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An Aristophanic Impossibility

October 26, 2008

I am insane. I no longer doubt it. Allow me to convince you. This morning I found myself desperately trying to put milk in cereal instead of cereal in milk. Always with the same result: my cereal ended up in the milk, and not the other way round. I’d gone through three boxes of Grandy O’s and two gallons of milk before I gave up on breakfast. Last evening I read twenty pages of a novel . . . backwards. I only realized something was off when at the end of ten minutes I got to the beginning of a chapter. When I confide my insanity to my friends, they try to soothe me: “Look Rainscape, you’re just a little distracted . . . Get some rest . . . Try and exercise a little more . . . Go out and talk to people . . . You’ll get over it.”

Yes, I am distracted, I tell them.

I have tried resting, but my dreams are of wayward sentences that either run on in different directions past the point where any period will contain them, or are matter-of-factly stated ambiguities following one upon another until the words, continually so self-assured, become so frightfully senseless that I wake up between panting and laughing, not knowing whether I should be terrified or amused, and walk to the sink to throw cold water on my forehead and stare at the frightened and confused expression reflected there in the electric light from outside the window.

Exercise, yes. There’s nothing like physical activity and fresh air to restore the daylight sanity to a maniac, I agree. I go on walks: sun, rain, moon, or windy skies. Sometimes, when I feel myself becoming happy I skip. Sometimes when I feel drab and gray I hum, and try to shake it. One day, not too long ago, I stopped at a busy intersection and watched the different streams of traffic each stopping and starting, diverging and converging in their turns for so long that I came to the conclusion that I must be the traffic director . . . so I took charge of the intersection and managed it for a while at least as well as the stop lights. But then I got a little too cocky. It started out pretty innocuously. I was having a splendid time sneaking left-turners into the occasional gaps in the two-way oncoming traffic so that when theirturn came the opposite stacks of left turners would be equal and the flow of traffic perfectly balanced and expeditious. Never have I experienced such satisfaction in being serviceable to society. And never have I managed any situation with such grace, such finesse. For now I began to innovate, to discover the momentary path for every passing car that barely had to slow its pace, much less stop. More and more, the streams of humming automobiles ran without resistance like soft sand through the fingers of my mind. I wove the strands of traffic in a mighty pattern like a Celtic knot, but woven into it the mass and power, the steady thunder of the big Mack truck, and the maneuverable speed of buzzing Fiats and Festivas! The ecstasy! I was a four headed Janus! I was a Herm! I was the intersection, the exchange of roads, the origin of new directions, the still point of the turning world.

But every Hubris has its Nemesis. Mine came in the form of a Peugeot; yes, a mere cyclist interrupted my apotheosis. You see, traffic direction as a fine art is entirely dependent on the accommodation of contingencies; the medium in which you work is whatever objects are coming down the road toward you at whatever speeds and from four different directions at once. The first principle of the art is this: No two objects can occupy the same space at the same time. In other words, you have got to find a window in the intersection’s space-time continuum for each one, and that window is going to be limited by all the other objects for which you have to do the same. So, as you’ve got to be continually estimating speeds, sizes, momentums, accelerations, yadda yadda yadda, all the time intuiting a pattern in what is potentially a chaos, you’d do well to simplify it as best you can. There are some general rules of thumb: like, make sure you’ve provided for the biggest and most unwieldy objects first; if you save them for last you won’t be able to squeeze them in at all. In the hands of the expert the smaller ones start to take care of themselves, almost . . . and you can work them in with dazzling intricacy once you’ve more or less got the bigger pieces in place; that‘s the really fun part. However you must not let even the smallest tile in your four-dimensional mosaic give you the slip.

Now I’m gettin’ it, that’s what you’re thinking, he forgot to leave room for the bicycle. No, ladies and gentlemen, I provided a needle’s eye for the cyclist to thread. It was a far more ludicrous error that spelled my fate. It was myself that I forgot. As Archimedes boasted to the Syracusans, “give me but a fixed point on which to stand and I will move the world!” Silly, if you think about it. But Archimedes’ folly was a joke on me. For in a kind of other-worldly trance, alive no longer to the growl and screech of rushing steel and rubber, but only to the ever-flowering pattern through they which they rushed, I found myself within that needle’s eye. The blazing sun off the front reflector of the elegant French racer all but obliterated my vision, as with beatific satisfaction I watched the slanting cycle, a faint shadow following that brilliance, as it swerved into its appointed path. Then suddenly my legs were clipped; my head came back to the concrete with a kaleidoscopic explosion of pain. And the cyclist, her flight as perfectly projected as an Archimedes’ catapult upon its target, caught up with me and brought our spheres into shell-shocked collision.

Fate is always contact before sight. If you can gauge its approach, and see it coming at you, you retain some control over the situation. But fate is out of your hands, it annihilates you, slices you in half, fulfills you, empties you out, re-does you, and all before you have a chance put a word in. Looking back it’s as if that one event had so much sheer velocity collapsed into it that it has never yet stopped happening. So somehow there I am still, stunned, bleeding at the head, in midst of the now and forever-more hopeless confusion of that crossroads, that beautiful girl on every side of me, stunned: the two of us thrust into this hopeless proximity by the miraculous impossibility of my happening to be there in the needle’s eye of the kosmos, and just then and there forgetting my existence.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. mademoiselle permalink
    November 1, 2008 9:35 pm

    You, sir, are a wonderful human being. Your retelling of the traffic experience reminds Mademoiselle of Buddhist philosophy. Have you ever read the Dhammapada?

  2. rainscape permalink*
    November 2, 2008 5:44 am

    A glance at the Wiki-source yields a quote: “The scent of flowers does not travel against the wind, nor that of sandal-wood, or of Tagara and Mallika flowers; but the odour of good people travels even against the wind.”

    Ah! the odour of good people . . . it strangely returns from those that (hey, ho!) the wind and rain blow away from me.

    I am sorry to be all but ignorant of eastern scripture, though once was entranced by the Bhagavad Gita when waiting in the traffic of South Station; seemed somehow spookily appropriate.

    But however my ravings should chance to coincide with the wise, let this be more an argument for the wild random of my folly than intimations of the wisdom of the Buddha.

    “My thoughts and discourse as a madman’s are / at random from the truth vainly expressed.”

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