December 18th, 2005

Field Vision

I make the turn, scanning the road ahead. There's a man in a wheelchair coming towards me on the side of the road. He moves fast. I've seen him before. His tattery green shirt flaps with each thrust forward. As I drive past, he gives me a piercing look and I acknowledge him with my eyes. "How can that be?," I think. The whole exchange took less than a second, but it felt like a minute. I start thinking about sports, what it's like to look down a football field to find an open man. I remember the time I went to see the Redskins play the Eagles at RFK. My friend Jeffrey's mom somehow got the two of us tickets right behind the Washington bench. And we could barely see the action because the players on the sidelines blocked our view. I realized that day that the God's-eye view of the football field we see on television bears no relation to the experience of actually playing the sport. I suppose that's true for all televised sports, but the discrepancy between what the home viewer sees and what the football player sees is especially pronounced because there are so many players on the field, most of them jumbled together.

Now I have a vision of a receiver catching the ball along the left sideline, two defenders in his face, the pass perfectly placed. Did I throw it? Did I catch it? Back when I used to make up games by myself in Pennsylvania I'd play both roles, the thrower and the catcher. The other day I was thinking about the fact that my favorite made-up athletic conference was centered on the Carolinas. Some of the teams were ACC teams. Others were not. My favorite player to act out was a scrambling quarterback for East Carolina named Mike D'Artagnan. I'd picked the name from that movie with Michael York about the three musketeers. D'Artagnan was famous for eluding the grasp of pass rushers. He threw better on the run than from the pocket. And he loved a muddy field. One March I celebrated the first day of the spring thaw, with temperatures in the 50s, by sloshing about on the grass next to our driveway, coating myself in slime.

Back to the present, that vision of a pass reception makes me think back to earlier in the afternoon, when I told Skylar she could look around while I waited in the interminable line at Ross. With both of us running fevers, the trek from B&N to the other end of Foothills Mall could have been too much. But it ended up being a bonding experience. We shopped for Kim's Christmas present. I let Skylar confirm her knowledge of mom's taste by rejecting a $20 V-neck cashmere sweater because it was pink. And then I temporarily suspended my herding instinct to let her explore, remembering my own experiences of getting lost in the store as a child a little too vividly. "It's good for her," I reasoned, as I watched her dart off and then return a few times. As I made my way forward, though, and the line behind me grew more and more crowded with large families, it became harder for me to see her. I felt like the quarterback straining to find the open man while peering past the defenders between us. Still, I eventually located her. Afterwards, she told me that it was much harder to see me from where she was. She's less than five feet, after all. The density of the crowd made her panic a bit. What I'll hold onto, though, is not her anxiety but the look we exchanged when she finally made eye contact with me. It was just a second, but it felt like a year.

Special Sauce

My chest still feels like someone is standing on it. And it burns when I breathe. My stomach is a wreck from the antibiotics and those cough-syrup-without-the-syrup pills. But I slept a little better last night, with the help of my inner bartender. I squeezed the juice of a lemon into a teacup, threw in several spoonfuls of sugar, tossed two lemon slices on top, poured some Canadian whiskey over the mixture, then filled the rest of the cup with hot water. I never drink that sort of thing. Tasting it, though, I realized that I'd fabricated a hot version of the whiskey sours my dad's relatives were always making when I was little. The nostalgia was tinged with regret, but my lungs relaxed considerably.

Feeling pretty tipsy -- I'd only eaten soup and a little bread all day -- I decided to read to fall asleep. Only Faulkner sounded right. So I picked up Flags in the Dust and found that, despite my spinning head, I could read it with interest and pleasure. I'm reading more today, not making a lot of progress, but savoring the words. Maybe I'll finish it. Maybe not. I have lots of other things to read and even more things to do. Sometimes, though, when you find the right book in a time of illness you have to go with it and hope that the experience of reading it leads you to the pastures of health. I've long been interested in Flags in the Dust, both because I like drafts, fragments, and alternate versions on principle -- it's no accident that I'm into Walter Benjamin -- and because I'm a big fan of The Unvanquished. Mind you, I recognize the problem with Faulkner's more romantic, unreconstructed visions of the South. I know that Absalom, Absalom! is better for having the critique of romance built into its narrative structure. When I'm in this frame of mind, though, I need a little more sugar with my sour.


Here's a different sort of piece on recently-executed prisoner Stanley Williams:
I was padlocked inside the small room with a man I had never met before, a man who was to be executed within days for the brutal murders of four people.

I was there to interview Stanley Tookie Williams. He shook my hand, introduced himself and we began to talk. An hour later, a heavy storm felled a power line and the lights in the visiting area suddenly went off.

My first reaction was to look at the door with its small rectangular hole, through which Williams an hour earlier had shoved his muscular arms to be cuffed while I walked into the room. After I entered and the door was securely locked, Williams shoved his arms back through the rectangular hole so the cuffs could be removed.

I glanced at that door. I looked for a prison guard who could bust open the door and pull me out should anything go wrong. Williams sensed my apprehension.

"Don't panic," he told me. "I'm here, I can protect you. I've got your back."

He calmed me down. The lights returned within seconds. A prison guard then appeared and looked in.
It's hard to believe that anyone is resting easier now that Williams is dead. But it's also hard for me to believe that all those people with "W 04" stickers on their SUVs aren't so ashamed that they have them removed. So what I really need is an injection of credulity.