The Four Corners of the World
I saw a strange thing the other day at the Department of Motor Vehicles where I was re-registering my scooter. I stood on the orange line, this, of course, being the longest line of the day every day for the past 20 years. I was about 4,000 people back, my headphones on my head, listening to Led Zeppelin’s The Ocean when this woman came up behind me pushing a baby stroller.
Inside the stroller, of course, was a baby; cute and dimpled as babies are. She looked Hispanic and so did her baby. For some reason I consciously connected the mother and the child. In my mind, I intertwined their beings making the baby part and parcel of the mother so much that it seemed somewhat odd that they were separate at all. I said to myself, looking at her, “that’s the baby’s mother.” Well, no shit. I smiled to the mother about the baby and she smiled back, knowing why I smiled, but not knowing when I turned away that I was saying to myself “sure glad it ain’t mine.”
Let me try to stay in a straight line here. Even this orange line seemed crooked, and this story isn’t one to be told out of order, unless you don’t get why I find it important to tell it at all. About twenty seconds after the Hispanic mama pulled in behind me in the world’s most interminable line, another stroller was rolled into the arena. This woman and her baby were proud African people, she wearing tight leotards and dangling earrings that made me think of totem poles and taboos for white people who might want to cause her grief. She was frankly very pretty, with soft round red lips that accentuated just right that little something that sometimes you see in women of color, that something in the eye that says that she’s got it all going on. Sometimes you see black women with eyes like this whose eyes are green and that sends you to another realm altogether.
I was thinking this when my tape skipped briefly and then stopped. I rushed to my cassette player and pulled out Zeppelin. It had only re-wound a little bit. Luckily I had a little Rush in the other pocket, Hemispheres, I put it in and forget about the black lady’s lips for a moment, turning completely around, facing the direction I was supposed to be facing. Before I turned around, though, I did get a glimpse of the baby.
He was looking at the little Hispanic baby, reaching out to it. The Hispanic baby just ate it’s own fingers. The black baby was a boy. It had a Chicago Bulls cap on. The other baby was a girl, dressed in a light yellow sweater with a plastic yellow bow glued on to her head, it had to be, because I didn’t see any hair on that toddler. Why I mention it is that apart from the color they both had this same sort of ability to correspond without speaking native only to the infant population of the world. Who cares, right? Let me finish.
It was interesting that two women had come in and stood right behind one another in line with babies. Interesting. But it approached fascinating when not a minute later a third woman came into the DMV and got in line behind the black lady, she too pushing a baby in a stroller. This one is just your average white girl, kind of overweight, the kind of girl you might think would be a welfare mom because of both her age and the stringiness and thinness of her hair, the kind of hair that teenage pot smokers grow. But she doesn’t look stoned or anything. Her baby is wearing a white bib with yellow stains all over it. There is still a little bit of yellow on his mouth. Peaches baby food apparently or apricot or some other gooey recipe that produces adequate and proper stools. You can tell this one doesn’t want to be here. The girl, the young mother, takes her place in line and sighs out as she looks ahead of her at the wait.
By this time the other two mamas had been making small talk, their babies still reaching out for each other. When the white girl came in both of them looked at her and smiled, obviously showing public amazement at this babyfest at the DMV. It was odd, I like to admit, the kind of thing that just for a moment renews your faith in mankind. Babies do that. They’re symbols of renewal. These mothers, I’m sure, felt a kinship with one another. They would go through the same problems at the same time for the rest of their lives because of these as yet infant people. Everybody in line was watching the spectacle of the baby parade. People from further up in line would chirp in comments to the mothers. The line, ten, eleven thousand people long, it seemed, collectively softened at the story being told by the presence of these mothers and their progeny. The line was disarmed briefly and, I admit, so was I. Here was a brazen accounting of the reason for existence forced together by a God who always seemed to be wanting to re-assure us that we are all his children. Now, truly, it seemed we could not deny it. But here’s the kicker…Just when the warm feelings had seemingly hit their highest pitch, in walked the last mother. She was a little Asian woman who pushed a little stroller with a little Asian baby that looked just like a bear cub. She nestled beside the white girl in line and the crowd was briefly hushed. Awe could be described as the emotion running through the group and rightly so. Here was a miracle. I, a true non-believer in just about everything, was standing right beside a miracle. Four infants in a row at the Department of Motor Vehicles. And there was more. We had almost every continent represented here, every color: black, white, yellow and brown. America had truly taken hold of what it had originally prescribed for its own health, to take in the poor of all lands so that each may find happiness and fairness within their day to day lives. This miracle was as much a testament to the foresight of the founding fathers in their belief that all men are created equal as it was a simple and beautiful coincidence which represented to me, and everybody in line, a disarming, a peacemaking sign given from, dare I say, on High. But then something happened.
When the Asian lady came into the line the other mothers naturally opened up a space for her, as if they had been waiting for her, so that within the boundaries of the blue rope the women and their carriages made a quaternity symbol no less impressive than that of the cross itself. Asia looked at Europe and Africa at the Southern American hemisphere. I strained my very brain to detect some symbolism in this thing that was happening which couldn’t already be explained just by looking at it. The Trees were blasting in my ears, Rush’s own rock symphony extraordinaire, and yet I could gather no more knowledge than what my eyes perceived. Then I remembered about a story I’d read concerning the four corners of the world, each assigned a color and a wind and in the middle of it all was an open space where I could only gather that the mixture of the four would materialize into a miracle or at least a symbol of some sort, one of, if not rescue, one of hope and salvation and acknowledgment for its accidental placement within the elements of direction, time and supernatural forces.
That’s the kind of thing that students of philosophy think about. That’s why they wear headphones in the DMV and crank Rush. Otherwise they just think too goddamned much for their own good. I turned down the music a little bit and listened to the ladies speak to one another. They chatted about this and that, how cute each others baby was, how many months. The black lady blushed a little bit when she asked the Asian lady where she got “him” his outfit. The Asian lady replied that “she” got her outfit at BabyLand. This chit chat lasted about five minutes. I had already turned around and had turned up the volume again. The ladies had settled in cozily. The black and Asian ladies and their babies were side by side behind the Hispanic lady and even the white lady a little bit. One of the strollers bumped up against my leg as the line turtled along. I turned and smiled, but didn’t want them to do it again. Next thing I felt was a little hand beating my calf. I turned around again, and smiled again, this time at the little white baby who was doing the pummeling of my extremity. Cute. Not. Then we moved a couple inches again when from behind me a roar was released, a primal scream and I turned around to see which one it was. It was the Hispanic baby. There was a red ring on her lap, one half of a pair of rings belonging to the white baby. Of course, the one baby threw the ring at the other and made it cry. Simple enough. Let it go. But the Hispanic woman was angry. She bent down and comforted her child while holding the ring in her hand. As she did so, almost as an afterthought, actually without seeming to think at all, she threw the ring back into the stroller of the white baby, quite hard I thought. Unfortunately, she somehow managed to make it a perfect shot right into the baby’s eye. The white baby screamed in pain and I got scared a little bit and moved forward out of the way on instinct only, not because I was afraid of being beat up by an infant. The white mother kind of looked like she was in shock. She hadn’t seen her baby throw the ring at the other baby. She looked like she couldn’t believe that someone would throw something at her baby. While she soothed her crying baby, she picked up the same ring and threw it, just like her darling son had done, back at the Hispanic baby. This sent the Hispanic mother rocketing. Her face went red with anger. I thought she was going to swing on the white girl, but she didn’t, but only because she didn’t have time. Her anger made her forget where she was at, in the confines of a line at the DMV. She took a step backwards, perhaps in preparation to accost the white girl, and made the mistake of forgetting that the Asian lady’s baby was right behind her. She stepped on the wheel of the stroller and I watched in amazement as she fell backwards, her butt landing inside of the carriage where the little Asian bear cub sat up staring sadly at the world. The Asian lady went nuts. She wasn’t waiting to find out why the Hispanic woman sat on her child, but instead started punching the back of her head with such vicious blows that I got sick to my stomach. The Hispanic girl, all she wanted was to get up off of the baby and beat up the white mother, but she couldn’t because by now the Asian lady was trying to pull a clump of hair out of her head easily two inches thick around. Finally, the Asian lady succeeded. Then she fell backwards past the black lady’s baby, but not without first accidentally kicking the black lady’s baby in the face with her foot. She held a clump of black, Hispanic hair in her hand. That’s a weird sight, you know? The Asian lady had nothing against the black lady’s baby, but the black lady, taking care to protect her own child, inadvertently placed him in harms way by pulling him back just as the Asian lady fell. It was a complete mishap that the Asian lady’s black sneaker kicked the infant in the head.
I looked at that little baby, its Chicago Bulls cap on his head, and it seemed that he looked at me for a second, asking me somehow whether now it was alright to cry. Of course, I thought it was, and a moment later he let out the biggest wail of any of the infants heretofore. Above his eye was a red and bloody gash. When the black lady saw this her face went ashen and she just turned and went for the Asian lady who was now flat on her back on the cold white linoleum of the DMV. She started punching on the Asian lady, hitting her and hitting her and then kicking her, but the Asian lady was full of surprises. She actually rolled about five feet to get away from the black lady and when she came back she kicked the black lady, full on Kung Fu, I shit you not, in the head, using some technique that seemed to allow her to kick twice with the same extension of the leg, once from each side of the foot.
I couldn’t believe it. It was something I’d only seen Jackie Chan do before. She was soon beating the living hell out of the black lady. I knew then that I had to do something. I had to stop it, but I was so much just in shock that I, like everybody else in the room, could do nothing but stare. I mean, this all happened in a matter of seconds. I turned my head and watched for a moment the white and Hispanic mothers rolling on the floor, the Hispanic girl’s ear in between the teeth on the jaw of the white mother. This was, undoubtedly, the second most vicious girl fight I had ever seen, just after the one I had watched ten seconds before. All four babies screamed at the top of their lungs. For a moment, a moment that I term a “moment of clarity,” just before I jumped over the rope and grabbed the white girl to keep her from ripping off the Hispanic girl’s ear, I realized that the baby strollers had all been turned in upon one another by sheer accident. The Asian mother’s baby had switched places with the white mother’s baby in line. The black mother’s baby had switched places with the Hispanic mother’s baby in line. All had been turned to face each other, each baby facing another baby across what I noticed was, once again, a true quaternity symbol. The odd thing that I noted was that I was standing in the very center of the four babies and that’s why I’m telling you this now. I need to understand what it means that I filled the center place, me, but all the babies were crying.