I feel jumpy. Jumpier than usual. Or perhaps just more aware. I feel acutely aware of every everloving detail; the temperature, the weather, the presence of people, the absence of people. Yet my sky is pale right now. I simply know that the color is not quite right, as though short of breath and lacking in an indefinable something.
Yeah. I realized that last night because I felt like a walking ghost. [permeating] through the crowds of people unnoticed, diffusing in and out of conversations (I am eavesdropping). It is those times when more can be said by not talking and where peripheral vision is a greater tool than eye contact.
It tends to settle mainly at dusk. I usually notice the sky having color, but being empty. Inexplicable. You simply know it, when the color is not quite right. It’s pale. That’s what it is. The sky is short of breath, and so its tint is slightly lacking.
He always had a way of grasping indelibility and placing it into reality. I replied, I suspect that in you I find an empathetic friend. I need the open road, I need a musician to sing me the blues that the sky can’t seem to grasp right now. I need a friend, but no talking. Just being, and driving, and trying to find color in the sky.
A breath of fresh air. That’s what I need. I felt it as I was driving from the airport after landing in Los Angeles. In spite of that ever-present and clichéd smog, I tore across the open freeway, eating shadows as I came to them. I breathed deeply, devouring palm trees, a white suburban, two or three buildings, a brokedown Toyota. Pressing on until I came to rest and exhale.
These are the sorts of things I’d tell him if I could. I’d personify shadows and light and philosophical ideas, compressing them into binary code: 010001101110001 for “I see the light slowly fading and you’re the only one who understands.”
But he’s not around, at least not for a couple of months. He’s away; exploring the great, fabled frontier, blazing his trails and taking deep, deep breaths. Maybe that’s the nature of missing someone: An indrawn breath, but unable to exhale. There is an expectation of releasing all that carbon dioxide, yet it does not happen. Perhaps that’s the nature of simply being with someone. Sharing the same space and breathing, together.
Whatever it is, my lungs are full. And if he were hear (I say this to mean not only if he were present, but if he could listen), I’d tell him so. But until then, it is merely a thought hurled into the ocean, only to be returned by the ebb and flow of the next incoming wave. (To which he’d probably make a comment regarding my propensity for over dramatizations. More likely, he wouldn’t, because he shares this trait, and perhaps that is precisely why he is so missed).
It was a small city kind of night. The intersections nodded in acknowledgement to each other and the avenue was a straight-shot, green-lit drag strip, hell-bent toward morning. Driving down that road, feeling the wanderlust of a million discontented souls before me, I felt fully what it means to be a desperado. Left, right, straight, back, straight shot to the stars. Another storm had rolled in and the pavement mirrored the lonely streetlights above it, casting a molten orange glow into the convoluted atmosphere.
The Beatles moaned their raspy plea, I want you so baa-aad, it’s driving me mad, filling the car, filling my lungs, filling the spaces above and between. Just drive.
Even at 40mph, it felt like flying. That’s just the kind of night it was. Flying from 11pm to 11:30 and on, stealth and unassuming. The downtown mini-metropolis was empty, save for the bum and his wheelchair in the alley behind the Dairy Lunch. A power line had gone out on the corner of Court and Commercial, but other than that, there was emptiness.
It was an untamed kind of emptiness, the kind that wasn’t empty at all, but instead was burgeoning with possibilities both real and imagined. The ballad of the big nothing. It was a comfort, but it wasn’t comforting. It was unsafe. It was unpredictable. It made me feel wild within myself, capable of who-knows-what and without limits or restrictions. Even the laws of gravity seemed irrelevant. I was flying fast into the big Nothing, screaming past sleepy houses and dreams lying dormant by the doormat. I was full of gumption and the road beckoned me with a freedom-call. The night was mine, mine for the taking, mine for the wasting, and I was the apple of its eye.
I dreamt about a boy that night. A boy I used to know. He elicited that same sort of unpredictability within me, and I knew it was that feeling—that old, familiar recklessness—which brought him into my subconscious. He was reckless. Made reckless decisions based on little evidence, or planning, or information. When we were together, we waxed philosophical and drew up future plans (separately, of course: the plans never included the other person, but were more discussed for the sake of themselves). But underneath it all, the underlying surge that kept us together (opposites attract, right? Or perhaps there were too many similarities), was that rash disregard for anything but the Here and Now. In my dream, we performed careless deeds with snappy comebacks, and in real life I could care less—but had he been there, that night, that damp, unpredictable night, he would have urged me on into the inky black universe of the unknowable future and I would have driven all night.
Driving down a hill, snaking through country back roads watching the clouds yawn and shift and change position, as though choreographed. It was an Almanac-perfect day—80 degrees, sunny, not a cloud in the sky until late afternoon. A storm was rolling in from the north, charging its path down the tufted forests and expansive crops in the valley. The sun was a magician, turning tricks and clouds materialized from nowhere. The rolling hills smeared past the car window, but the sky was in slow motion. The clouds were in the shape of paintings, bloated and burgeoning with possibilities. The sun sliced through them, casting a plaintive gaze into the murky storm front overhead.
I see us all as something, but nothing like we truly are. In a time where people are drifting from point A to point B, alienated and disengaged, at this moment we—everyone in existence, everyone in the world—were transformed. Without warning things became exactly as they are; the sky shifted from golds and yellows into pink. But it wasn’t cotton candy pink or baby girl pink. It was savage pink. A cherry hue that sliced the landscape into light and shadow and reflected off the approaching storm front. Now instead of clouds and sky and the ingredients of a normal sunset, there was a menacing red curtain cloaking the horizon from the farthest south to the north, closing in fast. It was war in the sky, sleepy discontentment against the raw, brutal future. Lightning—yes, lighting—ripped the horizon in two.
The entire scene as far as I could see it was now shrouded in the kind of frothy wet clouds that are akin to a crashing wave. But instead of darkening the landscape in the sleepy-eyed gray of normal rain clouds, the ground was on fire. The orange in the clouds from every angle was almost hard to look at. More lightening. Off in the distance, a rainbow—please track with me, I can’t lose you now—saluted the west. A deer leaped across the freeway and glided through the impossible flatness of wheat fields in the distance.
But the show was hardly over. Now those surly black rain clouds had consumed the sky and the sun was hedged in to one corner of the ring. But instead of admitting defeat and folding into the horizon, the sun screamed her last; electric pink, darker and brighter and more menacing than any other existing color, and drew a jagged line around the clouds and hurled molten spears of light in all directions.
Restlessness had lost the battle. Suddenly it seemed that everything was the way it truly was; the longing was still there, and just as poignant, but now there was clarity. The future had won.
Fog in the desert.
Not fog, clouds. I realized as I hurtled down where the 210 meets the 15 that it was not fog. The clouds, heavy with exasperation, simply couldn’t support their own weight and the result was a week-old helium balloon, drifting aimlessly against gravity. The ground had abandoned ship a long time ago; its desert-dryness couldn’t take anymore precipitation. It countered the whole eco-system of its desert-identity, anyway. So instead of raining, the clouds held back and simply lingered a few feet above the earth, tumbling and taunting while the ground reclined, stone-faced and stubborn. The traffic hummed along and halted, fast slow, fast fast, slow. There was almost an audible buzz of anxious electricity in the air. It was the kind of atmospheric restlessness that causes natural disasters, but instead it did nothing. It crouched. It waited.
And so I waited, too, battling the inner demons of restlessness. A placid front but turmoil within.
Turmoil’s too strong a word. That’s another thing; the dramatizations seem to be more vivid these days. Everything has a deafening finality, as if adding a period to the end of the sentence would give this unsettled life a purpose. Or at least a resting place. I can rest in over exaggerations as long as I can count on them.
The airplane seemed to hover over the dividing line of my present state; the Jefferson of my past and the Hood of my future. Here in this strange altitude, breathing the recycled air, it seemed all that separated me from everything—my life, the altitude, the atmosphere; the entire world—was a 2-inch piece of plexi-glass. I was disengaged from the present life, and I watched it with empty eyes, a patchwork of daily events and meandering hours. I was a hummingbird from far away, floating fast against the perils of stillness, wings beating against the inevitable loneliness of change and transition.
The sun was passed from one end of the horizon to the other, a tennis ball served low and slow over the net, love all. At twilight, I was on the ground, but only as a physical presence, a shell engaged in the stuff of life; living, breathing, eating, sleeping. But my mind was in the sky, in the single star lodged in the blue-green oblivion. The trees had long since become silhouettes, forging their identity into the flatness of a single picture plane. That lone star with its lone star state of mind stood fast in the ever-changing moment. The sky was too light for stars, too dark for the sun. The colors, instead, were unreal: figments of the transient state of light and dark meeting, shaking hands, and handing over the keys of day to the night.
And so I floated in my ephemeral world, a world of “afters” and “befores:” A world where time is measured in terms of its passing from a previous event or its preceding a new event. Time, then, is also an illusion. It is able to be inflated or dissolved depending upon the distance between two points; time flies, but also drags. To a hummingbird, the only thing that matters are beats per minute, flapping wings against stagnancy. To that tiny star, time is signified by color—shallow green, sprawling blue.
So I tumble from horizon to twilight, hell-bent toward nightfall where at least there are seven hours of certainty.
Advice. It doesn’t help, anyway. A knowing smile, exhaling rapidly, smug air escaping.
“Welcome to the real world.” How is that helpful, I ask.
“It isn’t.” Then what does it mean?
So in the deepest urban canyons, I toss an inquiry toward the sky where lights flash and planes pass, and a vague echo filters back down.
“You just never know. You never, never know.”
I’m watching an ice cube melt at 30,000 ft. My flight departed at 4:33pm, the beverage cart rolled around at 5:00pm, and sometime between 5:01 and 5:15pm, an ice cube fell to the ground and began to melt.
It is now 5:26pm and a small pool of de-ice has formed under the cube. Given that our plane is flying at a slight angle—I’d say maybe 15-or-so degrees—the puddle should soon drift southbound down the aisle, toward the lavatories. And here I am presently, watching it. The de-icefication of an ice cube.
The puddle has drifted some 4 inches from its source. It’s 5:31pm. The water is tracing its path along mottled navy carpeting on a day-glo green strip that marks the edge of the asile. 8 inches. The puddle is streaming rapidly now, its shadowed contour moving at a rate of a few centimeters per 30 seconds. One foot.
I’ve lost track of the wayward water as it is now matte against the shadows. So I fix my attention to the ice cube once again.
It has the shape of those vexing cubes whose origin mystifies me; round, with a hole in the middle. A hole in the middle! What is the hole’s purpose? How is such a cube frozen? Does the cube tray have the same shape as a bunt cake pan or a jello mold? And furthermore, wouldn’t it be more space and cost effective to eliminate the superfluous hole altogether? It seems that having such a hole would expediate the melting process, thus cutting into the time which a drink is kept cold. This seems to be highly ineffective.
I find myself harboring bad feelings and ill will toward ice-cube tray manufacturers. (I must begetting worked up; my handwriting is getting sloppier by the second).
It’s 5:44pm. The ice cube is now half its normal size. At this rate, it will be completely de-iced by approximately 6:10pm. By 6:30pm, I predict that it will have evaporated completely, and will merely be a figment of memory.
Now here’s a thought: I wonder if I am the only one who will remember this ice cube when it is gone. I’m certainly the only one documenting its existence. Do you suppose it’s possible that I am the only one who has regarded this ice cube at all in its short existence? And if I hadn’t taken notice of it, do you suppose anyone would have?
I could be writing about the sunset; thin orange, green and blue ribbons pulled taut across a wrapping paper sky—but that doesn’t hold my attention (nor my affections) nearly as much as my dear ice cube (who, at 5:50pm is now three-quarters de-iced).
Suppose this is the only ice cube to ever fall in that exact place and melt ever again; then I am witnessing something truly great, as opposed to the sun setting, which happens every night and is regarded by nearly every one.
But no: by chance an ice cube was knocked from the beverage cart and landed on the floor between 5:01 and 5:15pm, where the de-icefication process began, and was noticed by me—by chance!
What could be said about the short life of an ice-cube? I’d venture to say it matters not at all to anyone else but me. But it matters very much to me.
Perhaps its existence was mediocre—after all, it has that ineffective hole in the middle of it. And it surely was wasted in the orthodox sense—after all, its purpose was to go into a beverage and prolong the chilling process. But it landed on the floor. Quite by chance. And here it will sit until it finally evaporates. A grim, overlooked, mediocre existence.
Except…I noticed it. I documented its life and chronicled its demise (which, by the way, at 6:01pm is nearly complete—right on schedule). I made it matter. I observed the way the light reflected its contours. I watched the runoff trace its path down the aisle. I gave it significance simply by regarding its existence. And that, my friends, matters.
It matters a great deal.
6:15pm: The death of an ice cube at 30,000 feet.