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Essay
Volume 39 Issue 14 • August 6-12, 2009
now in our 39th season

Lost

by Robert P. Barsanti

On Saturday evening, I followed a man up Orange Street.  He wore dark jeans and a forest green shirt, a Yankees cap, and bright white Apple headphones.  The music moved him, he zigged, he zagged, he gamboled freely on his bike.  I waited patiently behind him in a one-ton Toyota Landcruiser of Instant Death  Behind me waited two pickups, a mini-van, and a police cruiser.  The Sox were losing, the night was humid, and I was stuck behind P. Diddy’s number one fan.

It is always unpleasant to recognize yourself.

I do not slalom up Orange Street, nor do I wear Yankee hats, or listen to P. Diddy, but I do wear earphones a lot.  However, when I am in America, I wear them whenever I have to walk into a retail warehouse, be it Staples, Big Y, or the South Shore Mall.  I wear them at the health club, at the coffee shop, and, God forgive me, on a ski slope.  I have stood at the top of the Catamount trail at Jiminy Peak with Bill Simmons prattling on about the NBA finals.  On island, I wear the white leash walking in Sanford Farm or sitting in my bed at night.

My little earbuds do a heck of a job blocking out all of the other ambient sounds in my life, be it chairlifts, snowguns, country club yoga prattle, or helpful shopping announcements.  When you put them on, you snap a bubble neatly over yourself and make yourself a tourist to your own life.  My body is pushing my cart through the cereal section, but my mind is repairing cars with Click and Clack.

My phone, with its music, Facebook, Twitter, and every other bell and whistle has expanded into a cloud around me.  Students, who graduated decades ago, tell me of their children and their weekends.  Shaq fills me in on his feud with David Beckham.  Michelle Malkin wants me to have a tea party. My friends, my favorite music, my favorite TV shows…my Favorite Life is on my phone.

Not my Real Life, mind you.  My Real Life drums its fingers on the wheel of a glowering SUV.    My real life is hot, sticky, and waiting for my next paycheck.  My Real Life has weaker legs than it used to, a larger belt size than it should, and a nasty Watermelon Cream habit that it just can’t seem to break.  On my phone, I am so much wittier, kinder, and thinner than I am in Real Life.  It edits out the unpleasantness.

I was busy in my Favorite Life that Sunday on a walk off Millbrook Road.  Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo were reviewing the week’s movies for the BBC while I tottered around the swamps and oaks off of Hummock Pond.  They were had just finished picking a movie for the week and signing off, when I realized that I had no idea where I was.  One path had joined another then branched off to a third, and I stood amid the oaks and the pines, not really sure which way was out and which way was in.  I looked at the Google maps on my phone, and I learned that I was on Nantucket.  Thank God for that.

I knew that I was far more likely to walk into the brewery than I was to die in the woods.  The path, as long and meandering as it is, doesn’t exactly cross the steppes of Siberia or wander under the pines of northern Maine. Near Hummock Pond, I would be bitten by mosquitoes, not bears.  Sooner or later, I would wander into a familiar road or, even better, a familiar path that would lead me back to a car and then to the choreography of my Real Life.  But for this one moment, I was lost on the back of my hand.

Which strikes me as what vacation should be.  Loss of connection is the privilege of vacation.  We go through our workaday lives connected to thousands of other people.  An entire stadium, from the bleachers to the luxury boxes, depends on some of our most mundane tasks.  We make them lunch, we avoid running them over with our cars, and we lobby our senators.  They take our money, produce electricity, and don’t stare at us on the subway.  In my Favorite Life, e-mail informs me that “only I can make a difference.”  The stadium awaits my Facebook update.

Vacation should be about shrinking horizons, not expanding them.  We should be able to leave the stadium for a while and concentrate on feet, stomachs, and avoiding rain showers.  Let the thousand decisions, revisions, and announcements pass on uncommented and uncorrected.

Nature has a way of doing this for us; wilderness is beyond our imagination, our planning, and our cellphone range.  When you are lost in the woods, you don’t really care what Shaq is thinking or if Rosemary took that job in Richmond.  My Real Life has sore feet, hungry boys waiting for pizza, and the first brushes of an oncoming thundershower.  Its limits are its blessing.

This is the irony of the beach.  Out on the sand, the horizon spreads in an infinite straight line, queueing up wave after wave.  Hundreds of people gather in subway car crowds along on the shore.  They have come for thousands of miles and arrive with similar swim gear, towels, and boogie boards.  Yet, when you are on the beach, your horizon shrinks down and the other people fade.  We shrink ourselves into a stadium of one.  And we love it.

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