June 2011

The other night I was called off of work early because we were doing so few covers. In traversing the downtown mall I was looking for a spot to sit in the early evening sun, have a beer, and read my book (field notes from a catastrophe). I ended up plopping down at an outdoor patio belonging to the Sheraton Hote bar. I sipped my bourbon and read my book. An hour passed or so and I was ready to leave. While I was seated however an older black woman with hair the color of slate and pepper had been sitting across from me, trying with the cocktailer to get her drink just right. Finally chardonnay and sprite proved to be the most satisfying.

I would learn later that this lady was Gale, she was sixty next week, and for thirty some years she's been an OBGYN nurse, which is what brought her to the conference at the Sheraton hotel, the last day of which was the one following our evening on the patio. Before I knew any of that, however, I was ready to leave. I packed up my book, scribbled my tip on the bill and stood, lifting my back pack. "What are you studying?" she asked. I don't ever know how to answer that question; I get it a lot but immediately I don't feel like i am "studying" I'm just reading and I happen to take notes on most everything I read. So i answered with my usual, half-witted, "well, tonight, its climate change". She grinned widely and widened her eyes, the same way my grandma does it when i say something scandalous that she approves of as a person but not as a grandma.

So she asked me why climate change, and why biology, and "what do you mean philosophy and biology are bedmates?" "Bring you chair over here," she told me. So I did. And I opened another tab, ordered another drink - this time a cabarnet...a much better choice for this particular night. And then she was Gale, and I was Erik. She is married to Joe for 34 years and of her three kids Josh is the oldest, though her daughter is the philosopher and she had just recently had discussions with them about evolution. Another topic I alluded to after her emphatic prodding. "Why are you hesitant to talk to people about climate change?" she asked me, with a strange disappointed tone. "Maybe you're not passionate enough about it?"

 I refused, but not whole-heartedly. It could be true, that i'm not passionate enough about it. But I really think its that I don't want to turn people away. I think its a shame that the first thing we talk about could make them mentally pivot and exit the opportunity. I think its a failure on their part, for not knowing my truth, and a failure on mine, for wanting my truth to be theirs so badly I can't but force it upon them. So I shelter the topic in euphemism. "I am interested in environmental change, degradation, habitat loss, threats to biodiversity." But not with Gale. She'd given me the first green light early in our conversation and then chastised me when I eyed her warily and flirted half-heartedly with the gas pedal. But that's when she leaned in the driver's side window and thrust my foot down with her hand. I didn't need a second encouragement.

Our talk turned to wealth and privelage and the tendency of a culutre which always consumes and looks for opportunities to consume to turn inward, that if something is lobbying you to make a purchase at all times then you're constantly weighing whether or not you want it, or whether what you currently have is good enough or should be replaced with another wanted thing. This means, tragically, our economic paradigm turns our eyes ever inward. And then we cannot care about the changing climate because we cannot see it. "But is wanting nice things bad," she asked, "I understand what you're saying but don't you like having nice things?" I said yes, the things I do want, I would like the nice version of. Admittedly, its nice to have nice. But our version of capitalism, I told her, the one I write about and denote as Our Capitalism, is a capitalism and a distribution of wealth that necessitates a destitute class. In our world we cannot have the rich we have without having the poor we have. Our Capitalism makes it all possible. I sipped my wine. I looked at the sloppy paint the distant star had left smeared on the buildings all the way down the mall.

"What an incredible night," we both mused. "I love the energy of the city," Gale said, "i'm really a city person." Her husband, it turns out, is not. "He's a scientist, an engineer." Very calculated, very tedious, kind of boring but smart - and he doesn't like people. "You're a scientist too," she reminded me. "You don't like people?" It was assaulting on some level, because I love people. But I understood. I am cold in the place I go with my books on terrible things. But I go there because I love people, and what they can do. I love being called to arms with other humans, others looking for purpose that seems more tangible than scripturally based impetus. I chill myself now and again in order to calculate and return to city streets for quiet conversations with strange women and cheap wine. I love it, so much. So I told her that. "I know what you mean," I said, "but no, I disagree. I love people. Its just that the more molds I test for myself"...the more they scrape my skin and bruise my flailing elbows..."I find I likely don't fit in molds."

Our talk of molds collided with talk about her husband and sons and the love she had for them. And the love one finds in life in various ways. Earlier my nostaliga had thrown a memory of Darwin to the surface; in a biography on Darwin once I read, it relayed his first travel to the south american jungles. Standing in the trees looking up at it all he exclaimed on his smallness, and its greatness, and the magnitude of the history of life that few before him had dared speak of aloud. Darwin, despite all the foaming derision which seeps toward his memory from so many mouths, was a philospher and poet who realized biology as his ultimate subject. Ultimate, perhaps only second to his family, his wife Emma in particular. Gale had no idea, most people don't, that Darwin was largely supported by his wife, who by all accounts loved him recklessly.

But she was a devout Christian, and while Darwin was not atheist his posutlates on the early earth didn't seem to leave room for a god, and certainly did not reveal a need for one. Emma once told him, in her scalding pain, that she wanted to love her husband eternally and she feared that his work was stealing that future from the two of them. She commuincated as much in a note to Charles and a response, found long after, recounted Darwin's lament: "Know that I have kissed and cried over this letter many times." To love eternally, isn't that the most important question, Gale wondered to me. No I don't think so. I think today is the important part. What about tomorrow then, she responded with dismay. Tomorrow I will do everthing I can to love you as well as I did today. Isn't it the same, Gale asked wisely. Yes, I suppose, for many tomorrows, it may be the same.

Tatooed bunches roamed passed us, ten abreast on the sidewalk. Strollers became wedges through the crowds. A Rockies game got out and the city went to eat and drink and sex somewhere here and hidden elsewhere. Irish pub music wafted from the west and plenty of well dressed without description couples smiled and strolled along. Denver didn't smile on us, nor did the night. I suspect neither of them noticed us at all. But certainly we smiled at them. My cabarnet finished, other crowds made my cell phone buzz and the natural silence which leaves one another to think had come over Gale and me. "Gale I think I'm going to catch this bus," I said, seeing the mall ride approaching at few blocks distance. "Yeah," she said with a pleasant grin, "you better." Rose for a hug, up from her seat, I wish you good things. We wish us and each other good things. "Goodnight Gale, it really was a pleasure. I live for this." I bound across two lanes and up onto the bus. It rumbled westbound, toward the wafting Irish pub music. We wish us and each other good things. Don't we Gale? Yeah. Yeah, we do.

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