January 26, 2013
You don’t say.
I. The elevator in an unfamiliar building stops at my floor, and I wait for the door to open to turn my head slightly towards the man riding with me and murmur “good day,” or “take care,” or “bye now,” whatever that two-syllable noise we produce for each other in politeness stands for, because I have been burned before; I have smiled and muttered the mystery utterance as soon as the elevator stopped and then waited dumbly for the door to open, but then it doesn’t, it just hangs there, like the subway doors after the train has pulled into Union Square, and everybody stands stiffly looking straight ahead, then some of us let our heads drop forward in an attitude of prayer, of asking one’s shoes for strength, and it’s just interminable. Undoable. The collective force of the thwarted expectation causes a warp in time such that each femtosecond spent waiting for the door to open is exponentially unbearable, and by the time the doors finally do part 1.5 seconds later, there’s a percussive wave of relief strong enough to create actual wind, wind enough to part your hair through your pomade. In the elevator I feel it, the j-hook of anxiety catching me just under the center of my ribs. There was a rhythm to our ride, the floor numbers lighting with even tempo, and after the beat of seven floors, I’m expecting the door to open on “…and eight,” even though I know better, and I have trained myself to expect exactly this pause, have learned to take a deliberate breath and let it out slowly, sooooooooookay, there’s that, but then by now the door surely should have opened, and from there time goes triangular, slides down on itself like one side of a shelf collapsing into a hypotenuse against the shelf below. And all the books fall out.
II. Around age nine or so, I became aware that it was already too late for me to fully live my life. For instance: On realizing that there was a potentially infinite number of pieces of music — potentially infinite, but not quite; it was still a finite number that could be calculated, even if that number constantly changed — anyway, blah blah, a lot of music, more than you could listen to in your lifetime, I decided that I would never listen to the same song twice, because why? You already heard it. You could never hear all the music in the world, but you could hear as much as possible over the span of your life. But I’d already missed my chance, wasted too much time. I already knew fewer songs, and therefore fewer facts about the world, than, say, the precocious seven-year-old who’d figured this out years ago and was busy stuffing her ears with music I would never be able to make the time to hear. And I still had to read all the books, visit all the cities, master all the trades — there was so much to do, if one was to become perfect, complete, the only person who would ever understand what it was to know everything. Which, now, I never would. My life would be limited forever, because nobody thought to start my training regimen when I was still young enough for it to work. I could have been the greatest human being who ever lived. But it was too late. I lolled on the floor in my bedroom thinking about how lucky this person was, this imagined Janice, who began at birth with the knowledge I had now, a Janice that could do it over but the right way this time. I envied her.
III. Aware that none of this is universal experience and therefore useless. Aware that one is privileged to have things such as a bedroom, a Metrocard, or the time to ruminate on the contradiction posed by an amount of music that is finite and yet can’t be quantified. Aware that none of it is important. Not even the life and death stuff. Many years ago, I went to a weekly open mike where I’d often see the same people perform more than once. One guy worked for the NYC Coroner’s Office in the field of cadaver transport, and after watching him, I came to understand two things: 1. There’s nothing more mundane than life and death. 2. Some, if not most, cadaver transporters are unrepentant sociopaths, and in a way we’re all lucky that there’s gainful employment available to these unfortunate sufferers of sociopathy, because it keeps at least some of them at least temporarily off the streets, and really, who else is going to be able to pick up dead bodies day after day after day, and then go to an open mike to talk about the rack on that one corpse?