You Are Here

You are here and there's a big blue dot on the glass-enclosed map to prove it, but you don't feel here at all.  You are, of course, standing in a mall, somewhere between a Buddy Squirrel Nut Shop, the scent of cashews wafting over you, and a Sun Coast Video, the latest superhero flick playing soundlessly on a screen behind the display windows.  A car crashes, a helicopter dips, citizens scream.  You look at the map.  You're still here, but not at all.

You get an invitation to your twentieth high school reunion but it's not really to you.  It's a mass e-mailing, instructing you to go to a website, the same website that culled your e-mail address in the first place.  You don't want to go to the reunion; you can't think of anyone there you'd want to see, but you feel compelled to go anyway.  You want a reason not to go, but you weren't picked on in school or ostracized or martyred for any reason.  All of your embarrassments are typical.  You don't like the $95 per person fee for drinks and dinner and dancing.  No poor people allowed, you guess, not that you're poor, but you think that's really putting the class back in class reunion.  Yet you're not a Marxist or even particularly economically aware as your Marxist sister would say, so you can't really work up a healthy outrage about that.  You still don't want to go.  But that's why you're in the mall, shopping for clothes, maybe even a new suit, one that says you're successful, a winner, twenty years later.  You hate the mall.  You're not.  A winner.  You are here.

You went to law school for your father, but now your father's dead and you wonder why you went to law school for a dead man.  Or maybe your wife is having an affair with the guy who delivers groceries to the shut-in next door.  Would that be too cliché?  But just because something is cliché doesn't mean it doesn't happen.  Your wife invites this guy into your bedroom, your bathroom, your laundry room, your kitchen with fair regularity.  He gets it more than you do.  The proverbial it, the italicized it.  (You are not here.  He is here.  Here being your wife.) Or maybe you're staring blankly at legal briefs in the afternoon while your wife is de-briefing the man who brings home the bacon, literally, to the shut-in next door.  Both could be happening; you don't have to choose.

You have a child who's ten.  Or six.  Or twelve.  A lot could happen in twenty years.  You coach little league baseball.  And soccer.  And field hockey.  This could be the East.  Or the West, in which case you don't coach field hockey, but you also don't surf, but want to, and look enviously at the young men with dangerous, carcinogenic tans and lithe girlfriends and think, I wish I could surf.  It would give you a reason to die of melanoma in the not-so-distant future.  In this life, this Eastern one, you could die of skin cancer and still not have surfed.  Not once.  You ruined your traitorous epidermis watching six-year-olds stumble around a green field, their hands jammed in their pockets or staring up at the sky and watching a lone crow dip and swing when they should have been chasing a grounder bouncing into center field or a slow, hiccupping kick toward an equally distracted goalie.  The sun is the same.  It burns.  But you don't have a lithe girlfriend who surfs.  Your wife is with you . . . well, on the sidelines at least, but she is ogling the charming man who works for Edward Jones.  She is thinking about black beans in a can.  The grocer has had that effect on her; sex and canned goods go together.

For some reason the thought of black beans makes you move, perhaps it's the lure of the Hispanic kids gathered at the arcade, their lilting Spanish prying you away from the mall map, and you amble toward the anchor store, its giant cursive B or Y or L or M glowing in the distance.  You pass the kids, black hair and blue denim and laughter that's a color that you can't quite name and they make you feel old, older than a man twenty years out of high school should feel.  Was it really that long ago that you had black hair and blue denim and multicolored laughter?  Yes, you answer.  Yes.  This discombobulates you just enough so that you feel the need to check the next mall map, ten feet in front of you, identical to the one you left in the north wing ten minutes ago.

You are here, it tells you, just like it should, its green dot positioned, praying, before the anchor store, its B or Y or L or M an idol for the supplicant dot.  But wait.  There's the blue dot you left in the north wing flickering on and off like a lightning bug, beeping luminously around the map.  It passes the green dot, unaware in its meditation, and the blue dot beckons you, like the can of beans, like the Spanish laughter.  You watch the dot as it leads, past the bookstore, past the novelty shop, and right out past the Gap.

This is the blue-dot-you who kissed the girl in your freshman year typing class, you know the one with the faint lisp and long legs who kept you from skipping though the teacher was a cur.  You should have kissed her.  The quick red fox jumps over the fence and gets the girl.  A girl immune to the charms of grocers.  "Thtop," she would have said.  "Thtop.  I love my huthband."

This is the blue-dot-you who went out for football despite your lawyer-father's fears of injury and lawsuits.  You sat at home watching television with your little sister, already engrossed in Das Kapital, and thought of the boys beneath the lights and the girls above in the bleachers.  This blue-dot-you scored touchdowns. 

The dot rolls on and you want to run behind it.  To a different school, to a new major, to living in the dorms one more year rather than sharing that off-campus apartment with the glue sniffer and the cockroaches.  This is the blue-dot-you who didn't go to law school or marry a girl you met on a blind date in Delaware or crash up your car coming home from one winter break while driving back from Delaware in an unexpected blizzard.  This is the blue-dot-you that already owns a handsome suit.  But not gray.  Or black.  Or brown.

You look down at the map.  You haven't moved.  The anchor store has drifted away.  The smell of cashews is as stifling and intense as the aroma of New Car which your wife insists you order at every car wash.  You can't afford a new car—you're still paying off the one your father lent you for that last trip to Delaware in your last year of law school.  You can afford New Car scent.

The blue dot hasn't moved.  You are here, it says.  But you can't stay here any longer.

Nearly running, you buy a new suit.  Gray or black or brown.  You find your wife.  You gently pry from her not-yet-middle-aged fingers the list of items To Order From the Grocer and tell her she must go with you.  Reunions are part of For Better Or For Worse.  They are under For Worse.  It could be worse.  You're not sure how.  But.

You arrive at the reunion.  There are many people there you don't recall.  They probably don't remember you.  They are in gray suits and blue dresses.  Their wives long for large pantries.  Their children sleepwalk through soccer.  Or field hockey.  This may be the East, this may be the West.  It doesn't matter.

You look up at the banner across the banquet hall.  The one that says Welcome, Class of 1988.  Or not.  Perhaps it says Welcome, All of You.  All of You.  You are here.  

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