Route 7 Review
Issue # 2015
Back on the Metro, I stared long and quizzically at my reflection in the window, the lines crawling out from my eyes, the sagging chin, the nonexistent hair, and then her face, yes it was certainly hers there posed in the thick, greasy glass next to mine—Sandy. And this is where it is tricky for me, and I do not know how to explain it to myself much less the doctor. I am sitting here with her, my wife, the two of “us” intact, but I am rushing into a young girl I swear has grown old in and along with me, so that if we were to meet again, we, Sandy and I, would find the first hotel and become what seems to be sketched out in page after page in note and color and sound and sigh of a thirty year pause. Sort of like an attic possession that upon rediscovery has, oddly enough, become a revelation of exactly who and what I am, and she is, but we—the us—no longer are, or wish to be.
Sandy, the ninth grade dream girl, and I, would escape to a small grove of trees just away from the school for the fifteen minutes between the last bell and the last bus home. Fifteen minutes that continues to stretch and touch and fill up the void of
each day. Sandy.
The heart and the heat of those late afternoons, filled with humid, August green of pine, oak and maple, the air heavy with sap droppings and the disinterested chirp and chatter of birds and squirrels. Her deep brown eyes, the wind kicking up the mix of adrenalin, testosterone and estrogen making the air three dimensional, sometimes four as we reached out to close, and recreate the space between ourselves. (“We actually reached out from our separate peaks and touched, or so I still, or want to believe.”)
Comme Chez-Toi was the first place Madame took me as a new arrival, the hatchling: an exchange student in Paris just arrived from New York. I left the Gare de Lyon to look over and into the place, the park, the pausing point that was mine and mine alone before I would ascend to her apartment after classes were finished. The young man who was so much more than me and the girl were the pieces and parts that should have remained in Paris to follow the trajectory of another man who sits here the fool wishing for more music and colors in places that haunt and hunt down the day.
“So you follow these episodes to some conclusion, after all. Good, ah, well, I mean at least we’re beginning to come to a point where we can begin to establish a reference point, create a strong foundation on which to build a recovery. Right?”
Exactly . . . the salesman sitting next to me at the lunch counter said his breath heavy with the fried flounder he had yet to swallow, exactly! His face was beet and burgundy trying to imitate white, the juke box stuck on a long, single “now. . .” from Elvis, the waitress’s polyester uniform midnight blue as the door to the Lighthouse Lunchbox flapped in the breeze, the sun bearing down and into the room hot and platinum colored: a brand-new-dime.
Exactly is where nobody seems to find himself anymore, he said. As we learn more and more about how we don’t fit particularly well into this or any other universe, exactly becomes as foreign as, well, that time you stood up in the movie, remember?
The screen was like a barber pole of stripes, my hands grew numb as I attempted to unbutton her blouse, she had put a book of poetry, yes, Baudelaire, first down on her lap, then up and over her chest, there see? OK?
Exactly, you see, the point was easy to understand and take to, if not logical, a natural ending, check please, said the salesman tipping his hat and disappearing into the day.
“It is a fragile, untested science at best, you understand. Some say we’re still in our infancy, that psychology is hovering at the same stage that biology found itself at before Darwin dropped his hammer on the house of cards. Who is to say that you aren’t on to something enviable? The scattered, random events, the colors, the sounds, the collective push to make them mean something, at least to you, it’s a way to make it through . . . survive. Yes? No? The what?”
Of all the gin joints in all the world . . . eleven different realities and this guy has to trip into this one! Still, I know that I will be back here in two weeks. So the passing markers, the places and colors and music of any particular one, then can exit and run, while the others still move, and all are only relative to any single one. Following the rabbit into the hole, stepping through a mirror so as to become more mid-stream turns or truncated riffs, more than beginning or end. Yes? No? Exactly! More like . . .
The eighteen-month old, little boy, standing tall between his parents, two in the morning, hand raised, one hand pulling the light down, while the other sews it straight into the moment. For hours in long, complex sentences of a language apparently we all speak in the waking and arresting of the discovery of place and time and space that shakes each conscious open, he explained the universe; I am sure of it. And from that point for him, as it was for each of us, the moment fractures and falls into the division and purpose and place and thing creating and contributing to the beachhead of individual particles of coexistent experiences that each desperately wants to interpret as a connected life. Like the great swan flapping its wings, the city and his familiar universe falling apart; even gods are passed by as they cling to a single idea, a notion or a purpose they are convinced will transform the mundane into the sublime, an idea that more often than not is wrapped up inside the body of a beautiful woman.
Tapping the sugar packet, forcing all the granules to one side, he tears the thin paper pouch open, watches the white dissolve into the black, listens to the doo-whop of the tiny particles striking the coffee, the riff of Coltrane piped into the air of the café, freezes the perfect form of a bare leg stretching out of a powder blue skirt stooping over to pick up an angry cluster of dropped keys. The revolving door spins and each new entrant begins to tap out another color and sound and place to start–exactly–here. Yes, here, each one seems to be saying as they step through the door, entering and exiting, spinning, moving, stopping and starting here–exactly.
I first noticed it, or rather took note that it was brought on, sparked by music. Standing on the platform, waiting for the train in the Gare de Lyon in Paris, the three chimes used over the public address system, the three soft notes ascending the scale flipped the switch. First a wash of pastel blue, then red, the primary, unadulterated red, and finally white, searing, “top-of-the-world-ma!” white that immediately cooled. I felt like a shadow, actually only one of many swirling through the station. Every object and person had become part of a reverse negative: any pastel or the color white appeared black; dark colors and black all appeared white. Afterwards–nothing, save for the expected steel-on-steel of wheels grating and slipping on the rails, the air brakes exhaling wisps of high pressured air as the engines coupled and broke free of passenger cars, a child’s whimpering plea for candy, and the muffled tones of two lovers parting. So rather than board the train, I walked.
“Hold it, right there! Each time this happens, you leave. Whether you’re waiting on a train, having a drink in a café or bar, watching a movie, whenever you find yourself confronted with this mix of colors, music, voices and interlocking ideas, rather than search out the remainder of the episode, you flee the scene, remove yourself from any further involvement with the, ah, well, I guess I would say the story.
“That makes almost a year, and by my count twenty-one of these events, and each visit with me you have described a different scenario, different colors and sounds, but they all seem to emanate, bubble up, if you will, from a single wellspring within you. And even though they start out from a single point, each one of these stream-of-conscious digressions sounds unlike the others. One is like the overture to a symphony, the other riff piled upon riff leading up a long jazz solo. And so as I wait for some sort of resolution, you my dear fellow are only in the middle of a pause. I think we’d both like for you to finish this and . . . all of them. It appears that you’re creating an alternative, a sort of fantastical response to your life, reengineering the parts you hate and coloring the rest with what suits your particular itch at the moment. Am I touching a nerve? Is this really a vision or simply a contrived series of seemingly random events spewed out to compensate for a life that appears to have left you . . . wanting?
“Yes, see right here, I made a note, from your visit in March. You were in New York, crossing Times Square, a sudden and total eclipse of the sun, pitch black just as a passing yellow taxi’s horn blares out a long, silvery note like the opening clarinet glissando from “Rhapsody in Blue.” Aquamarine followed, and you swore the old, toothless bag lady at the bus stop was hitting a high C for what seemed two or more minutes, and then orange, thick, wet and porous like the skin of a freshly picked, ripe orange. All of these random colors, sounds, and people were followed by a strong gust of wind that twisted up and threw the dust across the sewer grates, vibrating them like tuning forks.
“That was the first visit in March, the second is just as vivid, but takes place in Boone. Here is one from April in Atlanta, and one in Charleston. All remarkable in their vividness, but equally puzzling in their brevity. You refuse to stay, to ride the wave out, if you will. Let’s go there, now. Or do you want to find another psychologist?”
He, Doctor Rubenstein was right. I’ve become a chattering, anxious wanderer, who, upon stepping out and into a new place and time immediately hit the default setting returning me to the moment, but seemingly farther away from the man I was or intended to be—now. I am no longer a real person even to myself. I’ve become a compilation, an exercise in dream-like, surreal exploration of the sounds, people and ideas around me. I’m almost afraid to ask the doctor if he thinks this is the reverse side of consciousness, the counterbalance of the individual trying to mark, or cut out a place and time and identity. I’m afraid if I ask him, he’ll agree. Or is that just pushing myself farther down the rabbit hole?
But if one begins to lose interest or wearies in trying to define himself, then why wouldn’t he allow the opposite, the seemingly unfettered barrage of impulses, information, history, music, art and metaphysics of those around him to step in and begin to mold and shape him? Is it possible to rub up against yourself by moving from space to time and back into the space just experienced, but moving through it from a different angle? The box within the box and back again, a riff off what Einstein spoke of when describing the idea of space occupied with the box within the box. And the passing train?
Or is this all just another elaborate diversion to cover up loneliness? She and I have grown so distant. I have started returning to places and people that pre-date us. I go to these past rendezvous points, though, with the who, and the what, and the why of the man that exists in the present moving outward. This confrontation, this tug of being between the rails that leads me to see the train bearing down on me is liberating. I don’t want to leave, but then again, I don’t want who and what I am now flattened.
Am I afraid to confront the step away, the space, the time, the music and the colors that would make “us” simply another episode? Have I become a series of illusions that pick up and place allusions to a myriad of universes rushing past me to break the fall from “our” grace? Doesn’t each individual suffer through his own particular version of the Big Bang? So is there any logic in something, anything moving, running away from this personal explosion? Staying in the rush outward, I am desperately looking around to find a foothold when I know there is none allowing me to find a single, identifiable place relative to me, and me–alone. (*“The fluke of consciousness; what? there are roughly seven billion of us, and each of us has a different take on it–seven billion peaks, and only the one in Tibet has been mounted. Figures.”)
Funny, it didn’t really start in Paris. That was, simply, where, for the first time, I saw someone who, I swear, looked exactly like me, only much younger, slip off the train, glance up, smile then hurry off to (“See? That’s the loneliness I was talking about. Now add nine zeros to it.) a café called Comme Chez-Toi. I had to follow him, the one who looked like me, well, not really, well yes he did, yes . . . really, at least that’s what the honest man, screaming in my head, kept shouting at me.
After leaving Gare de Lyon, I boarded the Metro and exited at the station called Dugommier, ascended the stairs and looked across the street over at a small park, and it was there I saw a young woman with shimmering, auburn hair, pale, translucent skin reading a worn copy of Baudelaire’s: Les Fleurs du Mal. She was tracing the lines of the poem “The Swan” with her left index finger. Doing this as she mouths the words, concentrating, tracing, whispering to herself of how the great Zeus turned to an impotent swan, honking and flapping his wings in front of the Louvre, and Paris crashing, descending and transforming itself by simply being caught in the rush of modernity, moving away from the burst of its own inception. I was so sure that she was reading that particular poem, sure of it, but why? I could say the man told me so, but I’d being lying. She was.
Turning to leave, I saw him, the young man, who I thought looked like me, approaching her, holding a small string bag overflowing with a baguette, cheese, fruit and wine. She put her book down on the bench, smiled and stood up to meet him. He dropped the bag short of the bench, took her, kissed her earnestly, extravagantly, her left leg coming a few inches off the ground as his right hand, ever so gently, disappeared into her blouse.