Thursday, March 24, 2011

Eve of the Living

Frustrating day at work, not getting things done, anxious about outcomes I can't influence. I get on the elevator, trying to shake it all off. A piece of good luck: it's the leftmost of the three cars, the only one that goes clear down to the basement, where the bicycle racks are. If you get one of the others, you have to go down to the Lobby, get off, push the “down” button and wait all over again for the leftmost elevator to show up. I swipe the magic fob (not just anyone can go to the basement) and press the 'B' button.

9th floor, 8th floor, and there's a hesitation. Ah. Picking up somebody on the 6th floor. The doors open and a lanky, bearded, sandy-haired young man steps on board. He has a wide-open, fearless face and an engaging smile. As the doors close again I press the 'L' button for him.

“Oh! Thanks.” He takes in my bike gear. “It's so lucky when I'm going to the basement, and I get this elevator! I feel so blessed.” He grins. I say something about wishing you could call this particular car, he agrees, we get to the lobby, and he wishes me good night and disappears.

In the basement I take my bike down from the rack, check that my patch is still holding air -- it is! -- and take it back up to the lobby. The night guard, Mike, is already on duty. It takes a while to do all my bike stuff: I have two jackets to do up, the “camelback” cover to secure over my backpack over the rear tire, the lights to adjust and turn on, the reflective velcro doo-dad to put around my ankle to keep my jeans out of the chain. Mike, meanwhile, has been gazing at the painting that dominates the lobby.

“What was that?” I always have to ask him to repeat himself; he's even softer-spoken than I am.

“So much work went into this!”

I go look at the painting with him. It's a landscape, a stream at sunset in autumn woods, trees and water and soil all orange. I usually grimace at it as I go by. Lobby art.

But I join Mike and look at the stippling. It's a big canvas, and he's right, it must have been a lot of work.

“When I was a boy, my parents used to take me to a stream like this. I'd play there all day. You don't care about anything, when you're a kid. No bills to pay.”

Not me, I thought. I worried about things all the time when I was a kid. I bet you did too. But I don't say that. We're not dealing in fact here, we're contemplating paradise. “Where was that?” I ask.

“Oh, in the California mountains.” Then he adds, in a different tone, “The Other Side of the Bend.”

“What?” I heard him this time, actually, but I couldn't make sense of it.

He gestures to the little plaque on the ostentatious frame. Sure enough. “The Other Side of the Bend,” that's what the artist titled it. “Kind of mysterious,” says Mike.

“Did you hear that Elizabeth Taylor died?” he confides then.

“Yeah, I saw that.” We both sigh. “I saw a little clip of her on 'What's My Line.' You remember 'What's My Line?'” He nods. “She must have been twenty,” I added. “So beautiful.”

“I used to drive her maid to work at her house,” he says, unexpectedly. “She said she was a wonderful woman. She gave a van to guy she knew who was hard up. And probably some money, too, I guess. Just gave it to him. She was just like that, they say.”

A few more desultory words. She almost died five times, he says. Really did die once, they brought her back. Another pause to contemplate the painting.

“You ever see this, right here?” Where the stream winds of out sight, there's a little whiteness, as though, out of sight, it comes out of the forest into open country, and a light that's relieved of all that damn orange comes through. “You kind of wonder,” he says apologetically, “what's there. Is that 'the other side of the bend,' where that light is? Kind of mysterious.”

Outside, an oblique light is scattered by the light rain; the sun is shining, but the sky makes a dark, bruise-colored backdrop. The passers by look at me, their faces lit up as though they were on stage. People always get a kick out of seeing a white-haired man on a bicycle: they smile at me benevolently as I wheel it off the curb and onto the street.

All so alive, I think, as I pedal up towards the bridge. The opposite of the zombie fantasy that's so rife these days, the sense of living in a world of dead people. “Dawn of the Dead.” This apparently is the Eve of the Living. Everyone is human tonight. I don't mind, don't mind that work is frustrating, don't mind that I need to remember to change the rear inner tube. Not if I can live in a world where people are alive.


rbarenblat said...

Beautiful, Dale. Thank you for letting us in on these conversations.

Anonymous said...

Life in all of its interstitial, unevenly lit, heartbreaking glory.

So real, of course, that it reads as fiction. Surely we no longer otherwise can experience this magic, in which lobby-art and an actress springboard strangers into the past.

Adult-zombie-fatigue: I hear you, dimly, through my earbuds. All the adults wading through mud in armour and blinders like Agincourt horses, hoping that terrors unseen can't claim them.

Kurt said...

I'm with Rachel. Beautiful. Thank you, Dale.

am said...

"Oh, in the California mountains."

Thank you for this. Eve of the Living.

Sabine said...

I enjoyed this a lot.

alembic said...

What Rachel said. It's time for the zombies to bid good night and let the living roam freely.

Zhoen said...

Still breathing over here.

Thing is, it usually takes so little to crack the surface, get a smile and a word, to remind each other to reach out.

carolee said...

living living living. what strange and exhilarating business!

Uma said...

Beautiful. Thanks for this.

Dick said...

I like 'Anonymous'' comment, 'So real, of course, that it reads as fiction'. That old saw about writing/acting/art not being about reality but about truth. This is a lambent little piece, Dale, and I shall take its spirit into the day with me!

Dave said...

Thanks for a very memorable vignette.

just thoughts said...

Thank you for stopping. Thank you for sharing a moment with another fellow being. Thank you for taking it into the world with you. It's important to be alive!

Alexandra said...

I love the slow development of this piece, and the activity at the end feels like walking out of a long day enclosed in side into the fresh air.

Dale said...

Thanks so much, everyone.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Memorable indeed, and lit by a lambent orange light.

I'll bet that Mike has a poetic soul too.

Kristin Noelle said...

This makes ME feel more alive. *Thank you!*

Dale said...

Hugs, Natalie & Kristin! xo