Walter wanted to hoist the calendar by the ankles and shake until the small change of days and weeks streamed from its monthly pockets. He picked through the racks of calendars set out in department stores for holiday shoppers that had yet to trim their trees. Arbitrary divisions, he decided, they bound time in however many squares depending on the month, and images that matched the seasons. Everyone had calendars cluttering their homes, offices, and garages. Banks and credit unions gave away wall calendars. Burrito joints and Chinese take-out palaces offered free poster calendars in bright, possibly toxic colors. Environmental and other nonprofit organizations sold engagement calendars as fundraisers. As a Cub Scout, Walter constructed a daily planner for his parents out of Popsicle sticks and yarn while his Girl Scout classmates traded cookies for cash. Calendars claimed an intransigent quality that made every year better than the last. His collection stored in the hall closet showed this to be fanciful instead of true.
In the East, the days and months had been set and followed since the Sheng Dynasty, eighteenth century BCE. The West had to wait for Romulus and Remus to found Rome before any kind of order was found in the positions of the moon and sun. A she-wolf raised the boys since their mother, Rhea the Vestal Virgin, was unsure of whether Mars or Hercules had fathered the boys on account of bad lighting over the marital bed. Romulus, or someone else, killed Remus, and the remaining brother named the city for himself. No one argued. Soon he introduced a 304-day calendar of ten months that hobbled along for close to four decades until Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, added the necessary January and February to make 355 days. The Earth’s orbit ignored the tally and spun for an extra ten.
As a word, calendar had its roots in the Greek kalendae, and the first day of every month was called kalends, for the new moon. Julius Caesar assigned an astronomer the duty of reforming the calendar as a follow-up to conquering Pompeii and crossing the Rubicon. Nether of these events were as important as uniting the olive oil dependent countries by having them plant crops and celebrate holidays on the same day. Three hundred and sixty-five days predicated on the equinoxes were divided into twelve months, with an extra day in February at the leap year. Deciding on the year remained a bit of a mess: historians put this feat at 45 BCE; Romans said it was 709 AUC (Ab urbe condita, the beginning of Rome as the beginning of time). Julius put such effort into the calendar on account of Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, and the other six Caesars were too busy being perverse and mad to keep any date straight other than the next execution.
Walter knew these things were true from the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library, a dawdling walk from the flat he rented with Linda in Hayes Valley. Naming the months had its moments of peculiarity. In the eighth century Charlemagne, also known as Charles the Great, King of the Franks, and Emperor of the Romans, offered these names in High Old German: Wintarmanoth for winter; Hornung for when the red deer shed its antlers; Lentzinmanoth for Lent; Ostarmanoth for Easter; Wonnemanoth for procreation; Brachmanoth for plowing; Heuvimanoth for haying; Aranmanoth for harvest; Witumanoth for wood-cutting; Windumemanoth for wine-making; Herbistmanoth for late harvest; and Heilagmanoth for Nativity. Even more peculiar is that these were used for seven hundred years, with the Netherlands and Germany holding on well into the eighteenth century.
The Julian calendar poked along for a millennium and more until the sixteenth century when Pope Gregory XIII noticed a problem. A year was more exacting than originally believed; besides the three hundred and sixty five days and one quarter, it also had an extra eleven minutes. Julius’ calendar was out of alignment with the equinoxes by ten days, especially the vernal equinox celebrated as Easter. Pope Gregory called for big changes, like eliminating three of the leap days every four hundred years. No apologies were sent to those born on February 29 for missed birthdays.
The flat had an airy, sunlit sitting room with bay windows, a kitchen with Formica-topped table and two pine chairs painted red, bedroom, bath, hallway, and back porch for trash or laundry. Linda worked part-time at a boutique on Union Street and Walter filled spreadsheets in an office seventeen floors above Montgomery. As a moving-in gift, she bought the Antoni Gaudi calendar on sale in February 1997 and let it swing on the kitchen cupboard door. Walter added this to his collection in 1998. He had kept the 1989 Babar’s Adventures calendar from his childhood; when he opened the pages to October, the Loma Prieta earthquake shook the city and he heard the fire, police, and ambulance sirens. Calendars held time.
Linda and Walter got along better than most couples. She was taller than her father, who was a short man, riding low on his John Deere tractor outside of Owensville, Missouri, about halfway between St. Louis and Jefferson City. He farmed and this made her a farmer’s daughter. She learned to read with the Farmers Almanac, its weather predictions, planting tips, homilies, and recipes. Linda smelled of wheat and cornfields and spring water. Walter craved her skin, the flesh covering the ridges and valleys and hills of muscle that blushed from the blood pulsing underneath. During the day he touched her in passing, fingers tracing her cheek and neck and exposed arms; at night he massaged her feet past the ankles to stroke the strong contours of her calves.
The next January every thirteen-by-thirty-inches of the Sportsman’s Basic Instincts swayed on the bedroom door. Walter blushed when he looked at it, and this delighted Linda. Her gift was silly in the extreme: scantily clad women in soft focus posing with camouflage, long rifles, and bows, and coupons for bow cases and game carriers behind December’s page. She signed on for occasional jobs with a house cleaning firm and a catering company, and quit the boutique. Linda took on assignments as if the days were running out and Walter only knew when to expect her by reading the Post-It notes on the refrigerator. His workday was strictly from nine to five, home no later than 6:30. Linda ran on a stopwatch instead of the calendar, dividing hours into their atomic particles of seconds and minutes. In her time off she added houseplants to the flat: bamboo, jade, English ivy, an areca palm, a Boston fern, anything green. She sprouted avocado pits in water glasses until they were ready for planting. The apartment reeked of humus from the bags of potting soil in the hallway.
For 1999, Buds & Babes had topless stoner hotties decorated with marijuana buds and growing tips for each month, again from Linda. Most of Walter’s illusions about the new millennium being better than the last had big holes shot in them by Linda with G. Gordon Liddy’s Stacked & Packed calendar. Liddy had served four and a half years of a twenty-year sentence that started in 1973 after being convicted as a Watergate burglar. American meritocracy gave him a radio show and well-endowed models sporting handguns, shotguns, and a Colt submachine gun. Walter argued with Linda about her choice, and Liddy went on the back of the bedroom door. A replacement calendar appeared in the kitchen, “Jazz” Guy Le Querrec, with black and white photographs of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Dizzy Gillespie less scary than proud female NRA members.
Linda circled each full moon in red felt pen and celebrated them. She turned witchery by purifying the rooms of the flat with a burning smudge stick made of white pine and sweet grass, and whispered prayers. The windows were opened as an invitation for any bad spirits to leave, and she wore a gauzy muslin shift while playing Mozart on her alto recorder. Any ailing houseplant revived from the music; the healthy ones sprouted new leaves. Walter was not allowed to touch her or be in the flat until well after moonrise, and this started his ramblings in the library. The numbers Walter totaled, compiled, and subtracted at the office were too abstract for serious consideration. Words had solidity and purpose. Ask anyone their favorite number and they will respond by moving away from you; ask them to name their favorite color and a conversation begins. The only numbers Walter read in the library belonged to the card catalog. As solace for being temporarily turned out of the flat, he read about volcanoes, hot air balloons, earthworms, the Peloponnesian War, barbecue, papermaking, bonbons, sheep herding, American Sign Language, and calendars.
Protestants angry at Rome’s discount sale of indulgences refused the Pope Gregory calendar, while most of Europe adopted the changes through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Sweden, Britain, Tuscany, and Scotland held out until the mid-1700s, leaving only two countries bound to Julius’ original errors, Russia and Greece. Russia had missed the Renaissance and the Bolsheviks who threw out the Tsar and the rest of the aristocrats did not want to be left behind in time. They dropped thirteen days when going Gregorian in 1918; Greece followed in 1923 with the same results. In the East, Japan had adopted the new calendar in 1873, Korea in 1895, and China followed last in 1929.
Walter slumped to the office and back, and Linda burned through the months like joss paper at a Chinese funeral. She was a glimpse of white wing-collar shirt and black slacks speeding out the door for a catering gig, or jeans and 49ers tee shirt to clean up a vacated condominium. The pleasure Walter had in finding a previously unknown freckle on her neck was a memory as she was rarely at home, except for the full moon. Linda canceled their vacation in June on the Amtrak Coast Starlight to Salinas, a reserved private sleeping compartment for awakening the couple’s somnambulant erotic life. Too many jobs, she said, and the plants needed tending. She crept in late at night for five hours sleep and a change of clothes. Her father called weekly through the summer with crop reports, what had taken root, how big, and how high. Walter made notes and left them on the kitchen table.
Relationships falter when one partner stops noticing what the other partner is doing. Walter slid from worry to acceptance as the signs of Linda, her socks scattered like spores on the bathroom floor and wrinkled pillowcases in the morning, no longer appeared. He cooked alone, ironed his cotton-polyester blend shirts for the office, and slept. The plants knew she was gone before he did. Leaves developed interveinal yellowing and brown spots and many were dried out and dead as he turned the calendar to November. Across the weeks she had written in her red pen, “SF is murdering me, all concrete and no seasons. I need more green than any city can offer. Sorry, babe.”
Her search at the community garden on Laguna for topsoil to stain her calluses and bare feet failed to satisfy her rural addiction. She regarded the plants growing in raised beds like animals in the zoo that had forgotten how to be wild. The next day a change of address card arrived in the mail from Missouri. Linda was back on the farm.
Walter met Jim and Joe at the Gino & Carlo Cocktail Lounge in North Beach while drinking away the loss of Linda. Not being a drinker made this difficult and after two draft beers that tasted of soap, he was finished. Joe, warehouse manager for a clothing company, had his limit at four and Jim, an electrician, never counted. They watched football and hockey on the widescreen television sets mounted above the bar, and talked into a friendship.
Joe tracked time by his lovers. Since losing his cherry at seventeen with Deena, the distaff side of his affairs were Mary, Elizabeth, Francine as Bill Clinton won the presidential race, Mona, Monica, Marie, and after too much alliteration, Julie, Siobhan, Flossie during the anticipation of Y2K, Linda, Terri, Gillian, and Lena. Jim and Walter had trouble accepting “Flossie.” What kind of parent thought the name appropriate for a little girl, never mind an adult? Joe maintained “Flossie” was a diminutive of Florence, and she planned on switching to her Christian name after she cracked sixty-five or decided on nursing as a career. Her inclusion poked big holes in Joe’s claim of stud status.
Cars told time for Jim after an aunt on his father’s side took him for a ride in her white 1978 Impala with its V8 engine transplanted from a GMC van. Besides burning gas, the car ate fan belts, sparkplugs, and seals, and drank gallons of oil to keep its bald tires turning. The rumbling thrill urged the teenager to get his driver’s license, and a badly treated two-door 1991 Toyota Tercel that lasted through vocational college. Every vehicle he owned had its story: Jim traded up to the new Miata after the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, went back to used cars with a Ford Explorer bought the same day as the Columbine High School massacre, switched to BMW when Charles Schultz and Peanuts died, and stayed steady with Lexus for now. At Christmas, Jim gave Walter Hawaii’s Exotic Girls, the naked women brown, smiling, and cavorting in the ocean waves. Months and days were in Hawaiian and English: Malakai for March, Po’aha for Thursday dangled in the kitchen.
Back at the flat, Walter gathered the plants into two-ply garbage bags along with their pots, potting soil, fertilizer, pH monitors, and anything plant-related. He swept and mopped, painted the walls eggshell white, and refinished the oak wood floors. The sitting room had a couch that Walter called a sofa and Linda had called a chesterfield and a rug that looked better in the showroom than on the floor. Nothing more than a mattress and box spring and chest of drawers filled the bedroom; the kitchen remained the same. A shelf in the hall closet was reserved for the calendars. Walter feared that recycling them would lose his hold on time, and a terrible vacuum replace the past of 1989 to 2000. On January 1, he placed the previous year’s calendar on the closet shelf before sticking up the new one, except for Stacked & Packed.
Jim moved north that year and Joe moved south, and the men kept in contact with telephone calls and seasons greetings: Jim from the rains in Portland, Joe stuck on the LA freeways, and Walter with his head in the fog.
Living without Linda meant work, eat, and sleep without the interruption of human contact, unless with a librarian on full moon nights. Walter was bored at the office and the other employees were boring. They liked their jobs. Uncle Frank passed away and an inheritance came in the mail, a box stuffed with alcohol and tobacco tax stamps from the 1960s. Frank had spent a month of Sundays, two and a half years, as a package store clerk in South Bend, Indiana, drinking and smoking without an employee discount. Each stamp was a sign of how close he was to digging in the Cantung mine near Watson Lake in the Yukon Territory for tungsten, and a daily eighteen hours of sunlight throughout June. The calendar went on a crazy drunk in the Yukon. Walter bought black page philatelic stock books and organized the stamps into pints and quarts of alcohol, and cigars and cigarettes.
Jim married Carol and stopped the late night inebriated long distance telephone calls when he learned she was pregnant. He had to grow up. Classic jazz photographs by Herman Leonard made the ideal gift from one adult to another, he said, and Walter agreed, especially when July showed Dinah Washington singing in the studio. They were getting older with Jim a parent and Joe buying a tract house in Santa Monica with paint blisters and drainage problems as a retirement investment.
Etta, the human resources manager at the office, watched Walter stumble through the break-up with Linda and settled into bland acceptance. She looked at him with curiosity, a sympathy that turned to empathy, and finally frustration. Etta called Walter in for an interview and asked when he planned to apply for a position with greater responsibility and higher pay. The office dulled his mind enough where he was, so Walter regarded moving up as moving down. She explained that with his attitude the reward for twenty-five years of service would be nothing more than a cheap gold watch, plus social security benefits. Health club memberships and pensions went to the executives.
He asked Etta out for coffee after work. Too many nights stroking the traces of Linda on the months of the Stacked & Packed made him aware of his loneliness. She had taken over the blonde Nicole for February, the topless Angela in September and Lori in December, and duplicated herself for Kristen and Rebecca in March. Either the calendar had dragged Linda far from her Missouri home, or the pages became the depository of Walter’s longing. Another time had to happen soon. Etta accepted his invitation on the condition that no one in the office would know.
Years piled up no matter what position you had, or the calendar you followed: Hebrew, Armenian, Coptic, Thai, Japanese, Zoroastian, Byzantine, Ethiopian, Islamic, Discordian, Bengali, Tamil, or reform calendars like the Holocene, International Fixed Calendar, and Symmetry454, a solar calendar that promised to correct the problems with the Gregorian calendar by having equal quarters and starting each month with a Monday. Friday the thirteenth would be an old folks’ memory, and a leap week was added to December every five to six years instead of February’s sole leap day. The reasoning behind Symmetry454 was simple: all business and government offices would save time, effort, and money by not having to reschedule annual events. Every holiday, commemoration, birthday, school day, and celebration fell on the same day of the week. Rational divisions replaced the complex arithmetic, courtesy of a professor at the University of Toronto.
Calendar reform was nothing new. As Jean-Paul Marat languished in a bath for his scrofula during the French Revolution, the Jacobins developed the French Republican calendar. Weeks expanded from seven to ten days, months contracted to hold only three of those weeks. The year started at the autumn full moon and the regular names of the months were exchanged for Vendemiaire, Brumaire, Frimaire, Nivose, Pluviose, Ventose, Germinal, Floreal, Prairial, Messidor, Thermidor, and Fructidor. Maximilien Marie Isidore de Robespierre went under the guillotine on 10 Thermidor, one year after the calendar’s adoption. Louis Napoleon ended its use in 1806, but the calendar made a brief comeback during the Paris Commune in 1871 for little over a two-week run. No matter the attempts to quantify, qualify, and restrain time, the Earth continued to turn in the lonely vacuum of space.
Etta counted her days by appointments. Thursday was Walter-day when she had him in for his meeting. She jogged after work with her ponytail bobbing out of her Gap baseball cap through the Marina and the Presidio so as not to grow fat, and lolled on the weekend. Etta enjoyed nothing better than to lay slick with tanning lotion on the grass of Mission Dolores Park, where her pores opened to suck in every available lumen of sunlight and unit of vitamin D. She turned Walter into a midriff man as he admired her tight abdominal muscles. To concentrate on one part instead of the entire woman limited the possibilities in a relationship, yet some limits were more fun than others. He lapped at the bowl of her navel until she giggled for him to stop. Weekdays were a blank prelude to the Saturdays and Sundays they spent in sybaritic contentment. Though established as a couple, Walter kept his flat and Etta held on to her apartment.
Jim and Carol named their newborn daughter Nashville and sent copies of the 2003 Hatch Show Print Calendar announcing her arrival. The months showed the print shop’s output from Bob Dylan concert posters to advertisements for Graves Whole Hog Sausage. The next year arrived with Joan Miró in Spanish from Joe, who had followed a Basque woman to Barcelona and returned with a beret and a taste for late night tapas bars. Marijuana changed from a vice to vintner’s choice production when Joe dropped Cannabis 2005 in the mail. Nothing was heard from Jim that year or the next; Joe’s gift of Firecrackers 2006 went from Walter’s mail slot to the kitchen cabinet door.
Superstitions about calendars are few, and the ones Walter obeyed were never buy a calendar of your own or flip ahead of the months. Neither friend sent a calendar in 2007 and the year passed in lassitude. Without a guide to follow, Walter missed work on several occasions and once had an altercation with a security guard when he demanded to entry to the office on Sunday. Etta bought him a watch with small windows for the day and month, and the hands went still when he cinched the buckle to his wrist. Time lost its focus with Walter, and Etta paled by forgetting her weekend sun. In his flat the days and weeks and months ran together in shapeless goo. He quit shaving after he noticed his beard stopped growing and thought about buying a widescreen television set. An hour ticked through each of its minutes, but Thursday crashed into Tuesday and missed the intervening Friday to Monday. Routines of taking out the trash, meals, showers, laundry, medical check-ups, and payment of rent were jumbled. Some were abandoned. Walter had no time.
His job outsourced and the house lost on a sub-prime mortgage, Joe washed cars at an Audi dealership while Jim readied the papers for his divorce. The differences between Carol and him were not irreconcilable, only impossible after he found religion and demanded their daughter be educated in a private Catholic school. Carol refused to give a dime to the Church since she was raised Lutheran. Nashville toddled into kindergarten holding her mother’s hand as Jim looked for an inexpensive bachelor apartment. He signaled his return to paganism by sending Walter the Maxim calendar, The Best Thing to Happen to 2008!, a thirteen-by-fifteen inch paean to women’s underclothing and the women wearing the underclothing.
Walter woke from his torpor. He was back in time. Etta tolerated the calendar as long as it stayed on the back of the bedroom door and the door stayed open. After Walter passed along her grumbles, Joe had UPS deliver the monster eighteen-by-twenty-four inch Derrière, black and white gluteus maximus almost life-sized for every month of 2009. Without any urging from Etta, the calendar went into the closet before the year started. Better a coward than alone and Joe never visited to see how his gift was received, anyway.
Objectification of bare butts went out as kitsch came in. Exotic Sirens from Joe was approved by most correctional facilities as being suitable for keeping track of parole hearings. Instead of nudity there were photographs of women in bathing suits or just panties taken from the back and the model’s face turned shyly toward the camera. Prisoners pined for Flo, Wanda, Monica, and Kyana with greater intensity than the viewers on the outside could generate for the low quality camera work and bad printing.
Jim moved back with Carol and Nashville after joint custody proved to be not enough time for proper fathering. The Best of Mick Payton from Jim’s re-established family had black and white nude torsos, with the texture of skin so tempting Walter stroked the heavy paper when he walked past the bedroom door. He missed Linda from when they first moved into the flat, and forgot how she had left him for photosynthesis in Missouri. Walter stared into nostalgia, a malady known as the Swiss disease. He read in the library how Swiss mercenaries fighting other people’s wars suffered from a morbid yearning for their youth spent climbing the Alps and eating rösti, and this made them less efficient killers. Nostalgia was an idealized past without regard for accuracy or the present.
The calendar deserved to be bent, beat up, and twisted until it broke for introducing such an illness. Only the opportunity was missing for Walter until Joe sent Nudes Having Fun 2012, twelve months of active naturists to display on the kitchen cupboard door. January had winter sports, a snowboarder with his johnson and nether cheeks protected by the board; February had a man in a flowered-wallpapered living room showing card tricks with a cigarette swagger to a bare audience, taken from a circa-1950s naturism publication; March had a couple riding pogo sticks on a country road showing their chaste backsides. The year promised only more months, a resigned trudge through weeks demarcated by someone else, and Walter had to fight back before he and Etta aged into complacency.
Let time be truly relative, Walter said to Etta. The calendar sucks time out of us and stores it in nostalgia when we should take time, let the minutes spread to hours and a single day to years. Instead of flipping the calendar’s pages, they would act out each image before its month came around, no matter how difficult. Walter had the wide-eyed stare of a madman hit hard by the truth; he scared Etta until she remembered what happened in 2007, when the calendar went missing.
January was as good a month to start as any. Etta packed a shared travel bag with the calendar, camera, glue stick, wool socks, and hand-warmers. Pasting photographs of their versions on the months would break the calendar’s hold, and allowed Monday to come after Thursday just for fun. Becoming the calendar meant humbling the calendar. Consequences like permanent damage to the space-time continuum were unimportant. They left for the airport when Lake Tahoe reported new snow.
Copyright © 2013 by Sal Glynn
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