The joke goes that a guy’s sitting in traffic. He looks at all the other cars and says, where the hell are these assholes going?
I sometimes wonder if I have overactive mirror neurons. A music festival came through town and I sprinted from one venue to the next to catch whichever 15-minute sets sounded most appealing, dragging my friends along with me. Everyone had a crappy guitar that they used to play barre chords. The next week, I bought a crappy guitar and practiced barre chords for hours every day. I bought an amplifier that crackles when the volume is set below twenty-five percent. I bought pedals, several of them, to make the guitar sound like things other than a guitar.
I watch basketball, I buy a basketball, I tell myself I can go home after five consecutive made free throws. I go home anyways. I practice three-pointers and hurt my shoulder. I play four-on-four and it feels like my lungs rupture, filled up with too much smell of rubber ground into asphalt from balls and from soles, too much chain-link fence and double-rim and backboard without a square.
That muscle in my back hurts because it’s guarding, the therapist says. My ass and my core are too weak and this little vertical striation has picked up their slack. That I even know it exists is an indication of failure. I try to sit up straighter.
I roll the basketball around under my feet while I play the guitar. The barre chords hurt my hand. The high e string cuts into the fleshy part of my index finger like razor wire. I try to sit up straight, but then I can’t reach the pedals and the guitar just sounds like a guitar.
I read a book. I talk to someone at a party about tattoos. I tell my brother that I would be sad if a piano fell on his head. I roll the basketball around under my feet. I play the guitar. I tap my calluses on the surface of my laptop, listening for the faint click, and compare it to the dull thud made by the virginal fingertips of my strumming hand.
I read a book laying down so the muscle can get some rest. The book talks about Jews in New York City. I want to move to New York City, I tell my girlfriend, for Jewish reasons. I ask my mother, for the third time, if I might be autistic. Like the other times, she says that we would have known by now. I ask my father, for the first time, how to survive a pickup game. Play good D, hustle for rebounds. I guard, shuffling and running to stay in front of my man. I get five rebounds and I lob to the tallest player on our team.
I wonder what it would be like to be tall. I wonder where all these assholes are going, but I don’t wonder about their shooting percentage, the kind of guitar they have, how tall they are.
We would have known by now, my mother says. Hustle for rebounds, my father says. I would be sad too, my brother says. Jewish reasons, my girlfriend says. The guitar sounds like a guitar. My lungs catch fire the way blown truck tires smoke on asphalt. The razor wire makes calluses.
The year my aunt died, I called 911 twice. I called the police once. I pulled over to ask drivers if they were okay because their hazards were on. They told me they were just delivering food.
I go where the assholes are going. The muscle prepares to guard.