Saturday, May 14, 2011

Racing the Train

Am I the only one who does this? I’ll be walking along a sidewalk and a bicyclist will come down the street toward me and there will be a tree between us and, because of our relative speeds and distances from the tree, the bicyclist will seem to disappear behind the tree and I’ll try to time my pace to keep him hidden as long as possible, as if he had gone through a magic portal that took him somewhere else entirely. Sometimes I even imagine his wonder at being whisked into another dimension.

Local variation in Oxford, England: "Beat the Boat."
Or, when I was a boy and a train would be passing close by, I would make a game of trying to run to a fence post or a stop sign before the train got to the trestle. I did that all the time. I had a couple of close friends in grade school and we played a lot of games together. When they weren’t around, I would still play the games with them, but I would take their parts. I’d toss a ball up on the roof and stand where I couldn’t see it rolling back down, to make it harder to catch, and I’d take turns for each of us, and keep score. I tried as hard as I could each time. It wouldn’t have been fair otherwise.

Are these signs of some mental illness? Should I be worried?

Part of it is just the normal, healthy desire to compete, I suppose. Darwin would approve. And if there’s no one around for the contest, make someone up, or race a train. The practice keeps you sharp.

But what’s up with that bicyclist behind the tree trick? Do you think it means I have a subconscious desire to imprison people, or to send them off to other universes?

I don’t fantasize about sex much. I can call up an erotic memory with the best of them, but mainly they’re memories. I talk about sexual fantasy, little jokes all men share, more than I engage in it. But this business of racing something, or competing with an imaginary or even inanimate opponent, grabs me like a pretty woman and pulls me under.

It doesn’t happen all the time. I bike alongside a Cal Train most days, and the longing rarely stirs. It pops up randomly, unexpectedly, unconsciously. Suddenly I’ll be walking or pedaling faster, then sprinting. I always feel a little rush of elation if I win.

Sometimes I adjust the marker I’m racing to if I have no chance in the original contest, but a win in that case is not satisfying. It’s more like a training run. Practice for next time, whenever that might me. Whenever the little boy in me whispers "Go."

1 comment:

  1. Not only were you trying to keep the bicyclist hidden, you were also (probably unbeknownst to you) trying to keep yourself hidden. It's cool when we discover that if others are hidden from us, we're also hidden from them.

    Also, visually you were playing around with perspective, foregrounding.

    You don't really need metaphysical or psychoanalytic reasons to explain your desire to understand the visual presentation of the world in all its quirks. Unless you do.