Trees, in Richard's neighborhood, did not need to be significantly statuesque. Clouds did not billow into lyrical metaphors of faces, nor streets exist as a simile of the impromptu goings and coming of the common person on their rustic, noble journey. Houses were less domicile than particular places to fuck. The same function was charmed into alley ways, behind baseball stadiums, and any other place, which had a hollow spot, of whatever size. If two people could fit there, the place lost both its natural function and the equivalent attribute which humans were fond of quoting into it. Richard was fairly convinced, though, that he owned the whole world. At least he owned his neighborhood.
This was an outlandish dream for an accounts payable clerk in one of the few non-prestigious law firms in Indianapolis. But Richard Cirlot had a number of outlandish dreams. He dreamed he would own the company one day, and that Old Unger would be working for him. He dreamed he would find a better job. He dreamed a rich relative would leave him a lot of money. And he dreamed that he would one day "squirrel" Eleanor Bergman. SQUIRREL (skwur - el), n, 1. One of a variety of arboreal rodents having a long, bushy tail, and feeding on nuts. 2. The fur of such an animal. - v, 3. To remove oneself to a hollow area in any part of the city for purposes of sexual activity of a variety of kinds. [<Gk. SKIA, shadow + OURA, tail]. Eleanor, of course, would have none of this. She found his remarks rude and trite. A pragmatic point: if someone you want to squirrel finds your sensual, suggestive, erotic comments rude and trite, you should either develop new commentary (the creative thing) or obtain a new object of affection (the everyday thing). Richard did neither. For months he had inserted his footed comments, at every available opportunity, into his maybe-get-laid-tonight mouth. Eleanor would look for a particular case file, in which office courtesy had habitually assigned the name of the employee who worked the case, and say, "I do not have you."
Richard would respond, "You could if you wanted." Eleanor would wear a floral patterned chiffon dress, one of her favorites, and Richard would talk about her buds and stems and pollination.
Eleanor would ask inappropriate questions about floating, or dreaming, or the patterns of coffee stains on the ink blotter. Sexual harassment, you say? Then sexual harassment! In Richard's defense: He never physically touched her. In Richard's defense: He never tracked or traced or squirreled her. In Richard's defense: He was simply stupid, socially ignorant, and his emotions had every right to park in the handicapped zone.In Richard's defense: The omnipresent yet anonymous "everybody" did it. In Richard's defense: Tina, the girl who worked the copy machine, boasted of her breasts, bragged of her breasts, said such things as "If ya got 'um, ya should be proud of 'um," and dared the guys to touch her. Only one man ever did, and he has become office legend because of the accidental series of photographs depicting the blood trickling from his nose.
Against Richard: Eleanor was not Tina; "everybody" is a figment; ignorance is not excuse; harassment is sufficiently vexing and, in the right cases, such as the one we are discussing, virtually excludes squirreling, touching, emotional commitment, and other actions which de-figmatize everyday life. Against Richard: he thought every living creature had the easy confidence and trite sense of humor as himself. He was, in short, an ignorant person in spite of one of the finest educations money could afford. How can we hold stupidity against a person? So, he did not have the same image of himself as did nearly everyone else, and he was clueless about Eleanor. Offensive? Only in that special way as a skunk's odor.
On Wenniker Street, a man who was washing their building leaned precariously our of a window. His mother led a perfectly well-behaved five year old boy, who was called Michael, into a department store. Two dogs, taking turns running ahead of one another, passed every fire hydrant and tree, which marked the way of Wenniker Street. A young woman with flaxen hair brushed the cheek of a male friend of hers and made a remark something like, "The poetry itself was nonsense, but the voice it was spoken in was the best ever." Richard took all these disconnected scenes in, connecting them to a rude commentary of his own, waiting for Eleanor to quit work for the day and make her way from the Drexler Building to the Wenniker bus stop. His intentions were manifold, multilateral. He would "accidentally" meet her on the street, would, perhaps, speak to her, would follow her to the bus stop, would board with her, would debark with her, would board and debark her at home.
A playful squirrel ran from the sinister maple tree at the corner of Wenniker and Hobbles across the telephone wire, which carried numerous voices above the intersection.
Eleanor emerged from the building into the screen of not quite night. Richard pushed himself from the building, against which he was leaning, and started toward her. Just then, a bag lady pushed a grocery cart into his path and said, "Why don't you watch where you're going."
"I'm sorry," Richard said, and gently guided the cart from his path. "Keep your mitts to yourself. Don't touch me."
"Look! I'm sorry."
"My, my," the lady wrinkled into a not-humored smile, "Aren't we the rude young pup. Gotta good job, gotta nice house, no doubt. Feel better than anyone else on the street, here, huh, bub?"
Richard glanced toward Eleanor walking down the street, lost in the blur of people with thoughts about the terror of the day and the hopes for the evening. Then he looked back upon the bag lady, sighed, and apologized profoundly.
"Why'd ya say, young man?" she
asked, even though he had spoken perfectly clearly, and on her level. "I
He cleared his throat. "I s-s-s-said..."
The bag woman twisted one corner of her lip and squinted at him. "I d-d-d... I d-d-d-don't k-k-know w-w-w-what i-s-s-s ha- ha-ppening."
"There's more magic in the city than you are aware of, apparently, young bub. Pity's the more. Pity's thy more."
Then she disappeared, cart and all. Richard placed his hands on his cheeks. They felt warm. He physically turned his face in the direction Eleanor had disappeared. But slowly, like a dream the dreamer thinks he is charting and directing, which really is quite out of his control, Eleanor was walking toward him. He rubbed his eyes to better see whether that figure was truly her or not. It was. When she looked up and saw him, she slowed. But she did not slow because she was afraid of walking past him, afraid of his rude comments. Indeed, as her conversation will momentarily show, she slowed to give him a chance to compose himself for an assault.
Her face was inches from his own. She said nothing, but made her eyes flutter, ending in a sleep, sensual gaze.
"We are not confined by the work place, Dick."
"We do not have to worry about hat other people think of us. Hello. Will you speak to me?"
But Richard's eyes were too wide to allow his mouth to utter new imprisonments. He wiggled his fingers because he imagined he felt the cold grid of a shopping cart pressed against them. He dismissed this thought as an illusion and, with it, everything else he felt, thought, or might have spoken.
"I thought it would be different with you," Eleanor was saying, "Everyone else is brave in a crowd, but cowardly when their chance comes."
Richard looked pleadingly; pathetic, really. He suddenly understood his moment had come and, like all moments, which in recall are moments, gone. Thinking as much, Eleanor turned and allowed herself to be lost again between the murky thoughts which people have when leaving work and planning to arrive home safely.
Richard turned to go the other direction, on the way toward recovery and sanity, model superiority and feigned middle age affectation. Peeping around the corner was the wrinkles and false- consciousness of the bag lady. As a taunt, she removed a shredded satchel from among her clutter of paraphernalia and waved it in his direction. Suddenly then Richard became conscious of the pain in his right shoulder.
My God, he thought, she stabbed me with something. Oh, dear God! He had wandered four blocks in an indiscriminate direction before he realized the real basis of his angst. The old woman had the same eyes as Eleanor. Her eyes were identical to Eleanor's own. Their eyes were the same eyes. No, they were not the same person, nor did the old woman stand as a receptacle for the idea that this was the fate which awaited Eleanor and anyone she ultimately tied her soul to in the fickle and fate less world, but their eyes were the same! Their eyes were the same!
The same! The next few weeks would show many eyes, and many other implements and constructions of the earth which shared the particular focus of those eyes. O, those eyes. The plain and painful fact was, Richard did not own them. By the time he became aware of the reason for the shooting pain in his arm, he owned nothing. He fell in a parking lot near an abandoned building several miles from his home state and glared hatefully into the sky. The clouds had no meaning for him, and chose not to impart any. Yet he understood that the tops of the trees, which reached toward the clouds, were pencils drawing the last words he would understand during this life. Who knew if there was another life after this one, which would allow different understandings. For this life, at least, and at last, Richard understood the message of the scrawling in the sky. And the word was, "Schmuck."
© David G Schwartz December 2003