Most days I smoke before I go to the gym. After watching my four-month-old all day, and most likely having drunk too much the night before – I take off down 695 to the Planet Fitness on route 40. On 695 I got the buzz on, feeling like a hockey puck on an ice rink, but the thing about weed is the heartbeat stays regular, the body keeps moving, it’s the mind that is slippery, so my motor skills defying my mind like a wet California hillside, I stay in the lines.
Arriving, I pull in and feel a great sense of relief. Maybe existential dread absolves itself in simple physics, like the night snow casting itself against the Maryland moon and American industrial complex – all buttoned down in Baltimore county, tonight? Dunkin Donuts. We brought ourselves here with a centralized business model spread all over the world. But the night doesn’t know anything but the three forms of matter.
I grab my headphones and enter for ten bucks a month. And what I feel is something like the buoyant relief of reading when it’s good – I walk in, show my key chain scan card, and I, from my lopsided consciousness, surveilled state, google-map-driven-place-on-earth, am part of a story. A story involving spandex flab and exceptional mediocrity, the everyday struggle, ordinary musk and manufactured mist, 24 hour lighting – but it is exactly the magic of being invisible in a public space. Why does it feel so damn good to see and not be seen? It’s the same as going to a bar – the horizon of blinking TVs identical, allowing fifty common denominators, all of which serve to insulate us, together, in our dreams.
I hit the treadmill and listen to part of the Bernie 2020 kickoff rally in Brooklyn from today.
After, sweating, a little disoriented, elated, I recognize a face: he does too: “Aye!” he says, remembering me first.
“Aye!” It’s an old student of mine. Kareem. I wince at losing my anonymity, but fall back in wonder when he professes that I helped him know how to write.
“And not just for school,” he says.
You start to feel like a wheel when you have kids. Like you’re the wheel of a busted-ass truck, like you’re rolling along and heaving the heavens themselves, all the stars and nebula of sleep, age, and impossibility – your last life a distant planet. But part of this is the old mores have given way in lieu of this supernova. That planet was engulfed – the one where you walked around and had your arms to yourself, swinging them gently and sovereignly in the oxygenated air up Charles St. to your next self-determined destination. No, you have been occupied, colonized, imperialized.
I look at my flabby belly amidst the proletariat in the wall-length mirror of this little democracy on route 40, as I curl dumbbells. I’m feeling the rise out of the smoke, my body owning itself, the slow revelation that my muscles still exist, my mind still exists, and my love is stronger than ever. (I’ve turned now to some old Springsteen on my headphones, and also his new Broadway show!) Those at the bottom, carrying the economy, have the gifted knowledge, plundered of illusion, relegated to the squeaky grace-filled work, that no one owns anything. In this way, kids expose the frivolity of the nation-state, of any borders at all!
I switch to the latest episode of Democracy Now! but then land on Little Steven belting out a song he gave to Southside Johnny but that he wrote for David Ruffin, and think about what it is I like about this place. By now I’m on my last mile on the treadmill. Five total, tonight. I think about how the first things I ever wrote with any kind of popular intent were song lyrics. Then, in straight poetry, I found a narrative arc and more intense intellectual exercise – but, in my head at least, the reception was just as broad and loud for every thought; the swagger just as deep for every beat. The swath of populace whose voices I heard in my head and was attempting to court, to engender myself to, to lift up, to woo – who I felt I was speaking to and with, was always grand in scale. I’ve never shot for obscurity or entry to some secret club. This is my way of fucking loving humanity. And with grad school, I burnished myself an actual seat at the table and felt for the first time like education included me. After all, these same forces, the exact same activism and fight, perhaps rooted in the very real need to connect with strangers, have given rise to a political context. But it all feels like physics. It’s just how things work.