Monday, June 11, 2007

Out of Place

A young woman walking down the street at twilight, cradling something protectively in her arms. A kitten? She raises it to her face, as if to kiss it, and I can see that it's a cell phone.

A couple months ago I saw a raccoon, at midmorning, investigating the trash set out for the garbageman. I slowed my bike. The raccoon looked up at me briefly, and went back to the much more interesting business of checking out the trash. "You're supposed to be nocturnal, you know," I said. The raccoon shrugged.

Last week, Martha surprised one in the basement, eating the food we'd put out there for one of our foster-cats. She clapped her hands. The raccoon gave her a look, as if to say "do you mind? I'm eating, here." So she banged an old pot, to make a racket, and the raccoon, with a put-upon air, but no hurry, climbed deliberately back out the cat door.

My flight back from Montreal last Spring had a layover in Detroit. The people, compared to what I had become accustomed to in Montreal, were hugely fat -- more of them were obese than were not -- and they carried bucket-sized paper cups of soda with them at all times; you had the sense that being separated from their sugar supply might send them into a panic. Visualizing all that sugar swirling in their bloodstreams made me feel a little ill. I'm the last person with any business criticizing people for eating unhealthily, but this didn't seem like indulgence, and my response wasn't moral: it seemed like disease, pure and simple. A whole nation with a disordered glucose metabolism.

It wasn't that long after 9/11. Every ten minutes the loudspeakers would urge us to view our fellow passengers, and their bags, with suspicion.

In the tunnel between concourses, riding the whatever-you-call-thems, the horizontal escalators, there was a spectacular light show, and pounding rock music. It was quite beautiful: washes of color over the high, arched ceiling, shifting, turning, and throbbing with the music. But it felt very odd to me, to be entertained while in the midst of doing something -- moving rapidly from one place to another -- quite active and absorbing in itself. When I got to my concourse I tried to position myself where I couldn't see or hear a television, without success. Entertainment wasn't optional, in the Detroit airport. It was mandatory.

I wanted to buttonhole the Europeans and Asians and Africans bustling by, and tell them that this wasn't really America. But I don't know if it would have been the truth. Maybe it really is America, and what I live in is an artificial preserve, the equivalent of a "colonial Williamsburg" where they dress up in frilled caps or leathern pantaloons, and pretend to be living a simple life, to amuse the tourists.

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