There is adventure in being lost. In Europe Peggy and I were often Hansel and Gretel. We would miss a sign or take the wrong spoke on a roundabout and find ourselves away from the destination into a place unknown. Here we are peeing in the forest of Dean or baffled by those twisting streets in Venice or taking a short cut through the Ardennes woods, a path ending in a bush.
At the same time there is a pull in me to be found…or better yet to find myself. Even in these declining years I can feel the tug in both directions; the allure of the uncharted, the security of the familiar in the geography of my mind.
Age six at the World’s Fair I clutched my father’s overcoat in the massive crowd. Except it wasn’t my father. Abandoned in a sea of bodies, was I exhilarated or frantic? Both, as I remember it.
For my first twenty-one years living in Queens, NYC I was happily lost. Like most New Yorkers I got around by shoe or subway. On foot I wandered within a series of what we called neighborhoods, vaguely defined by a candy store which served a half dozen apartment houses. I might also bike my way beyond that perimeter but directions never once entered into my navigation. I just pedaled away following this road or that.
As a passenger I lived in an imaginary underground grid that was about as accurate as a 7th century map of the world. The “E” train or “F” train actually ran on diagonals that to this day deposit me ship-wrecked when I think back to how cockeyed I was at the helm.
It never occurred to me that streets bend. I fixed my compass by a very wide thoroughfare of six lanes called Queens Blvd. My subway stop was there as were the two or three before mine. I knew that by following Queens Blvd. west I would go over the bridge directly into Manhattan. I then reasoned that the intersecting turnpike must go north and south. Not so. I was so wrong that to this day I cannot make the correction.
If my borough of Queens was a maze, Manhattan was a grid as if someone laid it out with a ruler. In fact it was shaped like a ruler with uptown, downtown and crosstown. People came there hoping to be found.
I am more tethered to the straight and narrow than I want to be. I’ve spent years trying to wrestle loose ends to the mat, to anticipate every eventuality and control the outcomes. I don’t believe we ever get a grip on our north, east, south, west. Only a vague idea of river and bridge; when to detour, when to cross. Is that an intersection or just another trail to nowhere? And if I allow myself to veer off can I ever stumble-bumble my way back? No, not back, not when I’ve found a new center.