The Second of Three Valentines

This morning, I threaded my way through traffic to the dentists’ office, completely on my own, no offspring with me; sat myself down in the hygienist’s chair only to discover that it had been over a year and a half since I last showed up there. Apparently taking your children to the dentist religiously, slavishly, punctually to the dentist every 5.9 months does not, through some interesting osmosis, translate into clean teeth for Mom.

Just in case you thought otherwise.

Hygienist Sarah remedied that state of affairs and was even quite nice about it, conceding that I was in pretty good shape, all things considered (or rather, my teeth were).

That taken care of, I heighed myself back into traffic, tuning into AM 1690 (“The Voice of the Arts”) for the drive home.

AM 1690 used to be AirAmerica, and then it wasn’t, and then I stopped listening to it while I was driving, and then recently I found it again in a Come-to-Jesus moment occasioned by the fact that as I was fiddling with the car radio, they played “I’m Working for the Man,”

(Oh, well, I’m picking em up and I’m laying em down
I believe he’s gonna work me into the ground
I pull to the left, I heave to the right
I oughta kill him but it wouldn’t be right

Roy Orbison, 1970)

and since then, whenever I end up at the 1690 end of the dial, the dj’s playing a song by the Rondells or a rousing rendition of “Roumania, Roumania or something else that makes a perfect soundtrack for the movie-of-life.

Today being Friday, the song was “Roumania, Roumania, (they play it every Friday at a certain time) and the fact that the album it’s from is called From Avenue A to the Great White Way: Yiddish and American Popular Songs 1914-1950 tells you everything you need to know: klezmer music makes the six-lane stretch of Interstate 75/85 through downtown Atlanta downright cinemagraphic.

Previous posts long ago made it clear just how often I depend on the car radio for moments that transcend the mundane.

This morning, the sky was all wisps of blue and cotton batting. Laid out underneath it was the ornate strutwork of the city; the skyscrapers built the past few years already become such a stairstepping bar graph — charting what exactly?

Oh Atlanta, real honest-to-god cities laugh at your pretensions, wouldn’t even bother to call you a city at all. But I love the way your commuter trains trundle and clank, over asphalt that comes together and parts and merges, a clotted molten river, particularly during morning and afternoon drive-time.

Here in this sprawling southern city, life is mostly flicker and ebb we prefer to remain sealed off from in our cars: slag-heap and shanty, weeds and tattered plastic bags, even the elegant Tilt-A-Whirl of the buildings downtown and their chill, translucent spires, the looping trajectory of headlights sinuous around them like some welder’s arc-light.

Years ago, before children, I worked for a while in a law office downtown and took MARTA to get there. Every morning, the doors of the train parted and I stepped forward, hobbled by high heels and skirt. On the train, I swayed, half-asleep, always facing forward, moving toward employment I had to have but didn’t much like.

But once, an elderly man slipped back through the train’s automatic doors to rescue the glove dropped by a crying child onto the platform. Once, the car I stepped into was so still and hushed that it felt almost holy, seemed as full of silence as the pause and pulse of breath, drawn in, before a choir starts singing.

Oh, how did it happen, that I could feel so much for a particular city? That it could become home?