“You afraid to touch it?” said a guy leaning up against a Ford Mustang.
I said yeah, and looked around my car for something to probe the mouse with. Something like a straw or pen, maybe even an old bank envelope. The poor thing was frozen solid on the windshield. Who knows how many blocks it had sustained that grip, withstanding the force of the air streaming across the windshield of my old Subaru.
The guy moved closer. He had a black sweatshirt that said “Redneck Army.” He was gap-toothed and lean.
“I work over at the Sewer District. I touch shit all day!”
The man clenched his index, thumb, and middle finger like a pair of chopsticks and pinched the soft underbelly of the mouse. It ran off towards the windshield wipers. The man laughed, saying something about the mouse living in the body of the engine.
After it was safely in the grass I thanked the guy, like he’d done some service, some dirty job for me, and then felt bad about it. Like I couldn’t have dealt with a fucking mouse? I thought about my increasing sensitivity as I sanitized my hands with a jelly-like paste.
I buzzed by his Ford Mustang, making sure to turn down the electro house beat I had pumping prior to the whole mouse thing – opting for something a bit more wholesome. Something with guitar. Something with a little soul and grit.
I’ve had three recent encounters with trains.
The first was in the Mojave Desert. Blinding heat, socially very-distant. We spotted it from afar, way up ahead and miles away. In the expanse of the desert, we watched the train grow closer and larger as we, driving, continued along the open road. This went on for miles until unbelievably, our paths met at the same point. We rolled to a stop just as the rail crossings lowered. The train blasted in front of us.
Train two was south of Shasta, by the campground, next to the river. It appeared in the early evening, and with horns blaring it rolled to a stop. We stood at its side, hopped up on some rungs, and marveled at the feat of construction. We were drinking wine.
The third was near the Oregon–California border, along highway 97. Driving parallel alongside a moving train is trippy. I tried to keep my eyes on the road but the train demanded my attention. My perception of speed blurred.
Trains. Sheer masses of iron and steel. The freight containers green, orange, brown, all of them rusted. Each one the same, each one different. One after the next, seemingly endless. What was behind those doors? Where were they headed?
Under the strange cloud of quarantine, these days pass by like train cars – each one the same, each one different. Our only choice is to keep moving in the same direction.
The beautiful new album from Mtbrd plays like a train. Smooth beats move one after another, without any notice one track has passed to the next. Seamless. Start at the beginning and in the blink of an eye you’re on track 10. Each one the same, each one different.
The canyon didn’t look too far off so we thought why the hell not and headed in the direction of the vein that ran through Moab. As we hiked the landscape changed. Unsurprisingly the canyon turned out to be a lot further than it looked. We dipped lower and lower – like water running downhill – and suddenly found ourselves perched at the edge of a steep drop-off.
We shuffled close. An electrical current ran up my leg. The sun went behind a cloud. Suddenly it was cold. Everything around us was dusty and brown.
Staring at all of that sameness reminded me of a sensation I used to experience as a kid when I shut my eyes to go to sleep at night. I called it, “seeing far.”
I would stare at the back’s of my eyes – my mind cruising through the darkness like a spaceship. I expected to bump up against some barrier obstructing me from going further. But there was just space. Limitless, empty space.
When I realized there was no end, I’d pop my eyes open. And yet the expansiveness was everywhere in my room. The corner where two walls met. The hazy outline of my closet. All of it seemed to extend forever. I would start to feel panic-y at being untethered and would hustle downstairs to my parents.
Back above the canyon, I lay down on a rock, and let the sun warm the outside of my body. I shut my eyes and felt a wave of gratitude at being able to drift away from it all – just for a moment. And then my brain turned off – like a watchmen resting his head for a second.
Dana’s husband stood silently next to us. At least I assumed it was her husband. He had a large gut and kept eyeing me wearily. I was talking too much – making too many gestures, asking too many questions.
Dana grinned at me through yellow teeth. She’d seen Marcus King at Jazzfest years before he started to blow up. That’s where she’d purchased her first tee. She traced over the words in large bold font, ‘The Marcus King Band.’ I asked her if it had rained a lot that year and she started telling me about all the good food in New Orleans.
Marcus King strode on stage to massive applause. We danced. And danced. And danced! Other guys in the band jammed out – a drum solo – a bass solo – but really everyone was just waiting for the energy to swing back to Marcus. He stood – knees bent, nodding with a devilish smile spread across his cherubic face – and then leveled everyone with another guitar solo – so ballsy you’d think he was already a rock legend.
“The best part of my day?”
My brother paused either for dramatic effect or for a moment of silent reflection.
“The two-hour drive in the Runner from Maine to New Hampshire, a fresh lip in…just cruising.”
I liked that. Amid holiday parties and nights out there could be a moment of total ease, with the wheels rolling and a tobacco buzz humming. The feeling that even though you’re on your way somewhere, you’re not really in any hurry. You’ll get there when you get there. Things will happen as they do.
Contentment implies a certain smugness. You’ve figured it out. No, it’s not that. It’s just that the Runner sounds good. The scenery is nice. It’s warm inside – cold outside.
If I had to guess – and certainly this is a guess, I imagine it felt something like Texas Sun.
Yes. Put on repeat. Do it. Trust me. Just do it.
“In order not to leave any traces, when you do something, you should do it with your whole body and mind; you should be concentrated on what you do. You should do it completely, like a good bonfire. You should not be a smoky fire. You should burn yourself completely. If you do not burn yourself completely, a trace of yourself will be left in what you do. You will have something remaining which is not completely burned out. Zen activity is activity which is completely burned out, with nothing remaining but ashes. This is the goal of our practice.” – Shunryū Suzuki