I Am Content
I am riding a gondola strung on a cable high above somewhere, the sort that tourist attractions use to ferry guests to exotic sites. The only other passenger is the pop diva Brittany Spaniel. I don’t ask why that is, the same as I don’t ask why I am on earth. Outside the fog is thick so I cannot tell we are moving. I am frightened.
But not for the reason you might think. I am scared as I am when I see someone in my trajectory who has not agreed to the terms I have. A raffish bum or a gang goon or any jostling band of outlaws heading at me on the sidewalk.
Brittany Spaniel is beyond my poor power to add or detract. I have consented to middleclass virtue, although I have faith or credit in neither as commonly construed. I pick social mores because that seems the best mode to be left alone. I maybe can drive seventy with safety, but not everyone can, so I consent to speed limits gladly.
My model is Doc in The Getaway, as played by Steve McQueen. His wife and moll Carol is Ali McGraw, and she don’t wanta meet Bannon as they had agreed. The reason is because she slept with Bannon who was on the parole board, which is why Doc is with her and not in prison, and she‘s thinking maybe that will come up and it would be like embarrassing and all. Doc, he say, all else being equal, it’s better to keep your commitments.
It’s better to keep your commitments. They were leaving a bank robbery and three corpses thus far (it’s a Peckinpah movie, so you know this is early) with plenty more on the way, plus much mayhem from which Doc will extract them both by means of a .12 gauge shotgun with double-ought loads. The commitment was to meet Bannon with the goods, so they must do so, all factors being equal.
Here’s me and Niki J at Disneyland, which is a hideous place of garish cartoon characters and dopey regimen stuck in two of my least favorite factors, crowds and heat. I’m so glad the kids are grown and I don’t have to visit this hell no more. Niki J says to the ticketaker she will not chomp on her fudge brownie in the Skyride line, but she does, and he comes running down the line to call her down for it.
I say, what good is that? I complain about it for a long time. How much better is the fudge now as opposed to later? There is the embarrassment to account for. It is better to keep your commitments, all other factors being equal.
She doesn’t mind. She just goes on. What good is that? I ask. She smiles.
Once it was the flavor of traffic. When I was young and nervous about casting a shadow, as everyone is, I drove reckless and made lots of noise. Here is me, I was saying, driving too fast.
What good is that? The most reasonable and empirical standard is set in traffic law. I was a quark, as most are, which means my existence had to manifest through other particles and other wave lengths.
Myrna was an old lady who sought to manifest her existence through moving other particles, like the general services staff, who must move a breaker box at much trouble and expense because she saw it as a feminist safety issue. Or the reference desk at the library, which she would call to ask for every zip code she could find need of, although a zip code directory was always within ten feet of her domain. She was old, and never had outgrown the need to manifest self through moving other particles. Constantly she was snitching on coworkers, the message being, these faults I spot we understand are beneath me.
I am me because my little dog knows me, said Gertrude Stein. I am me because I can cause others trouble, says Myrna. I fink, therefore I am.
When I was young, I went to work in a factory which built gas pumps. I would sit at a desk and plink chrome trim around the edges of panels. One old one came over to me. He had stories, stories of my grandfather. I still remember the stories.
In my town, everyone knew the entire genealogy of everyone else. Like the true philosopher, Plato’s dog, we only trusted what was known. (“Have you not considered the dog? For he will ever grovel before his master, and attack the stranger, although the one has never done him any good nor the other any harm. He only trusts what is known. He is the true philosopher!”)
I moved away. Where I live now, I have been going into a bookstore for thirty years now. Daily, when I was working across the street from it, and at least weekly thereafter, for thirty long years. That’s longer than some of the staff have been alive, and longer than I lived back in my old hometown.
And yet nobody knows my name. They have no idea who I am, what I do or mean, what sort of guy I am. Probably none of them could pick me out of a lineup. I engage in no discussions, partake in no book signings, merely browse and sit and read scraps of prose.
I obey the rules, neither jostle nor am jostled, cause no trouble, attempt to escape notice. I worry about having books from the used bookstore down the street in my backpack here. What if they set off the alarm? I am content.
I appreciate a certain serenity in my days. I hear those who come to chat, all about me, and nothing I hear has not been said many times before. I am content.
But now I am across a narrow way from Brittany Spaniel, and she has much power and can cause me much trouble should it please her to do so. The ordinary exchange of civil interplay has no bindings for her. She is essentially a hologram of millions of particles, hormones and hype, need and greed, wish and dish, bright neon cast in 3-D harmony. There is nothing about the corporeal Brittany Spaniel which has anything to do with who she is.
The second runner-up in the Miss Universe Pageant might feel great pride, and well she should. However, had she done something else that week, still there would have been a second runner-up of the same basic profile.
I am frightened of Brittany Spaniel, for she suggests a lack of responsibility down on my street, someone above the petty law of gravitas. But I am precisely the same to her. I am an image of lights cast on a screen, a character type. I want something from her. An autograph. I would not even register unless I identified a type for her.
That is the sugar that makes the medicine go down. A dumb bum was part of NoshCon one year. He had the juvenile approach to what’s real, man. There are three phases in growing and when you complete them you are back where you began. That’s the way it is. You are obedient and then you are dismissive and caustic and then you see the point of manners and you are polite again.
The bum baited the waiter, who asked standard questions, like, “You doin’ all right?” The bum answered personally, at length. He thought he was being cute, that we’d appreciate him. We did appreciate him for the bore he was. There is a method worked out over many generations of social intercourse, and it allows us to avoid inventing the wheel every meeting by installing and utilizing clichés. They are functional sometimes, buffers and fire-starters. The bum wanted only to flash his authenticity; the rest of us only wanted to order brunch.
It works best when we are from central casting, all of us. I am public, customer, audience, correspondent. Across from me, in the opposite seat but offset to my right, is a Pop Diva. I am an autograph seeker or I am nothing to her. She is resigned to the responsibilities of her role. I do not want to jostle even her pride, although I have no idea what I would do with an autograph of Brittany Spaniel. I smile.
She grudgingly draws something out of her genuine Monica. It is an India ink pen. Hey, wait a minute. It is a tattoo needle! In the manner of one resolved to her fate, she leans forward and begins scratching her name on my right arm in huge swooping motions.
This will not ever leave me. I smile, and say nothing. I know she can hurt me, for she is very powerful, and, like a bear in your tent when you wake, you will be satisfied with only a few permanent scars, because the bear does not have to obey your standards of behavior. My right arm says “BRITTANY SPANIEL” now. She is satisfied; stashes her needle away, folds her arms across her middle, gazes out at the fog.
I am content.