Friday, November 28, 2014

It jiggles the pen

The flickering sunlight and grumbling vibration induce a trance. The world is moving while the train stands still. The reflection of the train windows does not change on the passing backs of industrial buildings that flow eastward past our westward facing engine and string of cars.

Chunks of ice release from the train's top.  The air must have warmed above freezing.

A chain link fence corrals dozens of portable toilets on one side of a dilapidated brick building. On the other side of it, broken pavement and old roadbed sand fill a bin defined by concrete blocks.

Bare trees, fallen leaves, brown brick, oily dirt scroll by. The sun reluctantly rises above the horizon as we fly toward December with its even more reluctant sun. A warming globe is no lighter. It's not so much the cold that induces dormancy. Without photo there is no synthesis. Without photosynthesis, all other life plays defense until the sun returns in force.

Photoperiod will control the northward spread of southern species even as warmer temperatures change or end the lives of northern ones.

Rolling through Norwalk the cartoonist in me looks for people puking, and puddles of vomit everywhere.  I left East Lyme, eponymous home of one disease, and pass through this other unfortunate town whose name is linked to a physical discomfort.

I recognized Darien just from one unsuccessful job interview here in 1984. The part of town visible from the tracks has seen no need to change drastically in 30 years. Impressive, in this country so eager to plow under all that was smaller, quieter and slower in favor of wider highways, broader parking lots and bigger box stores. But with the state of rail in this country, there is no right side of the tracks. Anything near the tracks seems to be caught in time, whether as a quaint village vignette or in a permanent state of mid-dilapidation.

Just under 40 minutes from  New York, according to the conductor, a golf course to the left of us looks at first like a Revolutionary War fortification and battlefield. Earthworks and old stone suggest it. A distant building supports the impression until the obvious putting greens defended by their sand traps show what conflicts are contested here now. The banked earth and old stone leave unanswered the question of whether the land did see an earlier, more serious  purpose.

For the most part the view is unending dumps, depots and debris fields. Graffiti dresses up a lot of it, applied by unseen artists. It's easier to imagine it appearing by itself than to envision in real time detail a person or people going through the process. It's the work of mythical entities.

Nothing fronts on the railroad. Urban America turns its back to the tracks. What can we do from inside our can, rolling by until the next scheduled stop? There's no need to care what we think. Every place needs a utilitarian side. This is it.

I like the utilitarian side. The best part of Walt Disney World was the tunnels. I would rather be the bartender than the guest of honor and I'm better suited to be a dishwasher than a chef. Just don't make the mistake of disrespecting any of those roles. Know who serves you and how you depend on them. What is not you is not necessarily beneath you.

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