Flies and Cubicles

Shane wondered how many words it would take to make his mother understand him. Each sentence he went through in his head became messier, each consecutive invention becoming more muted than the one before. It was as if they had no way to communicate anymore.
He fiddled with his pen, twisting it around and through his fingers in the old drummer’s trick that he’d taught himself in high school. They’d managed to talk then, ironically enough. True, much of the time they shouted each other down, but they’d gotten their meanings through. She’d let him get the big drum kit and had even helped him to make the garage sound-proof-ish. She’d come to the two years he’d been in his neighborhood’s Battle of the Bands and had bought him and his friends a big pizza when they lost.
“Has Roberta sent you the figures yet?”
“No – I don’t think so, let me check. Oh, yes, she just sent them!” Shane smiled at his boss and began to reel off the numbers she wanted from him. Roberta – one of the blank slates that Shane knew only through their interoffice email correspondence – had, in fact, sent in the figures two hours ago, but Shane had been catching up on some National Geographic articles that he’d missed and hadn’t been doing his work. It was a good thing that all the cubicles in the office had screens that faced into them rather than out into the walkways between the booths. Shane sometimes wondered whether whoever designed them was aware that no one was going to work this way and had designed them like this on purpose, so as to give the working drones like him a bit of a break.
A fly buzzed near his ear and he swatted it away with a spastic jerk of the hand, making his boss smile and then pretend that she hadn’t. She walked away, having jotted down the obscure figures onto her ever-present clipboard and Shane breathed a sigh of relief and allowed his eyes to drift down to the sway of her lower half as she walked away from him. He felt mildly guilty about his fantasies about his boss. One thing that he believed in just as strongly as his mother did was the equality between men and women. He’d stopped telling women on the online dating websites that he frequented that he was a feminist because he realized that it worked much too well as a line and he felt that wasn’t fair, since he actually was one. But being a feminist didn’t stop him from noticing his boss’s curvy figure and though he knew she was also intelligent and competent – he actually didn’t know these things about her, but felt obligated to think them because she was his boss – he couldn’t help staring at her ass whenever she walked away from him.
The fly was back. Shane swatted it again, this time actually hitting it with his hand. He winced. There was something disgusting about feeling the fly hit his hand – flies were supposed to be vainly swatted away, never actually touched with bare skin. He got up and went to the bathroom to wash his hands. He knew it was silly, but he felt dirty now, almost contaminated. While he was soaping up he began to think about his mother again. Why couldn’t they talk anymore? It truly didn’t seem to make a bit of sense. He was older now, a real adult with a job and rent and utilities and a bit of health insurance. Shouldn’t they be able to actually talk now, like equals?
But she was still unreachable to him. He knew that she still had friends – they went “lunching” together three times a week; he still cringed whenever his mother used the noun as a verb. He knew that she spoke to his sister because she often dropped heavy and obvious hints whenever he talked to her about how much “Mom’s going through right now,” but she always refused to explain what, exactly, it was that their shared mother, flesh of their flesh, was going through. His sister always said the same thing whenever he asked for details. She told him to call her and “ask her yourself! You’re her son, aren’t you?” The question unsettled Shane, and he occasionally wondered whether his sister was actually trying to tell him, in a strange and roundabout way, that he was adopted.

Real Contact

I’m reading Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. It’s a fantastically strange novel, almost like a collection of short stories that span through a few decades and show the connections between a huge cast of characters that hardly seem like they should be related and yet are.

I don’t want to spoil it for those who’ve never read it, so I’ll just say that there’s a portion in it that deals with characters living a decade or so in the future, a time at which it seems that texting is the primary method of communicating with people. One of the characters seems profoundly uncomfortable with real speech and much prefers the cleanliness of the short messages we sent to each other via text, or T as it’s called by then. This disturbed me profoundly and I’m having a hard time getting through this section. The notion of real contact between people being something that’s disappearing is something I dislike. I also don’t really believe it’s true.

As a child of the generation that has grown up with increasingly small cellphones, increasingly faster internet and the increasing ubiquity of social networking in our lives, I still don’t believe that the near future contains the loss of real speech or contact between people. In my world, at least, social networking is another means of communication, true, but it’s far from being the only one or the most preferred one. I know few people who spend more time communicating with friends online than face to face.

Thoughts? Comments? Opinions?

Objects’ Spirit

I often wonder whether or not inanimate objects have spirits of their own. Oh, I know it sounds absolutely crazy, but stay with me for a moment.

Haven’t you ever felt close to something that was just… well, a thing? A favorite mug, perhaps, or a painting that moved you. Maybe a childhood toy or stuffed-animal or a piece of jewelry or even the first car that you called your own. Of course, stuff is just stuff. We all know this. There’s no argument that if we had to choose between saving our friends and family from a fire or saving our things, we would choose the people in our lives over the mere objects that we’ve accumulated.

And yet, I always feel that the mere act of possessing something and appreciating it instills a kind of life in it. I find myself talking to my computer at times – sometimes aloud, sometimes only in my head. I know that I could never get rid of Beary-Bear or Twinkle, my favorite teddy-bears. I know that the bowl in which I pour my Quaker Squares in the morning seems to greet me cheerfully in the mornings when I dip my spoon into it.

What if objects actually did have some sort of life or spirit to them? What if they whispered amongst themselves when we went to sleep, chatting about how we used them during the day; complaining when we were unkind or rough or when they were ignored. What if they appreciated our attention or loathed it? What if our refrigerators were in love with our stoves?

Well, maybe they do have a life of their own. Maybe they do communicate. It would sure explain how when one appliance breaks, everything else seems to follow it in breaking. It would explain why some objects charm us and make us love them while some make us put them way back in the shelf or never buy them in the first place. It would explain that bizarre feeling when we get up to use the toilet at four in the morning and feel as if someone’s just stopped talking when we woke up.

Ah, the things one thinks about at midnight…