"I used to have the notion I could swim the length
of the ocean..."
It's today, just like every single day. You are
settled into position along the long slab of subway platform,
more or less. You rock three feet to the left or right, judging
the commuter traffic at this stop and weighing it against other
factors such as the presence of others on the platform and the
time of morning. (10:08, actually. This softens your logic, lets
it grow fuzz, because you know at this hour and this minute most
people are already snuggled into their cubicles or hidden behind
their Formica counters. You've been on a gradual, almost imperceptible
slide toward 10:15 for the last four years. It is highly unlikely
that you'll ever see this very spot at 8:44am again - that's a
separate reality now. You can't go back to 8:44; you just slip
forward until you become wealthy enough to call a hired car or
poor enough to work evenings.) You want the third car from the
rear. The third car from the rear is the one. Magic car! It might
look crowded and loud and noisome now but in two stops it will
deposit 60-75% of its passengers on another platform, leaving
an empty seat for you and anyone else smart enough to know. You
will sit. And read! And all of this in easy comfort for 6 more
subway stops. And this makes you happy because standing on a crowded
subway car has become next to impossible lately. You sweat like
a junkie and you are prone to spells of dizziness and nausea and
filled with a desperate need to move your bowels or breathe fresh
air or push that obese teenager in the North Face jacket right
out of his seat. And you consider all of this each day, from the
moment you wake up until that defining moment two subway stops
from where you are standing right now. Your whole day is anticipated
by and agonized over the comfort of your morning commute. Just
like every single day. And this makes you sad and serious.
You checked your face for signs of anxiety or anger
in the reflections of no less than four parked vehicles on your
way to the subway this morning. You are afraid people perceive
you as the serious person you believe you've become. And, harder
to explain, even to a licensed professional, you are afraid you
check your reflection because you think you stopped existing approximately
four years ago. You don't even recognize - you repress your instinct
to recognize - your reflection one out of every 5 times. Others
would tell you this existential crisis is a normal part of urban
living, but you don't ask. And they don't ask, because they've
woven that neurosis into their day, and they wear long sleeves
to cover it up. And they, like you, like all of them, deliberate
over the flavor of their bagel and the preparation of their coffee
and the balance on their Metro Cards. And they haven't even made
it to work yet.
"I'd plumb the depths of every sea for you,
I'd escape from my shell..."
At work you have taken to ordering the same lunch
every day, just as you think you will today. You used to deride
eating patterns, or any obvious pattern, but that has all changed.
You thought you were leading a personal revolution but then you
laughed about that and decided lunch at a different location every
day in no way constitutes a revolution. A small skirmish perhaps,
but no more. And you decided eating the same lunch each day leaves
room for more important decisions. You convinced yourself of this
almost as quickly as you'd convinced yourself that your individuality
was predicated on your decision to eat a different lunch every
day. See how easy?
(Here's why you really eat the same lunch each day:
you have become acutely aware of the patterns to which you're
chained. And your lunch is still as significant in its predictability
as it was in its unpredictability. You are embracing the foolish
patterns and, by doing this, you are quietly subverting them.
You actually believe this acknowledgment is funny, and a fitting
commentary on the bland state of the post-industrial employee.
You know no one else really notices but this - THIS - is the real
revolution. Self-conscious conformity is the greatest act of rebellion
against normalcy. Fuckers.)
(And here's why you really eat the same lunch each
day: it tastes just fine, and you've grown content. Like the nice
lady said, See how easy?)
"I had to contact you€"
You used to collect funny things. Now they seem
like clutter. You used to clip pictures from magazines that whispered
to you, and included these pictures (without explanation) with
correspondences - folded into envelopes that were hand-addressed
and licked by you. But now it seems a waste to cut up magazines.
You can't remember the last time you ate without a napkin or drank
without a coaster, although you used to find people who insist
on coasters a bit pedantic and not entirely trustworthy. You used
to care about so many things you now eschew and dismiss or remain
oblivious to all the things you now embrace. You walk into people's
homes and say things like, "Hey! I have those curtains."
"Ooh baby I'm in love with you, baby baby I'm
in loooove with you€"
You hit repeat again, because this song has secret
messages in it this morning. And you fix your eyes on the train
tracks. That's when you see the paper bag creeping along the tracks.
You adjust your faculties as you eliminate the possibility that
this bag is twisting in the cold breath of an oncoming train.
No - this bag has a distinct purpose. It moves along like a rumpled,
paper animal. Its head, the end of the bag bunched into a tight
nose, darts about slowly and chooses a new direction. The rest
of the bag follows along in a cautious but determined creep. This
bag sees you, although you hope the bag is looking at someone
else. Not today, you think. But it's probably not today anymore,
You continue to watch the bag. It picks up some
speed, rustling along without feet, and moving toward the back
of the tracks. You think it moves like a dragon in the Chinese
New Year parade, but with an adolescent awkwardness. This paper
bag is young, orphaned. You love this bag, this bag that up-ends
everything you've spent the last several years arranging in a
neat, easily indexed pile. This bag is the strangest thing you've
ever seen. You awaken your dormant belief in monsters, fairies,
the unexplainable, as you watch this bag move with familiar animal
instincts. This bag is as real as you are - you have arranged
a pact of mutual existence with it through your shared eye contact.
(In that small moment, you actually thought the bag wanted to
kill you but you've since let the fears associated with that irrational
possibility subside.) No one else sees this bag, and you're sure
of it. The train arrives, the life instantly vanishes from the
bag, and you step on, not caring whether you sit or stand today.
(You are protecting your real desire to sit.)
As you speed along toward your office and the screen
savers that punch holes in, rather than express, personality,
and the lunch you aren't going to order today, you have a moment
of clarity. You know that bag was a rat in a bag costume. You
knew that all along, just as anyone else who might hear this story
later must surely know it. But as you hear yourself telling the
story to friends and anyone else who will listen, you are sure
you will always leave out this truth. You want to stop aligning
your life along a 24-hour long stretch of details, and you want
to start aligning it along bigger things you've only hinted at
before. Not all today, because today is just one day, but in growing
pieces every day like today, and from now on. You believe in monsters