In the afternoons, the eyes glass over, losing the ability to focus, and gravity becomes particularly gravitational. The limbs of the desk dweller atrophy. The core aches. The PSOAS muscles–particularly the right side in my case, in alignment with the mouse arm–tighten, and you get the feeling of a decaf appendicitis.
At this time, usually a half hour after a feeble attempt to revive myself and a handful of others by G-chatting a YouTube link to a metal song—usually thrash or technical death to get the most bang—I head out to walk on Park Ave. It’s about eight blocks long, some traffic, and crossed by small side streets that have little traffic. I’ve walked it almost every business day for three years, and in almost every combination of routes possible. Typical of my ideas, I considered recording each route and comparing them, but we’re all pretty tired of everybody doing something every day for a year or doing every variety of this and that, i.e. Conceptual Art Lite. The walks are just to escape the tyranny of the screen and perhaps get shat on by a bird, if one is lucky. Sometimes I feel that if you’re not in the line of fire from birds you’re in the wrong place (a/k/a indoors).
The newest route is to head west on Park. The easterly direction ends a mere block away and is the way you’d go in order to eat at the same three restaurants day in and day out for, say, three years. Then hang a right on Hollis. Head way up and take the second left offered, at the traffic light, and cut through the strange little public/private parklet established by the pharmaceutical research company. There are giant stones and long, synthetic-looking grass, making it look like the most artificial natural landscape ever. Then turn left again to head south down Horton. In this way you eventually get back to Park Ave.
Before describing what happened on this new route (or what passes for novelty in the neighborhood of the office), what can be said with almost statistical certainty about any of these walks is that you’re unlikely to meet anyone, much less anyone of interest, and that nothing is likely to happen. Whether you walk up Horton with the giant, vacant, gravel-covered lot on your left or down Horton from the pharmatown with that weedy, chainlink-protected lot on your right, the most that’s likely to occur in this company town is an encounter with—you guessed it—a bird.
The third time I shuffled along this route, however, I once again peeked into a sort of drainage pipe that runs under the giant lot. Almost large enough for me to stand in, its entrance and interior as far as you could see were covered with graffiti. I wondered why anyone would bother to hop the railing and shimmy down the cinderblock into the well, which served as the square-shaped pipe’s foyer, to go tag in obscurity. Ah, artists!
It was completely still. Even the large graffiti words shouting in all caps were silent. Still, as I turned to press on there was a kind of groan. Must be some random sound of industry, from condo construction or Amtrak. Again I began to walk away, yet another sound of a different quality emerged from the same sonic place, somewhere in the pipe, this time more like a whine.
Excited for some sign of life, or at least diversion, I almost unthinkingly hopped over the railing, went down the half-formed steps, and confronted the pipe, which faded into darkness. Again a sound, this time unmistakably either animal or human. Everybody has their own thing they shout in a long tunnel, so I said “ding!” A dull “uhnnn” came in response. “Holy shit,” I breathed. Stepping in further and avoiding the garbage, plastic bottles, a smashed TV, empty spraycans, a wet sweatshirt lump, and such, another gasp sounded that tailed off into a gurgling.
As it grew darker, I stumbled ito something that I assumed was a damp garbage bag full of clothes, but a whimper told me otherwise. I almost fell backwards in surprise, realizing it was a person. As my eyes adjusted it became clear it was a homeless person. There was a large beard and, attached to it, a homeless guy.
“Hey, are you okay?,” I asked, stupidly.
“Huhhnnnn…,” he responded.
“What are you doing here?”
“[heavy breathing] Llllll….hhhnnnnn…”
“What? Life?” I bent down.
“Light you? Do you want a light? Sorry, I don’t smoke.” (Why are non-smokers always sorry they don’t smoke?)
“Like me. Like. Like me on….ohhhh”
“Uhhnn-huhn. Like. Me. On……”
“Hey, let me get you some water.”
“Nnnnnahhhhooohhhh. Like. Me. On. Face. Book.”
“Like. Me. On. Face. Book.” He repeated, trying to hand me a brown scrap of paper with a web address on it.
“Ha ha, what the hell? Facebook? Jesus! I thought you needed help.”
At that point relief flooded in, mostly in realizing I didn’t need to deal with the guy. My “coffee break” was over, after all. I about-faced and got out of the urine-soaked pipe, half-cursing the bag of bones under my breath. Of all things, it was the last statement I expected to come out of that greasy beard. But hey, thought I while making the inevitable march back to my grey cubicle, we’re all just trying to survive in this crazy world.