I called truck #212221 ‘Desirae’. Google tells me this is a French name for “the one desired”. I found a poster of Ray Lewis propped against a pump-canister in the back of the flat-faced Isuzu my manager assigned to me: perhaps a desire but even more a discovery. “I’ll call you ‘Rae-Rae’– short for Desirae.” I only had to ride-along with coworkers for three weeks before I climbed into Dezzi for my first day solo. It wasn’t a ‘people’s victory name’* but a small step forward for a man whom victory eluded. The long growing season and this year’s record precipitation in Maryland combined to create a lingering cloud of aeration work-orders reaching deep into Autumn. October was a great month to punch holes in the ground.
I named my android tablet “Bianca”, which in Italian means “white” or “shining”. Her rubbery case was black and the clear film that protected her screen was constantly grungy with the same mixture of sweat, soil, and sugar (from doughnuts) accumulating on my fingers. She got her name while I was using her navigation app to locate a client’s lawn; the tablet went black and the synthetic voice went silent mid-monotone-sentence. “Bitch,” I clucked, “wake-up and give me directions! I shouldn’t have to take my hands off the steering-wheel when I drive for my job!” The caustic misogyny of responding to a feminine voice with the word ‘bitch’ stung my ears: “I’m supposed to be a better feminist male than this; I’m sorry, Bee… ahnca.” I often said things like, “godammit, Bianca, I’m not taking I-296 at this time in the afternoon” or “shut-up, Bianca, I’m trying to wax philosophical in a voice-memo and you’re killing my vibe!” but that shining lady was whom I relied upon to track inventory, log my production stats, conduct vehicle inspections, make calls, and plot my tack through the circles of suburban hell. Other than Desirae, Bianca was my greatest asset. On Halloween I needed both ladies in good condition so I could finish the day’s route before little demons wandered the streets. The managers were clear: be off the road before sundown.
Halloween morning I walked out of the warehouse costumed as a lawncare technician: vestigial safety glasses nestled atop a black touk, a green jacket over a khaki shirt, green pants with dirt-stained knees, and heavy boots that hadn’t been black since August. My breath mingled with diesel exhaust as I used Bee to complete Dezzy’s morning inspection. Try to imagine my delight, readers, when I finally climbed into the driver’s seat and opened the tab containing the day’s work orders: seven stops for only a little more than 21,000 square feet. That isn’t bad. The 125 lbs of seed already in the side-hatch could cover that much– no need to carry more 50 lbs bags from the warehouse. I confirmed my supplies on Bianca’s shining face and put Desirae in drive, humming out of the parking-lot like a giant carpenter bee. Twilight was just about to end and mist still hung over the marshes abutting the airstrip in Gaithersburg. I imagined myself writing about the nectarine tones of a dawn sky or smudges of concord-grape-purple clouds — sweet to see, tantalizing to type, ridiculous to read-aloud. A heron rose from the swamp and I cranked down the window to feel the brisk breeze beneath its wings: winds of propulsion. In such picturesque moments the sensation of a metaphysical momentum seems more salient. In other words, it’s easier to feel as if I’m not just driving down the road but journeying somewhere…
I was already crying, again, when I parked at the shopping center. I didn’t wail (like earlier) and so could regain the composure needed to visit Dunkin’ Donuts. Because I was house-sitting for friends, my alarm was set for 4am to make time to feed the dogs and eat breakfast while I watched the previous night’s “Late Show” clips. Steven Colbert smiled and winced his way through a painful monologue about Donald Trump’s presidency, serifed by Jon Batiste’s piano. The day before, Trump blustered that he would abolish birthright citizenship in the United States; I knew a sitting president had no such power. Such flack usually sticks in the figurative layers of scar-tissue I developed over my soul, living close to Jerusalem and inside Washington in rapid succession. In the course of five, slow seconds the idea sank past my protective coating of cynicism and struck a nerve-bundle. I wept. I cried “no… no… shame…” etc. By the time I reached headquarters, I had returned to my hardened state but thirty minutes alone with my thoughts in the truck shook loose more tears. I loved myself for that. When the 14th amendment of the Constitution was threatened, my soul erupted. My personal failures, the litany of woes that never seemed worth crying about, all dissolved in a deluge of genuine love for a plural, multicultural society.
My mind’s eye flooded with memories; I saw youth sick with tear-gas inhalation carried away on stretchers during ‘Land Day’ demonstrations in Bethlehem, protesting statelessness and oppression. I watched myself fleeing to a corner of the civil rights museum in Atlanta to weep for people beaten with clubs and blasted with fire-hoses in decades past. As a child I insisted “I would be one of those people but I was born too late.” Then, I grew up. I returned from Bethlehem with clarity-of-vision and saw veins of unfinished work in the United States.
Working long hours behind an aerator cemented my muscles but made my mind into fruit-cobbler. As I drove, pivoted, and otherwise hustled those heavy machines over the turf, my brain oozed and got sticky from the ripe pockets baking in my psyche. I mentally revisited the global struggle for civil rights and my small part in it. The pith of the matter is that people should find belonging where they are, especially in the place of their birth. This intimation suggests an identity question with theological and political underpinnings: does the land belong to us or do we belong to the land?
Practically on autopilot, I finished two lawns thinking mostly about the past. My third work-order was a touch-up; I met with the concerned client and she walked me all over her partly swamped lawn pointing at brown spots so I could throw seed at them. I obliged and seeded generously. I’d done my inventory; nestled in my side-hatch was more than enough seed to humor a clients’ particularities, assuming no screw-ball-pitches from the computerized system managing my work-orders. *clears throat* I spread extra seed in an unknowing bliss.
Still, I was triple-exhausted. I rarely got enough sleep on week-nights that month. The ambiguity of the third work-order and the client’s nervous presence added some exasperation. Dehydration was always the worst but levels of food, caffeine, and medicine were in flux, too, as well as whatever endorphins my body produced to counter the physical strains of that job — the third source of exhaustion. Still, all of that is augmented; let’s not pretend. The midday drag had become so obvious and so regular that I became mindful of it as endogenous. No particular challenge conjures it but, rather, I must shape its outlets when it arises and have faith in countermeasures.
A surprise work-order had inserted itself on my tablet; I failed to notice because the address it supplanted was across the street, one digit different. It was an awful deja vu of a deja vu because this was the third time I laid eyes on this property — at 13,000 sq.ft., more than half the size of what was slated for my entire day. The first time I saw this place I balked because it was too early in the morning (which was pathetic, in hindsight). I got very motivated, the second time, and aerated more than a third of the property but was rained-out before I could spread seed. On Halloween, I needed to find the point where I had stopped, finish, then seed the entire place. My calculations indicated this would be the end of my day; I couldn’t have enough seed leftover to finish even the smallest subsequent work-order without cheating the clients whose appointment had first been postponed, then cut short, and bumped to Halloween Day. Though I loved the sensation of being on my last lawn, my depleted mind hated the notion of having to explain what happened to a manager. I reassured myself that I was taking the only course of action available that didn’t create more problems: seed and return to base in order to explain.
But first I hit the wall.
I needed to eat lunch but that is not all that I mean. The first week of a new February is upon us and I am chewing cud from October. I returned to my sprawling draft and brought into focus the way my past strength visited me on Halloween — “to seek justice and resist evil” is tattooed on my chest (literally). I exercised a ‘present strength’ by doing my technician-work well. My future strength visited me, too, while I ate lunch in Dezzy. I coped better then than before but less adeptly than now; Halloween Day seemed imbued with a distinct transitional motif of its own that beckoned to me: “write about this”. This weekend, I kept returning to the desire to articulate my condition and trajectory in technical terms or analogies — whatever. That detracts from the magical realism of that thirty-minutes. I allowed that I was sick and turned that endogenous despair into a low-grade fever. My body glowed orange like the coils of a space-heater and wisps of melancholy left me like steam, though I remained damp with it.
Desirae’s interior became a dull yellow, a luminous waxy chamber like the hollow left by a candle’s flame or sunbeams through a honey-comb. She became my desired hexagonal incubator, a cell where I could continue my metamorphosis. The caterpillar-to-butterfly analogy is apt for some– an independent but limited larvae becoming a nomad that glides on stained-glass windows. But I needed hive(s) of comrades to tend me. My ultimate form has a social reality; it leaves a body of work beyond nectar and sex. I’m making the journey from useless, pale sack of guts to a paragon of pollinators. To see color in a broader spectrum. To dance a cartography of flowers. To sting, if I must. To copter over the face of an Earth that was once frozen. To bee and drink– I drank my Gatorade and ate wads of pita and hummus as fast as I could. I buried my face in the flower of my touk, still fragrant with my hair-conditioner.
There is an upper limit to creative reframing, of course. Healing lags. I told myself that what I felt was artifact, that it would pass, but the unfairness of it lingered like smoke. The Sun shone unimpeded but its light felt wan. I focused on a line of conifers reaching into a saturatingly blue mid-afternoon sky. I persisted. I noticed that the house across the street was a vibrant pink and I focused on the fact that I knew it was beautiful even if the beauty felt distant; the pink house has joined a pantheon of fascinating houses in my memory, since then. I continued drinking Gatorade, eating, and noticing the wonders waiting for me outside of the truck. I looked again at Bianca’s shining screen and the huge work-order ahead. Refueled, it was time to be a worker-bee again.
The drag passed away. I returned to headquarters. Running out of product prematurely was not a big deal, I learned from the managers, and just something that every technician encounters if they work there long enough– I was right to doubt my feeling of trepidation. Released early from work, I went to IHOP and gorged myself on a ‘smokehouse combo’, then wandered across the parking-lot and met Glaceon.
That day was one episode of many, of course. I encountered a possible bookend to this entire period just a few days ago. When I left for Michigan at the beginning of 2018, I hoped to preserve my life as I knew it. On the way, I ran into a blizzard and my car slipped off the road, down a slope, into a quagmire of snow. My life, likewise. I made my way back to Maryland, worse for wear, and began climbing out of my quagmire. I secured the seasonal job that spawned this reminiscence — I traveled many miles in Desirae. Now, I am planning another return to Michigan… perhaps not returning to Maryland. I attended an improv-theater jam (last time? penultimate time?) and, as I drove the Maryland countryside at night, my car began to slip off the road. I felt little panic. It’s just another shitty, exogenous thing. Yet something funny happened: I slid into an embankment– the shoulder sloped upward. Without losing much speed, I made a banking curve through the snow and back onto the road like I was playing Mario-Kart, recovering from a red-shell and immediately back in the race.
Every time I pass the tire-tracks I etched onto that spot I smirk and say “that was me, baby…”
*Google these exact words.