Rendered Fat Content


A Mortally Wounded Brigand Quenches his Thirst, 1825, Eugene Delacroix
"Wherever I might find myself, finding myself there might console me."

My cell phone wouldn't work in Farmington, New Mexico, not until I connected it via my hotel's crappy WiFi. The Muse insists that I should download the area's map from GoogleMaps, but I can't find a menu option to accomplish that. I relied upon the sixteen year old GPS in our "new" car, the display for which looks like a poor art student's crude attempt at abstraction. Most of this country continues to exist outside The Web, No Service being the most common message displayed on any hinterland traveler's cell phone. Those of us accustomed to ubiquitous 5G find this state of affairs annoying in the extremis, for we've sub-contracted half our senses to our little electronic babysitter. Navigation, entertainment, news, weather, and just staying in touch hangs by the very lamest of threads. Hopping from public wi-fi to public wi-fi, I almost forget that such connections never were in any way natural, they've just become a newer normal, at least until I leave town.

I judge airports by whether they offer free high-speed wi-fi, with good old PDX still the egalitarian standard.
Most offer a half-hearted and painfully slow free alternative with premium access available for some princely sum. I'm nobody's prince. Starbucks remains the gold standard for free connectivity, even if that decaf sets me back $2.85 and the so-called barista forgets the requested china for-here cup half the time. I order a large. "Venti?," the would-be barista responds. "Large!," I clarify. I cannot believe that pretending I speak Italian improves either my social standing or the taste of the brew. "Screw you," I whisper to myself as I settle in to gorge on the free connectivity. Pretension might be a dish best served solo, out of earshot of anyone trying to keep both feet firmly on the ground.

The Great American Southwest offers few Starbucks once I leave a city. Out on the lonesome prairie, baristas gratefully seem few and very far between. Same with cell coverage, which might momentarily peak when passing through any place with greater than twenty-five thousand inhabitants. Otherwise, I carry a five and a half ounce brick in my pocket. If I've remembered to fully download an audio book, I can listen. Otherwise, it's the radio or nothing, and the radio, apparently by international treaty, can only play old Gary Puckett and The Union Gap songs or preach to me when I'm out in the hinterlands. I haven't figured out how to play the radio in our "new" car yet, other than to play static, so I find myself all alone the morning after leaving Farmington, where my cell phone refused to work.

US 550 between Bloomfield and Cuba, New Mexico, cuts across Navaho country, oil patch with distant sandstone bluffs and a few Chaco badlands looking like drizzled sand castles. Nobody but travelers to ever receive cell signal out there, so no cell signal's available. Turning onto that shortcut over to US 285, I switch from screaming four lane to barely two, a county road look-alike featuring thirty and forty MPH turns. Cell still spinning for a signal, radio as good as dead, I'm alone and in my head, crawling through sweet grass country a month and a half before sweet grass season. No stinking rest areas out here. I find a tree to pee behind, lest I lose my mind before stumbling back into civilization, by which I mean any place with restrooms, whether or not those feature soap, paper towels, or even privacy. I was a hundred miles from a public restroom then.

I live more than a hundred miles from myself these days, constantly connected into The Great Out There, which might actually be convincingly standing in for nowhere at all. I decided that as long as I seemed to have a quorum, I might just as well sit myself down (I was already sitting) and not give myself a "good" talking to, whatever that might mean, but engage in AGoodTalkingWith, WITH myself. An observer might have concluded that I was just talking to myself, but talking with one's self seems world's different. I had no advice, good or otherwise, to impart. I held no crushing secret to share. I had resolved no enduring mystery to uncloak there. Just me and myself, speaking from The Infinite I, a couple of guys conversing. I struggled to quiet the old Harold Arlen and Hap Yarburg tunes echoing in my head. "You've got to Accentuate The Positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, and don't mess with Mr. In-between …" Maybe my internal soundtrack was just setting the tone.

Our Native Ancestors performed pilgrimages to the places I was passing by, enormous multi-hued cliff faces lightly dusted with fresh snow in the late winter morning's sunlight. I felt as though I was in heaven, though I knew I was only passing through, the only one on this shortcut road. We chatted there, myself and I, sharing tiny insights and minuscule appreciations between us. I felt complete, probably complicit, and maybe just as guilty as frequently charged. I might have been incubating The Virus, running some low-grade temperature, but neither of the conversants could tell. I missed two turn-offs, backtracking after one of us caught the error. We were running around the more direct mountain passes, open but clogged with fresh overnight snow, and neither of us wanted to go there driving this "new" car, which we only distantly understood and barely controlled. No outside narrative penetrated our dialogue. I recalled that car without a radio we owned, where my first wife and I sang old Broadway show tunes to help make the miles slip by. I still don't recognize any popular song released between 1975 and the mid-eighties, for I was offline that whole time.

Hours later, approaching home, I finally figured out how to find a single tolerable radio station, only to be rewarded with a lengthy audio essay on just how screwed up our response to the Novel Virus has been, a cautionary case study in abject short-sightedness. Perhaps we were distracted by our connections to The Great Out There, and missing some simple conversation a little closer to home. I might prescribe AGoodTalkingWith as a ready cure for almost any ill. Should I arrive back home to find that I do register a smidge' of temperature and the start of that tell-tale racking cough, I might settle more comfortably in knowing I would be sequestered with someone I knew rather than incomplete strangers lurking in The Great Out There. Wherever I might find myself, finding myself there might console me. Either way, AGoodTalkingWith couldn't possibly hurt.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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