Every time I step out for a walk in my neighborhood, I feel as though I’m hurling myself into a game of FROGGER. No matter where I go, it seems there are always people tediously coming and going. Cars approach from every direction. At any point where I have to cross a space that a vehicle could be driving through for any reason, there is always one coming. It doesn’t even matter if I’m crossing in a crosswalk at a light and the walk sign is illuminated. The journey is still treacherous and requires one to be on a personal orange alert at all times. There will be a car turning right on red (which is perfectly legal in Arizona thankfully) towards me or a car turning left, towards me from the opposite street. Most will slow or stop for pedestrians obviously, but it sucks that you can’t trust that they will stop. About once a month I come reasonably close to being hit. However, even beyond the ever present danger of becoming fresh roadkill, the pressure/needless sense of urgency created by this environment is mentally exhausting. There are just so many goddamned cars and so many people. Driving fast, walking slow, driving slow, walking fast, always just in the way (or soon to be)…taking up so much space, wherever I go. Or, they just sit in their parked cars with the engines running , nothing better to do than eyeball you curiously for uncomfortable lengths of time as you go about your business. It’s not even as though I live in Los Angeles or Seattle or some major metropolitan hub. We’re talking about a suburban area on the outskirts of Phoenix. I know you’re probably thinking I should just move out to the country or something….but these pests will surely find their way there the same way they found their way here. It wasn’t so long ago that the character of this area was of a completely different makeup. Anyway, I like the weather.
Of course, despite what I prefer to think, my pedetsrian excursions in and out of strip mall paradise probably aren’t much more meaningful than anyone else’s…as I peruse the discounted creams and pomades at TJ Maxx, autistically analyzing the ingredients on each product label to see if I recognize anything useful from one of countless Pubmed studies I may have read over the years. I move on to browsing the clearance watch section and briefly entertain the idea of purchasing yet another watch I don’t want or need. Eventually, I settle on a longsleeve, burgundy Nautica t-shirt which—offered at 12.99—turns out to be the item I simply cannot refuse. Yes..yes, I’m like these people in that I’m here and buying shit. Somehow though, I seem to take up such a tiny sliver of space compared to them though, physically, sonically and psychically. When I’m in line at Starbucks or virtually any other establishment, the people in front of me never seem to have any idea how to place an order. Totally unprepared and needlessly picky, they flounder at the register indecisively, completely oblivious to the mental strain on the cashier and the plight of others (some of whom have actual places they need to be) patiently waiting to place their order. In the back of my mind I’m thinking about how liberating it would be if an employee could just say, “Excuse me maam, could you please just shut the fuck up and place an order?” When it finally comes to my turn, I know exactly what I want and quickly place my simple order without any fanfare. No, I assure myself, though I am here, I’m not quite one of them. However inane, such adventures for me are a source of inspiration, a form of meditation, long “quiet” walks of solitude and reflection. The constant push-pull environment drains energy, squeezes the spirit and has me on edge from the blue door to the blue door, but I find subtle comfort in playing the “Meowsic” keyboard at Target and digging through the bargain DVD bin in the hopes of finding an 80s childhood classic that can be had for under 5 dollars. No, I’m not shoplifting and no… I don’t care how creepy, suspicious or weird it seems to you that I’m here every day. Quite often I will cross paths with an ordinary attractive girl and make eye contact, while briefly envisioning an imaginary scenario in which I’m in a committed relationship with her. I think about all the of the ways in which we would be incompatible, all the dumb shows and movies I’ll be expected to watch, events I’ll be obligated to attend with her family and friends… and already I begin to picture her inevitably disappointed expression when —after the initial flirtatiously romantic courtship — she discovers I’m not at all whatever she imagined me to be like. That’s to say nothing of how confused and horrified she would likely be by my political beliefs (but hey you never know!). At some point I would have to bring up the other thing: “Oh and by the way I live with my ex-girlfriend, and we still sleep in the same bed.” So, after the span of a few moments I let it go, and move on without ever having said a word.
At night, nothing changes much. There are still always cars coming, even if the roads and parking lots appear relatively less busy. When I go to cross a street, at least one vehicle will appear at precisely that moment. Then there is the addition of roving, shadowy figures in the distance milling about erratically. Sometimes they’re muttering meth-induced gibberish to themselves or preoccupied with dumpster diving. I avoid making eye contact or walking too closely as I pass these individuals, just as one would avoid zombies in a horror video game. They are mostly harmless nuisances, but as is the case with all wild animals…unpredictable, desperate, often angry and mentally ill people can never be assumed to be totally harmless… so the force field stays up.
I walk into Mcdonalds and order a Diet Dr Pepper from the self-checkout terminal, managing to get in and out of the establishment with minimal human interaction. I exchange a smile with the employee whose job hasn’t yet been replaced by the technological contraption. The Mexican girl seems grateful she didn’t actually have to wait on me or take my order. Most people are still too stupid to be able to operate a self checkout device without assistance, so I’m sure her job will be safe for the forseeable future.
On my way home, I take the shortcut through a backstreet, where I pretend not to notice people doing illegal drugs and other things they aren’t supposed to be doing. I’m low key annoyed seeing groups of trashy people mingling and chortling loudly without any concern for how it must affect their nearby residents. Like seriously, just hang out inside and do that. Those apartments don’t have porches, so don’t conduct yourselves as if they do.
I arrive home, climb the stairs to my third floor apartment, take a few sips of whatever remains of my Diet Dr Pepper and enjoy a couple episodes of The Rockford Files before realizing I will have to walk to Walmart to pick up a jug of water or some other necessary item I didn’t bother to get while I was out dicking around for several hours earlier.