Betrayed Restlessness

(MacArthur Bridge over the Mississippi River, south of downtown)

The train crawls onto the bridge. I can hear the live music echoing from the Beale and the Oyster Bar, rising above the low rumble and hiss of the freight cars. Soon the train is rolling east over the Mississippi, high above, mesmerizing, peaceful, ancient, one of the last living dinosaurs of the American landscape. And me riding on its back, a tiny, reverent parasite, a cartoon character adrift in a comic-book country.

Why am I riding this coal car? To see the Mississippi River from this perspective. But the enterprise is also life-affirming, momentarily burning away those weak but ubiquitous antagonisms that haunt life like burlesque but boring ghosts. I feel the quickened heartbeat that reminds me I'm fully alive, not just half-alive -- not just a sleepy halfwit caught in the cogs of a meaningless life. That I'm awake, and that my minutes are fleeting and numbered, and for a moment I feel outrageous and even stupid, but at least I'm aware, paying attention, experiencing everything with unusual vividness, cognizant of the miracle of breathing, drinking water that tastes better than the best Spanish wine.

But tucked into the folds of my elation I sense an inexplicable reservoir of depression. The aftertaste of the tragedy of desire, maybe, or betrayed restlessness, because for every intense high there is an inescapable low, and the fall always comes hard.

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