Asalato

LISA SAGRATI

The Montessori kids were coming, their noise the cheerful, controlled ruckus of a flock of energetic yet docile pastoral creatures or a bevy of skirt-suited lawyers on a pub crawl. Their keepers, men and women barely out of community college, herded the children gently, the men remote and silent but sweetly enveloping in their hairy hands the trusting paws of boys and girls; the women anxiously alert to the chance of a child suddenly charging across the wide empty street, the way my cat would chase an enemy cat, before she got too old and sick with kidney failure and whatever was making her crouch mournfully all the time, I don’t know, intestinal cancer? Whatever it was would have been expensive or required me to decisively decide once and for all to put her down, and I read in a Buddhist magazine once that it is wrong to kill no matter what—animals know how to die, dying is a part of life, you should just patiently wait with your animal and when her time comes she will go, and if she’s been staring balefully at you for months, that’s not her begging please, mommy, pentobarbital now, no, that’s just the way cats’ faces are made, the way some people always look like they’re frowning, even when they’ve finally gotten that job they’ve been searching for all these years and will now be able to join the workers’ parade ten times a week, and regulate their sleep patterns in an hygienic and orderly manner according to the schedule of their employer, and learn to recognize the special joyous aura surrounding weekends, and see that evenings aren’t merely the easy close of day, no, evenings will take on for them a whole new mysterious sense of both relief and dread, yes, they’ll gain a brand new perspective on Time, Time won’t be simply an endless flowing continuum of consciousness anymore, it’ll be divided into On and Off, much like the language of the elegant machines they’ll spend their On time tethered to, all the while only appearing to be frowning.

Anyway. I had 25 g’s of pharmaceutical-grade ascorbic acid coursing through my veins and was feeling great—although Dr. Dunbar warned me I might get to feeling a little too great, he knows how I am—and I thought, I will be careful and judicious, I will neither leap about nor cavort nor will I blast that song by Neutral Milk Hotel that drags me out of my chair and compels me like the spell of a sorcerer to dance so maenadically I end up bedridden for thirty-six hours—although sometimes I think that’s a small price to pay for those three minutes of ecstasy—no, I’ll be cautious here with this extra energy I’m feeling, I’ll conserve it like, I’ll just give the kids a little show, a little something special to enliven their morning and tell their moms about on this afternoon’s mile-long SUV ride home.

So I go out on the porch with my asalato. I’m not surprised that you don’t know what asalato are. It’s only people like myself who are way out there at the forefront of the culture who have been training asalato for a decade now, and who are hip enough to work the AstroJax rather than muddling along with simple juggling balls and yo-yos, and who know it’s not “hacky-sack,” it’s footbag, I say it’s only we extremely advanced people who carry asalato at all times as we walk in our articulated-toe shoes, reaping the benefits of stressing our foot muscles and bones the way they were intended to be stressed and developing the frightening toe strength that befits our role as leaders of the people.

Asalato are percussion instruments from West Africa that are made from found objects, objects you might find lying about the savannah, objects such as dry and hollow spherical gourds and nuts. The West Africans seek them and find them and fill them with small rattling things such as seeds or pebbles. Then they link a pair of them together with a piece of string, perhaps a shoelace from an old shoe donated by a well-intentioned Midwesterner, or a length of painstakingly braided lemur fur. Finally, a West African with the cutest lilting accent who’s immigrated to your prosperous metropolis and enterprisingly opened a drum shop sells them to a person of high culture like myself, throwing in a few free lessons.

We then spend our abundant leisure time, time we must have in order to fulfill our destinies, time we use to chip away at our learned defenses in order to recover the unfettered creativity of our Inner Children, time we spend seeking authenticity and preparing ourselves to lead society onward once we have found some, I say we spend this time learning to swing our gourds around the backs of our hands, simultaneously knocking them together and shaking them in rhythmic fashion. In our efforts to improve we will watch YouTube videos of totally otaku Japanese adolescents performing the most astonishing feats with their asalato, and try as we might we will not be able to emulate them, but that is a good thing, because we disdain the single-minded diligence brainwashed into people raised in conformist shame-based cultures, we are freer than they, yes, and a somewhat lower ceiling of skill may be the price of freedom. And you know what? Japanese asalato are made of plastic. So screw the otaku, is what I like to shout.

Right. So I go out to my porch, an old-fashioned wide covered porch with a two-seater swing, a porch the kids walk past every day, a porch my cat may have crawled beneath to die on her own terms—I never did scent death emanating from under there, but of course there was barely any flesh left on her to rot. The Montessori kids’ keepers could choose a different route, sure, but maybe by now the children look forward to seeing me, some of them at least. They’re coming, they’re getting closer, and the brighter-eyed ones of them are turning their heads up and to the left already, but some are distracted by kid things, like comparing the relative protrusions of their navels, and some are pointedly ignoring me. I say, “Hey, kids, watch this!” and I start whacking my nuts.

I can do the right hand pretty good, and the right hand teaches the left hand, it sort of brings the left hand along, the way the more experienced Rockettes create an energy matrix that catches up the newer dancers, keeping the dancers all aligned and synchronized and hive-minded, which in turn keeps the audience wholly satisfied. I begin with an eight count of the basic front-knock, back-knock, catch-hold-shake, then I switch to a chorus of fancy swings, where my fingers must duck to get out of the way of the gourds whirling all rattly above them, the whirling alternately clockwise and counter-, the whole sequence requiring my full attention, leaving no available attention for the self-consciousness inherent in performing or the glee inherent in astounding children. Concentrating our attention is how we develop authenticity, it is how we deprogram ourselves from society’s/our parents’ terrifying conditioning, it is how we are able to catch sight of and approach the shining golden archway that appears on the southwestern horizon. There is some other trick to actually being able to walk through the archway, which I have not yet learned, but someday—watch out, I’m comin’ through! The left hand is struggling a bit to keep it together, but I finish up a four-count and return to the basic catch-and-release rhythm.

Some of the kids are stopping and pointing—and then there’s a slapstick collision where the kids still coming down the hill toward my porch crash into the kids in front who’ve stopped, and where the kids who lack all interest in my antics keep marching resolutely parkward and get tangled up in the boots and backpacks of the less prissy kids, and then I switch to the chorus again. The left hand completely loses it and my gourds go flying away like a lariat, and one of the girls reaches up an index finger, quick as a shortstop, and snatches them out of the air by the string.

They’re hers now, I guess, so I turn around and give them all the usual booty salute and they continue on their way, to return in fifty-two minutes.

A little about LISA: Lisa Sagrati’s writing has appeared in Nerve, Poydras Review, Red Savina Review, Taking the Lane, and Toasted Cheese. She lives in Arizona.

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