Neighborly Nuances

PBS or SBP?  Public Baptism in Shame or Sara Blames Puppets?

The only difference between my new neighborhood (on the BCBF Rue St. Dominique) and that of Mr. Rogers’ is that he had a trolley line passing through his personal quarters.  Another minor difference definitely merits mention (lest you think my blog teeming with lies or cheekily parenthetical).  Mr. R was also frequently visited by a retinue of puppets, deus ex machina, who were thrice-blessed with royalty, self-expression and independent kinetics.  “Mr. R.’s Neighborhood” was a proto-Reality show show and so stunk a little of Proto-reality’s incomplete logic.

After Mr. R’s casual afternoon stroll and obligatory sweater-change (sweaty guy!), he would discourse with these voyeur puppets.  His as-of-yet unidentified neighbors would cock their binoculars (unseen by the television audience) in preparation and KAZAM! through a rainbow wrinkle, the warp in time-space being multicolored to suit all tastes, came the diurnal revelation of the realm of Puppetdom Royale, where life continued as if Normal.  C’est normale. That is, as if normal were something identifiable, that could be pointed to, without the gesture itself displacing the fibers of the real. King Friday, Prince Tuesday, Duke Dimanche.

So it was that, last Sunday, Mr. R (in appearance at least) willed himself out of the sealed cosmos of PBS and approached me in the courtyard of our building, just as I settled with my books to prep for the week ahead.  Prepping for teaching involves, here, the biological metamorphosis into a chameleon: pure mutability.  As perhaps was required of Court tutors in ages past, I’m called upon to know what a polymath knows in order to lead my wonderful young charges through the Great Education Swamp.  I’m not a Greek Slave, though I have always coveted that identity.  I fall short due to my demotion from the upper echelons of Nerdville in recent years, as a consequence of having lost the ability to conjugate Attic verbs, teeming with aspects and moody as the sea as they may be. (And I suffered equal demotion in Doric, for those of you who split hairs).

And so I was weary and sad both from brain overuse and from poor, dream-clogged sleep.  As it goes in my being, the womb of Weary tends to spawn Melancholy Munchkins, which then run about the body reeking Melancholy havoc on the otherwise equanimous and rather upbeat bloodstream.   My rehabilitation program, self-designed, consisted of: Apollo’s Aria (sunshine on high), bitter-brewed green tea (just shut up: it’s the best and only way), and Blue sky within easy sight (no shit: the chore d’ clouds exeunt!).  Alas, the approach of Elderly Cardigan Guy was the pathogen nothing—nothing– could eradicate.

Thus, in Real Time, which is also the fake time of Composition and Syntax:

Cardigan-guy squints at me, the propertied kind of squint.  He speaks to me, at first, in French (yay, civility!) which turns out to be a fallacious indication of my belonging there (I knew I had ruled out that possibility, maybe forever, by my continuous travesty of wearing sneakers in view of the Public Eye). I shake my head indicating I can only converse in English Muffinese.  Even through the density of his subsequent neighborly scorn, I know he is asking, Do you live here?  It is an existential question, like those that philosopher Mr. R posed, in all his PBSogogy, to the agape youth: Who are the people in your neighborhood? In response techniques I learned from guerillas, I nod.  I point.  I nod.  I point.  My inner guerilla craves lice.  Cardigan guy looks at me in all my guerilla multiplicity.  In the blink of an eye (Thanks Be!) reindeer alight on the rooftop, shove me in Santa’s Sac, and drop me off—poof!—at the Nutcracker Ballet, where, in the staring role of  Chestnut, I am cracked in the jaw of the aforementioned wooden toy.  But I lead you wrong: that would have been my preferred unfolding of events.

In Real Time:  I point to my apartment.  Oui Oui.  I am a professor. I live in Batiment Monseiur N. He squints, like I am a shitting bull.  I am not a bull shitting! I can see the Puppet Dragon huffing in his hairy earlobe.  This is against the rules of the building, he says, in English.  What can he mean: my having been born in the first place?  Now he speaks to me only in relatively good English.  We don’t sit outside here, Cardigan Guy says pointedly.  Ah, how foolish to think otherwise!  The courtyard being so eminently un-sittable and here I was, drenched in foreignness all the way from my mighty mitochondria to my epithelial envelope, comporting as if this were the very last bastion of sedentary aspirations.  And don’t forget the corny Buddhist maxim, I wanted to remind Cardigan Guy– as he revved up the steam in his duality polemic–which all Buddhist-inflected Westerners must brandish, secretly or otherwise: Don’t just do something, sit there! There should be a Richter scale for Rules.

You can’t sit outside here. I didn’t know that, I say, Socrates as My Witness.  Explain you this, reader: I will have my thirtieth birthday in seven lucky days (the 19th Sept! Bring it!), and yet right then and there I was only eight years old.  See?  This is why I don’t teach math.  Nothing adds up, and arithmetic-y addition problems (as we practice them) are just institutionalized delusion.  The Great Cardigan waits.  Nobody knows you here, he says.  And then, in case syntax matters to my comprehension, Nobody here knows you. The movement of his adverb drives the nail into the tomb of my sarcasm.  At which point I store all my comebacks, in any language, for the home-base of my blog, and the sanctuary of the written.  I don’t know where “here” is, I want to say to him, so perhaps we can have an intimate moment of shared metaphysics.  But the poetry of it, despite France being a long-standing great Friend to poetry, seems misplaced, as inappropriate to the context as a real Bull would be shitting, half-sitting, in the courtyard fountain.  He finishes: I don’t care if you sit here, but it’s against the rules. Probably not the golden one.

I’m a non-entity, I say, and anyway, aren’t your puppets expecting you back? He waves his hands a bit, summoning the trolley.  There are so very many social rules, spoken and unspoken, and I can feel my umbilical cord tugging me back into a sense of unmitigated smallness.  What I really say, into the Stoic face of the current situation is: May I introduce myself, then, Monseiur? My sweetest smile rises from the Dead Sea of Nausea in my belly.  It is important, no, absolutely necessary, to know one’s neighbors.    No, that’s OK. He says dismissively.  And he goes on his way, exiting the outer gates, into the neighborhood at large.  My sadness bottoms out and all the icebergs melt into one messy, human sea, proving (in my interpretation) that Global Warming is not so much a theory in the domain of Science as it is an instant Karmic process.  I am afraid I no longer possess viable legs and suspect that Cardigan Guy has discoursed me into the form of Princess Sara Puppet.  The rainbow of the reality wrinkle doesn’t choose this moment to manifest.  I pack my stuff into my bag and stumble back into the apartment, dissolving into tears loud enough to alert the Gods that the meaning of surrender must be made actual, and immediately.  As luck would have it, they’re on lunch break.

It is so often grief or unmitigated emotion that prompts me into this kind of query—how to release into the thing-feeling and feeling-thing, how to surrender to the litany of odd sensations that amount to one’s existence– while still secretly hoping the trolley will show up and give me a lift out of my own oppressively present reality.  I know: you’re thinking Cardigan Guy is just a character in transit, get over it.  But he was the triggering incident, rather than the substance of the ache.  There are moments of emotional heaviness, ones which show up often inexplicably and usually without me ever having said mi casa es tu casa, when I would pray to anything at all, even a puppet with a hand rammed up its hindquarters, if I thought alleviation was possible.  Alleviation is possible, but there is, as far as I can tell, no place to direct these kinds of inquiries but to the endlessly recessed petitioning rooms of the Self.  Like heavy footprints in a hallway, the stickier emotions have a step-to imperative attached to them.  That’s because They’ll eat you up otherwise, faster than a contestant at his last frankfurter when he realizes he’s just nearly first-place in a hot-dog contest.

All the puppets indwelling in the cage of the body rally, and together we listen to the reckless hum of emotion being emotion.  I ask everything, sentient and otherwise, to define “surrender” for me, to make me understand it– for resistance of the psychological kind is Boring– but everything, waxing surprisingly coherent, refuses me (as I said, a la the French, attendance of invokee was detained at a protracted Lunch).  In Thailand, Y once gave me an analogy I still love to reference for the problematic instruction of “letting go” (and he is French! How applicable!); if you have a coin in your fist, you don’t want to release your finger’s tight grip on it, for most of us assume that we’d then lose what we have altogether, and what schmuck would want to do that? But to consider it another way: one could open one’s hand with the palm upturned towards sky, thereby releasing the tense grip while not suffering– or sensing oneself suffering– loss.

I’m sure there are many a hole to poke in the illustration, but don’t do so now.  For it is just one strategy among many in the long, stupid project of ascertaining meaning– and I use “stupid” in the archaic sense (since I’m non-judgmental AND a classicist!) of “mouth agape.”  In that fashion, agape, or filled with the virtue of agape, the Neighbors pass by our long windows in their clickety-clackety high heels and steely ability to resist sitting outside on a stunning day such as this.  I’m on my bed, J rubbing my back kindly, remembering that, All Mr. Rogers Impostor Baloney aside, there is always this longing I can taste, even jump into, trailing the warped rainbow of human energetics, to be in the space of upturned, open palms.  Then whatever sits thereupon can catch the light and blaze with it, questions aside, skyward.


Tags: , ,

One Response to “Neighborly Nuances”

  1. rickyb Says:

    An unused courtyard?!? C’est impossible, nest pas? How can one live like this? Clearly this apartment complex has some strange rules which are made to be broken, dear Sara, & you must toe your line or claim your plot of ground graciously but firmly. Since you are not, strictly speaking, a resident, they cannot boot you out. For once your status as a stranger works to your advantage & the strangeness of your behavior compounds the challenge. Let them have a meeting about you & discuss what to do about the ignorant “American Girl in the Garden”!

    Only one other person needs to join you…

    Viva la revolution!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: