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The rushing plumbing, squawking jays; the yard men in their loud black truck and all their leafblowing and weedwhacking. The car-door slams, the old ladies talking too loud so they can hear–and everyone can hear, we all hear, we awake and we asleep, we trying to rest and shush and still. The wind pushing the traffic sounds across the fields, the deep plow moving slow, the dog’s tags jingling from room to room to room and his breathing echoing in the still indoor air; the rustling branches on the wall, the sidewalk wailing under pressure-wash next door, the flight path mumbling always behind everything: that things are happening without me, that they will keep on at it if I never open up my eyes again.
An American thing, not usually, but definitely in these strange moments — the ones where confusion and material failure and break-of-routine drive us to slowness and caution; when the red lights are all flashing slowly, soundly, on all four planes of an intersection and all of us — the SUVs, the sedans, the two-seater trucks, the Suzuki motorbikes — we all paw the line with two black tires, we all sit and set and look and wait and our eyes touch, wait to see each other and to feel a kind of certain, then nod and push and go.
He won’t eat without me. And I’m never here. I am starving this dog, the one that I’m feeding. I am working, I am making money, to buy things to eat for me. I am feeding this dog, feeding him his food, feeding him his food for money for me for my food, feeding him and he will not eat, because he won’t eat without me, and I’m never here, I’m always working, working for more money for more food for me.
He is a “Chow-Chow.” That kills me. I come back from working, from making the money for my food, and all his food — the food that I fed him — is still there, untouched, uneaten. I beg him — shouldn’t it be the other way around? — eat, eat! And he goes to sleep in the hall, looking skinnier than yesterday. I am getting worried, so worried I can’t eat.
So I go to the store. I put apples in the fridge. I bite one, let him smell it, see if he wants it — he doesn’t. He doesn’t eat. I feed him. I go to work, for money, for money for food for me.
On the way home I get Taco Bell. Taco Bell. And I bring it in and this dog finally seems to like me, finally eats, finally eats his dog food.
When the house starts shaking and you look up around quick to see where the nearest doorway is, and then you upturn your memory — didn’t they change the method? What is it now? Triangle of Life? How are you supposed to do it? What if a tree comes through the wall? What if the window breaks and the glass slices an arm, an artery, and there’s no one around to find you until it’s too late? Where do I go? – and your heartbeat works into a sprint, your eyebrows pinch, you shut your book and your muscles set themselves to launch.
And then you remember rinsing the detergent off your hands, remember heaving up the wet cloth from the machine and setting it on the open horizontal panel before you roll it into the small and open metal cave, remember shutting the door and twisting a knob and hitting “start,” remember your clean clothes and the film of the dryer sheets on your palms, and you hold your hand to your face and breathe.
The ones that sneak up on you — the gutter yellowjackets chasing your ankles when you’re going out to get the mail, the lazy hornet waiting on the glass back door, a black and spindly guard dog that we’re too scared to tap and bother. The spiders under everything on the tile, staying low and cool and running for nowhere when you move the laundry, the box of wrapping ribbon, the stinking trash: only the brown ones, the house ones. The longlegses hanging in the corners where the walls meet, bouncing in the air condition wake. The ants all missing, all underground somewhere in the heat, and me knowing it and glad.
I used to have these meltdowns when I passed smokestacks and powerplants … feeling in my soul what I imagined was happening to the ozone layer and letting my whole day be ruined, tainted, stained by the steaming smoking air outside my car … angry at myself for even driving a car, for putting out smog and using gas myself … and God-knows-what factories that made all the pieces to my Honda, let alone the ones that wove the cloth of my clothing or mixed the chemic hues of my makeup. It was all kinds of ironies, hypocrisy — an eco-existential crisis. What do I do? I never knew.
Today I took 680 over the Benicia bridge, flanked on both sides by these massive metal cities of towers round and square, some just sitting and some spewing stuff out and up into the air. I’ve made this drive before and had this crisis, that crisis. And today I cringed a little — I can’t help it, because I know things; I know the air is worse and fish are dying and it’s not for no reason that people seem to be getting cancer more and more and more — but then I kept looking. I handed my phone to my brother: “Take pictures for me!” It was so much, so lovely; so many pipes and lights and ladders and — Where do they go? What are they there for? What’s in that thing? Why is that blinking? Is someone working in there? – so much to think on and wonder about and so much to walk around, maybe, if you were there among and in it.
On the way back it was dark and I drove under the speed limit to be by them longer, to look at them more. The smoke and steam stood out against the night sky, and the lights clung to the towers like some weird version of Christmas. A holiday, a celebration.