The other day, my friend and writing buddy, Lakewood legend Joe Boyle, sent me a photo to inspire the next round of Double Takes. He described it as “stairs to nowhere” – now, anybody who knows me will have a hunch that I immediately came up with a contradictory reaction. Because there is nothing that is more aimed to get you somewhere than stairs.
Remember those childhood days, when any staircase was worth exploring? Even if the place they led to were just attics to dry your laundry in? Funny that I never felt the same about stairs that went down, such as into the coal cellar or the potato cellar. These days we might think about ascending or descending stairs twice. It’s not so much about the excitement of spending energy on rushing up and down, but about contemplating whether we might waste it on an adventureless place. Doubtless, as a kid I would have run up and down the stairs in Joe’s photo. Now, seeing there is just wasteland where they lead, I will let my thought wander what might have been at their end at one time. So, the stairs that lead nowhere actually lead into the past. Into the “Once there was …”
There are other stairs that seem to lead nowhere accessible. I’m not thinking of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”; to be honest, I don’t get the lyrics, and so the attempt at an interpretation leads me nowhere.
What I’m thinking of are stairs that seem to end in the sky. They are always quite steep. They are usually not fun to climb, as they make your joints weep and your breathing more labored after a while. But we all know they hold a surprise at their end. They could lead up a dyke and behind that you might be surprised by a widely open view over marshlands and the sea. Or they lead up a mountainside to reveal an entirely new vista over meadows and brooks, other summits and valleys.
Stairs to nowhere are stairs to somewhere. To a place in your mind that makes you explore either a place at the end or a point in time. They speak to the curiosity of your inner child.
Come to think of it, one of the most tedious novels I have ever read was one by Samuel Butler. Don’t ask me what it was about, because apart from my answer that it was utopian, you will get nowhere. Did I say the title? It’s “Erewhon” – turn it around, and (slightly misspelled) you get the term “nowhere”. Now, you are somewhere.
Maybe, all those stairs to abandoned places that are no more, are actually stairs to Erewhon, a utopian place that exists but in our minds. Because we don’t know what it was like to have lived there or to have used these stairs. Nor do we know about the people who used them, unless they were famous. But standing at such stairs in contemplation makes us time travelers.
Come to think of it, stairs like those in Joe’s picture lead to a break. You can sit down on them and take a rest. You can take a break from the rush of your life, and sit and observe life rushing by.
So, whether you like it or not, my Double Take has been misleading you in its headline. Steps to nowhere always make us react in one way or another. They make us think, they make us climb them or they make us sit down on them. Which is what I stated earlier: Stairs to nowhere are leading us somewhere. Which means nowhere doesn’t exist.
Care to read Boyle’s Double Take? Click here.
Joe Boyle, author of the Suburban Times’ column “Westside Story”, and Susanne Bacon, novelist and author of the Suburban Times’ column “Across the Fence”, are sharing their thoughts about a variety of topics in their joint project of double features called “Double Take”. Comments are more than welcome, as they know that the world has more than their two angles – the more the merrier.