Survival Manual

I was walking in Mt Tabor Park the other day, on a path rarely taken, steep on the south side, affording views of the college campus, its low buildings in the shade of the giant trees, the wide swath of grass between Gray and the cafe green but empty. I paused to reflect, praying peace, happiness, and lightness of spirit might fall like gentle rain onto my old colleagues and former students, and just before I moved on, I spied a small blue pocket notebook, partially buried in the brush under a bush. I pulled it out and dusted it off.

On the cover was handwritten, in a swirling cursive style, “Survival Manual.” I paged through the little notebook, about the size of a hand, about 40 pages or so, unlined, filled with handwritten notes, instructions, recipes, doodles, lists – places to go, things to do, people to see, books to read, movies liked or disliked, and short poems with simple drawings, every page crammed full of such stuff until, like a Jackson Pollock painting, there seemed not a single space left for another drip or word. There being no place nearby to sit comfortably and study the notebook further, I stuck it into my back pocket and walked on, wondering what catastrophe, big or small, might have resulted in the notebook’s author having lost it.

Home from the walk, I tossed the Survival Manual, not feeling, perhaps naively, mortally threatened at the moment, onto my desk in the dining room, already askew with bad reading and writing habits, books with bookmarks stuck in the middle, notebooks covered with dust still full of the promise of empty pages. “Write in me!” someone had finger-written in the dust of one. Magazines and journals weeks, months, quarters old. Before long, “Survival Manual” was buried beneath more pressing, unfinished projects.

A few weeks drifted by, catastrophes here and there, near and far, sudden, usually unexpected turns throwing people overboard whatever ship they happened to be sailing at the time. Still, I lacked the necessary closeness at hand to bring me to my senses and recognize the plight of our planet includes, indeed, all of us, including me. I mean to say, I’m aware of our current risks, dangers, follies and what ifs, but what really am I proactively doing to come to the aid of our planet? I mean to say, is showering only every third day or so and recycling properly, enough? Then came, locally, yet another heat wave record, and finding that I was confined by the heat outdoors to the house, even in the evening, when the sun had gone down, I decided to direct an electric fan toward my dining room desk and clear the clutter. If I had to be so hot, I would at least be neat about it. The fan, of course, produces heat as an unnoticed but negative side effect, as does the laptop on which I’m now typing these notes, bringing to you, too, dear reader of the Toads, a mere suggestion from the “Survival Manual.”

I uncovered the survival manual, immediately set aside my goal for a clean desk, and sat down in front of the fan with the manual in hand to take a closer look. I decided the notebook to be the work of a genius or madman. Of course, now that we are old and among the awakened ones, we realize the two are often one and the same. The survival manual author, who I will now refer to as SMA, wrote in a kind of shorthand style, skipping superfluous parts of speech, using fragments ignoring subject or predicate, adding icon doodles to illustrate ideas, inventions. SMA apparently possessed an ironic kind of sense of humor, too. A few of the drawings were captioned with hopeless and unexpected explanations: “Planet Senile”; “Moving to the Moon – what to take along”; “Breaststroke for polluted waters”; “How to recycle the non-recyclable.”

I paused at a page titled “Under Extreme [Heat].” Rather than describe it, I’ve attached a pic taken with my cell, to wit: 20180729_113151

It suddenly dawned on me that “Survival Manual” is a book of cartoons.