Saturday, April 11, 2009

I have been thinking about interiority

This all arose or re-arose, bubbled back up, on the C train the other day, when, pulling out from the station, we passed the platform entrance and the station agent booth, which was strung on the inside of the glass with a strand of multicolored Christmas lights. The colors looked supersaturated, like old big good glass-bulb lights, and the interior of the booth looked warm and bright—at least it did as I glimpsed it through the windows.

How lovely to be sitting on a high, cushioned chair in that warm booth, with all the workers streaming past in their rain-flecked black, and to be nodding off, chin on chest and hands folded across stomach. A radio on, a stillness—But a peopled, a warm stillness, a cozy outpost in the middle of the chilly, wet city; Not like the stillness at home, home sick from work, when the daytime TV is bad and sad and it feels like everyone has left. Nor tapping a knife on one’s wrist, Law & Order a sick muddle. The couch.

But this dream of interiority began longer ago. The first time I remember was when in junior high I would ride with my dad in his red Mazda hatchback to school. We took the back way out of the neighborhood—which was a little rough around the edges and from which, within a couple of years, we moved—past the brick square that used to seem so high and that we used to climb on and which, from a valve on its front, sometimes gushed water; past the road that ran down to the low-rent pool and the poisoned pond beyond; then up the hill and a right down the hill, past the Easter Seals on the right.

The way I remember it, it was always cold. The car was small, its metal thin, the seats vinyl, and by that early point in the weekdaily trip the heat hadn’t yet kicked in.

From my place in the passenger seat, I could see across the Easter Seals parking lot and into the building through a portrait window. The room had overstuffed armchairs and sofas, and a TV. It looked very bright and warm, a little tableau vivant. I do not remember ever seeing people inside. (If I had, it might have depressed me, as Easter Seals was an organization that worked with the physically and mentally handicapped.) Before it was an Easter Seals, it was a roller-skating rink, called, I believe, 8 Wheels. But that was when I was way younger. I don’t remember skating at 8 Wheels.

So we would drive on, past Easter Seals and onto Cantrell and then I-430, which connected to I-630 which connected to downtown where my dad worked and I went to school. I imagine rainslick streets, a mist of gray rain, not a thunderstorm because a thunderstorm has its own excitement, when an electrical excitement is small and giddy in the middle of your chest, thrilled, like the leaping electricity at the center of one of those globes on which you put your fingers and the lightning leaps to your fingers.

No: This was a different rain I remember, and the junior high was a sad place on days like that, a damp, brown, hard place of marble, brick, and stone, and the hallways and classrooms felt like the end of something.

All I wanted was to be in that room at Easter Seals, or in my dad's Mazda after the heat'd kicked in, the oldies station on the radio, the smell of my dad's aftershave and the leather or vinyl of the car's seats. Inside, contained within, warm.

Another time I had a dream of interiority. Freshman year of college, and I'd driven in my 1974 sky-blue Volkswagen Bug up to Columbia, Missouri, to visit my girlfriend, who was going to school at Mizzou. It was a long drive up, in the fall I think, through the severe ridges and pines of northern Arkansas and southern Missouri, highways slashed across the land and feeling very on my own, in a thrilled way.

I visited my girlfriend and did not behave as I would have liked. I was jealous and said dumb things about the length of a bathrobe. I met her roommate and friends and was very judgmental and self-righteous.

But pulling into town was something else, on my own, one of the first few times I'd ever done such a thing, and it felt like arriving, coming over the bluff and seeing the city and feeling very separate from everything, seeing a place I'd never seen before on my own.

On the way home it was raining, hard. The highway in a VW Bug in a hard rain is not a place to be. The eighteen-wheelers scream by and buffet the car, and you have to keep a steady grip on the wheel, ready to correct, so you don't get blown off the road.

After a while my car started to stop working. I misremember what exactly happened, but I made it to a auto repair shop on the side of the highway, up on a hill (which seemed like a counterintuitive altitude at which to erect an auto shop). Raining hard and the auto shop was dark inside, though open. It was cold. They could fix my car but it would be a few hours.

I went into the waiting room of the shop, which was dark and empty, save for a few chairs and a TV. It was drowsy warm in the room, and there were no people. I turned on the TV and Mission Impossible, with Tom Cruise, was on. I watched it and I was maybe as happy—"not hating anything, not wanting anything"—as I have ever been, quiet, warm, and safe inside during a rainstorm in a waiting room in an auto shop on the highway home to Arkansas.


Carrie said...

Your writing makes me glad. It feels familiar and honest. It has soul.

scram. said...

This is probably my favorite thing you've ever written.

Cross out "probably."

Hunter R. Slaton said...

Thanks, little brother and sister. That means a lot.

Joe said...

Good stuff, as always.

Anonymous said...

I don't give a damn about yer drreeaaams.

Anonymous said...

Just kidding, I do. That was a good one.

Milton said...

Just, wow. Tableau vivant, indeed.