May 28, 2006

Litmus

The game is called "Turn Left No Matter What". Play at night if you can, so that you will come upon passageways that are some industrial blur between alleyway, street, and driveway and you will tremble with momentary cowardice trying to figure out does that count as a turn? This question will be answered for you by the size of the padlock, or the dog.

After ablutions performed riverside we played the game together. One could say I am in search of new frontiers, or at least other people's old ones that I can attain with minimal effort. It is after midnight, and the only person I can see is a man with a guitar sitting on a park bench, which intrigues me, because while I'm alone here, I'm traveling by bicycle and can be a mile away in a matter of minutes if I wanted or needed to be. This man is earthbound, nested into place somehow by his the music he's making, come what may.

Whoever this musician is, he doesn't seem alarmed as I wheel past the playground and turn (Left!) into a bivouac of racquetball courts. Having practically won the TLNMW game, I begin a new game called "Fence-ular Osmosis" in which I scan the chain link as I ride past, searching for a breach so that I may pass from an area of higher concentration to lower, no matter what that entails. Just when I think that the shadows are too violet and forbidding to let me see what I am looking for, I spot a trapdoor through the mesh that only a ninja or a child could pass through with ease. On the other side of it is a gap in the tin siding that leads to points unknown along a bonus passage of East River.

A quick tree climb reveals that these two barriers are only the first in a series of locks, like a canal that mediates human presence along the water. I hop down and sluice through first one and then argue my way through the second, making plenty of noise that betrays my location but also scares off the curious, I hope. Just like that, I become a sudden traveler of Private Property, the glittering semis lined up with or without trailers, recovering and preparing for battle. There's not a whisper of a chance of reaching the water from here, as yet another fence and then a rock wall keep me back, and I am dully frightened by the idea of walking further along the edge, all these trucks arranged like diabolical magic to provide places for someone to leap out from. So back through the fence I go, though it is of some consolation to me to know that I've won the second of as many games tonight.

There is nowhere else to go now, having breathed free air from the wrong side of a fence for a moment or two has spoiled me for pedestrian adventures, and I now have a secret escape hatch to consider the usefulness of. I ride once more past my friend with the guitar, suddenly conscious of the fact that he might think I am cruising him. Technically I am, I can't help being drawn to the only human who cares to be in this place with me. I also can't help being afraid of someone like that. I am too often just myself, without a conscience or a legend to cling to.

As I round the playground, I have to blink to clear my vision. It's not my eyes after all. Someime in the last ten minutes, someone has set a trash can on fire, and the smoke is heavy and arrogant, moving as densely as a cattle drive, allowing as few particles to stray as possible. It is a physical barrier blocking the road, like the ribbon at a finish line, and I don't have the heart to cross it; it is more purposeful and more beautiful than I.

Approaching the fire itself beings back memories of working at the shooting range when I was a kid, of all the children gathered near, everyone holding something that they want to throw into the barrel and waiting for just the right moment when no adults are looking to do it. We were not "playing with fire", we were simply tending a fire-- whether it is at all useful or safe to do so.

Tonight I make my contribution, turning out my pockets and depositing everything that is not there by design or on purpose into the can, and then I stand there for a long time. It occurs to me that if a fire truck arrives to put out this fire, there'll be no proof that I didn't personally light it, and my very presence and proximity to it may be damning. This gives me a moments pause until I remember the beauty of the scene, and what drew me to my games in the first place: there is no law here. There is no one coming to tell someone to put away their guitar and shove off, there is no one coming to help me if I scream, no matter what I scream or for how long. there is no one coming to put out this fire, ever. I have reached the edge of whatever keeps the world standing on its crazy stilts, and from here one can look up and out and see how close to nothing they can come and still find their way back.

The smoke abates for a moment, and the music does not. I know which side I'm on... do you? I take advantage of the gap in the smoke and dive through it on my bike, winning another round of Osmosis, advancing to the bonus level in which my adversaries are ghosts of experience, like hitting smoke rings with a tennis racket and then smelling the strings. I win. I think.

A lonely feeling. Where is the world and how will I know when I am in it again?

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