Wednesday, November 26, 2008

In Memoriam

My last blog post got exactly one reader, so this one will be another ray of sunshine.

This is a guilt trip town I'm in. I'm quite susceptible to guilt, but not usually of blame. I am a teetering mass of guilt, but always about failure, not crime. There is a difference. If you tell me that I've done something badly and I don't agree, I won't be bothered at all. However, if I, myself, think I did something badly, then you will be unable to convince me not to feel guilt.

The thing is, this is a guilt trip town, and by that I mean that drivers tailgate.

If you drive a car and there is traffic, you might feel as if you are walking along a sidewalk. You have to get around people who are wandering, have to avoid making eye contact with bullies, and all the rest. Inevitably, though, you feel the constant pressure. There is a pressure from people behind you, people beside you, to move, to go faster, to go slower, to change lanes, to stay put, to stop, to go, to go from the redlight more quickly, or not so quickly. Traffic gets on our nerves because of all of those expectations. We're all always being looked at and urged. There are only two choices on the road: press or be pressed. If you are in a hurry, and all of those idiots are in your way, then your anger and assertive reactions are aimed like rays of hatred out at all the other people. You glare, glower, and grimace as you go. If, though, you achieve your ideal speed (the speed you would go if no one else were around), then you feel pressure. All those people are hating at you, and it's not nice.

When I lived in North Carolina, the characteristic driving habit of the entire state was to get into the middle lane, if there were three, or the left lane, if there were two or four lanes to choose from. People got onto the highway and immediately went to the left lane, and there they stayed. "The left lane was good enough from grandpa, and I reckon I'll stay until God calls me home," they'd say. It was an article of faith for each and every driver that left lanes were "normal" for people going 45 mph and 95 mph alike. The middle lane mania, on the other hand, was for people going a "normal" speed. The people who thought they were middle class whether taking home $25,000 or $400,000 a year also thought they were "middle" drivers, neither fast nor slow.

Where I am now, though, the defining characteristic is tailgating. I'm not exaggerating when I say this, either. Whether it's a teen or a senior, the driver follows at 10' or less. Furthermore, it is not, as you and I might have expected, a matter of speed. On a commute, I get to a passing lane. Since I drive five miles per hour over the speed limit, I feel like I'm in no one's way, and yet I customarily have two or three SUV's (or, as they were recently called, "FUV's") riding each other's, and my, tail. When I get to the passing lane, I feel a sense of relief: they will pass me and go about their busy days without threatening me. However, they don't pass. They stay there, tailgating, because that's "normal" for them.

The effect of being tailgated all the time is to feel the weight of another person's anger all the time, to feel in the way, all the time, to feel hated, all the time. I do not respond to that person's criminalizing gaze, but I do respond to the anger and come away agreeing that I'm all alone, despicable. It's a guilt trip town.

Along the state highway, there is a very, very large field. It is perhaps 20-40 acres of furrows, usually growing peanuts, I believe. For months, I had seen two stray dogs out in that field. They would play the way that only two yearling dogs without owners could play, with utter joy. I would drive by, and they would be within ten yards of the highway, jumping in the air, twisting their necks as if catching a Frisbee, and play biting each other.

Yesterday, I was driving down the road, and there was the dandruff of cotton boles all along the median, as the autum crop had been taken in. The leaves are down, now, or falling, and so there are pixels of color amid the brown and broom sage orange of the fields, and the soil's shoulders switches from the cut pumpkin color of the northern half of the state to the sandy gray of the coast, and there, at the edge of the road, was one of those dogs, dead.

I cannot blame the drivers, nor the people who abandoned the dogs a year ago. The dog had been annihilated by the strike, and so it is extremely unlikely that he had much suffering to do. Instead, his death had been most probably as sudden as his life, but it's a town of guilt, of sadness, and of raw cut death, and I remember and mourn that pair of strays.


Anonymous said...

This is beautiful...definitely not *verbose*. I'm not sure if I would understand it if didn't know you, but luckily I do. I probably wouldn't understand it if I wasn't at this point in my life. I could go on, but I'm sure we will discuss it in person.

Amanda said...

Ha! I also found you blog! Thanks to Ajori, he's quite the detective. ...Do you really feel that strong about people who tailgate or are you using it as a metaphor for how people's expectations make you feel?

Amanda said...

Oops! Guess I should have checked my spelling. Kind of intimidating commenting a English professor!

The Geogre said...

Now, now, no references to reality, please. This is the blogosphere, where "no one knows you're a dog."

The tailgating does have a subtle psychological effect on the driver in front. Driving is a full display, I think, of desire and self-image, at least for experienced drivers. The point is that people don't think about driving, and thus they show what they're feeling and thinking about themselves and the world, and yet they feel like the car, and so they act with their vehicle the way they would with their bodies, if they only could be a Hummer H2.

If it's "my car/my self," then the highway is a theater of people telling each other what they think and people not noticing what the others are saying.

The Geogre said...

Anonymous, thank you.

There is an innate joy and terror in nature, and seeing those dogs used to be a highlight of my drive. I would always look. A minor but important part of the reason for my sadness, I think, is that the loss of life made me say, "Oh, right: people."

I don't want to go into Rod McKuen territory, but nature is "red in tooth and claw," as Matthew Arnold said, and joyful, but humans are a wild card, and it's hard, very hard, to see us as belonging anymore to the balance.