Walking up the block a few days ago I spotted a discarded briefcase in the gutter. It was open, and its contents, though disheveled by breeze, were in fairly pristine order. I stopped for a moment to peer down at what I could only think of as corporate spoor. It looked like a salaryman had recently reached the conclusion that there was an alternative to life in a suit. Seeing a Euro-slim briefcase just lying there in the gravel gave me a sense of hope; to think I might find a power-tie strewn over a parking meter up ahead, and a thoroughly-heeled Palm Pilot lying shattered not far from that.
Lost in my reverie I peered at the exposed contents of the briefcase until I could feel my blood in my temples. Pulse. Pulse. Pulse. I didn’t want to move, ever.
When I see an abandoned pile of papers my first thought is: What if I had to survive on those papers? That is, what if I had no food save for this briefcase, with its printed PowerPoint deck, a mini-stapler, a spiral-bound notebook, and three legal pads? Could they provide enough sustenance to keep me alive for three weeks? That gray-brown exterior, was it treated leather or some kind of naugahyde? Could one survive on naugahyde alone? Could I savor briefcase-skin cuds as I hunted for more abandoned briefcases? Either way, I would save the legal pad cardboard backing for last. After three weeks it would taste virtually identical to juicy, juicy graham cracker.
Flight is one way to survive, but my own thoughts tend toward fight. Or rather: how to survive within the system. Salaryman made it out alive, perhaps, and would frolic in fields of clover, and would reproduce. But his young would be soft and round as grapes, and ill-prepared for business meetings. No, his line was as good as dead. You can lead a man to water, but you can’t take the water out of the man. Or teach him to fish. Kind of makes you feel powerless, doesn’t it?
Working within extreme limitations is the thought that obsesses me. Could I get a job if all I had at my disposal was a jar of tongue depressors? Maybe, if I could craft a da Vincian flying machine out of them, and rather than glue or fasteners, using friction and gravity alone for structural integrity. Or by forming harmful weapons out of them. “Trust me,” I would say to the balding white man frozen behind his desk. “I know we’ve just met, and I’m threatening your life, and you have to do as I say or risk evisceration. But just allow yourself to trust in me for eight hours and I know I can convince you that I’m right for this job.” Could I pull that off? Would they keep me on once I sheathed my amazing tongue depressor weapons?
Now it occurs to me that it’s not so farfetched. Am I not fighting constantly for survival? Everyone around me is convinced of something, far beyond the point of questioning or even reevaluating. They know what they know, especially about me, and it’s a safe little place to be, comfortable, and smelling vaguely of lemon zest or almonds. And who can blame them? All of my triumphs of survival are happening on the inside, while outside I am docile, and staring, and sometimes disengage to such an extent that I catch myself drooling. But that’s the warrior’s camouflage, because the truth is that I can unleash at any given moment. I can still be anyone if I want to, probably. Except I wouldn’t be caught dead carrying a briefcase.