entry_168Seeing a friend off at the train station it occurs to me that there’s a last time for everything. This is the last time I’ll see my friend off, for instance. At least, while I’m standing in this position, wearing these shoes. The next time won’t be the same, because the configuration of elements will be different. An event, after all, is defined by the orientation of its component parts as much as anything. And it’s a good thing too, isn’t it? To repeat something endlessly is to rob it of meaning… or to create a religion.

So, an end to some activities is clearly desirable. It’s for this reason that we actively avoid people after having delivered our goodbyes. To chance upon them a few minutes later would be nothing less than bad form.

“I… I thought you were headed out,” you would say.

“Oh! I was, but I forgot something in here, so I had to come back.” Is that defiance in their eyes? It is! They have played you for a fool, having vampirically slurped of your farewell sentiment just moments before.

“Hm. Okay. Well, bye again.” Only this time you’re emotionally depleted, and forever suspicious. Needless to say, the rule of thumb is that if you see the person you’ve said goodbye to coming toward you from across a parking lot, the best thing you can do is to duck between two cars and crawl the opposite way. If they corner you then pull your sweater over your head and mug them brutally. Try to speak with a foreign accent to throw them off your trail. And remember that you wouldn’t be forced into assault if you’d made sure that all your goodbyes were final.
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Saving Face

entry_167There’s blood under my fingernails, and I’m trapped. The meeting with my supervisor, informal and at my desk, was going well until I swiped at an itch on my forehead, which lately has been pulling double-duty as a proving ground for novice mosquitos. As nights progress, anything left exposed is fair game for the winged beasties, and the result is that my upper forehead resembles one of the photographs sent back by the Mars Rover. My supervisor was ticking down the remaining details of the upcoming project, bracketing each item on her printout, when I felt the first trickle on my forehead.

I swipe a second time, and this time there is a thin red streak across the flesh of my index finger. I have been too indelicate, it seems, and now I have a situation on my hands. Quickly, before she looks up again, I swipe my forehead with my middle finger, and when she looks up again I am nodding, concurring with her assessment of project parameters. She looks down again, to my great relief, and I have just enough time to examine the second streak of blood on my middle finger. Horrors: it is just as pronounced, if not more so than the first. Surely my supervisor has noticed my blood-bindi, but I can’t just let it run down between my eyebrows.

I make a third swipe with my thumb, and the wound shows no sign of abatement. So the question occurs to me: should I lick my fingers? What are the prevailing social attitudes toward the digital intermediary method of oral would cleansing? Might such a practice lead to an unfavorable performance evaluation? “Performs work-related duties, and also scab mastication, in an exemplary fashion. General hygiene issues. Recommend garnishing wages to offset sheer gross factor.”

Then again, neither can I wipe my fingers on my shirt. If I had worn red, like the Roman army did, then perhaps, but I failed to plan for wound concealment this morning. In the meantime, I have three wet streaks on my favorite fingers and a swelling crimson bead front and center. I wince at the thought of the humiliation when she next looks up.

But then she offers me an exit. “I think you already addressed this with your last design, yes?”

And before she has a chance to see my glistening plasma beacon, I’ve turned toward my screen to open the file in question. “Let me check, why don’t I?” I’ll face the screen now, and not look away from it until she leaves. If there’s any negative at all it’s that I slapped my hand on the mouse so quickly, forgetting about my bloody fingers. It should be okay though, as long as I don’t remove my hand from the mouse, which should only be a problem if management were to bring the new guy around for introductions. Best not to ponder that nightmarish scenario however. “Yes,” I say, looking closely at the image on my screen. “Looks like this one’s ready to be sent… from what I can tell.”

“Okay,” she says.

Then silence.

I know she’s waiting for me to turn around. She wants a cue. A tip of the hat, I suppose. Something that allows her to leave with grace. I grow wistful at the memory of such luxuries, and frown as blood runs down the bridge of my nose. I must be cold about it. “So I’ll get back to work on the last one,” I say, and click on random things for authenticity.

“Oh. Okay,” she says. She’s disappointed. If only she knew the burden of my secret shame! Out, damned spot! Out, I say!

“Perfect,” I say. “Maybe I’ll see you at lunch?” Still friends.

“Sounds good,” she says. I continue to keep my back to her as, I assume, she curtsies and backs slowly, respectfully away from my desk.

Only when I’m sure she’s gone do I scratch my forehead vigorously, loosing flecks of skin into my keyboard, and drawing blood in torrents. “Or maybe lunch comes early today,” I say to myself as I extend my eight-inch tongue to swab my throbbing forehead.


entry_166Standing at the rental counter my palms are so slick that my car keys slip to the cracked linoleum with a clatter. I debate whether to leave them there, but the girl waiting on us pauses in the middle of her spiel and levels a pointed look at me. A moment passes. “You need to get those,” she says, and in her urban brogue I’m not sure it’s a question.

“Oh,” I say, as if I hadn’t noticed. I squat down to retrieve them and wipe my palms on my pant legs, feeling super-white and un-cool. “Sorry about that,” I say upon resurfacing.

Mine is a sweat of trepidation, because I don’t know the answer to her insurance question, which she’s just about to ask my partner and me. “You have the option of purchasing insurance for an extra $30,” she says, in accordance with prophecy. Her pen is poised at the appropriate item on the rental truck contract, and my eyes are focused way past that. I don’t even have a basis upon which to form an answer. Insurance? I frown like a monkey tasting a Rubik’s Cube, and the world slows to a dull smudge as my mind diverts every resource toward this one monumental problem.

The other questions–the size of the truck we’d need, how long we’d need it–are easily answered. I knew what I was going to say before I woke up this morning. But I hadn’t anticipated the insurance question. And it’s a philosophical question, isn’t it? Questions of quantity require little thought. There is but one right response, and I’m the only one who knows it. But insurance requires a deep understanding of myself and of my potential, as well as an instinctual understanding of the world around me. What are the chances that I may meet with peril? Will my reactions be quick enough? Or will I invite disaster through a string of bad decisions? Is there a flaw in my understanding of the world that cumulatively guides me toward the glistening beak of chaos? Or perhaps none of that is true, but the flaw in my character is one that will cause me to purchase insurance needlessly.

I don’t know which is worse.

Should we get insurance? The question seems unfinished somehow, like something has been left out. Of course I’d heard her ask the question of everyone else, and it didn’t seem to be much cause for consternation then. But I was watching like I was sitting in front of the television enjoying a show about a truck rental agency that would never bear on my life. Maybe this is a test of how closely I was watching then, and the real question–the whole question–is: What are my insurance requirements relative to the insurance requirements of other people?

I remember now that the scrappy couple had discussed the question, and decided against it in less than ten seconds. Maybe it’s that much of a no-brainer. But they were both wearing overalls, and I would never do that. Perhaps they had learned to embrace their reckless natures. The glitter-like metallic blooms on their chests suggested that these were creatures who welded their own furniture. But then again, they were about the same age as I, so maybe I’d be at equal risk, regardless of temperament.

Insurance then.

The older black couple in polyester track suits opted for insurance the way a soul lost in the desert might opt for a snow cone. “Most definitely, give us all you got!” Because neither of them had any other sort of coverage of their own. Their story couldn’t be more different from mine. In fact, my coverage is so redundant that certain parts of my insurance statement are covered in the case of loss or injury.

So no insurance for me.

The gay, sandy-haired action duo in their checkered racing shorts (still dark with perspiration) fought about the question between themselves. He was so sure they should need it that it was almost a morality issue, whereas he found the idea patently offensive. The counter girl left them in the middle of their debate to help us, and that’s when the world went into motion again.

I wipe at the sweat forming on my brow. “I’m not really crying,” I explain to her as I blink my eyes through the salt sting. “It just looks like I am. Huh!” My voice-cracking puberty laugh should infuse the moment with some much-needed levity, but she’s looking less than entertained.

If I were the only human then there would be no right and no wrong. My way would be The Way, merely by the scarcity of alternate ways. Indeed, it’s only as competitors and adversaries are introduced to the picture that I must worry about whether my way is the wise way, whether my way makes sense in the greater scheme of things. Therefore I must possess the ability to see myself in contrast to other people, with their arbitrary, inscrutable viewpoints. In that light, how could I ever expect to come out ahead?

While I’m still worrying at the specifics of the greater question, my partner steps up and takes the decision for the both of us.

And that, really, is the only correct answer.