I turned right on the N6 past the Klondike Marsh, past Clay Pit Road, past the grate-covered mine shaft, the cave holes shown on the map. I met my hair stylist outside my old building where I worked and we hugged, and when I said goodbye half an hour later I told him he looks like Robert Plant, now that he’s back from two weeks in the Amazon he has that look of someone who’s seen a lot, it made him go white.
And when we were done I stood outside his salon and looked down the hall where my desk used to be and on the other side where my colleagues were, it was dark on a Saturday with no one there and just some light coming in that made everything look gray — and maybe it’s because I love my stylist so much, it feels like there’s a ring of protection around me when I’m there, I didn’t feel any sense of attachment or strangeness looking around, I didn’t feel anything at all.
I saw myself at the sink in my mom’s house looking out the window, down toward the Spielplatz, a turn in the cobblestone road where I sometimes saw Gilles, the Parisian my mom was friends with once and then wasn’t, and it was awkward bumping into him because he’d pretend he didn’t see us, he’d just turn away, and after we finally talked one afternoon he said you know where I live, you can come see me before you leave if you want to — but I decided against, and visited an artist named Matthias instead.
Now that the cottonwood blooms are falling they’re like soap bubbles on the shoulders by the bus stop; it gets caught in the spider webs off the deck and looks like someone’s dismantled Santa Claus, a thousand phony beards in the air, a new kind of tinsel.
Beth’s 80-year-old neighbor who’s Mormon looks like he’ll live forever, will die on his feet doing yard work, cutting grass, stops to pause underneath our deck — and I can tell he’s listening to the music I’m playing as he comes to get Beth’s recycling and garbage: the music’s so bad I play it loud hoping it will get better; I don’t even like it but I’m still trying to, and sometimes things get better with volume, sometimes they don’t. I imagine the look on his face under our deck with the music, the Incredible String Band, coming out the screens between the slats in the decking, filling the spray of bugs and cottonwood blooms with its transcendental hippy bullshit, they’re so far gone it sometimes sounds like they’re really onto something, or more likely just on something.
My stylist and I talk about what it’s like to feel the sense of dying and rebirth, to watch ourselves do that, our miserable, pathetic selves — how most times we don’t learn from our mistakes, we just keep making them: we build new cities right on top of the old ones, we act like nothing happened.
I contemplate Gilles, how the person becomes a fictitious character looking up at me from his bike at the bend in the road, and I wonder if he really sees me or if he’s pretending he can’t, if there’s a glare or bad angle or his eyesight that’s preventing him — how he visited his mom in Paris before she died so he could tell her what he really thought, and let her take that to the grave — how even the most contemptible of people we meet we share something in common with, that we need to see ourselves in them before we can believe they’re real.
When my time was up and my hair cut was over I started the car, adjusted my mirrors, and said to my reflection let’s get out of this place.