The train pulled into Baltimore and I said excuse me, I get off here, and the guy in the next seat (who had been lost in deep deeper deepest reverie) said he was getting off also and started assembling his body, as one who feels Baltimore should be approached warily if at all.
I said look, we gotta move, the train doesn't stop long, and he said he was really amazed what an easy trip it was and he never would take his car again, the train was so nice and they had sold him some whiskey at the snack bar and all.
But I said look, let me push that tray back for you, and to spare the reader the general anxiety and horror of it all, I did get out the door a smidgen before it was on to Philadelphia forever. The other guy somehow managed to flow out and I looked back from the moving stairway to see him gazing like stout Cortez at what he possibly thought was the Pacific, and I said right then, -----, what a way to begin the day, for this was all going on at breakfast time and Baltimore still lay ahead of me.
I had what I presumed would be grievous business at a hospital and as I sat in a dingy hallway along with half the East Coast and a lady from Pakistan it was clear to me that man's true place in the cosmos (as distinct from what inspirational literature says) is to set out on the fifty-eighth of February in a Tibetan wind to crawl over a drunk and settle down in one of the ugliest hallways this side of Calcutta.
Well, said the clear small voice inside me, it beats being dead. Arguable, I snapped back, as one so often does to those still small voices inside.
But hark, the cosmos (and I hope that infuriating pronunciation, cos-mose, that they use on public television does not catch on, as so many barbarisms have: the word is KAHS-muss, of course) is not all chaos. Not all grim.
Astonishingly, for one who expects the worst with good reason, not being born yesterday, the business at the hospital was accomplished speedily and with joyful noise and there I was sprung free and lost on some beastly street called Broadway, as you might name some outpost in Utah Shalimar.
But along life's highway there is nothing for it but to forge ahead, unless you want to go broke with taxi bills, so after a few hours, loosely, I arrived at the Broadway Market where crab cakes spoke of a coming dawn and a coming spring and things seemed better, actually.
Behold the aquarium, a newish venture in Baltimore that costs $4.50 and -- you cannot be expected to believe this -- is worth it. WORTH IT. How rarely those words escape the lips of modern man.
How sweet the puffin is. One rarely sees the puffin in ordinary daily life. They are well-dressed fat little birds who make do on the rocks of Iceland (it turns out) and swim underwater indefinitely. The setting was gray and watery and cold and these little birds, without so much as a dormant rosebush in sight, were having the most beautiful time, like lambs in a spring meadow.
We who were on the wrong side of the glass peered silently, and wondered if a little zinc, a little riboflavin, a little K, would do it.
Go to the puffin, thou sluggard, and learn her ways.
The dolphins are not in the aquarium now. They are in Florida. They surpass even humans in intelligence, it is said. But in their place were sea lions. You can stand on a bridge and look down as they torpedo past.
But upward, upward. At the top is the Rain Forest Exhibit, where the temperature is higher than any rain forest I was ever in, but who's complaining.
I saw a lady in civilian clothes who said the thing flying around like a Brazilian cardinal was, in fact, a Brazilian cardinal. The gorgeous sub-turkey on the branch, resplendent in rosy orange, was a cock of the walk, and those little roots hanging onto the tree trunks for dear life are roots of orchids.
To linger in the roser aye and then never to pass away, as Chaucer more or less said, and I thought a cosmos has some merit that has such a rain forest in it with such gorgeous birds. They have motmots that are blackish but if the light hits them right are metallic blue. The ones in the Yucatan are green and on the whole handsomer, but then life is rarely perfect.
I descended, my head full of sunlight and paradise, to behold fishes eating from a bucket held by a diver -- an employe of the aquarium, I assumed, though it will be entertaining indeed if it turns out that Baltimore scuba divers just sneak in and feed the fish; like those burglars who show up with moving vans, nobody would think to question them.
The sharks were grand. One has always loved sharks. They get a bum rap from the vicious sort of human. There are places in the world that you can swim out and pat them on their heads without the least danger. (Try Isla Mujeres).
Fishes of coral reefs are so gorgeous you expect them to be dumb, but they are superb navigators and never run their Cleopatran barks aground. Some are the size of pancakes, and they barrel along at 30 miles an hour straight for a mass of rock, right by the aquarium wall. There is half an inch between rock and hard place. As in life.
But unlike life, they race through at full speed, clearing each side by a sixty-fourth of an inch. They have what seems to be a whole Caribbean to swim in, but they love to swim like hell through the tiniest clearance. You can stand a long time, a very long time, in wonder.
As one who loves the theater, and who is generally enthralled even by school productions of "King Lear" in which the eight-foot basketball star is doing his damnedest with the pitiful role of Gloucester, I would never say anything against the glory of live actors on a real stage. And yet, what drama we ever saw was the equal of the coral fishes -- big grin, eyes bright, muscles ready -- zooming through the rocks and hurricanoes, way to go.
Eh. Outdoors to late late lunch. I know a place where you get a big hunk of chicken in a nest of spaghetti and heaps of Grade A garlic bread for $3.50, and wild horses on bended knee will not get the address out of me. And on to Charles Street for the bus to the train station.
In Baltimore they move Charles Street many times a day. Man and boy I have never yet found Charles Street where my map says it is. But what if you miss the 5 o'clock train. By four minutes. This is man's destiny. One is not a coral fish. One often misses. The train is gone. Man's place in the cosmos.
So you catch the next one, and all the way back home you tot the verdict up, and are pleased to inform the universe the design is quite passable, actually. Especially the motmots in the sun, that part of it. If not Charles Street.