Lately, I've been a little depressed. Just general, all-purpose stuff. Grumpy, sleepy, many of the other dwarves, too. Don't want to go to work, don't want to go to bed, don't want to wake up.
Today, for the first time in quite a while, it's absolutely gorgeous outside. A little bit warm (80F), but a good summer day, with a good but not too-strong breeze, which feels good on the mild sweat you build up when in the sun. Few clouds, and those that are there either high, streaky ones far in the distance or very small cotton balls rushing by, trying to get out of the way of the sky as azure as a ... very azure thing.
And I'm stuck inside in this damn cubicle. No windows. Fluorescent lights. Nothing to differentiate between today and the past few weeks of near-constant thunderstorms or an overcast day or even nighttime, for that matter.
So I decided to play hooky. I left for lunch a little early and told myself that I was just going to take the rest of the day off. I went down to Pullen Park, the place I spent the only day I ever played hooky from high school. (It was rainy that day; a girlfriend had just broken up with me.)
I walked around the park, past the screaming kids and their parents and nannies hanging around the swings and the carousel, heading for the carpet-like expanses of grass, oddly well-kept for a city park. Maybe it actually grows that well on its own. I wandered around there for a while. Two purple-blue-black butterflies in some sort of fight or tryst scooted just past my head, they, the bees, and the occasional bird the only living things in sight. Even the traffic from the nearby roads seemed distant -- almost nonexistent -- as I marveled at nature.
I continued on towards the college campus (I was getting hungry by now, being lunch time, after all) I walked up a sparsely grassed, but tree-y hill. Suddenly, I noticed a man lurking behind a tree; he seemed to be watching me. I can only imagine he was hiding as much as I was, but I got the impression his concealment was somewhat more nefarious, so I avoided him. It didn't really make much different which direction I went, anyway.
As I got nearer campus, people started becoming closer and more crowded. But that's okay; this is nature, too, of a different sort. These kids were outside, walking around, going to Calculus or Physics, with more freedom than they're likely to have again for a long time. I'd already decided that I wasn't going to feel guilty. I wandered through campus, trying to take the same routes I'd taken a decade before, but they'd all left me. I always knew what direction I was heading and where I was, but it was never where I thought I was going to be.
It's lunchtime for the students, too, so there were a lot of them around. Walking somewhere, sitting on the grass, on the walls. Even the brickyard preacher had taken the day off from harassing the immorality of the student body. Perhaps it was too nice for him to work, too. That's okay; I was watching the student bodies as much as he ever did.
Heading to the comic book shop where I used to work, I still managed to take a slightly incorrect route. Of course, no one I knew was working there, except for the manager. He was confused about my presence, but I told him I was playing hooky and smiled.
So I decided to get a slice of pizza at the place next to the shop. There were a lot of folks there, but it doesn't take long to reheat a slice of pizza. I think there was a football player in line directly in front of me. He never removed the cell phone from his ear, and I heard him talking about not getting drafted. Maybe he's someone ``important''. Not today.
There's only one table outside on the sidewalk, but it was available. All those kids with that beautiful day, and they wanted to be inside. Fine. More day for me. I watched students walk by and bank customers try to parallel park. Some guy who looked like he'd spent the last couple of years sitting outside in that same patio-furniture chair commented on how nice it was. Yup.
I started to walk back to my car to get a crossword puzzle and a novel to while the day away back at the park. I took a different route back, not so much through campus this time. It took me by the baseball fields, where there were two groundskeepers measuring the lines for bases and cutting the grass. I could just imagine a game being played on a day just like today, throngs of people pressing at the chain-link fence, cheering. Today, it was just the three of us.
I had to cross over a railroad track. I must have managed to avoid noticing a bridge on the way to campus before. Surprisingly, there was an obvious footpath to a gap in the shubbery. People had been passing this way before, but who? I was the only person in sight. You'd think it would take more than one person a day. I could hear a whistle in the distance, but looking down the tracks revealed nothing but a red light shimmering in the distance in either direction. There was a train coming, but it was a long way away. I still had the inclination to run across the tracks in case one materialized in thin air, rather than traveling the mile or so in plain sight it would have to to get to me, but I forced myself to walk along calmly, looking at the rails and the ties and the variety of spikes holding the tracks down. Do all train tracks have those same blue-grey stones? Do they come from some train supply yard?
Suddenly, I was back in the park. Folks were sitting on benches, looking at me as if I came from some faraway land. But I just kept walking, back towards the kids. I needed to find a good place to sit and read. A few minutes later, I heard the train pass by. It was moving about ten miles an hour. It's a good thing I got past the tracks first.
Why do kids like to scream?
I went to the far side of the pond. The ducks and geese I remembered were still there, but they seemed fewer. Probably not enough people feeding them anymore; I didn't have anything on me. I should have kept my pizza crust, but it hadn't occurred to me. There's nobody on this side of the pond. An old, large oak had been wrapped by a handmade bench; it would be a perfect place, shade, the breeze whipping around the trunk just right, except that there was some sort of pumping station right next to it.
Further around the pond, still no people, there were a number of other good candidates -- none as good as that oak, minus the pump, but good. A bridge cut across the tail end of the pond, and I spent some time looking at the ducks paddle by. The water was far from clear, but I could still see their feet paddling like crazy under the water, their calm bodies above hardly belying that, and the huge V-shaped wakes their small bodies left behind.
Just over the bridge, there were a motley collection of geese, all different colors. There was even a Canada goose hanging out with them. The ducks seemed to keep to themselves. I sat down on a bench to a barrage of squawks, but, slowly, the chorus slowed and they crept closer -- close enough to touch. They pecked at my feet, but soon went back to the grass when they realized that neither I nor my feet had any snacks to provide. A park attendant came by with a bag of stale hot dog buns and I continued on after watching them squawk at her for a few minutes.
Walking back across the front side of the pond, I looked across at the calm but rippling water and the flora framing it, smiled, and realized that I was happy. I don't think I've been happy for quite a while. But reality quickly came back and it occurred to me that I'd accomplished what I intended. So I decided that I probably needed to get paid more than I needed to continue my bliss-out and went back to work.
So here I am now, back in my environmentless cube, having been blindly tossed into a meeting having nothing to do with me, but involving slight beration from one of my managers, with basically nothing to do, and the only happiness I have is from that memory of earlier today, already fading. I think I need to take a long lunch tomorrow, too.