The Reading

The Reading

There is a cool independent bookstore by my house, and one night, they held a reading by several local authors. I recruited some people, and we attended.

Now, it's important to know that while I love writing and reading, I don't love poetry. Not like I think it shouldn't exist, but like, I don't get it. My mind wanders when I hear poetry. When I read it, my eyes just sorta skim the words.

I thought this was a reading of prose, but mostly it turned out to be two hours of poetry. Which was fine. Had I known that was going to occur, I probably wouldn't have gone, but by the time I realized what was happening I was too far in to back out. So I got to do something I normally would never do. Sit down and listen to live poetry, which was actually really great.

And it should also be noted that I work for an entity that loves traffic cones. This entity uses cones all the time, for everything. A giant sink hole? Put a traffic cone in it. Something's closed? Cone it off. A hazard that really should be actually dealt with? Let's just throw some cones up and never move them. What's the worst that could happen?

In fact, one day I got called into work at 4:00 am. It was raining and dark, and when I finally made it back home, it was still rainy and somehow even darker than when I had left my house. I parked my car and stepped into a hole which had been in the middle of the road for as long as anyone could remember. In the daytime the hole was marked with a cone that had been there for so long, it was covered in tar. Yes, they had resurfaced the road without fixing the hole or even bothering to remove the cone from the hole while they did the resurfacing.  The cone was black, nowhere close to reflective orange, and part of its top had been lopped off, making it only just stick above the lip of the hole. It was nearly invisible in the day, and on this dark, foggy pre-dawn morning, it was nothing by a figment of a bad idea. Upon twisting my knee, I found myself engulfed in pain and rage, and I hurled the cone into the nearby woods before limping to my front door.

Later that morning, I called the road guys. One of them came to my house. I asked him fix the f'ing hole that they had just been re-surfacing around for years.

"We can't fix it," he said. "But it's fine, we put a cone in it."
And I said, "Why can't you fix it?"

He told me because there was a water pipe they needed access to, and the hole was how they accessed the pipe.

I said, so why don't you put a manhole cover over the hole so you can still access the water pipe?

And he told me the hole had been there for years, and the cone worked just fine to mark it.

To which I replied, "The cone does not work just fine, I almost blew out my knee in the hole, and... The cone is missing."

The road guy, eyes wide, looked at the hole from which I had excised the cone a few hours prior. He realized the cone was indeed missing, or so he thought. Really, the cone was visible from where we stood, but since it was black with tar and age and half of it was missing, the guy could not make out the cone from the shadows of the bush under which it was lodged.

"Well, I guess we just got to get another cone," he told me.
To which I said, "Do I need to sue to get the road patched to the level that is consistent with modern technology and safety standards? It can't be that big of a deal to slap a manhole cover on there. It's what the rest of the world does for this exact sort of thing."
He said, "Would you really sue?"
I said, "Do I need to? My knee hurts reeaaaaaal bad."

He considered this, clearly worried and annoyed, and then left. An hour later he came back and slowly, painstakingly, like a kid told he couldn't leave the table until he ate his broccoli, installed a manhole cover. For what it's worth, it took him the entire day, so hooray for getting paid by the hour.

But I have digressed. So, I'm at this poetry reading, ages away from this manhole v. cone drama, realizing I'm in for two hours of poetry, when this poet begins to read a poem about visiting a place I've where I've worked.

My mind is somewhat paying attention when she begins to describe traffic cones. Then everything sharpens. Her verse crystallizes. And she doesn't just touch on cones once. She describes orange plastic cones in so many articulate ways I am rapt with attention, shaking my head in frustration and laughing with joy at having finally been seen.

The cones that haunt me also gnaw at others! I think back to that stupid black cone. It stayed under that bush until I moved. At my new house, my friends came to visit me. After concluding their trip and driving back home, they called me and told me to look into my front yard. There it was, that crippled black cone, sitting by my fence. They had gathered it up from under that bush and driven it nine hours to me.

When I moved from that house, I left the cone. It hasn't made it back to me yet, but I worry it's a ghost, a boomerang of sorts, and if I just wait long enough I'll open my front door and it'll be there, listing, its top and edges missing, covered in tar, dull and sagging, just a constant reminder that it'll never stop eating at the fringes of my mind.

After the poetry reading, I approached the poet who spoke so eloquently about my nemesis. I told her I worked in the place she described, and I didn't miss the look of panic on her face as she realized she was about to have a conversation with me. The poem wasn't flattering, and she probably thought I was going to contest its accuracy. Instead, I told her I loved the poem, and I wanted to know how I could get a copy.

A beat passed, and she smiled. She told me she would email me a copy. I thanked her, and let her talk to some other of the reading attendees.

Maybe embracing the cone is the way to let go of it.