Lazy Lie-Abed’s Wild Ride

The black sedan rockets down the road. There is a monkey at the wheel. He has on a chauffeur’s cap, and a little jacket and no pants. He jabbers and points at the road, and yanks the steering wheel back and forth. Lazy Lie-Abed is sprawled on the back seat. “Oh my delicate constitution!” he says, his pink bulk tossed side to side in the car. “Oh, my liver! My digestion!”

The car speeds on over dusty lanes, into a village of gray stone houses with window boxes full of red and pink geraniums. The monkey pilots the squealing car around the village square, knocking into tables heaped with produce, scattering oranges and chickens in his wake. At the corner café, the coffee drinkers observe the flight of the car, cups frozen halfway between table and lip, their heads swiveling silently. “Oh, my paws and whiskers!” cries Lazy Lie-Abed from the back seat. He licks the backs of his wrists and passes them over his eyebrows.

Lazy Lie-Abed plucks crumbs of Cheez-it crackers off his chest. He peers into the empty box, then out the car window. “Ooh! Oooh! Look, it’s a drive through. We’re out of Cheez-its. Oh, stop here, you must!” The monkey wrenches the wheel over and the car screeches sideways into the Dairy Barn driveway. The reflection of the red silo slides across the windshield. The monkey leaps halfway out the window, only his bright red ass visible, his tail wrapped around the steering post. Boxes of foodstuffs come hurtling in through window: Cheez-its, Ho-Ho’s, Ring Dings. A can of Poppycock sails all the way to the back seat and bangs off Lazy Lie-Abed’s head. He is momentarily cross as he rubs the point of impact. But than he sighs philosophically, pries open the lid, and stuffs a handful in his mouth. “Drive on!” he says through a mouthful, and small pieces of the popcorn spray out and stick to the back of the monkey’s neck.

Down a hill into a small valley. The hillside is flecked with snow banks and dark green pines. There is an A-frame chalet with a goat perched on the very peak. Across the second story of the chalet there is a wide balcony, with a row of whirligig flowers all along the wooden railing. The flowers spin around as the car flies past. The monkey tosses a red sweater with white snowflakes on it over the seat back to Lazy Lie-Abed. “No time to ski!” moans Lazy Lie-Abed and the car skids around the corner into the flat and dusty desert. A cloud of dust spews out from under the car, and the horizon leans back away from the car in all directions. “Oh for my couch! Oh for my books. Fetch me the book about the car ride.”

The monkey tosses back maps. Lazy Lie-Abed examines a map closely. “Am I here?” he asks the monkey, pointing at a place in the map. The monkey turns over and grasps the steering wheel with his feet. He leans far over the seat, grunting whenever a bump forces the backrest into his belly. He looks at the map upside down. The car runs off the road, knocking aside cacti, roaring in and out of gullies. Small rocks flick out from under the wheels, and lizards skitter away.

The car plunges over the side of a cliff and tumbles down, down, down. “Or am I here?’ asks Lazy Lie-Abed, pointing at another place on the map. The car drifts down slowly now, suspended by a large parachute. It swings back and forth like a pendulum. The rocking car descends past a cloud that is supported by four balloons, each tied to whatever passes for the corner of a cloud. There is an angel on a barstool playing the harp. The monkey bounces on the seat. He scoops up a handful of his own feces and flings them in the direction of the angel. But the window is only partly open and most of the handful sticks to the inside of the pane.

The descending car is framed in the window of a kitchen where a Bored Child asks, “What is there to do?” leans over the kitchen table and contemplates an empty afternoon. The kitchen table is covered with linoleum imprinted with a faux-marble pattern. It doesn’t look much like marble; it looks more like chunks of snow or ice, floating in a violet gray sea, or like yogurt parting to reveal a fruit filling on the bottom. The Bored Child doesn’t examine the table very closely. If he did, he would notice that there is a two-dimensional car tearing across it, no bigger than an ant.

The monkey is wearing a tall Russian hat and a long trailing scarf. The car bounces over the ice floes, airborne half the time. On each jolt, the monkey is lifted clear of the seat, but still clings to the steering wheel. He pivots as if he were hinged there. The window is still open, and the breeze blows the scarf straight back, into Lazy Lie-Abed’s face. Between brushing the scarf out of the way, and being jounced around the back of the car, Lazy Lie-Abed is having difficulty concentrating on his game of solitaire. “Red Queen!” he says, “Where is the Red Queen?”

The Red Queen rears up over the horizon, enormous. Her mouth is pulled down in a great frown, like a mailbox. When she speaks her whole lower lip flops down to reveal white teeth, like letters. She plucks the car up and plunges it into her pocket. Darkness envelops the interior of the car. The monkey shuts off the engine. Lazy Lie-Abed turns on the reading light and settles back into the seat, turning the pages of an action novel. He turns to the section where the lean and chiseled hero is climbing up the boulder strewn mountains. It’s the part right after the lean-and-chiseled one swims the raging torrent, and right before he slides down the cable of the ski lift, his rock hard biceps straining. Lazy Lie-Abed sighs contentedly and settles back against the seat. He props his head up with the sweater and a box of Cheez-its. His lips move as he reads.


The Secret Spring

We are about to enter one of my favorite times of year: the secret spring. You would never think it was spring, looking out the window. It has snowed here several times, and New York has practiced its wretched alchemy, converting the once pristine snowbanks into sullen gray floes that gird the street corners. The sidewalks are all carefully cleared to avoid lawsuits. But the corners are a no-man’s land, disdained by the snowplows, ignored by the building owners; the gray ice has congealed into humped and slick outcroppings, like molten glass that has hardened haphazardly.

Even as the season proclaims itself winter, inwardly I can feel that it has turned toward spring. It’s more a kindling of feeling then the feeling itself ; a sense that we have accomplished the pivot and are moving in a new direction. The days are just perceptibly longer now, and we are turning out of darkness and into light. The winter is a time of contraction, a falling inward. The secret spring brings the first relief from that compression. It is as if the year were a roulette wheel and we that hard steel ball rolling around the track inside. But the roulette wheel is not circular, it’s egg shaped. We’re at that point where the ball has just passed around the little end of the egg, the time of greatest compression. Now we begin to expand.

I lived for a while in California, where I was blessed with many fine spring days right in the middle of winter. I find myself more comfortable wintering in the Northeast. In the Northeast, the waning light corresponds to colder weather and gray days. There is a perverse coziness in feeling depressed on a cold gray soggy day. The weather invites you to fall inward, urges you to sleep. It is sympathetic to your mood, and there is an implication that perhaps your mood will in its turn be sympathetic to the weather, and lighten as the weather does.

In California, these shortest days are accompanied by rains that wake the plants. The hills cover themselves with leprochaun green grass. The moss on the trees softens. Daffodils bloom in January. When I lived in California, my inner world and the outer world felt in discord, and that only intensified winter depression. How much worse it is to be depressed on a lovely day, to find your mood in disharmony with that of the environment, to be the gloomy guest at the wedding. The inability to grasp a proffered pleasure is more painful than the outright denial of it. And therefore, hell might turn out to be a pleasant enough place for all but the damned.

On the other hand, it is a joy to be happy in inclement weather. I have rarely felt as alive as I did one day on the winter marshes of Ipswich. All around me the reeds stretched beige and brittle. The wind prowled over the mudflats and tugged at my jacket. I was intensely aware of the spark of life that I held protected inside my winter clothes.

I can feel the slow awakening of the buds beneath the snow. I know that soon the sun will burn the snow to water and reveal green shoots that look like blades of grass with a stripe of white down the center. I’ll walk over to observe the bulbous head of a crocus, still wrapped in a white layer like paper. The air will be cool, but it will feel moist, too. I’ll stand looking at the crocus, and at the soil that looks like old coffee grounds, sodden and brown, and my shoes will drink the snowmelt, until my wet socks inform me that they’ve had their fill.

The secret spring is a relinquishing of grief and a return to life and appetite. I love it because it is the time of infinite possibility. I love it as I love the moment just before the dance begins when all of the songs are yet to be played, and all of the partners still possibilities. It is a secret and a promise, a first beckoning, not yet a compulsion. It is a low tremolo on the strings prefacing the first full gesture of the symphony.

It is the moment after the first moment, the time after God stretched out his hand and said “let there be light”. The moment when the universe knew that it would be populated, and felt still its cool dark empty spaces and welcomed the stars.

There is a corresponding, complementary time in the Summer. Summer is the time of the promise fulfilled, the time when the sun pushes the plants into greenest unfolding. Summer sunsets can evolve so voluptuously that it seems that time itself must be stretching out. My favorite place to watch those sunsets is the porch of my family’s house overlooking Huntington Bay. The porch faces northeast, so that the sun itself is not visible, blocked by a point of land. Unable to directly view the departing sun (and have my vision obscured by floating green spots), I find my attention directed to the response of the landscape to the changing light. The bay becomes a great bowl filled with liquid colors. The water reflects molten lead and rose. The houses across the way flash orange fire from their windows. A few sailboats lean over, slouching leisurely back to their moorings, the white bellies of their sails touched with gold. If I have any say in the design of Heaven it will include that view, and the smell of sausage grilling, and an abundance of fresh sweet corn.

Yet in that time of greatest expansion and relaxation begins the first movement back toward contraction. There is the smallest tincture of sadness in the languorous yawn and stretch of the Summer evening. And this serves to intensify the flavor of the moment, as a drop or two of vinegar can lend depth to the flavor of a soup.

We stand on the threshold of the secret spring ; the first stirrings of lust, the small sudden spark that passes between two not-yet lovers, a pheromonal message sent and received, slyly, like a note passed in class. It is a tingling in the nose and at the nape of the neck. And there opposite us on the other side of the wheel is the apex of summer; the post-climactic moment, the instant after release. Two lovers lie entwined, one lying on the other’s body as if it were a raft, the two carried now on gentle meandering currents, down and down, inward, back to the center, back to the beginning. Two nestled in each other’s arms, like squirrels in a hollow. Pulses slowing, contracting unhurriedly toward hibernation, until that time when they, like the world, will be born again.