My friend Ellen asked me if I’d like to go to a corn maze this weekend. I guess somebody shapes their farm’s cornfield into a challenging find-your-way-outta-here-scape, much like an English topiary maze. I told her I was intrigued, but also told her that I was relieved to have the ready excuses of an already packed weekend (sorry, sigh, but on saturday I’m selling tickets and pouring wine for a modern dance company performance and sunday I’m helping my in-laws move). As we noodled through the possibilities of who else would be interested in accompanying her on her outing, I quizzed myself about my trepidation. The truth is, I’ve always been directionally challenged. Ellen says with the corn experience, you are given clues to help you through it. That didn’t sound fun to me. It sounded ominous. “One year,” she said, “these people called 911 on their cell phone, and they were only about 10 feet away from the exit.”
“Don’t you think that sounds like something that would happen to us?” I asked.
“Well, yes,” she admitted. Ellen by herself would probably get out just fine, but the two of us together is a recipe for a Lucy and Ethel trip from hell, where our second guessing and mutually voiced insecurities would propel us in ever-confusing idiot loops and we’d be yelling ‘help, help’ and would have to be rescued by somebody on a tractor shaking his head.
When I was about ten, my dad took my brother Bubba and me to a haunted house at a Halloween carnival. We went in by ourselves while dad waited outside. It was set up in a couple of trailers, with the usual dark passages, coffins, the usual maniacally laughing ghouls popping out of nowhere. Somewhere between the two trailers, after seeing some large rats illuminated by strobe lights, I snapped. My brother was six and generally a more practical risk taker than his pussy-woo older sister. He would probably have walked right through all by himself, but like a pack mule that sees the lead animal bucking and frothing with panic, he caught my anxiety. We could see the crowd on the pavement outside through some vertical bars, and there was my dad.
“Help! Help!” we screamed, waving at him. “We can’t get out of here!” I guess he thought we were joking until he saw that we were practically hyperventilating and jumping up and down, then he read the situation for what is was and shook his head in dismay.
“God Dammit you kids, what the hell is wrong with you?!” He located some teenage haunted house volunteers to go in and lead us the rest of the way through. “Was it too scary?” he asked when we finally emerged. “Mimi got scared,” Bubba reported. How can you say, at ten, too young for the right words but also old enough to be embarrassed at losing control in a haunted house, that what is scary is not the ghosts and ax murderers, but the whole social challenge of negotiating a humanly constructed maze, the notion that there are turns to take and some of them are correct and some of them are not. A lot of it is dark. Most of it is self evident to most people, whoever the hell they are. Mazes, haunted houses, and life are not for the easily frustrated. This is why I never moved to New York City, even though I love it. It’s why I hate being the first car in a pack when there’s construction on a highway and it’s night time. My mind is already second guessing the DOT by the time I hit the orange cones (well, it’s probably this way, but maybe they really want you to veer to the left, or stick down the middle).
By now, I’ve learned that about 15% of the time, I truly am being fucking weird and dysfunctional, but most of the time I’m just normal, and everyone wants to pull over, put their hazard lights on, and cry in frustration sometimes while other people honk.
Have fun this weekend, Ellen! Just don’t overthink it!