Excerpt from “Stray Passages”
A sleek, streamlined, swift-as-the-wind breed of dog.
A coughing, sputtering, wheezing, smoke-blowing mutt, prone to flea infestation.
I spent a great deal of my twenties canned inside the dank sweaty armpit of travel Americana: Greyhound. It was an essential part of my informal education. Whether due to economics, compromised self-esteem, brain damage (my mother, when pregnant with me, fell off a horse AND got into a car accident, though not on the same day) or ingrown romanticism: I wanted to be a flea, wanted to be among the fleas. I thought a flea-sized perspective was an important one to have, a great way of seeing and experiencing America. And I had always felt more innately flea than butterfly or wasp or scarab beetle. Sometimes I dreamed of becoming a firefly, lantern-lighting my way through all the gardens in Brooklyn at night, but that was just a dream. No, the life of a flea was the life for me. When I became a regular on Greyhound, I started thinking of us—me and the other regulars—as a migrant flea circus or traveling harem of parasites. You could scratch and scratch with long daggered nails, scratch until your skin was bloody and raw, and we might crumble and fall like fetal bits of mucus, but we’d be back. We were fleas in league with our durable distant cousins, the cockroaches. Cans of Raid and a Bic lighter, roach motels, kamikaze housewife slippers, toxic pellets—we would take it all in and keep ticking. We were, as my Depression-era grandmother used to say: immune to extinction.