Song of my 40s, still life

Workshop of Giuseppe Arcimboldo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Workshop of Giuseppe Arcimboldo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I can palm the cat’s head in my lap when she’s napping in the morning and it’s still dark — with just candles and Brian Eno playing, sometimes you can’t tell if it’s even on, that’s the thing about ambient music.

When life starts to feel like an illusion, with props you’ve put up inside a child’s shoebox house made out of paper trees and cotton ball stars. They will drag you out of it one day and you’ll see it this way, for real.

I started getting cold, that’s when it started. I used to take all cold showers when I was training to climb mountains: if you climb mountains you start to think this way, that you can control your tolerance to the cold, and somehow this makes sense. Like breaking in a new pair of hiking boots by walking all over the city in them with no socks, to toughen my feet.

I treated my body like a dog and I was an unkind master. I forced myself to do things in Yoga you can’t really force, I bent myself out of shape like a wire clothes hanger. Then one day, I lost my nerve. The parallel from climbing applies to life, the way we do things, why we climb.

When I climbed my first mountain, I couldn’t imagine failing, it wasn’t in the plan. It’s the only thing that got me to the top, my will. When you start looking down, start thinking about falling, that’s when it starts.

I died with Styx in my head, Come sail away with me, the exuberance in the reprise and the ancient wailing almost Wagnerian in scale, climbing higher through the clouds and the synthesizers, the 1970s.

Now, the sound of a windstorm outside, hoping the power doesn’t go out, the dog smacking her lips, sighing, Middle-aged.

I started losing weight, but it was like my body was caving in on itself, collapsing. And I played The Sugarcubes for my daughter not because I like Björk but so she can hear the power of her, all the beauty and imagination in her voice, all she could be, too.

And the dog sleeps sideways, might as well be dead she looks so serene. She stretches out and settles in, and the timer on the lamp downstairs clicks off. It’s dark most hours of the day. And I must write to remember, as I scribble in the dark. I must write to live while I can I will, this way of stretching out when we feel like we’re collapsing. To make ourselves feel more real by opening the lid on our shoebox house and inviting others to look inside.

This post dedicated to Michelle Green and her blog contest on midlife crisis…check it out, you might win a kick-ass mug and a postcard from Minneapolis.

So what about the mid-life crisis?

Charlotte and I decide to walk to the lake. The lake is about 10 minutes away, she’s 7, and it’s the first time we’ve walked there together, just the two of us. She’s balancing along a stone wall about four feet above grade, and I’m trying hard to be with her, but I’m at work. I’m also thinking I’ve turned into a model from a Ralph Lauren catalog, it doesn’t feel real or right, and I can’t tell if it’s because of the job and lifestyle we have, or just life in general.

We get to the lake and she wants to walk out on the dock, where we see some ducks in the water and I explain how you can tell the difference between the boy ducks and girl ducks. She chips a piece of ice off the edge, throws it in the water, and they rush in and fight over it like it’s food.

Charlotte’s still talking about it on the way home, and I’m still telling myself to stop thinking about work.

On Sunday, it’s a repeat with my other daughter, Lily. She gives a play-by-play of the latest Disney movie, really follows the architecture of the story by every plot point. I take a picture of her with the dog, under a tree that’s turned red.

We meet at a Park & Ride and drive a few hours away with another couple (no kids), to stay at a hotel that’s rumored haunted, and get drunk. They have a salt water soaking tub there but it’s so windy, our socks get blown in the water and it’s a bitch getting out, getting dressed. I can’t find my glasses in the brush and have to use the flashlight on my phone, which I’ve turned off, so I can disconnect.

The hotel is on several acres with bars, a brewery, distillery, winery, miniature golf course, glass-blowing hut, cigar-smoking shed, organic gardens…an adult’s amusement park. Each bar is playing the same programmed music and we re-enter the playlist as we enter different bars. Chris waves his phone at the ceiling to identify the songs.

I pack the girls’ overnight bags, which is unusual and requires more guidance from Dawn than you would think. I almost have to write it down. I put their clothes in separate plastic bags and write their names on them, and a plastic Easter egg for each of them, with a note inside telling them how much I love them, with small sketches.

I don’t know that they’ll notice the eggs but it’s better not to say anything. When I meet them at the bus the next day, it’s the first thing Charlotte talks about. She’s not disappointed it’s just a note, with no money or candy. She seems to really connect with me then, and it means something to her.

The mid-life crisis is hard to talk about or understand. Names are deceiving. To wish for the days to pass quickly so you can get to the end feels wrong to me. The mid-life crisis is a mid-life awareness, and that’s the problem right now.

 

The 1,000th time

A part of me died that day in the conference room when I botched it with the process decomposition. I had a plan going in, aligned on it with my business owner, and the plan was to plot the as-is process that was already documented and go through that phase by phase, drawing out which parts needed further definition. That made sense to me, why reinvent the wheel?

I got it all plotted and posted and we started, but then decided we should just scrap it and start from scratch. It’s a small conference room, about the size of a mini-van with no windows, just a white board and a large mural with Accomplishments written at the top, but blank, because we were too busy to put anything up there.

I never really did process decomposition before. Whenever I get into Visio my soul wilts and I feel sorry for myself, for how far I’ve strayed from the person I imagined, now manipulating boxes and arrows and swim lanes. Because process is important but it makes me sick and I want to go all Punk on it, want to throw my fists down and yell FUCK FUCK FUCK.

I never did process decomposition but had it on my Partner Development Plan (PDP) because I knew it’s an important part of being a project manager; process often comes up. People expect you to be that way.

So I said fine, let’s just start from scratch. It was me, the business owner, his boss, and our consultant. The consultant just sat there and watched as the two other guys riffed off each other and I tried to keep up with them with my Post-it notes and annotations, but quickly they realized I wasn’t capturing it in a cogent fashion (it looked like spaghetti with all the squiggly lines and arrows), and the mood changed in the room. They got curt and the big guy (my business owner) turned red, started raising his voice.

I was shaking and starting to stutter and this is where a gap opened inside me, some new voice bloomed in my head and mumbled something dark, something about running away from everyone and dying alone, in the woods. That voice sometimes peeps at me in the morning drive in, when I consider what would happen if we got into an accident and I’d have a legitimate reason to miss work a few days.

A couple hours later it was over and I rolled up the plotter paper and preserved the Post-it notes from falling off, out of sequence. We all looked at one another like we’d seen each other’s privates and felt weirded-out by it. More, they’d seen mine.

I got back to my desk and cracked open Visio, shaking, and played with the orientations to produce something viable. I ran back and forth between my computer and the printer and put copies on their chair with a handwritten Post-it asking for feedback, signed Bill.

There were many discussions after this: me briefing my boss, my boss circling back with them to play damage control, it goes on and on. It triggered a kind of unraveling to where I felt like a political figure.

That was April. By late August, I was transitioning off the project and we had more than 100 process documents broken into separate files with a careful taxonomy and file naming convention. This is like the end of the film, Raiders of the Lost Ark: I post the files on a SharePoint site, copy them to a thumb-drive, hand them off to the consultant to upload onto their share-drive, and the crate is buried in a dark warehouse, FADE OUT.

Brandenburg in F-ing Flat

My boss and I have an 8 o’clock stand-up meeting every day. The stand-up is meant as a quick, informal check-in on your progress. What you got done yesterday, your priorities for today. The thought is if you’re standing, it shouldn’t go too long — about 15 minutes. We normally sit, and they last 30.

My boss is the best one I’ve ever had, maybe. Yesterday he made some cutting remarks about my performance though, which is hard to hear because it’s true.

So I went back to my computer to put everything back together. I shuffled papers and moved things around, and drew wild sketches. I answered some emails and drafted the weekly status report. Then I went to the doctor and got my back checked, because I couldn’t put my socks on or dry myself properly, or do things in the bathroom normal people do without bad backs.

I let the dog out and there was a new, wet stain on the rug. The cat jumped on my lap and made those retching movements, almost puked on me, but hit the rug instead. Then, I stepped on shit in my socks on the way to the bathroom and had to put on another pair again.

I got home from the doctor’s and turned the computer back on, answered emails, drew wild sketches. I took a long walk at sunset to clear my head and figure things out, but didn’t. I worked until 6:30, had trouble sleeping, got up at 4:30 and answered my first email at 4:52 AM.

I’m conflicted about taking work home with me: conflicted, meaning I don’t do it as a rule, on principle, but then one day you realize you’re the only person with that rule, and you have to decide what’s most important.

The problem with work for us in America is we over-identify with it and now, with technology, there are no borders between work and home. It’s another way of being here but not being present, and you have to consider how much of yourself you’ll let it take. Which is true with just about everything.

 

Standing under the shoulders of giants

A week spent with data, inside Excel: VLOOKUPS, pivot tables, four rewrites of a simple proposal drawn up for review by one guy, a 15 minute meeting. A five page deck with about 10 pages in the appendix. The appendix, which just arrived one day as a great idea in corporate presentations, like “Don’t worry we DID think of everything, we’re just not going to bug you with it unless you need to go there. We don’t want to waste your time.”

And I rework it with a few minutes of feedback and wait for more feedback, how my boss thinks her boss will react to it as a kind of filter for her boss, for the big moment.

I have to draw it out on paper first, how the presentation will look. I get into PowerPoint and my creativity puckers up as soon as I start hitting commands. They switch the versions so often and move things around, I can’t keep up. It’s all chicanery in PowerPoint, drawing boxes and lines — not too much detail, not too little, not too many words, easy on the bullets, keep the font size the same, stick to the style guide.

I don’t know how to do VLOOKUPS and I don’t want to learn. I go to the Internet and watch videos. I call a guy who can do it and he comes over and asks, do I just want him to do it or do I want to learn and I lie and say, oh show me, to honor him, to respect his time. But I don’t have time to learn and don’t want this knowledge, this data handling.

I think about all the data these days and all the businesses designed to help people use it, and it leaves me cold. I look out at the trees now as the sky is falling and think, would I walk up to that tree and consider its data?

I was asked to rework the data many times. It’s a list of about 652 records but I’m only interested in about a hundred of them, and of that population I need to slice it about 10 different ways, but it’s all for estimating purposes, for a 15 minute conversation, and not a lot of money on the line — maybe as much spent in a few hours thinking about it as the event itself, but who’s counting?

In the mornings I tinker with a poem or two, from my walks to the lake this weekend, when I let myself open up to the world around me and forget about the data, the week. You can’t rush the poems either: they require some careful handling, some commands, some listening.

The poem is about a lending library on a dead end road that leads to the lake. I saw my reflection in the glass of the street-side box, mounted on a post, that has books inside you can just pick up and take home, leave another book in its place.

And I thought what small things, books, how you can fit so many inside such a little space, and how much of themselves the writers put in there, possibly all of themselves, and how worlds collapse inside one another, the real ones we delude ourselves with and the made-up ones we imagine, sometimes more real.

And I couldn’t write for a couple weeks now because of the brain damage at work, even started developing pimples and picking the skin around my cuticles, which is a sign I’m spilling out, biting myself like a dog.

I went to a show last night in the rain across town, had to take the highway, squinting and hesitating and realizing my nerves are slowing down. Went to the show alone because I needed some insular trip to disappear inside.

And the first band was Low, from Duluth. They’ve been around maybe 20 years and never made it. They set up their equipment and break everything down, themselves. And I watch the singer gyrate with his guitar, the jerky, snake-like motions he makes with his arms and neck, and it’s so real it gives me the chills. And a friend of mine argues, who would you rather be, REM or Low? And I say, it depends.

Secretary’s Day

I was sleeping with a girl from the Costume Department. They thought she was gay, they thought I was gay, and we played along with it — Ha, ha, “We’re gay!” They thought she was gay because she’d started going out with women, and they assumed I was too, because most straight guys don’t work at theaters or take jobs as secretaries.

It was my first real job coming out of school. A real job, because it had an annual salary, which I assumed meant more pay. They even presented me with an offer letter, with my name typed right there in the corner and a letterhead on top.

The job was really two jobs, “wearing many hats,” which is what you do in theater. I was part office manager, part company manager, which meant I had to meet the actors at the bus station, drive them to their hotel, get them set up, where to buy alcohol on a Sunday.

But basically, the job was a secretary. And everyone hated the woman I worked for, who was recently divorced, and had one of those hyphen-last names which sounded like “break your balls” if you said it wrong.

She was the daughter of a retired executive who ran a company selling chemicals to the Defense Department, to the government. They were Texans, good stock. She needed something to do though, so the theater became her hobby. And everyone talked about her before she came into the office and after she left, and while she was there.

I came to like her in a way that was like the Patty Hearst thing, where you fall in love with the villain who’s abducted you. I felt sorry for her and the fact they hated her, what they said: how she was trying to look artsy with her hats and scarves, but looked like an old witch, how the lines in her face resembled the creases in a rotten apple.

In the afternoon the mail came and that was one of my things to do, to sort it into different slots. That’s when Lisa came by from the Costume Department, and we’d exchange faces. She had the start of a mustache but it didn’t matter because her eyes were mad like a panther’s and she had a mole by her mouth that smacked of sex.

We went so far as to visit a gay bar in a town called New Hope on one of our days off. It was one of those gay bars where all heads turn when you walk in and you realize you’ve made a bad choice and can’t do anything about it.

But there was an older guy by himself in the corner who gestured sit down, and so we did to try to blend in. He really just needed someone to hear his story: how he worked for years with Jim Henson making puppets, even worked on the set of Fraggle Rock, first season. He pulled out a picture from his wallet with some muppets on it and pointed to an ostrich, “That’s the guy I was with, right there.”

Part of the appeal with Lisa was an ego thing, that I could be man enough to win her back to the world of men. She wrote plays and was researching the life of another woman who wrote plays about women who suffered really bad premenstrual syndrome, so bad it drove them to commit wild acts of violence, and how this was part of a male conspiracy to keep women down, the kind of thing you don’t normally hear about.

It ended one day over lunch at a small restaurant near work, when she accidentally poured salt into her coffee thinking it was sugar and I laughed, because it was a funny thing to do, and she just snapped and said FUCK YOU BILL PEARSE I HATE YOU BILL PEARSE, and all the other tables looked up.

I said OK, we’re done.

When the mail came later she said I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it — and I said I’m sorry, I did. And that was that, she went back to women.

My boss started having me heat up her lunch and bring it to her, and that’s when I learned the trick about sprinkling water on leftover pasta before you heat it, but not so much it dilutes the sauce.

On opening nights, we got comp tickets to bring a friend to the show, and I started inviting my friend Dan, in keeping with the gay theme.

Dan was about the most ungay man you could imagine, which made it even better. He had heavy metal hair — not the pretty kind of hair-sprayed hair, but the real heavy metal hair that goes so long and unruly it takes on its own identity, the way ivy can take over a yard.

I wore Dan around like a used sweater, with holes, a way of saying Fuck You to the others at work, because that’s what Dan’s hair seemed to be saying, in our small town.

When we cast a new show it was my job to coordinate pickup with the actors and the most well-known was one of Alan Arkin’s sons. He had two kids and they both acted, and this one looked just like a younger Alan Arkin, just not as interesting.

The play was some romantic comedy thing my boss thought would go over well with our demographic (older women with a lot of money wanting a good time out, nothing too edgy).

It was just Alan Arkin’s son and a woman, a small cast, because we didn’t have a lot of money to pay the actors. I got Alan’s son to his hotel and went back for the woman, who wound up being beautiful, and a bit out of sorts getting into my car.

She was from New York and sounded interested in the small town character our town lacked. I gestured to the hospital where I was born, the county jail, the middle school (which was grades four through six, I think), the fairgrounds where I worked that summer selling Pepsi out of a large Pepsi can, made about a thousand dollars in cash, probably spent it all on Izod shirts and Dungeons & Dragon figures — ha, ha!

I gave the theater a few days notice when I quit, after I did the math and calculated how much I was making by the hour, and talked to a temp agency that said they could pay more, with a wide variety of assignments like flagging for construction crews, or office jobs where I could apply my typing skills, which were exceptional for a man.

They had a different name for Secretary’s Day that was trumped-up, like Administrative Professionals Day, and I didn’t intend to quit on that day, but I did. They warned it would look bad on my resumé, that I left so soon — but I didn’t even have a resumé, and wasn’t worried.

 

 

 

You can see why they thought they were spirits

Illustration of the Blackfoot Indian medicine man. George Catlin, source Wikimedia Commons.

Illustration of the Blackfoot Indian medicine man.
George Catlin, source Wikimedia Commons.

What started off clear became obscured by the cloud’s thickening brow. The night passed on to dawn, this time we contemplate the dead.

And we pass down a darkened lane to the end, past the signs and arrows carved in the sides of a cave.

We pass by the edge of the woods, by a hole in the fence that leads to a path in the dark called The Magic Place, that place in the soul and all its pasts.

And we rub our thumbprints across the sky for war, to make ourselves look fierce, to kill. We raise our hearts to the sky so we can grow wings like the crow.

And the wind is a tidal force that swallows the shore and shakes the trees, a rattle of bones, a dance.

And the clouds cross over so slow like the day we died with their hands on our eyes.

And we cross over a ditch through a hole in the fence and do not feel our feet hit the ground.

We pass through and follow the markings for Hidden Driveways, No Turn Around signs.

We cross over the ditch with the scraps and the muck and we are carried there by a calling, from the leaves flapping and their hands clapping, come.

And the spray-painted markings could be code for the holes we put in the ground, for the power lines and poles on their sides and the men who climb them like ants.

It is the time of transcendence to realize we are one in the same.

It is the time of realization to be carried off by the wind, to die.

We dreamed our souls would see the ground from the sky one day.

We forgot in our hearts we are warriors, we must go into the dark of the cave to remember that.

Leaves in a book

The days end like that, the same way they begin, me on my side gripping a pillow, wondering what day it is. Walking the steps at work, up the parking lot floors: walls made out of cinder block, what it would feel like to touch them.

I flick the night light, the closet light, the bathroom fan, the shower. Feed the cats, the dog, pour the coffee. Time to write, to light a candle for some magic.

I walk to the lake with the dog and the leaves on the ground are no different than the days we try to save when we stop and look at them, think how pretty, tuck one in a book, and forget.

We are in the game of trapping moments, cupping them with our hands. Each is sacred on its own, put into a new context, framed on the ground: the leaf caught in its last moment here, caught on fire and fallen flat, soon to be raked up or blown away with the others. We save the leaf to preserve that moment and then it seems silly when we discover it later.

Over the hill as the rain is beaten back and a rainbow bends across the sky: how can it be that it looks real but you still can’t touch it? That it can be there for everyone to see, and not there at the same time. And how we can pass in and out of life feeling the same.

The true meaning of karma

Caspar David Friedrich - "Wanderer above the sea of fog." Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Caspar David Friedrich – “Wanderer above the sea of fog.” Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I nap while the beef simmers in the stove, thickening over the house, day sagging into night. There is coffee and beer and water in between to wash us out, to cleanse us, bobbing up and down upon days. I peel back the dog’s lips to make her look sinister, decide on a walk.

The day is gray and wet, hillsides gone yellow and brown, dabbed with a sponge, a day for painters and poets. Spiders the size of grapefruits, witches hanging from trees. Through the new development, men on rooftops bent over like beetles clanking with tools and stapler guns, the development that used to be the woods, where we sometimes saw snakes.

The dog is drawn to smells of other dogs on the ground, to histories and scents no different than I am drawn to people passing on the street, possible characters coming in and out of pages, the edges of scenes and street corners, some of us ghosts.

We gut the trees to put in more houses, storm water drainage ponds to resemble natural habitat, prop ducks and birdsong recordings, now an exhibit in a zoo behind a chain-link fence. I stand there with my dog admiring it, how the tree frog chokes like it’s giving birth to itself through its throat, gagging, finding its voice.

I get an email from a friend, his dog has died. The dog was 21, reduced to a rattling husk, and they would not put her down or even talk about that, because they believe in karma — karma in the sense you don’t interfere with someone playing out a destiny to realize a past debt, because death is an important part of life, as important as the beginning.

After the walk our dog is collapsed by the fireplace, a broken umbrella with limbs at odd angles, whiskers chewed down to the nub by other dogs from the boarding house, now growing back at irregular lengths like fake whiskers, a dog mask.

I see my doctor about my heart, have my blood drawn, strip down to a robe that ties in the back. I get weighed and measured and feel old, all of the sudden. We talk about the number of drinks I have a week: we count them, and that’s a different kind of prodding, a different kind of looking-inside-you question.

I mention a dull pain on the left side of my chest, by my heart, when he asks if there’s anything else I want to talk about — and then he chides me for not mentioning it at the beginning of the appointment. In fact he repeats himself, “That’s why I asked you at the beginning if there was anything else you wanted to talk about,” and he shakes his head and lets the silence fall over us like a drape.

He says something in Latin, that’s what he calls it: a tissue attached to my ribs, must have gotten stretched out of place. So now I don’t have to worry I’m walking around with a time bomb inside of myself, don’t need to think about death again for a while.

I get the dog to the lake and there are people getting ready to go in, to swim. They are knee-deep in their 50s with wet suits on and flippers, the sun is melting into the water and there are no power boats allowed, so it’s a mirror reflection of the sun going down, dusk.

My dog is biting the water and shaking herself off near the people on the beach, so I keep her on the leash but they say It’s OK, let her off, and so I do, and the guy in the wet suit speaks to me in a tone like I’m his son, he says, “Dogs are people too,” and you can tell he believes it, it makes sense why we love dogs when we look into their eyes, because they remind us of us, we see something of ourselves in them.

Back home there is a new breed of bugs that’s just appeared, maybe from the mild weather, like the January bugs that just show up, one day.

They’re slow, nameless bugs that hang in the air and don’t bite: they look like snowflakes falling upwards, falling sideways, and they’re almost pretty in the filtered light of the sunset, how they look like fairies or angels floating there, going up and down and sideways, criss-crossing in the light, alive only a day or two, all of them weaving in and out of each other, cottonwood blooms.

Some get caught in the webs lassoed around power lines; some are wispy and white and gather outside our window after the sun goes down. They seem to be looking inside, studying me, trying to understand the outline of my shape through the window, on the other side of the glass. And it’s true I think, they could be souls too. The dog that died was likely someone else.

(Inspired by James Joyce’s short story The Dead, which was filed erroneously in the horror section at the video rental store.)

The Hypertext Transfer Protocal

"L-L Boilly Une loge" by Louis-Léopold Boilly - Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

“L-L Boilly Une loge” by Louis-Léopold Boilly – Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this week, I wrote about the novel White Noise and how some of its themes from 1985 apply today, with the unfolding of the Ebola epidemic.

“The flow is constant,” Alfonse said. “Words, pictures, numbers, facts, graphs, statistics, specks, waves, particles, motes. Only a catastrophe gets our attention. We want them, we need them, we depend on them. As long as they happen somewhere else.”
- Don DeLillo

I lent the book to a co-worker who left Starbucks to work at Amazon, and never gave it back. When I got the idea for the post this week, I had to buy another copy of the book, and imagined driving downtown, paying for parking, taking time off from work — instead, I went to Amazon.

I’m not one to do this, because I like shopping in stores. Once I got to Amazon, one book purchase turned into four (which also happens in stores). And for the first time, I checked out their used copies.

The idea of a virus spreading and buying a book from someone I would never meet over the Internet had a poetic quality to it, so I went for a copy described as “Acceptable.”

I don’t mind the wrinkles in the cover or the softened edges, but as I thumbed through it, I found notes and annotations from the previous owner, themes revealed right there in my hands, the writer picked at with a scalpel.

It’s not much different than buying the edition with notes and criticism as a foreword, which I’ll rarely read — but in this case, I have no choice.

In the back of the book there’s a receipt with the location it was purchased and the date, 1999. The same handwriting on the receipt, ‘Friday 5 PM’ written at the bottom. The handwriting is careful and elegant, likely a woman’s. So now I re-read White Noise through the eyes of a woman, who’s following it through the eyes of a professor which you can tell by the notes, that sound academic.

And now, the story of the woman who owned the copy of White Noise I bought on Amazon, who’s probably from Eugene, Oregon, why she sent it to Amazon for resale, likely with boxes of other books, maybe moving out or thinning out her past, getting on with her life (or broke, hooked on dope).

How handwriting is so personal and yet, this person is any person to me, and no one at all. Imagining meeting her, and tracking her down, which is not unthinkable on the Internet, leveraging the mad technology DeLillo foresaw as turning us inside-out, fracturing our attention, relationships, our sense of humanity: then, through a TV set — now, through different boxes and hand-held portals.

I wrote the story in my head walking down the street at work, and watched as two women approached me from the opposite direction, walking together or apart, it wasn’t clear, and I wondered, would they walk right into me or into a pallet of boxes on the sidewalk, but they sensed my presence at the very last second and swerved out of the way. It seems everyone is somewhere else, I wrote. Only a catastrophe gets our attention.