"Are you sure
these are the Five Great Pillars of Siri?" asked Wen.
Shia snorted. "No," he spat. "These are someone else's
Five Great Pillars."
The mighty pillars stood before them, impossibly high and surrounded by restless haze. They had come so far, thought Aria. She looked back at the seemingly endless tract of high desert they had crossed, at the treacherous Valley of Hctid bordering it, where they lost Enas and Spider to Mist Wraiths as they sought for food and water. This journey was supposed to last only a week: seven months had passed. And with enough misadventure and peril to last a lifetime for each of them. When the Five Great Pillars of Siri finally came over the horizon, Aria squealed and the others yelled and, overjoyed, they ran and ran and ran until they collapsed, exhausted. For the Pillars were still quite a ways off.
Aria had noticed the problem soon after, but forbore to remark on it. For the Ten Titanic Boulders of Change were gone from the Pillars' tops. They could not pass into the kingdom unless those Boulders were there. She couldn't tell the others: they had come too far for too long, had risked too much.
The I-beams are there for no reason at all. The dirt road and the ditch belong to the city. Next to the ditch runs the trolley tracks. Next to the tracks is another road, one that ends perhaps a thousand yards out. Dirt, ditch, tracks, and the other road take up probably fifty or sixty yards of width, tops. South Bay suburbia lines both sides: apartment complexes, business parks, abandoned lots. It's like looking up a valley. In the far, far distance the tracks curve north on their way into Chula Vista, National City, then San Diego proper.
It's common knowledge that walking the roads past the trolley is forbidden by law. Signs posted here and there make it very clear that such is so; the only people who do so are gangbangers tagging random fences and buildings, transients, and those others, angry that trolley stations don't come with public facilities, who wander out there (as I have on more than one occasion) to find a private place to relieve themselves. The five I-beams stop absolutely none of this. They are an anomaly, unique: at no other trolley stop in San Diego, as far as I know (and I have been through almost all of them), are there I-beams--let alone five
I-beams--planted in the ground at the stop's edge to dissuade futility. Or to stand there, futile.
"All right, Aria," said Wen, dropping his pack and coming nose-to-nose with her, "come clean with us. What are the 'Ten Titanic Boulders of Change'? It's time you told us. We've come all this way, and now we can't pass--because of big rocks
Aria sighed, looked down. It was time to tell them.
Months ago, standing by these I-beams (which are quite apart from where most gather as they wait for the trolley), I felt a sudden, silly, seemingly futile (like the I-beams themselves) inspiration. I took a few steps out to where a large pile of gravel lay and picked up some rocks. Ten rocks, actually. I placed a rock at the top of each steel 'I' and one at the bottom. A futile gesture for futile I-beams. Looked at my handiwork. Smiled. Behind me the trolley honked as it approached the station; I grabbed my pack and hopped on and was off.
A week or two later I returned. The rocks were gone. Someone had removed them. I laughed out loud. Futile I-beams with rocks placed futiley upon them, only to have someone (gangbangers? transients? angry men and women humiliated for having to piss behind scrub? transit workers? security personnel? schoolkids?) futiley swipe them off. I look around. The I-beams, once again, are located very well out of the way of passing traffic of any kind. On any given day, it seemed to me, they would be lucky to have even one person walk within fifty feet of them. Those needing to relieve themselves, I reasoned, wouldn't come close to them, because there's no scrub brush or hiding places on this side of the tracks to provide privacy. They're all on the other side of the tracks, as is obvious by simple inspection. Schoolkids wouldn't walk over this way for the same reason: no little hidey places to go to get high or drunk or to grope each other.
Transients? Perhaps, except that I rarely saw them here, especially at night, when they come out.
Gangbangers? Perhaps. But I'd never seen them at this station, one usually monitored by at least two transit cops at all times. They--wisely--steered clear of the area in its entirety.
As far as the cops themselves, or the transit workers, it seemed utterly unlikely that they would pass by these rock-topped I-beams, and even less likely they'd care if they did.
Transit cop one: "Would you look at this ..." (Points to the rocks atop the I-beams.)
Transit cop two: (sighs) "Jesus Christ ..."
Transit cop one, swiping the rocks off: "Damn vandals oughta get thrown in the pumpkin patch and the keys tossed. I've got better things to do than wipe stones off I-beams. Seems like wherever I go I'm havin' to wipe stones off I-beams. I-beams, I-beams, I-beams. Those brats just love to put stones on top of them. It gets damn tiring, it does. Wish we could just get rid of stones, period. They're a gateway rock...."
Transit cop two, rubbing his chin: "Wait a minute. What other stops have I-beams?"
After I stop laughing, I hunt down ten more rocks, place them on the I-beams. Stand back and wait. If it's not any of the aforementioned perps, perhaps it's the trolley itself that's doing it. The southbound track, after all, is something like fifteen feet from the nearest I-beam. The rumbling could vibrate them off. Or the wind from the train's passing, which can be considerable.
The southbound trolley comes, breezes by. I study the rocks. They don't budge. I purposely put very small rocks, almost pebbles, atop the I-beams, just to be sure. I go back and study them. Not a millimeter of movement from any of them. It's doubtful even a decent wind from a storm could move them. I laugh again as the northbound trolley approaches. I get on it and leave.
"The Dark Wizard of Indifference removes them," explained Aria. The three of them sat now at the base of the middle Pillar, in its shadow. The mighty Pillar skied high above them. Shia and Wen listened attentively. "He hates the Ten Titanic Stones of Change," she said. "No one knows why. But we can't pass unless they're there. We'll die if we try."
"I'm confused," admitted Shia. "How can you be a Dark Wizard of Indifference--and yet care enough about something to remove it? Is hate indifference? Is indifference hate?"
"I don't know," shrugged Aria. "I'm just as confused as you are, Shia."
Mused Wen: "I think they're related."
Weeks pass. Each time when I come back, the stones are gone. I use the Iris Trolley Station probably twice a week, separated by an average time-space of, say, three days. Sometime in that space the stones are wiped away. Sometimes I find them at the base of the I-beams, most times not. It's as if the person or persons removing them do so with prejudice, throwing them as far away as possible. I try to choose distinctive rocks in order to recognize them should they be lying nearby. I rarely find them.
I stopped at Iris Trolley on two consecutive days a few weeks later. On that second day I looked: the stones were still there. Three days later, on a Sunday, there were still there. That following Tuesday, when I returned, they were gone. I make a mental note: that last week was a school holiday.
A couple months later, after summer break for all South Bay school districts starts, I test my theory. But the stones are still disappearing.
What is it about so many that, when they see something, they wish to destroy it, to deface it, to ruin it, to corrupt it? One wouldn't see the stones atop those I-beams unless one was looking right at them, and then within a fairly close range: and yet they are offensive enough for someone
to remove. They bother someone that much
. They certainly don't add ugliness to the station: if anything, in their own miniscule way, they add to it by way of uniqueness and peculiarity. They aren't defacing the I-beams in any way; nor are they corrupting them; nor are they introducing an element of disarray or confusion or danger to the area. They are simply there, sitting on top of three-foot-tall, yellow-painted, completely-out-of-the-way I-beams.
What's more futile: putting rocks on completely anonymous and out-of-the-way I-beams sticking up from a patch of hard-baked ground at the edge of a completely forgettable trolley station, or taking the time to seek those stones out to throw them away? To look at them sitting there the first time and think, "Goddamnit, what are those
doing there? I'm going to throw them away!" What does it say about you, the reader, who may equate them?
I honestly don't know.
“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher; “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” What does man gain from all his labor in which he labors under the sun? One generation goes, and another generation comes; but the earth remains forever. The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hurries to its place where it rises. The wind goes toward the south, and turns around to the north. It turns around continually as it goes, and the wind returns again to its courses. All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness beyond uttering. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. That which has been is that which shall be; and that which has been done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there a thing of which it may be said, “Behold, this is new?” It has been long ago, in the ages which were before us. There is no memory of the former; neither shall there be any memory of the latter that are to come, among those that shall come after.
It's a foggy Saturday morning. I wake early, shower, dress, grab my backpack and hurry out the door. I have an early tutoring assignment uptown. I grab the bus ten minutes later; twenty minutes after that I get off at Iris Trolley Station. I walk the long distance to the I-beams. The stones are gone. I grab ten more and do my thing, step back and look at them, at the "valley" of dirt roads, ditch, and trolley tracks leading away from me.
Ecclesiastes was wrong, dead wrong. Let him wallow in his inutterable weariness; let him wake in his sameness. For the earth is new every day, every second of every day; and everything is unique, utterly unique, no matter how hard we try to make it, or ourselves, otherwise. Including I-beams. Including stones. Including all actions, even those that seem at first blush to be repetitious.
Like putting stones on I-beams.
They woke against the base of the middle of the Five Great Pillars of Siri. Though it was foggy out, the sun still shone brightly in Aria's eyes as she stretched and rose, moving knotted, complaining muscles. Sleeping on the ground is for the birds
, she groused to herself, squinting. She shook her head. Except that birds sleep in trees
She glanced at the sun, glanced up at actual birds as they busied themselves, flying from the thousands of nests up along the Great Pillar. The fog at the top parted, and Aria's eyes went very wide. She squeaked with joy.
"Get up!" she yelled to Shia, shaking him, then doing the same to Wen, who was curled about himself, huddling in a thin blanket. "Get up!"
"What?" both asked, irritated.
"Look up!" she pointed.
They stood, squinted.
"Boulders!" yelled Wen, doing a little jig. "There are boulders on the Pillars--on all of them! Huge, huge--nay, titanic
How had the Ten Titanic Boulders of Change come to be there? Who had put them there? Who could move such colossal rocks to the tops of such Tall and Mighty Pillars?
But such questions hardly mattered now, thought Aria joyfully. For they could pass now into the kingdom.