The Pleasures of TravelThomas Beller
I traveled to a room in another town in order to see a box of letters. But I didn’t open the box. I just sat there in the room where they make you wash your hands before entering, one table away from the box, writing. The world had fallen away during that time. I was lost in the work. Then I took the train back to New York and called my friend Jonathan in a state of anxiety. He had gone to Princeton, and had taken this same trip many times, so he knew what I was looking at out the window.
By the time I saw the tunnel it was dusk. A bright cold day coming to a close. My friend had talked me through the scenarios of what might happen next. Now we had reached a plateau. We were in a mode of equilibrium. The skyline of Manhattan was in view, lit by the setting sun behind me.
And so our talk turned to NBA basketball. The mood became bit somber but eager, like we had a problem we had to work out. (This mood might be specific to Knicks fans.) We started with the Knicks, touched on the Nets, and the Lakers, who were in a state of collective agony.
“I just want you to know we are approaching the mouth of the tunnel going under the river,” I said.
“Ok,” he said.
“It’s like a bunker. The entrance of the tunnel looks like a fortified bunker.”
We had been talking about Dwight Howard and how he has been impacting the Lakers team.
“Obviously the back is a problem,” I said, “besides the chemistry with Kobe or whatever else.”
“Yes. He’s not all the way back from surgery. His back is bothering him. But I have a theory.”
“We’re coming towards the tunnel’s entrance. Just so you know,” I said.
“Okay,” he said.
“You know this moment? The skyline up ahead. It’s getting hit straight on, and where I am it’s already in shade, getting dark. Up there it’s like, Civilization.”
“My theory is that all back pain is about anger,” he said. “It’s suppressed anger.”
“Oh my God!” I practically yelled. “That is a hilariously dark theory. Think of all the people with back pain who will upset at you for saying that.” I laughed. “Oh, we just went into the tunnel. Are you there? Jonathan?”
There was a feeling of rushing. I was descending. In a moment we would be under the Hudson river. But the feeling was the opposite -it felt like I was ascending back up to the surface of my life. I had called my friend in the bright sibilant light of mid-afternoon, and now I was going under the river and it was all blackness. I felt much clamer. His calm voice, was clearer in my mind for having been interrupted.
I haven’t talked to my friend since. Haven’t even written him. In fact this whole piece is like a thank you note to him and an explanation for being out of touch. I had to get that conversation down, that moment–the sudden abrupt plunge into the black mouth of the tunnel while I laughed at what he had just said, a laugh which he may or may not have heard.
I had been watching the mouth of the tunnel as the train made a long, arcing curve towards the point where the tracks vanish into its dark mouth. I watched it get closer and closer. Nevertheless, it came much faster than I expected.