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The Lost Scrapbook
By Evan Dara

Chapter One

I --I am, yes; certainly; --So how about medicine. . .? --Listen to me: Yes; I am; absolutely. . . --Or law--? --Of course; --Then forestry; does that--? --Immeasurably; --And--? --Profoundly. . . --Or--? --Passionately--!

along with marine acoustics and quantum biography and psychogeology, not to mention their respective subdisciplines; but what I am not interested in, Ms. Clipboard--or Mr. Canker or Mrs. Murmur or Call-me-Carol, all of you--is your questions; even your pointing and tipping Enoch pencils have six sides, my dear definers: pay heed whereon you pinch!; I am interested, almost exclusively, in being interested, and your reductivist probings are only intended to cordon off wings of my mansion:

--Tell me what book has made the strongest impress--the tale of the suicidal career counselor, o Dr. Sphincter; it's a bizarre enterprise, this deciding what "to be": mostly it feels like negotiating what not to be; so spare me your solicitude, my dear diminishers, for I can already hear what you are going to say next: that before long I'll need to be realistic, and to acknowledge the inevitable, and that eventually I'll recognize the subtle majesty of moderation; after all, you'll tell me, children can only make purposeful movements after they've learned to rein in their fitful, neonatal fluttering; learning to reach is actually a process of learning not to do everything except reaching; but let the watusi continue!, I say; think how we might move if all that innate waggling could be harnessed:

--But you know that isn't workable; now, if you'd just look at this pattern of crosshatched smudges-- and see the configuration of my future; no way, good sirrah; if I tell you, creviced Dr. Goatee, that I enjoy a good game of musical chairs, would you consign me to a lifetime on a loading dock?; if I mention that I had stubbed my toe on a rock in Hoppe Park on the way to your paneled offices, would that make me a born jack-hammerer?; save your TAT's and your Stanford-Binet's and your vocational aptitude tests for people who are born takers of TAT's and Stanford-Binet's and voc. ap. tests; do not ask me to choose classical philology over industrial catering when they both seem such powerful fun; I want to be a forensic epidemiologist and a floorwalker in men's hosiery--look at how those size 10-to-13's drape over their tiny 2-shaped hangers:

--All that is admirable, of course; but, you know--

--But there is so little time. . .;

So then, of course, it becomes a question of sequencing, of best organizing the delectable succession; and, in fact, I will admit to preferences on that count; there are things I would like to do first, undertakings that I am avid to attack even before all the others that I am agonizing to get at; for instance, I have always wanted to operate a centrifuge; now that would be deeply rewarding: separating milk from cream, reclaiming used motor oil, pulling blood platelets from plasma--it is an honorable calling; then, after having devoted myself to fathoming some small tittle of the centrifuge's irreducible depths, I would next like to work in anthropology; for here, if I may say so, I believe I have much to contribute--indeed, I believe I am on the verge of substantiating significant advances both theoretical and practical; yes, my inquisitors, I assure you this is true; for I have established, on my own, as an unaffiliated scholar, no less than a new definition of Man--yes, him--one that is easily more rigorous than any heretofore proposed; forget opposable thumbs, disregard use of tools, lay down language capacity or abstract reasoning--those are clearly insufficient; my definition easily surpasses these provisional flouncings in accuracy, comprehensiveness, and elegance; and it is this: man is the animal who pisses where he shouldn't; and when this gets out, when this robust new paradigm is disseminated and attributed, I am sure that my modest Edwardsville will become as renowned in anthropological circles as the Olduvai Gorge!; that the Leakey family will be seen to have gotten closer to the truth with their name than with their 57 years of sun-scorched fieldwork!; that Billy Carter's ureter will seem more momentous than Lucy the hominid's mandible!, and this is what is called progress, this is considered advancement: putting one foot after another, putting one step after another; this is considered achievement, this is supposed to be movement. . .; but no: this is not progress, this is not achievement, it is much the opposite: I am a figure on a treadmill, and my steps are delivering me nowhere: I can displace nothing; going past Bennett Street, then past Seminole Street, then continuing past Sunset, storefront-glass gives way to rot-wood houses which give way to the green sweep of Meador Park; but nothing changes, nothing is removed: I am traveling nowhere; I am only simulating distance, shamming movement: action is only reinforcing stasis, effort establishing impotence. . .

. . .And all the while, accompanying my every step, The Photographer is sounding in my head, purling incessantly through my clamped-on Walkman; it's a good piece, Glass's homage to Muybridge, minimalism used to maximal effect: with its repeating rhythms, endlessly rechurning, the music resembles a wave that doesn't move, a standing wave; that's what you listen to, the change and unchange of the wave, not any emergent melody: listening not above, but within; nowadays, I sit in Meador Park for hours on end plumbing the piece, turning the cassette over and over to extend it indefinitely; and it goes, the music just goes, without faltering, without hesitation, not depleted through repetition, but enriched; and as it goes--without faltering, without hesitation--the rapid-rushing piece instantly becomes the soundtrack to what I am looking at, regardless of what it may be: the varied tilts of oldsters, hats, wind-gusts corduroying the park's grass, the sparkling of pram wheels, children stepping onto the water fountain's access ledge and hunchbacking behind their button-pushing hand and jutting lips; the music suits it all perfectly, uncannily, as absolutely apt accompaniment, the spirit of vision converted into onflowing sound; further, it works just as well in the other direction: whatever I see also functions as a perfect illustration of The Photographer's ceaseless undulant pattering; every event and gesture in my visual field--bicycle-spokes fanning, pinkie balls trickling across the ruffling green--seems to spring from some hidden imperatives of this unheard music: sight and sound have adhesive properties of which I had never before dreamed. . .

. . .It's a question, really, of figure and ground, of learning to integrate the two: of linking the landscape to the flamelike cypress thrusting up within it, of considering the World along with Cristina: dissolving patterns into particles. . .; and I, for one, am perfectly positioned to make such investigations: I am either a bland assemblage of denim, sweatcloth, sneaks, connecting flesh and Walkman scudding through the streets of Springfield, barely perceptible in its random passages, or an indrawn 19-year-old with slightly stooped posture who has run away; it depends on whom you ask for the description: me, or anyone else in the world but me; figure and ground; figure or ground; but who, since Muybridge, even looks at the ground?; and Cristina was a cripple--

Yield

Still, I cross Grand Street, then Catalpa Street, then Bennett, walking past unswept barbecue parlors, past unmanned parking lots, past the smudged and overcrowded display windows of heavy-metal collectibles stores, past Denn's Nip Inn and The Four Roses convenience grocery; and even though these streets and their shouting features have all but disappeared to me, the exhaust-stench from the passing Number 5 bus sluices through me, even if I hold my breath; there is no escaping you, civilization: you even trickle up pinched-closed nostrils; when I could not countenance going to college, I got a job in Cinco de Mayo; when I could no longer abide dispensing microwaved prefab tacos I went to Sterne's Small Appliances; when I could no longer bring myself to peddle garage openers and 17-function four-blade blenders when exactly the same devices were available at invariably cheaper prices at DC Pritcher's around the corner, I found myself at Raiders, Pharmacy; when I could no longer endure Jim Raider's cruel commentaries about the customers, delivered the very moment the door had shut behind them, I went home and looked in one of my M.C. Escher print-books; heavy and covered in flashing cellophane, the book begins with a section about the history of tessellations, from Byzantine mosaics to Escher and his progeny; yes, I know that Escher is scorned and over-commercialized and pap, that he is non-art, that the arbiters have arbitrated against him, but as I sat and turned the pages the involuted lithographs began to draw me in; and as I was knotting more deeply into Escher's inlacings and refractions of dimension, I turned another page and knew that I had to come here: outside, beyond: in the midst, but also gone; finding invisibility through new presence; disappearing through assertion, through self-assertion: beyond, outside. . .

. . .So now I move about you, civilization, like an electron: amid your clamor and industry, your commonness and shared accords, I am a speck, whirling and circling, negatively charged; with no measurable existence save the statistical, I am everywhere, and therefore nowhere; I have now evaded notice for eight straight days: I walk through the Walnut Street district or stand on Glenstone Street pretending to be waiting for the bus, and I eat the wetfoam remains of dumpster buns and the gouged remnants of chocolate cake pulled from quit tables in the diners where I go to the bathroom, but I have not once been stopped by the police: there have been no sirens, no takings-in for questioning, no ID checks, no offhand but edgy glances by serious men festooned with security equipment; in no way have they altered my orbit; in other words, they have entirely acknowledged my invisibility. . .; here, now, I have finally consummated my tendency towards non-existence, indeed I have pushed it to unforeseeable levels of accomplishment; now my sole function in this world is to serve as receptacle for the proof that I am inconsequential; every experience I accrete is only another stroke of an eraser; and experience is endless. . .

. . . For instance, five nights ago: it was five nights ago that I decided, after three full days outside, to go back--to investigate; I had an urge to see what had transpired at the pointcenter once known as my house; so after an early evening spent drifting through downtown--I played the game of asking people directions to non-existent streets--just past ten o'clock, I made the turn: moving rapidly, I took a twisty route of lesser-used sideblocks, and felt the granuly transition from urban-indifferent public domain to soft-massed my neighborhood; then I slowed considerably; finally arriving at my block, I rounded the dark corner almost as if tailing someone, edging forward in fractional steps, holding my breath forcibly back; and when I finally angled up to my two-story home, this is what my vortical eyes saw: no squad cars parked in front of the house, with no revolving roof-lights; no vigilant neighbors sitting in backlit windows; no newly-arrived relatives; there was only the customary leafy darkness shrouding the gray-green saltbox, swaddled by shifting suburban quietness; nothing had changed; nothing was different; nothing was at all unsettled; I had caught invisibility in action. . .

. . .For a few minutes, then, I remained outside, hidden behind a tree on the other side of the street, and just looked on; and then I decided that I had to go in: I needed to see if this was all just pretense and facade, to look for concrete signs of my own absence; so I approached the house gingerly, with slow, sidewalk-rasping steps, and then inched up the sheetrock entrance pathway; but the front-door lock unclutched easily to my key, as it always had, and the foyer was still flanked by the same familiar coat-closets; further on, in the living room, the rug was still abraded to stringy barrenness in front of the low-slung couch where my mother sits to watch TV, her everpresent ashtray ever poised on the plastic, metal-legged table beside her; in other words, nothing was different, nothing had changed: it was impossible to tell that I had been away for three full days; objects, furniture, all of it was still in place, and my non-presence had done nothing to alter that; there were no traces at all--of any kind--of my invisibility. . .

. . .But then the question came: why should there be?; why would there be?; my mother works as an assistant night-administrator at Lakeland Regional Hospital, and her job keeps her away six evenings a week, with heavy overtime; thus the situation in my home, that quiet night, was entirely within accepted tradition: over the last ten years my mother and I have regularly gone for days without seeing one another; locked into our complementary schedules, we push through opposite quadrants of a revolving door, in an ongoing pirouette that even Straussler might admire; of course there were occasional encounters, and every now and then I'd become conscious of one of her jackknifed cigarette butts in the ashtray, or of a sprawled magazine on the couch, and the refrigerator could always be counted on to be loaded up; but our orbits virtually never intersected; so that evening, that moment, when I was there, pelted by my house's unchanged sameness, I realized what I had to do: I took a carton of orange juice from the refrigerator and placed it on the kitchen counter, hard upon the metallic lip of the sink; I even made it hang out over the sink's basin; then I pulled one of the chairs from the kitchen table, whose plastic dahlia-patterned tablecloth was beautymarked with cigarette burns, and put it in the living room, just standing in room-center; these things, I suspected, would be noticed--they would certainly be noticed; and then I was off, clicking the door behind me, back into the night and the stroking wind, with its coolness and easy mobility, its dark lightness, among the silence that derives from depth and not from confinement; in other words, I was outside again: outside, in my achieved invisibility. . .

Tow-Away Zone

I often wonder these days--when looking in the window of a record store, or when passing a jumbly newsstand--if I would respond if someone were to call out my name: if I would involuntarily whip toward the sound of self, or even feel the old esophageal shimmy of potential recognition; I doubt it: I feel as if that mode of particularity is lapsing away (and, accordingly, I can hardly care); but it doesn't stop there: I can barely align myself with generics any longer: it's difficult to feel like a runaway when no one has noticed that you're gone; being other-directed becomes problematic in the realm of no faces. . .

. . .It's like that time a few summers ago--I think I was 15--when I brought my bicycle into Andy's Getty station for air: I had a red, fenderless, 10-speed Raleigh then, with chrome-shiny Deraillieur-system gears, and I took good care of it (it had been given to me for an earlier birthday); all that summer, I spent afternoons riding up and down the hill to Ritter Springs Park, with its green slopes and abandoned gazebo; but by mid-season the bike had become harder to pedal, so one day after I had gotten to the park, I checked the wheels and found they had gone soft; accordingly, I stopped off at Andy's gasworks while on my way home; the station has a blood-red air pump across the tarmac from the garage, and though the sign above it says 10[cts.], this was more intimidation for the untutored than a real request; so, without disturbing anyone, I rode up to the pump, got off my sticky-seated bike, pushed the kickstand down, and began the pleasant ritual: I rotated each of the bike's wheels to bring its air nozzle to bottom, then went for the airhose; it hung in a looping circle from the bassety jowl of the pump's drooping metal cradle; with silent aplomb, I found the hose's bulbed tip, knelt on one knee, and pressed the chrome knob to the bicycle's front wheel; immediately, then, the wheel began plumping with the arriving 45 pounds of pressure, and the bicycle-frame edged perceptibly up; again, it was a pleasant process: I had effected a working linkage, the pump-head was huffing and clanging in a passion of airy output, when, from nowhere, someone grabbed my arm, pulled me up and jolted me around--so abruptly that I lost control of the airhose and it snaked away, hissing, on the ground; for a second I thought that Andy had decided to get mad because I hadn't paid the 10[cts.], but then a man's rough hand clamped over my face and crawled down over my mouth and chin; then the man pulled my throat up hard, making my throat-skin burn and sealing in my yelping; and then he wheeled me around toward the station, at which point I saw Andy, old and skinny Andy, come barreling out of his office beside the garage; Andy stopped dead, stared wildly in my direction, and faltered nervously; then, with his face grimaced and panicky, he slowly put his hands up. . .

. . .The man holding me had a pistol in his other hand; I saw it in the corner of my eye just before I felt its cold hardness crunch into my temple; pressed against my face, the pistol was hard in a way that seemed absolute, bone-smashing, beyond argument, and cold in a way that seemed perfect and permanent; the man then wrenched me directly between him and Andy, whose eyes were as wide open as his hands, and then there was silence and then I heard the air hose puffing and then there were words: Hey and Come on and Leave him go; the gunman then began towing me backwards by my throat and chin, and I saw that Andy was fretting and rubbing his reddened cheek; but then a red station wagon drove in off Route 44 and went up to the gas island, and the gunman hoisted my throat higher up against his hard-boned chest; Andy, all sweating and chomping, started looking back and forth from the gas island to us, and the gunman began exhaling shit. . .shit. . ., and my throat skin was burning, and my temple was erratically separating from and painfully banging back into the metal barrel of the pistol, and I was thinking this is really rather interesting: this feels like being in a movie and it is really rather interesting; there is something to be said for this; but then the driver of the red station wagon leaned from his window and called out Hey Andy--, whereupon Andy fretted some more and began backing towards his office without saying anything; and then, all of a sudden, the station wagon gunned its engine and tore backwards around the gas pumps, then shot forward and snorted away down Route 44; and as the car disappeared, I thought of the bullet in the man's pistol: before my eyes I saw the bullet in stunningly accurate cross-section, highly magnified but meticulously correct: the pointed projectile, gleamy within its snug chute, streaked and striped with reflected light; and then I thought of how the bullet would be shoved through space--how a slug, a bit, would explode out and Zeno forth and reach pure continuousness before streaming directly into frayable gut flesh; and I was thinking of what it would be like to have such a wound, to lift up the bottom of my shirt at school and have bandages to show, white brushstrokes on belly, when a horrendous force Huhhh catapulted me forward and my neck whipped back and I crumbled down to the pavement and my entire face began to cry; and then, after an evanescent interval, Andy was above me, just hovering there, splintering the sunlight and sputtering You OK?, you OK. . .?; but he didn't touch me; he didn't even bend down; and from my kinked position on the tarmac I looked over my shoulder and saw the gunman running towards a gray sedan waiting down the road; then he scrambled into the passenger door and the car took off; and then, with miraculous rapidity, that was it; that was that; the whole thing was over, and things went back to business as usual; Andy didn't even want to bother calling the police--he said they aren't concerned about things like this; he just helped me up, fluttered his hand over the front of my pants to help brush away some gravel, and went back into his office; I, of course, was all right: the gunman had only shoved me, that was all; he had strong hands but there was no harm done, and of course there hadn't been any bullets--of course I hadn't been shot. . .; there was nothing like that at all; so I just finished stuffing my bike with invisible air and went home; and thus ended my career as a hostage--briefly, inconclusively, with consummate inconsequentiality: a nonevent realizing its full potential, brave new currents in contemporary invisibility ...

© 1996 Evan Dara

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