The second Friday hike in a row meant returning to one of the quietest spots without cell phone service within city limits. It took us a little bit more than two hours to amble and stumble four and a half miles along the Chown, West Ridge and Orchard trails before getting back to where we’d parked at the staging area. A woman paused as we passed her at one point and apologized for her dogs, who kept jumping up and down. I told her it had taken me a while to give up the habit. She asked how I did it. “Treats,” I said.
Then, after a shower and some lunch at home, we went over to the Grand Lake Theater to see “Blindspotting” make a portrait out of the landscape and turn some talented performing into a mostly but not completely recognizable Town tale — not that I was supposed to recognize everything, but certainly a lot more than I expected.
There’s a slot open. I’m not just saying that because whatshisface is clearly going through his Thin White Duke phase. I’ve listened to the first five o+> albums in the last five days. So listening to “Dirty Computer reminds me that there’s a space. You can’t listen to just one person all the time. One person can only do so much, even with a cast of hundreds on productions and a talented inner circle on speed-dial and an ego-whisperer like Quincy Jones if you need one. To fill that slot, the taste has got to be exquisite, the song selection has got to be balanced, and the elements can be as synthetic as possible so long as they’re synthesized (and I don’t mean keyboards). So I hit pause halfway through to jot all this down. I’m going to sit with it until I fall asleep. I’ll probably find some way to play it all the way through this weekend.
I set foot out, crossing the street and making it to the sidewalk on the far side, and I was about twenty or thirty feet away from one of the palms when I heard a crackling noise from high above. Two seconds later, a large frond came down and hit the roadway of MacArthur Boulevard. So I didn’t even break stride. I walked over to it, bent down and picked it up, finding it heavier than I expected and dustier against my open palms. All that exhaust and pollen clinging to the leaves got to hang out until gravity got its way. I threw the frond over my shoulder and walked down MacArthur to the bus stop right before Lakeshore Avenue, where I threw the frond down, put my foot against it and broke it into thirds and stuffed its remains in the trashcan. Then I kept going on my way, stopping only to take a picture of this face on a pillar underneath the interstate.
I was driving downhill, westbound with the Bay before me, when I heard about it. Well, not about it as much as the other thing. He’d just been in a ride-sharing vehicle. Someone had gotten out nearby and said something about hearing that people died.
Naturally, he thought of me and texted to ask if I’d gotten to write about it. I hadn’t, but a co-worker had. I told him I’d listened to it the night before as it happened, bits of fact strobing in and out of view through static and signals from other incidents, followed by a tweet not seen in real-time but shared by a different co-worker.
Coming back, I saw there would be just enough time for me to go and see for myself before a newsroom training session on listening to and searching through services that offer archived dispatcher logs. So I went there, parked my car and got out and saw it. I took pictures. Then I left.
A year later, dozens of people are gone. They should still be in the building, arguing about stories and photos, and grumpily wondering where the time to cover meetings and budgets will come from, but they’re not.
The unexpected wonder on the anniversary of this newspaper winning that thing a year ago is having more clarity about why all those people are gone, and seeing what good that clarity does for others in the same situation dozens and hundreds and thousands of miles away.
I wish I could say things were looking up because of this, but all I see are wood beams, metal pipes and the sheet metal that workers have been installing in a far corner of the newsroom to try to slow down a chilly draft that’s been giving us the shivers and creeps for months now.
Nothing about these little ticks of time, these pockets of space, should surprise me. I don’t feel surprised in the moment, only after when I look back and behind me. There is just enough time before my shift, so I call ahead and make an order for pick-up. The person who takes it recognizes me, and I recognize her.
I drive over and find a parking place, get out of my car and walk in, mouth the words to the same early-1980s hit song I remember enjoying years ago and screwing up so badly at karaoke last month. I pay for my order, pick it up and head back out where people with the ability to drink a pint glass of cold beer outside in the early spring midday sunshine do just that.
No matter how busy your day is, you’re probably better off moving, eating or reminding yourself of your humanity. On a day off, you can probably fit in at least one of those activities. If you’re lucky like me, you can hit all three. Today, that also meant getting to huff and puff up and down one of the steeper neighborhood hills, watching the adaptive photochromic material in my glasses do their thing if I caught my reflection in an unbroken window of a parked car, en route to the Grand Lake theater for a matinee of “The Shape Of Water.” Guillermo del Toro occasionally makes great movies but, thirteen Oscar nominations aside, not this time. I’m still thinking hard about just why. Is it better than a classic monster movie with dashes of “Amelie,” “The Artist” and “Hairspray”? Yes, but, argh.
It was one of those days where the branches look particularly bare and the sidewalks seem especially wet, but the rain doesn’t clean the air and the chill just sort of hangs there and taunts you underneath your collar and down your socks, a day for closed conference-room doors and poker-faced concentration while listening to distant decisions heading toward the newsrooms where reporters and photographers and editors work.
It was, as it turned out, also a day for another company’s announcement about a new tool, beta-testing right now in a popular Mid-South city and much, much closer by as soon as next week, after more than a year in development.
Some people start their mornings with prayer, meditation, motivational literature. I don’t spend time around those folks on a regular basis, but I know they exist because I saw a guy waiting to cross Lakeshore Avenue with a Tony Robbins book under one arm.
Me, I start by looking at my cat. I mean, yeah, I also drink water and coffee, but a little time looking at this actual animal is a thing for me. She prefers me horizontal and as still as possible — if she can be said to have preferences. When it becomes clear that I’m going to escape the cozy confines, she’ll slink down off the covers and hide under the bed or out in the hallway, stopping to tune up her scratching post like a boxer tags a heavy bag with a puncher’s touch.
The best looking comes when the cat is off on her own, peeking out through the blinds or staring out at birds from the edge of the bed or seated at the base of a wall, catching the last little bit of wan-as-fuck autumn sun that swings around the corner of our apartment building.
And when I catch her sticking out her tongue, it’s because she’s about to groom herself so she can stand the rest of her day in style, as well as a reminder for me to do the same.
They sit lightly on the bridge of my nose, arms clinging lightly to my temples. Through their lenses, the world rushes at me with greater clarity and richer dimension than ever before. They feel oddly sturdy for their thinness and absence of weight. I do not wish to test their durability. I prefer drinking in the details floating in the air around me, higher-resolution data I hadn’t realized I was missing from squinting at small screens or staring at landscape horizons hurtling suddenly closer. All this before I notice the built-in shade that I’d forgotten about requesting, and here it is, seeping in to shield me from the brightness all around.
Words slide more easily across my eyes. Pages’ edges catch my fingertips and flip just that much more crisply. I can’t see all the way back into a rock legend’s life, but a look back at accounts of his formative years comes easily into focus for a little while this afternoon.