Thursday, November 29, 2007

Our Town In Five Acts

Tonight I am driving.

And, as is my wont, I am observing, too. I am on the way to downtown Austin, our town, to meet Heather.

Characters from all sorts of stories, plays, and even the motion pictures, appear on almost every street corner.

No animated screen-crawls nor any rolling film credits appear before them so it is left up to my own devices to tell their tales.

Here is what I have found out so far...

North Lamar Boulevard & 29th Street:

You are both standing on the corner next to the traffic light waiting for the WALK sign to grant safe passage.

One of you, a twenty-something woman, wears a blue overcoat. Your wickedly fluid brown tresses nearly cover up your entire shoe-gazing stare. I can just barely see your face but one feature stands out: a frown so cartoonishly curled downward it would make for a fine inverted Dali's mustache.

When you finally reveal that you do, indeed, have eyes they are opaque and haunted.

Your partner: a wildly gesticulating young man in a black pea coat and kafia scarf wrapped around his neck. He holds a heavy looking book bag in his left hand and empty night air in his right. He gestures like he's a balancing scale, mockingly teetering back and forth with a fierce expression. You shrink into yourself because there is cold and then there is being frozen to death. His lips recede back into one last open mawed, bare-fanged snarl.

As I pull away he is holding the heavy bag up high and his now clenched, empty hand down low.

The scales have been absurdly tipped.

I am wondering... is that her heart you imagine gripping so heavily in your right hand?

Frankly, Scarlett, Rhett doesn't give a damn.

Colorado Street & 7th Avenue:

You are alone.

A long, red, dirtied winter coat has chosen you, not vice-versa. Perhaps you have somehow picked the silver-haired wig that is carefully propped on top of your head, though. You're being fussy with it as both your rickety hands constantly brush its uncooperative locks back behind your ears. You do not want to hide your face, your identity. Everyone must know it's you, it's you ... the one and only!

You hold out your hand and stare into something. It must be a mirror - I cannot see it - but I know you can. You are looking right at You, and You is looking back and straightening her hair. And You is smoothing something into her grooved and weather worn mask. Beauty reflects back from a very distant past. You once had all the good looks that God's Good Earth could grant you. It was most likely your undoing; it made you carelessly forget about Time.

Time would not forget about you.

You walk by the front of my car tip-toeing and elegant in high heels. You are not wearing high heels; you are wearing human feet.

There's no business like show business, Ms. Monroe.

South Lamar Boulevard & Barton Springs Avenue:

I have never seen a person strike a cellphone onto the side of his skull so forcibly and then kiss it like he were kissing a lover for the first time in many ages. I can see your lips move as you shout into the receiver, "I love you! I love you! I love you!"

You are smiling through your tears as if the clouds, in some act of farcical improbability, just burst Rose petals.

Tonight there is Forgiveness in the Universe.

Because somehow, Jack Dawson, the Titanic just missed that iceberg.

West 5th Street & Baylor Street:

OK Go. No, wait. Stop. Hold on a sec. OKOKOKOK! Gogogogogogogogogogo! But hurry up; traffic's coming!


That's a pretty cool lookin' contraption you got there, fella! And, speedy, too! But what happened? Something denied you movement in your lower half. Now you're reliant on this motor-driven, four wheeled, road warrior's chair to get you around in. Your big belly is pushed up against its handle bars making steering tough. A river of mutinying white hair abandoned your head awhile back to take on new life as a grizzled, unruly beard. Gravity makes for a great punchline, doesn't it?

You're aged but, strangely, ageless.

A Christmas wreath is hung on the back of your chair! Hey, you are celebrating the holidays with somebody this year, right? Right?! Please, tell me that you're not alone in this world, on these nights, in that chair?

(eeeeerrrt!) "Wait for me before you go again, okay?" She gently admonishes you as she pulls up alongside on her own four-wheeler, hair tied up in a proud little, gray bun.

How you found each other is a miracle.

Kris Kringle and Mrs. Claus on their modern-day sleighs bringing good cheer and hope this holiday season.

Duval Street & 53rd Street:

You have just finished reading what sounds like a very inspiring book, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. You describe a chapter wherein the writer discovers that every city has its own Word. A friend tells her about this curiosity. For example, the city of Rome's Word is "Sex".

Gilbert gets to wondering about what her Word might be.

Now, so do you.

You can't find it at first and this is frustrating. But for whatever enigmatic reason you recall the last scene in the third and final act of Thornton Wilder's classic play, Our Town.


The now deceased, Emily Webb, is in the Graveyard waxing nostalgia over her 12th birthday. The theatrically symbolic "Stage Manager" is by her side.

She is overcome by tears because she realizes now just how much she took for granted in youth and how fast life goes by, "We don't even have time to look at one another." She observes aloud to the Stage Manager.

Resigned Emily eventually declares that she is ready to go back to the grave but not before asking, "Doesn't anyone ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute?"

The Stage Manager responds. "No. Saints and poets, maybe; they do some."


Then you suddenly find your Word.

"Well, maybe I'm not a saint but I do remember when I used to write poetry all the time back when I was younger. Maybe not so much anymore but it's still how I see the world everyday: through poet's eyes."


Well done, Heather, and on this particular evening how poignant the serendipity of it all!

Not even Hollywood could come up with a better ending than this...


Fester said...

Oh these damn computers. I reiterate (in the manner of such devices) that my word is "change," another emblem of "time." I remember when you traveled from Atlanta to Milwaukee to Acton. Toward the end, you had the rare occurence of a cop being at the right place at the right time, when you and I witnessed a 'salesman' with a backseat full of suits pulled over for running us off the road. We both thought about pulling over just to add fuel to the fire, but continued on, satisfied that fate would be done without our aid...


Dennis said...

Ya know, I kinda wished we had stopped, actually. I would have totally been into given that weasel what-for. The cop would have wigged- out though, I think - probably best we moved on...

BTW, my Word I believe is "Inspire", which is a bit of a double-edged sword; I must first be inspired to get inspired and then to, in turn, inspire! Damning, isn't it?

Koko said...

Beautiful post, Den. I believe my word is "amuse", as that's what I devote most of my energy to.

--Jen (Owen Doyle)