Thought Trafficking

July 21, 2009, 9:38 pm
Filed under: living, outside | Tags:

4 July 2009

A man came into the box office, this was a few years ago, and complained in an offhand way about people – Americans – who put the number after the month. For example, September eleventh, or April third. This is not proper. What is proper is to say the fourth of July – the fourth day of July. And I thought, well, at the very least they got that right. Today is the fourth of July, and it is so hot that the puppy exasperatedly ruins the shade plants in an effort to cool down. She is so cranky that I put her away inside for a while to stop her nipping and yelping.

We went on our longest walk yet today – my whim, because she had so much energy. We turned right where we would have turned left – zigged when we should have zagged, I suppose. I was curious to see what had become of a friend’s old apartment
The puppy was snapping at my heels and I was trying to remember which basement they had occupied – the one across from the baseball diamond. I turned my neck a little further to see it as I passed by and to check on the noise of bicycles coming up from behind, and that is how he and I made eye contact. This was the first time I had seen him in about eight months – the last time being when I shouted at him to get off my driveway, threatening to call the police, a day or two before that first big snow, about ten days before Christmas. He no longer knows where I live.

Our eyes caught briefly and recognition did not need to flicker: it was already there. He rode on and I walked ahead.

No matter what anyone pretended, there was no love lost on either side, no unsung desire tying us together long after it should have. It was something else – misery or desperation or both – that had us talking in the first place. A dam against darker, stormier waters. And it passed, as these things do.

He paused for a moment longer than necessary at the stop sign. I thought I saw indecision the tilt of his haunches, in the way that he was trying to turn the bicycle against its will, which was his will. I know why he almost turned; I know why he did not turn.

19 July 2009

It isn’t me that I’m afraid for.

The late July sun falls softly in my life, settling across the high shelves of apartment balconies.

The city seems to spread itself without end, taking a run up against the mountains, trying for the top. Spidery sinews of population, runners.

My shoes fall heavily on the pavement.

A man sat at the end of the park with a sign on which he had lettered the words “HUNGRY” and “HOMELESS” and “HIV”. It seemed petty to notice the alliteration. I smelled of sunscreen and dirt, music still ringing in my ears, and I had some slices of bread that I had made and packed for the day but had been unable to fathom eating in the treacherous heat. I stopped and offered those to him.

It is perfectly understandable that he declined these day-old offerings, and I felt the need to apologize. Without making eye contact, he asked what for, and I said for not having anything else. I didn’t know what else and we wished each other a good evening, knowing well that our evenings were bound to be very different.

It is easy to be thankful at a folk festival, out on the grass in a large and open “fare-paid zone”. “What you are grateful for increases.” This is true, but also easier to say from certain perspectives, in certain positions. I was standing, proferring my sad bag of bread. He was sitting, avoiding all eyes in the way that makes one conventiently invisible, unobtrusive. It raises the question of posture: which is worse, standing over someone offering them your mangled breadslices while they inform you that they are, as you know, homeless and would have nowhere to store them, or squatting down beside them as though you understand. You don’t understand and if we are being honest you probably don’t want to, but that momentary juxtaposition, your head over his, is an awful moment, an artificial and all-too-physical vertical hierarchy. You feel the possibility in both of you; never walk under a ladder. “There but for the grace of God, go I,” is also “There I may follow, given time.”

There are times when I think that we should feel and remember and treasure our missteps and our near misses. Not because we are so “lucky”, so “fortunate”, and certainly not in order to better pity those we pass at ground level (“pity is a crime, and it ain’t worth a dime,” says John Prine) but in order that we realise both the unfathomable enormity of the gulf between our situations and also our terrible proximity. We should never pretend that we understand; there is, however, the possibility that we will understand. Such “grace” is nothing that one “deserves”. This world is full of mistakes, both ugly and beautiful. We don’t always get to choose which are which.


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