I had nearly died, and I knew this to be bad luck and a sign to get out of Centerville. When the intersection was cleared of honking and yelling drivers, and the construction workers I had barely missed mowing down had done cursing me out and returned to cursing their occupation, I pulled the car back onto the road and drove to the nearest gas station to turn around.
When I got there, I was still shaking, so I thought I’d better step out to get some fresh air and take stock before driving back south. I opened the door and took in a good stout breath of gas fumes and exhaust. Well, I thought, perhaps just taking stock would suffice.
As every experienced student of meditation knows, the first step in taking stock of yourself is to relax, clear your mind, and realize that you have to use the bathroom. By means of this elementary technique, one may avoid all of the frustrations of self-exploration and advance directly to the cleansing moment of release, or in the case of a particularly successful bowel movement, a true euphoria.
Ah! inner peace! The human body offers this satisfaction and rest from strife to the soul, as a compromise to avoid a more thoroughly contemplative lifestyle, which the body well knows must lead to a reduced intake of microwavable pizza balls.
When I opened the door to the convenience mart’s unisex bathroom, I found a coat crouching in the corner. I say “coat” and not “person wearing a coat,” because the preposterously expansive coat so thoroughly concealed its wearer that there was every reason to suppose it was doing its own crouching.
Where I come from, we call that “synecdoche.” We like to say “synecdoche” whenever something little steps up and takes charge of something big, like when feet decide they’re enough for walking and it’s all the same to them whether anybody’s on top of them. Or when a pair of wings floats along heedless of whether it’s holding anything up. The little thing gets on top of the big thing and shows it who’s boss.
(In that way, “synecdoche” is a lot like “Yippee-yi-o-ki-yay.” I only mention this because I don’t see how else I’m going to get around to telling you that I had a math teacher in eighth grade who insisted that everyone in her class shout “Yippee-yi-o-ki-yay” every time a quadratic equation was found to be factorable.)
I was about to close the door again when a sleepy head emerged from the top of the synecdoche and said, “Oh, hey man, don’t worry about me. I was just about to wash my hands.” As ridiculous as it may have been, this explanation seemed to dissolve all the strangeness of the situation. I walked in, relieved, and prepared to relieve myself. Yet this prospect of peace was not to be. I had only to unbutton before the synecdoche’s head addressed me again, saying, “Hey man, you smoke the dream?”
Now, I want all you cool kids out there to know I’m hip to your jive. I know very well that my strange new acquaintance was referring to marijuana. But my concentration was elsewhere, and I could not readily formulate an appropriate response. Graduates of the D.A.R.E. program may be surprised by my failure to just say, “No!” But try to understand the semantic problem in play in this situation: If I had admitted that I did not smoke the dream, I would have thereby conceded that the dream is something that admits of being smoked, and if dreams can be so easily internalized, would I not be a fool to refuse? Nor could I simply alter the verb in such a way as to express my affinity for dreams (e.g., “I ingest the dream,” “I massage the dream thoroughly into my scalp”). It is by no means a simple thing to hit upon the words that would answer this question gracefully, without violence, and yet communicate a thorough denial.
I come not with peace but with a sword: feel the sting of my intemperate syntax!
My situation was desperate; I was on the point of crying, “I come not with peace but with a sword: feel the sting of my intemperate syntax!” But, seeing my bewilderment, the man with the sleepy head pulled a thick plastic bag of marijuana out of his synecdoche, and stepped towards me, dispelling the dream of ambiguity and driving me to action. It was time to flee.
I ran from the room, buttoning my pants as I went, and hurried out of the convenience store to the car, stopping only long enough to purchase a box of microwavable pizza balls.
So I was back on the road, my chances of a gruesome death now significantly increased rather than diminished by my stop; it was not long before the need became urgent that had so lately drawn me away from self-recollection. Was there any place I could pull over? the slightest thicket of trees? a patch of tall grass? Anything so simple would have pleased me. What I found instead was a port-a-potty.
And that’s how I found myself pulling over again at the same construction site where, less than an hour before, I had run a stop sign and only avoided colliding with the other car pulling off the interstate by plowing through a group of workers, who scattered with the scarcely ruffled swiftness of city pigeons.
Now was no time for pleasantries. Now there was only the steady path, the dauntless advance.
I stepped out of the car again to meet my fate. What should I say to these men? “Hello, friends, no doubt you remember me as the reckless driver who nearly killed you this morning. Do you mind if I use your toilet?” No, no. Now was no time for pleasantries. Now there was only the steady path, the dauntless advance. Slam! I was in.
As I was translated into a happier state, I imagined the workers outside giving each other silent conspiratorial nods, circling my little tower of solitude, laying their hands on it together and preparing to throw it over the side of the bridge. Let them come! I would not heed the consequence.
Two minutes later, I stepped out of the port-a-potty to find that the workers had hardly noticed my presence. At once relieved and disappointed, I opened the door to my car as though it were the door back into a saner, if less interesting reality, and got in. Very well, I would leave Centerville, and all of its madness, behind me. I would return to a world on the margins, where one thing does not always lead to another and men do not speak to each other in the restroom.
I took to the highway, not remembering why I had come,hardly knowing how I could leave, free as a birdless pair of wings,full of hope as a factorable equation.
This article has been reprinted from Grub Street Grackle, Vol. 1, No. 2.
Please consider donating now to Imagine Dallas Literary Arts, Inc., publisher of the Grackle! Every donation today gets us a little closer to a $25,000 grand prize awarded to the organization that raises the most money through Crowdrise today.