Thursday, May 16, 2013

To Drive, or Not to Drive

One afternoon, after getting off the number 4 bus on Galer, we heard the wind whistle through the radio towers atop Queen Anne. There are three altogether. The third is further to the west. These two rose high in the sky humming the rough overtones of a tempestuous sky. Rags of cloud blew through the girders. These three radio towers, seen from a distance, have always given Queen Anne hill a regal look. The hill itself has an elevation of 456 feet, making it the tallest of Seattle’s seven hills. The tower furthest to the east, the KING TV tower, is the one chosen to hang Christmas Lights on every winter, the day after Thanksgiving. The tower was erected sometime in 1947 and made its first television broadcast on November 10th, 1948. Seattle had six hundred televisions. A crowd gathered downtown at Frederick & Nelson’s department store. In order to strengthen the fuzzy image within the studio, the crew applied white powder, which gave them a cadaverous look. For further contrast, and so that it might be apparent that mouths were moving and words were being shaped by animate skin, men applied brown lipstick, women blue. They looked like zombies. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

I’ve begun daydreaming about owning a car again. I get headaches from it. I’m heavily conflicted. The idea of getting into a car again, a car that we own, that awaits our every whim in the back parking lot, fills me with joy. But I’m against cars by principle. They’re destroying the planet. The consume gas and oil and emit toxic fumes. Thousands of arable acreage is covered with asphalt and concrete to accommodate their grease-leaking hulks of rubber and steel.  Instead of soaking into the earth the way rain is intended to do, percolating down to nourish roots and worms and microorganisms, it flows into the sewage system and thence into Puget Sound where it creates a contrasting brown with the sound’s usual midnight blue of white-capped waves. But we have come to find that riding the bus is effortful and time-consuming and I miss driving. I miss shifting rears, maneuvering in traffic, listening to my CDs at full volume, and subverting time and space with heady accelerations. I miss the convenience of having a car at our immediate disposal. It’s an addiction. The walk to the bus stop, the wait for the bus, the gymnastics of riding the bus, are not that bad. And you don’t need to pay insurance or get speeding tickets or parking tickets or search for a place to park. Yet I long for the complexities of a car, and cannot get the image of a shiny Subaru Impreza out of my head. The delicious curve of a steering wheel. The sound of a seat belt clicking together. The wistful glow of dashboard lights.
Roberta signed up for a Car2Go. We haven’t been able to use it yet. It takes days to get the card, or whatever they send you in the mail that will allow her to activate one of their cars. It’s like applying for a passport. The Car2Go gives me a lot of anxiety. I’ve read less than enthusiastic things about their call center. And the range of things that can go wrong is quite formidable, including not being able to log off while the clock is still ticking and you’re being charged by the minute and the call center has you on hold for an interminable amount of time, or being immobilized in Seattle’s dense immovable traffic, or getting into a fender-bender with a clueless adolescent with no insurance, or an attorney in a brand new BMW. What happens then?
Today the sky is a mottled disarray of blue and gray. The day feels neutral and vague. I make some scrambled eggs and slather some strawberry jam on a piece of toast and watch some people in Switzerland argue in French on TV Monde. I can only pick up certain phrases. The thin woman with the thick black shoulder-length hair appears to be in distress concerning some beach property that belongs to the family. She has a son with a mental disability. She talks to a young man full of hope and enthusiasm who tries to encourage her to take some form of action to defend the beach property, though I can’t tell what it is specifically. Another man, who appears to be her husband, is a sourpuss. He appears to be in a lot of pain. He’s never happy. He’s always at work and when he’s interrupted by the woman he gets angry. Abruptly, there is a scene in which she’s swimming in the lake. The water must be freezing, but she appears very relaxed.
I will not be swimming in Lake Washington this year. I don’t want to get sick like I did last summer and spend an entire day in the hospital having antibiotics dripped into my veins. I will go swimming in the imagination. I will twang and twinkle and dream. I will weave sensations of the outer world into inner worlds and roll the inner worlds into the outer world by way of language. By way of sentences. By way of a brain crawling toward a thought, delicate as the heart of a bubble. Is there anything more explicit than a human leg? There is meat loaf. There is a man playing a lute. There is the clash of cymbals.
Yesterday I saw a fire engine on fire. Black smoke billowed out of the cab. The fire engine was parked right in front of the station, a temporary station, which is a large white tent. I wasn’t sure if this was intended as an exercise or not. The firemen were dressed in their fire-fighting gear and running a hose of water into the cab to the put the fire out. How in the world does the cab of a fire engine catch fire?
I think about fire. I think about words. I think about money. James Kunstler writes that the Federal Reserve intends to juice the financial markets with U.S. Treasury bonds and miscellaneous securities with the goal of putting downward pressure on longer-term interest rates and thus supporting economic activity and job creation by making financial conditions more accommodative. Which is a polite way of saying fake wealth. Smoke and mirrors.
There is often a kind of poetry to finance. Their operations are so delightfully abstract. And unreal. Money has no reality. Its value has no reality. You can’t eat money. You can’t eat gold or silver. Where does value come from? Who makes value? What is extrinsic value? What is intrinsic value? Intrinsic value is value that something has “in itself,” or “for its own sake,” or “in its own right.” Its value does not derive from anything else. Thomas Hobbes believed the goodness or badness of something to be constituted by the desire or aversion one may have regarding it. David Hume also subscribed to the view that all ascriptions of value involve projections of one’s own sentiments onto whatever is said to have value. This makes it the whole argument subjective and muzzy. It does not help me decide whether having a car is of higher value than not owning a car. Neither Thomas Hobbes or David Hume drove cars.
John Dewey, who did drive a car, at least once (he hit a tree), suggested that since the world is always changing in such a way that the solution to one problem becomes the source of another, and that what may be an end in one context is a means to an end in another, it is a mistake to seek a timeless list of goods and evils, of goals to be attained for their own sakes.
Which makes intrinsic value all the more elusive. This is I know: rivers inspire reverie. Sunlight penetrating the foliage of a thick forest is beautiful. When a hedge of wild lilac loses its petals the sidewalk gets a thick coating of deep blue petals. A window without a dream is just a window. When an image crashes among its words the sentence convulses into a coat hanger. Removing a hinge pin and coating it with olive oil will quiet a squeaky door. Chaos gets our attention. Car rental agencies never give you the economy car you request but a much bigger car which also happens to be the only car available at the moment take or leave it. Perceptions wander my skin when I shave. A horse is virtuous and paper when it is written in blue ink. C├ęzanne discovered a universe of cubes on a prominence of rock. There is a pivotal point in everyone’s life where one’s narrative trajectory alters quite dramatically and goes in a different direction. Nature is a riddle. There is a latent pterodactyl in all of us, and DNA is a helix.
Why is DNA a helix? I find that curious.
So are fingernails. Fingernails grow with a strange rapidity.
The good news is that my Achilles tendon has stopped hurting. It stopped hurting the exact same day I ordered an aerobic step bench to exercise the tendon and prevent it from hurting. It had been hurting each day for over a month. And stopped. The very moment the sent for article was charged to our credit card. Some things are magic. Some things are not. They’re not exactly magic. They’re another phenomenon. One that involves coincidence, and credit cards, and luck.

 

 

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