My city neighborhood has been a construction site for three years now. The clanking disorder in order to create order lessens my mind’s mess. This stress detractor distracts me from my common banes. A girl; the world. And the puzzle of what and why day to day. Untangling taut thought webs. Personally and also professionally. I am a pro philosopher. Every few weeks an academic institution or organization pays me to speak (about the same thing, a smooth spherical pebble I plucked from that rambling beach, inanity) or sit among other thinkers. Other men and women who found sparkling specks of sand among troubling rubble and then, like me, danced for notoriety. Philosopher is the only recognizable societal role I sometimes fit. We rarely have to be good (or lucky). We only have to (or had to) be good for an hour a month, a weekend a year, ten minutes a decade. Then the common grinding grudge (or gluttonous gorging) of forging one’s work.
The block letter stencil stamping the temporary wood board wall reads, “Post no Bills.” Nowhere does it say, “Do not put one’s head through,” – what I will do imminently and, oh yes, intimately. Should the city try to charge me with vandalism (as they did two years ago for cracking a plaster wall on Wall St.), I will have a line of citable caustic logic to compliment the questionable stability of a man who makes a habit of bashing his head through walls. We live in a world so steeped with seeped-in poison that we resort to clarion retorts for rights and wrongs to be spelled out. Are we trespassing anywhere that there’s no ‘no trespassing sign’ posted? I might get another petty fine. Fine.
The construction crew cut out at last light. I’m alone here this rainy April evening. It’s just me and the wall. A double plywood board beauty with mock bird’s eye maple freckles and nippled volutes. Running my hand over it, I luck into three splinters. They will be nice to needle over after, like a shred of flaky steak threaded between teeth, detected and plucked a day after the delectable meal. The pulped plank is fresh. Drafts of new sawdust flake off and furl upward. “All hail the hale inhaler,” I murmur, while drawing perfume drams into my lungs. Fondling it with both hands, I whisper doting incantations. As I expose a hot spot, I swear the wall speaks to me. My neck, nearly disjointed from my brain, jolts and whips, beginning it.
An apt crack on the first crack at it. I can see the second board. Blood bubbles into a forehead slice. The next three whacks jack up adrenaline. Curing juices sluicing through my veins spruce up my soul. Woozy, I stumble back. I spit, stamp, topple forward. Bracing against the wall, I see blur. I soon see that the second layer, a thicker corky conglomeration, is only dented. I ram like an alpha ram. The cork plank does not buckle. I feel like a boxer strapped to turnbuckles, ducking feebly, boxing a thousand-round match. Reassessing my guess that this was the ideal wall – an obdurate and durable model, but one that can be cracked by a human head – I feel like a duckling. Like the construction crew, I won’t stop until I finish either job: breaking through the wall or my skull (brain blood flood). I tap my forehead to the seam three times, smearing the target with blood. I step into it. I miss wide. From this second crack the corkboard breathes and bares unbreakable teeth. I tap in between the two cracks to paint a new target.
My medicine has made me nauseous. Sliding down the wall onto the sidewalk, I consider the temptation of the concrete (so neat and concrete). But ending it is not the object. You don’t come back. You can’t rebuild yourself. You can’t live (or relive) those rare moments that merit a life’s work. And you can’t bash your head into any more walls. The cycle of recycling yourself stops.
I stand. My brain reduced to responding. Vomiting is vitalizing. I can think again. But that window will soon shut. I choose to forego the cement and be true to the wood wall through and through. My eyes cannot stop blinking. I wink at the target, and thrust hurriedly so I might catch the wall by surprise. The top flimsy layer does not crack. The scoffing wall bounces me off. I detect a wimpy welt. The anger summons my anchor animal, a last blast I had no idea I had in me. I pelt.
When I come to, it’s still dark. I know I am not dreaming because there is pain and numb, not just one or the other, and there is breeze and construction noise, engines throttling, workers barking.
Both boards are busted through. The wall is in fact ideal. I judge my head hit about twenty times. Hit it even after it was hit through. Celebratory slams. Blood splattered a foot to the left and right.
I stand. I crumble. I stand, slump, lean. The throbbing conjures glimpses of hurricane wreckage, irate oceans, earthquakes. Can the aftershocks rob my existence? Is this not an ideal wall after all? Walking feels like playing catch with my wobbly body, throwing my legs, flailing to sustain my delicate step. I sloppily skate cross an empty rain-sleeked street. I smell a scent like the girl who used to be mine. A puddle of purple hovers at my sight’s sentient horizon. A thick lilac thicket. I shwack in, clawing, chomping, recalling the neck she once let me lick. Dewy gluey blossoms glut my brow’s bloody creases. I see tombstones.
The proximity of a cemetery (in addition to the never-ending construction) is the other reason I make my home here. After a head bashing session I don’t have to wander far to my choice recovery place. Or if I went too far (I just might’ve), this very fine, final peaceful resting place.
I make it to the swath of lawn set aside for the next to die. I collapse and curl up. My brain still works, so I think of something that in no way resembles those ideal stones smoothed by fleeting flowers of profound thought. I wonder what I often wonder. How many people have died in a cemetery. And picture the engraved epigram: “… died here, rests here.”
I close out. I know I’m asleep at first. I have an ordinary dream. A loose tooth, brushes and brooms scrubbing and scraping, my feet stuck in cement. There is no enthralling white light. Then there is just dark. Nothing. But not black.