After today’s flash flood of a summer storm was over, UD pulled on her Nike walking shoes, hitched up her jeans, and took from La Kid‘s room a stylish backpack which she filled with lipstick, antihistamines, house keys, sunglasses, a small notebook, and a pen. It was three o’clock in the afternoon. UD had set herself the goal of reaching the Howard Avenue office of the gutter company that’s going to redo l’ensemble des gouttières chez Les UDs. Once there, UD would drop off the signed contract and a check.
If no one were there (she didn’t call beforehand), she would trudge back to Garrett Park and mail the paperwork instead. The point was not to succeed in hand delivering these things; the point was to designate a walking goal.
UD, as you know, lives in leafy utopian GP, where pretty much everything around you is at a minimum nice and at a maximum marvelous. But if you follow the Knowles Avenue hill in the direction of Wheaton, you’re at shabby small-industrial Howard Avenue, where the furniture and car paint and pipes that make our GP lives so pretty tuck themselves away.
Crossing over Rock Creek, UD was startled by the water’s big rise and its thick brown quickness around trees and stones. It churned and churned and UD got a bit dizzy staring at it while trying to power walk.
Both sides of Beach Drive were closed because of the flood. One car after another tried to turn onto Beach, discovered it was closed, and veered wildly back onto Knowles. Every one of the drivers made that face, that Driver’s Annoyance face, while performing the maneuver.
Sure enough, when UD – walking at a fast clip – got to Winston’s door, it was locked. She knocked. Nothing. She called the place on her cell phone. A recording.
Fine. She put the envelope back in La Kid‘s backpack and walked home to Garrett Park.
Once back in town, she found herself thinking about what so many people are thinking about today. The fate of Robin Williams. The meaning of Robin Williams. She thought. She thought. Right here, on Oxford Street, she began talking out loud to herself.
She began by quoting from Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through it:
[M]y father believed that man by nature was a mess …
“Yes,” said UD to the rabbit on the lawn in front of her. “Yes, start there. We are a mess. Give us an inch and we’ll merrily fuck up for a whole mile.” She paused and looked at another rabbit. “What does life offer?” she asked. “At its best?” Not at what it is for most people – life at its worst, or life set at quiet desperation. Life at its best, in a utopia like Garrett Park, or, yet more, life on the gleaming vast deck of the Robin Williams house in Tiburon, with a view of sky, clouds, hills, a bridge, a yachty bay, and San Francisco…
Answer: Beauty. Love. Material abundance. Adulation. Friendship. Creative expression. Bar Tartine.
But Point Two, after the one about being a mess. Point Two is that no pile of goodies is high enough to obscure the fact that we have little control over events. We know that things can go wrong… will go wrong… and this wrongness will often be incredibly wrong, almost intolerably excruciatingly wrong.
All existence makes me anxious, from the smallest fly to the mysteries of the Incarnation; the whole thing is inexplicable, I most of all; to me all existence is infected, I most of all. My distress is enormous, boundless; no one knows it except God in heaven, and he will not console me….
You know. Like that. Being this way, being full of dread, is kind of hilarious, as another famous sad clown knows (read “My Philosophy,” in Getting Even). One way of talking about some forms of clinical depression is to say that this dread overtakes you and makes it impossible for you to negotiate a reasonably happy life.
“And maybe,” I said to no rabbit at all, just to the air, “maybe life as it gets good, then better, then unimaginably best, actually gets more dangerous, since it becomes that much more difficult for us to grasp and accept the truth of suffering, the facts of human fate, when the view from the deck feels so immutably glorious…”
A small blue car pulled up to UD (she was a block away from her house) and UD prepared to chat with whatever neighbor it turned out to be. But it was a stranger, a woman who looked somewhat full of dread.
“Excuse me. Are you pretty good on directions in this area?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“I’m trying to get to Schuylkill Road, but Beach Drive is closed and I don’t know any other way of getting there. Can you help me?”
Right, thought UD, and if you’re here in all-roads-dead-ends-except-Strathmore Garrett Park, that means you’ve been drifting about for some time.
“Okay, well here’s what I’d do. I don’t know exactly how to get there without Beach Drive, but I know you’re not far from there when you get to the Connecticut Avenue/Knowles Avenue intersection. So I’d turn left at this light, stop at the strip mall at that intersection, go into Hardware City, and ask the guys there how to do it.”
“That’s a very good idea! Thank you!” She flashed a very big smile and drove off to the left.
For the rest of her walk UD didn’t think at all about what messes we are and how dread-full life can be. She thought about what Mr UD would say when she told him what she’d told the woman. Would he say oh no you should have told her just the opposite, drive to the right and turn onto the Rockville Pike…
Or would he say – and this in fact is what he did say – well, it’s a bit non-standard but it’s actually a good idea. The woman was right. That was a very good idea.