Did you know it's possible to go where cellphones don't work?
While that sounds like nirvana to those of us who still tote collections of paper with tiny, meaningful symbols engraved throughout, leading to fanciful hallucinations, it's kind of a pain to those who've also lazily succumbed to GPS navigation, and forgotten that an obscured moon is not a tool.
Being so far out in West Yahoo, Deep State Alabama you're navigating by the twinkling light of meth labs and studying the way neon bounces off distant clouds -- truck stop? one-room bar? uncertain death trap? -- you try and recall long-ago Scout training. Which side of the tree does the moss grow on? And why would that matter on an evening so bleak and damp even varmint eyes look dimmed, shuttered? In moist mid-state mid-monsoon Alabama, moss seeps all 'round. And on top. And bottom. Roofs and chimneys. Cars. Slow-moving people. Select cats.
Time past midnight: The fog of winding, dipping and diving state highways dripping like Dali's nightsweats. Those three miles to the next turn last indicated before the GPS faded from you like the half-painted road stripe your thankfully new tires caressed on that one turn past, they seem to cost hours. You've slowed to 25, bending toward the defrosting/fogging windshield as if those extra inches and your pop-eyed grimace uplit in the dashboard glow would frighten away the leaping deer who you just know are out there in the ditches smoking, chatting and playing cards, waiting tensely for the one who killed their brothers -- I swear, it was that white Honda, Fenry, and it was long, long ago -- to cross their crossings.
This would be a fine time to stop and read, if anything were visible. Maybe wait for the sunrise, assuming it will, says He Who Must Read, the curse put upon me by ancestors who evolved to states of too-easily-bored as some kind of helpfully adaptive quality. An ex used to accompany me to the gym, and she mostly got something out of it, but creepers urged her away. Even when I was standing right there with her: the normal leers. Remembering that, I've developed a habit not only not to gawk, but to actively avoid giving any woman -- just as sweaty and uncomfortable and trying-to-get-through-this as any of us -- even the appearance of a too-long look. Books help: The interval between sets times out at half a page, or four paragraphs, or whatever -- unless plowing through "Infinite Jest," in which case the best bet is pick up another creature -- and thus I stay focused either on the words a few feet in front of me, then on the bar or handles, or some distant spot across the way, a purple and black exposed ceiling, or a mirror that's just far enough out of my near-sightedness to shimmer in abstract, a living watercolor. I'm so good at this I've missed folks standing right in front of me, speaking at me: A friend stopping by to say hello. Someone asking if the adjacent bench is free. It's like swimming up through grasping weeds, rising back to consciousness.
If someone outside that gym recognizes me, they say variations on this theme: You're the one who reads. Surely not the only one? But I look around -- breaking, momentarily, the don't-gawk stance -- and sure enough, everyone else is all about phones and chatter. Pocket computers and social media, in theory, distance us from The Real Life, though ironically we're using those to try and connect, to someone. You want distance? Become that haunted One Who Must Read: book covers become shields of diffidence.
This comes to mind in the dark, wet night, because the only distraction or accompaniment possible, while driving, floats from the speakers, where I listen mostly to lyrical musicians who probably read, themselves. Getting around, however slowly, is at the least a fine time to hear new music, like St. Vincent's "Masseduction," whose pun you'll have to get from viewing the cover, or Jason Isbell's latest, "Nashville Sound." It's possible to feel lonely in a crowd, of course, but so much simpler wrapped against shivering night, listening as the always-cheery Alabamian notes that, even though he's found everlasting love in wife Amanda Shires, who also sings and plays on that disc, that's an oxymoron, because maybe they'll get 40 years together, but one day, one of them will die and leave the other alone:
"If we were vampires and death was a joke/We'd go out on the sidewalk and smoke./Laugh at all the lovers and their plans/I wouldn't feel the need to hold your hand./Maybe time running out is a gift./I'll work hard 'til the end of my shift/And give you every second I can find/And hope it isn't me who's left behind."
It's beautiful because it's tragic because it's true, and that can read backwards as well: Nothing can last. But fragility creates urgency. Urgency leads to action; action becomes a life.
The 1931 movie based on Mary Shelley's monster of cobbled-together bits and pieces needed its sequel, to follow the action of her book: Even though it's alive, or perhaps because of it, the creature cannot be alone forever. “People are rendered ferocious by misery,” she wrote.
To a post I shared about Fred -- call him Mister -- Rogers soon to be gracing a postage stamp, a friend jokingly replied, "Wait, what's a postage stamp?" Because people don't write, you see. They don't put words on pages, and they don't make human connection the way Fred did: “Love isn’t a perfect state of caring,” he wrote in “The World According to Mister Rogers.” “It’s an active noun like ‘struggle.’ To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now."
People who love like Fred always love, and love you just as you are: Lost, in the dark, directionless. Remembering the way back.
Reach Tusk Editor Mark Hughes Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0201.