30 March 2006

The night shift at my office has what we call lunch (the day shift has lunch, after all--shouldn't we, too?) between 8:30 and 9:00 p.m. Most of us get hungry earlier than that and gobble our food at First Break, around 6:30. And then there is a half hour later to find something to do with.

Half an hour is an awkward length of time. There are a lot of small tasks or amusements that might take ten or fifteen minutes. Then there are other things you might do that require some concentration, and half an hour is not long enough to really start concentrating on anything, particularly if you're surrounded by little clusters of people making little bursts of sound.

Except in summer, it's dark at lunchtime. The windows of the lunch room reflect yourself and all the other people, looking glum in the dim, yellowish light. Other than the lunch room, there really isn't anywhere to sit. It's a strange company, under authoritarian governance, and not only are food and drink not allowed in the desk area, nothing much else is, either--if you're at your desk, the supervisor will assume you're supposed to be working, and hold it against you if you're doing something else.

So I got in the habit of going outside. I go for a walk, since walking is one of the few activities that seems worthwhile whatever the length of time you spend doing it, and since there's very little else to do out there in the dark world at lunchtime.

The office is on the largest street that runs along a narrow strip of land between a lake and a freeway. The streets parallel to it hold mostly houses and apartment buildings. On the big street, buses run along between the university and downtown, and when traffic is bad on the freeway some of it escapes over here. There is a little bit of hesitant commerce: a couple of coffee shops, a couple of convenience stores, some Italian restaurants, another employee benefits office, something with a sign that says it's a modeling agency, though I have my doubts.

At 8:30 at night, there is pretty near nothing going on at all. "Make sure to park nearby," the night shift supervisor told me when she hired me for the clerk typist desk. "It should be safe right here, but down on the residential streets--there was a rape a couple of months ago--"

The departing clerk typist didn't say anything about rape, but did mention crazy homeless people. He acted the chivalrous male and escorted me to my car, the first few days, before he went away to sell cell phones.

By then I'd decided a rape once every five or ten years might be worthwhile if it got me out of driving round and round in circles every day in order to get myself a parking spot right in front of the building. I parked a block down the hill on a street full of houses, and felt no great unease at walking down there in the dark after midnight.

At 8:30, it's almost as quiet as at midnight. I was walking fast one evening, to have time to look out from the university bridge at houseboats and boat rental places and the lights of the houses on the other side of the lake, and still get back before my half hour was over. I overtook a woman walking alone on the sidewalk. When she heard me coming she turned her head, and there was real fear in her face. Should I be as afraid of the world as she was of me? If I'd attacked her she would have had no help. The street is lined with plate glass, with no one looking out.

But a couple of evenings ago there was more light on our block, and someone looking up toward the window as I passed by, though I don't know whether she could see me through her own reflection. She was hunched frowning over a big pile of fat binders when I passed by headed north, and still there half an hour later as I made my southward back to the office.

The store she sat in is called ericcé. It hasn't been there very long. It has stacks of jeans inside, lacy camisoles, and so on. Someone told me with astonishment that he looked through the window at a tag hanging from one of the pairs of jeans, and it said $179. I didn't share his surprise. It does look like that sort of merchandise. I would be surprised if they carry sizes above 12, and the lowest price on any of the tags is probably about $80, for something inconsequential like a T-shirt.

They spent a couple of weeks setting up, then had some sort of an exclusive gathering for which they posted an apology on the door, and then they were open for business. I looked in every day as I walked past before work. Mostly there were two blonde shopkeepers inside. After a couple of weeks I saw a customer browsing, trailed by a male companion. Not until the other day did I see an actual transaction taking place at the counter.

It was later that evening I saw the woman sitting at the counter absorbed in--well. She may have been designing costumes for a play, or piecing together a historical narrative, or having insights into the internal workings of flowering plants, but I rather think she was pondering the consequences of having opened an expensive clothing store on a street where someone bent on shopping would not likely come (no complementary shopping to do) and no one would be surprised unawares into shopping (hardly any foot traffic, but nowhere to park, and the shop would hardly be visible from a car, anyway).

I am, of course, no expert in how to sell things. I had my own inventory of four or five books in the bookstore I grew up in, and I don't remember that any of them ever sold. But I will venture to predict that ericcé will not be on our street for long. I must contrive to draw attack at lunchtime soon, if the woman in the light behind the plate glass is to save me.

28 March 2006

Crisper

Rotting vegetables smell rotten.

This is a pretty simple fact, one I feel I probably ought to be able to get a handle on. Somehow I tend to overlook it, though.

When I open my refrigerator and something is not right in there, I look first for meat. If I satisfy myself that there is no neglected and degenerate meat, I investigate the milk. I drink so much tea and coffee, with so much milk in, that I'm quite unlikely to have my milk sit souring in the fridge. But even if it did, it wouldn't sour the whole fridge with it--in my experience, milk just doesn't do that. I check anyway.

I live in the bottom part of a building built into the side of a hill. Someone I know, while in an uncharacteristically charitable mood, once referred to my apartment as a hobbit hole. A walkway goes right by my main window, and stairs run up outside the little window that lights the kitchen. The unit next to mine is the landlord's office, where he and two other guys do something architectural. UPS guys dash up and down, and architects going to check the mail, and if I turn, mentally disordered, from my refrigerator door, I'm quite likely to meet someone's eyes as he is going up the stairs. This will alarm me, and heighten my confusion, and maybe make me go sit down at my desk and look studious.

But eventually I'm going to want something from the refrigerator again, and go over there and open the door. This time I'll know that what I'm smelling is not spoiled meat, nor bad milk, and were it kimchi I'd know it was kimchi, so I'll be forced to be systematic in my search for corruption. And so in the end I will open the vegetable drawer.

Vegetables are clean and fresh and nice and sweet, and good and the source of all virtue. That place where they stay in the bottom of the refrigerator must necessarily be a place all cool and wholesome. Don't some people even call it a crisper?

But if I buy long beans and swamp cabbage and stick them in that drawer, make a big pot of watercress soup, and live for a week on that and frozen dumplings, the beans and cabbage come out more liquid than crisp, just as vile as a stray piece of chicken.

I might learn this someday.

27 March 2006

I've just finished reading a magazine called Bust I that picked up out of the giveaway bin at the library. It's a women's magazine with all the usual elements--celebrity interviews, fashion spreads, makeup tips--but it makes lots of reference to how feminist it is. I'm not sure this feminism would be obvious if they didn't keep telling you about it, except that all the music, books, and movies reviewed are by women, and the fiction is about sex.

Also there's a short profile of a woman who likes to ice fish. The only stories about men are an interview with a hip hop guy who has a record label called Women, and an article about men who knit and crochet. And then they quote Margaret Cho: "If you are not a feminist, you do not deserve to live."

That might seem extreme and uncompromising, except that so far as I can tell, there isn't in fact anybody who's not a feminist, and being a feminist doesn't mean anything in particular. Or such is the impression I get from what I read, including this magazine, or from anyone I regularly choose to speak to.

I haven't given it much thought, but I suppose if pressed I would say that I was not a feminist, for I am awfully literal-minded, and term refers very clearly to one particular gender, and I don't much like genders and would prefer it if there weren't any. There's a guy at work with distinctly girly handwriting, and I was struck by it and pointed it out to someone and made her giggle, and then I felt bad, for shouldn't he be able to write like that if he wants to, without being ridiculed for it?

And I was cheered by the thought of those guys in the magazine knitting, something I once tried to teach my brother to do. I failed because when his friend Robert came over he hurriedly hid the knitting somewhere so Robert wouldn't see it.

I guess this makes me a feminist in Bust terms, which only goes to show it's all meaningless, doesn't it?

But now I begin to suspect there might be other ways of defining me as a feminist, that would in fact define certain people I interact with daily as not-feminist, and if the idea of a feminist seems meaningless, the idea of a not-feminist is alarming.

There is L1, for example, whom I found myself defeating some months ago in an argument about masculine pronouns. I don't remember much about this argument except that he maintained that masculine pronouns historically referred to everybody and might as well continue to do so, and I maintained that when I heard someone talking about "he" I assumed the person was not talking about me. I was surprised when L1 confessed himself defeated, for I thought that someone who started off holding a foolish view would continue foolishly to hold it unto the bitter end. I think what defeated him was my pointing out that just because something may in the past have been such-and-such a way did not mean that it continued to be so now and forever would be so into the far future.

I was surprised by someone giving in to my logic, something I couldn't recall ever having happened before, but more surprised that it was even possible still to get into this particular argument.

Then there is P, who one evening some months ago came up to my desk holding a file. "Knowing how your mind works, I thought you'd be interested in this."

"And how is it that my mind works?"

He didn't answer that question (a pity! how convenient I might find it to have an idea how my mind works!), just showed me something in the bottom of the file indicating that the particular cannery in question used to have an entire bargaining unit made up of female employees. Which did, in fact, interest me--did all the women end up in one bargaining unit because the company was systematically underpaying its female employees? But I'm not sure what P thought he was showing me. I suspect he saw it as some sort of female empowerment, and that that would in some way please me.

And what could have given him that impression? Just me being female? The reference to the workings of my mind seems to indicate something else, but what? All I can think of is that when we are looking at the file of a person called Stacy or Sheri or Diane and he keeps referring to "his record" and "his spouse" and "those hours he worked in 1969" I tend to correct him.

Does using female pronouns to refer to women indicate a feministical bent?

One would hardly think so, would he?

25 March 2006

The Hapless Historian

I was in a graduate program in history for a short while, sometime nearing the end of the twentieth century.

My advisor had set quantitative history as the theme for that year's research seminar. It was a two-quarter seminar. You can't really do quantitative history in two quarters. It isn't enough time to find any substantial source of data, much less go painstakingly through and code it for statistical analysis. That sort of project usually takes years. Besides which, none of us knew the first thing about statistics, and there wasn't time to learn.

Well, okay, the advisor said. Just find some numbers of some kind and relate them to your analysis somehow.

I tried to think of some phenomenon involving discrete objects I could count. I settled on telephones. How many telephones were there in China in the Thirties? How many more than in the Twenties? What did it all mean?

I ended up giving up on the project and fleeing California before I came to any real conclusions. I was starting to realize that, much as I would prefer to regard gender as an empty ideological construct made up by the more irritable variety of feminist, no account of the spread of telephone use could afford to ignore it. Various other sorts of analytical necessity also began to impinge on my consciousness. I found this, along with living in California without a car, along with incessant sunshine, along with trying to concentrate on a single activity for seventy or eighty hours a week, and with abandoning my geographic destiny to the vagaries of the market in historians of modern China, and with being regarded as a sort of wedge to hold in place the reputation of my department, quite uncomfortable.

I went away from there. But I did carry some things away with me.

One was a set of Xeroxes of charts from the 1923 statistical report of the Republic of China's Ministry of Transportation. I found them in the Harvard Yenching Library. They'd been there, according to the rubber stamp, since 19 February 1929. They were beautiful charts, printed in a wide range of delicate tints on good, thick paper. My Xeroxes flatten them out somewhat, of course, but the whimsy of using different circumferences of spoked wheel to represent the amount of rolling stock owned by various provinces is still there, and that of making the bars of a bar chart into telegraph posts grounded in the hills and streams of an old-fashioned misty landscape strewn with pines and thatched huts and bamboo groves.

I wish there were people like the people who made these charts in my office.

But of course I can't really know what the people who worked in the Ministry of Transportation were like, or what bureaucratic frustrations plagued them there in their office. I can speculate. To start with, someone seems to have got excited about new techniques they learned somewhere for the organization of information. And then after that first year someone must have got cost-efficient, for there were no more fanciful colored charts, just statistics laid out in a properly cheap, black-and-white, statistical fashion. But who were those people, and what other sorts of thoughts did they have? Who knows? There may be records somewhere that would give more clues. But anything like a complete picture is impossible.

My office generates lots of piles of paper, probably more even than the Ministry of Transportation. Piles and piles mailed out every day, to thousands of addresses, and who knows if the people at those addresses keep them or not? In the office itself, the papers are kept for a while and then microfilmed. I like to think of the hapless historian, fifty or a hundred years hence, reeling through the microfilm (maybe she will have, by then, a less dizzying medium to work with) looking for indications of, perhaps, the psychological effects of institutional rigidity on the early-twenty-first-century proletariat.

She will find some clues. Perhaps a note about a phone call: "Mr. X was very short with me, stated that I was trying to force him to get a divorce." Or an explanation on a referral form: "Since the company's records were destroyed in a fire, can we apply past service based on union membership?" Maybe she will look at a map and a floor plan and an old photo and conclude that at break time on a spring evening the night shift staff looked out from the lunch room over water and a series of bridges to layers of clouds and mountains lit up in streaks of yellow and pink.

But she will have no way of knowing that everyone spent hours every week looking high and low for missing files because there was no system for keeping track of them, no idea that W, however excited he was capable of getting over the rule requiring him to delay payment on someone's pension until a certain sort of letter had twice been mailed out and returned undeliverable, was really much more interested in Steinways and Chopin, no inkling of the depth of my perplexity about how R, whose every movement indicated a wish to pass unobserved, could nevertheless have that hair and those nails and that kind of shoes.

The Hapless Historian, in my vision, is very dedicated and very dowdy and has probably hair not quite done getting gray yet but getting altogether too long, and then a remarkably shapeless sort of skirt. She is very smart, and she is trying very hard, and she has no clue. But she is my guardian angel (since I seem to be in a religious mood this week), for she wants very much to know what I am doing, and everything she is curious about I must be interested in too, and I find therefore that there are interesting things going on everywhere I look.

Motivation

One rainy evening last week a manuscript arrived on my doorstep.

I don't mean this quite literally, for in fact there isn't a doorstep, just a pale rectangular place on the concrete walkway where for a long time there was a hairy mat that collected debris and held it ready for me to track in and grind into the carpet. I wasn't quite sure who the mat belonged to, and so for more than a year I just lived with it, but then one day in a fit of self-assertiveness I threw it away.

But if the expression about the doorstep is metaphorical, it is in this case lightly enough so to show me the aptness of the comparison as usually employed, for really the box's appearance there, damp, half contained in a plastic bag, was surprising. I had been sort of half-expecting it since November, but by now had more or less ceased to believe in it. If it did arrive, though, I thought it would be through the mail.

I had seen this manuscript before, and I did not very much feel like seeing it again. I thought it would be all marked up with its creator's objections to my feeble efforts at editing, and I would have to spend weeks laboring to take out what I had, back in the fall, spent weeks laboring to put in.

I turned out to be wrong--the manuscript's originator said in his cover letter to the managing editor that I had improved its aesthetic qualities, and he accepted almost all the changes I had made. But I didn't find that out for some days, for I was enjoying a pleasant spell of procrastination.

I don't always have editing to work on, and when I don't it is nice, but I find that having something to work on is in some ways even better. Not just because I get more money that way, and learn how to do the work, but also because there are great benefits to having something to be actively not doing.

When I have a project I'm working on, my dishes get done right away, I make more different kinds of food, my floor is clean, I walk vigorously about in the sunshine (or hail, or whatever), I balance my checkbook the minute the bank statement arrives, and I even manage to do things like calling the printer cartridge company to see why they are eating my money. Possibly I am slightly anxious as I do these things, but at the same time I am thoroughly aware of the great pleasure to be got from whatever it is I happen to be doing. Never do I think, as I frequently do when there's no deadline in sight, now what is it that I am supposed to be doing, and why am I doing this instead?

Over the last couple of weeks, as I sat drinking coffee and idly reading grammar books, my bathroom was getting itself into a state it would be unseemly to describe. It is necessary, of course, to go into the bathroom with fair frequency, and my bathroom is not one that even in the best of conditions invites one to linger. I did manage a couple of months ago to prod the landlord into hiring someone to affix the toilet to the floor and a couple of kind of important things like that, but still the cabinet is rusty, the linoleum stained, the sealant around the bathtub peeling, and light and space are short.

There were of late other sorts of things developing in there, though, that were making me flee from there as soon as I practically could.

It only takes half an hour to clean such a meager bathroom, and several times a day I suggested to myself that now would be an excellent time to do it. But I didn't. I just went back to my grammar books, or whatever other sorts of books might I might have been occupied with before I went round the corner into the bathroom.

The manuscript arrived, though, and now the bathroom is clean.

I suppose eventually the manuscript will be clean, too. But then everything else will get dirty again.

19 March 2006

Decision

This afternoon I met Voldemort downtown for coffee.

It was a sunny, cool day, with pink blossoms on--well, cherry trees, maybe, or plum. Spring--we were sneezing, and our eyes itched--but still early enough to be wearing a thick jacket. Since it was such a lovely day, I suggested we take a ferry ride.

Voldemort refused--he had a plan for his day, and it had taxes in it, but not a ferry ride. I dragged him down to the market and looked out over the water. It looked awfully nice out there. "I'm taking a ferry ride," I decided. "You can walk me to the ferry terminal if you want."

He did.

I consulted the schedule. There wasn't a ferry leaving for another half hour.

We went out on the balcony and looked, again, out over the water, some more.

"I sent my family an email about what I did last weekend in Portland," I commented. "My dad said, 'It's nice to see you still have the same erratic ways.' Do you think it's an accurate description, 'erratic'?"

"Well . . ."

"I don't think I'm going on the ferry after all. I'm too hungry."

We returned to the middle of downtown, bought Gatorade (him) and pink grapefruit juice (me), and sat in a shopping mall drinking it and looking at the people riding the escalators up and down, until it was time for him to go back to the coffee stand to meet up with another friend of his.

I came home to vacuum and make some sort of beef stew [what sort, precisely, I'm not yet sure--still in the middle of it and still, under Brenda's direction, improvising], which was what I'd originally been intending to do with some part of my weekend and not got around to yet, and which I wouldn't, likely as not, have got around to had I gone off somewhere on the ferry.

I suppose my father is right, there is something rather erratic in the way I conduct myself.

I have been called indecisive before, too.

Which I suppose is reasonable, if indecisive describes a habit of mind in which consideration of a particular course of action does not immediately, or perhaps at all, result in that course of action being carried out.

But if indecisive means incapable of making a decision, I don't think it really applies. I make decisions all the time. I decided this afternoon, for instance, to take a ferry ride.

I make all sorts of decisions all the time.

I have in mind a normative model of decision-making that goes something like this:

1) Identify a problem
2) Think about alternative possible ways of addressing it
3) Identify one as being, on balance, most replete with advantages and free of disadvantages
4) Decide upon it
5) Act

My usual way of proceeding follows this model very well. I could not at all be described as impetuous; very rarely do I act without extensive forethought. I generally do nothing without having come carefully and systematically to a decision about the right course of conduct.

The only thing is that when, after extensive deliberation, I act, the action I take is usually one other than the one I have so carefully decided upon.

On Thursday and Friday, for example, I thought about what I was going to do Saturday. I consulted Tammy; I talked with the coffee person, I thought about how energetic I was last weekend and how much I have to do in the coming week. I would stay at home, I decided. I would clean, and cook, and rest, and possibly get started on cleaning up the manuscript that came back to me this week.

I came home from work Friday; I watched a DVD; I went to bed.

Saturday morning Tammy called. "What's up?" she said. "Come up--If you come soon, you can go with me to try on glasses."

So I made some coffee and put it in a traveling cup, and off I went. I didn't rest, I didn't clean, I didn't cook. We had a nice afternoon. No one tried on any glasses.

Or Wednesday. When I woke up on Wednesday, I considered what was best to do. Finish reading my style manual, I concluded. So I got the book, set it open before me upon my desk, and commenced making phone calls. I talked to Tammy about the weekend. I talked to Brenda about beef stew. I left messages with a couple of other people. And then, it being time to go to work, I went to work. It was another two days (what with my phone messages being answered and all) before I got around to reading the rest of the style manual.

I could go on backwards through this week, the week before, the week before that, citing examples, but instead I will take a shortcut and say:

1) If I have not considered what to do, I will do nothing.
2) Every action of mine follows immediately and directly upon a decision.
3) Apart from this procedural, processual, or temporal connection, there seems to be no link between decision and action.

That I am erratic, I suppose, is the best description thus far proposed.

It hardly seems a full description, however, and doesn't even attempt to be an explanation. I would like to know why!

Oh, well. One generally doesn't get to know something just because one wants to, I guess.

17 March 2006

Lately I've been investigating beef stew.

I tried improvising, but somehow it didn't come out very good. I think I used the wrong kind of meat, so it was tough. So then I decided I needed to consult people.

Tammy and Rob made some stew, with a recipe that included both wine and Guinness. They made a huge quantity, and got tired of eating it, so gave me what was left. It was good. I asked for the recipe. Tammy forgot to send me it.

So then I called my cousin Brenda, remembering her saying that her husband Barry made good stew. Brenda and Barry are from Hawaii, and I have always liked the sort of tomato-ey beef stew you get in Hawaiian restaurants.

But Brenda wasn't home when I called, so on Christie's recommendation I resorted to the boeuf bourguignonne recipe from Joy of Cooking. This was really lovely, but definitely not Hawaiian stew.

Next I consulted the Hawaiian person at work, who said she uses ginger and soy sauce.

Tammy did eventually email me her Irish stew recipe. And Brenda called me back, said canned tomatoes were the crucial thing, and delivered a discourse on the virtues of improvisation. The key to good chili, she added, is adding ground cloves and cocoa powder.

It is funny, I think, the way my brother and Christie always use recipes. I asked them about it. "We don't just throw shit together the way you do," Christie said.

Well, why not?

Back when we were little kids, our parents put us on a rotation diet meant for allergy control. It involved eating any particular thing only once in five days, to give one's body time to eliminate it before it was reintroduced. In order to keep track of this rather complicated system, we kept a log magneted to the side of the refrigerator.

To start with, we were pretty strict about the rotation, but as with most disciplines, this degenerated over time, so that by my mid-teens, while we continued to keep the menu, it tended not to be very specific. A frequent entry, for instance, was "rice and shit."

That would be, I suppose, rice and stir-fry.

I have always despised the use of stir-fry as a noun. To stir fry is a process; one can by this process make all manner of dishes very much distinct from one another, many with established names.

"What did you eat in Shanghai?" my cousin Kim asked me. "Mostly stir-fry?"

Well, yes, I suppose. Most of the things I ate in Shanghai were stir-fried. But is bamboo shoots in vinegar really to be lumped together with lamb in cumin and Sichuan pepper?

But I guess I now have to admit stir-fry to be a useful catch-all term. What do I get when I just throw shit together? Stir-fry, usually. Slightly different flavors of stir-fry, but still, nothing recognizable. Stuff Chinese people would in all probability be happy enough to eat, but still, stuff you're unlikely to run into in China.

Good, though.

Now, if I can just get as good at throwing shit together into braise and bake and stew and simmer as I am at throwing it into stir-fry, I'll be all set.

04 March 2006

I drive to work every afternoon, and then at the end of the evening I drive home.

It's a short drive. About three miles, I think I concluded from Mapquest back when I first decided that it would be practical to live in this apartment and work in that job. When for some reason I walk, I can get there in 45 minutes.

I do not walk, normally, ill though it fits my usual principles of right conduct to make a habit of driving such a short distance. I get off work at quarter past midnight, and women aren't supposed to walk through the city by themselves at that hour. If I did, someone might deliberately do me some harm. On the other hand, when I systematically choose to sit on my ass using up gasoline and emitting fumes, when I could instead be propelled about by the energy of all that extra food I'm going to eat anyway, using up in addition just minor quantities of whatever it is they make the bottoms of shoes from, it damages my own health and that of the world at large. It seems to me misguided to weigh a possibility of injury to just me against a certainty of hurt to the whole damn universe and judge the former the more serious concern. But walking by myself through a highway underpass sometime around one in the morning still makes me nervous, and I avoid it.

Therefore, I find, I am growing used to driving.

I have always been a lousy driver as well as an ideologically uncommitted one. And so up till now I drove very little, contriving mostly to live in the middles of cities and ride upon buses and trains. Mostly I had no car. The first time I owned one, I soon got rid of it; after that, even when there was a car around that I could borrow, I used it only for things like driving fifteen hours to Thanksgiving dinner. Not until now have I constructed a lifestyle in which getting into a car and setting it to going somewhere is a routine and largely unconsidered action.

I set myself upon this course with regret and apprehension. Would my car sink so far into my psyche that a smooth surface closed over it, and I found myself driving places even when it would be quicker and easier to walk? Would I be stuck with owning a car forever and ever? Would my muscles atrophy and my mind die? The latter seemed quite possible; I rarely have a new idea when my legs aren't moving, and new ideas are fun.

With all these doubts, though, I did still assume that I would at least get better at driving. I was making, after all, several left turns a day, and parallel parking once in the afternoon near my office and again in the middle of the night when I got home. I would learn to judge, I figured, when a car was coming toward me in the opposite lane, how long it would take it to arrive, and whether I had time to turn in front of it. I would internalize a sense of where the front of my car was, and where the back, and the sequence of angles to move the wheels in to put the car next to the curb, not on top of it, without its butt stuck out sideways into the street, and not crunched into the car in front of it, nor the one behind.

And now, after a year and a half of this, I have indeed stopped castigating myself every day for not somehow managing a life free of driving. At about three in the afternoon I start, without much thought, to take clothes off. I drift into the bathroom and into a spray of water and out again. I put on some other clothes than the ones I had on at 2:30. I stick some foodstuffs in some plastic containers and the plastic containers in my satchel. I find my car keys and I find my car and then in a bit I am at work.

And still I am a lousy driver. But it used to be a cautious, nervous lousiness; it is now an abandoned, inattentive one. I lurch through intersections, whee! I run along at 45 mph where the speed limit is 30, then see a red light and shift into neutral to coast to a stop next to what turns out, whoops, to be a police car. I try to park in one place, give up, and go park in another; there, I go forward and backward six or seven times without any real change in the car's orientation, then give up and leave it parked in whatever bad way it may have chosen for itself.

Then someone comes along and runs into it, or so I must presume from all its new scrapes and nicks and dentlets. Not that I'd be likely to notice such minor flaws myself. Car still runs, doesn't it? Other people look at my car, though, and ask me what happened to it, or make me roll down my window while I'm sitting at a stoplight in order to make me an offer they think I can't refuse. Two hundred dollars and it'll look like I never was hit. So when I get where I'm going I get out and look, and I have to concede that the car probably didn't emerge from the dealer's looking like that.

I don't really care about that, though--something that may have happened to the car when I was nowhere near it. But when, in the same insouciant spirit, I run into someone, kill them, and end up in a wheelchair, missing parts of my legs, I may well find myself unhappy in my contemplations.