Condition: Grounded (or, How I deciphered one of life’s little mysteries)

March 31, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 31, 2016

On Monday evening, I went to a local coffee shop and spent some time finishing up my post about Lewis Shiner’s debut novel, Frontera. When I left, I walked south on Foster Street toward my car. I passed the new building that’s going up on the former site of the historic Liberty Warehouse. It’s opposite a vacant building (once occupied by a Minor League Baseball office, I’m given to understand) that’s apparently destined to be home to another multipurpose building.

These sites are next to Durham Central Park, which is split roughly in half by Foster. I’d left my car on Hunt Street, which forms the park’s southern boundary, steps from the site of yet another multipurpose building that is only just beginning to be constructed on the hill above the southwest corner of Durham Central Park.

I’d gotten most of the way down to Hunt Street when something lying on the ground caught my eye. I turned my head to the left and tried to puzzle out just what I was seeing.

At first, I thought that a small bat or a large moth or butterfly had fallen to the ground. (I know that there are bats in North Carolina, although I rarely see them — that’s a post for another time!) But there were two very strange things about the body, if indeed that’s what it was. One was that the body was laid out with a symmetry so perfect that it seemed unnatural. The other was that the body seemed oddly shiny.

I had kept walking — in fact, I was nearly at the corner — and my stride was about to carry me past the object. But I couldn’t just leave the scene without determining what had caught my eye; if I did, I knew I’d be consumed with curiosity the rest of the week.

I changed course and stooped over the thing. I was reluctant to bend over or kneel down, partly because I didn’t want to be startled by a living creature (if that’s what it was), but mostly because I was carrying a heavy shoulder bag and I was somewhat tired and I didn’t want to lose my balance and fall.

The light was bad, so I squinted. The wings and body had grooves going top to bottom, which seemed very out of place for a bat and at least a little unusual for a butterfly or moth. The highest portions of the grooves caught the light, confirming my earlier impression that the object was unusually shiny.

Object. I saw nothing shaped like the head of a bat nor the head and antennae of a butterfly or moth, but the supposed legs… Well, the legs had the same uncanny symmetry of the rest of the thing. And they also curled toward each other.


It clicked: I was looking at not a bat, butterfly or moth but a plastic mustache. What I’d initially mistaken to be legs were clips meant to fasten the faux ’stache to a nasal septum.

I straightened up and continued walking to my car.

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