Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Breaking Routine

After the gym, I usually go to the grocery store, then I go home, shower and cook, etc.  You know this already.  Last night, though, when I finished at the gym, there was still a haunting light left in the wintry sky.  I wanted to be in that for awhile.  And so it was decided.  I would put on my sweater and drive to the store where the fabric was on sale in a strip mall on a busy highway way out on the poorer side of town where the upscale businesses give way to tattoo parlors and loan shops and bargain mattress stores and small used car lots and even a titty bar.  The fabric shop sits on the borderland between the two.  I drove through a development I rarely see, a Disney/Stepford Wives sort of mixed usage place that goes on and on and on with manicured lawns and shrubbed buildings and restaurants on the lake.  The sky was big and far away and the light made everything strange and new.  And then suddenly, just like that (a snap of the fingers), the roadside lost its manicure, the houses their classic colors, and a neighborhood of bunny hutch houses with low rooflines and carports and sandspur yards littered with faded children's toys and tires and old cars took its place.  I had gone a wrong way, in part, had taken a turn that led me away from the fabric store instead of toward it.  The roads in Pleasantville were confusing, all looking the same, laid out in curved grids without signs so that it is possible to drive in circles, all roads leading back to what they call "The Centre." 

I was recalling a conversation I had earlier in the day at the factory.  One of my pals was telling me that he had stayed up and watched about three hours of the t.v. show "Cops" on the weekend.  Were you drinking, I asked him?  Of course, he said.  How else do you watch three hours of something like that?  He told me about one episode where the policeman pulled a fellow over for some driving offense.  Maybe his tag had expired.  I don't remember.  But he had a concealed pistol in the car.  He told the cop about it.  Why do you have that, asked the cop, and the fellow said it was for his personal protection.   The police officer said that it was fine, that he was allowed to have a concealed weapon as long as he had a permit.  The thing was, said the cop, he didn't see how he could have a concealed weapons permit since he had a felony conviction.  Well, you got me there, said the convicted felon, but man, I mean. . . who isn't a convicted felon?  My buddy laughed at this punch line.  But I know what the fellow with the pistol meant.  I was driving through a neighborhood where everyone went to jail sometime for something.  I grew up in a place like this, a place where the offices of government are nothing more than unknown, unnamable abstractions, where the law is just something against you.  When you are there, right there in the guts of it, you realize how impossible it is to ever govern anyone, how irrational legislation about how people must behave can be.  Here there are cultural codes and ways of being that have nothing to do with how you might think life should be lived.  There was not a house here without illegal weapons, few without illegal drugs, many with luxury items bought from a very questionable source. 

Out on the highway, the big lights were lighting up against the brilliant sky.  Traffic was spare.  People were home from work now.  It was a Monday night.  No one was shopping.  I pulled into the big, empty parking lot at the far end of the large, linear shopping plaza with its high end box stores selling electronics and athletic equipment and linens and kitchenware, all with recognizable names that I cannot remember.  I stepped out of the car and looked west across the nothingness into a very distant horizon unobstructed by buildings or trees, simply empty space full of blues and pinks and purples, the faint wisps of skinny flamingo colored clouds incredibly far away making me hollow and sad somehow--perhaps not sad exactly but lonely, but that isn't quite it, either.  It was more the knowledge of being alone and realizing right then why we do the things we do, why we have patterns and routines, why we repeat them over and over again until we no longer need to think or be surprised or feel.  Outside of that there was only this strange smallness you know cannot counter that other, that infinite, beautiful thing that is without thought or feeling or caring. 

I stood there for a while thinking how long this was taking me.  I would go inside and buy the cloth and then would be surprised at how much it cost even on sale, and I would wonder if I would ever use it enough to make the purchase worthwhile, and then outside, back in the car, night having fallen so that there was no sky and no horizon, only the lights of businesses and the headlights of cars, I would regret it all and wish I was already home, showered and cooking as always, feeding the cat and getting ready to settle in for the night.

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