For people living in “walking cities” the repetitive scenery of the to and fro can be mind numbing. Without a gas pedal to push, or any chance of arriving at our destination sooner (save jogging to work, which is for crazies and people who work at City Sports), we can sometimes find ourselves creating markers.
When I graduated from college, I was sure that I would be the talk of the town. I would entertain job offers from the best in the business. I would be wined and dined by advertising executives and creatives, all begging me for a moment of my time. “Alright,” I’d tell them, “but only a coffee.”
The verite was that I was a nobody. So much of a nobody that not only was I not double booked, I was stood up three times by one the most powerful men in advertising. I felt like a gem. There I was, sitting in my “defy the man” outfit from Anthropologie or some such nonsense and I got stood up by the man.
Eventually I ended up in a United Colors of Benetton itch blend suit sitting in the marble lobby of a staffing firm. I have nightmares about it still. A woman named Becky (the size of my apartment) told me in her own loving way that not only was I not the talk of the town, I didn’t have the skill set to be an “admin”. (Due to some movement on the East Coast it’s considered highly inappropriate to call anyone a secretary. It’s like calling a Director of First Impressions a receptionist. We wouldn’t want to put anyone in their place.) Previous to Becky I thought that being an admin was about typing, filing, a generally good temperament. Clearly intelligence and common sense will help you climb the corporate ladder as well, but being loyal, paying attention, and not fucking anything up would suffice in the short term.
Nope. According to Becky you practically have to go to school for admining.
Needless to say, Becky eventually placed me at a corporate real estate firm. When I got the call that I had been hired to temp with them, I celebrated by getting so obliterated that my husband found me passed out naked in my bathroom. At 2PM.
I couldn’t believe it. What had gone wrong? My “specialty” friends were being courted by Lehman Brothers (oops), playing salary roulette by pitting their offers against each other, and I was contemplating pushing my wedding date back so I could stay on Daddy’s insurance. No one seemed to understand the unfathomable genius they were passing up on. It was torture to go home at the holidays. My mother had touted my unprecedented talents since birth and I was proving it by making spreadsheets weighing the pros and cons of generic brands of tape.
But working there I learned a lot. I learned to make friends, have reasonable expectations for life, and never, ever wear sneakers with tights when walking to work. (I also learned how this happens. It’s slow coming on, but once you reach the hump its like a fat-kid on a Vaselined trampoline.)
Years later, the vision of those women still haunts me. As I get older (and thankfully come into my own professionally), I am pained by my own desire to slip my tight-clad foot into the soft comfort of my gym shoes. “NO!” I tell myself, “this is not who you are.” I am that girl who endures. I will wear Louboutins on the cobble stone, I will teeter to work in thigh-high suede boots, not because I am a snob, but because getting dressed is like painting a picture. The picture is incomplete when you have on cross trainers with your St. John suit. (Or, in the case of the office mumu, your outfit is complete– but you dont have any friends.)
This is how I came to be a marker. When my feet start to swell, the delicate tissue on my inner toe rubs painfully against the side of my shoe, or my heel catches between the narrowly spaced bricks I start to wonder just hot long before I get there. It’s all I can do to focus on small metered divisions of my walk. I know that the distance between Starbucks and my office is about 1/3 a Banana Chocolate Vivanno– or 2 2/3 songs on my ipod. Some days I try counting, singing, or smiling. I look for the same building, read the letters across the top. DAINTY DOT HOSIERY. I make a mental note of its presence, just like the day before. I look in the window of the Super 88, I hold my nose when I walk by the noodle house, hop at the corner curb by the lofts, and scowl at cars who turn right into the cross walk. Mostly I try not to imagine ways of making Chinatown disappear off the face of the planet. Because I’m a democrat. So I don’t hate. (Like catholic priests dont love little boys.)
It’s a huge leap, but this method of marking space and time is as old as I am. I don’t know if I got it from my brothers or if they got it from me, or if maybe all children do it, but my memories of this behavior go as far back as I can remember.
When I was a child, we used to drive to Houston. Maybe it was because we didn’t want to go, but the drive was miserable. (My child-stupid, but altogether delightful grandfather tried to create strange traditions like drinking buttermilk. I secretly threw up in the guest sink of his house for most of my pre-adolescent life.) My brothers and I would be in the back of the car, angry, antsy, and hoping that one of the other two of us would get hit by my dad for making too much noise– mostly because it was hilarious and broke up the trip. We were like the Griswolds. We even had a station wagon.
Every trip we took we would stop in La Bange, Texas. Back then it was the halfway point between the my house and my grandfather’s. After David and I had sufficiently damaged Charlie (we famously renamed the title character in his favorite book “Bastardly Clyde” instead of “Cowardly Clyde”), we’d set in asking dad when we’d arrive in La Bange. There was a restaurant there with a picture of the last supper (painted on velvet) hung directly besides a flashing TEXAS LOVES DOS EQUIS light tube sign. Something about the entire set up made me be proud to be from Texas. There they were: Jesus and a cold (immigrant) brew.
When we arrived at this smoke-filled (the good ol’ days) nest of halfway, we ate chicken fried steak, allowed my dad a few beers to unwind from spending more than 15 minutes with all three of his kids at once, and then piled back in the car. Whether it was the velvet last supper painting, or the remnant glow of the Dos Equis sign, we were refueled, recharged, and ready to drive the rest of the way.
It wasn’t until I was a driver myself that I learned that La Bange wasn’t anywhere near the halfway point, and actually sat about 45 minutes outside my hometown. I bet if I stood on top of that little chicken fried steak place I could strain my eyes and still see the Austin skyline. I also learned that it wasn’t called La Bange at all, but La Grange. My father’s growling tone responding to our incessant questioning led us to never actually hear him say it clearly. To this day we still call it La Bange.
But La Bange was a marker. Despite it not being equidistant, it was an indicator that we were making some progress. We were moving forward and eventually we’d make it to our destination. And really that’s all people ever really want to know.