Thursday, July 1, 2010

The devil you know

Somebody flushes in the apartment upstairs. I jump in my seat, silence the online radio. The carpet feels soft and warm under my feet, like a freshly dead animal. A wood splinter from a certain sunny deck in Macon has left my heel tender. I walk like a thief. Behind the door I expect to find somebody and I prepare my vocal chords for dramatic yelling, no less. In my dreams, someone is chasing me, and I try to scream, my mouth open, taut, but nothing comes out. Nobody saves me. I stand there silent, waiting to be killed over and over.

When I look at people, I wonder if they’re smarter than me. I lose at chess twenty times every day and I come back for more each morning. I’m thrilled by being humbled by a novice computer. The plight of being intellectually less equipped than the majority of the population consoles me, like the empathic hand of fate fondling the rough edges of my head. I’ve succeeded to deceive everyone. It is entirely possible that my infrequent accomplishments have been the result of the fortuitous alignment of chaotic elements, the same kind of alignment that now stubbornly refuses to occur. Is it not possible that an otherwise second-rate person to appear, under certain contextual light arrangements, exceptional? Such an inference depends as much on the onlooker as it does on the subject, and with society defining common interpretations according to a variety of signs, it is likely that several onlookers will infer similar conclusions when looking at the same thing. And they could be wrong.

If I were to receive an award each time I am told that my resume is “impressive,” my very resume would expand exponentially. With all the career advice I am reading these days, instructing me to translate my pedestrian projects into coming-of-age experiences, I feel virtually pulled by the sleeve to be original, outrageously original. Chances are that others will find my originality outrageous. Fortunately, I can write to Yahoo and complain about being screwed over by their advice. They will fondle the rough edges of my head.

These days, I imagine myself ever more often in Bucharest. Places have a familiarity to them, although really in this city I am more of a stranger than I’ve ever been. In this barroom I’ve landed, there’s a guy who feels like family. Every single thing about him reminds me of someone I know. His face, of my grandfather, a young version. Light skin and reddish around his blue eyes, the nostrils and along the edges of his ears. His hair reminds me of my librarian benefactor, light blond and grey. His peaches-and-cream shirt, of my grandmother working in the garden at the countryside. His running shoes, well, of someone I know who wears running shoes in all the wrong places. His walk, of Katherine’s lopsided gait.

People are so much alike that it scares me. But collectivities are different. People negotiating coexistence, giving and gambling, playing, strategizing, compromising. In these practices, people are remotely dissimilar. I like the collective American, rather than the individual. As to the Romanian, I like neither the collective nor the individual. Come to think of it, I am not so crazy about myself. Especially not right now.

But I, at least, am a devil I know.

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