you’re not in it
This sunset light is perfect, and I’d like to take a selfie, but I can’t, because I’m too self-conscious. Families have invaded Mellon Garden today. They’re like Biblical locusts, swarming all my usual haunts — the weeping pine, the fountain, the stone bench. Nearly all these families have already spawned, with one to four small children yelling unintelligibly and running circles around each other. Most have a non-kin supplicant or two trailing behind them with telephoto lenses and DLSR cameras and one or two squeaky stuffed toys to make the babies laugh. I’m sitting on a bench as far from the families as I can get, but they’re like chicken pox or bed bugs — they spread.
I’m not normally this anti-people. I don’t normally compare family to diseases and children to insects. But right now, I’m irritated and rushed. I have had a hard time getting to the park this session, as I’d been out of town for Thanksgiving until just a day or two ago. I’m rushing now — I have six hours to write this blog post, six hours to get to the park, get inspired, and get something out of me. On the plus side, today is gorgeous, a brisk 60 degrees on the second of December. The sun is setting, already hidden beneath the walls of the garden, but the light it gives is pure burnt marmalade. Virtually every other time I’ve come to the park, it has been empty, and I was looking forward to a nice hour of alone time, licking the marmalade, decompressing, and thinking.
That dream crashed as soon as I neared my northwestern entrance. A family had installed themselves near my weeping pine, strollers and diaper bags and dolls marking their territory as clear as borderlines on a map. I walked past the family — a mom, a dad, four or five children, and a photographer or two trying in vain to get the perfect Christmas portrait — and used my powers of telepathy to tell my weeping pine that I’d be back to say hello. In the meantime, I told myself, I’d sit by my fountain and let the running water soothe my soul.
Nope. As soon as I turned the corner, I noticed the fountain had been turned off. As I got closer, it was even worse — it had been drained! I don’t know why, if they drain it for the winter or if this is temporary, for repairs or maintenance. Or, I thought to myself, for photography, as the drained fountain has become props on which various photographers have strung various children. I sat nearby and almost immediately a photographer scowled at me — I was in her shot! I picked myself up and moved to my current location, a bench a bit farther down the path.
I’ve been sitting here now for over a half hour, just watching and waiting. More and more families have come; if one leaves, two appear to take its place. I feel just as I felt a few weeks ago, when tiny black ants invaded my entire apartment. I’d go into a room, think “There are no ants here!” and turn my head to find a line of them marching across the wall or just underneath the area rug or along the rim of the toilet. Now, the ants are families and they’re on the fountain and in the gate and rolling on the ground. It is nice, I grant you, to see so many people enjoying a beautiful park whose lack of use I’ve often questioned, but I really needed today to be about me, to have it to myself, to commune, to be in it.
A new family and their photographer swings around the gate and stops just a few feet to my left. Their children are playing with each other, the young girl giving her younger brother piggyback rides. “That’s cute, go down there and walk up the path like that!” the photographer says. I am sitting on a bench that borders the path. “Should I move?” I ask. The photographer considers, hesitates, business acumen and human politeness clearly warring behind her eyes. “No, I don’t think you’ll be in the shot,” she says at last. “I’ll just move down here,” I say, and I get up and move to the other end of the bench, farther away from the piggybackers. “Thank you,” she says. She starts clicking before the smile has even left her face.
A few minutes later — still no inspiration, still just agitation with a bittersweet undercurrent of joy in the beautiful day — a new family and their photographer flit to the path by my bench. They must have seen the piggybackers and liked it — they want to walk, the whole enormous family, up the path together. They start. They look like zombies in The Walking Dead, but the photographer thinks they look great. “You look great!” she says through the clicks. They’re getting closer and closer, closer and closer, and I start to panic. “Should I move?” I ask, perhaps too frantically. “No,” she says, not even pulling away from the camera, “you’re not in it.”
And she’s right. I’m not in it today. Or it’s not in me, perhaps. I’ve let my expectations tarnish a beautiful day. I’ve always been a materialist, but usually with books or movies, not parks, and yet I’m possessive, I’m angry that other people are here. The marmalade light is gone, but I take a few selfies anyway, perhaps to thumb my nose at the families or to alleviate my feelings of guilt over my unhappiness at having to share, or perhaps because I’ve been talking to some guy on Grindr and need a new photograph to show him, and I’m in a blue hoodie and his favorite color is blue and the hoodie brings out my eyes, which are also blue. Who knows. But I take my few selfies and I leave.