Yesterday I drove to Boston for an interview on WBUR and a reading at Brookline Booksmith. I do not as a rule mind these excursions; in some regards, I daresay I enjoy them, though there is always a certain amount of anxiety involved. For instance: I own exactly two sets of attire that might (might, I say!) be deemed appropriate for public appearances beyond the boundaries of my rusticated existence, and there is the lurking complication of getting from the bedroom, down the stairs, across the kitchen, over the porch, and into the car without malodorous or gelatinous (or worse yet, both) substances adhering to me. I’d give the boys a goodbye hug, but they are wearing the same outfits they wore the day before, and the day before that, and the… eh, you get the point. Truth is, even the car isn’t a safe haven, what with the sundry effects of the boys’ hunting and trapping exploits and the greasy layer of mudshitsnowmelt pooled atop the floor mats.
And then Boston, and 45 minutes of driving in confounding circles until finally I call my publicist (who lives and is based there) to talk me onto Commonwealth Ave. And then I go to park, only to remember that the door locks in our car do not. Lock, that is. Well, actually, they lock, it’s just the unlocking process that has become, shall we say, tenuous. So I can’t lock the car for fear I won’t be able to unlock it (and how convoluted a situation is that?), which only makes me more anxious until I suddenly realize (wave of sweet relief washing over me) it needn’t, since what on heaven’s earth could any nefarious Bostonian desire to liberate from our Subaru? A muskrat trap? A homemade axe sheath with the inconsistent stitching of my younger son’s hand? A dog-eared copy of the Vermont Atlas and Gazetteer? Ah, I know: The Complete Classic Rock Collection on CD, volume 5, which includes such gems as Foreigner’s Urgent and No More Mister Nice Guy by Alice Cooper his ownbadself. Hell, they can have it. (Though not volume 6, no way. Why? Because that one contains Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear the Reaper, that’s why) I am suddenly grateful to realize how little of what we own has value to anyone but us and I know there is an important lesson in that realization. Perhaps for another day.
In my mind’s eye, however bleary and half-lidded it might be, I like to see myself as one of those people who embodies the particular type of resourcefulness that allows him (me) to thrive in any environment. You know one of those people, right? Always cool and collected, always comfortable in their own skin, always sure of their place in this great and beautiful mess of a world. Not quite cocksure but close enough to it. Yeah, that’s how I like to think of myself. That’s the guy I want to be.
Of course, the reality is somewhat different, and the city always crumbles my façade, generally in as much time as it takes for me to become well and truly lost, turning down one-way streets in the two-way direction, shutting off the radio as if the absence of its chatter will somehow imbue me with directional super powers. I suppose that’s why I sometimes resort to haughtily poking fun at urbanity – it’s really just a reflection of my own insecurity, of the way all that concrete and steel and motion and noise and commotion exposes me as the rube I am. Not cool. Not collected. Not comfortable in my own skin. And sure and shootin’ not cocksure. Just a bewildered rural fool backing up traffic on Beacon Street, lost among the masses.
Yet there is something strangely beautiful in the chaos of the city. I see the bike commuters bundled against the cold, making their way through traffic as if impervious to its perils. It blows my mind, the speed and fearlessness of these cyclists. The fluidity. I am jealous. I want to grab a bike and do something improbable, like ride across the city in the middle of a November night, thumping my bared chest with a clenched fist and screaming into the frozen air. Alas, that would likely be the last anyone would ever hear from me.
And I see the noodle shops and the people on the trains and on the sidewalks and how in their own, quiet, unassuming way, everyone makes room for everyone else. You don’t need to do that where I come from, you know – there’s space for everyone to do their thing and no one has to make room because there’s all the friggin’ room in the world – and it occurs to me that it’s a skill worth having. Not merely making room, but navigating the chaos of humankind, pedaling with all your might to shoot the slim gaps between the hard edges of the things we’ve created.