Archive for June, 2006


June 30, 2006

Stephen closed the book and set it down on his lap. His head fell onto the back of the chair, and he was looked up at the light fixtures hanging from the ceiling. What was he going to tell George? He didn’t want to think about it. A buzzing cloud gathered at the back of his head. He closed his eyes. “I’ll just rest here for another twenty minutes or so.” It had after all been a pretty long day. He wound up checking the time every two or three minutes and didn’t rest very well at all.

After arriving at the cafe, Steve got his coffee and only as he walked away from the counter did he start to look for George. George was a little gnome of a man that Steve had met while taking language classes at one of the foreign cultural centers downtown. George seemed to be a perpetual student. He was always taking continuing education or craft classes somewhere. The language class, which Steve had attended for about two years, was on roughly a quarter schedule, and at the end of each term the teacher took all the students to eat ethnic food. It was at one of these that they had each discovered in the other someone with whom he could discuss the films of Tarkovsky.

George later invited Steve to go see a showing of Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels. He couldn’t think of anyone else who would be willing to see it. They went for coffe afterward and wound up talking about plugging in. Steve waxed on about his theory of the perfect memory, and George was constructively sympathetic. They clicked. So now it had become their habit to meet for coffee about once a week or so, after plugging in, to discuss some of the memories they had encountered.

And there he was. Steve quickly spotted his thin shoulders, craggy face with the round scrivener’s glasses below the cropped gray hair laureling his head, and the white curly hair poking out of the sleeves of his jersey. For a moment the rest of the room dropped away and George seemed to tower at the other end of an arena, an unexpected unfair rock monster opponent in a canyon level of some first person shooter deathmatch. Steve suddenly felt that trying to keep up this conversation was going to be like firing a mortar again and again at a moving target – sight, do the trig, adjust elevation, drop in the round. And then run for cover. This friendly talk was going to be frantically exhausting.

Steve pulled out a chair and readjusted it. The steel back, spraypainted black, was cool to the touch. A little unexpected since it looked a bit like charcoal next to the blond wood of the seat. The noise and movement of the rest of cafe, in which Stephen’s attenting had been swimming during his search, again disappeared as Stephen concentrated on George and what he was about to say.

“So how was it this evening?” The words escaped from George’s mouth like sprites in a 2D video game, tumbling over his slightly crooked teeth and dodging through the scissoring lips that randomly openedher and there along the width of his mouth. His eyes looked up suddenly at Stephen as if just realizing a secret.

Stephen was having none of it. Or he wanted to have none of it. Or he wanted to look like he was having none of it. He puckered his lips into an unbloomed rose and shoved it to the side of his face. He looked away, and feigned interest in a woman customer on the other side of the shop, who was gathering up her bicycle paraphernalia to leave.


to the bookstore

June 28, 2006

Stephen stood there in the pool of light for a several minutes. Well, what now? After plugging in he usually met George for coffee. He would need to go hang out somewhere for about forty, forty-five minutes, in order to show up when George expected him.

He drifted toward the doorway to the stairs that led down to the street – a sad little maw, depressed with its drooping rust stains. The staircase was brightly lit, though eerie shadows webbed the the inaccessible weed-ridden areas beneath the tracks on either side of it. He pushed through the grimy turnstile. The cement floor within these stations always looked like it was wet. Out on the street, it was the dark of the early autumn evening. After the switch off of daylight saving time onto standard time it got dark early. He looked up and down the street. He headed toward the retail street, the “high street”, he briefly thought.

He turned toward the bookstore, and started walking. He walked through minutes of empty thought. No ego chased logic across his mind like ripples on a pond. Noting swelled up from deeper memories or dreams. There was just a projection of the street onto his awareness, like a film strip projected onto a white sheet. Recording only, no commenting. The traffic on the street. The trixies walking in pairs and threes down the sidewalk. The buildings, standing bulwark against the dark behind them, lit by their own advertisements.

He walked out of this mist of clarity through the double doors of the bookstore. They were heay, wooden, almost medieval. It was always hard to tell who should hold the door for whom when two people simultaneously open one of the inner and outer pairs of doors. A difficult but transient social transaction to negotiate.

He circuited the store, trying to decide what shelves to look at. Technical books having to do with his job. Pulp paperbacks. Fiction/literature. A thought struck him. Maybe he can use this time to get the benefits of plugging in … in some other way. Memory intake. Reading. What would be a good set of books to read? For empathy, perhaps the lives of the saints. Oral histories. Biographies. Fiction presented problems, but it would be closer to the subjective detail of memories. Autobiographies, maybe. Memoirs.

He walked over to the religion section, and after a few minutes finds an edition of Alban Butler’s Lives of the Saints. He starts flipping through it. Hmmm. Not a lot of, uh ,impact. Most of the entries were short summaries – a few paragraphs, no more. Nuns who founded schools. A Norse king who was killed by his pagan enemies in the midst of his bloody proselytization. The terse style is at times enjoyably droll, and Stephen gets a dim sense of the centuries of history between Rome and the Renaissance, centuries that are seldom mentioned, because nothing relevant to todayseems to have happened in them. But that’s all there is – echoes of history. The book never hits him with any emotional impact. There was no empathy.

train ride

June 16, 2006

Eventually the train came around the bend. The wind and all its allies in the cold air being poured over the city tried their best to delay it, to keep it at bay, but it arrived. It seemed to approach the station asymptotically, since the usual perceived increase in speed of approaching objects was cleanly balanced by its slowly breaking to stop at the platform. The old wood of the platform and the old metal of the train wall, one once gleaming, the other once resonant, resembled each other in their bland approach to gray senescence, as if the fate of all surfaces were to look like a ten-foot layer of dust. The door opened. Stephen bounced slightly off of the lip formed by the slightly warped platform planks, and in one smooth movement spun himself around the hand rail/pole just insed the door and into a slouched position in the seat just inside the door – facing in toward th ecenter of the car with his side against a small half-wall sheilding him from the door.

What is the meaning of charade? Besides the audrey hepburn/cary grant vehicle (was Walter matthau really believable as a villain in that?) Besides the living room game (I was about to write parlour – when exactly did the game start? waws it in the age of parlours, or in the age of living rooms? how old is it?). Besides all of the comedy sketches, skits, segments, bits adn send-ups done about the living room game throughout the history of TV. The meaning on which Stephen dwealt during his train ride, was pantomime, presenting a false front, wearing a mask, and a costume, performing actions for others to see , that follow/establish a false agenda, and that hide other actions, which are your real agenda.

The next stop was what he would use to his apartment. He didn’t get off. The stop he would use to go plug in was two after that. It had been dusk when he got on the train. During the ride to his neighborhood it became dark on the other side of the train windows. The contrast made the brightly lit inside of the train even more obviously an artificial environment. The lit signs on buildings out became more pronounced. Stephen could now see his reflection in the window opposite him. The window showed a triple stream imagery: the bright signs on its other side, reflections of bright signs on the opposite side, and reflections of the inside of the train. Stephen’s face floated within this mix.

His plug in stop was getting closer. He still hadn’t thought of any diversionary pantomime. What was he going to do? His stop came. He stood up. The door opened. He stepped out onto the platform. The doors closed behind him and the train moved on. The platform was bright due to overhead lamps, but they seemed to just barely hold off the dark. The dark above added its own soft chill to the already cool air, and the chill seeped in past the light.

breakfast and charade

June 14, 2006

One workday morning, he got up early enough to fix himself some breakfast. First he started the coffee. He opened the fridge adn took out the bread, neslted against one wall on the top shelf, crowded almost to sruching by containers of leftovers, various sauce bottles and jugs of juice. Less than half a loaf was left, wrapped double in the curled-up long plastic bag. It was cold to the touch and stiff. It looked a little mashed. He separated two pieces from the crumpled mass and dropped them in the toaster.

He crouched down and fished a frying pan out of the cabinet under the counter to the left of the sink. He put it on the stove and lit the burner underneath it. Returning ot the fridge he got the open stick of butter, about one third used, and two of the four eggs he had. He dug a knife out of the drawer and cut off a bit of butter, then scraped it off on the edge fo the pan. Then he dug out a spatula from the same drawer in order to scoot the butter around the pan while it melted. “I should have just used the spatula to cut the butter”, he thought. When the butter had melted, he broke the eggs gently on the flat countertop and then opened them over the pan. he fried them sunny side up. He tried to make sure the yolks would still be runny when broken.

He wound up using the knife to spread butter on his toast. He would have gotten it out of the drwaer anyway. There was no need to adjust his procedure the next time he made eggs. Unless he wasn’t having toast at the same time. He got a cup from the cabinet over the coffe maker and poured himself some coffee. He carried the coffee and his plate of toast and eggs over to his breakfast nook and sat down at the small white circular table.

Sitting in his sparse euro-style kitchen, whose gleam had been slightly dulled by the grime of his bachelor living, it occured to him that he would have to put on a charade for the people he knew. To make them think he was still going to plug in, when in fact he was not. He was cutting into his sunny-side up egg, watching the yolk flow across the plate. He picked up his toast, swabbed it into the yolk- pressing it over the flowing yolk, twirling it, picked it up and looked briefly at the sopping cavities in the bread, the droplets dangerously close to forming as the yolk started running, falling, down the side. It popped into his head just before he jabbed the toast into his mouth in time before the yolk runs over his hand. He moved his head back from over the plate to sit straight in the straight-back chair. He stared at the blank white wall across from him as he chewed, and thought, “Shit. Today is the day I usually go to plug in after work. Are people going to notice that I’m not going to the plugin centers? Should I do something to make them think I’m still going? Shit.” He stared a while longer. “Well…” He swabbed his toast in yolk once more and took another bite. “I’ll think of something later in the day. Maybe when I’m riding home on the train.”

Walking to the station at the end of the day, he smiled blandly at his co-workers as he waved good-bye, waved them off. “I’m not going where you think I’m going, motherfuckers…” he thought. His smile was just slightly more false than the one he wore for them all day long. Later, Barbara was to tell him, “You thought you were hiding so much back then. You thought you’re face was a perfect mask. As if we couldn’t tell what mood you were in on a given day. As if anyone passing you in the flipping hall couldn’t look at your face and tell exactly what you were thinking. Yeah, the same way you thought of yourself as somebody calm, and not as the most pissed off guy in the building.”

He stood on the platform, waiting for the train to come around the bend. A chill wind that moved no cloth licked his back, from his knees to right behind his heart, and clamped its jaws around his ribs. Somebody’s gonna find out was the name of the feeling.


June 12, 2006

He got his new book home and opened it up, and looked at the first page. Vast vanilla white, like a virgin breast. The first thing he defaced it with mus tbe an homage; it must reference the journal itself. He wrote about another journal he remembered. In the Peter Weir’s film Light Sleeper, Willem Dafoe’s character keeps a journal. As he fills each notebook, he throws it in the wastebasket. The wide ugly facce that always seems disconnected from the rest of the actor’s body, crescent above the desk, nodding as his pen rubs the last line of the last page of a notebook, and then turning to follow the arms that close the notebook and drag it to the edge of the desk, over the edge, to drop it into the wastebasket. Steve pauses and brings his pen up to his chin. Hmmm. That could be a better way to hide his journals than writing them in code. Simply throw them away as he fills them up. Now he began to regret the journal he had bought. Not only was it too pretentious, it was too big. It would take him a while to fill it, and when he did he would regret throwing away its $35 worth of leather.

But the more he thought about the idea, the more he liked it. He liked it a lot. It gave his memories back their evanescence. When he was plugging in he knew his memories would last forever – or at least as long as the servers, which for him might as well be forever. When he wasn’t plugging them in, and wasn’t writing them down, they became severely mortal. He had to savor them in a whole new way, before they were beyond his retrieval.

If he wrote them down that evanescence was gone. They would last as long as the paper, which was some stretch of time, however it compared to the life of the servers. But if he threw them out he felt they would disappear again. Of course they might last in some landfill somewhere, or someone might even pick them out of his trash. He could always burn them of course, but that seemed indulgent. And that might bring too much attention if he didn’t take more trouble than he was willing to take. But if he took minimal precautions when throwing them away then there was a really good change that if they were ever read again, it wouldn’t be by anybody he gave a shit about. He could throw them out and return that new taste of fleeting life to his mouth.

He had a lot of trouble with pens. He couldn’t find one he liked. They took too much effort to press down to get a smooth line, or too much ink would come out, and it would blot and smudge. Had his society moved so far into digital communications that it could no longer manufacture quality pens? Maybe it was the paper in his expensive journal: maybe it was too acid free, too high quality, or too faux high quality. Maybe it was him. Maybe he had forgotten how to physically write.