Little Known Facts for City Survival by Gage Saylor
Managing editor Krys Malcolm Belc on today’s bonus story: Of all the imperatives the speaker in this captivating, wide-ranging piece about adjusting to and thriving among city life, what stuck with us was the candles. Candlemaking brought our protagonist to the city and continues to ground him as he navigates packed subways, Wawas, and romance.
Little Known Facts for City Survival
The Canadian goose can travel 1,500 miles a day in proper conditions. A Greyhound bus, 750 miles, if you can’t justify a moving truck or afford a rental.
Let’s say you’ve moved cross-country for romance. You met a twin neurotic soul on a candlemaking message board, sparred over soy versus paraffin wax, then direct messaged, then emailed, then texted, then called, then skyped, then, now, moved. Don’t believe the spiritual connection will be the same upon arrival. True in life and candlemaking, conditions are everything: in a quiet, draft-less room, a candle flame forms the teardrop shape of blue-orange-yellow and the color-coded arrow points towards the sky. In space, without Earth’s gravity to push the warmer air up and the cooler air down, the candle burns a low dome of blue, a bag over the head depriving you of oxygen.
In a rental car or moving truck, when pulling into a fuel station, look at the arrow on the blinking gas gauge and you’ll know which side the tank is on. People won’t stare while you tug the snagged hose around the other side of your automobile, trying to make it reach. I long for an arrow like this to keep me company, the searing crimson of an exit sign in a darkened movie theater.
If contemplating suicide at Wawa, tap the Canadian goose in the touchscreen’s lower left corner to access the secret menu, a locker dial will appear, open with a fulfilling twist. This might be a reminder of high school and less-medicated times. Back when you lacked the resources to act on suicidal thoughts, inert, depressed, and bed-bound, before you were old enough to buy a gun, before you had a driver’s license and a car to swerve into oncoming traffic with. The age of grocery bags knotted around your throat, the heat of panicked breath and ear-aching plastic crinkles, saved without fail by your jagged, uncorrected teeth. It’s fall, and Wawa’s menu updates seasonally, so expect something lovely with pumpkin or cinnamon.
Candles are a two billion dollar industry. Nine out of ten candlemakers are women. Seventy-six percent of people appreciate candles as a holiday gift. Seventy-four percent of people appreciate candles as a housewarming gift. Buy someone, anyone, a candle.
In a Dave & Busters or wherever the Eagles happen to be playing, watch your partner’s elbow when high-fiving. I promise you will never miss a high-five again. There’s nothing more gratifying than the frictious pop of two well-aligned palms. There’s nothing more false and empty than a repeated high-five.
If you can’t fall asleep: insert earplugs, pour a whiskey with a squeeze of lemon and drop of honey. If you can’t wake up: set your alarm an hour early, dry-swallow an Adderall purchased from a co-worker at your data entry job. Close your eyes again. Relax. Soon enough, you’ll wake under your own power. A chemical alarm clock.
On a crowded city subway, keep your wallet in your front pocket. Check the seats for piss before you sit down. To combat motion sickness, never sit in the opposite direction of where you’re headed.
For intrusive thoughts, be they of childhood, teenhood, or adulthood, the printer-jammed brain may linger on the awkward moments that typify your failure as a human being (declaring love too soon, rejected advances, parental admonishments): wait seven seconds. Count to seven or take seven long strides forward. The thought will dissipate. Every. Single. Time. This will not stop the next intrusive thought, the one after that, but it’s a start, and isn’t that all we need? A boxcar derby push to tell us we’ve made the right decision as we gather speed downhill.
City-life can turn you near-sighted. Staring at a computer screen only makes it worse. To negate screen fatigue, further vision impairment, here’s the 20/20/20 rule, which states: every twenty minutes, look at an object twenty feet away for twenty seconds. But in a cramped South Philly apartment, nothing is twenty feet away. Place a mirror across the room, stare at the reflection. That’s twenty feet. Then, place a mirror on your side of the room. That’s infinite space. Place a candle. That’s infinite candles.
Soy versus paraffin wax is a losing debate among candlemakers. You may argue on the basis of history; this is the way it’s always been done. But now, the science is clear: soy wax, unlike paraffin, does not impact air quality or produce soot. Stop buying candles made from paraffin wax.
A key for city survival is admitting your mistakes. Otherwise, you’ll wait for a bus that’s never going to arrive.
In unfamiliar territory, topography can make you ill. There are hills and mountains where you didn’t know there were any. Ohio’s never where you guessed. And somewhere on the road, you may lose sense of yourself, head off the highway at the wrong exit, miss your turn altogether. Don’t fret. Strangers can be kind. All you need is the courage to ask. Find someone and tell them you want to go home.
I was born March 9th, the same day as Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. He circled once around Earth’s orbit, re-entered the atmosphere, and emergency ejected at twenty-thousand feet. Gagarin parachuted well off his intended course. Several minutes he was carried by an Eastern wind, gasping and helmet fogged; the air valve on his suit had jammed. A woman and her granddaughter knelt in a field planting potatoes as Gagarin touched down. They saw the man in the bright-orange suit roll and tumble helplessly, wrapping himself in the strings of his parachute. They were terrified. Gagarin stood then, moved stiffly. His arms outstretched, he lumbered toward them, blinded by his breath. But they did not run away. The grandmother helped him unclasp his helmet. She offered the canned milk she’d brought for lunch. Then Gagarin asked for guidance. He didn’t know where he was. He didn’t know where to go. The woman pointed northwest, toward Pugachev.
Gage Saylor currently lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is a recent graduate of the MFA program at McNeese State University. His work has appeared in BULL: Men's Fiction, Moon City Review, and TINGE. Gage is also three degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon. Please do not ask how.