Here is how the morning breaks down. A 40 minute commute. Thirty-five if you get daring with the lights. Seven minutes spent reliving that embarrassing thing you said or did months ago. A steady five playing out the perfect scenario of a work debate.
Four staring at the crack in your windshield, wondering if it’s getting bigger. A variable amount of time saying “Really? seriously?” to no one in particular after being cut off. One more stretch of time on the embarrassing thing. Then a short fantasy about the argument you’d win in court with the guy who cut you off if it ever came to that.
A handful of moments singing the wrong words to songs. Then wondering with a shameful level of seriousness what you’d do were you forced to karaoke at knifepoint. Thirty seconds of settling on Weezer - the blue album. Then another two to three wondering if karaoke places even have Weezer these days or if it’s all Katy Perry and Ga Ga.
And then, inevitably, there’s this:
One sidelining moment in which you spot someone out of the corner of your eye who makes you wonder. A man in a Hawaiian shirt chasing after a bus. A mechanic and his messy haired daughter holding hands on a bench. And that one act of wondering does more to carry you the rest of the day than any other thought in your treadmill mind.
“The really important kind of freedom involves attention…” explained David Foster Wallace in his now renowned graduation address to Kenyon College.
It’s ironic, of course, because David Foster Wallace nearly always wrote in asides and extensive literary rabbit-holes. But you have to realize that in his mind — distraction was attention.
The ability to get pulled out of autopilot, even for just a moment, is what reminds us of how stunningly chaotic and fated we are to begin with.
Today’s breakthrough was a man named Mr_Dilemma. Mr_Dilemma is a cab driver in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He roots for the Celtics, is proud of his brother, and like many of us, “cannot believe there’s no more Fung Wah.”
I know all of this without having exchanged a word with Mr_Dilemma. I know it because, believe it or not, Mr_Dilemma had a bumper sticker made for his cab that invites the reader, at his or her convenience, to follow him on Twitter.
Distraction #1: What is this guy selling?
As it would happen, Mr_Dilemma is not selling anything. He’s really just a guy looking to make connections in a commute infinitely longer than my own. He spends all day watching the same roads, catching the same periphery, wondering, like the rest of us, if any of these people who chase buses ever catch them.
Distraction #2: Where does one get a custom follow-me bumper sticker?
My mind thinks “where?” but what it really means is “why?”. What possesses someone to make that purchase, to find a site that sells them, and customize a design. Moreso, what went through his mind when placing it slightly askew on his left rear bumper. Did he feel a nervousness after opening that channel to anyone out in traffic? Did he check his account at day’s end to see if the follower count he had so imaginatively watered had grown? Has he forgotten all about it by now? Has it gone the way of so many campaign slogans now unemployed and idle?
Distraction #3: What is this man’s dilemma?
I cannot figure it out. And I tried, long after he turned right on Prospect and onto the next fare. It surpassed the crack in the window, the lingering embarrassment, and the imagined moment of workplace brilliance. In the end, the truth is probably no less mundane than the things that keep us all spinning. But I wanted it to be.
One of the true unconquerables about routine is this: You build this schedule —this daily map of necessity and filler. You wake up. You chide yourself for forgetting to order more coffee. You get to the gym. You signal your turns. And each of these are necessary parts of being. Without them you are shapeless.Without them you are lost. But in the midst of the whole finely ordered lot you seek out moments of random recognition.
You see a man running for the bus, and you hold your breath he makes it. You catch a seemingly earnest bumper sticker — an olive branch amid the faceless traffic — and you hope to God he means it.
(Great) Photo credit: timsackton