Notes from the Cell, Pt. II

Dear Diary,

What are things? Or, more specifically, to what extent must something change before it becomes something else, something new, something unique? Persistence of vision gives us the illusion that things are static–all the shrieking in the world won’t magically turn a pair of reinforced tri-hinged handcuffs into an insubstantial cloud of stochastic pixels. That’s what I used to tell my house guests time and time again, ironically. And, now, we can rely on the three walls and iron bars still being there in the morning, unchanged, for the next 15 years (or ten for good behavior).

But change is everywhere. A bone broken is a fracture–but where was the fracture before I heard what you said about me? Are your bones then nothing more than a collection of potential fractures? It makes me think: maybe things can only become other things when we have names for them. Like a fallen tree part becomes a “stick.” Or stony particulate becomes “dirt.” Or you walking around without my fist buried in your face yet are a “target.” Without a unique appellation, an object can never rise above the level of being a piece of something else. It will never be something more. Something greater.

What’s interesting is when things become other things without changing. Sometimes velocity alone is all that’s required to make one thing another thing. A rock is a rock, but hurl it four thousand miles an hour and suddenly it’s a meteor. And myself, when I’m sitting in church, inert, I’m an anonymous part of the crowd. But three minutes later when I’m barrelling through that crowd toward you for looking at my girl the wrong way I become both your worst nightmare and the means by which your future therapist enjoys her new Mercedes. And let us not forget that just about anything–including dentures–can become a blunt weapon, if one has both the creativity and the desire.

We live in a world of apparent solids, but in reality things are, right down to their molecules, in a state of constant flux, their forms malleable, their definitions transient. Opportunities abound to realize new things which have no precedent: The crawlspace behind the shower vent is a gorntu. The cellmate who rats me out is a fyndilliper. And my crushed spirit becomes my… nuchiato blennthining. And perhaps this diary is no longer a diary at all, as it changes anew with each word writ.

Speaking of which, I need cut this entry short as I’ve run out of toilet paper and my finger is just about bled dry.


Mobile technology allows the man from the French office to berate his wife at his temporary desk just behind mine. “Haloo. Yeah. Hi. Have you found the duffel bag? The wallet? Okay, well- Yes, well I need the duffel bag – I need the duffel bag for tomorrow. Did you get that? That’s right. So you’ll bring the duffel bag?” If he says “duffel” one more time I’m going to trepan him with a hammer claw. Despite the broth of meds that keeps my “trouble” at bay, his pet word is beginning to affect me physiologically. Fortunately he hangs up.

Rather than having a single tedious extended conversation, French prefers several hundred ongoing tedious conversations.

Ring. “Haloo. Where are you? You haven’t left? Why not? Look, did you ring the taxi? I just asked you: did you ring the taxi? Well look, you’re going to have to. I can’t. I can’t deal with that right now. It’s in the duffel bag.” I flick my wrist once and my sleeve-hammer drops into my waiting hand. “Suite 317. Three- It’s a suite. Suite 317. Just tell them suite-” Now it’s “suite.” He’ll be the one in trouble when I jam my thumbs into his eye sockets all the way up to the second knuckle the very next time he says that word. I listen more closely, and admire the perfect ivory arcs of my extended thumbs. He hangs up.

A few minutes later: Ring. “Hello? Okay, bye.” He hangs up.

What was the other side of that conversation?

Ring. “Hello?”

“I’m pulling the trigger now.”

“Okay, bye.”

How can a phone conversation be that brief? Something that short… it’s more like a stimulus response test. Buzz, hit the button, get some kibble. Buzz, hit the button, get some more kibble.

On the phone French’s voice drips with the venom of someone who had one too many bad childhood experiences with the wire monkey mother. But look how he lights up like a dandy christmas tree when the cute new intern comes by for introductions. She doesn’t know that he’s actually a crankypants who may very well represent humanity’s genetic nadir.

These people around me, they’re like tartar buildup on the office’s cubicle teeth, and for me there’s been but one sanity-salvaging solution: astral projection. Of course it didn’t take long for Management to catch wind of the fact that I’m having these out of body experiences – perhaps it was the drool on my keyboard? – and they don’t like it at all. It’s not so much because I might manifest in conference rooms during important meetings, which I totally do, but rather because I don’t get much work done when I’m “away.” Well, I say, you can’t be in two places at the same time no matter what kind of powers you’ve managed to tap into. They tell me my priorities are screwed up, and I say that they’re just jealous, and fucking get over it, cockscombs.

What I haven’t revealed to anyone yet – what I won’t reveal – is that I can be in two places at the same time. In fact, I’m often gallivanting in several conference rooms at once, and I’ve even managed to duplicate myself once for every single employee on my floor. I followed them around like shadows, and watched them as they talked to their instant messenger friends in tiny chat windows at the bottom of their monitors.

No one wants to be where they are, but mine is the most effective solution. Why bother with pathetic phone arguments or vapid IM exchanges? Why not just leave the zits and dandruff behind and go right into the light? Impossible? Well I have a hammer in my sleeve that says it’s easier than you may think.

The Station

“Your tank empty?”

I blinked. “Huh?”

The station manager pointed to the repair sheet with his pen. His hands were gray with oil. “You want us to fill ‘er up?”

Was this a trick? I’d brought my car in to be inspected, and that’s what I wanted. Not gas. Gas didn’t enter into it. I was already on edge for being a fish out of water – these were people who sweated when they worked, I mean – and his question took on weight and sat on my forehead, directly between my eyebrows. “Uh…” Why was he asking me about gas? I couldn’t imagine. But I allowed that I was perhaps too vulnerable to reason through this challenge with any degree of clarity. “Um, no, that’s okay.”

“I was just asking because we could make it a part of the same bill.”

A middle-aged woman – the station attendant – popped in from the garage then. “Excuse me, I just have to…” and she palmed a form on the counter to the manager’s left, slid it around in front of him, and caught it with her other palm, her arms girdling his waist for a moment. It was like gas station ballet. A brief interlude to cleanse the palate, and then she was back to the garage. I saw it all in slow motion, and played it back again as the manager continued filling out my form. The sudden display of intimacy seemed as out of place as I was. Like a hallucination. My mind wandered. Was she his-

“And,” the manager spoke under his breath as he wrote, belaboring the point, “no… gas.” I felt self-conscious. Why had I said no? If he asked me again – I feared this – then I would gladly accept the gas, and he’d have to scratch out the “no” before “gas.” I hoped that he wouldn’t ask me. I stared out the window and played with my hands. My silence is consent, I thought. Write anything you want and I’ll be silent.

When I looked back at the man, his eyes were locked on mine. I laughed to avoid backing away. “I’ve done inspections for a lotta years,” he said, and he thankfully broke his glance in an apparent reverie. “Seems like forever. Course I wasn’t always affiliated with a station. Sometimes it was just me an the boys. We’d do inspections in the middle of the night, and then we’d take our loot to Round Hill and split it up even.” He looked at me. “Round Hill, that’s back in Iowa,” he said.

I took my hands off the counter. “Oh?”

“You haven’t heard of it, ‘course.” He rapped his pen on the knuckles of his other hand and shook his head. “Guess you might call it a euphemism then. Inspections by night. Night flight. Huh.” He shook his head again and laughed, eyes distant. I stood stock still. When you think someone’s far away, that’s when they can sneak up on you. I half expected to hear him continue from behind me somehow, his mouth suddenly next to my right ear.

“But you learn a lot anyway,” he continued, still in front of me. “Inspecting things. The things that belonged to other folks. Looking through it, you learn that everyone’s about the same, you know that? Oh, sure, people seem different on the outside. But that’s just decoration is all that is. Nothing but artifice. Deep down,” he looked at me and nodded once, “deep down we’re all thinking the same stuff. And you get to know people. You see that you and them are the same, you learn about yourself – you inspect yourself, you might say. And you pretty much know what they’re thinking just by looking at them, you know what I’m saying?”

“Sure,” I said, my tongue coming unglued from the roof of my mouth. How could I not know? “Yes.” It was in fact the only inconspicuous answer. The only answer that wouldn’t stem the momentum of his homespun diatribe.

“What I’m saying,” he said firmly, as if he didn’t believe me, “is when you been around, when you seen what I seen… well then you have yourself a sense about what’s right and what’s not right. The lies, they run back and forth like a chased dog. But you know the truth because the truth looks back at you square.” His eyes were stony. And he was finished. More than that, he was waiting to see how I would respond.

I licked my lips and swallowed. “I’ll…” I raised my eyebrows and nodded, “Yeah, I’ll go with the full tank of gas.”

“Fine,” he said, and scratched out the “no” in front of “gas.”

The Other Shoe

They say that even the longest journey begins with but a single step. They also say that if you don’t know where you’re from then wherever you go is home. So does this mean that to walk in someone else’s footsteps is breaking and entering? I’m thinking about how the things we do every day and take for granted may in fact be criminal, and that I am probably a criminal without even knowing it, and since I have a problem with authority figures (check out my rap sheet), I have become quite emotional and erratic in my old age, though you could never tell this by merely looking at whatever weapon I happen to be pointing at you.

Generally you won’t see me though. I assume that everyone feels pretty much the same way I do about other people, which is that they drain the life out of me. If it’s possible to avoid them entirely I will, for my sake and for theirs. Having said that, I’ve noticed recently that people have an upsetting tendency to go exactly where I need to go, only they’re in front of me the entire way there, and walking at just about the same speed I’m walking, only a little bit slower. In fact our rates are so closely matched that if I were to attempt to overtake them it would take roughly half an hour. So I’m forced to remain in my little invisible prison thirty paces behind them, maintaining.

When I leave the facility at night it’s usually dark outside, and almost invariably there’s a vulnerable young woman walking a couple dozen feet in front of me. I don’t know for a fact that she’s vulnerable, of course – she may very well be capable of extracting vital organs using only her incisors – but the assumption is that the hulking male thirty paces behind her is the antagonist. As we walk she turns the same direction that I need to go at every opportunity, and I’m between gears just so I won’t gain on her too much. It takes an emotional toll on me, but it’s uncomfortable physically too: I’m walking faster than a shuffle, but slower than my usual aggressive stomp, so I feel awkward. Add to this the fact that I’m consciously looking anywhere but straight ahead and I begin to look like someone who may have just clawed his way out of a hole outside the perimeter fence at the local neighborhood happy home.

On the question of whether to walk silently or to make noise I’ve found no solution. Walking like the ninja will not attract as much attention, but may trigger her sense of peril should she catch a glimpse of you approaching as she turns a corner. Making a deliberate sound to announce yourself works for the first few minutes, but after a good 30 minute hike (“Ahem… still here behind you.”) it puts you on par with a Tourette’s Syndrome-afflicted rapist.

I’ve tried going out of my way to get out from behind these people, but I always encounter them again a few blocks up, and that’s even more awkward. Once I said, “I seem to be stalking you,” aiming for a Hugh Grant charming befuddlement, but mustering instead a Peter Lorre caliber facial twinge that actually caused my right eyelid to overrun my lower eyelashes (a feat I’ve been unable to reproduce since).

Now I think it’s a conspiracy, and I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s like these people have figured out a way to follow me – right in front of me. Contact with poison will eventually heighten your tolerance to it, but walking home the same way, somehow, only makes you more vulnerable. It’s humiliating and frustrating, and it reminds me that I am a creature of routine, and that will be my downfall. As far as the law is concerned I am the stalker – and sure, technically my actions are those of a stalker, but on the inside I am the helpless victim.

That said, I will on occasion follow someone home for no reason.

The Tide of Youth

entry_112The City seems impersonal more often than not, particularly when I compare it to the intimacy of the household I grew up in. Over the holiday, in the ebb of the din, I found myself with some spare moments during which to reflect on the way things were: three generations packed into a caravan, surviving the summer’s heat in our threadbare underclothes, ripe as an open can of meat.

I was closest to my grandparents. They were truly two of the most gentle people I’ve ever known, with voices like doves and never too busy to pet me on the head for an hour or two each day after school. By the time I was old enough to pee without crying they’d already gone soft in the head, and usually just sat there mewling like helpless kittens. They remained affectionate though, and would hug me close, my face pressed up against their stained plastic bibs. My grandmother used to suck my hand unconsciously, which I thought was cute. And then at night they would coo, the both of them. To this day I think of my grandparents when I hear the pigeons on the stoop outside my apartment. Still though, doves are classier than pigeons. Pigeons remind me of what I didn’t like about our blue-class hovel. Doves are the socialites. And if all this is so, then my parents were a couple of crows, fighting all the time, and never with a kind word toward me or to each other.

My parents used to talk about me as if I weren’t there. Which was fine with me, as I spent most of my time fantasizing that I was an orphan – albeit one with grandparents. I was sickly and had every kind of allergy you could think of. I felt much more akin to the mindless geriatrics blinking their cloudy eyes on the piss-stained sofa than I did to the shrieking couple who spawned me. So who was trespassing, really? But for all her incessant screeching, it was mom who kept us together. At least she tried. Pop wouldn’t have had anything to do with me if mom hadn’t told him to. Anything to get us out of her hair. And the best thing he could come up with – this is what I remember most vividly – was to measure me against the wall.

I was young then – still in the single digits – but old enough to know from humiliation. Because I was an oddity back then, and I knew that this little ritual of pop’s, it didn’t come from anything so lofty as an appreciation of biological progression, nor anything as basic as pride in his son’s struggle toward the blight of adulthood. No, the only reason my pop wanted to measure me was because I didn’t grow normally. That is, I didn’t always get taller. I was taller some years, I mean, but other years I was a little shorter – sometimes by nearly a foot. That’s just the way it was for me. And as humiliating as the whole drawn-out experience was, it’s not like I could have refused to participate. It just wasn’t the way of things. There was a hierarchy, ingrained into me from the time I knew anything.

Those marks on the wall – each one dated – looked like a chaotic jumble of lines. And just let me be shorter by six or more inches too, I’ll tell you what. My pop would take that kind of behavior as a personal affront. “See now,” he would say. That was his way of warming up. It was the conversational equivalent of cracking your knuckles before you roll the bones. “Everyone has to do their part, and what kinda respect do you have for it? Hah?” His questions didn’t make a lick of sense to me then, but his tirades were best suffered in silence anyway. His bark was bigger than his bite, and by the end of the night even his bite would be gone.

When my grandparents died – they both went on the same day – I was quite young yet, and I recall pop pulling me onto his knee. I thought of Santa, whom I’d never been able to actually approach on account of my allergy to fake beards. Pop seemed excited though, and I was hoping that he would tell me that my grandparents weren’t really dead. My hunch, in fact, was that they had hidden themselves, and I was supposed to find them. Was that the game? Maybe pop was excited because he’d finally figured out something to do with me other than to draw lines over my head. I was close to right on that count.

“Life is a mystery,” he said to me, and I was enraptured immediately. Not because I understood what the hell he was saying, but because he wasn’t grumbling or yelling. He seemed positively inspired. “Mamsy and Papsy, they’re gone now. Like, as in dead-gone,” he went on, and my happiness flagged. “But, see, in one way they’re not gone, because when people die, son, they don’t just disappear.” I remember looking up at him – I was very, very short that year – and he nodded at me and winked. “When people die, they get tiny. Really tiny. So tiny that you could hardly even tell they was there in front of you.” And now my spirit sank. In fact I was horrified without exactly knowing why. “Like dust particles,” my pop was telling me, “floating in the air. They could be anywhere.”

And then my pop got up, shoving me off his knee, and grabbed a beer from the ice bucket.

For the next two years, as bad as my allergies got, I didn’t sneeze once. I kept my sandpaper sinuses to myself for fear of inhaling my dead dust grandparents.

And I sit here now in better health, and with a clearer understanding of things, and it occurs to me that the people who do the most talking are the ones with the least to offer. And even though I know that deep, deep down, I still catch myself, on occasion, holding my breath when someone walks by.