Thursday, November 28, 2013

Being and Nothingness

Breakfast has become a competition with the toaster. It’s slow. It’s the slowest toaster of all time. It has outlasted empires. It occupies regions of the spacetime continuum with the obstinacy of a barnacle on a Santa Monica boardwalk piling. It measures chronological intervals in terms of geological formation. Its slowness gives the structure and topology of time a voluptuous sinuosity and meanders and eddies and fetid estuaries. Its slowness is a curse and a blessing. I have learned how to adapt. I have learned how to maneuver through conceptions of immediacy and sensory experience. I have widened my embrace of the universe. I can smell the burning of distant suns. I can smell the electrical coils of a kiss in the fourth dimension.  

Here is what I do while I wait for the toaster: earn a Ph.D in astrophysics, astroturf, and ataraxia. Enter marathon poker games in Las Vegas. Raise turkeys. Watch trees cycle through seasonal changes in terms of sap flow density, leaf stomatal conductance, and leaf transpiration. Write letters to dead poets. Invent participles. Disassemble and reassemble the refrigerator. 

I finish breakfast and go online and try to fix my YouTube problem. It may not be strictly speaking “my” problem. The forums indicate that everyone is having problems with YouTube. The frame keeps freezing anywhere from ten to thirty seconds into a video. It would appear that Google is having a Spam war. I wonder if there is a connection between the frames freezing up and the shitstorm of penis enhancement ads I’ve been getting and endlessly deleting in my Spam File. I can’t believe how popular these penis size enhancement pills are. People must actually be purchasing them online. Why would anyone want to increase the size of their penis? It occurs to me that some penises out there might be truly petite. But how is a pill going to increase the size of someone’s member? How would that work? What obscure chemical in the jungles of the Amazon has been discovered to increase the size of a man’s penis? You don’t find women wanting to increase the size of their vagina. I think there the situation might be reversed. Reducing the size of a vagina, perhaps, rather than augment its volume. Why do I not see pills for that? Women seem to be better adjusted to whatever nature has given them. 

I go for some coffee, but there’s only enough to fill not quite half of my Beatles mug. I decide to make more. The lid is stuck. This is a porcelain lid Roberta recently discovered in our cupboard. She likes these lids. I’m content with the cone reposing on top of the pot. Roberta prefers to put the cone aside and put a lid on the pot. It’s more aesthetic. But I can’t get it off. I think it was intended for a different pot and doesn’t quite match the size of this pot. It’s really stuck. I go for a pair of pliers but then realize I can’t use pliers on a porcelain handle unless I can figure out how to cushion the pincers of the pliers. And why is pliers plural? It’s really only one tool. Why is it called a “pair of pliers?” I return to the problem at hand. Maybe a butterknife. I get a butterknife and work the tip of the blade under the lid and begin wiggling it a little. I hear something break. There are two small lobes on the underside of the lid to keep the lid from falling into your coffee when you’re pouring more coffee into your mug. One of them has broken. But now I can get the lid off. We keep the lid. A lobeless lid fits better than a lobed lid.

I am a reading a page from La vie de Joseph Roulin by Pierre Michon, a fragment of which has been read by French actress Alexia Stresi on a program on France Culture radio called Je déballe ma bibliothèque, when I hear a knock at the door. I get up to go see who’s there. I hear footsteps going up the steps and figure it must be the mailman. It is. I open the door, and there is a package. I open the package. It’s a copy of Being and Nothingness by Jean Paul Sartre, a gift from James Heller Levinson and his partner Mary. I happened to mention to him in an email that my copy is lost somewhere in our storage bin and I had to check a copy out from the Seattle Public Library, which someone called back before I could renew it. That was kind of them. I open the book randomly to page 544 and read the beginning of the paragraph at the bottom:  

The “master,” the “feudal lord,” the “”bourgeois,” the “capitalist” all appear not only as powerful people who command but in addition and above all Thirds; that is, as those who are outside the oppressed community and for whom this community exists. It is therefore for them and in their freedom that the reality of the oppressed class is going to exist. They cause it to be born by their look. It is to them and through them that there is revealed the identity of my condition and that of the others who are oppressed; it is for them that I exist in a situation organized with others and that my possibles as dead-possisbles are strictly equivalent with the possibles of others; it is for them that I am a worker and it is through and in their revelation as the Other-as-a-look that I discover “Us” in which I am integrated or “the class” outside, in the look of the Third, and it is this collective alienation which I assume when saying “Us.” 

Man, does that bring back memories of every job I’ve had. I remember one incident in particular with astonishing clarity. I was working for the mailing service of a university in a building with three floors. We, the drivers and mail processors doing the actual grunt work, worked on the lower floor with the loading docks and Pitney-Bowes machines and pallets. The administrators and program assistants and such worked on the third floor. The break-room for the workers was a tiny space that had formerly been a storage closet. It stank so badly I could not go in there. I took my breaks out on the loading dock, even in the cold of winter. The break room on the third floor was huge, and had a spectacular view, big tables and comfortable chairs. It was available to me, but the janitor always seemed to be there doing his work during my break. I dated for a short while a woman in her early thirties who worked on the third floor as a program assistant. I was in my early forties. It was quite obvious that although I was fully committed to my writing during my off-hours, I was not enjoying the success of a Tom Robbins or Sherman Alexie. My position was somewhat of an embarrassment to her. I went to visit her during one of my breaks and waited for her in the reception area on the third floor. The big boss strolled in. He was a tall man, probably the same age as me, maybe younger. I still remember his look. He barely looked at me at all, but when my presence there caught his attention, his look was identical to that of someone who had just seen a cockroach, or unidentifiable insect.
Later in the afternoon, I go for my usual run. Puget Sound is very serene. There is a turquoise mist obscuring the Olympic Mountains to the west, and four big cargo ships waiting to get loaded with grain at Pier 91. 
Water is magical, I think to myself. Everything about it is magical, especially the way it evaporates. Vaporizes, and becomes clouds and columns of turbulent reverie. The reverie is in my head, not in the vapor, but it still seems like reverie, a form of reverie performed by an element. Heat and moisture teased into a Bohemia of wild slippery shapes, elusive apprehensions of invisible forces that blossom into prominences of fleeting convocation.  

The snowman in Zen philosophy is a symbol of transcendence. The snowman is water. Water in the form of crystalline ice particles, fine symmetrical flakes that compound into a being made of snow. Which, when the temperature rises, melts and evaporates. Perfect metaphor for the ephemerality of carnal existence. The Nothingness that is at the core of Being.  

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