It is May, and time to spray the doors and windows of my home. I trudge, unhappily, out to the garden shed. The insect repellent waits for me, but by the time I carry it back to the house, I’ve already decided I’m not going to spray the fucking doors or the fucking windows. It’s a beautiful day.
And yesterday, goddamn it, was City Day.
City Day is the day, every couple of weeks or so, that I take the train to New York City and wonder what God is waiting for. He promised destruction. He promised vengeance. Big talker. I don’t know what it is about the city that so infuriates me. It isn’t the usual city complaints; it isn’t the filth (I sort of wish there was more). It isn’t the noise or the stench or rush.
What is it, I wonder?
It isn’t a physical quality. It’s something else. It’s something intangible. And it bothers me that I can’t identify it.
Over breakfast at Scotty’s on Sixth Avenue, Phil talks to me about his new girlfriend. She’s great, but a little old, and she has kids, and Phil’s not sure if he wants kids at this point or if he wants kids at all or if he wants to take on someone else’s kids and he’s starting a new company, it’s an online aggregator of something that culls data from somewhere and sells it to someplace else and he really feels he should be focusing on that right now and it wouldn’t be fair to her not to mention her kids and it wouldn’t really be fair to him, either, when you stop and think about it.
At lunch at a diner on Lexington Jen orders the soup and salad. She’s cutting out meat as best she can, but not eggs yet, or fish, and dairy is probably next but she loves cheese and is a big coffee drinker and can’t stand cream but then one teaspoon a day probably isn’t going to kill her, and the truth is that she’s not doing it for humane animal rights reasons but for personal health reasons (she’s forty-two now and the fat doesn’t come off as quickly as it used to, God, she feels old even though she knows forty-two isn’t old) and it bothers her because that seems selfish of her but why should she care what other people think about her anyway, she’s doing the best she can.
I sit on the train headed back upstate, unable to write because my few hours in the city have made me doubt everything I’ve ever thought about everything. I’m very suggestible (until I become enraged and reject everything), and I stare at my laptop screen questioning everything I’ve ever written. Should I be writing a vampire novel? A sitcom? A Ben Stiller vehicle? Also, should my jeans be skinnier? Should my sneakers be lighter? Fortunately, Amtrak now has wireless internet access, so there is no risk of thought, no chance of self-examination, no possibility of reflection and self-appraisal. You are safe here from the horror of yourself, and, thus free, I logged on.
I don’t know what it is about the Huffington Post that so infuriates me. It isn’t a political thing, that much I know, because I don’t particularly care about politics; if there’s one thing we can thank the internet for, it’s revealing how utterly stupid and ridiculous the whole game is: take any left-wing website, change all the adjectives and nouns to their closest opposites (smart to stupid, hero to socialist, Rethuglican to Demo-Rat) and you have yourself a right-wing site. So what is it? Is it Arianna? It could be. Maybe it’s Arianna?
What is it, I wonder?
It bothers me that I can’t identify it.
Soon, though, the brown brick buildings outside my window give way to mountains and trees, and I look out over the Hudson River and I am somehow, for some reason, relieved.
I don’t know why.
And it bothers me.
“For use outside the home,” read the directions on the pest spray, “to control home invading pests such as ants, cockroaches, crickets, earwigs, fleas, house flies, millipedes, mosquitoes, spiders, and ticks including American, deer tick, brown dog tick. Do not treat firewood. Do not spray in enclosed area. Do not…”
I decide to go for a hike.
I call for my dog, and walk into the woods behind my home, up the old logging trail that leads to the mountaintop. It is a steep climb, and at the small stream that crosses the trail at the head of the next mountain, my dog stops for a drink of water. Some trees have fallen over the winter, others have grown; the boulders and stones, though, never change, and they help mark the way as the trail begins to fade. When I was a child, my rabbi taught me that King Solomon could talk to the animals, to all of nature, in fact, and the calm I feel filling me makes me imagine I can do the same. I send silent greetings of joy and thanks to the squirrels, the trees, the breeze around me.
None reply. If anything, the forest quiets, as if waiting for me to go, to be gone, to just leave already. If I could refrain from killing something, or paving something over before I go, that would be most appreciated.
And that’s when it hits me. What it is I hate about the city and Arianna and the fucking Huffington Post; or rather, what it is I love about the woods.
“I go to nature,” wrote John Burroughs, “to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”
“A morning-glory at my window,” wrote Walt Whitman, “satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books.”
Nope. For me, it isn’t the beauty or the majesty or the oneness with nature. It’s our twoness with nature. I like nature because nature doesn’t care. Nature doesn’t need us, or give a damn about us either way. Here, says the forest, is how much you matter: not at all. The world was here before man, it will be here after, and nothing in it—not the trees, not the animals, not the stones or the moss or the frogs or the streams—will give a flying fuck about us when we’re gone. Something about the city makes people think they matter, think this world is theirs, think the only history that counts is the history of man.
ANDERSON COOPER CALLS OUT OBAMA OVER GAY MARRIAGE!
Shut up, Arianna.
STEWART SLAMS GOP WAR ON WOMEN!
Seriously – shut the fuck up.
CHRISTIE GOES ROGUE ON SOME DAMN THING!
Go for a walk, Huffy. In the woods. Alone. Embrace your meaninglessness. If there’s any happiness possible in this world—if—that’s likely the way to it.
I call for my dog, and head back down the mountain, feeling small and vanishing and utterly, wonderfully insignificant. I get home, grab the insect repellent and begin spraying it, as directed, around the windows and doors.
“I hope,” the spider says to the ant, “that stuff keeps the humans in there.”
“It’s worth a shot,” says the ant. “They’re fucking everywhere.”
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