You probably know this about american store chains and franchises. They all look the same. Thanks to Macdonald’s legacy and the dynasty he created with Walt Disney, [and then a system with which the affairs of selling and buying are to be conducted in the rest of the world], thanks to them you shall not be “wanting” for anything [with money in the bank and the uncanny ability to find a place to park when the going gets tough] by moving from one part of the country to the other. [Except maybe an authentic mexican cuisine the further south of the border you drove; then again you can miss out on worse things than mere heart-burn]. They look the same, they feel the same, they are even situated in the same kind of neighbourhood. They own the same type of buildings, with the same setups, the same cafes and the same disabled Greeter ready to check your receipt on your way out.
They are the same, that is, except when they aren’t. Or.. when you aren’t, to be exact. Except when you walk down a Walmart isle, for example, and grabbed something off a section marked “sale” (with $4 following it, most probablly), and having made your way to the middle of the store, as you should, tried it and decided to buy it. You wait in line, barely escaping being hit by a cart wheeled by a 4 year old who just mastered the art of walking, then refused to give up learning how to drive [drive his mom crazy, she’d tell you!] with cries and screams of protest [proving your point for you that when it comes to putting kids where they belong, nothing beats the power of the rod]. You stand back politely, smiling at the long-suffering mother and whoever caught your eyes, remembering the movie “10 items or less” and/or Morgan Freeman and his voice, wondering if it was too late to switch lanes/or if making a dash for the next one was worth the attention it would draw; when a cashier (that reminds you of some other “eshee beGide” cashier.. from some other time) greets you jovially and asks how we are today. You give the tailored answer, digging into your purse for the plastic bearing your name (and whatever you own with whoever you are dealing with), you swipe and you walk out .. trying to balance yourself between the purse on your shoulder, and the shopping bag in your hand, your heart cozy in the knowledge that nothing has changed, that everything is the way it used to be (should be), having slipped, as it were, into another era.. another day.. like a feet does in one of those senselessly disturbing dreams.. when something shocks you back into reality, into “now”, the present day, and you realize that this wasn’t the Walmart/5th Avenue you went to that first time he decided to take you there, and paid for your first pair of jeans [and made the lady behind the counter laugh, in his insistence that you try another one, and then another one; running between isles of clothes, like a kid in a candy store, picking for you all the things he thought you needed.. bras, lingerie, sandals, shorts, bracelets; having forgotten in his excitement, it seems (in the knowledge that here was a time you are entirely dependent on his knowledge/experience/money), that you can’t tell from a lingerie, that you are too self-concious to sport a short just yet and that bracelets were much cheaper and more exotic from back home]. That this Walmart was smaller, more close to the clouds, and their muggy heat, that it has that restaurant missing across it’s street, a parking lot which looks less populated by that brand of tree Walmarts have, metrons who are less than friendly, less smiling, less rejoicing at the blissfulness of your love. That this wasn’t the Walmart you went with him that first time, that first day, in that first city; in those days when he still came home for lunch, just to see you. In which he called every half an hour to ask “so… whachu doin?”. In which he, and not yourself (infront of the full-length mirror in the rest room of where you work), took endless pictures of you looking up and looking down. Until he stepped out of your love, like a wet cloth, and walked out; never to return [the way he was].
“You shall know our velocity!”, Dave Eggers’ second book [he is the enigmatic writer about whose “What is the What” I made this post few years back] has the following three pages that describe .. ever so perfectly.. the bewilderment and pain of a person left behind; the survivor, so to say, of a death (or it’s ugly little cousins), a break up, a separation, a divorce. This is for all of you who have to live, survive & hope to stive, with a hole in your heart. And realities you get yanked out of every.minute.of.every.day.
YOU SHALL KNOW OUR VELOCITY
By Dave Eggers
I tried to nap, but now my head was alive, was a toddler in a room full of new guests. It jumped and squealed and threw the books off the shelves. Yes I’m one of the slowest talkers you’ll ever meet but my head, when I have it and it’s not asleep or being borrowed, is not slow. My mind, I know, I can prove, hovers on hummingbird wings. It hovers and it churns. And when it’s operating at full thrust, the churning does not stop. The machines do not rest, the systems rarely cool. And while i can forget anything of any importance — this is why people tell me secrets—my mind has an uncanny knack for organization when it comes to pain. Nothing tormenting is lost, never even diminished in color or intensity or quality of sound. There were filed near the front.
Imagine a desk. The desk is located at the top of a green hill, about two hundred feet above a soft meadow dotted with tulips and something like cotton. Winding through the meadow is a stream, narrow and quaick, which rushes with the sound of shush-in and sniffing. The desk has a magnficent view, and the air around the desk and on the meadow is about seventury-two degrees. It’s balmy and bright, and the sky is blue but not too blue, and in all it would seem to be the perfect place to have a desk. A desk where you could abserve things and do the work that had to be done. The one catch is that the desk sits above a large structure, the enrance to which is just behind and below the desk. This building extends ten stories, down. The structure has been dug down into the whole of the hill and houses a large staff of humanoid people, oily and pale and without hair–they are moles and look like it, with huge square yellow teeth and mouths of fire–all of whom are in charge of keeping track of and retrieving its contents, a mixture of records, dossiers, quotations, histroical documents, timelines, fragments, culturual studies–the most glorious and banal and bloody memores.
Let’s say that I like having this structure in existence, and that I value it’s presence, and that I have easy access to it. If I want something, a file on something, all I need to do is summon it and one of the library’s staffers, who again areall hairless, have ruby-colored eyes and wear white, will bring it to me, usually wihtout any delay. If i’m on the phone with Hand, and he menitons the time we pushed Darren Larson over the sprinkler–we were big kids and bullies–and Darren Larson cut the shit out of his shin, all the milky white showing, and then he hid behind the fence by the lake under the sunsetting sky, mewling–then I can ask the librarian to get me all the information possible on that event, and do it quickly, so I can converse intelligently with Hand. Seconds later an eager staff member, ruby-eyed hairless and in white and with the smell of sulfur barely covered with rancid perfume, is before me, with a neat manila folder containing all the data stored within the library about that day, given that there’s been, over the years, some mismanagement of the library and any number of floods and fires–so much lost but who to blame?
And as much as I value the efficiency and professional elan of the library staff, I’d begun rcently to worry about a new wrinkle in thier procedures. For the most part, they’re supposed to act on my requests when I make requests, and to otherwise just keep an orderly file system. Part of the deal, implicitly, is that at no time should the staff members of the library choose for me what information I should be given. But lately I’d be sitting at my desk, trying either to work or to just admire the view and wonder about the stream, what makes it go, if there are fish inside, what their names might be, if any of them are secretly talking fish and if so what they might say–when there will suddenly be a library staff member at my side, and she will have one hand on my back, and the other will be pointing to the contents of a file she’s brought me and has opened on my desk, so that I will follow her finger to where she’s pointing, and when I see what she’s pointing to I will gasp.
I never want to see that fucking clipping again. I was outraged at my mom ftor keeping it. What kind of psycho would do that? She didn’t show it to me but there it was, in the drawer where we kept the scissors and envelopes and clippings. From the local paper, a picture of the car, crushed, under the headline: YOUNG MAN DIES WHEN SEMI SPEEDS OVER CAR. I never thought I’d see a picture. I didn’t know there was a picture. It had been three months and I was sleeping normally again and was visiting Mom in Memphis and found the clipping. I read the article, folded lengthwise and ripped, not cut, at fist not even knowing it was Jack. For a few paragraphs it was just a chilling and pathetic story–some poor man had been killed when he’d been driving too slow. A truck traveling too fast had overcome the man’s car, had driven over it, crushing it in a fraction of a second. The picture was clear, the car right there, fender to fender, but yet it was only an abstraction of a car, an angry scribble of a car, and when the clipping was unfolded there was Jack, his high school graduation picture, sportcoat over his right shoulder, the picture right next to the trucker’s, like they were a team, like the quarterback who won the game and the receiver who caught the pass.
“I just thought,” the librarian will say in a curt, professional way, “that you should see this.”
I know this file, but I have no need to see it now. I didn’t ask for this goddamn file. I tell her this.
“Yes,” she says, “But I really thought you should see this again. We felt it was important for you to pore over the file right now, replaying the episode in your mind for the next few hours.”
I look at the file, and its contents scream at me in a voice containing thousands of murders in unclean homes. I push it back toward the staffer.
“I look at it. Thank you.”
She leaves. I look out at the meadow and see a scattering of birds chasing each other. I can see for maybe thirty miles.
There’s another tug at my sleeve. It’s another staff member, a young man with eyes like animals on fire. He’s leaning over the desk and he has a file. It’s the same the previous librarian had.
“I just looked at that,” I say.
“Yes, but the feeling downstairs is that you haven’t examined it closely enough. Especially the part with Nigel, the prick from the funeral home, and all Jack’s college friends laughing and smoking out on the deck on the day of the service.”
I picture what I’d say to those imbeciles if i saw them again. I wanted to act and wanted something that would cause them pain and embarassment but wanted it to happen quitely. Everything quitely. My tolerance for anything loud had diminished every year I’d lived, and now so many things gave me a jump. The steady noise at work, drills and saws–I couldn’t do it anymore, this noise. Before i quit I’d begun to ask for the quieter tasks. painting walls and moldings, installing doors, though I maintained an option for the tearing down of ceilings–usually the acoustic tile of officed areas–and the digging up of floors. I loved doing both. So many good wood floors covered by layers and layers of indefensible surfaces–fake linoleum, particle board, rubber, carpet, cement, anything. I loved to pry under these things to find the original floor, the floor of parallel and interlocking tongue-in-groove fir planks, to uncover them, run my rough palms over their soft wood and sand them, and finish them again–to start over with this original smooth floor. And the ceilings were just as satisfying, slipping those hideaous tiles, dotted like starry skies inverted, from their grids, dropping them to the floor, watching them break. Then the tearing down of the grids–so easy!–that held the tiles overhead, revealing a ceiling many feet higher, huge wooden beams old and full of the lines and curves of growth and struggle. I loved the effect when both happened in the same space: the raising of a ceiling, the lowering of a floor, exposing the wood again above and below, the space growing, the usable space and air attendant swelling within immovable walls. I thought of that painting in my boss’s office, on a calendar his daughter had given him, a Callibotte, men bent over a wood floor, the sun whitening them, the men in that one painting bent over, kneeling and sanding the whitened wood floors in that second-story room in what must be Paris—
I’m on a happy thought trail, hard-won, when another young woman, hairless and white with eyes burning black and red, appears on the other side of my desk. Now there are two staffers, flanking me, both pointing to the same material. She has the same file–WHEN SEMI SPEEDS OVER CAR—I was just looking at and had managed to forget. She sees my alarm.
“What the hell is this?” I ask.
“We made copies,” she says.