When I was still able to go to Go Club in Cleveland, I started a habit where, after my first match, I would go and get a big, hot peppermint tea. We met up in a bougie little shopping center in Beachwood called La Place, a kind of mini indoor mall, and there was a coffee shop inside; this was where I went to get my tea after the first bout with Go’s ancient inscrutable infinitude.
One time, on my way out of the coffee shop, I noticed this woman sitting on one of the high bar chairs that faced out of the shop’s front windows into the mall itself. She was completely dressed in black, that, whether or not it was actually the case seemed immaculate: not a hair or piece of lint anywhere. Her dark hair was in a ponytail that was pulled so tight it looked almost painful, and flattened the hair against her scalp so that it looked shiny and pale. She was wearing makeup, and had black boots on, and was working on a Macbook. But itemizing her appearance won’t get any closer to the striking impression that she made. She was probably beautiful, but beautiful in such a way that actually, that I felt no attraction to her whatsoever; just a faint awareness of my own comparative absurdity and a confusion that anybody in the world could ever, under any circumstances, be like that.
These sensations would’ve evaporated if I knew her, of course. They existed solely because she came into and out of my reality in a second’s span. The ineradicable touch of otherness is something that exists in every stranger, and the constantly talking part of our minds extrapolates from this strangeness instinctively. When I see a stranger I reflexively, instantaneously assign them a life; create backstory for them. But when I say ‘backstory’ I don’t mean anything particularly concrete. Just a kind of instant, overriding, self-narrating sensation: Rich, Poor, Content, Sensitive; Cruel.
And to all of these sensations there’s a kind of fundamental simplicity? A fantasy that their life is significantly less concatenated than my own – than your own. The texture of this simplicity can vary. Maybe life was always simple for them, or maybe it became simple after some specific climax (good or bad), some adjudicating event that settled every element of their life into place, with everything after a gentle, predictable denouement.
Part of it must be a fetish for people I’ll never know, places I’ll never see: the insides of an anonymous suburban home, the bartender personality when he’s not poring drinks, what that old man in the yamulke and his – son? grandson? pupil? – are always talking about on Wednesday nights outside of the cafe. And I’ve always liked to travel, to be in places I’m not from, to be surrounded by people I don’t know, who are talking. Seal me up in an envelope of otherness, let me sink into it, picking up other impressions and places like they were fragments of my own personality.
Inescapably, part of it must come from a pretentiousness within me too: even though I don’t have conscious control over these fantasies, which I ascribe to strangers like serial numbers, and even though I have to disbelieve them, the fact that I can conceive of lives less complicated – either as something to be avoided or something to be sought after, for certain people – is a tacit acknowledgement that I feel there’s something ‘complicated’ in my own life and lives of people I know personally – and what the word ‘complicated’ means in this context is obviously a whole other thing.
But, but, but, I think the root of these fantasies is a shamefaced hunger for simplicity: for a person or a place or a thing, for just one fucking thing, that can be immediately and easily compassed by the mind. The human brain is such a poor boat for navigating the actual human soul.
Because consider the raw fact that any human personality can be divided and subdivided into a tunneling infinity of analysis. If we allocated these strangers their proper dimensions would we get lost in them? Maybe everybody performs this shorthand for strangers, this adumbration, as a kind of safety reflex against wandering forever down the hallways of evaluation and speculation about other completely unknowable multitudinous human souls; we have to pretend they’re puddles, or we would drown in their actual oceans; we would sacrifice our own personality and became the all-swallowing compendium of hypotheses of everyone around us.
And I mean obviously reducing people to this simplicity doesn’t affect them in any way. They get up, or pass by, or we leave the bar, and we forget about them; and the uncommunicated fact of their actual life is as safe from my fantasies as my lore is from theirs; and both of us, like everybody else, continue to radiate millions of these fantasies about everyone and everything around us, touching all with our sad evaporating tales, like crashed meteors exuding heat from another world.