“They have seldom any claim to the trade of writing but that they have tried some other without success; they perceive no particular summons to composition except the sound of the clock; they have no other rule than the law or the fashion for admitting their thoughts or rejecting them; and about the opinion of posterity they have little solitude, for their productions are seldom intended to remain in the world longer than a week.” – Johnson
The day splits and sighs. It afternoons, and I yawn and stretch between sips of tea. My fingers, like two pale spiders, scatter across an Apple, and my mind ponders past centuries. Then, voices. After cleaning the inside of my mug, I dispose of a tea bag. A backlight tells me the time, and I pack, strap bag to back and shoulders and saunter out of the room.
It’s cloudy, and the desert’s tan shimmers into silver-gray. The wind seems to add to the gray, as if air colors when the sun hides behind clouds. Men walk with hands on head, and my thighs ache, pumping bike pedals. I wonder, in between thirty-mile-an-hour gusts, if walking wouldn’t be faster. The parking lot is full, and I’m faster than those cars anyways. The asphalt changes to concrete, and the wind increases. The concrete is an open walkway, on one side, sheltered on another by an eight- or nine-foot chain-linked fence, the final two feet slanted with barbed wire. It is held down by dark sand bags, as if it was only recently placed. I hug this fence, perhaps telling myself it will offer relief from the wind. It doesn’t. Four or five buildings are on the other side. Every fifty or so yards, an opening appears in the fence, parts of its structure peeled back so humans can enter, or leave. Few are out, luckily.
I pedal to about the end of this walkway, and seeing another opening in the fence, I enter in, park, unlock then lock my u-lock, making sure the tire is snug with lock, rim, and rack. A young woman slouches against a pole, and I look at her, wondering if she knows more about the fences. But she’s locked in, staring intently at her phone, unaware of my existence. I sigh and head toward the building.
My fingers again find the Apple, and I stare intently at an LED screen. An older man shuffles by my office door, and I hear him sigh loudly, as if weary. I’m not the only one.
“Hey there. Hey, you alright?” A female voices questions the man.
The man responds as if woken from a nap.
“Yeah, I just heard you sigh really loudly. Everything okay?”
“Oh!” he said, as if realizing. “Yeah, it’s just the whole… I can’t wait until it’s over.”
“I know. It’s draining people.”
“It really is. And… I’m leaving today. I’m not coming back for a week. Don’t turn on your television… It’s just sad the baseball season will be over… I’ve started taping games so I can watch next month.”
The divine wisdom of this last statement is overpowering. His speech, though, is heavy, like a man bogged down with several responsibilities. I think about how baseball relieves the burden. I nod in approval and remember last October. Then, my fingers find the Apple and I am lost in another period.
I leave the building refreshed and awake. I glance at the fence, glad they didn’t lock me in. I get on my bike and think about one thing: home. I hug the fence again and notice an opening to a side street. Further in, I think. Surely, I’m on the outside. A few souls enter this gate, and I watch them glide down the road. At the end of the fat, short road, I spy another gate. This one is a dark green, and it is difficult to see through it, though I know what lies beyond. Two guards wearing yellow tops and black pants stand at the gate, checking those brave souls who entered in. I watch as they walk and wonder if they will ever return.
I decide to walk my bike for a bit. I spot a black man with a clipboard and look the other way. He calls anyways.
“Hey, you registered to vote?”
“Yes,” I said, giving him a thumbs up, hoping that will silence him. It usually does.
“Oh, well then will you sign my petition?”
“No thanks,” I say moving on. I see another black guy in a tie without a clipboard. He clearly heard my answer. He eyes me and asks the same question. I tell him no in the only way I know, though I’d like to smash a clipboard over his head.
Then I pass a large podium with hundreds of televisions. A stadium-size big screen hovers over grass, and men sit in chairs on the podium with their backs turned to us. I glare at them through sun-glasses. I think about how the journalists are the scum of the earth; how their entire existence consists of bad writing, loose facts, ridiculous logic, and lies. The journalist writes from compulsion or for fame, not love; he has no substance, for he has no thoughts, and his paragraphs show it; he is a gossip, a mere fly on the wall, who squeals about his story like a middle school girl; he only writes what conforms to his presuppositions, which always conforms with current fads. He is the very definition of ephemeral, and the only hope his writing brings to anyone, is that it will never be read after he is dead.
I’ve always liked fences. Boxes. As a child, I rarely ever felt fenced-in. Fences were protection, and offered a sort of freedom one can’t have without boundaries. A sort of free will exists with a fence. A man can climb it. A man can look through it and long, or look through it and be thankful. Fences and their popularity are the very evidence the balkanization party will eventually overtake this country. Everyone, deep down, is a Balkan. Each man has a fence, or a wall, if not around his home than around his heart, which is essentially the same thing. And when this country crumbles, they will clamor for fences.
But a good thing may be ill-used. And as I ride, I think about how freedom is messy but the messiness is necessary. I think about how policy rarely changes a heart, for a heart is always free. I think about the clamor of journalists with their false statistics, their blind belief in policy to change the world. I think about how that is rarely the case, how lives are changed human to human, soul to soul, or words written by the wisdom of the dead. And I think how legality does not suddenly make sins sensible or virtues vices.
My course continues. I leave the fence for greener grasses. Several banners wave in the wind like flags. They are red and white, and I feel as if in a strange land. I’m at the corner of Maryland and Harmon, waiting for a light. It dawns on me that the leader for the free people is the most fettered man alive. That before he is ever free he is caged like an animal, constructing fences around the walled-auditoriums in which he will speak. It dawns on me that beyond the screaming fans, the masses receive him with a deep groan. And it dawns on me that my university looks more like a concentration camp at the moment than a university. And I wonder if that is not fitting given this current election, operation self-destruct. Then, I pause, as usual, and wonder if I am not overreacting. I realize it can get worse. And so I determine to react instead of overreact; to act instead of despair. And then I see a green-lighted man beckoning me home, and I move, thinking about baseball.
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
Painting: “Iron Bed Fence”
By Alan Price
Oil on canvas, 1956