Dispatches from the night-time

It’s so late, and yet here I am.

It’s cold in Portland, cold, cold, cold. Not Alaska cold, but cold for here, and clear, and all the stars are stuck frozen like glass slivers in the dim lid of the sky, the night sky that’s all milky and faded from light pollution and the particulates of furious living, so many humans all in space together, like the flaking layers of a croissant. And the humans live so furiously their lights burn all through the night, and fade the sky, until there is no dark anywhere, just burning, burning, the hot burning of the human race, like a lit cigarette dropped into a forest wracked by drought.

Toby came over for dinner tonight and we made Pho, or a distant approximation of Pho, a soup almost transcendentally brothy. Once upon a time wheat and dairy marched out of my life, just up and left. They were blinked away in an instant- whole lives have been built on wheat and dairy, whole cultures, civilizations! And to think they could just be gone- gone! And their absence left a hole in my palette the size of Rhode Island, and tonight the meaty meatiness of the pho broth almost, almost came close to filling it, like a bit of spackle in a nail-hole. While eating Toby and Eden and I talked about the difference between Memory and Focus, and how none of us had either, and why that was, and was it getting worse as we got older, to which Eden, who is the eldest, replied Yes, definitely. And then I played the game in my head called Trying To Imagine Twenty Years From Now, to see if I had, in the night, grown a special muscle in my brain that suddenly allowed me to inhabit or imagine a time other than the present, and found that I had not. After dinner I walked Toby the three miles home in the starry night, down Alberta with its steamed-up shop windows and strange boutiques that sold hand-made versions of common, un-interesting things, and through the neighborhoods where all the humans were shut up inside, keeping warm, watching TV on the Internet in bed and petting their dusty, arthritic cats. As we walked Toby and I talked about how she’d decided to go to PSU next year, and how I had decided, vaguely, to do something or other similar, although, as we both agreed, I Had Better Get On It. We talked about the practice of making elaborate plans and how, over the years, Life Happens Anyway, in spite of plans, and how suddenly we might find ourselves living someplace, not only because there is no other place to go but also, maybe, because the place where we are just happens to be the place where we live. We paused our walk at the co-op so Toby could buy a peanut butter cookie and the checkout clerk commented on the psychedelic fleur-de-lis print of Toby’s brass-buttoned shirt. “Did you know,” asked the clerk, her flat blonde hair come undone from its clip and falling half over her face, “that a fleur-de-lis is really a stylized iris?”

“An iris?” I asked, astounded. “Really?” The clerk nodded, watching as Toby stuffed her EBT card back into her battered fanny pack and took her cookie.

Back out in the street we plodded west, and Toby told me about the library books she has been reading, which have been almost exclusively about Mexico, including one massive text that has been passing back and forth between her and two other people at the library, each of them putting it on hold, getting it, and then not being able to finish it by the time the next person’s turn comes up. As we neared her house Toby complained about her car, which is just barely broken, but is not, according to her mechanic friend, broken enough to be fixed, and which is also uninsured, but which cannot be insured, because then it must be registered in Oregon, which it is not, and for that to happen Toby must get an Oregon ID, which she does not have, and anyway who needs a car when in Portland it is so easy not to have one? And we mused about the nearly insurmountable mound of Unimportant Things that can tangle, if one is not careful, like blades of grass in the chainrings of day-to-day life, and I thought of how the mechanical parts of my life are like my bike- undermaintained, badly adjusted, and always in need of grease- and yet sturdy, somehow, like simple machines always are, as long as you keep them simple, and don’t get any crazy ideas.

Now I’m home, and it’s late, and I’ve turned the heater on, and eaten a last little bowl of soup. I’m going to crawl into my bed and pile up the blankets like a debris shelter, and when I wake up the earth will have made another revolution around the sun, and I’ll finish painting the front room orange with my housemates, and continue this game of Accidental Living, where one always imagines oneself in search of a home, without realizing that home has been following doggedly along this whole time, just waiting to be noticed, and that one has been alive for quite some time, and will most likely continue to be so, in the future.

Seen on a bumper sticker on Emerson- Home is where your food is.

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