Getting Some Air
Loyd Elmore Jr
I hate traffic.
I know I’m not alone in that feeling. Millions of other people around the world will express that very thought with screaming and by hitting their steering wheels. They may even take to their horns with a stream of BLATTS from their vehicle’s voice as the driver screams profanities and tries to yell over their horns.
I have never done that. I sit in traffic and quietly smolder and in this summer heat. My car is nearing the last few years (months, maybe weeks) of its life and the A/C has given up the ghost. The coolant is weak and it makes a clicking sound when you turn it on. So, I keep it turned off and rely on the windows and the sunroof. And that’s all fine and good… as long as the car is moving. But when you’re stuck in traffic, it does no good. Not to mention the extra exhaust and noise pollution as I sit here, occasionally edging forward toward the red light. I have to become a slave to other people’s music, their bass making my rearview mirror vibrate and causing the music from my radio (I get five clear channels and nothing I want to hear) to disappear under the total and complete sound of the subwoofers coming from the lowrider with the chrome wheels sitting behind me. I look into my rearview mirror and see the man/boy smirking at me, not knowing he’s making my tinnitus worse. He grins at me but I give him a wink he didn’t expect and the smirk disappears.
After what seems like hours, I finally make it to the light. I see clear driving up ahead as soon as the light turns green. I wait for my turn to accelerate. The bass behind me is starting to make my head hurt. I think it’s been turned up louder because of my wink. That makes me smile.
I look at my watch (the clock on the radio is not working) and see I have been in traffic for twenty –three minutes. It’s taken me that amount of time to drive about two-hundred yards. And I have probably taken a year off of my life from the heat and the pollution that surrounds me. Normally, I would have left work at my normal time when there is a tad bit less traffic to deal with but when you are on the bottom of the totem pole, shit runs downhill. I’m the shit-stopper. Though I have been at my company for almost a decade, they can’t see fit to position me a little higher up. They like me right where I am. I could make a fuss, I suppose. I could walk into the boss’ office and demand that I move up in the world of complicity.
But I don’t. I tell my wife that I do but I try and keep my head down and do my job with a smile and power on through the shit rolling toward me.
I have to keep a low profile.
My turn to go comes and when I push down on the accelerator, my 2002 Honda POS hesitates. I think it’s going to die right there but it gets moving after the hiccup and urges me forward. Finally, I’m able to breathe a little as the exhaust flows out of the interior out into the hot evening air.
As I drive and feel the warm breeze blow across my baldhead (I shave it to get rid of the balding spot on top), my thoughts take me toward home. I can’t wait to get there and hug my wife. And to go out after dinner on my evening Getting Some Air time. That is what I’m living for nowadays. But, you see, I don’t call it that out loud. I call it going for a walk. There are times my wife wants to go with me and I reluctantly allow it. But other times, like the way it will be tonight, I tell her that I need some time to myself. I always come back after an hour, feeling refreshed and renewed. She doesn’t complain too much because when I do get back and I’m feeling better, I tend to feel a bit more… frisky. You get the point. At my age, you must take those moments when it comes.
I turn off the main road and go toward home. Usually, the sun is piercing through my rear window and reflects into my rearview mirror. But this evening, the sun has passed the horizon, only causing the diming orange of the evening to be seen. I take a quick look through my open sunroof and see a brilliant white/grey full moon over my head. It’s going to be one hell of a night. Wonderful, in fact. But when there’s a full moon, it can cause problems. But I’ve been getting some air for a long time and know its limitations.
I turn onto the road I live and start to feel a bit more coolness that the woods next to the road holds. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still pretty hot but the coolness of the trees can be felt and it swirls around me making me excited and giddy.
The turn into the condominiums that we live is just up ahead. I turn into the parking lot and see my annoying neighbor standing out in front of his condo watering his plants. I pull into the parking spot and turn off the ignition, listening to my car give two last turns before it passes out. As I open the car door, grabbing my belongings and knowing what is coming, my neighbor begins to talk to me before I can even step one foot out.
I listen for a minute, nodding in the right spots as he verbally vomits whatever he has to say. He never gives me a chance to speak or answer. So I nod and smile and slowly start walking toward my own door, to my wife who is inside, probably making dinner.
Escape is finally made and I walk into the condo, closing the door on my neighbor who, believe it or not, is still speaking. He saw me enter my door and knows I’m no longer able to hear him but he continues to speak anyway. I give a sigh of relief.
I am met then by one cat and one dog. They want my attention as soon as the door is shut. I bend down and give them love. For the cat, it’s enough. He walks away looking for some toy. For the dog, it’s never enough. He follows me, tail wagging, as I put my things up and take my shoes off. He blocks my way as I try and get to the kitchen to see my wife. I give him a few more pats and say ‘good boy’.
The kitchen is full of smells. Cooking noodles and meat with sauce in a pan. And though this, I can smell the garlic toast in the oven. I give my wife, the cook of this feast, a hug, and a kiss and tell her a short version of my day and listen to hers. She tells me dinner will be ready in ten minutes and I tell her that after dinner, I’ll need to go for a walk. She says she’d go with me but a show she’s been waiting for will be coming on and wants to watch it. I tell her I understand and give her a kiss on the cheek as I head upstairs to change out of my sweaty clothes to something more appropriate.
As I come downstairs, I see my wife has already sat the coffee table for dinner. It’s where he normally break bread and see what’s going on in the world from the news on TV.
She sees me and wonders out loud why I dress this way to go for a walk on an evening where the temperatures are still in the low nineties. I’m dressed all in black. A jogging jacket and long jogging pants with black running shoes. On my head is a rolled up black toboggan hat. And I tell her it helps me sweat off dinner, like this spaghetti. She tells me I look like I’m going to mug someone and will probably get run over. I just smile. She lets it go, as she normally does.
We eat and see the news is the same as every other day: depressing. There isn’t much joy or hope from what the reporters have to say. I have to push the cat away from trying to get on the table and tell the dog to get on the couch because his lip smacking and woeful eyes are bothering me.
After dinner, I wash the dishes (the dishwasher is on the frizz and I have become what it is no longer). As I dry them and put them away, I think of later on and what the night might hold. I smile again.
Finally, it’s time. My wife gets under her little blanket to watch her show and I give her a peck on the cheek. She tells me to be careful and to take my cellphone. She worries about me. I smile and slip it into the black pocket of my running jacket and zip it in. I’ve learned over time to make sure to zip it up.
I peek out the door to see if my neighbor is still outside. He’s nowhere to be seen. For all I know, he’s still having our conversation inside his own condo. It’s possible. With the coast clear, I smile at my wife, blow her a kiss and I’m gone, closing the door behind me.
I go down the steps and toward the road. Darkness is all around except for the very few street lights and lights coming from windows from the other condos. Those familiar butterflies in my stomach are taking flight. It always happens. And I’m sweating bullets. Not just from nerves but from the heat. I’m sure people who might see me might think I’m off my rocker for wearing what I am. I walk on the left side of the road and the condo complex passes me. On my right in the woods. Beyond that is the lake. This is my destination.
Or close to it, anyway.
Once I’m out of eyeshot of the complex and its wandering eyes and I see no cars, I walk quickly to an opening in the woods that can’t be seen unless you were right on it because of a couple of bushes. In the winter and when the leaves are dead, the opening is visible and I stay away. I have other ways into the woods but I’ll keep those to myself, thank you very much.
I enter the all too familiar path and walk it in near darkness. As I my eyes become adjusted, I can see the opening that I walk in these woods, but just barely. Without tripping once, I find myself at a fork in the path. To the left is the lake. To the right is a clearing surrounded by dense trees and scrub brush.
I turn right.
After a minute walk, I’m in the clearing. It’s no more than half a tennis court and I walk to the middle and turn around to face the entrance. I look upward to see stars in the summer sky. I also see a small white pinprick high up going from west to east. A satellite or the space station. I give it a smile regardless. The moon is off to my left.
I look down and all around. I check to see if anyone is around. I know there’s not but this part always makes me nervous. If I should get found out, the life I have would be over. I have thought about this countless times and no matter what, I want to keep this part of my life secret. Maybe I’ll tell my wife one day. Maybe not.
I unzip my other pocket in my jacket and pull out a pair of motorcycle goggles. I roll down my toboggan to show it also has a facemask. Sweat is rolling into my eyes and I wipe them away. I know the sweat will stop soon. I put the goggles over my head and affix them over my eyes. They have a slight tint, just enough to keep anyone from seeing my eyes if I should get too close.
I stand there in the clearing covered head to toe with black on a hot summer night. I look around one last time and know I’m safe.
I look up and feel that familiar feeling, the tension in my back and my legs. I feel the static suddenly pop from my fingertips and hear the tinnitus stop in my ears. I know the dust around my feet has started to plume upward in the invisible force created from inside me.
I bend my knees slightly and push up.
I leave the clearing and the earth below me. I don’t stop until I’m a couple of thousand feet in the air. I look down at where I had been and it looks like a hole in the woods. I look toward the roofs of my condo complex and know my wife is watching her show under her blanket. Probably with the dog at her feet on the couch and the cat laying on her stomach. Though she’s trying to keep her eyes open, they are closing, the day finally showing its weight upon her. I know she’ll keep fluttering her eyes open, not just for her show but to wait until I’m back inside safe and sound. I smile.
I feel the air up here is a bit cooler. It’ll be cooler still in just a moment.
I see toward the west, toward the city, a line of light near the horizon. I can see in that distance a particular building I like to sit on, high above the evening traffic and the people walking so far below it. I like to sit there with nothing but air between me and them and feel like a king.
I look back toward my condo and give it a wink. I’ll be back shortly.
I fly toward the city and feel the air cool due to the speed.
Up here, getting some air, I feel alive.