Last Saturday global warming arrived in Northern Virginia. It was beautiful. The skies were clear. Birds were chirping. Old motorcycle geezers with braided pony tails puttered up and down the Toll Road.
We knew the signs were false — spring was weeks away — but who cared? Obeying an irresistible impulse, suburbanites abandoned their houses and walked, jogged, sprinted, biked, hiked, sauntered, tramped, and otherwise moved briskly forward in an outdoors setting: men and women, young and old.
Briefly, I joined the parade. My life is a series of chores, mostly dictated by my children. Saturday after lunch, I drove the middle son to his clarinet lesson. While I’m not sure he actually dislikes these lessons, I’m not sure he likes them, either. It’s just something we do. I drive, he toots. Soon enough he will get his license, and he’ll be able to both drive and toot. But not yet.
Near the tooting place, there’s a bike trail, one of many maintained by a wise local government for just such an emergency as this. Without the trails, people on warm sunny days would just rumble off in any direction, destroying everything in their path like Godzilla. Instead, they head for the trails, where damage is minimal. All they can destroy is themselves.
Who can resist? Off I trundled toward the slender patch of green.
The entire population of the county seemed to have gotten there ahead of me. Lovers walking hand in hand. Sweaty joggers with musical headsets. Prim middle-aged women holding bottles of mineral water. Kids riding kiddie bikes. Normal people riding normal bikes. Giant mutants lumbering on behemoth bikes.
All were amazingly polite. All nodded and mumbled “Hi” to a stranger. All said, “On the left,” when they came up from behind and passed, invariably, on the left.
One might think — I reflected — that all those artists and intellectuals who accuse the suburbs of soul-murdering conformism were right, despite my protestations. I mean, there we were. So many of us. For the same reason. Doing the same thing. I didn’t much feel like murdering my soul, true, but I did have a sneaking desire to slap it around to see if it was still there.
Then I saw it: a mancow. It occupied a space a few feet in front of a footbridge, and it seemed to be orating with much vigor toward a couple of jogger-walkers whose faces expressed as much uncertainty as I, at that moment, felt. The mancow had the face of a man: not a young man, not a thin man, but a chubby bearded grizzled man, inside the body of a mottled Holstein milk cow. It stood on two feet, remarkably like a (roundish, stooped-shouldered) man, but with a large pink udder sticking out below the belly region.
“Those commercials cost $80,000,” the mancow exclaimed while I walked past.
I understood. It was a dissident creature. A non-walking, non-jogging, non-biking nonconformist. The mancow was indifferent to exercise and to the warmth of the sun on a clear March afternoon, but it cared deeply about other things. Its black and white hide was pierced with large buttons upholding many causes. The only one I saw clearly was pink, and said “Cancer.”
I turned around quickly, to get a second look. The audience had vanished even more quickly. Behind its gray beard, under its curling horns, the poor thing looked discouraged. It shouldn’t have been.
The mancow was a refutation of the libel of suburbia. It did not resemble me or thee, inside or out, yet there it was on the bike trail, bizarre but in its own way magnificent. Was such an oddity ever found among artists or intellectuals? Surely not: the mancow was too harmless, too homely, far too devoid of irony to be favored by the articulate classes. It could survive only on plain suburban air.
Because of the excitement, I was late returning. My son, having tooted his last note, seemed to be meandering down the sidewalk. He’s a serious type, but there was a smile on his face. Why not? It was a warm sunny day, though it was still winter.