Transaction History 6
She collected bits of wisdom and pinned them into specimen boxes in her mind to revisit whenever she felt like a fool, a fate which befell her far too often. Still, that summer there were satisfactions: People were archived in their apartment buildings at night, the museums stood suspended in their organized aesthetic arrest, and only the river moved through the city in the full liquidity of its argented indifference.
As the society’s machines got smaller and smaller, its buildings got taller and taller. Elevators rose and fell bereft of bellboys in the world’s tallest skyscraper—which held the title only briefly, before a taller skyscraper on another continent knocked it off top spot. That day’s wisdom: “Each day you have to abandon your past and accept it. And then, if you cannot accept it, you become a sculptor” (Louise Bourgeois).
She glanced up on the subway and started: in front of her was yet another clear plastic backpack—the girl’s phone, wallet, lip gloss, and Tic-Tacs visible to God and the world. It was an obscene scene; she wanted to throw her coat over it. And yet, because wisdom could appear at any moment, you had to be ready for it, like a butterfly-catcher carrying his net aloft as he threads through the skyscrapers of the city.
The next bit of wisdom came from a movie: “Personne n’a vécu dans le passé, et personne ne vivra dans le futur” (Alphaville). She pinned it. But had anyone ever actually lived in the present? Wouldn’t that be like having sex inside the clear plastic backpack? Foolishness meant exposure, but borrowed bits of wisdom could cover you. Idle black train cars in a yard echoed MEGA COMBI MEGA COMBI MEGA COMBI.
It was odd, how infinity pools were always pictured in architecture magazines with no one swimming in them, how human blue merging into inhuman blue was never troubled by actual humans. Pools were exposing, yet the water’s distortion was protective. Then specimen boxes of blue butterflies suddenly appeared in the shop windows, as if someone had not understood that it is not the collection, but the collecting, that brings wings.
He hoped to spare himself the indignity of not knowing what he could not possibly have known. Knowledge was always antecedent, and too late. More than half the world’s skyscrapers have been built since 2000. Many have clear glass external elevators transporting tiny people up and down their sides. Studies have shown that 20 percent are thinking of sex, 70 percent are thinking of dinner, and 5 percent are thinking of clouds.
It was all too easy to swim in the lake that summer without thinking about the fish chasing smaller fish chasing smaller fish along the bottom, to glide along the surface with one’s distorted limbs and feel that one was “deeply experiencing” the lake. He pulled out the tiniest cell phone she’d ever seen. Bitter Lemon was the drink of choice; then there was a craze for home-made seltzer; then suddenly everyone had to have absinthe.
The next specimen came from a website: “In einer Liebe suchen die meisten ewige Heimat. Andere, sehr wenige aber, das ewige Reisen” (Walter Benjamin). It was true: in love most people were looking for an everlasting home, not everlasting travel. But—why not both? An everlasting road trip in a homey van for two, stopping wherever you felt like to eat waffles, or to close the little curtains in the back and fuck.
For some the drink of choice was the choice to drink, night after night, themselves into an infinity pool of blissful stupor in which it emerged that the only solution to human foolishness was to merge into inhuman blue. Others chose the intoxication of order, and sat at home nights in their skyscrapers taxonomizing bits of wisdom. She slept badly beneath her blanket, for she dreamed that under her pillow shone the clear plastic backpack.