Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Sounds Of Silence

I noticed it immediately, as if it were a friend wearing a new eyepatch: the faceplate of my car radio/CD player was missing. Instead of the silvery dials and toggles there was a dull, black slotted rectangle. I looked on the seat. I looked in the glove compartment. I looked on the floor. Nothing. I was leaving for work, late, grumpy and disinclined, in high Bartleby mode in fact, and did not relish waking and interrogating The Lad, aka my son, who'd borrowed the car the night before.

Aha ! I thought. There was my audiotape Walkman ! That plugs into the CD player. It has batteries. I could....could what, exactly ? I jabbed the little Walkman jack at a small blue hole in the face plate. It spit out a James Taylor disc, a big silver mocking tongue going neener, neener. That didn't work. Then I examined some adaptor device The Lad had apparantly plugged into the lighter socket. I poked the end of its cable at one of the holes in the Walkman. Wait a minute. That made no sense. I needed headphones. I had no headphones. Wasn't there some radio upstairs with the hurricane candles ?

I was late. I had to leave. I backed out of the driveway heavy with the realization that, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I'd be driving to work without audio input. No NPR. No Air America. No Merton tapes. No James Taylor or Ralph Vaughn Williams CD. Just silence. Me and my thoughts.

I felt a small panic stirring.

I remembered driving and listening to a taped dharma talk by John Daido Loori, once, a discourse on paying attention and doing whatever you're doing fully and exclusively. At one point in the talk he directly addresses folks like me: Turn the tape off ! Just drive ! I'd blushed, but kept on listening. He couldn't see me, could he ?

OK, today I'd show him. I'd just drive. How hard could it be ?

Damned hard, it turns out. The only thing resembling diverting audio output was my chattering monkey-mind, full of the usual dreckabilia and mumbledygook. And it was cranked up full volume. I focused my attention on driving. God, I hadn't remembered how BORING driving is. All those -- other drivers. All that macadam. Trees. Sky. Gas stations. That creepy office park.

I was in a movie without a film score. Was the blue sky merry and carefree, or ironically aloof and poignant ? What, simply blue ? What was up with that ?

I decided to talk to myself. Aloud. I couldn't stand being there alone with the non-committal blue sky and my tape loop of I don't wanna go to work...I don't wanna go to work...I don't wanna go to work. And that silence ! I had to fill it.

So I did. I delivered an oral disquisition on the first topic that came to mind, which was, oddly enough, the nature of self-esteem and self-loathing. I came up with a brilliant theory about humiliation, shame and compensatory aggression the details of which escape me now. Suffice it to say my analysis drew on biology, philosophy, psychiatry, sociology, political science and religion and explained most of human behavior and history completely. It was brilliant. I'm sure of it. I'd out NPR'ed NPR and arrived at work without becoming clinically insane. Mission accomplished.

OK. That was crazy.

I did better on the way home. Depleted by a long day, I let monkey mind do its thing and submitted to the tedium. It was very tedious tedium. No brilliant disquisitions. I just drove.

And where was the face plate ?

I asked The Lad.

Oh, it's in the glove compartment in its case. You know that little rectangular black box ?

In its case. In the glove compartment. Where I'd looked.

What was that the wise man was saying about attention ?

No comments: