47 :: connecting and tangling :: 5/29/01
Denise is walking past a McDonald's. She's on her lunch break. NEW 6 PC NUGGES HAPPY MEAL. Ew, no thank you. What she wants is coffee. There's usually a pot brewing in the back room of Tympanum, but Denise is on register all day today, and Freya, her supervisor, will be more-or-less obligated to enforce official store policy: no eating or drinking at the register. This is fine by Denise, actually: Denise doesn't really want the customers to have evidence of her humanity. She'd prefer them to think of her as some sort of robot. No connection. She can remember the first job she had after dropping out of SAIC: working behind the counter at Kinko's, spending all day tending to people, getting clear on the specifications for their jobs, handling a flow of their important material. She would feel a tiny pulse connecting her to every customer she would work with. This was before she began to wear her sunglasses. She could feel her personality take on something of the shape of theirs, especially when they'd have personally significant matter to duplicate: engagement notices, baby photos. (When she left Kinko's for the Tympanum job, she worried that the same thing would happen with the CDs people chose: that hasn't happened, though. After a few weeks of working there she stopped seeing CDs as having any relationship to the people who bought them. Instead she began to see them simply as indistinguishable blocks of product. Units. Stock.)
What she wanted more than anything else although she never asked for it was to be transferred to the night shift; to spend long hours guiding the massive machines through their tasks, running the big jobs for people who would come and pick them up while she slept through the day. She found maintaining the boundaries of her own identity in the face of daytime's proliferating connections to be difficult, fatiguing really; she began to suspect that she had no identity beyond the massed flicker of these temporary relations. This was not long after Johnny had been taken away. She liked having her personality all mixed up with his, and his all mixed with hers. For a long time they had been connected to one another at every crucial point, and during that time they could have told everyone else in the world to fuck off. And that's what she wants again, really: connection with one person and one person only. That's how you create intensity in a life. Not from this piecemeal divvying out of self that comes with work. A square of grimy bubblewrap blows up against her leg; she shakes it free. She suspects that she might make a good slave. She would rather do that than work, anyway. One of the books she had rescued from Johnny's apartment was The Story of O; she read it during her time at Kinko's and it made sense to her. But she would need a wealthy man, and she doesn't feel like she could love the wealthy men she sees in Chicago, not enough, anyway, to give herself over in the way she wants.
She reaches the coffeehouse and slips in. The counters are burnished steel with a black enamel trim: they look clean even when flecked with cream and foam and loose crystals of turbinado sugar. Fresh-sounding synthpop bubbles through the PA, some breathy male singer dryly professing some observation. The entire place generates a mood which is peppy and edgeless; efficient; a mood Denise despises. CaffeNation reserves the right to enforce a thirty minute time limit on tables. The place's primary merit is that it's close to the record store, closer even than the White Hen Pantry on the corner.
Could I get a house blend to go? Denise asks. She hates even saying the words "house blend;" they make her feel as though she is somehow playing along.
Thirty seconds later she's out of the place. They've got benches out front and it's a nice day so she sits. She takes a minute to get oriented, to get centered in her surroundings, and it's then that she sees him. The guy who came into Tympanum last week and who seemed freaked out, disoriented. He's sitting on the bench next to hers. Looking off down the street; squinting somewhat into the glare of sunlight on windshields. A sudden charge of feeling jolts her. She opens her mouth as though she might say something, but then she feels uncertain as to whether she actually should: she doesn't want to make it seem like she deliberately chose to intrude upon him
She is in the middle of these thoughts when he turns. His face is still tensed in a half-squint but when he sees her it opens up into a look of partial recognition. As though he knows her but doesn't quite know how. Your sunglasses, the sunglasses! She quickly reaches up and takes them off. The sunlight dazes her for a second; everything on the street momentarily seems incandescent.
Oh, he says. Hi.
You work up at, uh, up at the CD store, don't you?
Tympanum, she says. Yeah.
You were really, uh, he says. The other night. I don't know if you remember, but, uh, you were really nice to me. And sometimes, well, I don't know, just. He closes his eyes, concentrating. There are certain times, for me, where I'm dependent on having someone just be nice to me, and sometimes it's hard to find someone who will do that. So he opens his eyes again I don't know, I just wanted to let you know that it meant a lot to me, and I wanted to make sure that I said thanks.
Denise looks down at her hands. Sunglasses, paper coffee cup. Steam. It's no big deal, she says. I mean, you know, I was happy to help out. She's curious as to what was wrong with him that night, whether he was just fucked up on drugs or whether it's something else, a mental illness or something. But she doesn't know how to ask these questions.
My name's Gabriel, he says. He extends a hand towards her.
Oh, she says. She shakes his hand. I'm Denise. It's nice to meet you.
Nice to meet you, too.
There's a silence between them, only momentary, but it begins to extend into awkwardness. Hey, she says, I can't really, I mean, I'm working right now. I should probably get back. This isn't entirely true: she's only used up maybe ten minutes of her lunch break. But she wants to buy some time to think of what to say to him next. But, listen, are you around in this neighborhood very often?
Oh, yeah, he says. I live right over that way. He gestures eastwards.
You should come into the store sometime, she says. Maybe we could talk some more then.
OK, he says. I'd, um, I'd like that.
Great, she says.
She stands up. She has witnessed only a few points of his personality. Promontories emerging from mist. But the blank space that separates those points seem like a promising field. She hopes to fill it in. Like erasing a map in reverse. OK, she says. So I'll maybe catch you later?
Yeah, he says. Yeah.
OK, she says. Well, uh, till then.
She turns and heads up the street towards Tympanum. There is a tension to her leaving. She looks back once. It is as though her map and his have already begun to grow tangled.
Further Reading ::
Information Prose : A Manifesto In 47 Points ::
A manifesto, outlining some of the aesthetic goals behind Imaginary Year, can now be read here.