flâ * neur (n.)

Keith Wilson, “Desire Paths,” 2017 [courtesy of the artist]

Carless in Atlanta, I walk no place aimlessly.

Put another way:

Seldom do I meet the strict definition of flâneur. Instead, I stride purposefully, always, to the library, to MARTA, to le Krogér. My neighbor, T., stopped me the other day, he with his cane and characteristically asymmetrical gait, me with fresh groceries and speed. “I used to be like you,” he said. “Racing everywhere …. One day I stepped off [a bus] and,” gesturing at his own temple, “I felt a pop.”

“Stroke?” That ending I simultaneously dread, expect, and invite. A cerebral hemorrhage essentially killed my mother right in front of me. Memories of that episode tormented me for years, until it occurred to me that she got the death she always wished for: out on the town, among loved ones, having a good time. She was walking away from me in a Peachtree Street restaurant when she suffered her own pop. Fell, dragged down a tablecloth with her. As I gathered her in my arms, I saw the asymmetry of her features and knew what was happening. She touched my cheek and lost consciousness. Days later she was gone.

T. nodded. I replied that science says fast walkers live longer. I did not reply that my pace in no way impedes the thing that slows me down: call me a trashure hunter, or perhaps a guttersniper. My practice as a bricoleur involves assembling objects, in Lego fashion, from parts coming mainly off the streets of an automutopia where, daily, people seem progressively less capable of responsibly operating a ton or two of hurtling metal and plastic. Thus the muto– part of that last portmanteau. Like magic, foolhardy Atlantans transform their vehicles into my art supplies. And despite the serious erosion of my near focus, my once-20/10 vision still lets me discern errant washers, fallen brackets, sheared sheet metal, coppable copper wire, all long since freed from their demolished mobile housings.

Because my mother, a dancer with an extraordinarily playful mind (not to mention a prankish nature [Okay, sometimes a taste for cruelty: my mother, a public schoolteacher, nicknamed me “Special Ed”; to teach me orthoepy, she’d open the family dictionary to its front endpaper and there write down phonetically my mispronunciations—manglings including ob seez’ for obese, boe tay’ nist for botanist, and veh’ low sip ih dee for velocipede.]), walks with me until my own possible infarction, I move through nonstop language soup. I call one kind of assemblage I commit perjunction, percussive musical instruments made from junk. One day, heading home across the LaTonya Martin Memorial Bridge and scratching some length of found metal against the inner wall of that overpass, the sound I made gave me the title for a previously constructed but still unnamed perjunction piece. “Harsp,” I said, mashing up harsh, harp (the assemblage’s vague shape), and rasp.

The flâneurs of yore idled about, a luxury I now lack. But I had it for a time. For years I lived, foolheartily, on my 401(k)—despite being of pre-retirement age—as I outpaced other West End residents, and fell behind serious-minded savers, yet I missed almost nothing that could be repurposed, recycled, revivified. I enjoyed a lively “retirement,” during which I could walk now to play (sculptor) later, whether with scrap or with morphemes.

Now, I must once again walk to work.