Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

May 23, 2006.
Eavesdroppping over breakfast in a café in Michigan

I’m in a cafe in Portland Michigan, eating breakfast and eavesdropping. The men at the next table are discussing the unemployment of one man’s wife, her depression at losing her place in society – the “social discourse,” as one called it. The men aren’t working – one just said something about “if you and I had to go back to work.” Retired? Maybe.

The café is by a small river. Out the windows I’m watching the water sparkle in the sun as it flows around a tree at the edge of the bank. I took some photos of the stream, but photos don’t capture movement and change. They don’t show how the water swirls in small eddies above the tree, and swings swiftly around once it passes the tree. They don’t show how the reflection of the

tree ripples as the water moves, swings wider when a breeze riffles the surface, darkens when a cloud passes, becomes sharp and clear when the sun is stronger. They don’t capture the way surface is glossy at one moment, matte the next. And most of all, they fix the life of the stream in time, show a point instead of the constant flow.

Now the men are talking about the market, politics, whether politicians can take credit – or must take responsibility – for unemployment, economic growth, recession, or the value of the dollar. One mentioned their pensions – they must be retired. Former colleagues? Or even brothers? I think they used to teach – they are talking about the impact of the economy on teachers, as opposed to the employees at Steelcase. Maybe that company is near here? Now one referred to the budget deficit, whether the expense of the war in “Eyerak” is included. One is concerned with whether the Democrats will take the House, whether the Senate will be able to “make hay” out of the disasters of the Republicans. Now they’re onto Bill and Hilary – whether women like Hilary, why Bill is so likeable. How he learned to remember everyone’s names, why she couldn’t have just given him some blow jobs and prevented it all.

The water is still flowing. The guys are thinking about going back to mow the lawn, work on the deck.

Maybe a drawing could capture the water? A mix of watercolor and pen and ink – water color for the movement of the stream, pen and ink for the precise lines of the tree trunks.

The men are still talking about their yards. Mulching mowers, cutting down a willow tree, waiting for the wood to dry so they can burn it. They chat with the waitress – she is studying elementary education at the local college, just finished her freshmen year. The men think that’s at least something worth doing. But that’s another problem – it’s why the women are afraid to travel. They think so small, their expectations of themselves are so low. Perhaps the men too? The women teach, and raise children. The men drive trucks or are in construction or they repair cars. They don’t think of broader options, a

wider world. One person at Buses by the Beach asked what I did for a living, and when I told her said “oh, now I remember, I knew you were smart.” So is she – but she hasn’t considered going beyond the small world where she has always lived.

Now the men are onto sports scores, and playing golf. The stream is still sparkling but a man sat down at the next table and he’s blocking my view. Maybe it’s time to move on.

How can there be so much water in the world? It never stops flowing. Where does it all come from, and where does it go?

I’m going to my sister’s tomorrow. I’ve been in Michigan for a few days, and I want to be at BusFusion in Ottawa in two and a half weeks. I looked at the map, looked on the web, looked at some books, and couldn’t find anything I wanted to d in between. I could head to a national forest north of here, camp for a while, but why? I could go up to the UP and eat pasties and see the spots I never got to because Matilda broke down almost two years ago. But it’s pretty much in the wrong direction. I could explore Detroit for a few days – it’s a big city that I don’t know, after all. But none of it appeals at all. It would just be a place to put myself and wait two and a half weeks. What I want to do is work, make real headway on the list of things to write. Actually get started on the next phase of my life – not just wait for it.

So I invited myself to stay at my sister’s for two weeks. She was surprised, but then pleased – suddenly thinking of the things I could come to, Memorial Day weekend, my birthday. It feels right. The end of the road is coming and I’m not slowing down to put it off, I’m speeding up to arrive.

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