Andrew M.H. Alexander

darting to and fro in the continent

June 23rd, 2011

Astoria, Queens

from an email to A. mid-bike-tour

On Tuesday I got picked up by a guy in a truck and driven 17 miles to Forest City, PA. He dropped me off next to a dense forest and even though I could hear rain the entire night, I never felt it. The night before I went to a bar in Ithaca with one of my best friends from middle school. We sat down at a picnic table and lying on top was a box of cigarettes. Collin opened it to make sure it was empty. Inside was a gram of weed. I went swimming in my cousin’s pond and ate venison burgers and used the astronomy app on my uncle’s iPad to identify stars. I set up my hammock next to their barn and fell asleep in it reading the Republic. Jamie and I had coffee in Pittsburgh. While we were talking about parenting the people next to us were talking about philosophy of math. I sat in on a meeting with a bunch of second-year psych grad students at Ohio State trying to figure out how to study for quals. I went to a grocery store in Columbia, Missouri to buy flowers for my great-aunt and ran into her buying cookies for me. Later I donated the cookies to Paul’s birthday party. (They balanced out the cold pizza leftover from the quals meeting.) The sky in northern New Mexico was dark, dark gray—not gray like the stratus clouds above Ithaca, but extending downward, obscuring the hills and grain elevators on the horizon. Smoke. The interstate was closed north of Raton because of the fires. It smelled like Japan. I never knew that the smell I associate with late-summer Japan is actually just the smell of brush fires. There was a zine convention at my house the Friday before I left. One girl printed, photocopied, and sewed her senior thesis from ASU together: Every Cure Is A Musical Solution: Investigating The Neurology of Autism Leads to a Better Understanding of Music Therapy. The copy I browsed through was number 20/25. Another girl did a reading that involved taking her shirt off and smearing herself with black paint. I was an extra in a movie about hipsters that got filmed at the bike shop. Yesterday morning at 8:30 AM I found myself standing in a gas station parking lot in Hawley, Pennsylvania, drinking lukewarm tea out of a styrofoam cup and talking to a reporter on my cell phone. “Legal experts have said that this is the most important decision in student press law since Hazelwood—how does that make you feel?” A few of my students took me out to breakfast. They’ve been comparing our school to Hogwarts, arguing all year over the proper isomorphism. “We’ve finally decided,” one of them said, “that our math classes are like Defense Against the Dark Arts. The teachers always leave at the end of every year.”

“You,” he says, “are Professor Lupin.”

That’s what I’ve been up to. Reverse chronological order. Biking to Boston on Sunday. Did you know that biking in Manhattan is amazing?!? It’s like a super-fun obstacle course! This is what playing video games must be like! Phx is hardly a nice place to bike, but my route to school was pretty tame, and the cars there are soulless—they roar by, not noticing you, dumb automatons; hit you or not, they won’t notice. Here the streets are interactive. Cars move back to forth, side to side, doors open and close, make right turns, block the box. Sometimes they just sit there. People dart in and out, various speeds, various tenacities. Potholes and construction scars tear at your tires. And you, moving along and trying to fit through and squeeze through without stopping and without getting hit. It’s so stimulating! In Phoenix I would just zone out when I biked. This is so much better. Of course, here you only get one life, and you can’t start over. But that’s okay, because I’m really good at this game! Especially the bonus rounds where you get to bike up the bridges. 150 feet up. In the city you are a cell in a giant organism—operating only with particular knowledge and out of self-interest, ignorant to the organism as a whole. Darting in and out of cars. Focusing no more than twenty feet and ten seconds ahead. But on top of the bridges you can see the city as a whole. Lights twinkling against a dark background. Still ignorant of the purpose of the whole, perhaps, but at least cognizant of its existence.