“Yeah, Mondrago,” I finally said, “all my life I’ve been worrying that someone was going to say: I can’t stand this anymore! And then throw up their hands, and run out of the room. All my life, I have looked at people, certain people especially, and thought: how do they stand it? They must be about to lose it, and run for the hills. So to speak. And now you know what, Mondrago?” I said, “I am beginning to think that person is me.” Yeah, I thought, I am beginning to envision such a scene for myself. But Mondrago could only say, “Have a cigarette.”
I guess you can’t take this seriously, when someone talks in earnest, or supposedly in earnest, about what they have been thinking about others, and then transfers that to themselves. That is like nothing at all, really. I mean I wasn’t about to go ahead and run out of the room, myself, obviously. Precisely not. And now I apparently wasn’t so sure of the image as it applied to all these others I had been condemning, right and left, throughout my life. So I guess the subject is myself. If that is the case–why not take the opportunity to zero in on it? In entirely related matters, in the category, say, of super-warped interiority, I have ongoing collections already begun, and some out of control. I have examples, say, of how, by force of some colossal naivete, I manage to assume that every other person I encounter knows practically everything about me. They are equipped with that ability, to know everything about me and what I am even thinking at any given moment. These complete strangers can therefore put my smallest actions against a backdrop, where they are completely transparent. It is as if my actions alone make my whole history explicit. This is operative in most dialogues with clerks; I am under their thumb, within their purview, however you want to put it. It is just an instinct with me, of course–any reflection shows that nothing like this is the ever the case, of course. But that doesn’t matter, I act as if it is, and that is the point and the keynote of my behavior, out in public most of the time.
We are talking about me. Say, the friendly middle-age librarian at the counter in the Rundell Library, to whom I appeal after checking the stacks, to see if they have a copy of Vila-Matas’ Bartleby & Co., well, talking to her I an shrinking in embarrassment, for some utterly obscure reason, and I know what it is. Absolutely I just acted as if this perfectly friendly clerk would know automatically that I was not asking for the short story by Herman Melville, not “Bartleby the Scrivener” I was inquiring about. This is because I assumed she knew everything about me, that it was self-evident from my appearance and even my manner that I would of course not just be excitedly discovering and asking after Herman Melville. She knew I had all of his books and was running down something else, which, making allowances for her, perhaps she had not heard of, herself. This is tortuously obscure–I know, but it is alright. We are only talking about me.
And that being established as the case, here is another tack (as in that sailing maneuver you make, when you want to get around the other side of the wind). The better I do get to know people, I can hear their thoughts. Now we are not talking about clerks, and toll booth operators, and people who lead you down long halls. Sometimes people I know very well, those very ones whose thoughts I can hear while just sitting next to them–sometime they lean over and confide in me. They say things sometimes pretty hot to handle. Recently, a close family member said to me, right before one of those gatherings we all look forward to year after year: “I’m just hoping to get through this, while making sure everyone stays happy.” Well! Guess what? This is a familiar pair of thoughts. Just get through it, and hope nobody . . . flips out. Here is one which could be a template and turned into a thousand analogies. Songs can be written, and many are, if you want to pare them down to the first piddling inspiration. I have this combination of thoughts all the time, I was telling Mondrago (who is my sidekick in my brain, you see). All I want to do is get past an event and make sure that everyone else is happy along the way. Or just doesn’t explode. I don’t know, Mondrago, you could have a room full of people where ninety percent of them are in this befuddlement. You don’t know how many others are thinking the same way, since the event itself may be to no one’s particular liking, and, since you are holding these thoughts invisibly, perhaps they are thinking it about you. Hoping they just don’t have to deal with you exploding. Life is complicated, I’ll say that. And I think that most people are, like me, if for no other reason than that they can’t imagine being anyone else, content to stay who they are.