Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Walk to the Pharmacy

Walking in Macon is an extreme sport. People do it seldom. When they do it, they are clearly identified by athletic gear. Walking is not recreation, it is a work-out with a clearly established code of attire. Shorts, running shoes, a white cotton shirt or a sports bra are often the components of the walking outfit. An individual who does not subscribe to this convention is instantly singled out. His deviance meets reactions that range from vulgar gestures to uncommon benevolence. Manifestations of surprise or concern from people are often frank and quite bewildering for the amateur walker. As a consequence, every walk to Walmart easily translates into an adventure story with many details.

I like to think of Wellington drive as a shortcut from Forsyth to Zebulon. But actually it is a long, winding route. I prefer it because it takes me away from the pandemonium of traffic and its profane smell. It is a residential area, an oasis of wealth and trimness. On each side of the road there are Barbie houses with long private driveways and freshly mown lawns where a sign cautions that the property is protected by “Bibb security systems.” It is quiet on Wellington drive, the realm of squirrels and birds. Next to the notice about security we are notified that a dog exists within the premises and he is contained by an invisible fence. In addition, the passer-by is advised to keep off the grass. I stroll by at a moderate pace and look at these exquisite houses that cannot be touched, like antique arabesques in a museum. A man is mowing his lawn, but he is wearing sunglasses and so am I, so neither of us can establish eye contact with certainty. Neither of us says hello.

Once on Zebulon road I am again in the real world. This world is loud and rapid, a sharp departure from the comatose euphoria of Wellington. The walk to Walmart has a pungent smell of green and death. Two tailed creatures lie flattened on the sidewalk and the air is fragrant with their disintegration. Farther ahead there is a squirrel struggling between life and death in the middle lane of the road. Its tail is rising and falling, its eyes are open. The scene is horrific and I wince. Then I pass a yard where there is a black curled something near a bush. I cannot identify it and am not persistent. I am averse to the very idea of snakes.

The road meanders into a depression before the intersection with Bass. On the left there is an idyllic orchard girded with barbed wire. On the right are bushes and carrions. From here I can see the road climbing ahead, fata morgana playing under the whirling tires of hurried cars. On top of the hill there is a large speedometer that shows, in turn, 38, 40, 35, then shuffles random numbers in the brief interval when no cars are passing.

It starts to rain right before I enter the Walmart palace. Inside there is havoc, as always. Americans shop sedately, unlike Europeans. Here the commercial frenzy comes from the abundance of merchandise, not that of people. Walmart is a cornucopia, a tree replete with commodities. It is for this reason that I find myself lost in its labyrinth, unable to find what I am looking for, even with more or less precise directions from the staff. Eventually I find my mangoes and a most needed red umbrella and stand in line at self checkout. Who are we, the people who prefer self checkout? The misanthropes and the old people. We are the ones who for some reason or another do not want to interact with another human being.

On the way back I have the sun behind me. I have my backpack, my camera hanging diagonally onto my body and headphones extending conspicuously from my pockets. I am also wearing The Matrix sunglasses. Perhaps I look helpless still. Out of the blue, a car pulls into the driveway in front of me and a woman asks me if I need a ride. Startled, I explain that I am walking for pleasure. I am clumsy. I thank her too many times. She leaves, as disconcerted as she leaves me. This time I take the other side of the road to avoid the macabre sights. Rebelliously, my eye still glides in the direction of the squirrel in the middle lane. I am a voyeur after all, hungry for the gruesome. The entire little body is now supine. The tail is sleeping.

With the pain in my feet, Wellington is more burdensome than mesmerizing. I am suddenly very aware of my bones. Steps no longer come naturally. They have to be crafted, supervised. I am no longer walking for pleasure but for necessity. Sometimes I feel a need to break away from convenience. Where is the excitement if I have my car at an arm’s length? We need strain to appreciate the easy life. I have known this ever since I came to the States. Every evaluation is the result of a comparison. The woman in the car, who could not understand that I was walking by choice, who was concerned for my safety, perhaps limits herself to an existence that is comfortable and protected. Why does she reject the other side of the story? Everything in life comes in pairs of opposites. White and black, tall and short, wealthy and poor, optimist and pessimist, philantropist and... misanthrope.

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