Saturday, February 18, 2012

The position requires little in the way of current research or even grooming. It is the kind of opportunity that arises when someone else has passed into the netherworld we make mention of so frequently – a place we imagine as having enormous chandeliers hanging from the ceilings and decorative plush pillows scattered about on the outsized leather chairs lining either side of the front gallery. The less we believe in it the more we embroider, leading some to publish a rule to that effect, naming it after some seventeenth-century statesman they just happened to read about one morning, or a nephew struggling with alcohol issues and other issues related to the alcohol but seeming to belong to an entirely separate universe. Like the habit of mispronouncing other people’s names. Or of dropping hard-to-replace objects (hard-to-replace because of the sentimental value attached to them or the boutique nature of their origins) into bodies of water in the general vicinity of where he lives. I am hired because I wrote a book on Heraclitus once, and though no one here has ever actually read it, they know instinctively this is the not the sort of thing most people would find it necessary to make up. And they have heard of Heraclitus, they are fairly certain. They say the name rings a bell. But I know the iron in their heads is more likely to commence vibrating to the frequency given off by sitcom characters or catchphrases borrowed from past presidential campaigns. In the corner of nearly every classroom someone is huddled on the floor with his knees pulled up to his chest and is muttering something that, should you approach closely enough to catch a snippet, turns out to be not so much the incantation one expects of the mentally ill but more a laundry list of items to be secured so as to make the speaker an ordinary, contented individual like everyone else. Baby Ruth candy bars usually place somewhere high up on that list. They are followed closely by clothes hangers to be bent into animal shapes and old-fashioned money clips with synthetic rubies in the middle, actual rubies being, of course, scarce and so prohibitively expensive. Try spinning out your moment to moment ruminations on the fragments of the pre-Socratics in a setting such as this! You will be lucky to get beyond the first ten years. I hobble home at night certain that they will no longer ask me back and if they do, certain that I will refuse, but none of that comes to pass and before I know it, my craving for raw corn starch and Irish whiskey has reached such a fevered pitch as to threaten to swamp both my emotional well-being and my intestinal health once and for all. At this point, the nights are lonely because they are made of equal parts moonlight and silence and when I try to remedy the situation by purchasing a desk lamp or a prostitute, I become so disoriented I think for a moment I might simply disappear, might cease to exist the way the last ten minutes are no longer available to you no matter how you try to get them back – yoga, temper tantrums you throw while lying on your back. Eventually everything has this habit of swimming back into view, though, and I realize that if I am going to continue to live in this manner and in this place, I am going to have to abandon all desire to pursue what they call a “purposeful life” in the pamphlets well-dressed strangers hand out to all and sundry at the strip mall down the road, between the fountain at the center (a fountain that has, of course, run perpetually dry and is stained an unseemly yellow) and a very narrow store where they sell, among other things, electronic devices that pinpoint your precise location on the surface of the planet as it goes spinning its endless and unperturbed way through outer space.

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