Daniel Kolos



This piece speaks of pathologies common to most, if not all, males raised in the West. What man, in the universal moment of terror at the prospect of being swallowed car and all by an enormous imaginary vagina, has not taken comfort at the realization that there is a herd of buffalo just over the hill?

Daniel Kolos is a lecturer on ancient Egypt, an archaeological guide on tours to that country, and the director of a nonprofit elementary school in Durham, Ontario. He has co-authored or edited several books on Egyptology.




Published in Whole Earth Review,  Spring, 1994  by Daniel Kolos


IT TAKES ME ten minutes along the state highway and four minutes along the country road to drive my child to school and I do it at least once a day. You'd think I would know every bump in that road, and I do; yet one bump remains rather mysterious. I know every minute where I should be, even if I vary my speed. On snowy or stormy days the drive could take up to sixteen minutes, and on a warm summer evening I've been known to make it in twelve. Still, three mysteries remain.


Timing isn't everything; as the seconds tick by I know whose farm or house I am passing, I know where the side roads go to, and I know why the pines are dying along one section and flourishing along another. I feel quite content as the auctioneer's empty vans flash by on a weekday morning (they are either gone or full on weekends), and I can imagine their ghosts sitting there on a dark, moonless night. They sit there, three minutes and twenty-five seconds outside my village, but they are not half as interesting as the fieldstone chimney that took almost two years to complete, just before the fourth concession on the left. That chimney could have been the fourth mystery, because in all that time I never saw anyone actually working on it. One day, however, I met the owner and he assured me that he and his father had spent their leisure time building it themselves. I spend my leisure time driving up and down the highway contemplating the three mysteries. The third mystery is really not all that exciting, although I don't know the answer to it. I am simply unable to sustain fifty-five miles per hour for the full thirteen miles it takes to get to the school. Not that I haven't tried. I've even borrowed my wife's car and set the cruise control, only to discover that I had inadvertently and quite unconsciously pressed the gas pedal and speeded up to seventy several times within the nine miles of highway driving. But the problem, actually, is academic. A calculator can show me the answer. I just haven't done the calculation yet.

The other two mysteries are much deeper. Half a mile from the school the country road has a bad bump on it. I have driven over the same bump coming and going for nearly three years, and each time I jar my nerves and stress the shocks I swear to myself never to do it again. Why, once I even stopped and backed up to examine the bump, just about six feet of asphalt right in the middle of the road, and noted that I could avoid it by driving a bit closer to the roadside. The shoulders were wide enough and firm enough not to cause any danger at all (I tried them), and I was all set to miss the bump on my way back. I hit it. I hit it every single time both coming and going, in spite of taking mental notes, sweating to remember, or forcing myself to note other relevant features of the countryside (the bump coincides with the end of a forest on the east side). I am a pathological bump runner.

I even tried to analyze this potential illness because it has a remarkable similarity to the main mystery, and if there is a pattern, then I have a real problem. The analysis didn't work. I don't want to hit the bump. My mind dwells on more important things at that very moment, with less than a minute of driving left to the school. On the way back, already absorbed with coming events, I hit it again. Then I focus my anger on the bump. Like, why have I never passed another vehicle at this particular bump? So I have a theory that the bump rests on one of those magnetic points on earth that blank out one's consciousness just for the duration of the crossing. One only remembers the bump. It is weird.

THE MAIN MYSTERY, however, sends shivers down my spine. About once every two weeks I do the same drive in the evening and return late at night. I used to count the number of cars I met past eleven, and it was seldom more than four over the nine miles of major highway. Right from the beginning I had a sense that the deserted road at night was not the same road I drove on during the day. It changed personality. It was not only desolate, where one could break down and not get help until the following morning, but downright threatening.

My heart beats differently when I drive the highway at night. I don't mean to imply that I get scared or anything like that. I regularly drive all night to Detroit, or Philadelphia, or even Boston and have no trouble with night driving. But the same woods, alive with color and playful lights in the daytime, are dense and forbidding at night. Some only last forty seconds, but if I had to stop on the road at that short space, I wouldn't want to get out of the car. On any other journey, I make stops at night without much ado, march right up to strange forests and piss on them without thinking, then go my way.

But these woods are different. The dark pines die from the bottom up. Their stubby lower branches could rip my trousers, slash my legs, and while I fall, gouge my eyes. The trees stand like menacing armies ready with their jagged lances to skewer anyone who strays into their path. They follow me up a sloping hill, stop at the crossroads, and I breathe a sigh of relief at leaving them behind. Past the crossroads the car's high beams lay bare a much steeper rise. The roadbed sinks into a hill that rises on either side of the highway like the thighs of a woman. Although I'm driving up, it seems as if the car is dropping steadily into a chasm. Two hills slope away from my lights into the darkness and loom mysteriously, threatening to swallow the powerful, roaring machine that's supposed to protect me.

I've been driving nine minutes now, five of it through uninhabited aggregate lands owned by international conglomerates who want no trespassers. In the daytime the road, with the two shapely thighs rising from the well-sculpted ditches on either side of it, looks like a shaven pudenda rising above long, albeit hairy legs. It has no vagina. In the daytime I can enjoy the sight, smile at the ways nature and humanity interact, and pass by contented. But at night, something strange happens. When nature's thighs appear on either side of the high-beamed light, they seem to move. They seem to draw my vehicle into them. My own thighs tighten and my mind imagines things faster and faster. If there were a vagina, it would be in the middle of the road. The car would slide into it. I would suffocate. I would die.

Just then, just before mounting the top of the hill, I try to establish contact with reality. I know that there is a herd of buffalo down in the valley on my right. I know that the farmer on my left has a herd of cattle beyond the crest of the hill. And then, just as I hold myself steady and try to relax, the great mystery happens. I am almost over the hill, somewhat frightened, lost somewhere between imagination and reality. Suddenly I see three or four distinct flashes of light off to the right. My heart jumps into my throat, my temperature rises five degrees, the car lurches over the hill and goes into a free fall on the other side. I have been known to do a hundred down that hill, and the only thing I remember five minutes later when I pull into my driveway with my heart still beating loudly, is that I must stop one night and see what causes those flashes of light.

I am obsessed about finding out. But I have never done it.