I was walking down the street and I saw this guy on the other side of the road and I thought that maybe he was making a threatening face in my direction so I put my head down because I didn’t know if that threatening face was in my head or if maybe he was just getting all pissed off because maybe he was one of those guys that doesn’t like getting looked at but then I saw him crossing the street but I still had my head sort of down so I couldn’t see if he was still making that face or if he was still looking at me but then he shouted, “Hey!” and so I thought I guess he is making that face at me but I still didn’t want to look up so I put my head down even lower and shoved my hands into my pockets even deeper and I didn’t want to make a run for it but I did start walking really fast and he screamed, “You!” and again I was just getting so freaked out so now I did start to run a little bit but it wasn’t a full blown sprint because I didn’t want to use all of my running energy at once like what if I started running and then I got tired or maybe there might be an even bigger emergency on the other side of the street and so I thought it best to only trot just a little bit just lightly and that way in case there was any sort of other danger or emergency I’d be able to pick it up a notch run a little faster and then he screamed “Hey, you!” and this time I picked my head up because I could hear him getting closer and I started to panic and I knew that panicking wasn’t going to get me anywhere and so I lifted my head up determined to face this situation and if he was going to yell at me or mug me or whatever then fine just do it already get it over with and so I picked up my head and I said “What is it? What do you want from me!” and as I lifted my head and said all of those words I made eye contact with him just in time for me to realize that he wasn’t looking at me or walking toward me or even talking to me at all but there was another guy to my right standing in some driveway and that was the guy that he had been trying to talk to all along and so they were both there on either side of me and they were staring and I guess they were surprised that this random dude just started yelling at one of them and so I put my head down and started walking again faster this time and I heard one of the guys say, “What the fuck what that about?” and the other guy said, “Fuck if I know.”
The other day I was outside in my backyard watering the plants. I have a sprinkler somewhere, but there’s this really stubborn and lazy resistance preventing me from digging it out and setting it up. My day-to-day routine would be a lot easier, which isn’t to say that I’m out there every day. But I’m at least thinking about it, as I waste time surfing the Internet, or rush to get ready so I’m no more than five minutes late to work. There’s always that nagging feeling in the back of my mind, dude, you have to water the plants.
Sometimes I’ll get a pretty good rhythm going, something almost resembling a routine. Maybe a stretch of three or four days will pass when I’m actually doing it somewhat regularly, I’m outside, I’m watering the garden. But then maybe it’ll rain and I’ll get the day off. And then the next day I’ll say to myself, well, it rained a lot yesterday, so I’m sure the ground is still wet. And then the day after that, I can see from my window that the soil is visibly dry, but going outside and doing something about it, man, I haven’t done that in three days now. I’m comfortable, settled in to a new routine of not going outside at all.
But more often than not I’m at least trying to take care of my tomatoes and lettuce, and so every other day or so, every three days, max, I head outside and turn on the hose. It’s an exercise not only in the responsibility of daily chores, but also one of patience and standing still.
Some days it’s easier than others. I’ll get lost in the moment, I’ll enjoy being outside, it won’t really feel like a chore at all. But then a lot of the time I’m antsy. All of that resistance that I was talking about earlier, just because I manage to make it outside doesn’t mean that I’m not still drawn back into the house, I can feel it, my chair, the computer, the Internet, they’re all beckoning me to put down the hose and resume my endless wasting of time.
I was out there and I’d been at the hose for maybe a minute, a minute and a half. Everything about being outside was bothering me. I’d been neglecting the lawn for a while now. Everything was starting to get really overgrown and wild. It was the first really, really hot day of the year, and so I was having a very minor freak-out about the passage of time, how I swear it was just winter, like I close my eyes and I can see myself shivering in the cold, closing my eyes in my mind and saying to myself, what the hell, I thought it was just summer. And I feel momentarily overwhelmed, like my whole life is just this blur, I’m trapped on carousel that’s going just a little too fast and I can never really get a good focus on the outside world for more than a second or two.
But even this micro-panic, at least it was occupying my mind. While I stood there and contemplated how in no time at all my life would be over, the hose was going, a minute turned into two minutes, at least something was getting done. But just as I was starting to settle into a standing-still routine, I was jerked abruptly back into the present.
What happened? It was my right leg. All of the sudden it was on fire. I looked down and, I must have accidentally parked my foot directly on top of an anthill, because below the ankle, it was covered in tiny ants. I freaked out, started swatting and scratching at my leg. I turned the hose on myself, and then at the anthill. I wasn’t thinking at all, it was just a pure reaction.
And then I started stomping around, because as I tried to shake all of the little insects from my foot, I realized that there were too many, that for every one that I squished against my skin, there were another two or three crawling out from the many crevasses inside my sneaker, in between the spaces of the fabric that made up my socks.
I retreated back inside and I could feel the itching for the rest of the day. Even when I went to bed later that night, they were there, little phantom ants desperately trying to grab my attention, doing anything in their power to get me to take just one more step. I briefly felt a little guilty for blasting their entire habitat with my hose, but I can’t get down on myself for that. That’s human instinct, that’s how we evolved to be the dominant species on this planet, by lashing out and immediately destroying anything that poses even an imaginary threat to our piece of mind, or lack thereof.
I really should go out there and clean everything up. The hose is still lying there, the plants could use another drink. But I can just see it now, me, I won’t be able to stay still, certainly not long enough to use the hose to saturate the ground. I’ll be too busy hopping around, swatting at thousands of potentially real insect bites. I should just look for that sprinkler. I know it’s around here somewhere.
Everybody just take a deep breath and stop freaking out. All right? All right. We’re not going to get anywhere if we keep pushing, moving, breathing really heavy, whimpering in the corner. Get out of the corner! Stand up! There’s not enough room in this elevator for anybody to be crouching down. If everybody tried to crouch down and take a little rest, we’d all wind up on top of one another. And there’s just not enough space for that to happen. Think about it, if everybody tried to squat, knees would be sticking out, half of the people in this elevator would wind up on top of half of everybody else. And I’m not threatening, I’m not warning, all right, I’m just saying, I’m not going to wind up on the bottom, OK? And I have pointy elbows and knees.
So just everybody stay calm! OK? Well, maybe I shouldn’t have squeezed in the elevator, right, true, but where does that get us now? What about you, I saw you get in right before me. Just because I got in last? And who pressed the second floor button? You? You can’t take the stairs up one floor? Fibromyalgia? Look, I’m not a doctor, I’m just saying, if you couldn’t handle a flight of stairs, you probably shouldn’t have made such a mad dash for the elevator.
So just chill out everybody. Calm down for a second! And why were you holding the elevator doors open? I saw you from like all the way down the hallway, like five or six people running to it, Mr. fibromyalgia right in front of me, and you’re just standing there, sticking your hand in front of the sensor every single time. If you had just stopped trying to be the Jesus of the elevator, like what, you don’t have anywhere to be? You don’t think anybody else in here had anywhere to be? God, if you had just let the doors close a little bit more naturally, this car could have been all the way up and all the way back down again before I ever even had a chance to run over here. Like what are you, the elevator guy?
You are the elevator guy? OK, so don’t you get like any training? Don’t they tell you you’re supposed to like follow those signs, those maximum occupancy signs? All I know is that whatever your duties are, I’d have to say your primary responsibilities are ultimately split between pushing buttons and maintaining those maximum occupancy standards.
Well I’m a big guy, so stop pointing fingers, all right? Quit trying to escalate the situation! Everybody stop talking! I think we’re running out of air in here! Who’s pressing that alarm bell? It’s not doing anything all right? Seriously stop it! Everybody quiet down, did you just hear the intercom? Was somebody saying something? Were those instructions? Goddamn it will you shut up for one second so we can at least try and figure out what they’re trying to tell …
Fuck! Motherfucker! Did you feel that? Holy shit everybody stay still! Stop breathing! You calm the fuck down! Holy shit I swear to God I felt something move. No, stop moving. No you stop moving too! Everybody, we’ve got to synchronize our breaths. We’ve got to stop fidgeting. OK! Don’t touch me! Get your hands off me! No you sit down! No, I mean, nobody sit down! I’m not sitting down first, I’ve already played out how this is going to go down, and there’s now way I’m winding up crushed under the weight of half of the people in this elevator.
Ow! What do you that’s going to solve? OK! OK. OK, OK, OK. All right. Fine. More deep breaths, right. OK, I’ll admit, that got a little out of hand. Yes, well I have a meeting upstairs, it’s very important. OK, yeah, I do realize that I shouldn’t have panicked. Sue me, right? I’m a human being and I freaked out a little from being trapped in this goddamn elevator wall to wall with way too many people and Oh my God, are we running out of air in here, how much oxygen can these vents push through, what is the maximum occupancy standards measured out, by weight? By oxygen flow? Did somebody just fart?
Are you fucking kidding me? Ow! Is that pizza? Does somebody have food in here? Everybody, we’ve got to divvy it up before things take a turn here, I’m not kidding, all right? Let’s just everybody … oh wait, is that? Was I? So you just have to press open? So I was standing … wow. OK, look everybody, I hope we can all learn something here. I always like to stand there, I didn’t think I’d really be blocking, it’s just, OK. Just let me out of here. Just. Excuse me I’m just going to. It’s OK, it’s open, no, yes, no I am going to ten but I can climb, I’m looking forward to hopefully working here someday, I’m really looking forward to someday incorporating this ten flight stair climb into my daily routine. Nobody else works on ten, right? You do? Can you just, you know, can you not say anything? Can we just, like, can I buy you a cup of coffee? Can you just not tell anybody about the freaking out? Please? Yes? Please?
I’m still on vacation. We spent the whole morning sitting on the beach. Every twenty minutes or so I’d go into the ocean to cool off and go for a swim. I started thinking about swimming, how it’s this natural state of being that I rarely get to really experience. I fill my lungs up with air and bob along the surface of the ocean, paddling in, lunging out.
Whenever I swim in the ocean, I get all of these crazy thoughts. I at once recognize the vastness of the sea, how tiny of a blip I am occupying this planet, the cosmos. I’ll go out a little bit, the water’s only ankle deep. Then it’s waist deep. And then I’m on my tippy-toes, bouncing up and down, enjoying as close as I’m going to get to weightlessness in my life. And after that I’m in over my head.
There’s always that urge to see how far I can swim out. And I’d love to. I mean, I’m a distance runner. I’ve run like eight marathons. I like to think that there’s a very high upward limit for what my body is capable of sustaining physically. And so I wish I could have a controlled environment, maybe a boat sailing next to me, making sure I don’t cramp up and drown. I’d love to know just how far I’m able to swim out before actually not being able to take any more punishment.
I’m sure it’s got to be hours, I’m pretty good at rationing out energy. And yet I’m never able to swim out more than five minutes or so without getting spooked and heading back to the shore. I always panic. I always think, what if I can’t make it back? When we were living in Ecuador, we’d head to the beach every month or so. There was this one spot that we frequented, and way out past the breakers there was a giant buoy. Every single time we’d visit, I’d mentally challenge myself to make it all the way out there.
Maybe I’m being a little dramatic. Maybe anybody who swam in high school or college would look at this buoy and call me a total wimp. But it was maybe twenty minutes of swimming once I got past the point where I could no longer touch the ocean floor. I know it was twenty minutes because I eventually wound up making it out there. It only took a year or so of mentally preparing and then actually committing myself to the challenge.
I made several unsuccessful attempts, the first dozen or so times I’d get maybe half of the way out there before freaking out and turning back. I’m saying freaking out, but what does that really mean? I’d think, even though I know that I’m physically capable of doing this, out here there is absolutely no margin for error. I’ve never had swimming cramps, the kind of debilitating pains you’d associate with the word charlie-horse, but they have to exist, that whole don’t-swim-until-twenty-minutes-after-eating rule has to be there for a reason.
And so it was always this self-induced mini panic attack. I’d get out there, I’d start thinking about cramps, about accidentally swallowing some water, of maybe some weird type of a sea animal brushing against my leg – no joke, one time I saw a sea snake in the water – making me freak out. And just the idea of me freaking out made me start to freak out. My deep breaths would become increasingly shallow. I’d feel a burning throughout my body, not a real burning, but a good enough of an imaginary burning to let me know exactly what it would feel like to run out of gas right there, nobody to save me, slowly realizing that these breaths would be my last.
Like I said, eventually I made it out to that buoy. It’s all about getting past that point of no return, when you realize, look, yeah I’m freaking out now, but I’m closer to that buoy than I am to the shore, and so if I’m really concerned about survival here, I might as well swim all the way out. And so finally I made it. It was a little deceiving, because even though I thought I was halfway out, it was probably more like only a quarter of the way out. I guess the vastness of the horizon played some tricks with my depth perception.
When I made it out there, the buoy was much, much bigger than it had appeared from the shore. And there wasn’t anywhere really to grab on, the whole surface of the object was corroded, like the government dropped it in there twenty years ago and figured, yeah, we probably won’t have to replace this thing for another fifty years. I looked back at everybody back on dry land, and it really was way too far.
But knowing what I knew, that I made it out there, that I didn’t have a panic attack and die, it spared me from suffering a similar fate on the journey back. And so it was the only time in my life where I was able to go for a really long swim, a distance swim, and just enjoy it without being way too conscious of my impending doom.
And I’m thinking about this because I tried to go for really deep swim today here in Puerto Rico, but I couldn’t. It was the same deal as always. I got out there, maybe like one or two minutes past where I could stand up, I chickened out. I treaded water for a minute or so and then immediately headed back. This time I just kept imagining a stray wave, something that maybe formed months ago miles out, a gust of wind over a still patch of water, it started rolling, started heading toward the shore, where I’d be, swimming, vacationing, and it would carry me all the way out, one mile, two miles away from the sand, and I’d be out there for how long, alternating between on my back and treading water, hoping that I had the strength to make it back alive. No thanks, I went back to the bar and ordered another Mai Thai.