Hey, folks. Well, this year is nearly out. Only a couple days and this debacle known as 2017 will wrap. Back from holidays spent in the great Midwest, and I’m cleaning out my junk drawers, literal and figurative. Here’s a little post from September that I never completed.
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This post is ostensibly about autumn. I may get around to the writing advice portion of the show, but there are no guarantees. Autumn is unpredictable that way, which is quite central to my thesis.
But first things first. Everyone knows a writer’s blog post isn’t a blog post without some news about what I’ve been up to. Well, to put it bluntly, really letting my mouth fly away with it. Spouting off, oh yes. This happens—where else but…? On the … any guesses? Here’s a hint: The ego’s little drunken playground. Now available on every platform known to man.
Sounds like glowshul tweedia.
Social Media! Ding ding ding!
OK, that was me on Facebook last week, my keyboard high-jacked by Ego McEgoface himself, my insufferable nom de plume at times. Posting, in glancing allusions, to a recent success in the authorship realm. Tried to dress it in good fun, in the name of wordplay. Miserable failure.
Here’s some cartoonish drama about that, taking the issue to its rightly directed humility.
Imagine I’d started this blog post such:
In the news department down here at Ben Obler dot com, I was abducted by aliens. Yep, they took me aboard their ship during the dark of night recently. I was shoved along neon-lit futuristic corridors, through a door, and tossed onto a rack of books badly dismembered about their spines and pages. Ropes were used to secure my hands to a IBM electric typewriter manufactured circa 1982.
Then this gangly-armed lot, the aliens, with boxes for heads, noisy breathing apparati, and glistening flesh like canned peaches—they stood about me barking orders.
“We will ask questions! You will write the answers!”
“Ok, sure, no problem,” I said. I didn’t see any probiscusi, thank goodness.
“What does it mean to be human!” one of them barked.
I dashed off a line as best I could. “Rule number one: You will make so many god damn mistakes.”
They read it.
“Write it better!” the tallest and slimiest one said. He may have been gnawing on a carcass of some sort behind a mask he wore over his face with a kind of prison door over the mouth.
Stammering, I started hammering. “Human life is like autumn,” I wrote, smiling timidly at them. I assured them they would like what was to come. “Full of change. Take trees, for example.”
“No trees!” the apparent leader yelled, leaning over my work, a string of brown vomitus spilling just short of the typewriter. Oh, lord, the stench. I think I felt my eyelashes curl.
“No trees! No trees!” the others echoed meanly. The bounced on the balls of their tentable-like feet, like no tree ever has.
Well, it went on like this for most of the night. The ship that they’d taken me to hovered over the earth, and there was a great deal of military commotion on the ground below, in the lake of green light cast from beneath the saucer. But by morning I had turned over an adequate draft that purported to my captors in lavish adverbs that the only way on earth—literally—that you can expect to survive is with a whole lot of forgiveness for yourself. So so very much of it, I theorized and hypothesized. “Like, recently,” I said. “I was gloating on Facebook in a way that really dipped far below my own standards of obnoxiousness, and nobody went for it. Absolutely no one. It was transparent a-hole-ry. People are going to do that even after 45 years of direct experience with personhood. Which is enough to know better.”
As these slimeballs from outerspace bid me farewell, there was a great rubbery flubbering of chins up and down. They were well chuffed with my treatise. In a slobbering voice the tallest alien, named Och, stood close to me, as a Prime Minister stands before his cabinet in a reception hall. Behind him, his minions were apparently having a drooling competition—volume event.
“Blargh,” said Och, which I think meant, Thanks a lot.
Finally I was placed in a light-escalator—a cable-free cable car, if you will—and then once I got back to my house, I started this blog post, feeling I had what it took to move on in life and face the world, having advised an inter-planetary species on the matter with the smallest amount of grace.
Facing the World
Anyway, that’s that, and moving on, I’d like to report that, though I didn’t really go in an alien spaceship, last week, I did see a new part of the world. I spent five nights in Montreal. I’d never been. My babe, T., and I drove. On the way up, there were no green leaves to see. We enjoyed five days of 80 degree weather—in Canada! I did not expect this in September.
On the way back, then: red and orange patches all over the slopes of the Adirondack mountains. That was a real bucket list sight, I don’t mind telling you. I humbly submit and all that. Clearly, there was an announcement from nature that change was imminent, sure and beautiful.
Cars as Metaphor, Truly
Now for a little story in keeping with the theme of keeping moving. I had put a bit of money into my car before the trip to ensure that the old rig would get us there and back. New tires, transmission fluid, new parts in the suspension, repairs for the cabin, where—I kid you not—the vents were serving up AC to the passenger and heat to the driver.
Fixed up, it did well.
And while there, in Montreal, I spoke a passable tourist’s French. Not that Montrealans were at all fussy about my butchered conjugations. (As it happened, butchered conjugations were on the menu for $2.99 a pound at the local bouefferie, but I digress.) The good Francophones of Montreal do not care how well you speak French; they’re easygoing and bilingual and frighteningly friendly.
I enjoyed the sight of so many staircases, both spiral and straight, in Montreal’s residential neighborhoods. Noticed that there were many delicious foods to eat. Then it was day three or so of our stay that I remembered the board game Milles Bornes, which I played in my youth. I hadn’t thought about that game in a good few years. Here’s a picture of a few cards.
Theresa and I were walking back to our AirB&B from the place where we’d rented bikes. Crossing roads, seeing road signs about the barré trottoir (blocked sidewalk), it came back to me quite strongly, the feeling of sitting around the dining room table playing the card game Milles Bornes with my parents and my brother. It probably would have been a weekend night, and Jason and I would have been in pajamas, licking Cheetos dust from our fingertips, slurping Grape Kool-Aid.
Theresa and I walked through Parc Fontaine, and I told her about the card game. “The green plastic tray where the cards were discarded and drawn, it had this clever design with a divider and thumb-cut outs so you could draw when the stack was low.”
I told her how the game was played, by adding up mileage on your trip. “You drew cards of 25, 50, 100. But you’d get flat tires and run out of gas, and you had to draw to fix those.”
As I thought of these green cards and their imagery, I found the memory of them surprisingly enchanting. These cards we so valuable, so powerful. My most vibrant memory of the game, though, was of the the repair cards—the ones that get your voiture back on the rue.
The repair cards have green geometric shapes that seem to say “go” in both English and French. One fills your tank, repairing your out of gas. One gives you the priorite, or right of way. That card shows you a red fire truck, an unmistakable symbol of that which must be yeilded to, wherever you live. And the card most resplendent to healing, in my mind, was increvable, which showed a tightly inflated, round rubber tire, unpunctured. Increvable! What a word that! Like incroyable for incredible, which even a high-schooler learns when he learns French.
All these cards restore us to movement, so we can get somewhere else. Maybe you do it in autumn. Maybe you do it merely when you can, by necessity. Well, no matter when, you’d surely look forward to it. And why not? It’s utterly human. And there’s an assertion that is the doorway to a far more difficult conversation: the role of auto exhaust in climate change. Yikes!
But I don’t want to exhaust your good feeling. I see on eBay that the game was made by Parker Brothers and came out in the sixties and early seventies. Later editions, in the 80s, seem to have been Anglicized and made to look much like Uno. Which is a shame.
We saw sights in the Vieux Port, Gay Village (yes, literally), the Plateau, and all over. We indulged in some cuisine, put 16 miles on rental bikes on my birthday, earning our absolutely vulgar poutine dinner. We walked the botanic gardens and, unfortunately, did a bunch of work. (It was a planned working vacation.)
Then Saturday we drove out to the Biosphere on Isle Sainte-Helene. This is the site where the world’s fair was held in 1967. Pont Champlain was packed. The only exit leads to an amusement park and nine other attractions on the island. It was late morning, and everyone was finally motivating to go do something on this hot weekend day. We sat in traffic some time, then I botched the exit, because I thought there were two turn lanes when there were not. The oncoming traffic was insane—backed up to the other side of the St. Lawrence.
I did a pretty sauve U-ie using a roundabout that I was non supposed to utilize, but oh well. Back to the city side, and exit, and swoop under, and mount the pont again. Tourist traffic was only heavier now, and the sun higher. A half hour later, we were on the island, inching, inching, and a woman on the footpath beside the road spoke to me in French, through my lowered window. She wanted to know what event we were going to. “None,” I said. “Just the biosphere.”
“Oh,” she said. “Bad traffic. I took the metro.”
“C’est un bon idee!” I quipped, the highlight of my language usage for the trip.
Well, the Biosphere was a bust, and the hot weather was making me cranky. There was supposed to be a plage at lot #4 (a beach), but the route there was so crazy I nearly lost it. It seemed to me they had made these roads to nowhere to impress international visitors in to Montreal, to make the place seem sprawling and populous. But the system was a mess.
Soon we were driving on a former race track—I’m not kidding—its lanes blocked off for rollerbladers. We were lapped by Spanedex’d men in deep tucks, and had to hold the speed limit at 30 kph, which, don’t both converting, is put-put stuff. I was prepared to jump the St. Lawrence River Dukes of Hazzard style if it meant getting the eff off of Isle St.-Helene, out of the sun, and into the shade.
I had to yield the <em>prioritaire</em> to people in wheeled shoes, and I was definitely not <em>as du volant</em>.
When the time came, I was so ready to depart Montreal. Loved the city. Will definitely go back. But I’m a homebody, and, it seems, a proud American. I wanted the Catskills and my own bed.
The drive home seems to have confirmed the findings of the trip, or foreshadowed my deeper thought about movement versus stagnation. At sun-up Saturday morning, I added oil and gas at the Esso near our AinB&B while Theresa packed. Then we hit it—like, full speed ahead, open road, putting serious distance between Montreal and us. It was a quiet morning, and few drivers on the road. We sped southward through the suburbs.
Just north of the U.S.-Canada border, on a long flat stretch of two-lane highway between flat meadows, the air filled with butterflies, swarms of them, flapping, crossing the highway at a diagonal. I would say a loose flock, like ten per cubic decimeter, at a height of 3 to 15 feet. Sadly, some hit the windscreen of our car. Just when we thought we’d cleared the migration path, clear skies ahead, and we’d cross through another stream of them. It happened several times, and a few miles on was a roadside gift-shop called Le Pappilon (the butteryfly).
A familiar sight. An annual event. But for how long?
The only radio stations in the Adirondacks are religious and talk. As we neared Albany from the north, we started picking up more stations. We went the whole way with both windows down and sunroof open, singing Elton John, Journey, The Cars, The Doors. Little lane dances with the same cars. A highly American high-speed affair.
May this nation, and all the world, be blessed in 2018. May it move forward, experience the mild discomfort and pleasure of experiencing something different, and progress safely. May it live to humbly draw another card.
Also published on Medium.