Where My Head Lately Is

The present ache is not physical, but metaphysical perhaps, meaning that the symptoms are likelier to be furrowed brows and drawn-out silences than anything requiring Ibuprofen. It seems to come, this ache, from an overabundance of existence. Do you know what it means for existence to feel like a burden? Not in a depressive way (though it can go there), but in an overwhelming way—a feeling that’s not really an emotion, yet is still big to the point of restlessness, when all you can do is stare into nondescript places and try not to embarrass yourself by spazzing out in public.

So I drive and stare straight ahead as if wearing blinders, aware of the gray-brown treescape falling away on both sides, but not needing to look at it. All is a soothing, comforting gray. Even the noises are gray. More and more, these days, I want to leave the radio off. Coasting down I-65, I feel, oftener with age, a compulsion to quietness—a need to listen to the road sounds: tires at high speed; the double-knock of wheels over changing pavements; the motor’s quiet roar and the thin, dry clicking of my vents on low. Rounding a curve or banging through a pothole, a loose thing in the back loses footing and topples against the inside of the car, sounding like an animal trapped and pawing for escape.

When I listen like this, I think I’m getting closer to the texture of existence—the part we lose from being on auto-pilot; the part we drown in music or conversation. Listening when there’s not much to listen to: this is a valid way to center oneself. And I’m the type that needs frequent centering.

My Exposed Root

Coming of age in northwest Tennessee means I will always have a root exposed to those mown cornfields along Highway 22, as you approach Reelfoot Lake—a root sensitive to the bite of a January ice storm, and to the yellowed-out severity of a meager existence among the bluffs (an existence I only imagined, yet it seemed ripe material for stories), overrun with the ghosts of Chickasaw Indians; a root sensitive to endless backroad roaming, often under cover of night, when the mystery was thickest—when the taste in our mouths and the fire in our brains urged us into country cemeteries in hopes of communing with the dead (which we almost convinced ourselves happened); a root bare, like the bald knobs of cypresses, where unspeakable ice sculptures materialize from the winds whipping off the lake; a root exposed to the midnight sounds of unseen, distant animals—coyote laughter drifting across bean fields and who-knows-what splashing in black water.

I cannot deny the imprint of those experiences, coming, as they did, when my young adulthood was forming. There’s a voice in the rural solitudes of northwest Tennessee that speaks only to me, and I don’t need to be there to hear it.

The Gulch Snob

Last night I observed a new species in Nashville. I can’t say that it’s truly new, just that it’s new to me, probably because I don’t make it to the trendier parts of town that often. It has long, blonde hair and a slim figure; dresses fashionably; seems to have lots of friends. The females apparently travel in great hordes. And oddly enough, they kind of all look the same, like a herd of zebras. Can they tell each other apart?

There were swarms of them in the Gulch neighborhood’s Moto restaurant, buzzing around long tables. Some of their habits include: turning their heads in the same direction all at the same time; laughing in loud, shrill choruses; clogging heavily-used walkways; and treating waitstaff like subhumans. With such a large herd, I’m surprised I haven’t encountered them before. It’s possible they’ve only recently migrated here, perhaps from somewhere like Laguna Beach, or maybe State Street in Santa Barbara.

Now, it’s true that they closely resemble other species that have been here for years. And it wasn’t until I spotted a couple of them outside that I knew I was witnessing something rare. A closer look (but from a safe distance, of course) revealed they were not only “pretty,” in a Stepford Wives kind of way, but they were also drunk and mean! Imagine my horror when I saw one stop talking (yes, they can talk) to her friend for no other reason than to peer down her long snout at what she must have perceived to be a lesser animal. And if this open show of disdain for a fellow creature wasn’t enough, the drunken, mean female wouldn’t even step aside to let her inferior pass on the sidewalk. The nerve of this new species!

As far as I can tell, they are belligerent, but in a calm, socially less-suspect kind of way, preferring to spread their malice through subtle means, like making fun of lesser species just obviously enough so that victims can know they’re being laughed at, yet they won’t be able to actually hear the laughter. There really is an art to it—a fine line between outright mockery and the more insidious kind of belittling at which this new species is truly adept.

I can’t speak to their feeding habits; they didn’t appear to be eating, despite dominating nearly half of Moto’s dining room. And their mating habits are murky, though I did identify a male of the species jogging across McGavock Street with no regard for traffic.

Finally, as any thoroughgoing amateur naturalist would do, I had to give my discovery a name: the Gulch Snob. If you find yourself at an upscale restaurant in the Gulch on a cool (but not cold) Friday night in Nashville, chances are you will see the Gulch Snob in its natural environment. If so, give it some space, and try not to look un-rich. (Also, don’t pretend to be wealthy if you’re not; they can detect that, and their “humiliate” instinct will trigger.) With any luck, you’ll finish your meal psychologically intact.