Rumbling vibrato in my throat is my beat in the morning cloud of traffic, audible only to me. I’m having a grand ol’ time, heels clicking in time with my funky vocal stylings. I’m killing it.
“Left a good job in the city…Working for the man every night and day…”
I’m groovin’ now, get a little shoulder action in there.
“Big wheels keep on turning–“
Screeching wheels, screaming horn, urgent dinging explode behind me. A tram is gliding on a collision course with a pedestrian.
The man is a zombie with earphones, gliding coolly in the spotlight of the tram’s headlights. The tram is still moving, and he isn’t reacting.
I shriek an expletive over my shoulder and recoil, convinced this is the Nightmare Moment. Morbid curiosity holds my gaze to the scene.
The tram’s nose has halted, narrowly missing the zombie’s legs. No reaction whatever; he has no idea that he almost met his maker.
Passersby look askance at me for standing in the sidewalk, taking up space. I’m part of the morning pedestrian traffic flow, how dare I deviate?
My boots click more irregularly now, and my voice is caught in the hollow of my throat. False notes squeak out: “Proud Mary keep on burnin’…”
And then there is no more music. I’ve been smacked back into reality. My eyes start burning, and I am silent the rest of the way to work.
What the hell is wrong with us?
It’s an average weekday. The post-holiday slump, the hangover of end-of-year introspection sticking like sludge in my step. What happened to all those grandiose promises I wooed myself with? I thought things would be different this year. But perhaps I’ve seduced myself back into torpid complacency. Safe, sweet complacency.
I step into a tobacconist’s to buy revenue stamps, and I’ve got 1 euro change. “Keep the euro, and give me one of those,” I point to a scratch ticket, and muster up an awkward smile. The clerk hands me my stamps and the ticket, and I look up into his face. Mouth turned up, eyes turned down. There is no familiarity or warmth in that hollow, forced gesture. My own tight smile dries up as I turn on my heel and step out of line.
I duck around the corner to scratch my lotto ticket, back turned to the world. For some reason, I don’t want anyone to catch me in the act, to see the faint glint of hope in my eye as I try my luck. I scratch, and the lucky number comes up: I’m a 1 euro winner. One euro in, one euro out. I’ve broken even.
Now, I ask: Do I try my luck, and get another ticket? I realize I’m already lucky to have broken even, and I should quit now. But quitting now is tantamount to complacency! Why not just try? I’ll never know if I settle for breaking even.
Approach another tobacconist, exchange the winning ticket for a new one. Scratch, scratch, scratch. Loser. Guess I shouldn’t have taken my chances, after all.
I realize that this is about more than a stupid lotto ticket.
Stuff the loser in my pocket, and start sauntering toward work. On the way, a man with a misshapen head and heavy jowls is playing accordion. Under the bland, gray sky, it sounds like an elegiac processional hymn. The gray sky starts melting into me, turning it all into one homogeneous paste. I wade on.
Winter rains coat the stone walkways in town. Gray above, gray below. A pre-recorded man’s voice ricochets off the stone buildings, and through my head. Advertisements. The pushy scripts are read by a noncommittal man’s voice, just innocuous enough to sound attractive.
50-percent off, get your King Cakes for the Epiphany at This Bakery. That Shop is offering you a limited-time offer on Whatever. Buy 2 Things, get one free at Some Other Store.
I feel morose as I find myself slithering through the wet streets, killing time before work. I’m not above their stupid gimmicks after all. How can I compete with perfectly-orchestrated color schemes designed to attract my eye? I’m disappointed in my brain, as it falls for their slight-of-hand tricks that gussy up the same old products and commodities in flashy fake allure? My brain is no match for those advertising bigwigs that are experts in the art of money extraction.
I feel guilty as my feet take me toward the attractively-colored Makeup Shop. I choose a lipstick color, and stand in the checkout line, feeling defeated. A tight-lipped saleswoman calls out to me in a firm, clipped voice: Other line please, you sheep.
I’m thus herded with the others toward the designated station where I part with several euros of my hard-earned money, all for the sake of vanity. I steal a moment after lunch to smear on my new lipstick. Am I beautiful yet? Is the sellout, commercialized and commodified Lari satisfied?
I look at myself in the mirror, and my heart softens a bit. It actually looks nice. I’ve allowed myself this one indulgence, and I can’t say I regret it. The Me in the mirror gives a loving, yet reproachful smirk: You’ve had your moment of excess. Now wear that lipstick, and continue on your way.