The gravel pit was fifty feet from the front door of my trailer house on the outskirts of a small town in rural southern New Mexico – a nowhere town with an oil refinery in the city center, making the whole place smell like methane and brimstone. I don’t know why it was a gravel pit or what it was meant for. Measuring at least ten square acres, empty and flat, it was bordered on three sides by trailer homes. The main road ran along the fourth side.

The gravel pit was my sanctuary. My friend. My wonderland. It was my holodeck – the place I went to escape into a safe world where my imagination was free.  Dead pets were buried there. Dead washers and ranges, too. I would squat in the middle, digging up pillowcases full of bones on windy days and swear I was surrounded by the lost souls of animals, all of them trying to communicate with me. I could envision anything in the gravel pit – ghosts, monsters, the old west. A life outside of that suffocating town.

It was also where I started building my robot.

For three years, I collected wires and circuit boards. Spark plugs. Distributor caps. Any electronic or mechanical thing that had been dumped or abandoned in my sea of possibilities. I gathered and stored them, unsure what they were but certain that they made things run. Brought things to life. Unsure how to fit them all together but sure that if I could, I would be able to make my own robot. And he would be my best friend and protector. My companion who would help me fight my fights. He would clean my room for me.

A couple years later, I left this town, moved to Las Vegas and unceremoniously abandoned my bucket of diodes and doodads. Life moved on and I grew up, as these things go. Yet, sometimes, I still miss my robot.


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GLORIA HARRISON is a writer whose work has been featured on The Nervous Breakdown, Fictionaut, and This American Life. Gloria was the lead editor for The Portland Red Guide: Sites & Stories of Our Radical Past by Michael Munk, which was published through Ooligan Press in 2007. She was also a contributing editor to Pete Anthony's book, Immaculate, for which she received a high five and a ten dollar gift card to Stumptown Coffee. Gloria graduated from Portland State University with her B.A. in English in 2006 and now focuses on her own writing. She had a work of flash fiction published in The Bear Deluxe Magazine (No. 26). You can follow her on Twitter here.

Gloria lives in Portland, Oregon with her school-age twin boys. She is currently working on both a memoir and her first novel. You can contact Gloria via her Facebook page.

56 responses to “The Miraculousness of the Ordinary”

  1. Don Mitchell says:

    I like the idea of finding a sanctuary and place-of-the-imagination below the land’s surface. What was down there, walls, sky, and nothing of the town you didn’t like.

    Have you gone back there?

    • Gloria says:

      I’ve never been back. And I tried to get a photo of it off the internet, but there were none. I’d be curious if the place even existed anymore.

      • Don Mitchell says:

        Did you try Google Earth?

        • Gloria says:

          Nope. I’ll try that! It was in Artesia, New Mexico, right off Menefee Street. (I remember this because they say to pick your stripper name use the name of your first pet as your first name and the name of the street you grew up on as your last name – and I always thought it would be funny if my stripper name were Gnome Menefee.) There might be two Ns or two Fs. Can’t remember.

  2. What would you have named it? What color would you have painted it? Would it have talked? Would you have stored things inside of it like WALL-E?

    • Gloria says:

      I don’t think I would’ve named it. It would’ve been Robot, like Will Robinson’ robot. Or maybe I would’ve given it some super masculine name like Bruno or Butch. I wouldn’t have painted it. I envisioned a shiny, perfectly tooled outer armor. It would’ve talked in in monosyllables. Yes. No. Give. That kind of thing. I wouldn’t have stored things inside of it, but it would’ve been incredibly strong. Much, much stronger than I was.

  3. A beautiful image of you collecting the parts. My bet is that the robot completed itself and is out in the world now, probably plugged into writing important algorithms somewhere on how to clean rooms.

  4. James D. Irwin says:

    I don’t really have time to read a piece this long right now…

  5. James D. Irwin says:

    I love this. I love the mental images…

    Also, it reminded me of the time when my brother and I carefully designed a robot butler we were going to make out of lego and meccano…

  6. Clarissa Olivarez says:

    I’m with Nick – I was thinking of WALL-E too (with his stored doo-dads). I always wanted a robot who could massage me…but like have human like hands (cold metal would not be very comforting).
    Lol – Opal San Felipe (not too shabby – not too sexy either though…hmmm).

    • Gloria says:

      Opal San Felipe sounds like the name of a private resort. You could strip there!

      Yes, mechanical hands wouldn’t feel too soothing, I don’t think. But I love this concept. I’m resisting the urge to make a sex toy joke – my nephews read me now. 🙂

  7. pixy says:

    gloria! you edited well. i like this lots. 🙂
    the gravel pit when i was growing up was my grandmama’s barn. all matter of thing ended up there, lived there, died there, was abandoned there and that’s where i spent most of my time taking things apart to figure out their insides. it’s the only place there that felt homey. except for the wasps.

  8. Gnome Menefee would be your stripper name? Hahahahaha. I’d totally make it rain on Gnome Menefee. Sympathy rain, from one unfortunately-named lady to another. My stripper name would be Midnight Mulberry, which sounds like some sort of weird anal euphemism to me.

    My gravel pit was the forest surrounding our Kansas and (later) Missouri farms that I used to explore for hours. The happy meditation place in my head always finds me sitting in a forest, next to a stream. Do you go to the gravel pit in your head when you’re trying to find some peace?

    I loved this. You did a great job of describing the gravel pit so that I could easily visualize it, and the second paragraph beautifully captures the huge, colorful imagination of childhood. I usually clock flash fiction in at 700 words or less, and you’re well under that. Way to edit, lady! You’ve inspired me. I feel a brevity writing challenge coming on.

    I think your very smart boys will build you that robot someday. Maybe someone can buy you a Roomba in the meantime? (:


    • Gloria says:

      Gnome Meneffee – this is what you get when you have a mom that loves all things fantasy. I think I had a chicken named Mathilda before I had gnome (the cockapoo), but Mathilda Meneffee isn’t a whole lot better.

      I don’t go to the gravel pit when I’m trying to find peace, but I do think about it from time to time. And it’s one of the more calming memories of my apocalyptic childhood. Kids can find peace where they need to. Adults can, too, I suppose. Do you return to your barn?

      Indigo once told me that he was going to build a space ship that would take all of us off of the planet before it blew up so that we could all be saved. He was three – years before Wall-E came out. I’ll bet I could eke a robot out of them.

    • New Orleans Lady says:

      I think Tawni is right about the boys building you your robot. It’ll happen. When that time comes I want to help name him because “Robot” is not gonna work.

  9. Art Edwards says:

    How cool. I wonder how many kids are out using their imaginations like this to create something out of nothing. It reminds me of the instruments the kids on Fat Albert played with during the musical number every week.

    • Gloria says:

      It’s the beauty of childhood, isn’t it?

      There’s all this talk about kids having too much screen time – which is a perfectly reasonable thing to worry about. But kids are still kids. Tolkien and Indigo are way into a computer game called Minecraft. But when the No Screen Time rule is implemented, they find a way to merge their computer world with their fantasy world by taking cardboard and making helmets, axes, swords, armor – all manner of Minecraftian tools and acting out long, elaborate fight sequences. They turn the section couch into catacombs and have long adventures. It’s pretty rad.

  10. D.R. Haney says:

    I spent my first few years in a house next to a vacant lot that I called the jungle because it was overgrown with weeds and shrubs, and that’s where I went every day, building one “fort” after another, and turning sticks into spears and bows and arrows (even when I couldn’t find string for the bows), and smearing myself with mud and juice from poison berries — makeshift warpaint. The resourcefulness of a child’s imagination is a truly a thing of beauty, though, unfortunately, to contradict Keats, all too often a thing of beauty does pass into nothingness. Why do so many children take leave of their imagination as they grow up?

    But I begin with a digression, and now to the point: I like the economy of this piece. Like the subject it describes, it accomplishes a lot with very little.

    • Gloria says:

      Why do so many children take leave of their imagination as they grow up? You know, Duke, I’ve thought about this. And, honestly, I think the answer may be as simple as Time and Hormones. Sex ruins imagination. Then jobs do.

      Thank you for your sweet words.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        Yep. Once the hormones kick in, that’s it for imagination. I’ve thought about it, too, G! I mean, you know I would.

        • Gloria says:

          I’d actually be interested in reading and exhaustive list of all the things you haven’t turned over in your mind, Duke. I’ll bet it would be a quick read.

  11. Brad Listi says:

    Why do I want to make a vibrator joke here? Am I really that crass and irretrievably juvenile?

  12. I want you to keep building your robot. You have to! It’ll *clean stuff*. Also, first thing I thought: “This should be turned into a YA or kid’s lit novel.” Maybe someone else said that. I haven’t read the comments yet. But if they haven’t, there you go — that’s what I thought.

  13. Around my parents’ house there are a few old quarries. They mined some kind of red stone. We just called it that: Red stone. Volcanic, I’m told. Most of them are decades old and were abandoned by the time I was a kid, and I’d go there with a few of my fellow geeks and putter about. Once we also tried to make a robot… although I cannot recall exactly how it turned out. Presumably, with none of us having any idea how to make things (we weren’t that kind of geek) it would’ve failed miserably.

    • Gloria says:

      I had no idea how to make things either, hence the thing not getting made. But I knew that everything I was collecting could conceivably become something (never mind that the bits were all burned out junk bits that had lived their lives already.) I was clearly not that kind of geek either. I’m more Steve Jobs, less Bill Gates. I’m the concept gal. That’s what I choose to believe.

  14. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    Love this one, girl. I have a feeling you took the boys to see Real Steel. The imagery of the gravel pit fascinates me. “I would squat in the middle, digging up pillowcases full of bones…” What a line. How many stories start here? The possibilities are endless. That’s what I love about this one.

    • Gloria says:

      I didn’t take the boys to see Real Steel! I don’t even know what it is! But I’m running to Google right this second…

      Yeah, Cynthia suggested, above, that I turn this into a YA novel. I haven’t quit thinking about that idea since she brought it up. Thanks for reading, LRC in the OC. Missing you. xo

      • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

        LRC in the OC? I’m reppin Venice Beach, baby. Los Angeles County all the way.

        This would be an awesome novel. I’ve actually been thinking about starting a novel today, just because of the potential your gravel pit inspired. Seriously good stuff here, Glo-Worm. Let me know if you progress with it.

        Real Steal: Think Rocky with Robots. Also, think Hugh Jackman in jeans, a tight t-shirt, cowboy boots and aviators.

        • Gloria says:

          This is where I admit that I don’t know which counties contain which cities in southern California. I was just trying to rhyme. And yeah, you’ve sold me on Real Steel. Fun for the whole family!

          • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

            It’s going to drive me crazy that I misspelled Steel. How sad is that? (I mean the fact that it will drive me crazy, not the typo.)

  15. Stubob says:

    My stripper name would be Mindy Crest…Loved this one Glo, superb imagery. I could smell the wind…

  16. Stripper name: Rosencrantz Radnor.

    Junkyard robots: William Gibson’s Mona Lisa Overdrive, in which these young punks live in a junkyard and build robots. China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station, which features a sort of sentient junkyard – like, the junkyard is the robot. And a lovely Czech point-and-click game called Machinarium.

    I like the shruggy ending. “Anyway, I moved, so there y’go.”

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