The road home seemed long, after having traveled only as far as the beer store and back in an entire week. It was getting late, and was my first exposure to the "developed" world in nine days. At a split in the road I made a wrong-headed turn into road work ahead, stop-and-go for a couple miles (such a pleasure with a clutch), which spurred us onto a longer route into the city, the so-called "flow" of traffic feeling familiar but uncaring as my eyes readjusted to taillights and stoplights and neon signs, plastic light-boxes fixed to the front of tire shops (rubber dust in our lungs with each mile worn) and laundromats (cuddly-soft chemicals that cling to our skin) and pawn-shops (no it's not worth what you paid for it) and all the Chinese/Mexican/Indian/
I've experienced something like this before, after trips in wilderness. After days of walking with a pace at which one might see a reflection in a raindrop or hear the footfall of a toad, we leave the trail, hop into a car and tear off down a "freeway" at break-neck speed. We turn on the radio, stop for gas, eat snacks out of a plastic bag. Suddenly we can't get by without electricity. We run gallon after gallon of clean, fresh water down the drain. Back to normal, in a matter of minutes.
For a week I woke by the light of the sun and wandered by the light of the moon. In just a few days my nerves were re-strung, my senses re-tuned to the flight of birds, to the rhythm of clouds, to the swelling of squashes and the whisper of cattails. I ran through woods at dusk, sure-footed over uneven ground even in my weakness, my muscles knowing with light-speed how to follow each curve of the ground. I slept through the night, more often than not, and more soundly than I have in longer than I can remember. The ache in my back slipped away and my vision cleared. Breath upon breath came more deeply, easily. I ate little, drank little, but felt full.
This morning I drove to work, parked in a lot I can't really afford, shouldered my bags and set a course toward the glass building in which I have spent a decade of my short life. Across the street from me a few men continued their work on a project which has lately drawn my attention: first they blocked off with cinder block and brick what was formerly open street-level cycle parking; now they're bricking up the rest of the façade of the block-sized ramp, for reasons I can neither glean nor imagine. Perhaps it's to keep the garbage out, or the homeless, to make the street look nicer, put an end to free parking, use up allocated funds, employ a few people… none of these reasons makes any sense to me. How much could this cost? How many people could this feed? What else could be built? And this, just one insignificant effort. A couple semis roll past me, louder than my memory. Here I am again, in the thick of it, where the engines of commerce belch putrid fumes as I step lightly over the dried vomit on the sidewalk. Shuffling feet approach me from behind and I'm doused with the stench of cheap cologne breezing past. I cross the street, on parade, while idling minds gape at the lights, fingering knobs and buttons. Again there are footsteps behind me, only these pursue me around the block, all but two strides distant. I want to turn around and ask him what the hell he thinks he's doing. I am not leading, but he is following, close, as if we were en queue at the movies or the DMV, or on a moving walkway at the airport, cattle on the line to slaughter--so close, in fact, that when I reach the building and open the door he catches it behind me. We walk in together through the secure entrance and board the elevator together as my annoyance begins to dissipate. He's holding a cheap paperback, says something about Monday, smiles and is friendly, harmless, pleasant. Here I am again, back in business. Going up. He gets off, and I continue.
Inside my cube, flourescent lights vibrate unsilently as I squint in the dead light at the screen in front of me and the grey background beyond. Overhead there is static in the form of white noise, piped in to set the mood. From the "kitchen", backed by the hum of industrial refrigeration machines, wafts the odor of manufactured flavors, plastic-wrapped and microwave ready. While they wait, consumers speak in voices unthinkably loud, discussing the virtues of their boxes. I try not to breathe. It's not difficult. By mid-morning I am uneasy, by mid-day my throat is closing, by the end of the day I am dull as an eraser, heavy as a stack of bricks. Where is the sense in all of this?
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