After several hours of concentrated work, my skull sometimes suggests to me, by a quick twinge or a sound like a cube of ice fracturing in water, that it might explode. That’s when I like to step out for a walk.
I try to notice things. As an activity, walking and noticing things makes me feel better – especially when there are things to be noticed, as in the city. I notice almost entirely with my eyes, rarely with nose or ears. To dredge up after the fact the smells and sounds of a city block is almost impossible. I’m tempted to invent them: the customary noise of automobiles and voices, the odors of bus exhaust, women’s perfume, and alleyway urine. But I forget these things as soon as I notice them. I remember what I see.
Walking the other day near my employer’s San Francisco offices, I noticed:
- Fading signs painted on the sides of red brick warehouses advertising hundred-year-old fruits and vegetables
- Overpriced furniture boutiques and salvage retailers without a single customer inside
- Bearded and sockless hipster entrepreneurs talking on phones outside of tech start-ups with comical company names taped to their windows
- A bronze squiggle sunk in the concrete of the sidewalk to commemorate the ancient shoreline before the tidal flats were filled in and built up
- Small dogs on leashes, led by their owners from glass apartment lobbies, anxious to shit on the curb
- Tourists posing for photos in front of the statue of Willie Mays at the ballpark across the street
- People in general rushing to be casual and expose as much bare skin as possible to the surprising warmth of the afternoon
Regarding that last item above: I don’t generally endorse the notion that things fall apart inevitably, that each succeeding generation is morally lesser than that which preceded it. I prefer to imagine recurring cycles of growth and decay in the social organism. I do blush, however, at how we like to dress ourselves these days. I rather wish that men were less content to look like transients (unless they are transients), and that women were less content to look like prostitutes (unless they are prostitutes). Which is not to say anything against either transients or prostitutes as a class. I might be equally dismayed if everyone chose to dress themselves like soldiers or trapeze artists.
Completing my walk, I returned to the office. I only work here once each week. It’s a perfectly nondescript four-story converted warehouse when seen from the outside. On deciding against the elevator, however, I discovered that it’s in fact bewitched – or at least the stairwell is. For one thing, it’s incredibly hot. Then, somehow, in the space of those four floors, it manages to include 90 steps and eight landings, six of them with doors. Behind one of these, I can only assume, the devil keeps a satellite office.