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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Brushes with Llamas

by J. Sallini-Genovese

Everyone in my neighborhood, I suspect, leaves for work at the same time. We drive along the main road between our development and the highway, where the funnel of an entrance ramp backs us up as far as the llama farm.

The animals looked miserable all summer, their coats far from show quality. Usually, a few clung to the shadows of a tin roofed shed. Others scattered themselves among the weeds, where they chewed on a clump and watched our vehicles creep along while I wondered what kinds of problems they were solving.

I have always liked the llama and often think of them first when asked to name a domesticated animal. Upon request the pop artist Keith Hering once drew one for me on the back of an envelope. I went through box after box in my garage looking for it after he died. Never found the damn thing. Never found my pop llama.

The Incas discovered long ago what terrific pack animals these new world camelids make up there in the oxygen deprived Andes. Even today you can buy Llamas brand cigarettes in the Machu Picchu gift shop, along with imported pecan logs. That’s what my Peruvian friend, Harold, told me. I thought of this fact on the day my sedan stranded me along the eroded highlands of northern Ohio and I decided to return home on foot, which took me directly past the field. I stopped at the fence to stare. While I considered the modern benefits of transportation by llama, one of the males zigzagged toward me, as though the weeds tasted better in my general direction.

My attempt to engage him proved unsatisfactory. “Aren’t you Fernando Llamas?” I asked him. “You know, the actor, married to Esther Williams, the swimming star.” I would have listed selections from his filmography but I couldn’t think of any. I tried to get more personal. “Say, between you and me, isn’t that synchronized swimming about the silliest idea of an Olympic sport there is?”

Since he remained reticent I decided to move on. I needed to call into work and let them know of my status. That’s when I felt it, like a bug splattering against the back of my head.

I think that bastard Fernando spat at me.

J. Sallini-Genovese is a teacher of mathematics, which should not imply any special ability in the discipline. His stories, for example, don't always add up in the end.