I put off laying down until I thought I would sleep like the dead. Thoughts of the day still swirled mercilessly in my head. Because of a promise, I took melatonin. Sleep grabbed me and pulled me under. And at 11:11, it spit me back out, leaving me awake and wondering what had prompted my brain to so completely jostle me out of my reverie.
This time I did as I had promised myself I would. I got up, dressed lightly, and left my phone, wallet, and usual artifacts of life on the stool I use as a table. There are times when walking without distraction can be one’s only peace.
I went outside into the night.
And walked, directionlessly.
Mile after mile, both time and distance unmeasured.
Despite finding the heat of the night and the sights and sounds invigorating, I realized I had to go back. Because I didn’t have my phone, I couldn’t Uber. I made it back to my apartment with time to spare.
But I used the calculus of those who often don’t sleep well to determine that I’d be better off to take a shower and go to work early. I did smile toweling off, seeing all the wonder and color of my new shower curtain.
Now, I’m trying to convince myself that I didn’t dream that long walk. The long muscles of my legs are whispering to me otherwise, though.
Returning, and looking at my phone, I laughed. My thoughtful cousin had sent me a link to read the next time I found myself gripped by sleeplessness. Ha!
I’m frowning at my sleeplessness.
And smiling at all those miles of asphalt and concrete.
A long day lies ahead of me, and a longer night lies behind.
I am here, enough, and waiting for next the next surprise. It’s Wednesday for us all, and yet I feel like I got an extra day between today and yesterday.
My new polychromatic shower curtain is here. It’s part of what has made this old apartment lack a bit of accustomed craziness. It’s a large, high-resolution mix of words, symbolism, and ideas. I can’t take a picture of the whole curtain as it hangs, given the reduction of my bathroom, so I’ve included a draft image.
A few of my favorite “Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows” words adorn it: zenosyne, oleka, onism, and sonder. IF you’re not familiar with this, visit it on the internet and YT channel. I envy everyone who visits with fresh eyes.
There are two phoenixes on this shower curtain, and for a good reason. One is depicted as a live phoenix. The other is in transition next to an “X” in fiery metamorphosis, taking seven flying birds with it.
Along the top, there is an “X,” alongside Earth hanging on a bow, adjacent to an incomplete infinity symbol and the words “thank you.” It’s a reminder that time is short and that I have a world of choices if I dare and have a grateful heart. I’ve learned that if I can breathe through the flareups of doubt with hope in my head, things will probably work out well. And if they don’t, I still have only two choices: move or don’t.
There are also a couple of dozen other symbols and imagery, many of them hidden from casual viewing. Some of them are deliberately misleading, but all of them are added with hope and delight. None are metaphors for ill will or negativity. .
Minutes before, I endured a needlessly hateful experience at the retail level. I’d done my diligence and arrived with everything from the company itself to keep the process simple and without hitches. I should’ve known that would have disturbed the gods of Inner Peace & Tranquility. In response to being treated terribly, I gave my creative side permission to unleash a little hell on them. It was gloriously fun. I’ll write about it some other time. I admit that while I engaged in frivolous tomfoolery to repay their savagery, I was disappointed a bit at humanity in general, as if the rest of us were responsible for whatever that behavior was.
Proposed rule: “The greater your belief that you have dotted every ‘i’ and covered every base, the greater the likelihood that hell will rain down upon your head no matter what. And triply so if retail is involved or the word ‘service’ is literally in the job title of the person causing you grief.” I know the spirit of this is already contained in several Murphy’s Law. Nonetheless…
I ate lunch somewhere other than Mr. Taco Loco. (I wanted a lot of pico de gallo.) When asked for my order, I said, “Anything on special. Even cow hooves.” (Because I had no plans to eat it, anyway.) Two women were already seated closely nearby, to my right. Though I wasn’t eavesdropping, I could hear every word they said.
Something about the way they talked hinted at things that weren’t being said. I can’t put my finger on it – nor does it matter. I felt my mood flip to being grateful and for those in my life who could see past my stupidity and issues. It was Divine.
I told the waitress to bring me their check and asked her to say nothing to the two women. I spoke in Spanish, of course. The two women had carefully avoided speaking too loudly when they saw my little mountain of pico de gallo. I don’t know what they made of me. I ate quickly, too.
I paid for all three meals, tip included, and walked back to their table, placing one of my infamous index cards at the end of their table. “I included tip, too,” I said. I pirouetted quickly and marched quickly away from there before a torrent of thank-yous could envelop me. Near the front door sat a table full of construction workers. They looked up at me as I marched. The women behind me were excitedly commenting. I’m assuming the difference in pitch and enthusiasm, combined with me blazing across the floor after a dramatic pirouette confused the construction workers. I half-expected one of them to jump and prevent me from exiting. I laughed loudly and unexpectedly as I walked outside.
Behind me, as I left, I knew I’d surprised a couple of strangers. And that they had something to think about. All of us were a little more buoyant.
No matter who you are, take a moment and think about that sudden overwhelming flip of emotion I experienced at lunch, the one preceded by needless hatefulness and followed by sublime happiness. I hope you’re lucky enough to have people in your life for whom you can do the same.
Today, I climbed a tree and sat in it, probably higher than I should have. While I was there, I attached a surprise to one of the branches. Below, people ambled by, unaware that a middle-aged man observed them from above, half-laughing at the absurdity of it. Since losing weight, I’ve climbed several trees. When I climbed down, I wrote a message on a pink index card and propped it against a brick sign. A man walked over, curious. “That’s nice,” he said, as he read the card. In a lemon moment of overconfidence, I hugged him, and he laughed. I briefly told him that I put such cards all over. I also pointed a few feet away, to a rock that had a previous day’s message written on it. He laughed again. “Interesting. I never thought of that.” As he waved and walked away, I said, “You won’t be billed for the hug.”
PS Yesterday, I took a pristine new piece of thick chalk and wandered around, writing messages on the pavement. Some were cryptic, some were specific. A pair of women noted that I was writing. I watched them walk in an arc to read my musings. For my last one, I wrote, “Who is the guy in the green jacket following you?” I walked quickly away and turned once I was out of their line of sight. As they reached the last chalk message, they both immediately turned to scan the path behind them. No green jacket-clad man in sight, of course. And then they laughed. I wonder what they made of it.
Because it was chilly and the sky was overcast, the atmosphere didn’t feel like May at all. It was glorious. My walk to get there was indeed long, but my feet floated on the grass and pavement as I made my way across town. As I walked, I witnessed several hundred drivers nervously hit their brakes as the increased holiday traffic police presence caught their attention. I passed a massive grove of honeysuckle, whose scent was unique and vibrant; the odd observation is that the same patch also contained more trash than any other single stretch I passed today. I noted that Magnolia Gardens is now Natural State Rock & Republic, a haven for cyclists. (Their website is top-notch, by the way.) The grounds at Magnolia are still beautiful, just like a few of my memories made there. A woman stood on her long, covered porch. As I passed, she offered me a cup of coffee. “Next time,” I told her, and she nodded. I found a picture of a young woman stuck in the criss-cross pattern of a chainlink fence – and couldn’t stop myself from conjecturing what led someone to place it there. (I’ve done the same thing countless times in my life.) I left the picture artfully placed there, hopefully for the next passerby to ponder. I wrote several index cards of messages myself, using a pack of multicolor ones I had forgotten that I had. Some of these I placed on fences, while others I left in cracks on the sidewalk, across tables in open spaces, and a couple in the branches of trees. Some were humorous, some serious. All of them contained hints of me.
On a last-minute whim, I decided to skip a usual walk and instead take a longer one to one of the main cemeteries in Springdale. I visited a couple of graves, including my cousin Jimmy’s. I spent a few moments spouting off one-liners to roast his absence. It’s not something that many people would understand if they overhead me doing so. Jimmy, though? He would howl with appreciation. I imagined his Mom, my Aunt Ardith, rolling her eyes and muttering, “Oh brother!” as I did so. Jimmy’s grave is the closest to the meandering creek on that end, and because of the recent rains, the stream echoed and combined with the birds squawking and announcing their presence.
As I walked along one of the main horizontal streets in the cemetery, I passed a group of men. They were smoking pot and drinking from tallboy cans. I could see them circumspectly look up at me. I’d already decided that my presence might make them nervous. So, I nodded and told them in Spanish to carry on and that no one would disrespect their moment at whomever’s grave they stood. They all nodded, and I left them in peace.
It’s a moment Jimmy would have appreciated. No matter how his life ended up, he was a devout admirer of marijuana when he was younger. For anyone who would mind me saying so, Jimmy wouldn’t. Now that eight years have elapsed since his death, I am sure that all truths, both small and large, bear him no harm. Whether he lies in eternal silence or walks in his idea of heaven, I know that he’d laugh and say, “F’em.”
I left the cemetery, trying to decide whether I should walk further. I walked quite a way in the opposite direction before opting to walk back to downtown. Emma was closed off, and people were setting up tables and chairs along the main street. Vendors were scattered along the same path, extending up to Shiloh Square and Turnbow Park.
I ate at Mr. Taco Loco (because life is too damn short to miss a chance to do so). I spent a few minutes waiting for my food and inadvertently listening to several tables full of people gossipping and saying things louder than they probably intended to. Though I had headphones on, I wasn’t listening to music, though they probably assumed I was tuned out to them. In honor of this, I’d like to give a shout-out to Nathan, who is never returning to the job he hates and is using the excuse of the holiday to miss all next week: his employer thinks he had a death in the family. Rock on, Nathan.
To my surprise, I convinced myself to forego an Uber back to my house. I’m glad I did, although my legs are complaining a bit already about my choice. I tried to focus on walking to the next traffic light and no further. Usually, as I make these small commitments, the walk doesn’t seem as daunting. I feel like there’s a metaphor or analogy for life in this somewhere.
By the time I made it back several hours later, the sun was out, and making my choice of wearing a light jacket a regret. I still carried the shadows from along the creek in my head, though. No one can see them, nor the smell of dozens of honeysuckle plants in my nose. I’m not sure why I know I’ll remember this walk for years to come. In part, it will be the length, yes. The other facet is that each of us is a work in progress, often unaware that we’ve shifted in ways both insignificant and transformational.
I didn’t want to be awkward about it, but I needed the Lemon Moment in my head to become a reality.
As I wandered the aisles of Hobby Lobby, a dad with his daughter of about eight years of age wandered around near me. The girl asked a lot of questions. Her dad answered each of them attentively. Several times, she said, “Ooh, Mom would love this!” The dad then commented on the price and calculated how much of a predetermined amount might be left for the girl to spend as she pleased. It seemed evident to me that it was a ritual they often practiced.
Everything about the way they talked and interacted told me that they loved each other. The girl smiled often, and the dad wasn’t distracted by his schedule, phone, or other people.
On a whim, I took out my stack of index cards and wrote, “You don’t have to say anything. Take this $20 and surprise your daughter with something whimsical. And pay it forward? – X” On the next aisle, the dad and daughter meandered up the aisle toward me. I sat the index card on the shelf with the $20 bill. As the dad approached, I pointed at the index card. He reached to pick it up, reading it. His eyes jumped up to mine as I pulled my mask down and smiled. “Y’all are great together!” The dad said nothing as I walked away, though he smiled.
Whatever he might have thought, my Lemon Moment became a reality.
I wish I had a thousand dollars to reward them. I know they’d appreciate it and undoubtedly use some or all of it to surprise Mom, wherever she was. Somehow, I knew that they shared a lot of moments together.