4/14/20: That Little Wasted Strip Mall

Another day, and so close to the end of Moby Dick. I’ll probably finish it tonight. I almost finished it this afternoon, but it felt off, not tributary enough. My best memories of this reading of it have been when I read it late at night, so I guess I’ll wait till tonight to finish it.

I’ve talked about my 30 pages/day regimen before, which I fell off of for more than a month this year and which, somehow, Moby-Dick helped me get back to. I have a few other rituals, forms, observances that I follow in my reading.

When I start reading for the day, and have 100 pages or less to go till the end of the book, I usually try and finish it that day.

When I finish a book, I don’t start another one immediately, even if I’m still in the reading mood. I let the finished book percolate for a day before starting on something else. Although this rule I don’t always obey.

Rituals, forms, observances…they’re so easy to write about, to talk about. Our brains seem addicted to cataloging, to schemata, lists and sub-lists. Stats. Specs. Maybe that’s why little kids become walking compendia of their crochets and interests before they really have a distinct personality (and sometimes never get one). These tangible, graspable things are so much easier to talk about, so much more superficially engageable, than the weaving, tangled medusahead of life’s irreconcilabilities that we could get sidelined for years, decades, whole lifespans having said more and thought more about, say, Porygon’s EV stats than the obscene unphraseable cruelty of reality.

I wonder sometimes if it comes down to those two things: the unnameable, and the countless distractions that prevent us from contemplating it – or that we purposely interpose between us and the unnameable specifically so that prevents us from contemplating it.

Lately I haven’t been able to deal with silence. No matter what I’m doing I need to have some background noise going, to blanket some low strumming baseline of incipient terror. So while I work I set the TV to chattering, and earlier today I put on Better Call Saul.

I haven’t seen the show before, had no real interest in watching it, but just wanted something that met Brian Eno’s Ambient 1 requirement of being as ignorable as it was interesting.

Early on, there’s a courtroom scene where a lawyer (not Saul) wheels in an old tube TV on an A/V stand to play for the jury. He drags it out laboriously and then stoops to put a tape in the VHS player on the rack below the TV; all of this is seen from the judge’s viewpoint, or near to it; looking out from the bench at any rate (I’m not fact-checking this even though my TV is playing behind me right now). When he stoops to put the tape in the camera cuts to a new shot, from right behind the VHS player, so that we see the lawyer’s bland face as he inserts the tape on the other side of the out-of-focus player.

But the shot isn’t quite centered; the VHS player and the and A/V stand aren’t quite centered in the frame. It doesn’t look bad, but it doesn’t look as deliberate as you might expect a shot like this to be; and I wondered, watching it, what went on in the director/cinematographer’s head? How hard would it have been to get it dead center? Would it have been worth it? Did they not want it dead center? And then consider other possible shots, other possible distances. Pressing on this moment a little with the mind exposes a giant sucking sinkhole: the sheer infinitude of choices spiraling out from every given creative act, million-leaved and rosiform like the form of Dante’s God.

Do you find such immensity paralyzing? What if it were applied not to acts of creation but to every single moment of every single day? Is that possible? Is it fair? Are we really so untrammeled in the each and every moment of our lives?

(No, we’re not)

I’ll abandon this thread for now, but it does remind me of the sort of things that we used to talk about. We would come together in public places and articulate vast philosophical architectures for the universe in our precocious over-articulate way. It was so casual, as if the entire spectrum of morality could be scaffolded in a single afternoon. And maybe it could. We’d also catalog people we knew according to how they thought about the world, decide who was was saved and who wasn’t, who possibly could be.

Once when your hair was long we met at a coffee shop, at the Arabica here in Streestboro. It was in that little wasted strip mall with the colorless facade. It’s still there, but the Arabica is gone. It was replaced by a hot dog restaurant that closed shortly after opening and nothing ever took its place. Your hair was as long as I’ve ever seen it and you wore a blue mechanic’s or worker’s shirt with the name “Sandoval” sewn in unpretentious cursive above the breast pocket.

Someone else was there with us, a good friend, but in another way he wasn’t; as everybody else was always not really there when we were together.

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