gall and gumption

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Road

I arrived here on my birthday in December 2005. Tom drove across the country with me, and for most of the trip I was no fun because I was so unhappy to be leaving California. On the last few days in California we had driven out to the coast and around the vineyards, just getting in a last look at the loveliness and it was like the whole place was conspiring to let me know what I was leaving. And how did it happen that I had made so many friends there?

It took a week to drive here, and I drove Tom straight to Dulles so he could get back to Florida. Then I had to get from Dulles to Germantown. Traveling east from the airport towards the Beltway I somehow missed the Beltway – no, I know, it sounds impossible, but I did it – and found myself eventually on a ramp that went to the Pentagon and did not give me any option of going anywhere else. I had to go all the way in to this parking lot and then I didn’t know how to get out of there. It was a dead end. I had my car filled with my belongings and the dog. I did not want to be at the Pentagon. I spotted a uniformed man getting into his car and threw myself on his mercy. He led me out to the freeway and I headed north through rush hour traffic to my first look at Germantown.

When you move to a new place your radius of activity starts small. For the first couple of days I hardly went anywhere, no further than I could walk with the dog (I was still sick of being in the car). My apartment complex, one of those “garden” complexes, is on a corner on the west side of a state road. The southeast corner, across this road, is a park, just playing fields. The northeast corner is a mini-mall. The northwest corner is a high school playing field. My dog walks would take me daily past the southeast corner, outside of our building. There’s a curb cut, of course, by the traffic light, and a bit of landscaping. Have I mentioned recently my dislike of a certain style of landscaping? This kind: Patch of immaculately maintained grass on a “hill” or “bump” that bears no intelligible relation to anything around it, with some brightly colored annuals, bought in bulk, planted in a vaguely geometric design and discreetly replaced before their mortality becomes too evident. Nothing cheers me up quite like the sight of those slowly dying mutant freaks.

Water collects in the gutter below the curb cut. By some mischance of street engineering, it doesn’t flow away like water in a gutter is supposed to do. That first winter, this puddle of dirty, oily water froze into a black-grey sooty knee-high lump of ugliness, or, on warmer days, a puddle of slush that was deeper than it looked. It made me depressed to look at it, day after day. Last winter I had more walking routes so this spot ceased to have that dreadful inevitability. I tried to avoid it. And of course I was working, not unemployed as in the previous year, so I didn’t see it in daylight so much.

In the last few weeks, Sweetie’s groundhog obsession has been taking us past this corner again. Extremely tedious for me, hope ever new for her. Now that summer has departed—rather abruptly I must say—I wonder if I’m going to have another winter of stepping over and around and into that puddle. I’ve been wanting to move out of Germantown almost from the day I arrived here. To do so necessitates my finding permanent work and then finding a place to live, preferably somewhere where I don’t have to drive through this traffic to get to work. At various times since I moved here I’ve been close enough to it to make the move, even found the place and the neighborhood. But then one thing or another came up: changes in other people’s plans, car repair emergencies, the permanent job turning out to be – well, from my desk I could smell the brimstone and hear the screams of the damned. And while I hoped that the owners of this outfit would eventually take their place among the damned I did not wish to be dragged in along with them. So I got out of there asap and went back to temping. A little time with the Gummint and back to the Big Scientific Place. Now I’m waiting again for word on jobs. Yesterday it felt a bit like when you meet the guy and like him enough to hope he’ll call.

My mother sent me a bit of Buddhist wisdom about waiting for this thing.

If I get it, I get it
If I don't, I don't

Then she advised me, if I get the job, to take the dog for a walk. And to take the dog for a walk if I do not get the job. A suitable response to either outcome, really, and, moreover, totally of a piece with the whole “I-have-no-life” program.

I’m thinking of this because of how suddenly it’s become fall again. I went out for a walk one evening and looked up at a sky that was not a summer sky. Just like that.

So today, not having heard either way yet, I did the usual thing. I loaded up the dogs in the car and took them for a walk at an old farm that is now converted into a park. I had a map this time. I looked at the map that showed two trail segments adding up to nearly three miles and somehow calculated that walking the length of the trail and back was three miles. I was lugging a backpack and my camera, and wearing lightweight sneakers. I didn’t figure out my mistake till I was almost back to the car. Then I understood why my knees were feeling a bit sore.