Smile Politely

Distracted Driver Meditation

So. I’m delivering afternoon newspapers over 140 miles of country roads. It’s what I do. There sits Dorothy, today as every day, peering through the screen door, despite the weather, waiting for me to bring her the paper. Coco is waiting, too, for the biscuit I always have in hand.

Other than Coco, Dorothy lives alone in the house where she was born 91 years ago. She never married. She traveled once to Indianapolis, her only train ride and the furthest east she has ever been.

I asked her once if she’d ever been in an airplane. “Oh my goodness, no,” she replied.

It’s like a gingerbread house. And Dorothy is a more than a little — how shall I say this delicately? — jarring in visage? Hansel and Gretel, beware!

There is an outdoor storm cellar filled with old jars of stored food that never will be eaten. The place has feral cats. Fruit trees. Outbuildings with rusted tools and old hen hutches.

There are only 120 more miles to go today. It is the top of the hour. Let’s see what’s on the radio.

It’s NPR. The same news as last hour. Nothing has happened. Bush is still president, but you wouldn’t know it. Not sure I can take another round of NPR news, Lakshmi Singh or no Lakshmi Singh.

I’m tired of listening to Faulkner’s Light in August, too. I’m up to disc 13. I’ll have to pick up on that later.

I think there’s a can of grape soda on the back seat, if I just turn around like so … got it. It’s really cold.

There is not a car in sight. These rural roads are something. At least this one’s not gravel. Flatness. I’m lucky to see a raccoon. Plenty of deer, though. It’s like dodge ball, avoiding the deer out here. Otherwise, nothing.

Maybe I’ll leaf through The New Yorker. Read the jokes. Hmm, here’s a profile of Naomi Klein. I’ll have to read that later. Pina Bausch is going to be in Brooklyn for two weeks. I’ll have to write Mark about that. He and I once talked about becoming Pinaheads, following her dance company around the world, begging for tickets outside. Somehow I doubt it would have started a trend. Pina Bausch will never replace Jerry Garcia.

Mark’s a true artist though. He just got a studio apartment in rent-controlled Westbeth, where only artists need apply. His place overlooks the Hudson. He was on the wait list for 13 years. He finally got in. I don’t think he’s ever had a job, not to speak of. He just does this and that. Makes his art. Never even tries to sell it much.

Ice patch. Uh-oh. Here I go, yep. Right into the field. It smells like ammonia. Those farmers spray poison every year.

Let’s see if I can back it out. Rock it a little. Yeah, good. Okay, moving again.

The Prius is getting 43.8 MPG today. I love this car. It already has 201,533 miles on it.

There’s my “Yes We Can” ringtone. It’s an email text message. Let’s see. It’s nothing, just a Truthout news headlines update. I’ll read it later.

So, stuff another daily chronicle in this orange tube for ole Farmer John and I’m down road 2200E for another couple of miles.

Maybe I’ll glance over the letters in today’s paper. I can steer and do that, even with the paper opened up full. It is pretty much the same old stuff, although there haven’t been as many letters from the usual cranks lately. It seems some aren’t as quick to toss out the phrase “loony liberals” lately.

But somebody did try to claim that George Washington was the first African-American president, since all humanity has evolved from Africa. That was rich. Somebody else tried to blame Obama’s parents for letting him associate with Bill Ayers. Sometimes I think Stephen Colbert writes those letters under assumed names.

Sunset’s coming on nicely. I’ll snap a picture with my phone. I should start collecting these blurry cell phone pictures and submit them to a photography contest. They create a different aesthetic altogether, like the effect of Polaroid film or those cheap pinhole cameras. Blurry Cell Phone, I’ll call it.

Time for NPR news again. They’re talking about what Bush should do when he retires. After he prostrates himself and apologizes, I presume?

I guess he can’t help it. His whole family is empathy-deprived, which is the very definition of hell. George Sr. had never seen a grocery store scanner. Barbara thought the huddled masses in the Astrodome were “better off” than being “impoverished” in New Orleans. Laura complained when people criticized the war. “It’s just that one bombing a day,” she said.

W. told Charles Gibson that some people “during their retirement, go help people deal with malaria or AIDS,” before adding, “I’m not suggesting that’s what I’m going to do.”

What a lost and sad man.

It’s just dusky enough I think I’ll bring out the portable DVD player. It fits right up here on the dash. What should I watch? WALL-E? Something in French with subtitles? À bout de souffle? Gone with the Wind?

I drive about five hours a day. I get so much done, I should pay for the privilege. But in fact, given the size of my paychecks recently, it seems that I do.

It’s the final stretch of delivery, right up to Homer Lake. Only two more papers. A herd of deer are watching me from the woods. Another day, another repetition, another meditation. Tonight, sleep. I won’t go become a Pina Bausch groupie. I won’t enter blurry pictures in a photography contest. I won’t write a letter to the newspaper. I won’t finish Light in August.

After all, tomorrow is another day.

Tao Te Ching, Verse 9 “The Danger of Overweening Success”

Stretch a bow to the very full,
And you will wish you had stopped in time.
Temper a sword-edge to its very sharpest,
And the edge will not last long.
When gold and jade fill your hall
You will not be able to keep them safe.
To be proud with wealth and honor
Is to sow the seeds of one’s own downfall.
Retire when your work is done,
Such is Heaven’s way.

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