When I was a freshman at Fordham University in New York a long long time ago, there was a word that we used to describe the students who commuted to campus for classes which distinguished them from the students who resided on campus. That word was actually a shortened form of a long word and in that shorter version became a kind of insult. Commuter became ‘muter. Or, to spell it phonetically, mooter. And once we arrived at “mooter” the next obvious association became mutant and conjured in our minds was the picture of an unpleasing, unhappy, possibly sweaty, don’t-sit-next-them, student. Muter. The word was used in conversation like so:

“Do you know that cute guy who sits behind you in Calculus?”

“No. He’s a ‘muter. Why?”

“Never mind.”

So, no matter how cute, how pretty, you didn’t want to be a ‘muter.

I thought of ‘muters and all its associations today while I was in my car…uh, commuting. I watched the blue mini-van with the vanity plate that said “KP SMLN” inch forward a foot and suddenly the word came to me again from the distant haze of my past: ‘muter. And I suddenly felt the meaning of that word in ways I hadn’t when I was eighteen years-old, fresh-faced and naive in my first big city. But now at 39 years-old, I figured it out. I was a ‘muter. A slightly sweaty, unhappy, don’t sit next to them, adult trapped in a beige sedan on the interstate. I’m a ‘muter. Or, phonetically: I am a mooter.

I tried to work this fact into something positive.

Okay, I thought. A mooter has rebellious possibilities. They can be semi-heroic. Think X-men. Odd balls with superpowers that are horribly misunderstood by humanity. Or perhaps, artists, I think. Manipulating reality into magical forms. A magician?

KP SMLN inched forward another foot and the blue and yellow Ikea building peeked over the horizon. A landmark. Only another 40 minutes to go.

In that sea of cars, my beige sedan that proverbial grain of sand on the beach, I invented new pictures of mooters. Heroes with capes, heroines with guns, villains with brushes. Robot animals with cars. Bunnies with armour. I pictured happy, ridiculous, improbable mutants with supepowers. I saw inanimate objects become animate. A commuter cofffee mug became a dancing trash can. Flowers gave lectures. Dogs sang songs. Cats scratched their asses and changed the channel on the TV remote.

For an hour I reprogrammed my mind to imagine that the mooter I had become was greater than it felt at that moment following KP SMLN down a Midwestern interstate. Eventually I pulled into the spot in front of our building and grabbed my backpack filled with student papers out of the car and trudged up the stairs to my apartment. I was tired. I was a tired mooter.

Inside the apartment the cats lazed on the floor panting through the unexpected heat of the day. The air inside was still as if I had been gone for weeks rather than hours. I dropped my stuff, grabbed a bottle of water, and plopped on the couch.

I waited.

A car alarm beeped outside. A cat licked its foot. An air conditioner whirred on.

Nope. Still the same. No dancing cats. No singing trash cans. Just me. Slightly sweaty, kind of grumpy, thirsty, and still a ‘muter.