Location: Ontario, Canada Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Publications: Wings Online, The Paumanok Review, Jack, The Woolly Mammoth, Carve, A Writer's Choice Journal, Alicubi Journal
THE DUNG BEETLE'S CAREER
Without beetles our world would end.
Bailey was “in-job” as distinguished from “between-jobs.” He counted jobs like a poor beef rancher might count cattle and his current job was number three and at six years was his “oldest.” But longevity in and of itself did not matter: the wherewithal did, only that.
What he came to think of as the Aesthetic, his Aesthetic, entered his life at that peculiar juncture when he was “in-job” but the EXIT sign was flashing and the slaughterhouse door was swooshing open and close as the different sized “jobs” were prodded through. The Aesthetic skulked in when he wasn’t attending to it, intent as he was then on being anxious and discontent.
He would think, I am the victim of eager emotions and careless planning. He had formerly touted that as living-in-the-moment. Worse, the short dense curly black hair of which he was undeservedly proud was noticeably thinning and receding. That’s what really bothered him as he revised his resume into “ready-mode,” gripping the cheap pen tightly, the hair. And, having to be prepared to jump into the fray in the time it takes to say “downsized, out-you-go, good luck.”
You're not likely to hear a beetle brag. Not any of the 350,000 known species of them, of the one-fifth of every living thing of them: enough to cover the surface of the earth how many times over? It had been quite some time since Bailey had had even a cursory thought about a beetle. Why would he? Except when folks teased him: Beetle Bailey.
Funny, five thousand years ago along the Nile, they worshipped them. A sacred symbol of renewal. A sacred what? It seems like forever since beetles have received adulation. An occasional entomologist now but very much on the dry side, not the same at all.
He had a thin stringy face with a natural frowning look, big lips pursed, skin folded at the bridge of the nose and ridges of skin bulging from the nose to the corners of the mouth. Big bony hands. Sideburns. Muscular gangly.
“Your job is to make me look good.”
That was his job description according to Lorne, his washed-up mole-of-a-man boss. It simplified things.
Bailey was a Customer Service Representative. No man-in-the-street could be certain as to what that meant. A dull eyes-glazed-over “Oh” would be a typical response. They are legion with these vaporous titles. Do you provide high-level technical support to the company’s most valuable clients or do you clean urinals? Not sure I should shake your hand. He felt like he did both but he was fooling himself (again): he didn’t even know for sure what a mop looked like. Bailey had vague recollections of rushing past school custodians but, like ironing, it just wasn’t done anymore.
The beetle metamorphoses: the worm being the father of the winged insect man. Identity. Identity staring you right in the antennae. Industrious and numerous dung beetles. Economists can blather at length about their productivity as a function of both. But, it’s mostly numbers. The average elephant dung heap being “processed” in two hours. That’s service!
Bailey didn’t hang-out at the water-cooler an inordinate amount of time but he was a water-cooler type of guy. Liked to socialize. Liked to buzz around flowery females.
But the weathered brown motorcycle jacket he wore outside whenever he could and the biker-chic look and pose he favored had become noticeably less effective in drawing perky frothy women, or any. Could it have been the pheromones of imminent-job-loss that Bailey was unknowingly emitting?
It was an undeclared battle between the “job” and the “person.” The job wasn’t entirely made-up. Not like the persons were. But regardless, the job was the measure of the fit and the man. It didn’t matter that Bailey was reasonably well-spoken or personable or competent or whatever. The “job” was considered a 40-Tall and Bailey was judged a 38-Short.
“Ask me in a day.”
Some things are easier to believe if you’re in the right mood. Like, the sun is a dung ball. And Khepera, the scarab-beetle god, pushes it through the sky each and every day. Look out the window, see the beetles in the sky. Bailey was unaware of Khepera or the vast armada of earthy beetles or of the ethereal beetles in his own mind. But that
didn’t mean he couldn’t have believed it.
“Making me look good is not always enough.”
Lorne, spindly legs and soft hands, came to Bailey’s desk on the Friday morning, the recommended day for firings. Bailey’s bleary little black eyes and distinctly unzippy demeanor would make his bossly task easier. Mentally, Lorne sighed, thank you.
“Perception is all.”
They walked their little walk and the package was revealed and offered. Severance has such a heavy sound of gravity and finality to it; it always lands with a resounding unpleasant thud. Bailey took a deep breath, the frown swept onto his face, a thumb looped over the top of his pants.
Adversity shoved him into the sense of rightness and symmetry that became the major part of his aesthetic. If we lived in Paradise, there’d be no Philosophy. Bailey knew that in Paradise he’d be content to pleasure in life, all of pleasure, and only pleasure. His insight wasn’t an academic distillation, it was a startling rough-and-ready dirt-under-the-nails peasant aesthetic. New insight number one: Life wasn’t only pleasure.
Place the sacred scarab over the heart of the deceased. Sincerely and without fear, say, “Do not betray me.”
He had a unique way of standing: pelvis pushed out, feet apart, toes pointing outward, shoulders pulled back and down. One hand hooked by a thumb somewhere: over the pant top, through a belt loop, stuck into a pocket. No teeth showing ever. All smiles were with closed lips although he did have even white teeth.
He stood still and silent for a long moment. Long enough for Lorne to worry, his worn blood-shot eyes quivering. Then Bailey turned to leave.
“If you want a reference?”
One last look at Lorne’s creased yellowed face and dark hollowed eyes, his superior’s menace as ugly and tenacious as a nicotine stain.
There are three types of dung beetles: dwellers, tunnelers and rollers.
The dwellers are the atavs: drinking too much, not planning, having indiscriminate sex, not keeping a steady job. They live right in the guts of their food, the heart of their insect desires.
The tunnelers are the herdsmen of the unmoving herd. They have taken a step back. They commute.
People who read stories like this are rollers. Like Khepera, we move things far from their source. We like to raise ourselves up. We deny while we pretend to search.
There was a balance to things, Bailey concluded. It wasn’t right to treat employees like things. He thought, that was slavery. It wasn’t right to depend for sustenance on an employer. That was also slavery. Justice and rightness were part of what he felt were guiding him. It was more: they were becoming his eyes. Justice was to be his right eye, nearest the heart, nearest where the scarab would rest.
Bailey didn’t feel like a beetle-larvae but he knew things were going to change. Jobs weren’t way stations to a funeral. He would metamorphose. In the intensely reflective period that followed his dismissal, he saw mirrors everywhere. He constantly found himself contemplating himself: judging, evaluating, deciding. Bailey saw that he had tried to do his best. He saw that doing the best he could was an excuse for doing the
thing-at-hand, the wrong thing. He understood his physical self as an expression of a nonphysical self. He didn't think of it as "his."
It’s an anonymous toil. The soil is cleansed but who thinks about how. Lowly. Out of mind. The cult of the beetle as one of the oldest spiritual expressions and one of the deadest. The self-created one. Older than societies and cities. Possessed of a quality ascribed to the father of all gods -- renewal. Ignored.
Bailey wore blue jeans and a casual white sweatshirt with a black leather vest and black jack boots. He had both thumbs hooked through belt loops. Beetle-browed and pelvis slightly forward, he wasn’t in a rush to get a “job.” He wasn’t panicked. Progress came from imbalance, he told himself. Falling was part of moving forward. And after he picked himself up, he would still be ahead. Ahead of what? he wondered.
It was peculiar and it didn’t make sense that they flew during the hottest part of the day. The beetles. Something like that must have significance. The Egyptians believed it manifested a relationship with the sun itself; a communing with the sun, with Khepera.
Communing for how long? they never ventured. Science ventured over two hundred million years. So many moments, and beetles, so much service.
Bailey was hungry. Money was short. He had been hungry for some time. Not starving, not anywhere close to starving. Lean but not mean. He savored each breath but was unworried. His personal aesthetic told him that one life was not enough. A job was part of what you did and what you did was your life. It told him that hell wasn’t forever, nor heaven. Now that he was listening, it told him everything.
There was always something to do. There was always something to get from doing something. Give, get, live. He would live as long as he lived. Moment by moment, he would live forever. Each moment a piece of eternity. Eternity nothing more than a moment, a beetle pushing a ball.