Night Walker

Earlier this year, in one of my stream-of-consciousness blathers, I mentioned the idea of mounting a television to a treadmill, enabling me to watch an odd mix of television series and made-for-Netflix movies while getting some exercise. If I did this at night, as well as during the day, I could do a lot of walking. My mind has been massaging that idea for six or seven months.

First, I will create a character who does precisely what I have contemplated doing. He will walk only at night, in the wee hours, when almost everyone else in this part of the world is asleep in bed. While the sleepers dream, my character watches television and walks. He walks through the desert. He walks the Appalachian Trail. He walks north from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Fort Frances, Ontario and continues his northward trek through Ontario to Vermilion Bay. He walks through Colorado and Utah and Arizona and New Mexico. He takes these long walks while watching Scandinavian crime series and Spanish murder mysteries and British dramas. On rare occasion, he switches to HGTV to watch shows about building and outfitting tiny houses. Regardless of where he walks, he avoids densely populated areas. Even when in the Twin Cities, he skirts the edges, keeping his distance from crowds and heavy traffic.

My character will be modeled after the me who could have been. I will make considerable adjustments to his personality and appearance, portraying a character readers might admire and appreciate. He will live his values, rather than simply clinging to them mentally while wishing he could embed them in his behavior and thoughts. He is complex, but simple. He is broken, but repairable. His walks, of course, will be imaginary; no one travels the Appalachian Trail on a treadmill. But in his mind’s eye, he will see every vista and every tree root he would encounter on the actual 2200-mile trek. And he would experience every footstep of the 464 miles between St. Paul and Vermilion Bay. He’ll stop for breakfast at the Comfort Table Bakery, where he will enjoy an egg and sausage calzone. His exploration of the Chihuahuan Desert will feel absolutely real as he wanders south from El Paso, through Ciudad Juárez, and into the realm of dreams. He will stop for a time in Delicias, which was officially designated a municipality on January 7, 1935. Time stands still in some places around Delicias; my character will find those places on his walk. He will explore the Museo del Desierto Chihuahuense for a look at the past and he will stop briefly at the Parque Acuatico El Paraiso for a look at the immediate future; the future before water is so precious no one can justify a water-based entertainment park.

His walks through Colorado and Utah and New Mexico and Arizona will amount to a farewell tour, an opportunity to say goodbye to another dream world that cannot survive the onslaught of tomorrow after tomorrow after tomorrow. He will contemplate the words of Georgia O’Keefe when she said, in response to a question about why her paintings of flowers were so large, “so they will be noticed.” Tears will fall as he muses about Georgia O’Keefe; just like the tears that accompany his long, expansive stare into the past as he watches an old Mexican great, great grandmother, older than the sky, make her last batch of tortillas, in her time-worn hut on the outskirts of Delicias.

My character does not yet have a name. The names I’ve given to my alter egos heretofore do not fit this night walker. He may never get a name, because the act of naming him could ruin the mysticism of his journey. I purposely chose not to make that word—journey—plural because his nightly wanderings consist of one long single expedition that’s broken into segments. “Broken into segments.” That’s fitting. Shattered might be a better descriptor. His journey emerged from a shattered life, a life lived too close to the fringes to be “normal” but too far from the fringes to be “bohemian.”He was like a malformed supplemental piece of a paperboard jigsaw puzzle; carved from a piece of petrified mesquite long after the puzzle was manufactured and shipped. That hard puzzle piece was dropped on a concrete floor; broken and swept into a corner and forgotten.

So, I’ve created the outline of my character. Now what? I think I’ve answered that question. Drop the outline onto a concrete floor, where it will be shattered and swept into a corner. One day, I may retrieve the broken shards and attempt to piece him back together. Or not. Either way, though, for what purpose? Almost all the characters I’ve created in my mind have a common thread; they are broken. And they share another commonality; in spite of their flaws, they are worth salvation. Not in a theological sense; more like secular redemption. That is, their lives have value despite their faults; regardless of their very visible (or sometimes completely hidden) blemishes, at their core they are good, decent, worthy human beings.  But that may be wishful thinking. The stories have to be written, and completed, to know that to be true. Or not.

Maybe I should just force the issue and buy a damn treadmill. It’s not like I haven’t been looking, though. I just can’t find one for a reasonable price. And where would I put it? I have expectations of a treadmill. It must be a very  high quality product, equipped with at least some of the more important and useful technological gadgetry. And it should run as quietly as possible. Enough about treadmills. This began as an outline of a story. It has turned into something else; something that does not resemble the outline of a story.

There’s light in the sky. Light from the sun, hidden by a haze of low clouds or high fog. The distant hills behind the house are not visible; I trust they are still there, but I have no proof of that. Everything outside the realm of my vision could have disappeared overnight. The leaves on the trees are almost still, but occasionally they move, just slightly, suggesting a very light breeze is blowing. I just saw a man walk down the street for his morning exercise, the exercise I want to get on a treadmill. If I were still in Dallas, I would be out walking, I think. But the inclines here are too steep for my lungs to take; I should take my friend’s advice and drive to a flat place where I can walk. Maybe drive to Dallas? That’s too far and would require too much gas. Maybe a walk to the Chihuahuan desert is in order. But probably not. It’s daylight. My walking is meant for the wee hours, when no one else is out walking.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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