Endless Mountain Zone

I know I won’t remember the year 2011 at all when I am an old lady in a rocking chair, mentally traversing the same roads I travelled in my past.  It has been just such a year, uninspiring, uneventful with expectations lowered to the point of flatlining; no spikes up or down.  Which doesn’t really make for a bad year or for unhappy times.  It just feels a bit like the stretch on Route 81, en route to all points north and slightly west, where the sign says, “Endless Mountain Zone”, somewhere near Steamtown, Scranton, PA.  The area in question is endless enough even if it isn’t quite mountainous.  The satellite radio loses its signal, the cell phone enters a dead zone.  All one can do is drive and hope that road hypnosis doesn’t set in.
Yes, that’s what 2011 feels like.  It’s an year of feeling resigned.  It could have qualified as placid contentment if one was more mature, less restless and more enlightened.  A year of no plans, no expectations, no excitement.  A year of being resigned to a lowered salary and rising expenses, no vacations, not even
“staycations” because one has grown traffic averse in the extreme and somewhat conscious of gas expenses.
The things I used to enjoy in 2010 have receded into distant memory.  Reading, loading up all my electronic gadgets with music or books, lunch hour explorations of midtown, east side, finding something new and exciting every day, watching people in all their quirkiness of attire or mannerisms, their classic unconcern with what anyone thought or felt and every now and then an amazing glimspe of sartorial elegance.  Those who know me well, through what I wrote then, would also remember that I used to whine a lot.  I was always complaining about the bus, the train, the hours lost commuting and about the dull nature of a very routine job.  I did go on and on about that to anyone who would care to listen.  There is some truth to the grass being greener on the other side, it seems.
The truth is that I don’t miss the old job and I don’t miss losing four hours of my day each day… but I do miss New York City with all my heart.  For the last 15 years New York was an exciting second home.  I loved having a connection to a wonderful city that’s really like no other.  A city that’s more like a living, breathing organism pulsating with contagious and life-giving energy.  When I spent time there I was inspired and alive.  I had more days where I felt as though anything was possible, as though expectations never needed to be lowered to the point where they were a flat line.  The city embraced me, I returned the embrace and sensed a oneness.
Now the commute is an hour shorter, even if the hour is spent crawling at speeds that often make me wonder if I could get to work sooner if I walked! I sit there examining my aging face in the rearview mirror in the long spells when the car just doesn’t move, each additional minute spent in traffic adding another line around my eyes or my lips, asking myself if this is how it’s going to be from now on? There are no discernible crow’s feet yet unless I squint a certain way but the grey hairs are certainly threatening to explode into the likeness of a powdered wig.  As the car lurches forward again the maudlin thoughts give way to a realization that these thoughts are bringing one down and that one needs to crank up the radio.  But then the radio plays something horrendous like, “She was a fast machine/she kept her motor clean…” seemingly for the fifth time in five listenings, reminding one that one’s own “fast machine” is going nowhere in a hurry, it’s just sitting there rusting.
That’s when the iPhone comes out with it’s voice recording feature.  Singing all the songs I know, I lurch forward some more.  And so the ride goes, all the way until we exit at a nondescript exit and into the parking lot of a nondescript building with no surrounding points of exploration, no lunch hour excursions.  No lunch buddies since everyone is either on a diet or working straight through lunch.  We saddle up for a day of intense, focused work, telling ourselves that this is what the Bhagwad Gita preaches.  Work, work, work, no expectations, no distractions, just an intense focus on one’s work.  This time the cubicle at work has no personal affectations, no pictures, no collection of jackets, sweaters draped over the chair or shoes under the desk.  It’s work in all its purity except when I take some time off to tell my virtual friends that Gladiators, cactii and creeds are the things on my mind.  They probably think I’ve lost it when they read something like that from me.  But my reference points are not entirely random.  I conjure up the image of Russell Crowe playing a gladiator in the movie “Gladiators”.  His character has a family back home, he is enslaved and he just does what he is required to do as a gladiator, unemotionally and with immense detachment.  I think of the proud saguaros lining the Arizona landscape, self-sufficient in an arid climate, their inner resources intact and then I summon up the question of creed after having read, in an article about Clarence Darrow, that life is intolerable without a creed.  We all have a creed, we need one to get by.  What’s mine, I wonder.
The evening drive is similar to the morning’s drive.  Fiddling with the radio, listening to the phone recordings of one’s own voice, making phone calls (handsfree, of course) wondering about dinner and whether the rest of the evening could be effectively parsed into the things that I need to do to tell myself that I am intelligent and alive and have interests that just won’t quit, quitting them would be like quitting on myself, driving the flatline of life even lower if such a thing was possible.  So we practice our scales and √©tudes on the violin, we fire up the electronic tanpura and sing the longer notes, we do what needs to be done for dinner and then watch the family members disperse to their own separate spaces of the house.
Then it’s just us – me and the bright screen in front of me…demanding…something.

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