So, it's the middle of the day and I'm buzzing up College Street in Lewiston. For one reason or another (I may not get enough fiber in my diet), I had an out-of-body experience like you read about. For a span of perhaps 4 minutes, I seemed to be floating over the world, watching instead of actively participating in it.
There. Huddled at the end of a sprawling field, a crew of Central Maine Power guys in suits and windbreakers milling around a pickup truck. They're looking at charts, talking on cellphones, pacing back and forth on the wet ground. These are the people who come in ahead of the monster machines with all their monolithic equipment. They are the largely unseen folks who bring us the power and quietly enhance our culture of convenience.
Across the street, a mailman is sitting in his truck, pausing in his rounds to chat with an older woman in a gardening hat. She has taken a considerable stack of envelopes from him and now they are joking about it. Can't you bring me anything but bills, Lou? Sorry, Mildred. Don't shoot the messenger. And they laugh. Together, they are the very picture of neighborhood cordiality; wee pieces of the community we all know and sometimes love.
A pair of young women are jogging up the side of the street. They aren't talking to one another but they move with a synchronicity that is almost eerie. Their faces are flushed and determined. They are in the zone, part of the culture of fitness that is always there in one form or another. Joggers, bikers, gym freaks, the Zumba people ... every one of them contributing to their own longevity and, at the same time, to the zeitgeist.
A sports car whizzes by, windows shaking with bass from the stereo. Inside sit a pair of teenage boys, all brooding and sullen, glowering at everyone and everything. They aren't doing much — might even be up to no good — but just by being young and moody, they give generously to the zeitgeist.
The ratty man scrounging for bottles and cans at the side of the road? He's part of it. So is the old fellow standing on his freshly mown grass and staring at the house he built himself 45 years ago.
The young mother talking on her phone while pushing a kid in a stroller? Breastfeeding the zeitgeist.
The lonely, gray-haired widow staring from her window, hoping one of her kids might stop by today? All alone and giving to the zeitgeist.
Same with the cop in his cruiser, and the daylight burglar busting into a garage. Good and bad, man and woman, young and old. All part of the Lewiston zeitgeist and to the greater zeitgeist beyond it.
It's from the Germans, you know. The same people who brought us schadenfreude and gesundheit have given us this word that is somehow both grandiose and stupidly simple.
At its essence, it means "the spirit of the times," and it's not something you can see with your own eyes unless you happen to be whizzing by at 50 mph and experiencing a discorporate revelation-slash-epiphany-slash-hallucination.
It really grabbed me, whatever it was. It was like seeing this "spirit of the times" in naked glory. The zeitgeist revealed, for a short time only.
Walnut Street in the roiling bowels of downtown Lewiston. Crack dealers and daytime drunks. The terminally unemployed, the tattoo aficionados, the gangstas from lower New England. That twinge of fear you feel when you walk down there is a part of the zeitgeist. So is the sad, bloated face of addiction and the sleazy dramas of the 'hood.
On another block lives a young mother of three who's breaking the welfare cycle by taking night classes and working three jobs. There's a teenager who bought a used guitar at a pawn shop and who spends 12 hours a day writing songs.
Cops and crooks, lawyers and lechers, politicians and poets. Bits and pieces of the zeitgeist, every one of them.
For those minutes out of body, I saw the world as a visitor from another planet would see it. Earthlings, I thought. We're at once disgusting and boring and beautiful. And this wide view brings perspective. Mugged on your way to the gelato shop? Zeitgeist. Daughter run away with a graffiti artist with more piercings than he has brains? Spirit of the time, my friend, as inescapable as gravity.
We think we're unique, sometimes, in our little corner of the planet. But go to Moscow or Trinidad or Slobovia and you'll find the same people doing the same things with the same attitudes. All part of a lesson I learned while spending several minutes out of body. Maybe the universe was trying to tell me to spend more time watching and less time fretting. Maybe it was showing me what my own contribution should be to the global phenomenon that is the zeitgeist.
Or maybe I should just eat more fiber and keep my eyes on the road.
Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. When he's not riding the ley-lines over Lewiston, he answers email at firstname.lastname@example.org.