A small child in a room full of toys. One of those garage playsets with two levels, the bottom a dashed-line road painted alongside painted green grass, treetops looking down, and smiling painted animals looking up. The top level the garage where the matchbox and the hot wheels wait for the fingers to push them along.
The best part about this toy was that if you turned the little crank on top of the parking garage the little road on the bottom level would move like a little conveyor belt. Around and around the supports of the top level the road would go, coming around the corner, going through the tunnel, and if you wanted -- onto a curving ramp with little hooks that would hold the toy cars in place as it pulled them to the second level.
I don't know why, but I loved this toy.It wasn't even mine -- but it was at a daycare center I spent many an afternoon at after school while my brother and I waited for my parents to get off work and pick us up. This was in the days before we were old enough to latch-key, back when we went daycare to daycare trying to find a place that my parents could afford that wasn't so low budget that they didn't feel weird about leaving us there for hours at a time.
What I would do -- I don't even know why I'm telling you this, or why the memory came shooting back to me this morning bright as a sunbeam through a raincloud -- what I would do is steal this toy away, and get under a table in the playroom. The table had a cloth over it, so the light underneath was low. Not dark like night, but enough that the shadows would stretch depending on where you watched them from.
I'd take Matchbox cars I'd hidden in my bookbag and held onto all day at school, and I'd put them on the lower road, randomly spaced. They'd sit there still, staggered in a traffic jam still life. Backlit like characters in some noir film. And then I'd lay on the ground, eye level with the pretend road, and I would turn the crank on top.
They would come back again in a few turns, but as I remember it the point wasn't about seeing them come back as much as it was about feeling them move. About seeing it with your eyes, but somehow feeling it deep inside -- that Doppler shift where the motion was evident, the reality seemed to lean, and the things that were once stuck in place were able to find their momentum and move forward -- on with their busy lives with places to go and things to take care of.And the cars would just go round and round, and their shadows would
grow, stretch, and fade as the toys rounded the corner and disappeared.
I would watch this for what seemed endless loops of time. Sometimes I would invent stories to go along with it. A cop chasing a bad guy, something I'd seen on TV.
Not a little kid anymore, not held back by a road that never seemed to move without hands from above -- but riding fast and free through the night, the shadows of my car stretching and fading along the walls of some far off freeway tunnel.But more often than not it was me in that car.
To be in one place forever dreaming of being in another is natural. But to stay in one place imagining it happening while you have the power to just get up and make it happen is a transition I think some of us don't always have the easiest time with.
I have the power to make the shadows move. I can drive a thousand miles without ever touching the road.But when the lights go up and the wheel stops turning. When you realize you've
imagined a million journeys but never actually moved from where you started..
[Listening to: Kings of Leon - "Radioactive" ]