Friday, May 7, 2010
An alien in orange
They're out there.
On a park bench on a path on the Mall — under canopied cover of leafy summer green, thick dark tangled green splashed with ocher-tone where the unruly oblique light slashes through — there they silently sit, lipless and snarling and backlit by the setting sun, they're all teeth, the rest is shadow at this sinister hour.
You latch onto the things that give them away, the facts of their being that not even the collusion of light and haze and shadow, not even the craning reptilian contortions of their heads atop their necks, can conceal: neon shorts unveiling knobby knees, neon fanny-packs slack and limp like a synthetic second gut, cheap plasticene visors probably procured only hours earlier from a nearby vendor.
You have to remind yourself: These are creatures of harmless comfort, pudgy and soft with late-middle age, ladies with varicose veins and carbuncular pre-cancerous skin-tags who've sought out this place to sit in the shade — this twilit respite from screaming kids and photo-crazed Japanese tourists and sad-eyed, slow-moving vets hawking their wares, their pins and T-shirts and sew-on patches: VFW, RIP, POW-MIA.
You have to stop doing this to yourself — selecting as your soundtrack for the long walk home these icy, glass-encased anthems, Mirrored by Battles, "Echoes" by Pink Floyd, austere atonal dirges like alien laments for our doomed, dying planet — and what's worse, these are funeral marches with real climaxes that never fail to synchronize in some fatidic way with the long walk itself: how "Echoes" chugs up and out of chaotic cacophony and into that final verse just as you stride out of the forest and onto the huge flat tiles below the Lincoln Memorial; how Battles' "Tonto" coalesces into its mammoth stomp precisely as you separate from the madding crowd and pivot to get your first view of the Memorial Bridge back to Virginia.
Because up until that point, when you've left behind all the tubby tourists in their bright clothes and the packs of Neoprene'd joggers and the screeching kids on their field trips — when you're heading back to the Old Dominion on the leg of the walk where you're unlikely to encounter another living soul and you're on those disused cracked sidewalks and the music's taken another turn — it's too easy to forget who's been the alien all along, isolated under wraparound headphones and behind Saigon-mirror shades in his orange Nike Dri-Fit, his worn rubber soles.