Monday, July 12, 2004

countdown

A day off on a freeway-and-franchise hub on the outskirts of Irving, Texas (or maybe it's the centre of Irving - who can tell?) can kill you with loneliness. This is the major occupational risk of my job: paralyzing weathers of psychic dislocation, pure bands of anxiety and boredom. In some situations the presence of a Denny's and a 24 hour Walmart Supercenter provides a bizarre comfort, a promise that, even under the most volatile and stressful conditions, I can still leave my hotel room and wander the clean well-lit aisles, looking at sporting goods, stationery, lawn furniture and oversized mens' shirts. A Grand Slam breakfast or a Moons Over My Hammy ends up as an anchor of sorts. I feel as if I could be anywhere. Why not in the south end of Regina? After a wander through Walmart I can walk over to the Chapters and buy that biography of Philip K. Dick I've been wanting. But, as in the uncanny opening passage of a cascading nightmare, the Chapters is a Barnes & Noble, the surrounding conversations are in Spanish, and outside runs a frantic route 183, pouring vehicle after vehicle into Dallas.*

It's not nearly so bad now as it used to be, when I would hide from the cameraman before the start of each day and let anxiety shoot through me like cramps. Now I mostly miss home and The Lotus. Every evening we talk on the phone and ritually mark the days until I return. That's how I deal with trips now. Seventeen days until I see her again; sixteen; fifteen. Today marks nine, which I can deal with. Two days after I return marks my 33rd birthday, which must have some significance somewhere in the world. Besides the Jesus thing, I mean.

The worst effects of being on the road don't show up and say hello until I get back home. Then the real dislocation sets in: nightmares of endless lost travel, driving down freeways that take me farther and farther away from my destination. Missing luggage, missed appointments, showing up without my cameraman. For a week I wake up not knowing where I am. When I came back from Australia The Lotus had cut her hair from a bob to a pixie cut, and sometime during the night I half-awoke to see her unrecognizable silhouette leaning over me. I shouted, thrashed around, tried to get out from under my blankets, settling instead for uncontrollable shaking when I realized who she was. It reminded me of stories of Vietnam veterans assaulting their wives in their sleep, although in this case it would be more like a Vietnam veteran running in terror from his wife and ending up at the nearest 7-Eleven in his underwear.

This is not to say that compensations do not exist. In some ways I have found that there is no other job for me, that the movement and the constant intersection into strangers' lives is so suited to my personality that I cannot conceive of what I would have done with my life if this job hadn't come along. Nor could I have taken this job without having The Lotus to come home to, because without her I would have no home. What I will do in the future, when I have finally had enough of this kind of life, I have no idea.

*In the Silver Jews' song "Dallas" (not the theme to the TV show) the chorus runs "How'd you turn a billion steers/ Into buildings made of mirrors?" When we wove our way in around multiple freeways and finally ended up driving down Commerce Street I couldn't believe how cleanly and accurately David Berman had conjured up the city in those lines. It's all tall buildings made of glass, some plainly rectangular, others twisted improbably. The streets are bright and wide and empty. Heat bounces up from the asphalt and seals all the people inside.

3 comments:

palinode said...

I agree with you.

luvabeans said...

next time you come to chicago, on business or not, i'm cooking you dinner. i can't have you eating such positively obscene-sounding meals as "moons over my hammy."

palinode said...

Yessss. I will have beans.