Life during wartime

“So this is it, then? Just a series of poorly designed parking lots, one after the other. That’s what it looks like. Out one, and into the next. Is that it? You come out to your car, you pull into the little aisle there, drive down the haphazardly parked row of automobiles—your Camrys, your Elantras—and you, what, you turn the corner and pull into the street? Nope. No sir. You end up in some sort of dead-end, isn’t that it? You end up going the wrong way down the next aisle—you’ve got your Civics, of course, your prim A6s—and you’ve got to back up. Reverse. Put it in reverse and find another aisle. Right? The one with the arrow pointing the right way? Watch out, though! Watch out, sonny! Some jerk from the mall is gonna pull right out in front of you, clip your bumper and speed off. You guessed it. He’ll speed off the wrong way. Arrow’s pointing the other way. He just speeds off! Clipped your bumper. Dented it, probably. He probably shredded the goddamned thing right off! Speeds down the lane, speeds the wrong way. Doing a hundred. You? You’re still driving, coasting, as you try to find the right turn, the right mental process to get out of this place. You gotta get home! Soup’s in the crockpot, sure, but you gotta get home and tend to things! Walk the dog. He’s waiting! Oh, he’d love to see you, wag his tail, but there you are, fiddling with the ineptitude of a parking lot blueprint drafted by some nefarious monster. Some form of evil. What, the city planners allowed this? They did this to you! They cooked your goose, and now you’ve got to find a way out of here. Try the next row. Nope! Some old lady appears, like magic, like a Copperfield apparition, and she’s screaming at you! You’ve nearly killed her! Back up now. She’s waving the cane. The cane! Back up and try to find another—nope. Nope. Guess again. You’re back where you began! Where you pulled your car out in the first place! Is this parking lot a circle? Some sort of deep layer of hell, right? A looping nightmare. Where’s Virgil? Can somebody call Virgil up? You try again. You’re nearly there! You can see the street. All aisles are now funneling automobiles brilliantly into the street—your Grand Cherokees, your RAV4s—the whole apparatus is working like a clock! You’re free! Just find the right aisle, turn the corner, yep, wave to the kindly security guard, and you’re free! Wrong! Guess again, pal. Go ahead and guess again. You’re now behind the mall. The other side. The other side completely. You’re by the Macy’s, for heaven’s sake. The Macy’s. Kid, you were almost there! What happened? You were on your way! Looking like some stud behind the wheel, flying like a goddamned Air Force fighter pilot back to the street. Back to life! To the great nexus of past and future, the entire scope of your life flashing by in one middling and beautiful moment. A cosmic truth unadorned by perception and angle. The unbound wonder of life! You were there! Boom. Back to reality, sonny. Back at it. You’re in the wrong aisle! ‘This is the loading dock! Sir, you’ve got to move!’ Some chap with a hat is yelling at you—always with a hat—and so you’ve got to back up yet again. Back up and turn this ship around. There—next aisle over, looks like that one’s working. Cars slipping into traffic, out of this parking lot and back into the city. Bright lights! Sure, you’ve got some red lights out there, you’ve got your yellows, but goddamn, kid, how the green lights seem to just explode with color! Photosynthesis. You know what photosynthesis is? Turning light into energy. Energy into energy. An ongoing vegetal spasm. Sounds terrific, right? Warm and life-affirming. Imagine the whole of the plant kingdom opening, unencumbering its ethnobotanical secrets for only you—but if you could just get out of this goddamned parking lot! Now, focus. Turn right. Ease into the turn there, buddy. Nice and easy. Turn right. Right again. Now left. Just coast—watch out for the guy on the bike! Always a guy on a bike. Turn left. Stop sign. Another stop sign. Another stop sign. Turn left. There it is: Just get one lane over, turn right, thrust into it now, and you’re home free. Into the street we go, sonny! What a ride! What an absolute trip! You did it! You won! They’ll hoist you aloft, they’ll write newspaper articles about you! Your grandchildren’s grandchildren, they’ll hear stories about you. They’ll be cooking wild boar over the fire, shackled in chains and trading stories about the guy who did it. What a guy! The moon, choked faintly in nuclear winter, wheezing; a strange, green, bedraggled orb in the sky. Ah, the moon. You remember what it looked like, right? But wait! Wait just a minute! This isn’t it. This isn’t the street at all. You’re in another goddamned parking lot! And—you won’t believe this one, sonny—you’re going the wrong way again! You’re in the wrong aisle entirely!”

I’m having a great time reading Philip Roth these past few weeks. Why did I wait so long? 30 years old. American Pastoral. I’m nearly done with The Human Stain. Some of these passages: I can’t imagine a darker fiction, a more grueling interpersonal reality. But it’s spot-on. The man speaks the truth.

It’s vivid as hell.

Of course, I’m sitting here in Cleveland and I can’t help but feel his stylistic drift bleed into my own writing.

This thing? Occurred to me during the lunch hour. Rockside Road. As it was hitting the page, I thought it was hilarious. Still do. What does it mean? What does anything mean?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s