Sunday I found a Steve Howe card in the mud. Monday, I wrote about it, and while I was doing so I discovered that it was the second anniversary of Steve Howe’s death. The coincidence made me wonder if I was part of some wider, unfathomable plan. Maybe there’s something beyond the self. Maybe there’s a wholeness surrounding all our ripped, scattered pieces. I don’t know. Tuesday I went to work. It takes quite a while to get there. A long walk up Western Avenue, a wait, a train, another wait, a bus, then a short walk to the corporate complex from where the bus lets me off on Golf Road.
I work all day in a cubicle in a large room full of cubicles. I’d say the hours pass slowly, but that’s not quite accurate. I try to do a good job, and I guess I do OK; four years now and they haven’t sent me packing. But even so there’s a part of me that I learned a long time ago to tear off and toss aside on the days I punch a clock. I remember my first job, pumping gas at a Shell station on Cape Cod. There the hours passed slowly, tortuously. I hadn’t learned how to leave pieces of myself behind. That was over twenty years ago. I’ve gotten much better at it since then.
So on Tuesday the hours passed. At quitting time I shut off my computer and bolted for the door. I hustled across the parking lot and through the pack of lazy, malevolent geese that use the wide corporate lawn as their toilet, then I came to a stop at Golf Road. It can take several minutes to cross the four lanes of heavy traffic; many times I’ve been waiting for my chance to cross while my bus flew past in the farthest lane. Sometimes there are brief gaps in the traffic in the two lanes closest to me, but there are usually cars backed up on a smaller road just to my left, waiting at the long light to turn onto Golf, so any attempt on my part to make a dash to the center median would end with me getting shoveled up onto the hood of a car making a white-knuckled right on red.
But on Tuesday I was lucky. There was both a small gap and an unusual lack of cars stopped at the light, so I scuttled like a light-startled cockroach to the thin strip of concrete separating the eastbound and westbound lanes. You have to stand straight and suck in your gut on this median or risk getting disemboweled by a speeding sideview mirror. While on this median I always find myself thinking about all the many times I’ve let my mind wander while driving, the car drifting beyond the margins of the road.
I got lucky again with a second gap and scurried the rest of the way. Sometimes there’s someone already at the bus stop. There are no buildings on that side of the road, just a drab, flat nature reserve patronized solely by car-drivers with bikes, so if there’s another person waiting for a bus he or she had to do what you just did to get there, and upon your arrival the two of you exchange the sheepish glances of the hunted.
But on Tuesday I was able to enjoy in solitude my small, lucky feeling of getting across Golf Road without dying or, worse, watching the bus go by without me. I wonder if moments like these ever make it into the court proceedings in the mind of the suicide ponderer. Does the underpaid court-appointed public defender of Life ever rush disheveled in his cheap tan suit through the courtroom doors amid speeches of terrible eloquence by the dark-garbed Prosecutor on cancelled dreams and loveless nights and hopeless endless afternoons to yell “Hey, wait”–his voice cracking–”don’t you remember that time you made it through the subway doors just as they closed? Or the time you got change for a ten when you used a five? Or the time when the freezing drizzle allowed you to move down to the good seats for once in your life, so close you heard the sound of a guy sliding into third?”
Well, I don’t know if these little flickers of light ever make it into the internal To Be or Not To Be conversation. I’ve fantasized as much as the next guy about how my death would cause millions of beautiful women to weep, but for all my chronic gloominess I’ve never really stared down that awful corridor. All I know is that life is pretty much a losing proposition, so it stands to reason you should celebrate the rare victories, however small.
And so on Tuesday I had that tiny extra lift of getting across Golf Road quicker than usual and without missing a bus. I have to think this lift allowed me to look twice at one of the many pieces of trash littering the fume-sickened grass around the bus stop. Most of the time I walk through the world blindly, objects appearing before me without ever registering. But I was feeling lucky, lucky to be at the bus stop, which is not that different, really, from feeling lucky to be alive. So I was able to notice that the piece of trash had somehow, distantly, signaled to some part of my brain that it was not just a piece of trash.
And it wasn’t. It was half of a baseball card. I picked it up. For the first time in all the days I’ve spent waiting at that bus stop I studied the ground all around me. There was another ripped piece of a baseball card a few feet away, and beyond that another, and beyond that another. There were ripped pieces of baseball cards everywhere.
(to be continued)