Thursday, May 14, 2009

A traveler's tale

Dawn. Under a noncommittal sky, I lie awake and listen, wrapped in the particular joy of waking to birdsong. The lake is a blank slate. My mind too, before the radio alarm, before the Times online, before coffee. The birds of appetite circling the body in the road. In the room next door to mine, the faint rustle of books rousing themselves in the grayness.

They rise unsteadily from the floor in ghostly silence. They murmur, "Nothing made by human hands lasts forever. Soon it will be time for us to go, too. Some of us will go silently in rot, some of us will go noisily in flame. No one knows exactly when, but it may be soon."

I decide to get up, get dressed, and take a walk around Lakeshore Drive. Through a lighted window, I see Sweet Lou walking around his house in his shorts. He appears to be talking to himself. Unlike the crows across the street who talk to each other. A woodpecker's hammering echoes in the copse down by the dock. The air is damp and still, rain is forecast. I let the heartbeat rhythm of walking and breathing become one with the rhythm of the waking world in all its superfluity.

Overhead, a distant plane heads northwest. I used to travel a lot for the job. It was thought important to meet people in the flesh, to eat and drink together, to talk about big things and little things. It was such a relief to leave the machines behind, the web behind, and walk on solid ground, laughing at nothing in particular, with fellow book travelers and customers. We became friends. Building relationships in person was deemed worthy and necessary. Even the bean counters knew that personal relationships formed the cornerstone of a successful business.

All that is mostly gone now, replaced by video, the web, e-mail, twitter, teleconferencing. A diminished world. Fraught relationships. Loneliness. Staring at screens, talking into space. Dishonoring the body. The dumb compromises companies make to save a few dollars. Whose money is it, anyway? The Free Market Boys sitting on their fat arses? Or the people doing the work?

The plane is out of sight, far away. I am walking around a lake in New Jersey. I am not living in the past. I have traveled far to get here, so close to home.

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