C.W. was late. We had agreed to meet by the river. I was watching a barge navigate the channel between one lock and another. Finally, I saw him and immediately wanted to run. He was channeling a prisoner from some classic movie such as “I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang.” He wore tattered striped clothing and carried what appeared to be a metal bowling ball attached to a chain bolted to his leg. Every dozen yards or so he would put the ball on the ground, rest, and then pick it up and proceed toward me again.
It was too late to run. He had already seen me so I began studying my fingers in the hope that he might walk on by. No such luck.
“Sorry I’m late,” he said as he plopped down beside me and rested the ball on the ground. “I became distracted while gathering data and failed to take into account being slowed by the ball and chain.”
“I’m not even going to ask,” I said.
“Good,” he said. “I wanted to ask you something.”
“I can hardly wait,” I said, averting my face from a bicyclist who nearly ran off into the river looking at us.
“It’s about your means of moving about.”
This is a common topic for him. His fascination with the internal combustion motor and the automobile never slackens. He refers to it as our “global insanity.”
“I was down at one of the high-rise buildings taking notes on the vehicles coming from the parking deck,” he said, as he fiddled with his chain. “I assume these are people who work in the building.”
“Mostly yes,” I said. “Or people having business in the building.”
“That makes sense. They were dressed formally as if they had what you call “white-collar” jobs. How did that term evolve?”
“I’ll explain it to you some day,” I said. “Go ahead.”
“Well, would you believe that in less than an hour, I recorded no less than 10 men in business suits exiting the building in ‘collecting-things trucks?’”
“You perhaps mean ‘pickup trucks.’”
“Precisely. Now what exactly are they picking up there?”
“Well, nothing,” I said.
He assumed that look he has when something doesn’t pass through his “internal analysis mechanism” as he calls it. It’s a cross between looking stoned and falling asleep. He said, “That doesn’t calculate.”
“How do you mean?”
“They don’t haul goods for a living, do they?”
“Oh no, they probably don’t haul anything in those vehicles. It might scratch the paint.”
“They are so large and cumbersome—I can’t imagine trying to maneuver them through a parking deck.”
“They have deplorable fuel efficiency?”
He assumed The Look again. “I’m trying to understand,” he said.
“It has come to be an expression of masculinity and power,” I said.
“You are evacuating me from your bowels, right.”
“I am not shitting you, if that’s what you mean.”
“It’s going to take me awhile for my systems to recharge,” he said, with quite a bit of sadness in his voice. “Then I want to tell you about a 90-pound woman who was trying to enter a parking space in a ten-passenger monstrosity.”
“An SUV?” I said.
“No, she looked like a regular person who just didn’t have the ability to reason properly.”