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A Splinter Emergent

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A few weeks had gone by, and signs and symbols of change hung in the air as defiant as smoke which refused to dissolve.

Daya knew what I thought of my canvassing job, and had found me a listing for a parking lot attendant on one of the campus announcement boards. Still buffeted by the stress of wandering from door to door, this idea of a simple job, requiring little intellectual output, seemed too good to be true.

At the interview, the office manager and I hit it off right away. Although the job was only temporary, six weeks or so while the usual attendant visited his family in Asia, I still counted it an astounding stroke of luck that she hired me on the spot.

When I got back to Daya's, no one was around, and I felt inspired to call Anna. I had left another message or two with her sullen friend, but still hadn't heard back, and I wondered whether they had reached her. It had seemed like she'd wanted me to talk to her again, at least.

I picked up the phone receiver feeling a small electric crackle which told me this time was the one.

'Hello, is this Anna?'


'Hi-- remember me, from the Tortuga?'

"Oh, hi." This was not the right response. While I hadn't allowed myself to worry that she'd struck up a serious something already, I experienced a sudden loss of doubt.

'Sounds like you're kind of busy. Should I call back some other time?'

"No, no, it's okay."

'I talked to your friend a few times... did he tell you I called?'

"Yeah-- he did. I've just been really-- busy."

'Yeah, I get you. It sounds like you two are hanging out?'


'Well, it doesn't have to be anything in particular between us. Maybe we could still hang out, have lunch?'

"Uh, I don't think that's such a good idea right now."

And here I had been worrying about hurting her feelings. So it goes.

'Okay, well, I won't keep you, I just wanted to call and say that it was cool meeting you.'

She softened just a bit. "Yeah-- you too."

'Okay, well, peace.'

And we hung up.

I understood that this number, this little bit of red ink on a white scrap of paper, now held all the significance and promise of an empty water bottle in the desert, and I respectfully dropped it into the memory hole. But I was still lonely.

I did, however, find my new routine most congenial. I had moved from the couch onto Daya's floor, where my sleeping mat and sleeping bag were plenty comfortable, and, more importantly, away from the watchful eye of Gene, who had developed a zealous interest in sitting on his sofa in the mornings.

Since Daya left for a class about the same time I left for work, one alarm served us both. I caught my first bus downtown, where I held my thin paper transfer and talked to Bill, the genteel homeless doorman of the nearby coffee shop, who opened the door just as sprightly for those who did not add coins to his waiting cup as for those who did. The second bus carried me right to the parking lot. If I had a few extra minutes, I would allow myself a small coffee and a muffin at the coffee-shop, adding my change to Bill's cup as I walked back outside to wait.

The first time I dropped something in his cup, I told him, 'You know I don't really have much, but I'll do what I can do.'

Bill's raspy voice answered me from his salt-and-pepper beard, "Then I'll count that quarter a few times, coming from you." He winked at me as he rattled the coins in the bottom of the cup together.

'I notice you're still nice to people who don't give you anything, smile at them even if they don't look at you when you open the door for them.'

"Well, one way to look at it is that the people who run the coffee shop let me do this because they know I'm not bothering anybody. Another way is that just because someone is some way, don't mean I have to be that way, too."

A soft light settled on him, the sun not yet having cleared the edges of the buildings, and I felt sad, not that he had no home, but that so little dirt attracted so much indifference, and cruelty.

The parking lot almost watched itself. On days when the two buses ran too close together, I would wait to eat breakfast until nine, when all the cars were already nestled into the parking lot for the day, then duck into the West Side Bakery, where the gingerbread almost oozed molasses onto the waxed paper, and carried threads of ginger as thick as carrot shreds in every bite. Except for a brief period of activity at lunchtime, dampened by carpooling, nothing stirred for hours except the thick fluffy clouds that swept through the enormous blue sky, day after day. I began to realize that I hadn't experienced this much winter sunshine, or time to think, in my entire life, and odd, happy feelings floated through my peripheral vision as the clouds danced over me.

The actual booth was tiny, but it had a comfortable stool with a back, a heater for the colder days, and a little shelf with enough room to eat and spread out a large book. The hours flew by so quickly that I read 'Crime and Punishment' in three days while my copy of 'Last Rights' looped through my tape player's headphones.

I couldn't understand Raskolnikov, not consciously, and I puzzled over his violent unpleasantness and self-defeating guilt with a haughty Zarathustrian eye. As I stared through the floor, ruminating on his choices, I spied an old newspaper in the corner of the booth whose headline announced the acquittal of all of the officers in an infamous police brutality trial. Unbidden, the old woman in the dingy hallway became a solitary figure in blue, hoisted and crucified onto an old vw beetle using railroad spikes, then rolled gently out into oncoming traffic.

An angry middle-class pacifist floating by demanded, don't those cops have families? And I answered, don't those who are clubbed down in videos, sent to prison for a few dollars of crack, shot unarmed in the streets, have families too?

I poured my nervous energy into random sketching, designs and faces pouring out as the soundscape shifted down the stairs around me. My hand looped and refined one particular design, one particular face until it became a mantra underneath my pen, a caricature of an arched eyebrow and warped smile I saw appear on doorways, alleys, other strange places, far into the future.

That evening, after work, I knew just what I needed. I wished I had a joint, but the tiny bits my co-workers had given me were gone. I walked up the road from the parking lot into the corner liquor store, where I spent two dollars on a bottle of fortified wine, gulping half of it before I got on the bus, which carried me far beyond my stop, past the campus, past a rose garden of empty thorns and empty doorways framing the shining bay, all the way to the top of the hills, where I smiled down as the sun slowly melted into the water.

...what just happened again?...
...section six...
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