March 26, 2013

HUDSON: Rise of the Calloused Foot

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“No, no, you’re broke; save that money for coffee. Deal with it, Matt.” Fighting my way down North Meadow Street felt like taking right hooks from Ivan Drago, yet I somehow started laughing in spite of my frozen cheeks and brittle, stupidly gloveless fingers. Even as the wind whipped miniature hailstones and salt grains at me like a petulant kid flinging LEGOs at his mother, I was in crippling hysterics. “Good grief, you’re a cheap bastard, aren’t you.” With lips chapping in real time as the raw cold made a watery, tearful mess of my eyes, I must have looked every bit the overemotional drunk, casually stumbling down a major roadway three hours to midnight. The “joke” is that I saved 10 bucks on a cab ride to The Haunt. So all’s well, yes? Maybe.

Lost somewhere in my thoughts, probably caged up with a confused environmentalist and a half-eaten peanut butter sandwich from Shel Silverstein, there’s a whiny Luddite crying for an end to tech supremacy. “Buses bad, feet good.” Not much of a personal mantra, but it saves me $200 on a yearly TCAT pass and serves to illustrate a meager point: The truth does not resemble itself. Why is charity wed to tax incentives? Why is dolour such a beautiful word? Water erodes solid rock, Helga Pataki bullies Arnold and all existence is a massive paradox of surface and depth.

Regarding taxis and buses, the wisdom of convenience isn’t necessarily wise. Admittedly, in the land of eternal winter where the slopes are an algebra teacher’s wet dream, walking, much like the sky, is hardly bright. Yet I will never willingly board a local bus. Why? In part, paid transportation reflects a sort of cultural ambivalence; we spend not for but rather to expedite experiences, to pass over them with apathy and maybe an under-the-breath groan. On those exceedingly rare days when Ithaca is actually blue and not just a pared down, lighter grey locked in a losing battle with the sun, walking is pleasant. On those exceedingly common days when torrential downpours and hurricane force winds smugly remind me that I lost my umbrella during Sandy, it’s somehow still pleasant. The little Zen Buddhist meditating in the basement of my brain, perhaps not too far from the Luddite, would speak against the transient value of riding buses. “It is like tracing pictures on the surface of a river,” he might say, understanding that money is better spent on the composition of experience, of photographs that remind us “we were there” long after we departed.

Gingerly stepping away from “Gandhian anti-bus manifesto” territory, we may find a greater pattern knit into our cultural patchwork quilt. Opportunity has been fine-tuned into a commodity, bought and sold like oil, goat cheese and insufficient quantities of coffee beans. We pour money into novas like Coinstar machines, watching emptily and bleary-eyed as they pass us by with practiced stoicism. What we are left with is a receipt and a lost memory of things we missed, yet we foolishly continue to expect that throwing money at things will somehow make them meaningful. How lazy of us! Acquiescence is defeat, indolent and blasé. Experience, by marked contrast, is active and unstructured; it is a Sunday morning Doonesbury suddenly bleeding out of the panels and into the newsprint. Though only a letter apart, be not fooled! Expedience is not experience.

Naturally, fast food and public transportation are well justified. McDonald’s shamrock shakes are (magically) delicious, and the TCAT system is often necessary for those of us plagued with the grating regularity of distant uphill commutes. If life were a breakfast cereal, we’d likely call it Time Crunch (now with berries!), so the sacrifices made by glossing over well-cooked meals and hikes up East Buffalo may be worth it. But gorging ourselves (heh) on convenience often means missing things like expertly feng shui-ed flecks of parsley and gruff homeless men muttering slurred nonsense as they sip on long-empty cans of Budweiser. In the spirit of what I see as wisdom that appears unwise, then, I will continue walking. I’d rather feel the wind than watch it steal hats through a window on the 30 line, even if it means occasionally checking my nose for signs of frostnip.

(The beautiful irony, of course, is that I ultimately paid 10 bucks for my group’s cab ride home from The Haunt.)

Matt Hudson is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at mhudson@cornellsun.com. Red in the Face runs alternate Wednesdays this semester.

Original Author: Matt Hudson