—–I always wonder where they get these drab, expressionless people from, sitting as if inconsolable in the three little rows before the gaudy television set, in the waiting room outside the Service Dept. desk at the Vision Hyundai dealer in West Henrietta. They look like rejects, alright, or maybe the overflow from the studio audience of some daytime talk show. You have to wonder how these schlumps sitting here (as I pause at the doorway and try to decide whether, melodramatically, I might become one of them) would handle it if they were suddenly plucked out of the scene and told they had been selected to represent the human race. That is what I imagine, everytime I come here.
—–“You will do,” says the voice of an angel, or a burly (androgynous?) nurse, hauling one of them out by the scruff of the neck, “you will do just fine; come along, ma’am, and don’t protest.” The others barely notice, they barely notice anything, and it is futile trying to imagine even the flashing content of the television, either the painfully recited news, or the agitated pleading advertising, rousing them, putting color in their faces or life in their limbs. They are stuck there, alright, probably will hardly recognize their names when they hear them, over the scratchy loudspeaker, when their car is ready.
—–“Your car is ready, Mrs. Jones” says the bright young mechanic, who this time has come into the waiting room and walked right up to Mrs. Jones; “it was only some gelatin in the radiator.” What did he say? I thought he said a gelatinous substance, or a viscous oily dripping, had invaded but not ruined the radiator. That is right, you have escaped, and we changed the oil for free, once again. Mrs. Jones is flushed–I mean rosey cheeked. These cars are made very well these days, ma’am, and we’ve cleaned you up. It almost certainly sounded personal, and Mrs. Jones has puckered up her face, so grotesquely, I don’t think her husband would even recognize her. And I know she has a husband . . . Well, at least she is going home, whereas the others are still stuck in the plastic chairs, and they could be candidates for hell.
—–“You are out of here,” the stalwart Service Dept. kid says to Mrs. Jones, who is agape, not herself I am thinking–as I am listening to every word that transpires in this skimpy dialogue. These car mechanics are always so formal, they are a riot, but they pack a punch. They can be . . . executioners, after all. I take every opportunity to put them in my fictions. And these people in the waiting room, unfortunately, are already half-dead, vulnerable, they are humanity’s extras, and the only reason to put them back on the road is . . . to keep the traffic dense on West Henrietta Road, is all I can think. Of course that is only me, who thinks this way, and who can’t escape this infernal line of thought, which takes me over everytime. Everytime, that is, I find I have been forced to make a visit to this car dealer and its really very spic-and-span Service Department. They dress you down right away, there is something about these guys at the counter that reduce you. Down to size, like maybe depending on what make and model Hyundai you have, though we are all small people, I always think, in this regard–that is in relation to the car god. What am I saying! I was saying I came in because I have some kind of slow leak in the left front tire, and I was trying to be jaunty about it, which seemed to work insofar as the mechanic was very consoling.
—–“Ah, a slow leak, could be a couple things,” he said, reassuring me. I was just glad I got out here, because you feel safe in this environment, on this terrain. Cars are everywhere. Lowly customers only get to the Service counter, where they take your keys and send you to the waiting room, which is right beyond the vending machine, and if you keep on walking, and don’t join the begrutten, inconsolable group in the TV room, you get to the show room and the big floor with the new cars behind plate glass windows. Here is where you nearly faint–but if you don’t, buck up, because the hungry salesmen are standing ready for new customers. They got deals of a lifetime, in the deodorized showroom, which is all glass and tiles and brand new cars smelling only faintly of rubber and something sickly sweet. It is a new universe in which there are only winners, not losers. They have a red cart on wheels and banners all around it, that is, presto, a Popcorn Maker! With a vat of buttery popcorn waiting for greasy hands. You have to wonder– I mean I always wonder, how stale that popcorn is.
—–But that is just me. I am just not automatically willing to join that crowd on Death Row, whom I have soundlessly walked right by, and I will, everytime, dare to wander out onto the skating rink (that is what it is, a skating rink!, I think, as my mind begins to clamor and clank, for having to subsist in a downright fiction). And what I always do is, I amble up to one of these floor salesmen and venture to say something challenging, before he can even pitch me, with his pitch.
—–“Have you seen any of those Hyundai ads on TV lately,” I say to the perfectly upbeat, but stuffed into his shirt and pants, I mean awkward and inwardly miserable, ready to guffaw salesman. “They are so amateur, so obnoxious! So loud, I mean I know the corporate gods, if you will, they must send these things, or at least the scripts, from on high to your local dealer, but . . . Christ Almighty.” Hey, we all know car ads are the bottom of the bottom.
—–But does he drop his salesman persona and join me in my perfectly human struggle to understand and make jokes about . . . reality, and the powers that be? Or at least some portion of it! Like what is right in front of me at any given moment! No, he remains like stupidly in the fiction. He is a most fierce defender of his portion of the undeveloped story. And he glares at me, like to instantly accuse and assess me as the enemy, and the saboteur which, in my heart, I know I am. “I am in for repairs,” I say, “myself.” To wipe it all away, and explain myself. Forgive me, I should say–I am out on a limb. The very floor is slippery. The wheels are coming off–talk about a slow leak, “until the wheels come off“, how does Dylan sing it?
—–And I realise I have done it again. I am done in by these constructions, and I better get home and sort out these definitions, for they are way too preliminary. I am willing to buy a brand new tire, if the slow leak is flat fatal, if that is what is required to get home. Two new tires, if need be, just get me out of here. I have to pad on back resigned, and when I pause by the Customer Service waiting room, by God, there is hardly anyone left! Then, like I have been granted a reprieve to live a month longer as the unresolved scoundrel, or author of spineless fictions that I am, the fresh-faced mechanic meets up with me right there, click clacking on the tiled floor.
—–“Here is the culprit,” he says, and he is holding a half-inch nail.
—–“Well, isn’t that something,” I say, “so you just fixed it?”
—–“Can be done,” he says, and before I could even ask, “good as new.”
—–So I get to drive out of Vision Hyundai, with the sense of some clear truth–or I should say dawning truth, that though I may have survived, many others may have slipped, the very evidence being this slipshod, barely grammatically fabricated series of dead end sentences . . .
—– I was talking to our two dinner guests, Theo and Diane, about that day–I think it lasted a whole day–back in Vermont, when we were living in Ferrisburgh and I was always driving out on Route Seven, up to Ralph’s Market for donuts, and into Vergennes like to the hardware store–talking about that incredible day when we went driving, in the silver Toyota I think it was, and the car seemed to be, and proved itself to be, totally invisible. That’s right, invisible to all other cars, which we could tell because they would come out of sideroads right in front of us, and not slow down when we were in front of them, until we were shunted over to the side of the road, and they would sail right past. It lasted the whole day, three times we went out for one reason or another, from that big farmhouse on the hill, entering the landscape with increasing trepidation, and the last time in the twilight, which is dangerous anyway, all day swerving out of the way of other cars.
—–“Several times,” I said, like for emphasis, “we could have been killed several times.”
—–“You’re exaggerating,” responded Theo, after the women stopped laughing, and suspending his fork, which had just skewered a scallop, in the air. Then he looked at my wife, and said, “he is exaggerating, isn’t he?” My wife, who was in the car with me on that day long ago in Vermont, looked at Theo severely and shook her head.
—–“He was driving,” she then said, as if that was the defense I needed. “We were invisible for at least that entire day,” she added, “and I think he may be downplaying it somewhat, actually.” She knew, it was more than just a couple times when we were in someone’s blindspot, or the sun caused an erasure, say, of our small silver vehicle–it was more than a few blips, it was a sustained and significant episode that seemed, even, to be teaching us something.
—–Also, she was no doubt referring to the fact that for an entire week after this I wouldn’t let her go anywhere in the car with me. I went out by myself to test the reality of the situation, down the long driveway and out onto Route Seven, edging out into the always sparse flow of traffic on the two lane highway, and conducting various tests to make sure the car was actually being seen, keeping my distance from other cars, to see if I and my little Toyota were being reckoned with, so to speak, and respected, you might say, by these other cars. Gradually, I established that I and my car had regained visibility, and our rightful place on these roads, and the day we were invisible became but a memory, fairly non-threatening.
—–But it happened, cars and trucks behaved like we were not there, and tractors–one farmer with a hay truck piled high with bales about to fall off, came right out in front of us and we had to slam on the brakes, on that fateful day–I think it was a beautiful September day, and, I hesitate to say it, it seems so incredible, but I don’t think that farmer heard my car horn blaring at him, as we tried to swing around and pass him then. It was me and my wife (we were only just married, too, I don’t know how relevant that can be!), cozy but sort of doomed, inside our own, invisible, car.
—–“So what are you saying?” Theo tried to reign me in, and egg me on to make this hypertrophied memory . . . significant. Symbolic! People always want stories to quickly find their application, for some reason. I guess it makes them less . . . threatening?
—–“Gee, I don’t know,” I taunted him. “Unless it was an early sign from heaven, like a comet in the rear view mirror, informing me that I was to lead a life of increasing invisibility. It could be that.”
—–“Go on,” Theo said, clearing his throat as if he were going to speak himself, and then folding his arms and pushing his chair back from the kitchen table, so as to get comfortable for my coming confession. I would have preferred it if the other two were also listening, but those girls they always get into talking about their gardens and their paintings, if you don’t keep them engaged with something more than . . . cars. I don’t think my wife had ever attempted to make any supreme analogies, or dig deep into the strangeness and comedy of that one day in our halycon, honeymoon youth . . .
—–When she said, “he was the driver,” it was more than just in defense of my driving, it was a comment on my skills of perception. She gave me credit for being a reality-maker in those days, and still does, though perhaps the spheres–yes that’s a good word for it, spheres, in which we operate and have influence have changed . . . I was thinking–but I had to satisfy the demands of Theo, who was the one still listening.
—–So I just gave Theo the parabolic application, and became the martyr. “Take a look at my literary career,” I said, “am I not the very emblem, the high achievement, the epitome of invisibility!” He just looked at me with astonishment. “The excruciating pinpoint, the refutation of justice and even history itself, the stubborn flame, and dogged impossible pursuit of the impossible itself, I say!, and the obscure, the tantalizing, and the unreachable. Am I not?”
—–“You are some mudslinger,” he said. “And you mock yourself,” he added. Now there was thunder like applause and lightning like . . . all clarity! Outside, reality was undergoing another seismic shift, I swear. For when I rail, the world may not hear, but . . . the gods react! Yeah, and now there was some racket in the other room, too, as the ladies had taken to looking through big art books, and slapping them closed like slamming car doors–and it sounded like they were dragging squeaky furniture around, while giggling.
—–“Should I tell you about how sometimes when I go into the tavern,” I said to Theo, “there are no places to sit, and it is like no one even sees me, and I can’t even get the bartender’s attention. And people jostle me, and try to walk right through me?”
—–“Spare us,” he said.
Downtown Rochester, corner of Broad and State, waiting for the light, Saturday, September 13, 2008, 5.00 pm. Many parallel lines, and much potential illusion, in the rain. But the real reason is just to create an opportunity to sideways plug the blog of photographer Mark Drago. Anyone who likes the occasional photos here, or the slideshow Landscape of Oblivion, will find a veritable feast over at Drago’s INDIFFERENT EYE
—–I can’t imagine what it must be like to have nothing profound to do, like all the time. I mean to only be thinking petty things about what you have to do to get dressed and ready for your job, and then behave and perform and act cool and talk suavely, and to look forward to meals and movies, and never say what you think. I mean I can’t imagine what it would be like to have only broadscale, in-your-face, appetite based, life–as what you are eager for, and responsive to, to have only that, and nothing to do, but live. To live, and just to live. To only seek and get, or not get, what you want. To transact, and rationalise. And give gifts to others as if that was what they would want, and ascent to it all the time. And then, by yourself, blankly endure what must be long stretches of nothingness, because you have given yourself no other job than the job of dumb life.
—–How would a person cook up what they want from scratch, and on what basis would would they decide this is what to go for and be satisfied with? This I have never been able to get in step with. I mean didn’t you once have any sense of another world, at least that you were cut off and separated from, like a former life? That something caused you to live here, like in a strange cut-off world, a fascinating mystery? Then! You would have a second task, other than self-satisfaction in a closed system. Then you would be busy all the time, because the sense of an unfinished investigation always would hammer at you, certainly when in those moments and hours you found yourself with nothing immediate to take care of, and were idle. You wouldn’t be able to be idle, with an outstanding puzzle afoot, would you? Do I have to imagine this must be torture to you, or a threat to your awareness, like asking you directly how can you endure it, such a blank stretch of time, and survive at all, without beginning to lose your worldly concerns, and set those thoughts of another self at odds with your puny identity you got, like just last week. Your worldly existence should beg comparison with a parallel life which has to do with the progress you are making with the great mystery of your soul. That is what I say! I just can’t imagine what it must be like to live with no sense of this mystery, no urgency all the time. It is an outstanding question, life itself, with which you can be always busy. How do people live with this hanging over them, and then act like there is basically nothing do except fidget and laugh, and cavort with one another and then retire after some brief revelry, and then complain about material things and dance with them, cynically destroy them, one thing after another? Until the world is completely new.
—–This is what they have to do all the time, because they never wonder about how or why they are actually alive. God, this must be horrible to live in a world of transactions, and meals, and driving and talking, constantly yammering to no end. Perhaps they have been scolded so many times, they just have learned from stern adults, and are beyond learning, being bitter, and automatically have it established that there is no way to mount a scalable opposition to the mandate that they do nothing all the time. Have patience, they have been told as a child, perhaps. But how could you live so long, and all the time, day and night, getting into bed and climbing again out of bed, always having to cook up things to do, without reference to the truth that you are basically stranded in a complete and thrilling mystery and should get to work, like with the more important business of . . . getting fully awake! If possible, to the issue that might survive all this . . . And it must occur to you that it must be only yourself, your poor self, if you have only gotten this far in your timidity and fear of taking one small step towards asserting that you do not belong in this world exactly–though it is so appealing in so many ways. Couldn’t that be coordinated, this appealing, with the greater issue? Any takers on that? For must it be only yourself who you are allowed to satisfy, and who is allowed to wonder, in pure loneliness, and allowed to fail–for surely failure, in such a weight room, would be equal on the scale . . . I mean, there is where all the others are, of course!, in this trading and transacting, this cash and carry system. We would to be of a number great enough to face the challenge! Yes, and to get anyone else involved would lead to considering their reality, and they would be either a constant comparison on the one scale, or the other . . .
—–Who knows what might happen, if we began to acknowledge one another?
—–Having appeased and no doubt satiated many gluttonous readers with the easy-going narration of recent adventures in reality, so to speak, those brushes with commonality, so to speak, such as locking your keys in your car, and having to argue with pretending muggers, and extra-eager policemen, I now return to my proper investigations into the abstract and the infinite. For a long moment there I was fired up with the prospect of another of those novels, which I wrote so happily in my youth, but correlating images failed to produce a story. Reality usually fails to simply supply meaning of its own accord, though one may desire that it do so! That is it’s greatness. “Knowledge itself, transitively speaking . . . is a desire,” I said to my friend Mondrago, as we sat, each with our adoring wives, overlooking the September sunflowers on the veranda.
—–Mondrago squinted, then he squirmed. This boldly stated truth–if it was a truth–warranted further explanation. Well, I said, to begin with, everybody has several alter-egos hanging around, like people wandering not far away, in the garden picking flowers, suitable for use as various situations arise. I asserted this even in the face of my most faithful conversational partner, so it might have been taken, by him, as a diminution of his status. “We are not ourselves, when we talk to each other,” I said; “more like we are the other one, framing the subject, for our real self, watching . . .” He nodded. “To put it another way,” I bowed my head and said, “talking to oneself is facilitated by the fact that one is permanently denied access to their actual self.” This of course he understood completely. Life is a desire, is always a pursuit, and about it, or anything learned there, you can never get a singular–and hardly ever a profound–debate going. “Dialectically with oneself,” I added, just to show how relentless I could be.
—–“What I am really driving at,” I said, and paused.
—–“Yes, what are you driving at?” feigned the Frenchman. At which point I spun full tilt into lecture mode, and took on that crowd of straw men I also keep handy, those academic types and those literary critic types, who are in chronic need of pity, understanding, and a good scolding.
—–I am not being sarcastic, I said to Mondrago, whose wife Samantha was now listening, sweetly (you could hear her listening, she was so sweet). I took on the whole lot of them and called them all “he.” When he, I said, thinks back on his academic career as a teacher, and then author, he feels that he never really obtained either, enough to not blush at the title, but somehow all that has happened, in life, is he has been peeled away. Peeled away and exposed as the kid he always was, say in seventh grade. Knowledge, the idea of it, is a thrilling prospect, to be learning sounds like an activity, like to be in love with a subject. But now he sees, knowledge is a desire. And it is only relative to others, that he stands out at all; others who he himself has judged, perhaps prejudicially. Perhaps! His status is entirely manufactured, if he were to admit it to himself. He is so completely unaccomplished! And is it a sufficient piece of wisdom to have gained from it all, only this old truth? That it was the thirsting for knowledge that was the genuine strain and tension, running like alongside him and refuelling him in his career. That the impossibility of gaining truth fully, was the guarantee that he would always have this career.
—–“Sounds a little flat,” I said. “Sheer disappointment is the lot of the scholar, if he does not reclassify himself as a man of passion,” I added, to finish the thesis. Then went on anyway. Full tilt into a rant, listing all my foes! The professor of religion who cannot locate his own religion among the many brushed with in his study, which is the same as his office, with a view of a tree cut off by the window. The mail ought to come in more often, he thinks. Knowledge is such a far distant prospect you become wistful, nostalgic for a loss you didn’t even actually suffer. Egads! The scientist who has learned in his brilliance to shift focus, from the organism to the terrain, the particular to the context–in which it swims. From the grit to the grease, oh that is no way to put it!
—–These are careful, accomplished, learned men who face the wisdom that kills the discipline. And is that life? Knowledge is not desire itself, no that is too serious an equation; knowledge is only a single desire, among the things desired. And as we keep saying, as we already know, the object of a desire is not the desire itself. Is it? Lest the two insensibly swoon and blend. Shame on your ambition!
—–“In every instance,” I went on, “knowledge is a desire.”
—–Keep saying this. The desire and the object of the desire are of a different order. This is a shock, almost impossible to bear the thought. That knowledge is a desire. That knowledge is an experience, trivial, fleeting, exquisite and consequential–for it was life. Desire is all of life, the very fiber. “Knowledge is power,” said Thomas DeQuincey, who had no power, and much learning. But he could write like the wind–a charioteer riding in the wind. Knowledge is not desire, but a single desire. Not a sexy verb, but a floundering noun. The active content of one of those experiences you have, which will not die, but haunt you, sinner! It is not the end of anything, not the thing achieved, but a desire. This is why you managed to be, once, passionate about a life of of ideas, because ideas consume you, they are not simply achieved. Knowledge is not the package received . . .
—–I got to where I was no longer sure of what of this I was saying, had said, or was thinking. So I wrapped it up. “Knowledge is an experience, like a trip to Europe,” I concluded.
—–At this point the breeze came up and the September light shifted to a deeper yellow, intensifying amidst the flowers and showing up bare patches in the garden, out of which my wife came trippingly, like in an idyll. She was wearing a straw hat that I never saw before. Unbelievable! Overwhelming quiet took hold.
—–“I would like to hear more about that professor of religion,” my wife said. As she was just coming back with some cut flowers, I couldn’t understand how she knew I had even brought him up. “How did you know,” I began to say, but she was so innocent, so imploring–giving me such an imploring look. And Mondrago and his wife Samantha, they were listening, and now there were crickets, sounding invisible and near.
—–“How long do the crickets last?” was the question. Everyone asked it at once! Don’t we already know that, doesn’t it happen every year? Well, one can desire to know, but it never sticks, because knowledge itself is never free from the circle of inquiry, though it may run about in the yard, and throw streamers in the air in celebration of . . .
—–“Yes, I would like to hear more about that trip to Europe,” says Samantha.