VOICES — 'America, Trees & Self-Driving Cars'

(EDITOR’S NOTE— 1120 Press is pleased to present three exceptional essays by Patrick Reynolds: ‘Amyrica,’ ‘The Tree Ceremony’ and ‘No More Presents.’ These pieces mark the fourth installment in the 1120 Press ‘VOICES’ series, which aims to give writers from all walks of life the opportunity to be heard. A Buffalo native, Reynold is a writer, author and marketing executive. After living in Boston for 20 years, he recently moved back to his hometown and now enjoys not having to commute 90 minutes one way by car, ferry and foot to his office each day. See more of Pat's work at buffaloreynolds.com )


AMYRICA


There was a little old Jewish lady who lived down the hall and was kind to me as a child.


We went to Canada often to visit relatives. We’d stop for Chinese near the border. Canadian Chinese is a favorite.


I have a great friend who is black, gay, and looks exactly like Kermit the frog.


Food I’ve had in the North End of Boston is better than most I’ve had in Italy.


A close family friend from Germany became a nationalized citizen yesterday.


A colleague brought Mooncakes to work for the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival.


My son has a Mormon friend at his Jesuit school.


A neighbor was born in China, raised in Germany, and now speaks Mandarin,

Cantonese, German and English.


Our parish priest is damn near a scratch golfer.


My mother loves all things Irish. And the Queen.


Chicago’s Greek Town can do magical things to a lamb. PETA forgive me.


I have Jewish friends who like ham & cheese, oyster shooters, and weed, not necessarily in that order.


We had a black president. For eight years. And there was, for some time, a leading candidate to replace him that was a geriatric socialist Jew from Vermont.


I like it here.


This is America.


In some places, particularly Europe, the people are a part of the soil almost like crops. Here, other than the Natives, we’re all foreigners. The land isn’t sacred. It’s just what we stand on. We’re all interlopers.


What being “American” is changes with the generations, if not the seasons. There is no constant. It’s always changing shape, color, and tone. If you don’t like it, wait a minute until it changes.


The idea that there’s a white Christian America is bunk. It’s a melting pot. It’s the whole world put in a blender and served straight up. Grasping to what never was is the new definition of insanity. Folks have been passing through the turnstiles from the beginning and that won’t stop.


And that’s what’s so cool. There aren’t two parties. There’s a million going on at once. Check one out. Loosen up a little.


* * *


THE TREE CEREMONY


Trees have always been taken for granted, while dogs that howl and growl are celebrated, perhaps rightly so.


One of many, often seemingly unremarkable, literally “wooden,” there’s a belief that trees will always be there and an indifference if they’re not.


Until they’re gone.

When great trees fall,

rocks on distant hills shudder,

lions hunker down

in tall grasses,

and even elephants

lumber after safety.

When great trees fall

in forests,

small things recoil into silence,

their senses

eroded beyond fear.

— Maya Angelou


Sometimes trees, like all things, fall, whether hit by lightning, crashed into by another, or succumbing to the mange of old age. Then we feel their absence where we once missed their presence.


So as we plant a new tree to commemorate another, don’t merely take in this event as high symbolism. Make it literal, practical, physical. When lost in the memory of the one that’s gone and feeling this grey malaise will be ceaseless and unchanging forever, look at this green tree. See how its base grows bigger, its canopy wider, its leaves more numerous and brilliant with the years.


As the years go on think, “I climbed you to elevate my mood and to reach for a former self. I swung from your strong limbs to launch myself forward against gravity. I huddled under your great arms to stay dry. I leaned against your solid base for support and rest. I even gathered the leaves you scattered and secretly enjoyed the fresh air and toil.


When a tree falls it’s not because it doesn’t care anymore or because we didn’t care enough. It simply is.


But do look out for it as well as at it.


The only regret one should have is that you enjoyed it too little, assuming it would always be there. Or you saw this tree as stock-still and inanimate. It was full of life— and it should not take death to fully realize that.


So as one tree fell another was planted not to replace it, but to raise it up. No one will ever look at this tree and not see the one it’s blessed to share common ground with.


* * *


NO MORE PRESENTS


I’m no better than anyone else.


I walk through the streets, headphones on, same as all the rest. We may as well have fish bowls on our heads like astronauts outside their spacecraft. The only thing that makes me better, if only by the breadth of a hair, is that I’m not texting while walking. I’d like to say it’s some sense of decorum that prevents me, but it’s probably just a fear of walking into something or someone. I confess to succumbing to frustration at times and not deviating course from someone clearly incapable of staying on one.


“Uncouth buggers,” I think, dipping a shoulder gently but with purpose.


“Sorry!” they say cheerily, eyes never really looking up.


I don’t even like to take calls on my cell in public places let alone text. I end up talking very low and feeling like some shut-in, heavy-breathing phone-sex addict. My equivalent of “what are you wearing” is “how long will that take and how much will it cost?”


Subtle distinction.


I ducked into a bar at the airport not long ago. I sat down, ordered a drink, and while the barman was making it I pulled out my phone and checked to see if my flight was on time. This kind of app is one of the few redeeming characteristics of modern mobile technology, I find.


After tapping a few things and learning I was on-schedule, I caught a glimpse of an older gent sitting next to me with one stool in between.


He was subtly shaking his head disapprovingly.


I knew what for, but I wasn’t! I swear! I was just checking my flight, not Snapchatting or checking in or some such thing.


“It used to be that when you went to a bar you went to actually strike up a conversation over a drink.”


Nothing more needed to be said. This was an argument I couldn’t win. I put my phone in my pocket with great ceremony — like lowering a casket slowly and sacredly into the ground for internment.


We spoke for the better part of half an hour. He was an eccentric, possibly lascivious, definitely alcoholic, and obviously well-to-do. He had flown up to Boston from the Vineyard so he could have dinner at this club, spend the night in one of its rooms, and then fly home tomorrow. I gathered he did this weekly and whenever the mood struck him.


This is my moral beacon.


Just last week I was in the barber shop. It’s a typical four- or five-chair place. The youngish, perhaps-early-thirties guy next to me is texting the entire time. His arms were well outstretched, low toward his knees so no hair would sully his phone. The barber occasionally tried to make conversation with him. Most times the customer never even looked up.


“Yeah. Yeah.”


“Shall I shave off your eyebrows?”


“Yup. Yeah.”


That didn’t happen. I wished it would have.


As I’m watching this unfold, his barber and I catch eyes and exchange little rolls. It was at this time that I became aware that my own barber had said something to me that I completely missed, so engrossed I was in the terrible texter beside me. Pulled into his insidious vortex of hell.com.


And now Google piles on with the cruelest cut of all — self-driving cars.

I need a self-driving car like a fish needs a self-driving bicycle.


Driving is one of the rarest of occasions when one can be — and should — be present. But now Google wants to take this ‘present’ back.


No more hearing the engine wind as the gears climb toward changing before falling into a lower rumble. No more eyes canvasing the terrain (whether to behold it for all its beauty or to guard against Big Wheels or small dogs). No more stereo cranked up. No more singing full throat in your own little leather appointed sound room. No more sun in the face or wind in the hair.


Great. Soon we’ll be hurdling “forward” in the Jetsonsmobile at the speed of (yellow) light.


I’m no Zen Buddhist. I’d rather eat bees than listen to Eckhart Tolle drone on. But there is more than a little truth to the idea of interconnectedness. And the more we let having “friends” on Facebook supplant getting together with our friends, the worse we’ll be. The more we Snapchat and less we chit-chat over coffee, the more isolated we’ll continue to become.


Alas, that genie, I fear, is out of the bottle and into the cell phone, and we will continue to move amongst other people but never actually with them.


We’ll know the joy of arriving, with no idea how we got there.