To Be Stuck (a novel)

To Be Stuck: a novel

Written between the last week of September and the first week of October, 2017 by Lee Gerstmann

Copyright ©2017 Lee Gerstmann

There are a few excerpts from Wikipedia incorporated in this novel. I used a little bit of an article on School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University. I also used a little bit of an article on Hawley, Pennsylvania. Other than those two exceptions, there are some sandwich items described from a delicatessen called Subsconscious, located at 1213 Amsterdam Ave., New York, NY. The rest of the novel may have little bits of conversation or memories incorporated in it but they are not from any public source. Most of it is mine entirely.

Chapter One:

How bizarre… totally unexpected… I come here on a visit, after first visiting New York, then going to Pennsylvania and finally arriving at North Carolina. The itinerary was awkward itself but has become even more so by the mere suspense of the situation. To talk with someone about various intellectual subjects is one thing but to be entrapped in a handshake with said person quite another. I will retrace my steps, starting from the beginning, so I can assess why this is happening.

First, I had to deal with a situation involving my cousin from my birth family. I consider my adoptive family to be my real family but, since I was in contact with biological relatives a few years ago whom have since died except for one or two, I considered my cousin, from my birth mother’s brother’s side, a good friend. She still is a good friend but she lives in Pittsburgh Bay Point in California and the commute from where I live in Oakland, California is difficult and time-consuming.

I remember a fellow from Pennsylvania who travelled to California and, during a casual conversation; he told me that the difference between Marin County and Berkeley was not long. He made a comparison with the difference between California and Pennsylvania. Oakland is next to Berkeley and Pittsburgh Bay Point is closer to Oakland than Marin County so the commute to where my cousin lives is not really too long but I feel tired in the hot heat and she lives in an area where the weather will shine its blazing sun right on me the moment I go there. However, before my cousin moved to Pittsburgh Bay Point, she stayed with me, on account of all of her immediate relatives died, though she would have wanted to move away from them even when they were alive, but none of them taught her any survival skills and none of them were any good at survival skills either so she had to be helped. I provided the help. She helped me often enough so I needed to reciprocate.

The process of finding her a place to live was excruciating. She did not like any of the choices and I had very little money in the way of buying her enough food to eat. I was not supposed to have guests at my place anyway, but I let her stay with me because of who she was. When I finally found a place for her that she accepted, which took approximately six months, my sister, who had helped by giving me extra money to feed her, offered to fly me to New York where I could spend ten days with her and see the sights and do fun things. A year later, now, she paid for my plane ticket again and I came out for another visit.

After a few days of spending time in New York, my sister offered me the chance to see her summer house in Pennsylvania. I figured that, since I had not been out of California when I was younger and then considered myself a well-seasoned traveller after seeing both New York and New Jersey, where the airport was located, Pennsylvania would be another experience I would appreciate. I went there with her and her husband, who was a professor at Columbia University, and we looked at the wonderful view of nature where the house was located and we talked about different academic subjects. I figured the subjects were probably academic because people tend to categorize their statements according to what stereotypical category sounds best. Since my brother-in-law was a professor, our conversation would be tagged academic, though I never was sure I knew the academic aspect of putting luggage on the floor or merely saying hello.

While we were in Pennsylvania, my sister received a phone call from a woman who had been a professor at Columbia University with her husband, my brother-in-law, several years earlier. She had a house in North Carolina where she needed someone to housesit for her while she was away on school business in Oregon. She used to live in California before she lived in New York and, now that she lived in North Carolina, she considered Oregon the most amenable state for her. My sister paid for my plane ticket to North Carolina and my brother-in-law’s college colleague picked me up at the airport, drove me to her house, helped me put my bags in the house and then said she was glad to meet me and she hoped I would enjoy myself while I was there. Then, she drove away.

I did not know where any stores were in North Carolina. I had not known where anything was in Pennsylvania but I was lucky my sister was around to show me everywhere. In that regard, I would consider my investigating North Carolina to be an adventure I would enjoy. My first destination was to find a store where I could buy some water.

My reason for wanting to buy water, as opposed to drinking what was on tap, was because I listened to my sister who told me her daughter, my niece, was a biologist and talked about the harmful organisms in raw foods and tap water. I was not totally agreeing with the raw foods part because I liked eating sashimi and never had an intestinal problem from it but I understood about tap water from my own readings on the subject. Also, I wanted to see the difference between the type of mineral water that was in North Carolina as opposed to Pennsylvania. I would not make the comparison to the water in New York because, even though upper New York State had some gorgeous nature areas and clean things, I was always in Manhattan and Harlem where there could be pretty neighborhoods but nothing so natural as the other two states. I walked ten blocks up the street where my brother-in-law’s cousin’s house was situated and no stores were in sight.

However, I saw a woman in front of her house who was wearing a tucked-in Duke University sweatshirt, with her sleeves rolled up, and she reminded me of women who went to Columbia University who wore shirts tucked in. Not everyone tucked in his or her shirts but there were a good many New Yorkers who did so and I enjoyed seeing the women who wore that style because it was my favorite style to observe. The woman, who I am now conversing with, was in New York while I was there and she always wore tucked-in sweatshirts with her sleeves rolled up so I felt strange and aroused. Until this happened.

I admit I stopped and looked at her for a few seconds, perhaps a few more seconds than proper. I should have glanced for one split second while walking and not stopped to observe her appearance. However, this is North Carolina and I am not too well-versed in the ways of people here. Of course, being the South, there is a bit of the country-music style going on and some of my favorite women country singers are from the south so maybe this woman is imitating country singers. My reasoning is inaccurate because country singers do not usually tuck in sweatshirts so my second guess, which is now my first accurate guess, is that she is just herself, wearing what she wore when I first saw walking out of the used book store in New York. She had a book in her hand, which I tried to see the title, but to no avail. I had thought about her every day until now, which is odd. Not that I knew anything about her. But I thought about her in some hypothetical situations where we would be walking along the beach, holding hands all night. Now that a similar situation is happening, I cannot say that my reaction is what I thought it would be.

I stopped for a few seconds, looked at her and then walked again. She said, “Hello.”

I looked at her again and said, “Hello.”

She said, “Come here.”

I said, “Okay.” I did as directed.

She said, “My name is Constance McRobbie. What’s your name?”

I said, “Andrew Tagg.”

She extended her hand. “How do you do, Andrew?”

I gave her my hand. “I do well.”

She shook my hand and kept shaking, continuously. She is still shaking my hand.  Our conversation, as it is at the moment, continues. She says, “I think consciousness is only a bunch of particles that act independently from their major host. Our sense of individualism is a smokescreen. Everything is connected. I don’t believe that you are a separate being from me. We occupy separate fragmented masses but the masses are connected through other types of energy. Particles are energy. Our thoughts are particles. Everything is scientific.”

I say, “I see your point but I think there is more to it than that. How could I have feelings for another person if my feelings were just dead matter? I believe that matter has a conscience. It’s the same type of consciousness that the philosophers described. It may be related to matter but in the same way that peanut butter and jelly are related. They can combine but they can exist independently, also.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. The process of manufacturing peanut butter and jelly is ultimately the same as the manufacturing of anything. You can take something material and process it to be something different but the bottom line is that everything begins with particles. Air is different than trees but trees need air and the origin of trees is the same as the origin of air. You might think you are separate from me but you and I originate from the same thing. You might be able to walk away from me and pretend you’re getting away from me but it would be an illusion. You and I would still be connected.”

I try to let go of her hand. I cannot do so. I say, “It seems that you’re trying to drive in your point by not letting go of me.”

She shrugs. “Why would I let go of you?”

“We’ve been talking for a half hour so far. That’s how long you’ve held on. It’s strange.”

“On the contrary, what would be strange is my letting go of you. I like you and I want to continue our conversation. If we were to let go, you would walk away, perhaps quickly and a long distance. I wouldn’t be able to talk to you again. That’s why I’m making sure that doesn’t happen. I don’t trust you.”

“I don’t like having conversations with people who don’t trust me.”

“It isn’t the kind of trust you’re thinking of. I’m talking about the kind of trust, or mistrust, that relates to love.”

“I thought you said you didn’t believe in love.”

“I never said that. I do believe in love. I think that love is another form of matter. It comes to us when our thoughts shift to positive moments in our lives. Love is memory. A memory that creates particles of positive reaction is a love memory. My holding on to you is helping me create a continuous love memory. Mistrust is not a negative particle. It is a prevention of a negative particle. It is positive.”

“Okay. Suppose I believe you. Suppose you are telling the truth. How did this start? How did you get to this point with me?”

“You might want to ask the universe why it brought you here to North Carolina where I live. The universe has arranged for us to be together. It put certain scenes down on the table, so to speak, and it has told us to compile the scenes so a story is assembled. I remember you from when I visited New York. I was visiting my grandmother who is old but still healthy. All the other members of her side of the family were not as healthy. They ate fattening foods and were depressed. She moved out of the family house when she turned eighteen. That was unheard of back then. She was successful in living a life that made her happy. Her income was always modest and she was not always the most popular person in the room but her friends were loyal and good-hearted and her apartments were quaint and not in big city areas where there was noise. I visited her because I wanted to find out what was her secret to life. She told me that there are clues every moment, guiding you and showing you ways to move. Some clues don’t need to be followed. But if you see a clue often enough, it is best to follow it. If it shows up more often than what would be considered coincidental, you hold on to that clue and you stick like glue to it.”

“I would think that you’re telling me that I am your clue.”

“Why else would you be here?”

I explain why I am here.

She nods. “If those things weren’t supposed to happen, they wouldn’t happen. However, they did happen. They are happening. So, welcome to us. I’m happy and you should be happy, also.”

“I thought you said emotions are particles. How could I be happy if happiness is a particle?”

She sighs. “You’re still not getting the big picture. The more I hold on to you, some of the information may sink in. We can feel emotions. It’s just that emotions aren’t without matter. They are physical entities. If you want to cry like a baby and feel upset because the big bad hand monster won’t relinquish her grasp, you’re an emotional basket case. However, you are physically attractive so I will still feel enjoyment and entertainment keeping you. I could get impatient with your whining and moaning if you resort to those but your handsomeness is a good balance and I’ll consider this a success.”

This, although already surreal, becomes even more so. To daydream about a fantasy is one thing. To be stuck in the fantasy is another. I should have considered the clues I had been given. She wore her sweatshirts tucked in every day when I saw her in New York. I admit I went to a café, after perusing through the book store, and saw her sitting at a table, reading her book. I tried again to see the name of the book but I could not do so. However, on a whim the next day, I went to the café and she was there. She did not have a book with her. She sipped her coffee. That was the only thing she did. I noticed she wore a tucked in sweatshirt with her sleeves rolled up. I imagined knowing her.

I make comparisons between people, especially women, who wear their shirts, or sweatshirts, tucked in and people who do not do so. Aside from one’s personal preference, I believe there are also issues of self-confidence or the lack thereof. Members of my birth family, whom I did not know until I was an adult and decided to meet them again, never wore tucked in shirts. My birth mother wore dresses that looked like faded towels and she was considered the best-dressed of the whole clan. My cousin had probably never saw anyone who knew how to dress well. They lived in Antioch, next to Pittsburgh Bay Point. If Pittsburgh Bay Point was considered a place where nothing much happened, Antioch was the place that made Pittsburgh a playground. Unless one is a drunkard and likes to guzzle alcohol outside of abandoned malls, there is nothing to do in Antioch. There are dollar stores where one can walk around and look at cans of pet food and vacuum cleaner bags. After a while, that gets old. My birth family was well-versed in knowledge concerning which pet food brand was the tastiest for dogs and which vacuum bags would best hold massive amounts of dirt before breaking. My birth mother and uncle would talk about pet food and vacuum bags for several hours at a time, not because they had pets of vacuums but because they wanted to sound like they were hip on a subject and could talk intelligently about it. As to whether or not I would prefer being around my living biological relatives or staying here with Constance, I cannot decide. She is good looking but, in this instance, I am doubting the importance of appearance.

I say, “I need to get back home soon.”

She laughs. “Where’s home?”

“Well, my home is in California but that’s not the home I meant. I need to get back to the house where I’m house-sitting.”

“No, you don’t.”

“How dare you assume you know everything about what I do or don’t need to do?”

“I can assume I know everything about you on account of your mentality does not describe you accurately. You are here with me. You will stay here with me. Nothing else matters.”

“What if I said I will accept if you come in with me? Would you let me go back there?”

“It would help but, like I already told you, everything is related. Time is just an illusion. The only thing that exists right now is the immediate moment. If you say you can’t keep staying with me because of sweaty palms or because we can’t eat dinner properly, you’re not basing your statements on what has transpired. You’re basing things on thoughts about what might happen or what did happen. You’re not basing anything on what is happening.”

I shrug. “I guess this is it.”

She nods. “This is all there is.”

Chapter Two:

Before I continue with the present situation, I have to recount a few more details concerning what happened the first day I visited New York, this last time.

I remembered thinking my third visit to New York would be exciting. First, I had to pack my clothes and toiletries. Most people would not think twice about such a thing but I was feeling older. My weight was not what it used to be when I felt young. Even small achievements, like putting deodorant, toothbrushes and soap in a plastic bag and packing it in with my clothes in luggage, reminded me of my frustrations in California.

The trip to New York was going to be different than a trip visiting my natural relatives, all of whom were nowhere near natural when they were alive, in my opinion. I would be visiting my sister, Sara, from my adoptive family, whom I regarded as my real family, and her husband, Gordon. She was the last living relative of that crew. My parents, Malcolm and Marianne Tagg, were far from being normal and they had a lot of problems of which caused me a lot of stress growing up, but at least they ate meals considered healthy, at least compared to my other family, and lived in an area where people were generally healthy-looking and pleasant to talk with. I had what I considered a satisfactory upbringing, at least more than those of some of my friends. They stayed married and worked. Some of my friends were living with single parents on disability money.

My birth mother, Lynn Ridl, had me when she was a teenager and the amount of men who could have been my father was eleven, according to her count. Her parents, Adam and Marie Ridl, had divorced and her mother married another man, David Clifford, who did not want to support her and a baby so Lynn agreed to go in the foster care system where she lived with foster parents for a while. She left eventually and the reason changed according to who said what. They claimed she decided she could not handle staying in foster care anymore. Lynn said they told her to leave and not visit me anymore. The truth was more along the lines of the foster care system thought she was an unfit mother. They suggested she move back in with her mother and stepfather who probably had something to do with reporting her to social services. Lynn’s sister, Joyce, had visited Lynn when she lived with who became my adoptive family. Joyce was considered the bitch of her family because she complained to everyone about everything. Her father, Adam Ridl – not step father David Clifford – visited Lynn and I, also. He loved me. He would play “Anchors Away” on the accordion for me. But he died when I was a baby.

Lynn and Joyce also had a brother, Gary, who may or may not even have known Lynn had a son. Gary was away working at Job Core for several years. When he finally returned home, David and Marie were not the most conscientious people on the issue of telling the truth. As far as they were concerned, I was in foster care with competent people and Lynn was home where she belonged, baby-free. They were the type of people who thought that a bill would not need paying if no one opened the envelope to see if it was a bill or not.

I eventually decided to contact Lynn and her relatives after my friend, Herbert Berman, suggested constantly I do so. I played and recorded Herbert’s music on paid gigs. Herbert said he wanted to know more about my family because I was talented and the talent had to come from somewhere. Malcolm wanted to write an opera based on the Ridl’s. Finally, I agreed to contact them. That was five years ago.

During the time I got to know them, I was told everything about the family. They had disturbing lives and there was not even one week free from any kind of situation gone horribly. They were kind people who loved me but I could not get past some of their disgusting living habits and their overall stupidity on how the world worked. Thank goodness I did not grow up with Lynn.

I was still recovering from when I spent time knowing them. I had agreed to visit them at least once a week and let them cook birthday dinners for me. I would visit them for holidays when they made meals and, more often than not, they yelled and complained to each other. Holidays were not for family cheer, apparently.

As I packed my bags to go to New York, I felt a little less old and a little less overweight. The food the Ridl’s fed me had taken its toll but now some of that toll would be returned to me as I thought about the campus of Columbia University again, where there was never a shortage of a variety of good looking women walking around. The energy from the campus itself was enough to inspire me to write. For me to think of how people dressing well was nothing unusual went against my California experience where the main issue was whether or not someone dressed at all. That was an exaggeration but I was hoping the upcoming trip would bring about a new set of experiences that would help me feel younger and healthier. I would be there only a week but I would try to make the experience last longer in my mind.

When I was all packed and went to the airport, the ride on the plane was longer than I would have appreciated. Two gay men were seated next to me. The male flight attendant had continuously bumped my arm whenever the man walked by. My seat hurt my back after four hours. When I got off the plane, I saw good looking women.

Sara was going to pick me up at the airport but she had a class that night so she called me and suggested I arrive via taxi, which I did. The seat hurt my back even more and the ride was uncomfortably bumpy. When I arrived on Morningside Drive and saw Sara waiting for me, I felt that my vacation was just starting.

She said, “Hi, brother. How was your trip?”

I said, “Now, it will be good. The flight was a bit long but I just thought about how fun it would be once I got off the damn plane.”

She laughed. “I know. Whenever I have to fly somewhere, I tell myself, ‘Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it.’ Have you ever tried that?”

“In a different way, I’ve tried it. I’ve said, ‘Don’t think about the crappy flight. Don’t think about the crappy flight.’ But, right away, that makes me think about the crappy flight.”

We laughed and went in her apartment. Her husband, my brother-in-law, was not home yet. We ate Mexican food from a take-out place. The food was mild. I liked hot and spicy food a lot but my stomach, aside from being overweight, was causing me to feel a burning pain similar to drinking cold acidic juice. I was relieved she ordered mild food. Perhaps she remembered when I told her earlier about my stomach issues.

She smiled. “Well, happy birthday! And, welcome to New York! Have you thought about what you wanted to do while you’re here?”

I said, “I remember how much I liked strolling around Columbia University. I’d like to do that again and go in the café.”

“Oh, okay; which café?”

“The one that is by the philosophy department…”

“That sounds nice. I was thinking you might also like to hang out in my summer house in Pennsylvania. You could see a real farm stand there. It’s nothing like Manhattan but it’s beautiful in the country. Not much to do there. They have a general store and a café about an hour drive from my place but, on the way there, we could go to the café. I know how much you like that sort of thing.”

“I like the female cashiers at the cafes. That’s why I go there.”

“Okay. Maybe you wouldn’t like Joe’s Café. Joe owns it. He’s from Hungary and he cooks good Hungarian food.”

“Well, I also like food so maybe I would enjoy going there. The smell of good food is also like a good cup of coffee.”

She nodded. “The coffee is good there.”

“I’ll sort of wing it and see what transpires. I’m not going to want to assume too much. I’ll just want to have things flow. That’s how I had a good time last year. It’s very different than Antioch in California. Over there, the population comes in only two types, unimaginative and upset.”

“Really…? That’s a shame. How’s your cousin, by the way?”

“Alexandra? She messaged me and wished me a happy birthday. I think she’s better off in the group house. The neighborhood there is gorgeous. But she doesn’t like the rules. She has to report exactly when she leaves, even to get coffee or a sandwich. They don’t allow visitors in the house. If I visit her, I have to wait outside and she and I can go to a café.”

“Well, from what you told me about her upbringing, she never really knew anything about survival skills. Her parents never taught her anything.”

“Her dad spent most of the time riding in his electronic wheelchair, going to shop for cheap food at the dollar stores and bumping into cars with his wheelchair. I often saw him bruised on his face and arms. Most people have tragedies rarely. They had tragedies twice a week.”

She nodded. “How do you feel about off al them no longer alive? They all died relatively close to each other, right?”

“Within a couple of years; first, my uncle’s wife, Bridget, then my uncle himself, Gary, and then my aunt Joyce and then my birth mother, Lynn. They didn’t like doctors and didn’t want to listen to any health advice. Lynn kept smoking and eventually got emphysema and had to breathe through a tube in her nose and even then she continued smoking.”

“Do you think your cousin is going on the same path as them?”

“Most definitely… She’s only thirty one and she’s never been slim. At least now she has a place to go in the morning. She does drawing in art class that’s a part of the day school she’s in.”

“Does she like it?”

“She likes to draw.”

“So, she’s artistic. That’s a good sign. She might like to take classes at the college in her area.”

“Los Medanos College is one of the most barren places I’ve ever seen. I’ve only ever noticed one or two people walking around during any time and they look like janitors.”

“Wow. How does the campus look?”

“The whole thing looks like utility buildings. It’s hard to believe it’s a college.”

“Maybe the classes are good. They might have a great teacher for art. Your cousin might have a lot of talent and she needs someone to bring it out.”

“That could be. On the other hand, I do think there’s something to be said for people who take care of themselves.”

We finished eating. She said, “I don’t want to be a party pooper because you just got here and I’d love to talk some more tonight but it is getting late and we have a cool day ahead of us tomorrow. I think I want to get to bed.”

“That’s fine with me. I did every little sleeping yesterday night. I was excited about the trip. I’m tired, too.”

“Okay. Let me show you where you’ll sleep.” She showed me the guest bedroom.

He entered the room. “Thank you again, sister. I really appreciate you letting me visit.”

“It’s my pleasure. I know how much you’ve been through with your birth mother passing away just recently and you having to help your cousin find a place to live. You deserve a time of escape.”

“So true… Good night.”

Chapter Three:

I figure I can change the subject and see what happens. I ask, “What do you think of soccer?”

She shrugs. “What do you think of soda?”

“How does soccer relate to soda?”

“Not much. If you’re going to kick around subjects like soccer, I’ll interject with soda.”

“What’s the purpose of that?”

“I want to be sweet.”

I imagine she will be difficult for her own sake. I may want to drink coffee and she will choose to serve me tea. That is, if she thinks we are in England. I would not mind visiting another country but first I will have to get free from her before I visit a place as close as the corner store, even though there are no stores close by, but the sentiment is the same. I am here on a house-sitting mission and her hand is hand-sitting my hand, as if she is in the house of my hand. Then again, my hand is in hers so I am the one hand-sitting her hand. I do not plan to stay in Pennsylvania more than I need to do so. When my brother-in-law’s friend comes back, I am gone. I am already gone, in mind. I am not here with Constance. I am elsewhere.

Suddenly, there is a knock on my sister’s and brother-in-law’s door. Sara says, “Wow. They’re early. I didn’t expect that.” She opens the front door.

Two women walk in. One is wearing a black dress. She looks fine but not as noticeable as I would have assumed if the woman was a politician. The other woman dresses oddly in a way that is almost surreal. She is wearing a brown ribbed wool muumuu and yellow jeans and red ankle boots. Under the muumuu, a blue-and-white checkered scarf is visible. She looks like she would be a secretary for the sanitation department. However, the woman in the black dress says, “Hello, Sarah. This is Julia, my sister.”

Sarah said, “Hi, Christine and nice to meet you, Julia.” She gives me a look as if to say, “You now know what I mean.”

I do not know what Sarah means.

Christine says, “I told Julia the weather today was going to be somewhere in the eighties. She insisted on wearing this combination.”

Julia looks at the floor. “It’s fine.”

Sara says, “You can always take off the muumuu later.”

“Maybe…”

“Or, you can just take off the scarf so you’re more comfortable.”

“No.”

Sarah shrugs. “Okay.” She gives me that look again.”

I ask, “Would you like to roam around in the city?”

Julia asks, “Why?”

“Because it’ll be fun to go in the city with someone…”

“But you can go to the city with anyone. It does not have to be me, per se.”

“Are you saying you’d rather not go?”

“No. But I’m no one special. I’m a bit strange. That’s what everyone tells me.”

I want to be polite. “Well, I like your outfit. I think you look great. You have style.”

She shook her head. “I just can’t change. People judge me on it.”

“If you’re not going to change, it could be because you don’t need to change. You’re on a higher level.”

She looks at me with surprised eyes. She smiles. “You really want to spend time with me?”

“I think it would be fun. We could go on campus at Columbia University or we could go to Absolute Bagels and get something to eat or we could go to a book store or to the park. Whatever you’d want to do…”

Christine says, “Sarah, I’d like your opinion on something. I’m doing a lecture on consciousness. There’s some talks already professor have done on how consciousness is just particles forming together to make an assemblage of conscious awareness. I want to focus on something a little different. I want to make my talk about how consciousness shifts when a person who is not famous meets a celebrity. Is fame merely an overabundance of particles interacting? Only some particles can make the person. Other particles recognize the celebrity. How does all of that work?”

Sarah says, “I think it depends on one’s interpretation. There is a possibility that interpretation itself is a bunch of particles. It is hard to determine.”

“Well, if that’s true, then definitely it’s a complicated issue and difficulty itself could be another set of particles that work in conjunction with clarity so everything gets mixed up.”

“Are you sure you’re not giving the speech now?”

Constance interrupts my train of thought. She asks, “Are you still here?”

I sigh. “Apparently so…”

“You’ll like it here in Pennsylvania. I’ll explain to the landlord that you’ll be moving in. He wants to paint my house blue. I rather like the color blue but I’m fine with it as it is. I don’t mind beige. Want will you want me to fix you tomorrow? I can fix eggs or would you like cereal for breakfast?”

I cannot help but put my mind in replay. My brother-in-law loves soccer so, to respect what he likes, I will go over what I was thinking about a minute earlier, though I will change the setting and conversation.

Suddenly, there is a knock on the door. Sara says, “Wow. They’re late. I expected that.” She does not open the front door.

Two women walk in. One was dressed in a yellow dress. She looks strange.. The other woman dresses exactly the same but somehow looks like the outfit is more appropriate on her. The strange woman says, “Hello, Sarah. This is another version of me. She calls herself Monica.”

Sarah says, “Hi, Kathy and nice to meet you, Monica.” She gives me a look as if to say, “You do not know what I mean.”

I know what Sarah means.

Kathy says, “I told Julia the weather today was going to be somewhere in the eighties. She insisted on wearing this combination.”

Monica looks at the floor. “It’s fine.”

Sara said, “You can always take off the dress later.”

“Maybe…”

“Or, you can just smile so you’re more comfortable.”

“No.”

Sarah shrugged. “Okay.” She gives me that look again.”

I say, “I’m Andrew. This afternoon will be fine.”

Monica asked, “Why?”

“Because it’ll be fun to go in the city with someone…”

“But you can go to the city with Kathy. It does not have to be me, per se.”

“Are you saying you’d rather not go?”

“No. But I’m no one special. Kathy’s a bit strange. That’s what everyone tells me.”

“Well, I like your outfit. I think you look great. You have style.”

She shakes her head. “I just can’t change. People judge me on it.”

“If you’re not going to change, it could be because you don’t need to change. You’re on a higher level.”

She looks at me with surprised eyes. She smiled. “You really want to spend time with me?”

“I think it would be fun. We could go on campus at Columbia University or we could go to Absolute Bagels and get something to eat or we could go to a book store or to the park. Whatever you’d want to do…”

Kathy says, “Sarah, I’d like your opinion on something. I’m doing a lecture on boxes. There’s some talks already professor have done on how boxes are just particles forming together to make an assemblage of cardboard awareness. I want to focus on something a little different. I want to make my talk about how boxes shift when a person who is not famous meets a newspaper. Is fame merely an overabundance of particles interacting? Only some particles can make the newspaper. Other particles recognize the box. How does all of that work?”

Sarah says, “I think it depends on one’s interpretation. There is a possibility that interpretation itself is a bunch of boxes. It is hard to determine.”

“Well, if that’s true, then definitely it’s a complicated issue and paper itself could be another set of boxes that work in conjunction with cardboard so everything gets mixed up.”

“Are you sure you’re not giving the speech now?”

Constance frowns. For me to notice, she must have jolted me back so I am concentrating on her again. She says, “This is like the pineapple diet.”

I ask, “What is like the pineapple diet?”

“Our constant motion… It detoxes the system. Also, when you use the shower, make sure to sure the thing that goes in the drain. It catches all the hair quite well.”

“What is your favorite type of music?”

“I like jazz. I am not really a fan of scat singing. I don’t believe the human voice needs to sound like a trumpet. But I am impressed with singers who can do a really fine vocal range.”

“I like jazz, too. Who are your favorite artists?”

She shakes her head. “I don’t know why people need to use the word artist when everything is life is art. When you’re walking down the street, you’re creating art because you’re continuing the preservation of life action.”

“Would that be true even if someone did the same thing over again?”

“Yes but that would be like a false version of mass production. It would be like putting out a book but the serial number on each copy is different. It would be the same but not exact. That’s why people cannot duplicate the exact thing they did the day before. Yesterday was already created. Duplication becomes not complete duplication. It becomes remanufacturing of creation. That is the same as creation but it seems different because people don’t realize that any difference, however small, does count as a difference.”

“What about television sets? If one person is watching the soccer game on his television set and someone else is watching the same game on another set, isn’t that exact duplication?”

“It would be like two bottles of soda. The ingredients are the same from one bottle to another but it wouldn’t be the exact same exactness. I assume you know what I mean.”

“I know that I brought up soccer and you brought up soda again.”

“Yes. We brought up the same subjects again but we treated them differently. That is going over familiar territory. It is not quite remanufacturing creation but it is close to doing so.”

“I understand. But have you ever figured out why one television set can produce the same program as another television set? It’s the same show, so in that way it is the exact duplication of the show, but it is being shown on another television in another house so it is not the very exact duplication of exact duplication.”

“It is because the signal can be shared. The source of the program is the same source. It is one big signal. It goes to more than one television set. It is like one big piece of food that gets split up so everyone can eat it.”

“But, then, how can you explain one person might get a bigger slice of food and another person gets a smaller slice? It was not divided equally.”

She nods. “One television might not be as big as the other television. One television is bigger than the other. The signal is the same. The quality of food is the same.  But the size is different.”

“How did we get to talking like this, anyway?”

“You brought up the subject.”

“I brought it up because I don’t know how else to pass the time.”

She laughs. “You’ve been able to pass the time before, many times. Just keep passing the time like you usually do.”

“How can I? You’re preventing me from doing what I ordinarily do.”

“What do you ordinarily do?”

“I go about my day and do things.”

“What happens when you encounter difficulties?”

“I deal with them.”

“Yes. That’s what you’re doing now. You’re doing what you’re ordinarily doing.”

“I guess so.”

“I know so.”

Chapter Four:

She shrugs. “How do you like your coffee?”

I do not feel like answering her but I do so anyway. I figure I will stop the subject if I give in, as opposed to ignoring the question which will make her ask twice. I say, “I ordinarily take my coffee with cream only but I am not against sugar occasionally.”

She nods. “I’m asking because, now, don’t take this the wrong way. You’re an older person and you’re not the skinniest of people. You still look good. Don’t get me wrong. But I’m afraid you’re repeating unhealthy habits. Do you eat fruits or vegetables or do you just eat meat and starch? I know this is North Carolina but we have some stores that sell good food. It’s not all fattening, you understand.”

“I know that. I like spicy foods. I know people who like spicy foods but they have allergies so they can’t really eat them. They can eat bell peppers but they don’t like them. They can’t have black pepper or cayenne pepper or anything like that. But I’m not them. I’m my own person. I do get acid reflux from time to time but everybody does. I can eat whatever I choose. I like pickled billy corn and herring with dill sauce. I like hot dogs like how they are made in New York. I did try a sandwich from Pennsylvania that was a chicken salad sandwich made on a croissant that I liked except for the croissant. I would have preferred it on regular sliced bread, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like croissants with butter as a side dish. When I’m in a restaurant, I like croissants with my scrambled eggs and beef sausage. But, as a topping to a chicken salad sandwich, it is not as successful. That’s what’s good about Manhattan and about smaller states in general. You can drive to Pennsylvania and back in one day. I guess she went there with my brother-in-law to visit their friend, the professor, who lives here in the neighborhood.”

“I have an idea why you’re telling me all this.”

“I’d like to hear it.”

“Really…? I somewhat doubt it.”

“Why do you doubt it?”

“Because you want to get away from me…”

“Right now, I’m trying to focus on our conversation which you started suddenly.”

“I’m doing the same as what you’ve done.”

“Never mind that… I’m sincerely interested in why you think you have an idea why I said what I said.”

“It sounds sarcastic.”

“Forget about how it sounds. I’m waiting for what you’ll say.”

“Fine… I think you’re talking a mile a minute because you eat a lot of food you shouldn’t eat which makes you fat and, as a result, you need to expel your energy somehow. So, you talk about a lot of nonsense. You think you’re distracting me from my concern towards your health but you won’t be successful in that department. I will always show concern for you. That is why I will not allow you to have any more spicy foods.”

“You won’t be able to stop me. I’ll sneak them.”

“How can you sneak them?  I’ll be with you all the time. I’m going to protect you from the things you don’t need.”

She is ironic. One thing I do not need is her. I will feel embarrassed if I walk around town and the few people who notice me will laugh. However, I will not tell her so. If I mention it, she will react in the way she always will react. She will continue doing what she is doing for the pleasure of watching me struggle. I say, “There are health benefits to spicy peppers.”

“There are also health benefits to eggs and broccoli and things non-spicy. You can eat those things.”

“I’ll show you the videos where doctors explain the situation. They talk about how the heat in pepper is actually a preventive measure against pain.”

“You could show me a video about why all women who wear pink hair wear leggings and it’ll mean the same thing. It’s only someone’s opinion.”

She is arguing again because she wants to anger me. If I stay still and quiet like a sloth, that will be less interesting for her. If I fidget and squirm and grumble and say I disagree with her, she will feel triumphant. However, I will try to look at her perspective. She is smart. She is a college student, I assume. She would have knowledge I may not have access to so, even if I still will not agree with her opinions, I will listen as if I am agreeing. But, I will grumble a little bit so she will be satisfied. I say, “Okay. Are you going to argue with my stance on ketchup being a food?”

She shrugs. “It has components of food in it but it’s more of a condiment. You can’t really eat ketchup. You can ingest it. It’s like how water can’t really be called a food you eat. It’s a liquid you ingest.”

“For someone who always wears tucked-in sweatshirts, you’re very argumentative.”

“Why does it matter if I tuck in my sweatshirt? I’m argumentative for a different reason.”

“Why? Are you having some kind of breakdown? Are you graduating from college and you don’t want to do what people ask of you?”

“I guess it would seem so but I really have a different reason for doing it. I saw someone who snapped her fingers and said hello to someone. She was an Asian woman in a green T-shirt and blue jeans and a guy approached her after she said hi to him. She was reading a book at first but then focused on him. She grabbed his finger and refused to let go. He tried walking but she wouldn’t let him. He kept pleading with her but she shook her head. I don’t know what happened after that because a friend of mine approached me and we had to go somewhere. But I would have wanted to see what happened. I could imagine but the final piece of information was not for me to know. That’s why I get argumentative. Instead of expecting what information will come my way, I change the information.”

“That’s like the men I see who were born in Turkey. They go in the park and smoke cigarettes and cause the air to smell from smoke and I have to leave because they’re changing the scene. They change the information. That’s what’s wrong everywhere. People want to change information.”

“Is that just men from Turkey who do that?”

“They did it and I heard them say they were from Turkey so you can form your own conclusion.”

“I guess I can.”

“Alright… How would you know the Asian woman wore her shirt tucked in unless that interested you?”

“The truth is that I don’t know. She had her sweater around her waist so I change the information. I went from assuming to knowing because I wanted the information to be exact.”

“Okay. Then, why did you assume that you couldn’t figure out the ending to the situation? What happened? You had to leave? Did you suggest she wait so you could see what happened?”

“Well, here is where the story gets interesting. She, and I’m talking about the Asian woman, was aware I was waiting to figure out what would happen. So, I’m assuming she kept holding on to his finger on purpose until I left so I would not be able to figure out the information. My friend, on the other hand, knew this. She wanted us to leave so I could show the woman I was flexible enough where I would not stick around and insist on finding out the ending. My friend wanted to make the Asian woman relieved. It worked, I think. As to whether or not the man was relieved, I could not tell. He might have been part of the plan. I think, if I’m correct in recognizing him, he said hello to my friend later. I wanted to suppress that information because it interfered with my interpretation of the moment but I do believe my friend and that man may have been in on some kind of arranged plan.”

“So, why are you doing this now to me?”

“Because it’s right…”

“You mean it isn’t to make me not know the ending to the moment?”

“That’s not possible.”

“I think it is.”

“That’s you.”

“Regardless of what you think of me, you have to admit I’m interesting.

“That is true but I’d like to know something. How did we get to have this type of conversation, anyway?”

“One of us starts and the other one joins in.”

“You know what I mean. We’ve been covering some heavy duty subjects. That is not usual for people.”

“It is if you’re college educated.”

“I’d think it would be more likely on a college campus and not on a residential street in North Carolina.”

“We have a few rarities you could not notice if you take merely a casual look. We have book stores that have rare books you can’t find anywhere else. People usually look for rarities in the most obvious places. It’s the least expected places that have gems. The same thing can apply here. You won’t just get conversation from me about painting a house or repairing a roof. You’ll get the kind of conversation you’d expect to find in Manhattan. However, there would probably be too many examples of people who are having those kinds of conversations to make any of them special. Here, it’s all special. Here, it is called, ‘To Be Lucky.’ That’s our motto.”

“I think it is more, ‘To Be Stuck.’”

“To be stuck in luck is a good thing.”

“Unless it’s bad luck… Now, I’m not one to complain just for the sake of doing so but, when I was in New York, there were some men who looked at me like they wanted to get to know me in ways I would not have preferred. I felt stuck in my body because I could not escape men being attracted to me.”

“Well, that doesn’t matter now.”

“How so…?”

“You can’t escape from a woman who thinks you’re attractive.”

“I can escape you.”

Just for the sake of argument, supposing you could escape me, what would be the purpose? Are you considering returning to the men who looked at you?”

“No. Just because I say I want to avoid men look at me that does not mean I want to get to know them.”

“Okay. So, if you say you want to get away from me, it means you want to get to know me.”

“That’s twisted.”

“I happen to think it is not.”

“I don’t want to ask this again but how so?”

“I’m a woman. When you say something about a man, you mean it because you’re not attracted to men. You think logically. When you say something about a woman, you’re attracted to the woman so you say things you don’t mean. It’s illogical.”

“That’s what I said. It’s twisted.”

“It’s illogical but understandable so it’s not twisted.”

“Are we soon going to go inside so we don’t have to stand outside like this?

“We can go inside in a few minutes.”

“How long is a few minutes?”

“Now, that’s a silly thing to ask.”

“Listen, I’m hungry and it’s getting later and a little bit colder and I don’t know why I’m trapped with you. You told me why but I can’t get a handle on it. I’d like it to stop but, if it won’t stop, I might as well go inside.”

“Okay. We’ll go inside. But, first, how much do you know of the town?”

“I don’t know too much.”

“That’s okay. I didn’t either when I first moved here. But there’s a lot of stuff I’d like to explain to you when we go inside.”

“I’ll listen to anything when we go inside.”

Chapter Five:

She asks, “What do we talk about now?”

I say, “I can tell you about when I was at the café at Nous in the Philosophy Hall of Columbia University.”

“If you choose to do so… It won’t really matter to me because I go to Duke University, as you can see on my sweatshirt.”

“I do see that. In fact, I am wondering, why do you always wear your sweatshirts tucked in?”

“I just do.”

“Have you ever worn a sweatshirt not tucked in?”

“No.”

“Have you ever worn regular shirts?”

“No.”

“Have you ever worn a sweatshirt without rolling up your sleeves?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Now we’re making progress.”

“How is that progress? Is it progress because you asked me something and at first you could not understand it but now you do understand? So, you’re making progress?”

“That is not what I mean. I’m saying that you’re willing to do something different than what you usually do.”

“Oh, bully to you for saying that! I do a lot of things I ordinarily would not do. Even when I am wearing whatever outfit I have on at the time, I am doing it differently than when I wore it before.”

“How could you say that if you always wear them tucked in?”

“The wrinkles by where the sweatshirt is tucked in will look different on one day than on another day because I put on my clothes on a different day. That in itself means that my clothes are not going to be done the same way.”

“You’re just being extremely trivial.”

“True. I am being extremely trivial. For instance, I prefer to keep my grip on your hand intact. I press a certain way with my fingers and it makes the pressure keep constant.”

“That’s another thing I’m curious about. I think I can move my hand around so it can find the combination lock that will open your grip.”

“You are not a puzzle master who can figure out such things.”

“If I was a puzzle master, would I be able to solve the puzzle?”

“It’s not a puzzle. I am holding on because I love you and there is no way to solve the puzzle of love because love is not a puzzle.”

“Okay. Anyway, I would like to tell you about what happened at the café in Columbia University.”

“I would prefer you not tell me. Not because I prefer not knowing but because I just think I would like to keep you from saying one thing you want to say.”

“Why would you want to do that?”

“I think it’s because you’re making too big a deal about what is going on. If you were able to relax and not think about anything, I could have a sense of relief.”

“You would but I would not.”

“I know. I think that’s fair.”

“I don’t. What happened was there was a woman wearing a tucked-in pin-striped shirt and jeans and a blazer and she kept looking at me. I had my laptop computer out and she took out her laptop computer and I glanced at her because I liked her outfit and she kept glancing at me. I looked at her again just to see if she was looking at me and she kept looking at me to see if I was looking at her so it was kind of trippy.”

“You keep mentioning tucked in shirts like they mean something to you.”

“Well, they are my favorite type of style to see on women.”

“Why not also on men?”

“I’m not attracted to men.”

“So, you’re only attracted to shirts, not the person.”

“That’s not true. I am attracted to a person who decides to wear her shirt that way.”

“I understand but it’s still related to the shirt, not the woman.”

“Will you stop with your amateur analysis? You asked me a question and I answered you.”

“You didn’t answer it very well.”

“You’re one to talk! You say you never wore your sweatshirt loose and you say you only wear sweatshirts. If you’re doing something I like, why would you be so annoyed at me for liking it?”

“Your logic is consistent but annoying. Perhaps you always spilled water on your pants and you were on your way to a class and you were hoping no one noticed your pants. But, a guy tells you he thinks you look great with water on your pants. You don’t like that but you say thank you because you prefer to not be argumentative.”

“Are you telling me you don’t like to be appreciated for your clothes?”

“I’m telling you I think you would not appreciate being liked for having water on your pants.”

“That’s true and I’m getting upset that you’re talking about that because it happened to me.”

“I bet it did.”

“But please answer my question.”

“I wear what I do for my personal reasons. I like the mathematical congruity of the radio with sweatshirt and belt and pants. I don’t think of it as sexy. It would be like a man who makes sure his tie is tied properly on his suit. He wants to look good for business. He is not trying to look sexy. If his boss tells him he looks sexy, the man will smile because he’s on the payroll but he will not agree with his boss.”

“In truth, if a fashion model like Kate Moss liked me because I had water on my pants, I would spill more water on them.”

“If you liked me more for me instead of just my clothes, I would like to wear my clothes that way for you.”

“That’s strange. It’s the argument that a woman likes a guy if he does not show obviously that he likes her.”

“It’s more than that. She doesn’t mind if he shows he likes her but other aspects of his body movement might reveal that he’s desperate. If she says, ‘I’ll meet you at four o’clock’ and he waits outside for a few hours and approaches her at four o’clock on the dot, that will look a bit suspicious. It would look like the father who lives in the small town and he waits ten years for his son to come home because dinner is ready.”

“At least we are sitting down so I don’t feel my hand getting tired. You did stop the handshake motion. That was kind of you.”

“I stopped it quite a while ago. You didn’t notice.”

“How could I? I was freaking out because of what you’re doing.”

“What am I doing now? I’m sitting here talking to you.”

“At least it could be worse.”

“In what way…?”

“It could be a situation where my brother-in-law’s professor friend never comes back and helps me get away from you.”

“When is she supposed to come back?”

“I would say a week.”

“Okay. There will be plenty of time for me to find a new place to live.”

“What are you talking about? Are you going to be a fugitive with a bunch of money but instead of money it’s me?”

“I’m a civilized person who is showing my appreciation to a creep who does not deserve it.”

“I resent that.”

“You resent my holding it. You should be slapped.”

“I want to talk about music again.”

“Did we talk about music earlier?”

“I think we did a little bit.”

“How about instead you tell me about the type of outfits you do not like to see on men?”

“I don’t care one way or the other what men wear. Men don’t attract me.”

“That sounds odd. You are accepting of whatever a man wears because you dislike men but you are critical of women who do not dress how you want them to dress because you like women.”

“It sounds strange the way you put it but it’s true.”

“Just like it was true the woman stared at you at Columbia University.”

“She didn’t stare. She kept glancing at me a number of times. But you’re implying it is strange what she did.”

“Yes because I don’t believe it happened to you.”

“Why do you think that?”

“It’s not what I think. It’s what I know.”

“You don’t know it.”

“Neither do you.”

“Yes, I do.”

“Knowledge is subjective. It’s true that we do and we do not know the truth.”

“I’m tired of all this. I’m now not going to talk to you anymore.”

“Yes you will talk to me.”

“What if I don’t talk to you.”

“If you don’t, you don’t. But you will.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because you like me and because you don’t know how to shut up.”

Chapter Six:

We sit down, inside her house. In her living room, there is a gray recliner at the right side back corner of the room, with a shiny light brown pillow on it. There is a bookcase with books, DVDs and video cassettes on the shelves. Next to the shelves, to the left, is a large television set. Next to that, a fireplace with white logs on it. The fireplace looks more like it is merely for decoration. There is no chimney attached to it. On the mantel above the fireplace, there is a lamp, a water bottle, a couple of pots of flowers and a picture of another woman. There are two watercolor pictures on the wall. One is a drawing of a pink kimono and the other works like a watercolor rendition of the front cover of the old children’s book, The Little Prince. At the other corner by that wall, there is a table with a vase and flower on it. Next to that, a set of bongo drums, turquoise in color. The back wall has a window. There is a purple-and-white ceramic figure on the window sill. It looks like an ashtray but probably is not. On the floor by that window, there are conga drums colored mint green. Next to that, two straw baskets with a small tote bag on top of the second basket. On the other wall, by the front corner, there is a painting of adobe houses. The scene reminds me of Death Valley, California. I would never visit that area but I do not mind looking at a painting of it. On the wall, there is another bookcase with books only on it. On the side of the bookcase, there are three mirrors. On the wall past the bookcase, there are eight framed paintings. They look like continuations of the area where the first painting was based. On top of the wall, in the middle between the paintings, is a mirror with a frame shaped and colored like a golden sunflower. On the wall, by the other corner, there are more bookshelves, with some books, one basket, video cassette players and two board games. In the middle of the living room, there is a table with magazines, books and a vase with several flowers in it. There is no water in the vase. There are white stones in the vase, mimicking a natural landscape. The flowers do not look  but          We sit down, inside her house. In her living room, there is a gray recliner at the right side back corner of the room, with a shiny light brown pillow on it. There is a bookcase with books, DVDs and video cassettes on the shelves. Next to the shelves, to the left, is a large television set. Next to that, a fireplace with white logs on it. The fireplace looks more like it is merely for decoration. There is no chimney attached to it. On the mantel above the fireplace, there is a lamp, a water bottle, a couple of pots of flowers and a picture of another woman. There are two watercolor pictures on the wall. One is a drawing of a pink kimono and the other works like a watercolor rendition of the front cover of the old children’s book, The Little Prince. At the other corner by that wall, there is a table with a vase and flower on it. Next to that, a set of bongo drums, turquoise in color. The back wall has a window. There is a purple-and-white ceramic figure on the window sill. It looks like an ashtray but probably is not. On the floor by that window, there is a conga drums colored mint green. Next to that, two straw baskets with a small tote bag on top of the second basket. On the other wall, by the front corner, there is a painting of adobe houses. The scene reminds me of Death Valley, California. I would never visit that area but I do not mind looking at a painting of it. On the wall, there is another bookcase with books only on it. On the side of the bookcase, there are three mirrors. On the wall past the bookcase, there are eight framed paintings. They look like continuations of the area where the first painting was based. On top of the wall, in the middle between the paintings, is a mirror with a frame shaped and colored like a golden sunflower. On the wall, by the other corner, there are more bookshelves, with some books, one basket, video cassette players and two board games. In the middle of the living room, there is a table with magazines, books and a vase with several flowers in it. There is no water in the vase. There are white stones in the vase, mimicking a natural landscape. The flowers do not look false but probably are.

I am observing what I can of Constance because I want to make a connection between what type of place she lives in and what type of person she is. I am not able to do so. Her conversation, dressing habits and behavior are all contradictory in themselves but they also clash with what I see in her house. I do not know what to say to her. We have exhausted many subjects. If she talks to me, I will respond with nonsense.

She asked, “Have you ever tried apple cider doughnuts?”

I say, “If I have done so, I was in a cloud. The atmosphere shrunk when I travelled such a long distance. We did not get radio reception while passing the bear. It was a statue of a bear but it caught the attention of the pigeons.”

“You’re telling me that the apple cider doughnuts translated the information for you and made it user-friendly so you did not have to put in a code for your stomach. You were flying high and mighty on your wavelength.”

“That’s what other people have told me when I was a champion at playing jacks. Give me a pair of dice and watch me make a salad.”

“That will have to be on Wednesday. I did three fourths of the wash and I expect you to wring out the tangerine when you’re finished.”

“I will take your advice except I had a hard time accepting the place was Asian-Fusion. I had more authentic noodles in other soup joints. Perhaps, when I visit Brooklyn, I can forgo all that and eat pizza.”

“Prices are expensive in that area. You might want to bring a carpet bag to clean up your dirty sins. You have an obsession with soap and it should stop.”

“I had to drink some whiskey sours five years ago when I fell off of the roof and banged my elbow on a tree. I had bamboo wings and I thought I could fly. Of course, I was only a young person back then, much younger than I really was, and that caused my head to pop from the pressure of thinking.”

“Did you read the cesspool of words that fellow wrote? He compiled one hundred and fifty pages of random intensity that took only ten minutes to read.”

“I never really liked chaos. I preferred randomness. At least there could be a subjective alignment. The body’s bones can become chaotically choreographed if the bones are running as fast as they can and the guy in the gray shirt is cheating.”

“Only if you say so… I tend to believe I can eat kippers with no trouble.”

“But, do you believe that seriousness is a form of comedy?”

“I believe putting on a hat is a form of comedy. Not one that I will indulge in but, as long as we are talking about authors, how did you like his last book? It was a bit of a slog and I rather enjoyed the other thing he did.”

“Which thing do you mean?”

“The thing by the place…”

“Do you believe you should tell me the name of the place?”

“I do not believe I should tell you the name of the place.”

“That cannot help me find a way to get back to the dentist.”

“Well, of course not! There can never be something like that.”

“Did you hear the cat call you?”

“I never saw the cat. I guess the cat was under the sofa.”

“The cat was near the tambourine.”

“The tambourine is not the flaming ordnance is once pretended to be, on account of some great big building homes calling the police and stepping into the sausage face. He was not going to stop.”

“I feel better when we focus on beige and shorts.”

“I do also but I cannot find where to locate the color beige.”

‘It is better to sit on a couch, instead of a recliner, when saying that.”

“But there is no couch or recliner, except for the one. Why am I standing up?”

“Because you have no ice cream…”

“Can we rush through this reality?”

“Only if you want to feel like an ostrich…”

“How can that happen? You almost tripped on the stairs.”

“Better to be fair than really good and better to judge than bring water.”

“Unless you’re a guitar shredder named Mr. Cheese.”

“I figured you would add that somewhere.”

“Has the city of Hampton been quaint for you?”

“I cannot imagine finding a guitar player.”

“Of course you can and of course you cannot.”

“I can tie a knot but I cannot try a not.”

“We have to fix that. First thing tomorrow morning I have my voice teacher coming in the afternoon and then the first thing at night I have a locomotive lesson later that morning.”

“Have you ever felt like completing a vegetable?”

“I could have but I do not believe I was really successful in pretending I do so.”

“That is because you did not have the right kind of locomotion.”

“What kind should I have had? Cream filled baked goods?”

“I won’t say that you cannot talk about baked goods. They are fine.”

“I like meat flavored baked cakes.”

“Cakes of meat or cakes of bake…?”

“What is the difference?”

“Cakes of meat are cooked with meat. Cakes of bake are cooked with baked?”

“I have never eaten a bake. Is it good?”

“I believe bakes live under the water with guitars in their hands. Unless I am mistaken and they walk on ice.”

“Is there a difference between underwater water and underwater ice?”

“There is a difference but first you have to promise me not to ask anything else related to card games. We had a janitor come here a few months ago and he said there was mold on the roof and it was fixable but he told all his other clients about the damage. There was a park bench in the front yard. It looked more like it was stolen from a flower bed. But I was assured from the previous owner that it was an official bench that was originally used in the park when the speakeasy was open. That was back in the day before the documentaries or the faded historical pictures became popular.”

“I used to be popular when I went to private school but I had a very happy time in public school when I was shy and had few friends because later I had a lot of friends and then even later than that I had a glass of wine.”

“I thought I had asked you not to talk about wine.”

“If you did, you did so under false pretenses.”

“How much do you weight? Can you lift a pretense?”

“I think I don’t want to know if I can, anymore. It was too difficult to flavor.”

“You could look at the playbill and figure out which character belongs in which dramatic role.”

“Yes, I would like to do that. I had instructions earlier to do so and those instructions fell through. I thought I was looking at a midget but I realize I was looking at a toy.”

“You were not looking at a toy. You were looking at a taco.”

“That is unfair. I have a music lesson later tonight and I am going to find a way to commute to Brooklyn.”

“You can’t go. You burp too often.”

“Maybe we can go together.”

“That would be appropriate. I can pretend to be you.”

“You can pretend to be spaghetti.”

“I can pretend to twist the mind up.”

“We need to talk about shares. We have equal ownership of our thoughts. Everything I say is half owned by you and vice versa.”

“I could imagine that being the case if the issue was censorship. However, I have trouble planting petunias and they get in the way of my thinking.”

“Do you want to know the significance of your bookshelf?”

“I already know it. It came from the land where the arctic circle met the feast. There were medieval knights in modern day costumes, which is a contradiction in terms I can live with. Instead, we had circular party favors that crawled around the room and made for an electric socket that fit around the knee.”

“I knew that would happen the same way the cow chewed cud.”

“Now, I believe you understand. You have finally figured how to acquaint yourself with any planet you choose to inhabit. There are fierce contraceptives floating around in ether and you don’t want to swallow the wrong canoe. You are not big enough to become a governor.”

“I am able to be a politician if I make an intake of ingestion.”

“How can you do that?”

“I talk about ingestion than I talk about digestion.”

“Have you figured out how they differ?”

“I have danced.”

“That does not help.”

“It can help when you are a bean.”

“So, you say I am a bean and I say I am a cup of coffee. Which is better?”

“It depends on how much you want to read.”

“Maybe I don’t want to read anything.”

“Then, I would have to say you would be stuck.”

“Well, is it you who is stuck?”

“I don’t want to play games. I want to inquire on who is stuck and who is not stuck. We could be in a chord progression to a melody that has no conclusion. We could sell our songs to the matriarchs or bad taste and nobody would understand there was an earlier group who did records, also.”

“That’s true. However, I still want to lie down on the sofa.”

“I can let you do that as soon as I choose to get up. That is, if it is you who is sitting on the recliner. If it is me who is sitting on the recliner, I have no preference.”

“I’m glad you have no preference.”

“I really do have a preference but I do not prefer it.”

“I am happy you said that.”

Chapter Seven:

I say, “I would like to talk to you about the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.”

She sighs. “Why would you want to talk to me about that?’

“The School of International and Public Affairs is a public policy and international affairs school and one of Columbia’s graduate and professional schools in Manhattan.”

“I get that. But why tell me about it?”

“It offers degree programs in a range of fields, as well the Executive MPA and Ph.D. program in Sustainable Development.”

“And you’re telling me this… why?”

“It offers dual degree programs with the London School of Economics and Political ScienceSciences Po, the Hertie School of Governance in BerlinEAESPFGV in São Paulo, the University of Tokyo and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore through the Global Public Policy Network.”

“Again, I see no reason why I need to know this information.”

I clear my throat. Then, I say, “By 1967, the School was home to eight regional institutes, covering nearly every part of the globe. It also contained the non-area-specific Institute of War and Peace Studies (now the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies), founded in 1951 by university president Dwight D. Eisenhower. Originally housed in a row of brownstones, the School moved into its own 15-story building in 1971.”

She shakes her head. “Okay. Suppose I say that is interesting. What is it about the place I need to know?”

“We are shaking hands in a way that is like an international affair. We come from different cultures. You come from a sweatshirt-tucking and hand-gripping culture and I come from a different culture entirely.”

“I don’t believe our cultures are too different. It’s just that world policy makes people feel alienated. If you did not feel so much like an outcast, you would realize you could get a girlfriend who would appreciate you.”

“Isn’t it true that, in a sense, you’re now my girlfriend?”

“Are you saying you would like me to be your girlfriend?”

“If you’re going to cling to me like this every moment of the day, I would assume so.”

“I don’t like the way you phrase that. You make it sound like you’ll get bored of me.”

“Well, it’s like how I felt in New York. It was great and it continued to be great but there is always the possibility that if I were to stay there full-time, the not-so-great aspect would creep up on me. That’s just one possibility. I mean, it was great to visit my sister and all that but, even though I would not miss California if I never returned there, I also would not be as upset as I originally assumed I would be after returning.”

“I see what you mean. I would feel the same way if I thought I was returning somewhere I was not allowed to go and my hopes were high on getting there.”

“I’ll return to California, if you finish shaking my hand and my brother-in-law’s friend comes back to her house and I first return to New York to thank my sister and her husband and then I go back to where I live.”

“You live here.”

“I can understand why you’re saying that. I also have something else I would like to explain to you and if you tell me you cannot understand it, I will think a part of you is not telling the truth.”

“Okay.”

I smile. “I was standing by the Alma Mater at Columbia University. A young pretty blonde woman, wearing a white T-shirt tucked into blue jeans, walked by. She looked at me, blushed and smiled. I had noticed her and thought, ‘Wow. She is really nice. I would not mind knowing someone like her. I like how she dresses. She dresses like a New Yorker.’ There was a connection. She continued walking, presumably to class, and I did not follow her. I had no reason to do so. However, I was happy that a connection, however small, was made.”

She shrugs. “I do understand what you’re saying and, if I understand it, it will be for reasons other than what you’re expecting of me. Yes, I understand you liked her and I understand she liked you but what you don’t understand is she might have wanted you to say something to her. For her, it was the beginning of an opportunity, not the whole opportunity itself. You were looking at her clothes, which I will agree some women dress a certain way with a conscious attitude to give an image that they know people will see, but you weren’t looking at her for her.”

“Well, I was also wearing my shirt tucked in. So maybe she was just looking at me for my clothes, also.”

“If that was the case, you would have your dream girl. However, it is not as simple as that. You have me, now. I won’t stop shaking your hand. The grip is constant. The reality is shifting towards our advantage. You cannot change it. I will not allow the change. That’s the difference between your little fantasy of women walking by and smiling and nothing else happening. This is a definite removal of that trivial fantasy element.”

“I should have known you would have taken what I said and change what I meant by it.”

“That’s what I do. Maybe not all women would do that but I’m me.”

“I’m me so I feel like I should tell you more about the International Affairs building.”

“If you feel like doing so, I will keep asking you why you insist on telling me.”

“That won’t bother me, now.”

“It might.”

I laugh. “Okay. Instead I’ll talk about the differences between Australian cheddar as opposed to Minnesota cheddar. How about the difference between lobster and shrimp? Did you go to the voice training class in Brooklyn?”

She shakes her head. “I went to New York to visit but I don’t live there now.”

“Did you ever live there?”

“Perhaps at one time I did but that was a while ago and I don’t consider it home, now.”

“What do you remember about New York?”

“I remember that things are the way they are.”

“In what way…?”

“In any way….”

“What scenes do you remember?”

“It’s not like I have a photographic memory and took a camera with me and did any filming.”

“Why not…? Didn’t you want some memories or nostalgia?”

“No.”

I smile. “Didn’t you buy any Johnny Mathis’ or Andy Williams’ albums?”

She frowns. “Why would I want to buy those?”

“They were at the thrift store when my friend bought them.”

“Which friend…?”

“I do music with him on Wednesdays. He’s working on some projects. He writes the score music and I play it on cassette tape.”

“Where do you play?”

“It’s an area that is quiet. Well, not really quiet. There are people and cars that go by. But no one bothers us.”

“So, you don’t record in a real studio?”

“He likes to have recordings done in an old-fashioned way. He doesn’t like digital recordings. He would use digital if it was convenient for him but he prefers working on things in an analogue format.”

“That’s like how people operate. People are not digital beings. If digital recordings do not sound organic, it is because they are not.”

“Is that why fish are not digital, because they are organic?”

“No. Fish are not able to be termed organic or inorganic. Organic is a label that is used to market things that are natural without any human interference other than making sure the organic things stay natural.”

I nod. “Can you explain further?”

She shrugs. “Yes. If you go to Spain or Ireland or anywhere else, in the woods or the mountains, where there are no gardeners or rangers, and you see something growing in the ground, it is natural. It has no added pesticides. But can it be called organic? Was it certified organic?”

“I see what you mean but I think those things could be called organic because they have that organic form.”

“That is correct. The point, though, is that things need to be certified in order to be labeled something. If it does not have that label, it cannot be certified in the way you prefer it to be. It is just like us. We are having an uninterrupted conversation. But, can we label it uninterrupted? We would need a third person to observe us and witness that it is uninterrupted. That is what certification is. You cannot certify yourself unless you do so in a way that no one else could quality to certify you. You can certify that you are alone with no witnesses. That is possible. What you cannot do is certify that you are authentic because you have a subjective interpretation of who you are and you may encounter another person who will think you are not authentic. If that is the case, you will need a person who has a degree in certification and that person can observe you and certify you.”

“Doesn’t that seem pointless? Do people really have to go to school so they can certify other people?”

“It is not pointless.”

“I think otherwise. If you go to school to learn about social interaction and your goal is to observe someone else out on a date, are you really authentically able to certify the other person’s interaction?”

“You can certify the other person’s interaction but you cannot certify your own interaction because that is what certification is. You are not manufacturing a thing. You are certifying it.”

“Are you able to certify anything?”

“I could say I am able to do so but I do not have a college degree in it.”

I laugh. “Does that mean you did not go to college?”

She sighs. “It means I did go to college.”

“How could that be so?”

“Well, why would I be wearing a Duke University sweatshirt if I did not go to college?”

“I get your point. Do you like cheese from Poland?”

“What kind of cheese?”

“It is sort of a cheddar type but I forget the name of it.”

“Is it like a cheddar cheese from Switzerland?”

“I haven’t tried cheddar cheese from Switzerland but I said it was from Poland. It’s not really cheddar. It’s a different cheese but it seems like cheddar.”

“In the same way as cheddar cheese from Switzerland is like Wisconsin cheddar?”

“How could it be like Wisconsin cheddar?”

“I don’t know but it’s different than Swiss cheese.”

“Hmm… If it’s from Switzerland, it’s Swiss cheese, even if it is not really Swiss cheese.”

“I’ve got you now! If it is cheddar cheese from Switzerland, it is not Swiss cheese but it is from Switzerland so it is Swiss cheese. So, cheddar cheese is like Swiss cheese even though it is not Swiss cheese but it is Swiss cheese.”

“That does not confuse me as much as you were hoping it would.”

“Thank you.”

Chapter Eight:

I am thinking of Hawley, Pennsylvania, where my sister wanted me to visit and I am not sure now whether or not I did go there. The borough was named for Irad Hawley, first president of the Pennsylvania Coal Company. Early industry centered on the transportation and support of nearby coal mining operations along with manufacturing facilities. The Bellemonte Silk Mill, regarded as the largest bluestone building in the world, and J.S. O’Connor American Rich Cut Glassware Factory are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Hawley is home to a number of notable lakes, golf courses, and other recreational facilities, making it a leisure destination, particularly during the summer months. Of course, it was not conducive to much creativity, if I am correct in remembering I was there.

Suddenly, Constance snaps her fingers. “Wake up!”

I shake my head. “I was not asleep>”

“That’s good because this hour we are going to talk about feminism.”

“Why are we going to do that?”

“Because what I am doing is purely a feminist move.”

“I don’t believe you. There is nothing patriarchal in what you are doing and I don’t believe radical feminism is based on patriarchy.”

“Whoa! What a contradiction of terms you just brought to the table! First, I said nothing of patriarchy. However, if I did, I don’t agree that patriarchy has anything to do with feminism. First, you hinted that feminism was patriarchal and then you shifted gears and said you thought radical feminism was not based on patriarchy.”

“So, that’s exactly what I meant! I used the word radical so I could differentiate it from feminism that is not radical.”

“You say that but I think you mentioned the word radical on purpose so I could not contradict what you said. I believe you meant to say that you thought feminism was patriarchal and then you said it was not.”

“Either way, I disagree with the essay the writer wrote. The writer stated that feminism was patriarchal.”

“Second, the word patriarchal sounds like I am putting paste in my mouth when I have to say it. Please stop using that word. You sound like a ditz. Third, why should it matter whether or not I am radical? I am not, except in ways I am. But, even in certain ways I am radical, I really am not radical. You have trouble dealing with me. That’s why we are going to talk about feminism.”

“I don’t want to talk about feminism.”

“Well, you will. There are movies with subtle hints that the directors put in the movies to make comments about society. These directors give interpretations to what they consider reality by serving a manufactured version of culture. They know we will consume it and then go on our way, with the information implanted. That is wrong. There are too many movies with men playing leads.”

“I don’t see why that has to do with feminism.”

“It has everything to do with it.”

“I like watching movies with women playing lead roles.”

“How many have you seen?”

“As many as I could.”

“That doesn’t answer me.”

“Why is that? Can’t I see any movie I want to see?”

“No. I will guide you through the movies you will be able to watch.”

“That’s so sweet of you. How can I thank you for controlling me?”

“If you remember, I have been controlling you so far. You have not been able to get away from me. To that extent, I am a feminist.”

“I would put it another way. You are insane.”

“How can I be insane? I look good. I talk fine. I just happen to be shaking your hand on a permanent basis. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“Just like there’s nothing wrong with men being the leads in movies.”

“Oh, you’re just saying that because you want to argue with me.”

“Isn’t that similar to you wanting to argue with me?”

“No, because I’m a woman and you’re a man…”

“So, if you’re a woman and I’m a man, why don’t you let me go? If you don’t like men, why are you holding on to me?”

“I didn’t say I didn’t like men. I said I like controlling them. There’s a difference. I want to make men less manly. I want to put my feminine energy in you and you will eventually metamorphose into becoming more like a woman. You won’t exactly be a woman but you will think like one and that will be what I am hoping to achieve with you.”

“What movie did you see? You sound like you’re quoting a film.”

“Thank you. That’s a compliment. I’m working on a film, by the way. I’m looking for the right people to play the parts.”

“What is the film about?”

“It is about a woman who shakes a man’s hand and refuses to ever let go.”

“Okay. Your film is based upon this moment.”

“I would say the opposite. This moment is based on the film. I already wrote the script. I am doing research to see if it is accurate.”

“Is your film about a woman who shakes a man’s hand forever?”

“Yes.”

“You’re doing this to me for research?”

“I am.”

“You don’t really like me? You lied to me when you said you loved me?”

“No. You were right for the research. I fell in love with you for that reason.”

“I don’t want to be a specimen you study like a mineral under the microscope.”

“Too late…”

“No. I can call my sister and she will come to rescue me.”

“If she comes here, which I am certain she will not, she won’t be able to separate us. I used a special grip that stays bonded. It is discipline. If you use the right discipline, everything will go according to plan.”

“It won’t go according to my sister’s plan. She’ll think you’re very screwed up and a nuisance because you made her come here.”

“I won’t be making her come here. You will be doing so.”

“What if I want to pass out copies of a story of mine to students at Columbia University?”

“Which story do you want to pass out? Did I see it? Are you just asking a random question so you will distract me?”

“I am asking because I want to be able to do what I said I wanted to do.”

“Did you pass out copies of your stories to students before?”

“Once, yes… It was positive. The students were happy to take copies. One woman talked with me for a while. I was happy. Right now, I am no longer happy. I had my fun and now the fun is dwindling.”

“So, you admit you had fun?”

“I admit that the start of something is thrilling and when it is no longer thrilling it can be boring. I’m still nervous about you but now the nervousness is boring.”

“I don’t know how that can possibly be.”

“You don’t know because you don’t care.”

“I do care… about me.”

“Okay. You admit you don’t care about me.”

“That’s not what I said. That’s something a typical man would say.”

“I’m not a typical man.”

“What kind of man are you?’

“I am a man who cannot get away from you.”

“That’s good. I am making you a feminist.”

“No. You are making me trapped with a feminist.”

She sighs. “We have to make something clear. I am not trapping you. This is not prison. You are bounded by love. You have me to love you. I will not hurt you. I am keeping you here because it is best for you. Do you know that you are supposed to be here?”

“How is that the case? How am I supposed to be here?”

“I said it so it is so.”

“What other proof do you have?”

“I can sense that your sister does not want you to return to New York to see her. She arranged with her husband and their friend to have you stay here with me.”

“Is that fact or another figment of your imagination?”

“It is based on instinct.”

“Have you ever met my sister or my brother-in-law or their friend?”

“I know the friend. I don’t know her name but I have talked with her.”

“When was the last time you talked with her?”

“I would not know. I would say I talked with her through my mind an hour ago.”

“So, you talked with her after you held onto me.”

“That is what I believe happened.”

“Did she respond to you?”

“She did not, but that told me she was embarrassed.”

“Was she embarrassed because she saw you holding onto me and she did not want to be involved in that?”

“I’m not sure that’s the reason. She didn’t give me a reason and I always assume that if someone does not give me a reason for one’s actions, it means I know exactly why they refrain from telling me what they are thinking.”

“Did you converse with my sister through telepathy?”

“I did not but I believe I saw her in my mind and she was shaking her head, like she was tired of you and she wanted you to never talk with her again.”

“Does that mean you will never let me talk with her again?”

“I will let you do so but you will be surprised because she will not want to answer.”

“But, will she answer?”

“I guess she can answer but, if she does so, it will be because she is hoping you will stay away that much quicker afterwards.”

“I don’t especially like this part of our conversation.”

“I know. You’re a man.”

“I’m sure some women would not like the conversation, either.”

“That is correct. Some women would rather not hear you speak.”

“Do you like to hear me speak?”

“I like the sound of your voice but I don’t want to encourage you to say too much. You might dominate the motive behind the script I’m writing.”

“Isn’t part of it that you are including me in the script?”

“If truth be told, you are just serving as an example of the type of character I already invented. It’s not like I’m writing my film about you. It’s more that I already wrote the film and now I want to test the reality portion of it by testing you.”

“Soon, I believe we will part.”

“I imagined you would say that.”

Chapter Nine:

I will now make my commencement. It will be in my mind. So far, I have done little to group or arrange what has happened to me. The present is mixing with the past. I am not certain I am in North Carolina. I may still be in Pennsylvania. If I am in New York, I am in a part that is different than Manhattan. The classes my brother-in-law teaches are involved with compiling and assessing. There are books and then there are other books, all of which have lists of other books. If one were to gather all the books listed in the bibliography and notes, there would be a tremendous amount to read and a human being would not be able to process all the information. Some information would pass out the body like sweat passes through pores. However, in this situation, I will try, however inaccurately, to form a pattern, if not a theory, about what has happened.

The process I am using will consist of opinions, concerns and facts. Everything may be random. I cannot stack my thoughts in order like dominoes. I can explain each thought as it occurs. If one were to gain access to my mind and experience my thoughts, one would see, if not completely understand, the process. The process is slippery, like chance. When I was in New York, I bought a sandwich at Subs Conscious. The woman at the counter wore a black long-sleeved shirt tucked into belted dark gray pants. I would have loved having her wait on me. She asked what I would have. I mentioned a sandwich called The Commencement. She told me I could order it at the area where the men were making sandwiches. I ordered the sandwich. Before the sandwich was ready, she went on her break. The other woman, wearing a similar outfit except the shirt was short-sleeved and not tucked in, waited on me. If I timed things accurately, I could have ordered coffee only. The first cashier would have waited on me. I altered the conclusion because of what I did. I could have stayed on course. I could have walked on a street with less cigarette smokers than more. My assumption I will pass the smokers and the rest of the street will be smoke free is incorrect. First, one smoker and then another. To avoid the smoke, one should go one the non-smoker street. There will be some non-smoker streets. They are not designated as much but they are that way by default.

If I did not tell my sister about the cat who sat on my stomach and healed the cold gassy ache I felt, she would not have asked if I needed to go to the doctor. My concern was to walk downtown, so I could get rid of the negative energy associated with stomach aches and tiredness after writing. I was writing a story. The cat fixed my problem. I should have told my sister I was fine. She did not insist I go to the doctor. She believed me when I said my stomach felt better. However, that little difference was information in her mind. It was information she did not have previously. If I had choreographed my moves, I could have avoided giving her worrisome and half-accurate information.

If people in line at the post office were to understand that one may want to buy stamps from a certain postal worker, the people could choreograph their timing well enough to accommodate the person with a preference. If another person is concerned with transactions only, he or she should not complain if one wants special service. Not everyone acts special. Some people act special because they have the talent to do so. Everyone has the ability to be special. Not everyone acts on that ability.

My trip this time to New York has been more of a balance than last time. When I was in New York previously, I was so energized by the excitement that I was not able to calm down enough to get done some serious writing. I was able to think about what to write. When I came back to California, I was able to write the story I was meaning to write in New York. However, this trip had me writing a whole novel within a few days. I have finishing touches to do and I am nervous because Constance’s grip on my hand is the perfect energy source for my writing but I cannot continue because she is holding my writing hand. To that extent, she is choreographing everything in a way that is not what I want but is the opposite of the usual type of thing I do not want. I do not want what she is giving me because it is too much of a good thing and it is causing me to need a conclusion that will not show up.

Suddenly, I hear a voice yell, “Andrew!”

I yell, “I am here with Constance!”

The voice says, “Oh, dear! I need to come over, then.” A few minutes later, I see that the voice belonged to the teacher. She walks in Constance’s living room, where Constance is sitting on a recliner and I am standing, trying occasionally to walk away and pull my hand free. She says, “Why couldn’t you do this in my house?”

Constance asks, “Why would I want to do this in your house?”

“He is babysitting my house. I happened to miss my flight so I figured I would come back and see how he is doing. Are you okay, Andrew?”

I say, “I would feel better if Constance finished the handshake.”

She nods. “Other than that, are you fine?”

“I guess if you want to say I am fine, I can say I am not doing terribly but mentally I’m really at my last tether.”

She laughed. “You can find a new tether. I don’t know how Constance got to meet you but I’d say you’re probably a better bet than some of the other guys she’s dated.”

“So, she’s dated other guys? Did she let go of their hands?”

“I would assume so. You don’t see her holding onto anyone else, do you?”

“I’m special?”

“Now, dear, I don’t know if you’re special but you’re certainly caught.”

Constance is smiling. “Like a fish.”

She says, “Like the catch of the week.”

I am confused. Is she on Constance’s side? Did Constance tell me the truth when she said my sister did not want me back in New York? I ask, “What’s going to happen, now?”

She shrugs. “You have to make that conclusion. We cannot make it for you. This is your situation. It is your story, so to speak. We cannot get you free unless you make the attempt.”

I yell, “I’ve been making the attempt all damned day!”

Suddenly, I hear two other voices. One is my sister’s voice. She is saying something to the other voice which belongs to my brother-in-law. I cannot hear clearly everything they say but I do catch a word or two. I think they are wondering how comfortable the cushions on the teacher’s couch are.

I yell, “I am in here.”

Sara says, “Could you please give me a black and white copy of your identification card so I can use it in your application?”

“What?”

Sara and my brother-in-law enter Constance’s house. Sara says, “You heard me.”

“What is with an identification card copy and application?”

“It’s for what I’m doing.”

“Well, that does not explain it. What are you doing?”

She shrugs. “I think you would not like it.”

“In that case, no I do not have a copy of my identification card and I will not make one for you.”

Constance says, “You can say that I am now his identification.”

Sara nods. “I know. I just need a copy of his card because I’m doing something he won’t like.”

I say, “I would prefer you do something I like.”

“Sorry, sweetie… This time, I have to set limits. I’m your sister but I’m also your friend. Sometimes friends have to set boundaries. A friend is a good thing to have until the friend becomes a bad thing to have. I learned that from my counselor. He’s a medical doctor but he prefers psychology instead of psychiatry. I don’t know why. He’s qualified for both.”

“I don’t think that your telling me about your counselor is going to change my mind about giving you my card.”

She frowns. “I don’t want the actual card! I need a copy of it!”

“Either way, the card has to be involved and the card is in my wallet and I choose not to take out my wallet.”

“But I need to do something you won’t like.”

“You’ve mentioned that and each time it sounds more intense. I would prefer you not say it. It’s causing a trigger reaction in me.”

“If you think about it, everything causes a trigger reaction in you. I am going to stop those triggers. I am going to do things you won’t like.”

“Why?”

“Because you won’t like them…”

“Are you doing them because they will be good for me?”

“I can’t say they will be good for you. I am over doing good things for you. Constance can do good things for you, now.”

I cannot process any more. I am uncertain what will happen. The teacher, Sara and her husband are not helping me get free from Constance. They are not explaining anything. I assume that my sister wants a copy of my identification card so she can put in an application so I can live in North Carolina with Constance. However, that would go against the teacher’s idea of Constance staying with me in her house. I will not ask. As far as I am concerned, I will wait until Constance goes to sleep. Then, I can remove my hand and figure out my next move. I will listen to the conversation but I will not make sense of it.

Sara says, “He might like grilled turkey, avocado, tomatoes, red onions and chipotle sauce on a sub.”

He says, “I could go for a grilled turkey with lettuce and tomato, salt, black pepper and mayonnaise on a roll, myself.”

Sara says, “Honey, I think you would feel better if you had a sandwich with avocado, crispy bacon, lettuce and tomatoes and aioli.”

The teacher says, “I’m partial for tilapia, Monterey jack cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions and chipotle mayonnaise on a wrap.”

Constance says, “You could get me a sub with albacore tuna, tomatoes, black olives, roasted peppers, oil and vinegar.”

The teacher says, “You should instead of a sub with avocado, sautéed peppers, onions, tomatoes, quinoa and aioli.”

He says, “How about making things simple? Just get four sandwiches with peppers, onions, mushrooms and olives, pickles, cheddar cheese, Swiss cheese, lettuce and tomatoes?”

Sara says, “That’s not simple. You could have said we could benefit from each of us getting a wrap with avocado, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and fat-free lemon herb dressing.”

The teacher says, “I’m now in a different mood. I want a roll with ham, capicola, salami, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, hot peppers, oil and vinegar.”

My brother-in-law says, “We can settle this right now. I’m getting a Philly cheese steak with peppers, onions, bacon, two eggs, cheddar cheese and aioli for each of us. The rest of you can just accept it.”

 

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To Be Stuck chapter 3

I figure I can change the subject and see what happens. I ask, “What do you think of soccer?”

She shrugs. “What do you think of soda?”

“How does soccer relate to soda?”

“Not much. If you’re going to kick around subjects like soccer, I’ll interject with soda.”

“What’s the purpose of that?”

“I want to be sweet.”

I imagine she will be difficult for her own sake. I may want to drink coffee and she will choose to serve me tea. That is, if she thinks we are in England. I would not mind visiting another country but first I will have to get free from her before I visit a place as close as the corner store, even though there are no stores close by, but the sentiment is the same. I am here on a house-sitting mission and her hand is hand-sitting my hand, as if she is in the house of my hand. Then again, my hand is in hers so I am the one hand-sitting her hand. I do not plan to stay in Pennsylvania more than I need to do so. When my brother-in-law’s friend comes back, I am gone. I am already gone, in mind. I am not here with Constance. I am elsewhere.

Suddenly, there is a knock on my sister’s and brother-in-law’s door. Sara says, “Wow. They’re early. I didn’t expect that.” She opens the front door.

Two women walk in. One is wearing a black dress. She looks fine but not as noticeable as I would have assumed if the woman was a politician. The other woman dresses oddly in a way that is almost surreal. She is wearing a brown ribbed wool muumuu and yellow jeans and red ankle boots. Under the muumuu, a blue-and-white checkered scarf is visible. She looks like she would be a secretary for the sanitation department. However, the woman in the black dress says, “Hello, Sarah. This is Julia, my sister.”

Sarah said, “Hi, Christine and nice to meet you, Julia.” She gives me a look as if to say, “You now know what I mean.”

I do not know what Sarah means.

Christine says, “I told Julia the weather today was going to be somewhere in the eighties. She insisted on wearing this combination.”

Julia looks at the floor. “It’s fine.”

Sara says, “You can always take off the muumuu later.”

“Maybe.”

“Or, you can just take off the scarf so you’re more comfortable.”

“No.”

Sarah shrugs. “Okay.” She gives me that look again.”

I ask, “Would you like to roam around in the city?”

Julia asks, “Why?”

“Because it’ll be fun to go in the city with someone.”

“But you can go to the city with anyone. It does not have to be me, per se.”

“Are you saying you’d rather not go?”

“No. But I’m no one special. I’m a bit strange. That’s what everyone tells me.”

I want to be polite. “Well, I like your outfit. I think you look great. You have style.”

She shook her head. “I just can’t change. People judge me on it.”

“If you’re not going to change, it could be because you don’t need to change. You’re on a higher level.”

She looks at me with surprised eyes. She smiles. “You really want to spend time with me?”

“I think it would be fun. We could go on campus at Columbia University or we could go to Absolute Bagels and get something to eat or we could go to a book store or to the park. Whatever you’d want to do.”

Christine says, “Sarah, I’d like your opinion on something. I’m doing a lecture on consciousness. There’s some talks already professor have done on how consciousness is just particles forming together to make an assemblage of conscious awareness. I want to focus on something a little different. I want to make my talk about how consciousness shifts when a person who is not famous meets a celebrity. Is fame merely an overabundance of particles interacting? Only some particles can make the person. Other particles recognize the celebrity. How does all of that work?”

Sarah says, “I think it depends on one’s interpretation. There is a possibility that interpretation itself is a bunch of particles. It is hard to determine.”

“Well, if that’s true, then definitely it’s a complicated issue and difficulty itself could be another set of particles that work in conjunction with clarity so everything gets mixed up.”

“Are you sure you’re not giving the speech now?”

Constance interrupts my train of thought. She asks, “Are you still here?”

I sigh. “Apparently so.”

“You’ll like it here in Pennsylvania. I’ll explain to the landlord that you’ll be moving in. He wants to paint my house blue. I rather like the color blue but I’m fine with it as it is. I don’t mind beige. Want will you want me to fix you tomorrow? I can fix eggs or would you like cereal for breakfast?”

I cannot help but put my mind in replay. My brother-in-law loves soccer so, to respect what he likes, I will go over what I was thinking about a minute earlier, though I will change the setting and conversation.

Suddenly, there is a knock on the door. Sara says, “Wow. They’re late. I expected that.” She does not open the front door.

Two women walk in. One was dressed in a yellow dress. She looks strange.. The other woman dresses exactly the same but somehow looks like the outfit is more appropriate on her. The strange woman says, “Hello, Sarah. This is another version of me. She calls herself Monica.”

Sarah says, “Hi, Kathy and nice to meet you, Monica.” She gives me a look as if to say, “You do not know what I mean.”

I know what Sarah means.

Kathy says, “I told Julia the weather today was going to be somewhere in the eighties. She insisted on wearing this combination.”

Monica looks at the floor. “It’s fine.”

Sara said, “You can always take off the dress later.”

“Maybe.”

“Or, you can just smile so you’re more comfortable.”

“No.”

Sarah shrugged. “Okay.” She gives me that look again.”

I say, “I’m Andrew. This afternoon will be fine.”

Monica asked, “Why?”

“Because it’ll be fun to go in the city with someone.”

“But you can go to the city with Kathy. It does not have to be me, per se.”

“Are you saying you’d rather not go?”

“No. But I’m no one special. Kathy’s a bit strange. That’s what everyone tells me.”

“Well, I like your outfit. I think you look great. You have style.”

She shakes her head. “I just can’t change. People judge me on it.”

“If you’re not going to change, it could be because you don’t need to change. You’re on a higher level.”

She looks at me with surprised eyes. She smiled. “You really want to spend time with me?”

“I think it would be fun. We could go on campus at Columbia University or we could go to Absolute Bagels and get something to eat or we could go to a book store or to the park. Whatever you’d want to do.”

Kathy says, “Sarah, I’d like your opinion on something. I’m doing a lecture on boxes. There’s some talks already professor have done on how boxes are just particles forming together to make an assemblage of cardboard awareness. I want to focus on something a little different. I want to make my talk about how boxes shift when a person who is not famous meets a newspaper. Is fame merely an overabundance of particles interacting? Only some particles can make the newspaper. Other particles recognize the box. How does all of that work?”

Sarah says, “I think it depends on one’s interpretation. There is a possibility that interpretation itself is a bunch of boxes. It is hard to determine.”

“Well, if that’s true, then definitely it’s a complicated issue and paper itself could be another set of boxes that work in conjunction with cardboard so everything gets mixed up.”

“Are you sure you’re not giving the speech now?”

Constance frowns. For me to notice, she must have jolted me back so I am concentrating on her again. She says, “This is like the pineapple diet.”

I ask, “What is like the pineapple diet?”

“Our constant motion. It detoxes the system. Also, when you use the shower, make sure to sure the thing that goes in the drain. It catches all the hair quite well.”

“What is your favorite type of music?”

“I like jazz. I am not really a fan of scat singing. I don’t believe the human voice needs to sound like a trumpet. But I am impressed with singers who can do a really fine vocal range.”

“I like jazz, too. Who are your favorite artists?”

She shakes her head. “I don’t know why people need to use the word artist when everything is life is art. When you’re walking down the street, you’re creating art because you’re continuing the preservation of life action.”

“Would that be true even if someone did the same thing over again?”

“Yes but that would be like a false version of mass production. It would be like putting out a book but the serial number on each copy is different. It would be the same but not exact. That’s why people cannot duplicate the exact thing they did the day before. Yesterday was already created. Duplication becomes not complete duplication. It becomes remanufacturing of creation. That is the same as creation but it seems different because people don’t realize that any difference, however small, does count as a difference.”

“What about television sets? If one person is watching the soccer game on his television set and someone else is watching the same game on another set, isn’t that exact duplication?”

“It would be like two bottles of soda. The ingredients are the same from one bottle to another but it wouldn’t be the exact same exactness. I assume you know what I mean.”

“I know that I brought up soccer and you brought up soda again.”

“Yes. We brought up the same subjects again but we treated them differently. That is going over familiar territory. It is not quite remanufacturing creation but it is close to doing so.”

“I understand. But have you ever figured out why one television set can produce the same program as another television set? It’s the same show, so in that way it is the exact duplication of the show, but it is being shown on another television in another house so it is not the very exact duplication of exact duplication.”

“It is because the signal can be shared. The source of the program is the same source. It is one big signal. It goes to more than one television set. It is like one big piece of food that gets split up so everyone can eat it.”

“But, then, how can you explain one person might get a bigger slice of food and another person gets a smaller slice? It was not divided equally.”

She nods. “One television might not be as big as the other television. One television is bigger than the other. The signal is the same. The quality of food is the same.  But the size is different.”

“How did we get to talking like this, anyway?”

“You brought up the subject.”

“I brought it up because I don’t know how else to pass the time.”

She laughs. “You’ve been able to pass the time before, many times. Just keep passing the time like you usually do.”

“How can I? You’re preventing me from doing what I ordinarily do.”

“What do you ordinarily do?”

“I go about my day and do things.”

“What happens when you encounter difficulties?”

“I deal with them.”

“Yes. That’s what you’re doing now. You’re doing what you’re ordinarily doing.”

“I guess so.”

“I know so.”

To Be Stuck chapter 2

Before I continue with the present situation, I have to recount a few more details concerning what happened the first day I visited New York, this last time.

I remembered thinking my third visit to New York would be exciting. First, I had to pack my clothes and toiletries. Most people would not think twice about such a thing but I was feeling older. My weight was not what it used to be when I felt young. Even small achievements, like putting deodorant, toothbrushes and soap in a plastic bag and packing it in with my clothes in  luggage, reminded me of my frustrations in California.

The trip to New York was going to be different than a trip visiting my natural relatives, all of whom were nowhere near natural when they were alive, in my opinion. I would be visiting my sister, Sara, from my adoptive family, whom I regarded as my real family, and her husband, Gordon. She was the last living relative of that crew. My parents, Malcom and Marianne Tagg, were far from being normal and they had a lot of problems of which caused me a lot of stress growing up, but at least they ate meals considered healthy, at least compared to my other family, and lived in an area where people were generally healthy-looking and pleasant to talk with. I had what I considered a satisfactory upbringing, at least more than those of some of my friends. They stayed married and worked. Some of my friends were living with single parents on disability money.

My birth mother, Lynn Ridl, had me when she was a teenager and the amount of men who could have been my father was eleven, according to her count. Her parents, Adam and Marie Ridl, had divorced and her mother married another man, David Clifford, who did not want to support her and a baby so Lynn agreed to go in the foster care system where she lived with foster parents for a while. She left eventually and the reason changed according to who said what. They claimed she decided she could not handle staying in foster care anymore. Lynn said they told her to leave and not visit me anymore. The truth was more along the lines of the foster care system thought she was an unfit mother. They suggested she move back in with her mother and stepfather who probably had something to do with reporting her to social services. Lynn’s sister, Joyce, had visited Lynn when she lived with who became my adoptive family. Joyce was considered the bitch of her family because she complained to everyone about everything. Her father, Adam Ridl – not step father David Clifford – visited Lynn and I, also. He loved me. He would play “Anchors Away” on the accordion for me. But he died when I was a baby.

Lynn and Joyce also had a brother, Gary, who may or may not even have known Lynn had a son. Gary was away working at Job Core for several years. When he finally returned home, David and Marie were not the most conscientious people on the issue of telling the truth. As far as they were concerned, I was in foster care with competent people and Lynn was home where she belonged, baby-free. They were the type of people who thought that a bill would not need paying if no one opened the envelope to see if it was a bill or not.

I eventually decided to contact Lynn and her relatives after my friend, Herbert Berman, suggested constantly I do so. I played and recorded Herbert’s music on paid gigs. Herbert said he wanted to know more about my family because I was talented and the talent had to come from somewhere. Malcolm wanted to write an opera based on the Ridl’s. Finally, I agreed to contact them. That was five years ago.

During the time I got to know them, I was told everything about the family. They had disturbing lives and there was not even one week free from any kind of situation gone horribly. They were kind people who loved me but I could not get past some of their disgusting living habits and their overall stupidity on how the world worked. Thank goodness I did not grow up with Lynn.

I was still recovering from when I spent time knowing them. I had agreed to visit them at least once a week and let them cook birthday dinners for me. I would visit them for holidays when they made meals and, more often than not, they yelled and complained to each other. Holidays were not for family cheer, apparently.

As I packed my bags to go to New York, I felt a little less old and a little less overweight. The food the Ridl’s fed me had taken its toll but now some of that toll would be returned to me as I thought about the campus of Columbia University again, where there was never a shortage of a variety of good looking women walking around. The energy from the campus itself was enough to inspire me to write. For me to think of how people dressing well was nothing unusual went against my California experience where the main issue was whether or not someone dressed at all. That was an exaggeration but I was hoping the upcoming trip would bring about a new set of experiences that would help me feel younger and healthier. I would be there only a week but I would try to make the experience last longer in my mind.

When I was all packed and went to the airport, the ride on the plane was longer than I would have appreciated. Two gay men were seated next to me. The male flight attendant had continuously bumped my arm whenever the man walked by. My seat hurt my back after four hours. When I got off the plane, I saw good looking women.

Sara was going to pick me up at the airport but she had a class that night so she called me and suggested I arrive via taxi, which I did. The seat hurt my back even more and the ride was uncomfortably bumpy. When I arrived on Morningside Drive and saw Sara waiting for me, I felt that my vacation was just starting.

She said, “Hi, brother. How was your trip?”

I said, “Now, it will be good. The flight was a bit long but I just thought about how fun it would be once I got off the damn plane.”

She laughed. “I know. Whenever I have to fly somewhere, I tell myself, ‘Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it.’ Have you ever tried that?”

“In a different way, I’ve tried it. I’ve said, ‘Don’t think about the crappy flight. Don’t think about the crappy flight.’ But, right away, that makes me think about the crappy flight.”

We laughed and went in her apartment. Her husband, my brother-in-law, was not home yet. We ate Mexican food from a take-out place. The food was mild. I liked hot and spicy food a lot but my stomach, aside from being overweight, was causing me to feel a burning pain similar to drinking cold acidic juice. I was relieved she ordered mild food. Perhaps she remembered when I told her earlier about my stomach issues.

She smiled. “Well, happy birthday! And, welcome to New York! Have you thought about what you wanted to do while you’re here?”

I said, “I remember how much I liked strolling around Columbia University. I’d like to do that again and go in the café.”

“Oh, okay; which café?”

“The one that is by the philosophy department…”

“That sounds nice. I was thinking you might also like to hang out in my summer house in Pennsylvania. You could see a real farm stand there. It’s nothing like Manhattan but it’s beautiful in the country. Not much to do there. They have a general store and a café about an hour drive from my place but, on the way there, we could go to the café. I know how much you like that sort of thing.”

“I like the female cashiers at the cafes. That’s why I go there.”

“Okay. Maybe you wouldn’t like Joe’s Café. Joe owns it. He’s from Hungary and he cooks good Hungarian food.”

“Well, I also like food so maybe I would enjoy going there. The smell of good food is also like a good cup of coffee.”

She nodded. “The coffee is good there.”

“I’ll sort of wing it and see what transpires. I’m not going to want to assume too much. I’ll just want to have things flow. That’s how I had a good time last year. It’s very different than Antioch in California. Over there, the population comes in only two types, unimaginative and upset.”

“Really…? That’s a shame. How’s your cousin, by the way?”

“Alexandra? She messaged me and wished me a happy birthday. I think she’s better off in the group house. The neighborhood there is gorgeous. But she doesn’t like the rules. She has to report exactly when she leaves, even to get coffee or a sandwich. They don’t allow visitors in the house. If I visit her, I have to wait outside and she and I can go to a café.”

“Well, from what you told me about her upbringing, she never really knew anything about survival skills. Her parents never taught her anything.”

“Her dad spent most of the time riding in his electronic wheelchair, going to shop for cheap food at the dollar stores and bumping into cars with his wheelchair. I often saw him bruised on his face and arms. Most people have tragedies rarely. They had tragedies twice a week.”

She nodded. “How do you feel about off al them no longer alive? They all died relatively close to each other, right?”

“Within a couple of years; first, my uncle’s wife, Bridget, then my uncle himself, Gary, and then my aunt Joyce and then my birth mother, Lynn. They didn’t like doctors and didn’t want to listen to any health advice. Lynn kept smoking and eventually got emphysema and had to breathe through a tube in her nose and even then she continued smoking.”

“Do you think your cousin is going on the same path as them?”

“Most definitely… She’s only thirty one and she’s never been slim. At least now she has a place to go in the morning. She does drawing in art class that’s a part of the day school she’s in.”

“Does she like it?”

“She likes to draw.”

“So, she’s artistic. That’s a good sign. She might like to take classes at the college in her area.”

“Los Medanos College is one of the most barren places I’ve ever seen. I’ve only ever noticed one or two people walking around during any time and they look like janitors.”

“Wow. How does the campus look?”

“The whole thing looks like utility buildings. It’s hard to believe it’s a college.”

“Maybe the classes are good. They might have a great teacher for art. Your cousin might have a lot of talent and she needs someone to bring it out.”

“That could be. On the other hand, I do think there’s something to be said for people who take care of themselves.”

We finished eating. She said, “I don’t want to be a party pooper because you just got here and I’d love to talk some more tonight but it is getting late and we have a cool day ahead of us tomorrow. I think I want to get to bed.”

“That’s fine with me. I did every little sleeping yesterday night. I was excited about the trip. I’m tired, too.”

“Okay. Let me show you where you’ll sleep.” She showed me the guest bedroom.

He entered the room. “Thank you again, sister. I really appreciate you letting me visit.”

“It’s my pleasure. I know how much you’ve been through with your birth mother passing away just recently and you having to help your cousin find a place to live. You deserve a time of escape.”

“So true… Good night.”

To Be Stuck chapter one

Kody sweatshirt 6.jpg

Cover image courtesy of Kody: http://www.fiverr.com/kodysteps2

How bizarre. Totally unexpected. I come here on a visit, after first visiting New York, then going to Pennsylvania and finally arriving at North Carolina. The itinerary was awkward itself but has become even more so by the mere suspense of the situation. To talk with someone about various intellectual subjects is one thing but to be entrapped in a handshake with said person quite another. I will retrace my steps, starting from the beginning, so I can assess why this is happening.

First, I had to deal with a situation involving my cousin from my birth family. I consider my adoptive family to be my real family but, since I was in contact with biological relatives a few years ago whom have since died except for one or two, I considered my cousin, from my birth mother’s brother’s side, a good friend. She still is a good friend but she lives in Pittsburgh Bay Point in California and the commute from where I live in Oakland, California is difficult and time-consuming. I remember a fellow from Pennsylvania who travelled to California and, during a casual conversation, he told me that the difference between Marin County and Berkeley was not long. He made a comparison with the difference between California and Pennsylvania. Oakland is next to Berkeley and Pittsburgh Bay Point is closer to Oakland than Marin County so the commute to where my cousin lives is not really too long but I feel tired in the hot heat and she lives in an area where the weather will shine its blazing sun right on me the moment I go there. However, before my cousin moved to Pittsburgh Bay Point, she stayed with me, on account of all of her immediate relatives died, though she would have wanted to move away from them even when they were alive, but none of them taught her any survival skills and none of them were any good at survival skills either so she had to be helped. I provided the help. She helped me often enough so I needed to reciprocate.

The process of finding her a place to live was excruciating. She did not like any of the choices and I had very little money in the way of buying her enough food to eat. I was not supposed to have guests at my place anyway, but I let her stay with me because of who she was. When I finally found a place for her that she accepted, which took approximately six months, my sister, who had helped by giving me extra money to feed her, offered to fly me to New York where I could spend ten days with her and see the sights and do fun things. A year later, now, she paid for my plane ticket again and I came out for another visit.

After a few days of spending time in New York, my sister offered me the chance to see her summer house in Pennsylvania. I figured that, since I had not been out of California when I was younger and then considered myself a well-seasoned traveller after seeing both New York and New Jersey, where the airport was located, Pennsylvania would be another experience I would appreciate. I went there with her and her husband, who was a professor at Columbia University, and we looked at the wonderful view of nature where the house was located and we talked about different academic subjects. I figured the subjects were probably academic because people tend to categorize their statements according to what stereotypical category sounds best. Since my brother-in-law was a professor, our conversation would be tagged academic, though I never was sure I knew the academic aspect of putting luggage on the floor or merely saying hello.

While we were in Pennsylvania, my sister received a phone call from a woman who had been a professor at Columbia University with her husband, my brother-in-law, several years earlier. She had a house in North Carolina where she needed someone to housesit for her while she was away on school business in Oregon. She used to live in California before she lived in New York and, now that she lived in North Carolina, she considered Oregon the most amenable state for her. My sister paid for my plane ticket to North Carolina and my brother-in-law’s college colleague picked me up at the airport, drove me to her house, helped me put my bags in the house and then said she was glad to meet me and she hoped I would enjoy myself while I was there. Then, she drove away.

I did not know where any stores were in North Carolina. I had not known where anything was in Pennsylvania but I was lucky my sister was around to show me everywhere. In that regard, I would consider my investigating North Carolina to be an adventure I would enjoy. My first destination was to find a store where I could buy some water.

My reason for wanting to buy water, as opposed to drinking what was on tap, was because I listened to my sister who told me her daughter, my niece, was a biologist and talked about the harmful organisms in raw foods and tap water. I was not totally agreeing with the raw foods part because I liked eating sashimi and never had an intestinal problem from it but I understood about tap water from my own readings on the subject. Also, I wanted to see the difference between the type of mineral water that was in North Carolina as opposed to Pennsylvania. I would not make the comparison to the water in New York because, even though upper New York state had some gorgeous nature areas and clean things, I was always in Manhattan and Harlem where there could be pretty neighborhoods but nothing so natural as the other two states. I walked ten blocks up the street where my brother-in-law’s cousin’s house was situated and no stores were in sight.

However, I saw a woman in front of her house who was wearing a tucked-in Duke University sweatshirt, with her sleeves rolled up, and she reminded me of women who went to Columbia University who wore shirts tucked in. Not everyone tucked in his or her shirts but there were a good many New Yorkers who did so and I enjoyed seeing the women who wore that style because it was my favorite style to observe. The woman, who I am now conversing with, was in New York while I was there and she always wore tucked-in sweatshirts with her sleeves rolled up so I felt strange and aroused. Until this happened.

I admit I stopped and looked at her for a few seconds, perhaps a few more seconds than proper. I should have glanced for one split second while walking and not stopped to observe her appearance. However, this is North Carolina and I am not too well-versed in the ways of people here. Of course, being the South, there is a bit of the country-music style going on and some of my favorite women country singers are from the south so maybe this woman is imitating country singers. My reasoning is inaccurate because country singers do not usually tuck in sweatshirts so my second guess, which is now my first accurate guess, is that she is just herself, wearing what she wore when I first saw walking out of the used book store in New York. She had a book in her hand, which I tried to see the title, but to no avail. I had thought about her every day until now, which is odd. Not that I knew anything about her. But I thought about her in some hypothetical situations where we would be walking along the beach, holding hands all night. Now that a similar situation is happening, I cannot say that my reaction is what I thought it would be.

I stopped for a few seconds, looked at her and then walked again. She said, “Hello.”

I looked at her again and said, “Hello.”

She said, “Come here.”

I said, “Okay.” I did as directed.

She said, “My name is Constance McRobbie. What’s your name?”

I said, “Andrew Tagg.”

She extended her hand. “How do you do, Andrew?”

I gave her my hand. “I do well.”

She shook my hand and kept shaking, continuously. She is still shaking my hand.  Our conversation, as it is at the moment, continues. She says, “I think consciousness is only a bunch of particles that act independently from their major host. Our sense of individualism is a smokescreen. Everything is connected. I don’t believe that you are a separate being from me. We occupy separate fragmented masses but the masses are connected through other types of energy. Particles are energy. Our thoughts are particles. Everything is scientific.”

I say, “I see your point but I think there is more to it than that. How could I have feelings for another person if my feelings were just dead matter? I believe that matter has a conscience. It’s the same type of consciousness that the philosophers described. It may be related to matter but in the same way that peanut butter and jelly are related. They can combine but they can exist independently, also.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. The process of manufacturing peanut butter and jelly is ultimately the same as the manufacturing of anything. You can take something material and process it to be something different but the bottom line is that everything begins with particles. Air is different than trees but trees need air and the origin of trees is the same as the origin of air. You might think you are separate from me but you and I originate from the same thing. You might be able to walk away from me and pretend you’re getting away from me but it would be an illusion. You and I would still be connected.”

I try to let go of her hand. I cannot do so. I say, “It seems that you’re trying to drive in your point by not letting go of me.”

She shrugs. “Why would I let go of you?”

“We’ve been talking for a half hour so far. That’s how long you’ve held on. It’s strange.”

“On the contrary, what would be strange is my letting go of you. I like you and I want to continue our conversation. If we were to let go, you would walk away, perhaps quickly and a long distance. I wouldn’t be able to talk to you again. That’s why I’m making sure that doesn’t happen. I don’t trust you.”

“I don’t like having conversations with people who don’t trust me.”

“It isn’t the kind of trust you’re thinking of. I’m talking about the kind of trust, or mistrust, that relates to love.”

“I thought you said you didn’t believe in love.”

“I never said that. I do believe in love. I think that love is another form of matter. It comes to us when our thoughts shift to positive moments in our lives. Love is memory. A memory that creates particles of positive reaction is a love memory. My holding on to you is helping me create a continuous love memory. Mistrust is not a negative particle. It is a prevention of a negative particle. It is positive.”

“Okay. Suppose I believe you. Suppose you are telling the truth. How did this start? How did you get to this point with me?”

“You might want to ask the universe why it brought you here to North Carolina where I live. The universe has arranged for us to be together. It put certain scenes down on the table, so to speak, and it has told us to compile the scenes so a story is assembled. I remember you from when I visited New York. I was visiting my grandmother who is old but still healthy. All the other members of her side of the family were not as healthy. They ate fattening foods and were depressed. She moved out of the family house when she turned eighteen. That was unheard of back then. She was successful in living a life that made her happy. Her income was always modest and she was not always the most popular person in the room but her friends were loyal and good-hearted and her apartments were quaint and not in big city areas where there was noise. I visited her because I wanted to find out what was her secret to life. She told me that there are clues every moment, guiding you and showing you ways to move. Some clues don’t need to be followed. But if you see a clue often enough, it is best to follow it. If it shows up more often than what would be considered coincidental, you hold on to that clue and you stick like glue to it.”

“I would think that you’re telling me that I am your clue.”

“Why else would you be here?”

I explain why I am here.

She nods. “If those things weren’t supposed to happen, they wouldn’t happen. However, they did happen. They are happening. So, welcome to us. I’m happy and you should be happy, also.”

“I thought you said emotions are particles. How could I be happy if happiness is a particle?”

She sighs. “You’re still not getting the big picture. The more I hold on to you, some of the information may sink in. We can feel emotions. It’s just that emotions aren’t without matter. They are physical entities. If you want to cry like a baby and feel upset because the big bad hand monster won’t relinquish her grasp, you’re an emotional basket case. However, you are physically attractive so I will still feel enjoyment and entertainment keeping you. I could get impatient with your whining and moaning if you resort to those but your handsomeness is a good balance and I’ll consider this a success.”

This, although already surreal, becomes even more so. To daydream about a fantasy is one thing but to be stuck in the fantasy is another. I should have considered the clues I had been given. She wore her sweatshirts tucked in every day when I saw her in New York. I admit I went to a café, after perusing through the book store, and saw her sitting at a table, reading her book. I tried again to see the name of the book but I could not do so. However, on a whim the next day, I went to the café and she was there. She did not have a book with her. She sipped her coffee. That was the only thing she did. I noticed she wore a tucked in sweatshirt with her sleeves rolled up. I imagined knowing her.

I make comparisons between people, especially women, who wear their shirts, or sweatshirts, tucked in and people who do not do so. Aside from one’s personal preference, I believe there are also issues of self-confidence or the lack thereof. Members of my birth family, whom I did not know until I was an adult and decided to meet them again, never wore tucked in shirts. My birth mother wore dresses that looked like faded towels and she was considered the best-dressed of the whole clan. My cousin had probably never saw anyone who knew how to dress well. They lived in Antioch, next to Pittsburgh Bay Point. If Pittsburgh Bay Point was considered a place where nothing much happened, Antioch was the place that made Pittsburgh a playground. Unless one is a drunkard and likes to guzzle alcohol outside of abandoned malls, there is nothing to do in Antioch. There are dollar stores where one can walk around and look at cans of pet food and vacuum cleaner bags. After a while, that gets old. My birth family was well-versed in knowledge concerning which pet food brand was the tastiest for dogs and which vacuum bags would best hold massive amounts of dirt before breaking. My birth mother and uncle would talk about pet food and vacuum bags for several hours at a time, not because they had pets of vacuums but because they wanted to sound like they were hip on a subject and could talk intelligently about it. As to whether or not I would prefer being around my living biological relatives or staying here with Constance, I cannot decide. She is good looking but, in this instance, I am doubting the importance of appearance.

I say, “I need to get back home soon.”

She laughs. “Where’s home?”

“Well, my home is in California but that’s not the home I meant. I need to get back to the house where I’m house-sitting.”

“No, you don’t.”

“How dare you assume you know everything about what I do or don’t need to do?”

“I can assume I know everything about you on account of your mentality does not describe you accurately. You are here with me. You will stay here with me. Nothing else matters.”

“What if I said I will accept if you come in with me? Would you let me go back there?”

“It would help but, like I already told you, everything is related. Time is just an illusion. The only thing that exists right now is the immediate moment. If you say you can’t keep staying with me because of sweaty palms or because we can’t eat dinner properly, you’re not basing your statements on what has transpired. You’re basing things on thoughts about what might happen or what did happen. You’re not basing anything on what is happening.”

I shrug. “I guess this is it.”

She nods. “This is all there is.”

A Different Set Of Plans

Kody black turtleneck

Cover image by Kody: http://www.fiverr.com/kodysteps2

Chapter One:

Joseph Hartford was spending his vacation with his brother Witold in Arizona.  Joseph never liked hot weather and preferred his own neighborhood in California, where the temperature fluctuated more to his liking, but Witold invited him to Tucson so he could get away from the cozy cotton-candy fluff of San Francisco’s Potrero Hill area and rough things up a bit more in the desert where the hot weather might cook out all the mental poisons in Joseph’s consciousness.

Witold was named after his grandfather who was born in Poland but had the ambition to head towards America so he could make a new life for himself.  Andrei – Witold’s and Joseph’s father – changed the family’s last name from Harpinski to Hartford as his way of furthering his father’s idea of starting fresh.  Witold, the oldest son, moved from San Francisco to Tucson with the same thought in mind.  Joseph, Andrei’s other son, was known throughout the whole clan by the moniker, “The Family Tree.”  The label was not related intentionally to any idea of an ancestral tree.  Instead, they thought of him like a tree in the sense of his staying rooted to one spot, stuck in the ground, growing taller but never moving.  When Witold gave the invitation for a Tucson visit, he did not expect Joseph to come over, not that he preferred Joseph to decline but he automatically assumed on getting a “no thank you” as an answer.

Joseph decided to take Witold’s offer because the money in his account was diminishing consistently until the following month, when he received his government check again, and he figured he could save money by allowing his brother to play the role of hospitable host and feed him.  His ulterior motive in that direction was his wanting to save money for alcohol.  A half-pint of Vodka was two dollars where he lived but he was curious how much was the price out of state.  Even if he had to pay three or maybe four dollars for a half pint, at least he could dispense with that extra cash if he did not need to worry about food costs.

Witold was known in the past to be a connoisseur of various meats and spices, sometimes making a savory stew with turmeric and pork, other times conjuring up a tasty with meal sage and lamb.  Joseph was more of the ramen-noodle-and-ground-beef style of chef, occasionally adding a can of mixed vegetables if he wanted to make something fancy.  He relied on cheap restaurants for his meals, opting to dine at places where bums hung out in the front and smoked cigarettes and yelled.  According to him, the ambience of a place and its outside surrounding was a good indication of its prices.  Any establishment where the waiters wore tuxedos and ties, and the music was a lone violin, was off limits.  Maybe once in a while he could afford to eat in a middle-class diner but his sense of principles dictated otherwise.  He simply had a fear of spending money where the place looked too clean.  He would not have turned down an opportunity to eat in a four-star restaurant if someone else handled the tab but he knew no one with that kind of money.

When he arrived at his brother’s residence early, having taken a cab there so he could pretend to have a lot of money and his brother would not suspect he was a freeloader, nobody was home.  Witold had told him they would meet at the airport at six o’clock that night but Joseph arrived at two o’clock.  He was bored and wanted to drink.  Lucky for him, he noticed a liquor store a block away.  After he purchased a fifth of Vodka – celebrating his rare decision to step outside of California – a fellow named Michael introduced himself.  He told Joseph there was a party starting in a half hour at the house right across from the liquor store, and walked away.  Joseph figured there would be nothing wrong in showing up.

Joseph was not ordinarily a conversationalist.  However, when he arrived at the party called Trotsky and Bicycles, he was even less prone to talk with anyone.  Suddenly, a woman, introducing herself as Patricia Gilbert, provided all of the chatter, drowning him in a sea of tranquil noise.  He never found out why the party was named Trotsky and Bicycles, aside from knowing that was its name on account of a sign on the front door indicating so, and he did not care.  There was plenty of whiskey to drink, allowing him to leave his Vodka for later, and most of the people were happy dancing to the ambient mixes of songs nobody remembered in their original versions.
Patricia approached him with a confidence as if she was his best friend coming back to answer his question.  He was attracted to her outfit, especially considering most of the women he knew about would use an excuse against tucking in a shirt like she was wearing during hot weather, so he figured he ought to at least try responding after she uttered something.  He thought he heard her say mention cartoons or balloons or library cards or wild cards so he improvised by letting words flow from him regardless their meanings.  He thought she said “Whoa!” during their exchange and he was not sure whether she reacted towards the brilliant thing he talked about or his half-way stumbling from intoxication.

However, she grabbed his hand tight, as if wanting to make sure he did not do something embarrassing, and continued talking in such a way so as to make him forget she was holding on.  After a while, he moseyed towards the bar, pouring more whiskey while she held his glass, and his concern over drinking too much of someone else’s booze overrode his realization her grip was still tight.

Finally, when she pulled him along, walking to her house a mile away in the woods, he realized she had asked him to go to her home only after they went outside.  He had not heard her clearly but later realized what was probably said.  He had been fine with going to a party hosted by a stranger and he was somewhat okay about talking with Patricia, but he felt odd about going to her house, not because he disliked her but because he wanted to return at Witold’s place before six o’clock.  Also, he now realized she did not hold his hand at the bar. She extended her hand for him to shake while they were out by the road close to the woods. That was either one strong drink he had at the party or that was a bigger bottle he bought at the store than what he remembered purchasing.

As Joseph and Patricia were walking, he thought about telling her to come with him to his brother’s house but the alcohol effect was at its most realistic for him when he stayed quiet.  He had not agreed to go with her as much as merely keeping from voicing an opinion.  He figured he could pull his hand loose and she would release him.  However, she acted like she knew he would try that and had her strategy already formulated.

There was a hint of a smile on her that led him to believe she had been through the procedure before.  Was there a connection between her and Michael who invited Joseph to the party?  Did they both know Witold and had discussed what to do with Joseph when he arrived in Tucson?  Joseph never was in a situation like this in San Francisco where that kind of thing seemed more likely.  Maybe there was more to Tucson than he had figured.  He would apparently find out whether he wanted to do so or not.

Joseph had a strange feeling walking with Patricia as they headed towards her house in the forest.  He was not sure if the area was incorporated as part of a city park or public domain to the utmost degree so Neanderthals could host kangaroo barbecues in the area but the place where she lived seemed to escape from her mind onto the ground in an almost impossible presence.  Whether the architect was copying an abstract painter or worked from blueprints describing an acid trip, he could not be certain but its wild gray and brown cuckoo-clock exterior, mimicking a weird combination of Lincoln logs and Bauhaus chic, made him think twice before entering with her.

He forgot momentarily how they met, on account of his having drank an extreme amount of alcohol at the party just a half-hour ago where she and he had probably talked together but he figured on saying goodbye.  They were holding hands so he tried to let go while she squeezed tighter and smiled.  He said, “Please, Patricia.  I need to get going.”

She shrugged.  “The wilderness is no place to make protests.  We are all united as individuals.  I cannot fathom disassociating with you because then I would have to find new connections for my television and banjo.”

He could not allow her nonsense to take over him like an ant colony taking over an uncovered pizza.  She was attractive, wearing a tucked-in black turtleneck shirt and dark blue jeans, black belt and black shoes with pink shoelaces.  His impression of her appearance was that she wanted to get working on something, namely him.

She brought him into the house, while he dragged his feet stubbornly in an attempt to stop time, and he noticed the walls inside were a more harmonious bown in accordance with the green foliage outside, as seen through the large glass windows.  She walked with slow shimmying dance-steps, gripping his hand in her vice-like hold, towards a room with books on wall shelves, probably a study area.  There were two chairs close to each other.  She pushed him down on one while she sat on the other, inhaling and exhaling calmly as though she had drank a cup of medicinal tea and could now relax.  She said, “Tomorrow, I will bring you to my mother’s house.  She will appreciate my knowing a man.”

He asked, “Did you attempt this type of too-intense closeness with women?”

She answered, “Only in the verbal sense but nothing like I am doing with you.  Women are generally competitive and outdo each other, though they disagree in how they are doing so, but women are more able to entice men, especially buffoons like you who get drunk and forget how you met me.  You’re lucky to be my first Attach Buddy.”

He realized his only recourse was to walk away, hopefully freeing his hand in the process, so he could go home and think about his relationships with women.  Was he acting too much on what he liked physically about a woman’s appearance so he was learning a hard lesson towards becoming more spiritually-oriented?  Maybe he was learning a lesson meant to describe his relationship with humanity in general and Patricia had merely showed up to provide the clues Joseph would not have seen if he resorted merely to thinking.  As he still tried to escape, he told himself he no longer cared about reasons and now mostly craved chocolate chip cookies.
Chapter Two:

Patricia made sure always now to tuck in her shirts, not because she preferred that fashion style over others but because she used to be two hundred and seventy pounds.  Her sister, Sherry, was still two hundred and sixty pounds and had no problem tucking in her blouses to skirts for a professional appearance at work, but Patricia chose to avoid as much self-consciousness as possible so she wore oversized sweatpants with drawstrings, occasionally needing to pull them up again when they fell down at the supermarket where she shopped.  She wanted to make sure her pants would not be too tight to put on.  So, to avoid showing the drawstring at her waist, she wore shirts un-tucked.

However, now she always wore belts with her pants, since her weight was one hundred and thirty pounds and wearing tighter clothing was an asset.  She figured that, if she resorted to continue doing everything the opposite of what she used to do, she would be reminded to keep the weight off.

An extension of her weight attitude was her behavior attitude.  Since she had reasoned no men would like her when she was fat, all men would like her when she was slim.  If a man told her he liked her before she lost the weight, she would assume he was lying.  Now, if a man said he disliked her, she would figure he was joking.  If she decided to hold his hand and never let go, his trying to escape would be satire, not reality.

When Joseph tried frantically to shake his hand free, she felt warm and tingly like she was connecting with a puppet or cartoon drawing.  His moments were the aesthetic equivalent of ocean waves or ceramic pottery.  Plus, his hand motions were a nice counterbalance to the hot Arizona weather.  His panic attack was an air conditioner for her.  His screams were music.

Little anyone knew her aggressive attitude was in contrast to her feelings.  She figured she trusted men enough to act outrageous with them so she would be courteous to what they wanted from her.  Joseph would know how much she cared for his concerns by continuing to act ironically against them.

When he looked at her waist, she assumed he wanted her to un-tuck the shirt but her twisted sense of logic indicated her best bet was to make sure to do what irritated him, not because she really believed he was irritated but because she believed what she did not believe.  She would simply not un-tuck her shirt or let go of his hand, regardless of her reasons why.

Joseph asked, “How did this monstrosity of a building get to be situated in the middle of a forest?”

Patricia answered, “My father was a ranch-hand and my mother was a nurse.  Dad lived in the center of town, on a small part not yet developed where a few roads were, but he always daydreamed about peculiar things like how people lived quietly on the Canadian Rockies or how magical leprechauns could frolic through the Irish peat moss.  Mom was not as intense about where they lived but she would sometimes go to the park and study insects.  I sort of inherited a bit of both their interests and decided I would have a suburban house situated in the middle of halfway nowhere so then I could experience some of the city outside of the city.  My Korean friend, Jihn, is an architect so he made blueprints for this house.  I paid some carpenter friends of mine to build it for me.  It took them about six months off and on but it was cheaper than hiring a firm to build it.  There’s only one architectural firm in town so they are arrogant about their prices.

Joseph said, “It looks more like a rusty toaster than anything else.”

Patricia shrugged.  “You’ll get used to it in time.”

Witold worked for a bakery called British Pink, a name having nothing to do with the inner workings of the business since their main specialty was Austrian-styled chocolate cupcakes.  Perhaps a customer could ask for blue or green frosting on top for an additional fifty cents but no pink and the workers detested English scones.  The boss, a Japanese man named Toshi, liked wearing black-and-white vertically-striped sweatshirts over blue leggings, pretending he was a college student at a mathematics academy in Rhode Island, and knew nothing about the contradiction between the name of his business and what food they made.  He had merely looked randomly at two words in a fashion catalogue and settled for the name based on how it seemed to fit comfortably in his mind.  His outfits were a by-product of that attitude.  The juxtaposition of the colors on his clothes soothed him when he could not score quality acid from his next-door neighbor.

Toshi’s neighbor, a fellow who always answered the door wearing a mask and went by the name of Evan Nobody, had not been home within the last two weeks.  Toshi was not upset with his neighbor’s disappearance but he wanted to know his “friendly acid tinctures” were doing “splendidly keen.”  Little he knew that Evan was staying temporarily at Witold’s girlfriend’s apartment.  The girlfriend’s name was Catherine Dailey and she wanted to buy tons of Evan’s supply at whim, any moment of the day or night.  So, instead of Evan having to drive back and forth from his to her place, sometimes three or four times a day, he suggested to Catherine he crash on her sofa.  She had no problem with that.

For no thought-out reason, Catherine decided today to spike Witold’s coffee with acid.  She figured he was too uptight on the job, always doing everything correctly and making sure to stick with correct protocol, and he needed to incorporate some intermittent drug hallucinations in his behavior pattern.  So, when he walked in the back room during the morning, and sipped the latte Catherine presented to him, he did not figure there was anything strange with his sudden metamorphosis from human being to wooden atlas.  His ears were picking up the shoe-shaped sounds of wheelchairs so he had to mix his interpretation of cupcakes with special sugar packets of Watusi dance steps.  He repeatedly moved his lips, feeling a sudden attack of paranoia on account of his guardian angel looked more like a robot than a suitcase, and he walked outside where he happened to pass by Patricia.  She was thinking of holding his hand forever but she thought twice when, as he walked past her, he shouted, “I have no more crippled bludgeoned totemic fire.  I just have a laugh and a look at the fingernails.”  She would not have minded listening to him for a while but she was nervous about the possibility he would never shut up and her having to drown him out mentally might not work well in conjunction with her focusing on a tight grip.

Witold was now spinning around in a parking lot underneath the highway overpass.  No cars were around and most everyone assumed the lot was abandoned thought that was not the case so he was pleased to present his interpretation of motor-navigation body concertos.  As he kept spinning, misinterpreting his dizziness with spirited revelation, he mumbled, “Test of cans and chortle chew, approximating a stinky beef stew.  With popcorn roads and Canadian pizza, who can tell a Shiksa from matzo?  One two three four and all the other numbers, and some letters whatever they are, will fortify my cosmic eatery with box office mops and mid-deranged apprentices.  I cannot feel many hums in the gallery and the potato man has come to roost.”

Finally, after he could not spin any longer, he fell down and went to sleep.

What Catherine did not take into her equation, but was not disappointed when it happened unexpectedly, was that the other works at British Pink would take tastes of Witold’s unfinished latte.  Catherine was pleased when Bob Kline, responsible for working the machinery and now calling himself Bob Sandwich, felt slight irritation with how the cookie cutters could not be trained to work on their own without having built-in computer memories.  He blamed that default on the invisible spectrum controlled by phantoms insisting on incorporating “petty folk-lore logic” into “every damn kernel of knowledge from knitting to casinos.”

However, Zachary McEvoy, the cashier, now referring to himself as “the other Bob plus two hundred” – meaning one was supposed to say the name Bob two hundred and one times to be correct when calling him – figured he could have an encyclopedic gathering of “worm knowledge” if he crawled through the desert at four o’clock in the morning, “hissing as the means of gaining access to the doorstep protecting the soul of worms kosher.”  He means “kosher” not in any Jewish sense but as a substitute for the word “boiled” that itself was a substitute for the idea of “having no secrets.”

Toshi was not aware he had taken some of the acid he desperately craved when he sipped from Witold’s latte.  His consciousness was too used to a combination of business exactitude and drug fantasy to act differently than the freaked out fellow he was already.  The business part of him insisted there were no accidents in life and everything worked according to a set plan so, if Evan was not around, there was no acid.  However, he craved acid even when he was already on it so, even though he now was on it, he did not know that so he craved it.  He shook his head and said, “You’re all actors like planets revolving around the sun.  The sun is a metaphor for us having no customers.  Why the hell would you ring up the order of Miss Dinglebat when she is not here?  You were taking the money and giving the change to nobody!”

The Other Bob Two Hundred shook his head.  “We are all parts of the same planet so, conceptually speaking, we were giving the money to everybody.  You’re just upset because your dealer, who goes incidentally by the last name of Nobody, is not here.  You’re angry because we’re “Everybody” with a capital E because when you scold one of us you scold all of us.”

Bob Sandwich said, “You’re looking at books in the air to convince you of your misinformation.  We are Teleprompters conveying nonsense and you cannot tell me we are against what we are against.  What we are against…  What we are against…”  He repeated that phrase several hundred times to himself in a whisper.

Catherine was mostly concerned with Witold.  He often had a case of the burps when he drank too much non-acid coffee so a spiked latte might render him victim to a belching spree reminiscent of a fog-horn.  She wanted to find him so she could write her findings in her diary.  Since her coworkers and boss were not going to notice whether she stayed or left, she walked out, figuring there was no easy way for her to find where he went except to blindly stroll wherever she could.  She decided today not to use the acid herself because her intent was to observe everyone’s behavior through a sober mind.  Still, she had to admit there would be a natural high attached to her adventure.
Chapter Three
Joseph was lying on the floor while Patricia stood up, holding his hand and reading random sentences from various magazine articles.  She wanted to appear grand and stylish, especially considering the way her outfit blended in with the color of her furniture in the sitting room.  The fireplace was not lit but its “essence of ochre” made her smile as much as the nice warm albeit sweaty hand of her partner.  Today was not the right time for even more heat but, if it was, she could imagine the yellow flame and the burnt umber logs balancing the intense nervousness when Joseph wiggled around and shouted.  He reminded her of a dog she had, named Lili, as a child.  Lili looked like an odd assemblage of a miniature Dalmatian and a zucchini.

Patricia’s father, Bert, who gave her the dog when she was ten years old, had figured she needed a creative outlet in her life to take away her phobia against somebody needing to milk the “ugly cows from Mars.”  Her mother, Agatha, agreed.  Bert bought Patricia the dog, thinking its tail looked like a paintbrush and somehow the dog and art must be related.  Bert had an old armless mannequin he kept in his basement and it looked like a beige papier-mâché puppet speckled with black marks.  He figured that his having a mannequin was somehow connected with Patricia having Lili but he was not sure how.

Patricia was thinking of her childhood with fondness, causing her to talk louder as she read from the magazines:  “To determine the epidemiological features…”

Joseph was not sure what she recited but he responded, “Uh huh.”

Patricia continued, “The Johannesburg Art Gallery was the only venue…”

“Sure thing.”

“Using the basics of nature as her essential…”

“Sounds wonderful.”

Patricia was irritated and talked louder.  “Given a media-driven, image-obsessed culture that nonetheless devalues when not preventing…”

Joseph yelled, “Bravo!”

Catherine was outside.  She hid in the bushes.  Her inner guide, for once acid-free, pointed her in the direction of the forest with the idea Witold would be there.  However, though she knew the man’s voice yelling coming from the house was not her boyfriend’s, it sounded like someone related to him.  Okay, if Witold had a brother, she could freak him out as soon as she could devise a plan to get him away from whoever was the woman he yelled at.  She figured that, if the man was related to her boyfriend, she was probably interconnected to Witold’s brother and feeling the vibrations of acid also even if the only acidic vibe was tension.  She wanted to rescue the man so he could walk with her towards his brother.

She knocked on the front door.  Patricia yelled, “Who is that?”

Catherine answered, “It’s someone.”

“Well, I’ve already got someone and his voice is far less womanish than yours.”

Catherine opened the door and walked in.  “I’m taking your someone.”  She found the room where Patricia and Joseph were holding hands.  Catherine said, “Get up.”

Joseph said, “Gee, I’m popular.”

Catherine nodded.  “Come outside with me.”

Joseph walked outside, following Catherine while Patricia came along, holding his hand.

Witold woke up, assuming he was at work.  Somehow, the overpass and parking lot did not resemble his understanding of how British Pink Bakery looked but he was too tired to quibble with details.  One of the pebbles on the ground must have been Bob and that beer bottle cap next to it must have been Zachary.  He would ask them why they decided to turn themselves into objects as soon as he felt awake enough to ask questions.  However, he wanted to be left alone and they were extremely small so he had no worries he could roll over and squish them if need be.  They always asked him stupid stuff about mortgage loans… or was that his bank manager?  They always made his arms itch… or was that his coat?  He needed to get them out of his mind so repeated continually, “Bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble…”  He hoped he could conjure up the Great Bubble God who would suddenly pop, exploding lavender-colored lime juice all over those damn pesky co-workers.

He needed to get up so he could walk and find the Bubble God.  He was not sure he knew where to look, especially since he just made the fellow up and imaginary creatures were harder to locate than real ones.  However, he figured that, if the Bubble God was nice enough to suddenly exist as a favor to Witold, the God would act favorably by appearing wherever Witold imagined he would.  There was always some odd political factors keeping creatures from existing outside of their natural habitats but mind power could fix that.  Witold would write a bill mandating all imaginary creatures be set free from the confines of people’s minds but first he would have to imagine a senator to present the bill for him in Congress.

He walked and noticed the weather turned hotter after he left where the overpass was and approached the non-shady outdoors.  He knew the sun was an essential part of healthy living but what about the son?  Wait, he had no son.  He needed a blouse to cover his head but first he had to find a woman wearing the blouse.  No women were walking by.  Every time he told himself he needed to marinate his thought so hopefully they would mature and last in his mind, he felt guilty about leaving Bob and Zachary, even though they were pebbles and bottle tops and could easily report him for not following their lead and turning into an object himself.

Finally, he approached the forest.  The weather was a little bit cooler.  Thank goodness.  He could serve cupcakes to the trees and ladybugs if only he could find his cooking utensils.  They were disguised as air particles.  Toshi hid the cash register, and then hid on top of a tree.  Witold was concerned, not because he wanted to find the register but because Toshi stole his hair.  Damn that Toshi!  The stuff Witold felt on his head was cinnamon and whipped cream and he had to serve those to the customers as soon as some people arrived.

Suddenly, he noticed a fellow who could have been his brother holding hands with a good-looking but eccentric woman.  Another woman was with them and she was good looking also but talked loudly.  Oh yes, that was Catherine.  What was she doing with the man who looked like his brother and another woman who was probably responsible for generating a heat torrent so the sky’s computer system could not log into a rain site and make the city’s problems go away?  How dare she try that mischief and spend time with who looked more and more like his brother?  By golly, he would march right over there and find out!

Joseph, upon noticing his brother looking zoned out on drugs, felt better about his own drunkenness.  “Hey, Witold, old buddy and old brother.  I came here early to surprise you.”

Witold was confused.  “You came to my bakery to surprise me?  Were you even supposed to show up?  You live in California, right?”

Joseph nodded.  “That’s correct but you asked me to visit you.”

Witold was nervous.  “Shut up!  You’re scaring the customers.  I have to put this cinnamon away.”

“What cinnamon?”

“It’s on my head!  Toshi put it there.  Can’t you see?”

“All I see on your head is hair.”

“It’s not hair!  It’s cinnamon and whipped cream but I might take the whipped cream for myself.”

Catherine smiled.  “Hello, I’m Witold’s girlfriend.  I’m responsible for putting him in this condition.”

Joseph said, “That’s very cool.  Thanks.”

Patricia sighed.  “You’re trespassing on my property and making the day seem too scattered.  I’m with my new boyfriend, Mr. Never Stops Drinking.  You can let us be, if you will.”

Witold shook his head.  “This is not your property.  I work here.  Somewhere, my boss and Zach and Bob are hiding.  Catherine, did you hide them?”

Catherine laughed.  “No.  I spiked your coffee with acid so you would freak out.”

Witold frowned.  “Why the hell would you do that?”

Patricia shrugged.  “Probably the same reason I have a new boyfriend.  Boredom.”

Catherine shook her head.  “That’s not quite true.  Witold needs to mellow out and have fun.  I imagine you do too, Mr. Never Stops Drinking.”

Joseph sighed.  “Call me Joseph, please.”

Witold said, “But, if you’re Joseph, I’m supposed to go to the airport and meet you.  You’d better hurry up and get off the plane before it lands in California again.”

Joseph said, “I’m not on a plane.  I’m in the forest with you and your girlfriend and Patricia who won’t let go of my hand.”

Witold ran towards Joseph and pulled as hard as possible at where Joseph and Patricia were joined.  He yelled, “Let him free, you freak!  I have to meet him at the airport.”  After one whole minute of pulling, he successfully separated them.

Joseph ran off, saying, “I’ll be at your place, brother, drinking my Vodka.  You can believe I’ll need it.”

Witold walked slowly deeper in the forest.  “I have to find some customers.”

Patricia yelled, “Now I’ll have to resort to reading the advertisements in film magazines!”  She marched back in her house.

Catherine smiled.  She noticed an ant crawling on a blackberry vine.  The ant was looking for an interesting thorn to climb on.  The vine resembled an old playground in Maine before the city ordinance declared it unfit for children, making the place officially abandoned but home to a lot of bored teenagers who had no other place to go so they sat on the dilapidated swings and talked about favorite potato chips.  The current popular choice of flavor was cheddar and sour cream.

It’s A Beautiful Day – Time Is

Ten Years After – I May Be Wrong But I Won’t Be Wrong Always

Quatermass – Post War Saturday Echo

Armageddon – Buzzard

Hawkwind – You Shouldn’t Do That

The Hawley Envisionist

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The Hawley Envisionist by Lee Gerstmann

Ó2017 Lee Gerstmann

Cover image courtesy of Kody: http://www.fiverr.com/kodysteps2

1

Stanley Ross had a strange premonition that today would encompass something unexpected. He was at a party hosted by his friend, Andre Frey, in the small town of Hawley where there was apparently one café but no one, not even the residents, could find it. The grocery stores were houses with vegetable produce on the front lawns.

Andre’s house was better looking than the others on that street. He had studied architecture at Columbia University when he lived in Harlem. When he made the move from New York to Pennsylvania, he settled on a remote place which was at that time cheap. He bought a house paid in full with cash from money received in an inheritance after his father died. Andre had been the one child, out of six, that did not ask his father for any loans or favors but was always willing to help him during the last years when Stephen was less abler to take care of himself. Andre received the bulk of the inheritance. He had thought of splitting his share equally with his brothers and sisters but he suddenly decided that his father had given him a gift. He would cherish the gift in his father’s honor.

Stanley said, “This is a nice area. I wouldn’t mind living here.”

Andre nodded. “You should have seen my house before I improved it. I have a car so I can go into Scranton and shop. You would have to pick nuts and berries from the trees and vines for your trail mix. There’s nothing up here and, after a few days of enjoying watching the birds flying around, you wouldn’t be able to stand it anymore.”

“Maybe I would like it if there were good looking women as neighbors.”

“This is the North East. Either people are very slim or very not slim. Whether or not the women in Hawley are good looking is up to interpretation.”

“In other words, I wouldn’t like them.”

“Not unless you like to spend a lot of money on food. Could you help me get everything set up?”

Stanley assisted Andre by putting chairs in the living room and rearranging other furniture so there would be plenty of room for people to walk. Stanley enjoyed doing so. He remembered that Andrew knew some interesting people. Probably, a number of them were good looking women and that would not be a matter of interpretation.

2

There were ten guests, other than Stanley. Andrew invited eight of them and guests invited two. Stanley somehow talked with a man named Lloyd Eugenides. He did not remember how that started. Perhaps Andre introduced them. Stanley preferred to think Thomas imposed on him. That seemed to be what happened. Lloyd talked about interesting subjects. Stanley was not offended but, while Lloyd talked, Stanley was looking at the women. Two were overweight. They wore dresses. Stanley figured they were neighbors. Three were slim. Two wore bulky sweatshirts and jeans. The other wore a sweatshirt also but it was tucked into belted jean shorts and the sweatshirt sleeves were pushed up. Stanley was aroused. He felt as if the situation was metaphysical. How often did he see a woman tuck in a sweatshirt? Most of the women in his neighborhood, back in California, did not even tuck in regular shirts.

Lloyd said, “The difference between rock and jazz is rock groups aren’t classic in the same way jazz performers are. Other than The Beatles who have become historic as well as classic and are an exception, most of the other groups, especially any group from the Nineteen Eighties, are more nostalgic than classic. People listen to them now but that won’t be the case twenty years from now, on account of how musical trends shift in the rock genre. But Miles Davis and John Coltrane will still be listened to and not simply for classic or historic reasons. People want to put on Kind Of Blue. People want to hear A Love Supreme. Jazz has more lasting power than rock. Would you agree?”

Stanley was looking at the woman wearing the pink sweatshirt and blue jean shorts. He heard Lloyd but he was not fully enthusiastic about having a conversation on music. He would much rather talk about women’s fashion but, if he did so, he might dispel some of the magic he sensed was happening. He figured something unusual would transpire. He did not know what it would be but he knew it would be something.

Lloyd frowned. “It looks like you’re preoccupied.”

Stanley shook his head. “I don’t mean to be. Let me ask you, do you live around here?”

“I live at the end of this block, yes.”

“I’m wondering if any of the women here live in the neighborhood.”

Lloyd turned his head. “Emma and Myla, the two wearing dresses, do. Emma lives next door to me. Myla lives next door to Andre. Why?”

“I was just wondering. I was trying to figure out if the women here are good looking.”

“You mean, the women at the party?”

“No. Well, yes but not. I know that a few of the women at the party are good looking. I meant the women in the neighborhood.”

“You think Emma and Myla are good looking? I agree. Do you want me to introduce you?”

“No.”

“Why not, if you like them?”

Stanley did not want to say any more but he had to clear up the misunderstanding. “I think the other three are good looking.”

Lloyd nodded. “Well, they are friends of Thomas Berriault. Thomas has known Andre since they were kids. One is Martha and the other is Stephanie. I don’t particularly think they are attractive but if you do I can introduce you to them.”

Stanley figured he would appear strange if he did not allow Lloyd to introduce him to the women. He said, “That would be good.”

3

Of course, neither Martha nor Stephanie was wearing the pink sweatshirt. Martha’s sweatshirt was blue and had a hardware store slogan on it. Stephanie’s sweatshirt was yellow and had a picture of a kitten on it. During the course of the conversation, Stephanie pushed up her sleeves, which looked a little bit sexier, but he was more intrigued by the other women whose sweatshirt had the name of a college on it. She talked with an older man who was bald plump and wore a three-piece suit and glasses. Stanley figured she was being polite. She could not be attracted to the man.

Martha did most of the talking. Stephanie would occasionally tell Stanley he was cute. He wanted to excuse himself. Whatever happened would be blocked if he did not alter the course of the situation. He needed to go out the front door, alone. Then, after ten minutes of solitude, he would feel refreshed and let the thing happen. He did not know why he made that conclusion but it seemed right so he would not mess with it.

Martha said, “It’s better to eat organic food, like cruciform vegetables, like kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, parsley, beet tops, radishes. All that good stuff… My brother has a fatty liver. It’s from all the processed junk food he ate as a kid. Yuck! No wonder he’s pudgy. You don’t have a pudgy belly. Do you eat healthy?”

Stephanie smiled. “You’re cute.”

Martha continued. “Tiny houses are becoming popular. Get rid of the clutter and live simply. I have an uncle who’s saving the money and he’s going to buy a tiny house. He has tons of books and he plans on giving them all to me. What am I going to do with them? They’re all about how to start your own business and how to borrow money from banks. Do I want to relax outside and read those for fun? The answer is no.”

Stephanie said, “You’re cute.”

Stanley listened while they spoke to him. They misinterpreted his indifference for rapt attention. As Martha talked, she tapped the back of his hand with her finger many times. Finally, he blew on the back of his hand as a symbolic gesture meaning he received enough energy. Every time he did it, she touched him again, as if to say she was replacing the energy he blew off. Finally, he said, “I enjoyed talking with you but I have to do something.” He walked quickly outside.

4

Stanley needed only ten minutes and then he would be able to face everybody again. He attribute his weird feelings to the change of environment. He was not used to being around surroundings such as what he experienced during the present moment. He grew up in Antioch, California, with a mother who had not married and was not good at holding a job. Part of the time they lived in cheap apartments and other times they lived with his uncle, his mother’s brother, who was four hundred pounds, spent most of his time in a wheelchair even though he could walk, and his wife, who was slim, and their daughter, who was three hundred and fifty pounds. Antioch had very few trees or parks. The area was filled with dollar stores and gas stations. People were generally as obese as his uncle. Everyone ate cheap canned foods and soda. The vibe was mostly that of depression. Occasionally, drunks would hang out by a bench close to a parking lot, blaring loud music from a radio with bad static sound, yelling and singing out of tune to the music. Andre had been his one friend, his next-door neighbor, until Andre moved to New York, He suggested Stanley do so, as well. Finally, after enough time working odd job and saving his money, Stanley decided to visit New York for a week. He called Andre to tell him. Andre mentioned he now lived in Pennsylvania. Stanley changed his plan and flew to Pennsylvania, instead. Andre came tot the hotel in Scranton where Stanley was staying so Stanley could attend Andre’s party. Stanley was sensitive to the difference between Pennsylvania and California. Everything seemed so new. Now, after spending a few minutes outside, he would be able to rejoin the party.

5

As he turned to face the door, he felt something lick inwardly in him, as if an answer was given. The woman he liked was outside, with her hand extended. She must have noticed him earlier and planned to talk with him. Since she looked so good, he had trouble reacting normally. His instinct was to just stand there and wonder what she wanted. However, he knew that would not be the right move.

She said, “Come shake my hand, Stanley.”

He was embarrassed. He should have approached her without his needing instructions. Perhaps next she would inform him that he should speak and smile and breathe. Finally, he snapped out of his daze. He walked towards her and they shook hands. He asked, “How did you know my name?”

She shrugged. “I asked Lloyd.”

“How did he know my name?”

She looked at him as if to say she had no answer.

He laughed. “Probably Andre told him. What’s your name?”

“Kate.”

He noticed her grip was firm and she was still shaking his hand. He was going to comment on it but did not know what to say.

She asked, “Want to come inside?”

“Sure.”

They walked in together. She stopped the shaking motion but still held on. Stanley was intrigued.

Andres smiled. “So, you’ve met Kate.”

Stanley said, “Yes.”

Kate said, “Stanley’s going to like where I take him, later. He hasn’t been to Okinawa, the Japanese restaurant, has he?”

Andre shrugged. “I’m guessing he hasn’t.”

She nodded. “The next few days will be easy to fill with things to do but, after that, we’ll just have to wing it.”

“I know. It’s hard when you live in this area as opposed to New York. Scranton is okay but it’s nothing like Harlem or Manhattan. But I think he’ll adjust pretty well to the change.”

“I know. I just need to remember the discipline I am following. As long as we stay attached, the universal flow will be balanced.”

Stanley felt odd hearing the conversation. He asked, “What do you mean by staying attached?”

Kate said, “Our hand pairing. According to my religion, as long as we stay like this, I’m your wife.”

He became extremely nervous and tried to pull his hand free but her grip was like a vice and he could not escape.

6

He was not experiencing the situation. He had to believe that. Now, everyone was seated at different chairs, in the form of a circle, as if a meeting had taken place. Kate was sitting on a chair, gripping Stanley’s hand. Stanley stood up, as if in the middle of the circle, occasionally twisting and turning his hand one way and the other, hoping to figure out the solution to the puzzle lock. Everyone was discussing his situation.

Andre said, “The damage of Antioch has been already done. That town was poison when I lived there. He can’t go back.”

Kate said, “It’s a good thing I practiced those exercises combining physical and spiritual energy. I can keep my hand like this forever and no one can break the grip.”

Thomas said, “It’s a good thing Emma knew Kate. From what you told me, Andre, Kate would be perfect for Stanley.”

Emma said, “According to the Envisionist doctrine, we have inner knowledge we can tap into so we can already know what’s so.”

Kate said, “I was feeling empty with no direction so now my life has a purpose.”

Andre said, “That’s the advantage of living in Hawley. We are all Envisionists so we help each other.”

Stanley kept trying to pull free but to no avail. If only he could have not felt as though a change was going to occur, maybe it could have been avoided. However, he now realized that everyone at the party, including Andre, was part of a strange religion called Envisionism and part of their religious doctrine had to do with holds hand forever as the means of being married. If he screamed for help, any person outside who could come in would probably be an Envisionist also. That person would decide everything was okay. Stanley had two options. He could either panic and keep trying to escape or feeling lucky that he was attached to a woman wearing a tucked in sweatshirt. He could not decide. Both solutions seemed wrong and right.