been built out and cut down. The Red-Wrecker is still there, too, in a strip mall, but now he runs a night-time life coaching service for stressed-out professionals. Local TV ads show his monstrous metallic face: "Come learn more about how you can accomplish your goals and live a happier life than you thought possible.... or I will come get you!"

The neighbors say he's very nice. I'm not sure what to think.
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