Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Varieties of Things That One Rarely Bothers to Mention or Document

The week I had my wisdom teeth removed, I saw a man in line at the corner bodega drop a pencil, a nice-looking one, without noticing. I was fixed in a Percocet fog and stared at the pencil (handsome wood, something an architect would use) instead of telling the man he had dropped it. His transaction completed, he left, and I stepped up to the register, placing my beer next to it. I then turned to watch as an employee mopping the floor discovered the pencil, picked it up and admired it. I regretted not doing the same when I had the chance, but it seemed fair that all I should receive was the moment of transfer, as one man would never know where the pencil went, and one would never know where it came from, and I alone knew both.

The Gchat I received from a person I don't exactly know, clearly intended for someone else, that said, simply, "sent," and my crushing inability to deliver a perfunctory, helpful reply. My name on her chat list, just above or below the right one.

The occasional, peripheral certainty of a heightened martial presence in Manhattan, the alert bomb-sniffing dog, an extra pair of camouflaged soldiers, an assault rifle slung over a shoulder and gathering the sun's warmth on Wall Street; the suggestion of classified intelligence pertaining to this day, this block; the quickened pulse that meshes with implicit and perhaps nonexistent danger, but then danger is never more than this potential, an unbroken vibration we periodically acknowledge.

A painful twinge in my forearm when painting along the molding at the top of a wall, the wall ending a quarter of an inch beyond my normal reach.

When I read a book whose author is dead I can't help but sense the ghost reading over my shoulder-Nabokov's chuckle as I flip back through a chapter in eager perplexity, before he teleports to the classroom of an hopelessly inept college English professor whose lectures he never misses; Woolf's satisfaction at my satisfaction at her use of "staccato" to capture the movements of a sparrow's head, her inaudible agreement, yes, that line was one of my favorites, too, it came abruptly, following a struggle, yet long after I'd given up.

The way I groped with a paper towel in a dark bedroom after spilling a glass of water, not willing to risk the light, searching the plane of wood until a wetness crept into the quilted square.

A dream preceding a hangover: My family has moved into a lavish, mazelike apartment, with gleaming luxuries around every corner. But in exploring the endless series of rooms I encounter an infestation of what are surely some South American variety of ant, bristling with poison barbs and secreting acidic juices and roughly the size of land crabs. When I find my father I tell him that his new apartment is overrun with ants-for mysterious reasons I refer to them as "digger ants," which would seem to describe most ants and not properly convey how repellent or dangerous this particular species is-and my father laughs as if to say, "Well, that'll happen when you live in a place this nice." The room fades and is replaced with a shopping concourse dimly related to the one at Grand Central Terminal, and I wander into a cheese shop to find Wu-Tang Clan's RZA and GZA doing tandem stand-up comedy for an audience of customers so absorbed in finding the right sort of gouda or brie that they all but fail to notice the two rap legends vying for their laughter. I listen for a while but am too fascinated by the intense focus of the other shoppers to follow the threads of several jokes and eventually slink out a rear entrance, not wanting to offend the performers or (and this is a truly unacceptable possibility) be expertly mocked for leaving the show early.

Evading eye contact with friends and seeking it with strangers, especially strangers sitting in outdoor cafés, especially female strangers sitting in outdoor cafés, especially female strangers sitting in outdoor cafés and allowing their attention to drift, their heads to tilt, their expressions to darken with mystery.

A powerful, morbid fascination with countless daily ritual nothings. Juggling my small carton of orange juice and messenger bag as I attempt to extract and display my office ID. My apartment building key selected from the set, its bow pressed between the knuckles of my middle and index fingers, the blade thrust outward as though I will slash the unlucky mugger who chooses to strike when I'm mere feet from my front stoop. False accretion of detail in the subway advertisements and graffiti that fringe each commute-contours, irregularities and shadows that were and weren't there last time. The seconds wasted every week on the observation that my favorite deli lunch order (buffalo chicken wrap) and my favorite vending machine snack (Chex Mix) are both given the code C4, this universe winking with meaningless coincidence.

The burst of loneliness when, whether in conversation or lecture, a speaker pauses to search for a word, and you silently arrive at the word they want, and the speaker then settles on that very word, not without some relish, and the strange fermata quickly recedes in the wake of further talk, and you turn to watch it shrink against the horizon.

Being so wretched at informal goodbyes that I leave gatherings without saying a word, hoping the host will construe this rudeness as somehow more intimate than the hearty backslap, or handshake, or hug.

The voyeurism of city life, yes, but more the incompleteness of it: an arm, just an arm, adjusting a curtain in a window across the street. Each bedroom filled with its own light, light from a secret arrangement of lamps. I was walking home at 3 a.m. one Sunday morning, charged with the intuition that this ghostly hour was when public became private, and came upon an arguing couple: the man stood on the curb, the woman directly across from him, the whole sidewalk between them. I didn't hesitate to pass through this turbulent strait. She attacked his masculinity. He bragged about an ongoing affair. And as their shouting dissolved behind me I imagined they had saved their cruelest lines for an impartial passerby, for some contextless verdict made possible by tangent, the way I grazed the curve of their fury.

The unexpected calm that washed over me when I realized my laptop's hard drive had been wiped clean, the subtle euphoria of this tabula rasa, the immense satisfaction of taking the computer apart and installing a new hard drive myself, the pleasure of starting over.

How sure I was that the man who entered the elevator and pressed the button for floor seven after I pressed the button for floor six would mistakenly exit a floor too soon, how palpable his distraction was. My purely mental smile when he strode out confidently on floor six and I mumbled something like, "I think you're one more," one of those otherwise nonsensical shortcut phrases. His embarrassed "Thanks." The impression of his wobbly final step into the blank white lobby-an unstep, aborted as mind and body came to an asynchronous awareness.

All the women I love or loved or nearly loved know how to make silly faces, and they know to do it often.

The sky, which we do describe so often because we can't, and because our failures nonetheless strike us as lovely. A landscape's apparently infinite range of greens, of illumination and shade. Those glittering flecks in pavement! The ocean, despite its currents, flowing in every direction at once, and never going anywhere-the temporary shine of smooth wet sand when a wave retreats.

That when moving though a crowd, I fantasize about shoving absolutely everyone to the ground: children, the elderly, men twice my size with shaven heads, stunning women in precarious shoes, sleep-deprived students carrying books, cops, executives, street preachers, drunks, the rare celebrity, the person I recognize but want to avoid, the tattooed girl with brilliant teeth, the guy who sort of looks like me. I will shove them all. The crowd will subdue me, eventually; they will band together and pin me down and demand to know what is wrong with me, and I will say that nothing is wrong, that this was always how I pictured it.

Miles Klee goes outside.

58 Comments / Post A Comment

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Straight outta Sei Shonagon! or Seinfeld. Either way, this rocked.

Moff (#28)

Yup. Good stuff.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

Had I the money, I'd pay Miles to stop by an informal gathering at my house and jot down his observations about the cobwebs. Leave whenever you like, no sayonaras necessary. Oh, there's a twelver in the fridge if you want to take it with you.

Matt (#26)

The last time Miles and I were at an informal gathering we solved feminism.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

Rooms. You had to be there.

(I wasn't… not close enough to Poughkeepsie.)
(slashes wrists)

cherrispryte (#444)

@Matt – harrrumph.

Matt (#26)

To be fair, @MichaelOrell did most of the heavy lifting.

Bittersweet (#765)

Beautiful, Miles. And this:

"Being so wretched at informal goodbyes that I leave gatherings without saying a word, hoping the host will construe this rudeness as somehow more intimate than the hearty backslap, or handshake, or hug."

LORD YES. Are we related?

When I found out this was called an "irish goodbye" I started feeling better about it (since it was a Thing, not just my bad manners). Now I do it shamelessly.

HonoriaGlossop (#1,247)

@morose: Thank you for passing this along, because now I feel better about it, too.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

Sometimes, it just plain beats the whole "hey, sorry, I really gotta head out." "What do you mean you gotta head?! Stay a while!" "No, sorry, I really can't, I gotta [something]." "Well, OK then, thanks for coming…"

cherrispryte (#444)

I always just stay for entirely too long.

zidaane (#373)

@cherri Same. I always close a party because leaving is so awkward.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

Nice pottery. Pick that up at an Alfred studio sale?

Coates Bateman (#3,324)

David Rees can help with the pencil

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

Get out of my head!

saythatscool (#101)

Really good, Miles.

HiredGoons (#603)

"The voyeurism of city life, yes, but more the incompleteness of it"

Well, my day was just made.

Miles, I think you would like the work of my photography teacher Joe Johnson, especially his 'city pictures'

Well played, sir.

Craig Brownson (#4,257)

This is really excellent.

cherrispryte (#444)

This was beautiful and wonderful and a bit like a poem, in a good way.

Way better than poetry.

Dave Bry (#422)

Yes. Hooray for this.

hman (#53)

I may start counting the minutes I 'waste' while seeing how many words I can make by rearranging letters on license plates. Every day.
I really liked this.

David Roth (#4,429)

I concur. Really good, really well-written.

Slava (#216)

The Last Novel

laurel (#4,035)

I liked this very much.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

I liked this, but it made me more melancholy than it should have. But that's on me.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

So can I steal this concept? I mean, pay loving homage to this concept?

Aatom (#74)

Best listicle ever. I'm not even kidding. "Evading eye contact with friends and seeking it with strangers" is just sublime. I'm in awe of your writing ability, Miles.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Full of Nabokovian charm only warmer and sweet. Still I was so pleased to see that he popped in for a minute, there.

But all at once it dawned on me that this
Was the real point, the contrapuntal theme;
Just this: not text, but texture; not the dream
But topsy-turvical coincidence,
Not flimsy nonsense, but a web of sense.
Yes! It sufficed that I in life could find
Some kind of link-and-bobolink, some kind
Of correlated pattern in the game,
Plexed artistry, and something of the same
Pleasure in it as they who played it found.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

I decided recently that I should just read Pnin and Pale Fire over and over and not do anything else.

Except this post is great so maybe not just Pnin and Pale Fire. This post reminds me of Max Sebald.

I can't believe I overlooked this post for nearly a week.

Me, too. Also very glad to have made my way belatedly.

This is awesome.

MatthewGallaway (#1,239)

Just wanted to echo the admiration for this piece.

VeeCee (#1,189)

yes, this. It gave me chills.

This was very good.

Miles Klee (#3,657)

You people are absurdly kind. It's terrifying.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

Terrifying? You haven't even gotten the drunk adulation yet. Give it half an hour.

I'm actually afraid to reread it now 'cause I might start professing love…

Matt (#26)

Don't worry. Summer of Megadeth still thinks you're a jerk.

untitled HD (#4,555)

well it's been almost half an hour, and I'm certainly drunk!

trouble is, I can't get this piece out of my brain.

Damn you.
Love you..
But damn you!

bthny (#2,907)

this is great.

John Holdun (#6,457)

Hi. Are you me? Or maybe I am you?

scroll_lock (#4,122)

Miles, what a treasure! It's like opening a present that's so good you want to re-wrap it just so you can open it again.

Edith Zimmerman (#5,210)

Miles, this is so wonderful. Thank you!

jolie (#16)

I already always want to hug Miles but now I want to hug you and then maybe hug you again.

KarenUhOh (#19)

All these moments, they are poetry, if we'd just pay attention.

HiredGoons (#603)

Shut up Wes Bentley.

Joey Camire (#6,325)

Shall we be friends that really care about each other, but can't find the time to ever actually contact the other? We just look back fondly on idea of our relationship, while actually a husk of a real relation, with genuine ardor. I'd like to have that with you.

Favorite. Going to read it again

Cavale Fnord (#6,817)

I thought I was the only one.

Legs Battaglia (#2,484)

Miles – when does your book come out?

Miles Klee (#3,657)

Someone has to buy it first!

Caitlin Dennis (#7,963)

Strange that it's the in-betweens that are lost so quickly, even though they should be easier to catch, being smaller. But then I suppose it depends on what kind of net you use.

Joe Berkowitz (#5,534)

Your best work (that I've read.)

Hamilton (#122)

Boy this is good.

Post a Comment