I spend part of the morning at a car dealership waiting for my new Outback to be serviced, already close to six thousand miles on the road. I try to read, but that’s almost impossible—the flat screen news covering the hurricane aftermaths, two people in the corner talking about the police—I don’t catch the point—a woman on her cell phone talking about her eyes, something about being blind though she drove her car to the dealership so I am misunderstanding something—all perfectly okay noise, but not white noise for me.
David Foster Wallace talked about the need for quiet, for a house free of television sounds, conversation, even music, so one might get about the serious work of reading and writing, thinking something through. I sit in a McDonald’s after leaving the car dealership eating a god awful breakfast—I swore never to eat at these places, but found myself turning in on impulse. The woman next to me is talking to the man next to her. The conversation a monologue about some conflict she is having with someone else. “And I told him…” So many overheard conversations seems to be about these verbal disputes with some third party, always seeming to involve the phrase “and I told him.” Wallace hangs himself when his anti-depressant medication no longer works. I am eating an egg, bacon, cheese biscuit with greasy hash browns pressed to a kind of bar to be held in a paper holder and eaten without a fork. I feel my arteries clogging, a different kind of suicide. I’m not feeling depressed though, but who is to know these things.
In the dealership I watch a man dressed in a white shirt hurry across the parking lot into an adjacent building while checking his watch. He walked as if there were a purpose to it, someone to meet. I am not that man. In the morning when I walk through the sliver of wild that has become important to me, I walk without purpose. I sit in the waiting room and finally move into the zone where I can read the introduction to the Jeffers poems. Jeffers believed in and wrote long narrative poems, the kind no one reads anymore. He lived on the edge of the Pacific Ocean all his adult life, watched the waves crashing into the rocks, followed a hawk—I read his “The Beauty of Things.”
To feel and speak the astonishing beauty of things—earth, stone, and water,
Beast, man and woman, sun, moon and stars—
The blood-shot beauty of human nature, its thoughts, frenzies and passions,
And unhuman nature its towering reality—
For man’s half dream; man, you might say, is nature dreaming, but rock
And water and sky are constant—to feel
Greatly, and understand greatly, and express greatly, the natural
Beauty, is the sole business of poetry.
The rest’s diversion: those holy or noble sentiments, the intricate ideas,
The love, lust, longing: reasons, but not the reason.
How to explain a similar beauty in watching the man check his watch, listening to the woman talking about her eyes, though only catching bits of each life. But each life, a life—tragically short and immensely beautiful.
The defiant insistence of the woman at McDonald’s that her life, who she was, counted in the scheme of things—and I told him.