Two cheap hamburgers digesting into useless grease and supplementary globs of unusable energy flow thickly into his blood and nerves as a spreading lethargy. He is sitting at a table in the public library of a small, insignificant city. A grey rain is shrouding heaven’s unwinking light, it seems to him, even as it sustains and renews the emergent blooms and budding limbs of the winterlong featureless trees outside the windows. On his travel into the city, the subway car smelled of an intransigent rot, while a small pile of shattered masonry and brick on the sidewalk startled him with its modest scale of ruin. He had set out on his day with the predisposition of clinging to every indication of tragedy he would encounter. Yet every notable discrepancy, every pale, exhausted or wasted face mocked him by being possessed a kind of comforting softness or minimal expectation that transformed the prevailing mood into cheer, or at least the caricature of failure: rain, rot, and ruin. On his walk through the fugitive downtown streets, some of the architecture consoled him with fluted, curling moldings, intricately worked stone, or the striking color contrasts of building materials, while most of the living human landscape served only as a reminder of an insentient, indifferent dark age recently endured, not yet concluded.
He tries to capture his own smell by arcing his arms in front of him, forming a small sphere of air permeated with his own odor. He is worried that he now carries, or even has contributed to the intransigent odor of rot he experienced a few minutes earlier on the inbound subway car. At the cheapest restaurant in town, a man in a wheelchair is talking into a cellphone about his gratitude for his two children for keeping him “aboard”: aboard the steady ship of sobriety. He is thankful that he had not spent his time and money getting high and drunk. Another man at the counter relates that he had just spent twenty-three years in prison, having been released just fourteen days ago. He seems calm. The woman he is speaking to, an old classmate from childhood, asks, “Are you serving?” And he responds, “Oh, yes. I’m serving the lord. It’s the only way I could have survived.”
He feels perched like a bird, or carefully set in his chair by a loving hand, looking out through the shelves and into the rain, thinking it a sign of life, the promise of spring, rather than some undisclosable and indistinguishable blur of failure. He is there to challenge himself, as if in some kind of self-declared spiritual contest. At its least, to understand the meaning of what is, in his mind, the very warehousing of that same mind in being thrust out of his job, in the structured idleness to which he has given over his sense of purpose. The challenge then is to broach that isolation to which he seems fated; to refuse playing out a narrative, built up from the constant reinforcement of marginal cinematic and TV cliches of his youth, in which a man is unexpectedly thrown (as the passive mind forever figures it) into an idleness for which he is both grateful and furious. Why open such a shape of feeling in language? To whom? For what reason? To you. For this.