Cooperation chapter one

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            When I am sitting on a bench in a park when the weather is not unpleasant, I do not like to be distracted. My uncle knows this and ignores it. I go to Blackberry Park, not only because of the abundance of fresh blackberries that never ceases to delight me but because it is the one area in this neighborhood that is always shady. I do my best creative thinking outdoors when the sun is not too hot.

            However, considering my uncle lives across the street from the bench where I sit here and his front window directly faces me, I will admit I take risks with considerable odds against my favor. I have assumed he will be in his bedroom away from the window and more than fifty percent of the time I have been incorrect. Maybe he was in his bedroom and could hear my footsteps so he walked into his livingroom but that scenario seems unlikely. Yet, I will not put anything past the sneaky fellow.

            He did not yell my name this time. He had merely waved his hand with a gesture that told what words could not say politely. The message was that I would go immediately to his place. If I did not do so; well, I had just better do so.

            Now, as I sit on a recliner in his living room while my uncle and his two friends are watching television, I am glad I did so. Suddenly, there is rain. I did not bring a jacket or umbrella. My next-door neighbor told me there was a chance of rain today but I never listen to anyone who mentions things reported in the newspaper. I consider news to be biased toward giving negative information so, even if the information is accurate, I prefer to listen to my own observations. As far as I was concerned, the sky was slightly overcast but with no hint that a surprise downpour would occur. Today, watching my uncle, James, his friend, Timothy, and his other friend, Patrick, chatting nonsense, is peculiarly appealing.

            Ordinarily, for me to spend time with these older men – not older men generally but these three specifically – inside my uncle’s apartment where no windows are ever open and the smell of canned beans cooked previously mingle strangely with Timothy’s patchouli-scented cologne, would cause me to feel anxious in a way similar to the urge to take off my shoes and tight tube socks in a place where doing so would cause major problems. However, since the rain threatens to continue on through the n9ight, I am in no hurry to leave. Uncle James had not told me why he wanted me to be here, yet, but I had a sense he would do so soon. If I ask directly why, he could delay the answer for the heck of it.

            The show they are watching does not interest me. I am purposefully avoiding paying attention to the dialogue of the actors or what type of show it is other than observing it is black and white. Uncle James once said he dislikes all forms of entertainment past the nineteen fifties and I believe him. He once told me the only kind of rock and roll music he enjoyed was the sound of a rock that he threw on the ground which caused it to roll.

            He knows I am sitting in the recliner furthest from anybody. He is purposefully pretending he forgot I was in the room. I am fine with that. Part of my contentment is in not being noticed while I listen to the soothing sounds of the storm. However, Timothy turns his head back to look at me. His expression is to let me know he has not once forgotten I am here.

            Timothy turns his head away again and watches television. He says, “It’s hard to find a good banana in the local stores, nowadays.”

            James says, “Would you know it! They’re the kind that stay green all year round and never get ripe. I need them ripe so I can put them on my potato chips.”

            “I like to use real potatoes on my bananas, not just the chip. I like the whole fruit.”

            I am never certain, when I hear these conversations about food, what is the purpose of the talk. Timothy may or may not know a potato is not a fruit and that there is no part of a potato called a chip but, if he is testing me to see if I will respond, I am not succumbing. I arrived because James insisted. When the time is right for him to tell me why I am here, then he will tell me and I will respond.

            Finally, James says, “Patrick, it’s getting close to three o’clock in the afternoon. Do you want me to tell Gordon the errand you need him to do?”

            Patrick never contributes a word to the surreal food conversations – and there have been many of them – but he will be very direct when the subject is serious. He says, “Yes. Gordon, you’ve rested long enough on that recliner. It’s time for you to go to work.”

            I figured I would need to do a type of chore and I was right. I say, “I wasn’t resting. I was waiting.”

            He nods. “Fine. Waiting’s over. I need to send a message to someone. My phone is getting repaired. You can send it.”

            “That’s no problem. What’s the number?”

            “I’m not giving you the number. I have the message written down. You’re delivering the envelope.”

            “I’m delivering the envelope to whom?”

            “My daughter.”

            “Why don’t you want me to call your daughter?”

            “Because I want you to hand her the letter.”

            “A phone call is easier.”

            “Handing a letter to someone is not hard.”

            I am annoyed. “So, you want me to walk out of here and go somewhere else and hand this letter to your daughter, wherever that may be.”

            “That is the plan.”

            “You understand it’s raining outside. It’s pouring out.”

            “I am aware of that. We’ve needed some rain. I like it.”

            I did not appreciate his smug tone. I say, “I don’t have a raincoat or umbrella.”

            “I can see.”

            “I’ll need a raincoat at least or an umbrella.”

            “Will you also need a pacifier and a teddy bear?”

            I sigh. “Are you saying you don’t have a raincoat or umbrella?”

            “No. I came here with both those items.”

            “Will you let me borrow them?”

            “I will not let you borrow them.”

            “Why not?”

            “I could tell you why I don’t want you to borrow my things but let’s get to the point. You came here dressed like that. You’ll deliver the letter dressed like that.”

            “What’s in it for me if I go?”

            “I’d give you twenty dollars but now I’m making it ten because you’re stalling.”

            “Okay. Ten is fine.”

            He nods. “Ten is fine, you say. You will get it when you return from delivering the letter.”

            I am not surprised that he is suspicious. Patrick is not a mean man. He is generally an honest character but he never blindly gives anything generously. One has to earn what he will give, if he so decides to give anything.

            I ask, “Where does she live?”

            “432 Roseland Park Drive.”

            “This is 428 Roseland Park Drive.”

            He winked. “You got it. Not far at all.”

            “It’s in this apartment complex a few doors away. I don’t have to go out in the rain at all.”

            “You’ve earned merit points for using your intelligence.”

            I realize he has been behaving like this on purpose but I will not let it bother me. I say, “I’m curious, though. If she lives so close to here, why don’t you deliver the letter?”

            “I think she might like seeing a handsome man more her age than mine. I’m sure you’d like to talk with a woman, regardless of what she looks like, more than with me.”

            “What does that mean? Is she attractive?”

            He laughs and shakes his head. “I’m her father. I love her. But I think her personality would win you over.”

            I was concerned. “In other words, she’s not too hot.”

            “She’s not too hot.”

            I should have realized this was going to be another situation like many others in which I have dealt. James is the only living relative with whom I still have contact. My mother, Iris, my aunt – Iris’ and James’ sister – Tonya and their parents, George and Sandy Blum, died five or more years ago. I never met or knew anything about my father. One cousin, Betsy – Tonya’s daughter – lives in the next town but we have nothing in common. We make little effort to communicate other than occasional birthday or holiday cards as acknowledging each other’s presence. They all weighed over three hundred and fifty pounds except my mother who managed to stay slim. All of their friends and neighbors were equally overweight.

            I was not upset at my family for that reason. I was bothered because they preferred looking that way and loved the flavors of cheap processed junk foods and hated anything organic. James has said he is not attracted to slim women. Iris tried several times to introduce me to heavy women. She thought I needed a wife and heavy set women –according to her – would be more loyal to a husband than who she considered – in her words – ‘those fickle twigs.’

            Patrick is not as heavy as James but he is not slim. Timothy is four hundred pounds but he dresses in good clothes and manages to go out on dates with women friends, if he has told me the truth. I am not sure if Patrick is trying to set me up with the type of woman in which my mother would approve.

            I ask, “Does she have a good figure?”

            He shakes his head. “I don’t think so.”

            “Does she dress sexy?” As far as I am concerned, if a woman wears a tucked-in shirt, she is sexy.

            He sighs. “She has never dressed in anything other than one way and that is boring.”

            I hold out my hand. “Give me the letter.”

            He does so. “Thanks.”

            I leave and approach apartment 432. Other than the ten dollars that will come in handy until I get paid in two days, I am doing this to prove to myself that there are some things in life that are predictable. If one is a family member or friend of the Blum’s, that person will be heavy set.

            However – now that I just realize something – James’ daughter could be gorgeous. If his idea of beauty is similar to that of James’, I could be headed for a wonderful experience. I am very curious to discover the case. I knock on the door.

            From inside the door, she says, “I’m coming!”

            I say, “Okay!”

            She opens the door. “Hmm. Hello. Do I know you?”

            “We haven’t met. I’m a friend of your father’s, James Parker. I’m Gordon Blum.”

            “Okay. Very nice to meet you, Gordon Blum. I’m his daughter, Sinead. Is there a reason you are here?”

            “I hand her the letter. “James asked me to give this to you.”

            She looks at it and smiles. “Oh, wonderful! That’s so cool. I appreciate it. Would you like to come on in?”

            “Sure.” I do so and shut the door.

            “I’m making lemon tea. Would you like some?” She walks in another room, presumably the kitchen.

            “That would be nice.” I like her. Something about her energy is sticking like Velcro, as if it is trying to pull me next to her. I remain standing still, however, until she returns. I am a first-time guest. I will behave like one.

            She returns. “Not ready yet. A few more minutes. My apologies.”

            “That’s fine.” I had not noticed her outfit when she first opened the door but now I do. I am in complete disagreement with Patrick, to the point of not wanting his opinion on anything ever again. She is wearing a tucked-in beige sweater with a white button shirt underneath it. Her burgundy trousers are tight and the belt is cinched snugly. I know nothing about her other than what I see but, since I have never met anyone like her before, this experience will be stored in the Exceptional Moments compartment in my mind.

            She stands still, smiling at me for approximately ten seconds and then she says, “The water’s ready. Want to come in the kitchen with me and get your tea?” We walk in.

            “What kind of tea is it?”

            “Lemon. I add a cardamom pod. Gives it extra zing. Here you go.” She points to a cup on the center and I take it. “I’m happy you’re here. You’re rather attractive. I’ve been trying to figure out a logistical problem and I’m thinking you could help me with it.” We sit down at the table.

            “Logistics? I don’t know much about that subject.”

            “You’ll understand when it’s presented to you.”

            I want to hear whatever she has to say. She could talk about apricot stems for several hours and I would be attentive because she is the talker. “Okay.;”

            “I’m trying to figure out whether Leonhard Euber was missing something regarding the seven bridges of Konigsburg.”

            I nod, though I have no idea what she means.

            “I’’ make it very easy. The bridges of Konigsburg is a theory based on seven original bridges in that city. People were supposed to be able to walk across all seven bridges without needing to go back on one bridge to reach the second. People were supposed to walk continuously through each bridge.”

            “That’s easy. Set the bridges like one straight line.”

            “It isn’t that simple. The bridges were connected at different areas, like in the middle.”

            “That would make it difficult.”

            “Euber approached the predicament another way. It’s not easy to understand but it got me to thinking about topology.”

            “What’s that?”

            “It’ll be too complicated to explain everything but the idea I have is that a thing can continue on without interruption if another thing that is blocking it gets moved.”

            “Oh, well I get that. Like, if I want to go to a store but I can’t if it’s closed and the door is locked but once the store is open I can walk inside.”

            She shrugs. “Fine. I’ll get to my dilemma and I’m really hoping you can help me with it.”

            “I’m listening.”

            “Are you aware of the cooperation game called The Human Knot?”

            “I’ve heard of it.”

            “It’s hard for me to formulate what I want to say in the way I mean. I’ll just ask you a question. Do you think it is possible to untangle the Gordian Knot with enough patience?”

            “What’s the Gordian Knot?”

            “It’s like a big ball of tangled twine the size of a mountain.”

            “It would take an extremely long time, possibly more than one lifetime, to untangle it.”

            She nods. “Okay. So, it would be obvious that something very small could get untangled very quickly.”

            “That sounds right.”

            “Thank you. I think so, too. Before you go, I’ll need you to double-check something with me. It will be like a formality to confirm what we talked about.”

            “I’ll be happy to help you however I can.”

            “Okay. I’m so glad you said that. Most people I’ve encountered are so centered on their own situations and don’t want to help other people. My father is like that but it’s really nice what he sent me.”

            “What is it?”

            “It’s really something I gave him a long time ago and he gave it back to me. Wait. I want to see.” She opens the envelope and looks at the paper. “He kept the original. I wrote a poem to him when I was a little girl and he said he would find it and give me the poem’s lines. This is his handwriting.” She puts the paper back in the envelope.

            “You write poetry? I write stories.”

            “I do. I have. I haven’t been inspired much recently. My father thinks I don’t have a good physique.”

            “I think you look great. You’re not overweight at all.”

            She sighs. “He thinks I’m too slim. He says I need to put on the pounds and look like him.”

            “My family thought the same way. James is the only living relative I still see. I don’t agree with them. I think you look perfect just as you are.”

            “I’m so glad you said that. It makes me feel a lot better. My father says I dress boring and need to wear more dresses instead of pants and tops. I like the mixing and matching of pieces.”

            As far as I am concerned, her outfit is a work of art. Even the pushed up sleeves of the sweater and shirt – by the elbow – cuffed to show the layers of each, complement the already almost too sexy ensemble. Her mental concepts and her physical appearance match her whole body like the right song handled by the right producer. I do not know her well enough yet to determine if I can freely talk about my appreciation for women who tuck in their shirts but I want to say something. “I love your outfit.”

            She laughs. “You’re so great.”

            Outside, the rain is louder. The sound seems appropriate, as if it is cheering in my favor. Sinead is sipping her tea and looking at me in a way similar to that feeling of energy Velcro from earlier. I think I hear a barely audible hum but I am not sure. I should feel nervous but I do not. I do not know what to say next so I sip my tea.

            She asks, “Are you mimicking me?”

            “No. I figured you gave me this tea so I could drink it.”

            “I know. I’m kidding with you. Anyway, I’d like to show you something in the living room.” We get up and go in there. We walk towards the window. She points outside. “The dilemma I told you about? Look at the trees. Look at the bench. Look at everything. You can categorize it by type such as ‘tree’ or ‘bench’ or ‘wind’ or ‘water.’ It can also be categorized by substance such as ‘solid’ or ‘liquid.’ Yet, none of it is really disconnected from any of it. It is all one thing called the universe. That’s the gist of it. Any problem can be solved no matter how complex it is. Diligence is the key. Let’s go to my front door. I’d like to prove something to you.” We go to the door. “Okay. We have moved away from the site we just observed outside, correct?”

            As a writer, I have thought of concepts similar to what she is explaining to me but I have never had a conversation remotely similar to this one. If I answer, I am doing so merely on automatic pilot mode. “Yes, we have moved towards the front door.”

            “Okay. This area by the front door is different than the area outside the window but also it is not. It is all connected. If you look, ou can still see outside the window. So we really have not moved away from it. Here, let me show you something.” She holds out both arms crisscrossed. “Take my hands.”

            I do as requested, my right hand in her right, left in left. She grips firmly. I say, “Interesting.”

            “Yes. This is what I needed your help with. I needed to confirm how simple it is to untangle a small knot. This should only take one second.”

            “It is simple. We just put our arms straight.”

            She nods. “Okay.” She tries to undo the crisscrossing of her arms but, since she is still gripping my hands, she cannot do so. However, she keeps trying. She frowns as if encountering a problem she had not previously considered.

            “Sinead, it won’t work like that. We have to let go of hands first.”

            “No, we don’t.” She moves her arms in the other direction so hers are straight and mine are crisscrossed. “Still not right.”

            “Were you trying to get us both uncrossed or just you? If it was just you, you did it.”

            She shakes her had. “No. I wanted to get both of us that way.”

            “Okay. Like I said, it’s not going to work. We need to disconnect and then we can solve the problem” I feel awkward calling this a problem because I enjoy holding on but I semse she is annoyed so I try to help.

            She sighs. “It has to work. You said you’ve heard of The Human Knot. You’ve seen people play it, right? They’re able to get their arms straight without letting go.”

            “That’s because there’s more than two people.”

            “It should work if there’s only two.”

            “If we both had our arms crisscrossed then it would work but your arms crisscrossed and mine straight won’t work.”

            She frowns and raises her voice. “It works in The Human Knot!”

            I am annoyed. She is supposed to be more of the intellectual. “That’s because there’s more than two people!”

            “This is why I needed you here to prove what I mean. Do you remember me mentioning diligence is the key? If the solution doesn’t come right away, we have to keep at it until we find the answer.”

            “Here is the solution.” I try letting go of her hands but she is gripping tight. This is strange but I need to prove a point so I pull harder and harder and she squeezes tighter and tighter. I enjoyed this at first but now I feel I am caught in another dilemma. “We have to let go!”

            “Not until we get untangled!”

            “It will never happen the way you are suggesting.”

            “Yes, it will.”

            “Suppose it were possible there was a solution but we had to spend months or years figuring it out?”

            “Then that’s what we would do.”

            “You’re not going to hold my hands for that amount of time!”

            “I’ll hold your hands until we get untangled. If it never happens, then welcome to your new home.”

            Since there is no solution forthcoming on our predicament – and standing awkwardly for hours does not appeal to me – I say, “I need to see your father.”

            She frowns. “Why? Were you supposed to give me something else and you forgot?”

            “No. He’s going to give me ten dollars.”

            “Can that wait? We’re busy here.”

            “If I don’t get it from him now, he might forget.”

            She shakes her head. “So, I’m less important than ten dollars?”

            “Quit acting like this.”

            “I’m in the middle of figuring out one of the most complex mathematical equations ever in existence and you want us to stop right after we started so you can go out in the rain and look for my father? You don’t have a raincoat and I can’t put on mine because my hands are full. You don’t make sense.”

            “Your father is visiting my uncle.” They’re only a few doors down on 428.”

            She smiles. “Oh, that’s different. We can go there.”

            We try opening the front door but, since there is no way to grab the doorknob, I use my fingers as best I can to push the knob until it unlatches. She is pressing securely on my hands to make sure I am not trying to escape. Somehow, it works. The door is open and we walk out.

            I say, “We look ridiculous like this. I don’t see how they’ll not wonder what’s going on.”

            She shrugs. “My father is used to me. He’s seen me do some really eccentric things in the past. He knows about my phobia against wearing any type of shirt or top not tucked in. He’s seen it all.”

            I was not going to mention anything about how she applies her clothes because of my past experience many years ago. I was a teenager and one of the cheerleaders in my high school was Missy Baker. I did not know her at all, except for seeing her walk through school. However, one day, she approached me. She said she was asking various students to mention her best qualities so she could use the list in a campaign speech when she ran for school president. She was wearing the high school sweatshirt tucked into her jeans. Nine days out of ten her shirts were tucked in. I said that she looked great in tucked in shirts and that made her look like a winner. She smiled and said thank you. However, from the next day onward, ten days out of ten her shirts and sweatshirts were not tucked in. I could not be one hundred percent certain my words caused her to feel self-conscious but I made sure – from that moment on – not to take a chance by saying anything that might cause a woman to quit doing something attractive. In this case, Sinead mentioned it first and I doubt she will let go of my hands just to change her outfit.

            I ask, “How often do you tuck in your shirts?”

            “Always.”

            “How many days have you ever worn something not tucked in?”

            She frowns. “What do you mean? I told you I always wear them tucked in.”

            “So, you have never in your life ever worn a shirt not tucked in?”

            “Well, I can’t remember what I wore when I was an infant or toddler. My mom dressed me then so I can’t account for the years when I was really little. But I remember as far back as ten years old I had to make sure my shirt was fully tucked in before I would go out of the house. Mom would tell me to hurry up because I’d be late for the school bus and I’d tell her the bus had to wait.”

            “Did you ever get criticized for how you dressed?”

            “When we went to places like the park or hiking, and the weather was cold, I was told I had to wear a jacket or a sweater. I wasn’t going to let circumstances ruin the look I wanted to achieve so I would either wear a cardigan sweater or a windbreaker jacket and I would tuck it in. Mom would say I didn’t need to tuck in that type of top and I would yell at her that I was not going to wear it outside of my pants. I don’t know why you’re asking me these questions. I’m not going to stop the way I dress for anybody. If you don’t like it, that’s tough. You’re going to have to get over it or avert your eyes from my waistline.”

            I am aroused hearing her say this. “You misunderstand. I’m asking because I’m interested. Women look great wearing tucked in shirts. Not many women I know do so. Meeting you is a high point of my life.”

            She widens her eyes. “You’re the first person who has said that to me. Wow. Thank you.”

            “I’m just glad you didn’t take offense to it.”

            She raises her voice. “What I take offense to is my father who buys a lot of sweatshirts and knit sweaters for me, not realizing they get tucked in, too. He wants me to gain weight and dress like a sack of potatoes.”

            The door opens. James says, “So, it’s you two I heard.”

            I ask, “Is Patrick still here?”

            “Patrick and Timothy. The gang’s all here. You might not remember that song. That was before video games.”

            Sinead frowns as if not sure how to take James’ tone.

            I say, “That’s just how he is. Sarcasm is his fashion statement.”

            She nods. “Understood.”

            We walk in. James, Timothy and Patrick are watching television. Occasionally, Timothy turns his head to look at us. There is no discernible expression on his face but his looking at us becomes more frequent.

            I say, “Hi, Patrick. I delivered the letter.”

            He takes out a ten dollar bill and hands it to me. He says, “Very good.”

            “If you could put it in my pants pocket, that would be better.”

            “Hmm. I think there’s a solution better than that. I’ll put it in my shirt pocket.” He does so.

            I am in the awkward position of not being able to rectify the moment. My hands are not free. Patrick shows just enough hint of a small smug smile. In most cases, such would irk me but now I see the humor in it. Truthfully, there is nothing I can do about it.

            Sinead shrugs. “This means we can leave now.”

            “I would rather stay if you don’t mind.” I say this because I want to observe how many minutes go by before anybody acknowledges the peculiar way Sinead and I are joined. So far, other than Timothy’s occasional glances, which could be for any reason, they appear not to care in the slightest degree.

            We sit down on a couch, behind them. They are laughing, supposedly at the movie, but the scene does not look humorous, from what I can deduce. I assume they are laughing at us and use the television screen as a front so we will not know what they are really thinking.

            Finally, Patrick says, “I see you two are getting along.”

            I say, “She refuses to let go of my hands.”

            He nods. “Sounds good to me.”

            I am annoyed. “You don’t understand! She’s doing a weird two-person version of the human knot that can’t get solved and she says she will never stop until it gets solved. She plans to hold on forever.”

            “Yes, she has her ways about her. I’ve learned not to question it.”

            “You sounds like you don’t get the seriousness of this! She’s snapped somehow and thinks we can live like this, continuously holding hands.”

            “I’m fully aware of what you mean and I cannot honestly say I think you’re better off alone. What do you do all day? You stay home and watch television most of the time. I know I’m watching television but I’m visiting two friends. We watch television in the name of keeping each other company. You’re alone when you’re home. You’ll go to the park sometimes but you’re alone then, too. I hate to say it but you need a companion. If the only way she can accompany you is by physically holding on, I’d say you’d much prefer that than to be in a padded call and kept as a ward of the state.”

            Sinead looks content, as if she needed her father’s advice during a desperate situation and he said something that saved the day. I have stopped trying to pull free. Her determination to hold on has given her more than enough strength to prevent my leaving. For now, I will stay quiet in my panic.

            James smiles. “Relax, Gordon. I don’t really usually take out liquor unless it is a special occasion but today is pretty special. You have a new friend. Vodka and orange juice is a simple but perfect combination. It’s not like a Bloody Mary where you have tomato juice and Worcestershire sauce and the option of hot sauce or not. It doesn’t have one hundred different varieties of the recipe. It’s simply Vodka and orange juice. Since it’s so simple, it doesn’t need a fancy name. It needs as simple of a name as it can get. I call it The Drink.” He holds a glass. “Open up and I’ll pour.”

            I say, “I’m not in the mood for a drink right now.”

            “Please just indulge me. You don’t need to have more than one if you don’t want it but the first one is mandatory. Open up.” He pours the drink in my mouth.

            “Oh! That’s good. I guess I needed a drink, after all.”

            “That’

s the ticket. Do you want another one?”

            “Sure.”

 

 

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A New Connection (second part)

The time was closer to three o’clock. The weather was a pleasant overcast Thursday afternoon. Sinead was guiding me towards Nineteenth Street and Franklin Boulevard, where the restaurants and business offices were located. I knew that area existed but I generally did not roam around Antioch often so I forgot there was more to the town than I thought. I would never had any business to do in any of the establishments. I remembered once Ivan telling me he ate at a Mediterranean restaurant on Nineteenth Street a few years ago when a friend invited him for lunch. I am not sure I would have accepted the same sort of invitation if I was invited. I always felt like I did not belong amongst city workers except as a pedestrian on my way to the bus stop. However, accompanied by Sinead, who was dressed as well as other employees if not even better, I could pretend I was one of the gang. She had not told me where we were going, except to say that the place was one block away. Conversation was minimal during the last few minutes. I felt like we were in an alternate reality, directed by an unknown choreographer.

Sinead pointed to an office called, “King, Ellis & Conrad.” I assumed it was a lawyer’s office. We walked inside.

She said, “We ought to sit down. Tim will be here to talk to us shortly.”

I asked, “Did you need me with you? Is that why you brought me here?”

“Correct. I don’t really want to do what I need to do but it will be easier with you around.”

I felt relieved. “So, you’re not keeping me, right?”

“I’m not keeping you. Don’t worry about that. You can go see your uncle when we’re finished.”

A man entered the lobby. He was wearing a buttoned blue blazer and matching pants and shoes. A white shirt collar was shown underneath. He nodded. “Hello, Sinead. Are you ready? Hello, sir.”

She said, “Hi, Tim. This is Paul. Is it okay if he sits in on our discussion?”

Tim said, “That’s fine. Come on in.” We walked in another room and sat at different chairs by a table. “So, Sinead. Were you able to find out if the Vietnamese restaurant around the corner serves good food or if they’re just so-so.”

She smiled. “It’s really good. I’m not a fan of most of the stuff in this neighborhood but that place was really good. Have you ever eaten around here, Paul?”

I said, “My uncle ate around here once. There was a Mediterranean place he went to with a friend.”

Tim said, “I remember that place. I don’t think I ever went there but my brother said the food was awful. Anyway, Sinead, I know someone who is willing to buy those CDs from you. He’s collecting obscure artists. How much are you selling them for, each?”

“I’d like to get ten dollars. I bought them at ten cents each because the store was going out of business. I have at least a hundred of them.”

“I would think you ought to have twenty each. Reginald is not poor. He used to be an engineer for a big name studio. His name is on a few releases by lesser known groups who were still on the major labels. He doesn’t need to work anymore but he wants to. He’s collecting stuff so he can show his clients he has a wide selection of stock. If his name appears on a few of the CDs, that’s even better.”

She sighed. “Well, twenty is a good price for them. I’d sell them for that. But it’s hard to find that stuff now. It’s out of print and you can’t order them in record stores. It’s what the dealers call, ‘Rare Junk.’ It’s rare and hard to find but it’s cheap and not desirable.”

Tim took out a piece of paper from his desk. “I need it official. Reginald will sign it too. He’s to give you twenty dollars each for all the CDs you have. How many do you have, approximately?”

“At least one hundred and fifty. I have more than that but I want to keep a few of them.”

“That’ll be three thousand dollars he’ll pay you. I don’t want much of the cut. I’ll take one percent. Thirty dollars to make it so I’m legitimately involved. Paperwork, you know. I’m really handling a bigger deal with him and I’m doing this as a favor.”

“Why do I need to sign a contract, anyway? Just curious.”

“Reginald prefers that. It’s so he gets some kind of write-off finance-wise. In case the men who chase the paper trail come a-calling.”

“Okay. It doesn’t bother me. So, we’re done?”

Tim smiled. “Yes, we’re done. By the way, how long do you plan to shake Tim’s hand? You’ve been holding on rather tight the whole time. I find that interesting.”

Sinead shrugged. “It’s no big thing. I’m just going to hold on always.”

I was nervous. “Wait a minute. You said you would let go after we were done!”

She shook her head and laughed. “I’m so sorry, Paul. I didn’t think to tell you because you probably wouldn’t handle it so well. I’m not letting go when I’m done, here. But I was honest in saying you could go back to your uncle’s. I’ll be with you.”

“So you are keeping me!”

“Oh, no! Don’t think of it that way! I’m accompanying you.”

“What you’re saying is you’re going to grip my hand forever.”

“Yes, I am. But don’t worry about it. I have our schedule set out for us. It’ll be fine.”

I was partly intrigued and partly in a panic. I wondered what a moment would be like if I spent it with someone of higher quality, especially a woman who wore her shirts tucked in, which was rare among any of my friends and acquaintances. For me to be physically stuck to her every single day with no possible way of escaping because she would not let go of my hand, causing me to accompany her everywhere she went and be a part of her world in a way that was much more involved than what seemed humanly possible, was too surreal. Even if her sleeves were rolled up, which looked quite sexy and complimented her grip and how her fingers pressed against my hand, the whole thing seemed illogical. I could not think of anything else to do other than get up and run. I did so.

Sinead’s eyes widened. She squeezed my hand as tight as possible. I pulled as hard as I could while she screamed for me to stop and slapped my hand hard with her other hand. Finally, I stopped because the pain was a bit much. I was not so much calming down as just trying not to freak out completely. This was way too strange and I could not fathom how she would have the kind of state of mind to behave as she did. However, I decided that I would wait until we arrived at my uncle’s house. Perhaps Ivan would be able to help me.

A New Connection (first part)

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Cover image courtesy of Sinead Linda:

http://www.fiverr.com/sineadlinda

I was walking towards my uncle’s apartment. He lived in a building which was of better quality than many of the places in the neighborhood. Antioch was mostly in the middle of nowhere, as far as I could assume. There was one café that I frequented because I needed energy before dealing with him. He was the most logical of my family but he had his problems and I would sometimes need to go on errands for him and that was an all-day endeavor. Today, I volunteered to visit him. He had a copy of an old movie on video cassette. The movie had one small scene with an actress whose role was secondary but made a lasting impression on me. She goes to her neighbor’s house to give him some mail. Apparently, the postman delivered the neighbor’s mail to her by mistake. She is wearing a windbreaker jacket tucked into tight belted jeans. After she hands the neighbor his mail, she stretches her arms and the windbreaker creases tightly. I figured my uncle would let me borrow the movie since I had done many favors for him in the past. I did not want to tell him I wanted to take pictures of that scene. He would not understand.

I lived in Oakland, California. Compared to Antioch, Oakland was Manhattan, New York. There were poetry readings in Oakland and sometimes the women dressed sexy in tucked-in shirts, like the woman in the movie. I would not go so far as to say that clothes were the only thing that counted about a person but I believed there was a connection between arousal and creativity. I would give copies of my stories to the attractive women at the poetry readings. My influence for writing the stories was my goal to hand them to those women. In Antioch, at that one café, there was a female cashier who always wore her shirts tucked in every time I saw her. When she waited on me, she would touch my hand when giving my change. That was another motivating factor for me to write a story. If a good looking woman, especially one who wore her shirts tucked in, touched my hand, I regarded the touch to be transference of energy and I wanted to put that energy to use. Some of what I am saying is psychological and could be a placebo. There may be nothing to any of it. However, I did not think there was anything wrong with having an eccentric thought process if the results of that process were positive.

Part of my attitude about people who were attractive was based on a counterbalance against my birth family that ate foods that were unhealthy and wore clothes that looked like they were originally towels from the nineteen sixties that were reconstituted as garments. I lived in foster care homes until I was eighteen. Only my mother’s sister, Danielle, came occasionally to visit me. My mother was too busy smoking cigarettes and laying in her room watching television to do anything else, according to Danielle. Not that she saw me often and not that I wanted her to do so. My mother was unmarried when she was pregnant. Her parents would not let her bring me to their house because they had enough troubles raising their own children. My mother, Greta, my aunt, Danielle, and my uncle, Ivan, were definitely a handful, if I am correct in believing they were worse at kids than they became as adults. My mother died before I could see her again. Apparently, she was helping Ivan. When she died, he looked for me.

I would not have wanted much to do with them but I finally figured that a screwed up family was better than no family at all. Even if my visits were filled with Ivan requesting continuously I give him glasses of water when he already has two full glasses right next to his arm, I could somewhat feel that I was reliving a childhood I could have had and did not. When I first went to the café where the good looking female cashier worked, I thought that I located the one special gem in the otherwise forgettable town. I printed up a copy of one of my stories and, when I went there again during my next visit to my uncle, I gave her the story. I did not know her at all but my giving her the story was connected to my reasons why I wrote stories and I could use the moment to shield me from the impending visit to Ivan. I gave her the story last week. I was going to patron the café today but it was closed for repairs. I was not too upset. I did put my email address on the story. If she wanted to contact me, she could do so.

The story was surreal. The plot concerned a man who walked his donkey every day to a store that sold only artichoke hearts. He went there merely to talk to the owner about golf clubs. During their conversation, another man enters the building and talks about pillows. However, during the conversation with these men, I included just a few sentences about shirt tucking and hand touches, just enough so I would not go overboard on those subjects but a perceptive person on my wavelength would notice them. As far as I was concerned, if I did not have those sentences in the story, there would be no point in me giving it to her. As I went in my uncle’s apartment complex, I felt great. I knew I gave a copy of my story to the type of woman I hoped would read it. That was satisfaction enough. My getting a copy of my uncle’s movie was an extra bonus, if indeed he allowed me to borrow it.

What happened next was almost too good to be true. Before I could reach the left corner of the corridor by my uncle’s apartment, I heard a door close. When I started walking past that area, I saw the female cashier from the café. During the split second before she acknowledged me, I saw she was wearing her shirt tucked in, like usual. She had on a denim shirt with rolled up sleeves and black jeans and a black belt and pant legs tucked into tall black boots. A part of me was nervous thinking she might wonder why I was in her apartment complex but I did not have enough time to be too nervous about it because she looked into my eyes and seemed happy.

She said, “Oh, hi! I didn’t know you lived in this building.”

I said, “I don’t. My uncle Ivan Anderson lives here. I came to visit him.”

She nodded. “Okay. I don’t recall the name. But, anyway, my name is Sinead.” She extended her hand. We shook.

“I’m Paul Anderson.”

“Nice to meet you. I love that story you let me read. Are you a professional writer?”

“No. I mean, I have written some stories that were in a few periodicals but I just mostly write for the enjoyment of it.”

“I understand. I’m the same way. I like to write too, now and then. I just do it as a hobby. Do you live close by?”

“I live in Oakland. It’s several hours away, no matter what type of transportation you use to get there. So I wouldn’t say I live close by.”

She kept holding on and her grip was firm. She might have been giving a hint she understood those few sentences in the story. I could not help but think about that possibility. Perhaps something about my attitude on creative energy was manifesting. I certainly was in no hurry now to visit my uncle.

She asked, “Do you get inspiration to write when you visit Antioch?”

“I’m usually helping my uncle when I’m here. I don’t think much about writing until I come back to Oakland.”

“Is Oakland your muse, so to speak?

“It just has a lot more places. Even if I wanted to sit somewhere, like at a park, and write, there aren’t any benches anywhere.”

“Is that the kind of setting you like to write in, a park?”

“Not just there. I like to write wherever the mood strikes.”

She nodded. “Do you think Antioch needs more cultural activities going on?”

“It couldn’t hurt.”

“Do you know anyone who could start something like a poetry group here?”

“The only person here I know is my uncle.”

She shrugged. “If you would like, I could pass your story on to a friend of mine who is a publisher of a small literary magazine in Cotati. It’s not a hot bed of discovered talents by any means but it’s a start and my friend might like your story and want to publish it.”

“Sure.”

She smiled and looked at her watch. “It’s two o’clock now. I have to go to an appointment at two thirty. I enjoyed talking to you and I’d like to continue our conversation later. Is that good for you?”

“I’d like that, Sinead. What would be a good day and time?”

“Anytime at all. You know where I am.”

“Sounds good.”

She started to walk away, still gripping my hand. Suddenly, she stopped and tugged at my hand. “Well, come on.”

“What?”

“I have to go to my appointment. If we’re going there together, you need to walk with me.”

“Oh.” We walked.

This was strange but not unpleasant. Certainly, my knowing a woman like her was not in my roster of experiences. If I was lucky, I might talk with the wife of a neighbor in Oakland while the husband went to the refrigerator to get some refreshments so we could all sit and watch a football game but the wife never tucked in her shirts and she was not in the least interested in giving me a pat on the back, let alone a handshake of any length. My uncle was not yet aware I was planning to visit him today. There was no law stating my priorities were not ever to change. I decided to walk with Sinead and I would enjoy doing so.

Bobby McAnnoying (work in progress)

Bobby McAnnoying: a surreal tale by Lee Gerstmann

Copyright ©2017 Lee Gerstmann

Chapter One:

Bobby looked at the ocean. He saw a dog swimming. The dog had a bracelet made of broccoli around his neck. Sounds were emanating from somewhere unknown. A woman passed Bobby. She blew him a kiss. He knew he was no longer in Poland.

Last night, Bobby imagined he was in Eastern Europe. He picked up his imaginary guitar and chewed his gum. His mother, Priscilla, frowned. She asked that he put down the imaginary guitar and eat dinner.

“If I eat dinner, mommy, I will take away the broccoli from the dog’s collar.”

“Never mind, dear. You are moving forward. What you just told me will not happen until tomorrow.”

Fine, Bobby thought. Let the so-called black pepper of Unicorn Land trip its way into the marshmallow gravy. He would ask someone else for help. His musical heroes were too busy tying shoelaces and smoking sage to agree to his command. He needed a new hotel.

Wilhelmina, his next door neighbor, walked by. She wanted to blow him a kiss but she used up her supply. Instead, she tripped on the sidewalk. Coupons were steady and complaining in a hut of saddles. Into the otherwise known region was a bellhop concord encyclopedia mayhem flute. Yeah, she knew as such. Did not ask for a penny but got some.

“Hey” Bobby said, “the espadrilles come into town. You can buy half a quarter full.”

Wilhelmina frowned. “So you say, Mr. Bobby McAnnoying. You shall be a thumpity-thump of pride. We cannot hold a conclusion without you.”

“Yes. That’s what the alphabet says. Stick it in your eardrum, cloud chief. We know better than you around these parts. Take away you dildo and scream.”

Wilhelmina turned into the dog Bobby saw tomorrow. That meant he saw the dog yesterday, which was today. How could he know? Perhaps he was in class. He looked around. Mr. Shint sneered at him

Mr. Shint yelled, “You are the rascal in the prairie, aren’t you Mr. McAnnoying? We were trying to concentrate on the physical realm of the planets and you snored like a grape being peeled. That would have sufficed if I had not eaten dinner yet but, since this is the afternoon of the chipmunk, I had to piece together the rhythms of the puzzle. You lost.”

Bobby spit. He did not know where the substance landed. He did not care. Next thing he knew, he was grabbed from behind by a gum-faced tee-totaller whose voice sounded like an accordion. Bobby figured he was stuck in the tuba again.

“Snatch me a number for the spruce, you little thingamabob spaghetti cockroach festival hamster. The times will not change until you put onions in your yogurt. I have your right side on my left and my left side on your Republican. Make sure you vote this coming election.”

Bobby laughed. He had other realms to occupy. None of this cartridge holding. The worms were handsome enough without their female counterparts. No more fans were blowing his way. The ergot came by way of cosmic dancing. Damn, the alcohol was as good as the puppy. He sat down on the ground, next to the abandoned playschool. He had his bottle with him. His friend, imported from San Francisco all the way to Cotati and under the basement of the Indian restaurant, was listening to a battery-powered radio with no juice. Bobby understood the placebos of the bitchy. He had to tell an old friend of his to stop following him by way of telephone. If the friend was this new friend who happened not so much to be new than to be newly seen, that would have been different, However, such was because Bobby’s state of mind changed every minute. Otherwise, the sad friend could do with a sandwich.

Bobby’s words were looking at him, asking how he was doing. He could not speak because he was inside a piece of paper but his message was that he could do better. The paper laughed because the author could make Bobby better but the author was afraid of turning into a piece of paper.

Wilhelmina followed Bobby. She said, “I am a train and I am dressed in a way you do not like because you have never entertained the idea of pursuing me. If you had decided to come with me when I was poking dominoes, I could have folded some cardboard and let you eat it. But, no you had to be selfish. Just because I am not your girlfriend does not mean I cannot be your boyfriend. I am not a boy but labels are changing all the time. Just ask a can of soup. The price is not determined financially but by the weather. Make of that what you will.”

Bobby nodded. “I shall. I will make it a spice rack where all the tourniquets will go in the morning. Did you see mother and father? How did they react to my dream?”

“I didn’t know you were dreaming. I thought you were a bug.”

“The dream bug. The best kind.”

“For sauces. Use some of that apple pan dowdy, why don’t you? Wear some glasses, for gosh sake. I have a urination problem. It does not go on a shelf.”

“That’s something I will say something about. However, right now I cannot slow down.”

“Too bad. I have a gang to ride and you have a licorice to pick. We all have burdens.”

“That’s what I thought you’d say. I was concerned you’d say it in the wrong context but, like always, I was wrong.”

“You should not be wrong in these circumstances. That is not religious.”

“It can be if you have the right books.”

“Show me the books.”

“You show me lyrics and I will show you the books they should not be in.”

Enough of this Bobby thought. He knew the train would leave without him. No more sleeping on grass. He went through wave upon wave of consciousness until he could no longer decide if he was deciding. Next would be a caboose. If he chose wisely, he would pick a pink one.

Lo and behold there was a mobile that quacked. It did not jingle like the rest of the ducks but it had solemn enough tactile force to be reckoned with. He knew his uncle would be inside. If not his natural uncle then his philosophical makeshift alternative. He really was not one to want to think of men in that way but he could not help it. He was who he was. He thought how he thought.

A breeze whispered a warning. “Do not package yourself until tomorrow’s sale.”

Bobby answered, “I have a demonic presence in the form of my counting.”

“That would be fine, my sweet. Give me your anger. I am an angel who will tickle you.”

He knew what that meant. He would not tell anybody if asked but he could surmise anonymously. He danced, mimicking plastic.

The wind continued. “Make all of your dreams come true in an Irish sailor uniform. Restaurants are calling upon the unicorns to do a soup dance. What have you got to sell? A book? We shall use any tapes handy. They are for ostriches.”

So, now we are feisty, thought Bobby. I give up everything I have and more to be out-thought by a transaction of the other universe. It cannot be done. I want to get on the train and see where it goes.

The wind said, “You’re ignoring me all awash fruit jam and ham make a turkey wing for the whales in the desert by the blue goose in the Monday habit.”

Suddenly, Bobby realized his pants were too tight. They were making his crotch suffocate. He was not a woman. He was merely harassed. He tried to take off his pants but realized he was trying to peel off skin. His pants were made of flesh. That was strange. He was not wearing anything. But, if that was true, how was he able to think? He had thoughts. He must be wearing his thoughts. Maybe now he understood what it meant to be worn out.

Wilhelmina returned. Not that she ever left but Bobby never paid attention. She was shaking her head as though she was making a lice milkshake. She figured her emotions could be measured by increments of protein. She screamed, “Come here, Bobby. You don’t want to miss that train. The broccoli dog is there.”

“Oh, can it with your clairvoyance. I care about the broccoli dog but you should not do so. He is not yours to understand. He is in another game.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. While we’re on the subject, you’re as annoying as your name, Mr. McAnnoying.”

“Don’t make fun of my name. My father thought of it because he was making fun of his father. They were both drunk and just having a good time laughing. You can’t fault anyone for wanting fun.”

Suddenly, another person showed up. “Hey, Mr. Bobby, if I am correct in assuming that’s what you go by, I’ve been on that damn train all day and now it’s your turn. What do you want, vibe-wise?”

“Hmm. Never thought about it much. Maybe I’d like a nice woman to accompany me and touch my hand.”

Wilhelmina touched Bobby’s hand. “As you wish.”

He shook his head. “Not you! You’re like my mother. My mother who’s younger than me, if that sounds rightly odd. No, I mean a woman who dresses the way I like in plaid shirts and not any of this one-piece dress stuff that the guys love in Wisconsin. You should know better.”

“Sorry, mister. I do as I wish. Most of the population is dumb. That’s why we listen to top-forty music. Do you not like tambourines? Get it into your head that society is changing. You cannot have it the way you used to want it. You have to have things the way they are now because it’s like it is and not like it isn’t.”

Bobby tried running for the train but his feet got caught in weeds. “What the hay?”

The other person laughed. “No, it’s not hay but clover. You are stuck by your own admission. Your thoughts are tangled up in your feet. You cannot get by another way without another hurt in your stomach. Your family is laughing at you, right now. How dare you say you can go on the train when you’re not doing yourself any favors? Make sure you leave a tip on the way out.”

“That is not going to happen!” He stomped his feet up and down until he resembled a disco dancer.

Wilhelmina and the other person, named Gregory, giggled.

Bobby said, “Somebody please help me. I want to get on the train but I cannot do so because I am stuck in the weeds.”

The dog continued to swim. “Go back to the old vision. I am not on ground.”

“So, you’re not a dog? What are you?”

“Yeah. I am a dog. I am not a dog that is another thing but I am somebody.”

“That does not necessarily sound like a somebody.”

“Maybe I can beat you to the words.”

“You can try in a smoothie.”

The dog continued swimming.

There was nothing around for Bobby to use so he could surmise the consequences. Everything became French. That was not of his doing. He did not mean it. He thought he could surround the vacated area with his shenanigans. He was half-wrong.

Tabitha said, “I like you, Bobby.”

“Wait a minute. Who are you?”

“I am the sweetie.”

“You were not introduced to the story.”

“That is correct but I am introducing myself to you. I think that is enough of an introduction.”

Bobby chewed on broccoli. Did it come from off of the dog’s neck? There was no more dog. There was no water. He was on a hill. The train was waiting. He was not sure if the train waited for him or for another reason. He tried to think about how people would act in New Orleans. He never visited the south but there was always a first time. He preferred Canada. A librarian suggested Canada to him when he asked about a specific thing. She wore a blue shirt. She was stretching her arms. He liked that. She was nice. He tried to think of a reason why there was no water.

The train spoke. “Are you confusing me with something, young man?”

“If you are not a train, what are you?”

“I am a figment of the pamphlet you were reading. Someone told you I was a train but I am clearly just a figment.”

“A figment of what?”

“Just a figment.”

“That is not possible. There are no figments of just figments. Figments are of something.”

“No, not if they are figments. If they are whole things, yes. Figments, no.”

“So you are not a figment of my imagination?”

“How the hell could I be that? I’m talking to you. Correct?”

“Oh… yes.”

“That would mean I am sociologically incapable of encumbering any number of juxtapositions in the time frame according to the ratio announced by the producer. He organized and engineered everything. Look at the credits. They give me the position of executive arranger.”

“On what?”

I“On nothing. I appear on nothing. But I appear on nothing as an executive arranger.”

“How could that be?”

“You’re going around and around in a psychedelic form of mathematics. You should stop drinking beer. I am not a goofy vibrant mass. I am a connector or wiring. But that is not what I am today. I am a figment.”

“So, if you are not a figment of anything, does that mean you are a figment of nothing?”

“Yes. How could I be a figment of something? Nothing is just a word we use when we say we are not connected to another thing. I am not a blank.”

“You could have fooled me. You don’t look like a blank but you’re sounding like one. What is it that you are?”

“I am a figment.”

Bobby was getting more impatient. How long would this rigmarole last? He needed to get on the train, which was telling him it was not a train. So, he did not need to get on it. But, he needed to do something, even if the not-train told him that it was not connected to anything. Bobby was confused.

Wilhelmina said, “I have another answer that could help you.”

“Any answer is better than none.”

“That’s not true. The figment has a non-answer that could help you even more than any help I could give you but I can give you my help, nonetheless.”

“Sure.”

“You are being pigeonholed by members of your family.”

“Which family? I have one in which I purposefully have no contact and another family that I like to see.”

“It would be the family that bothers you.”

“Okay. How do I go about changing that?”

“You can’t but I can. All you have to do is follow me.”

“Where?”

“There is no logical answer to that. But, if you follow me, you will allow me to make use of my time and you could get help. How about it?”

“I have no reason to say no.”

“You have every reason to say no.”

He shook his head. “Let’s just get going.”

She walked. He followed.

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.”

 

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.”