I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

You've really got to move around every once in a while

Dammit it’s cold. And where the hell is he?
He had been standing at the street corner for who knows how long. How long?
He shifted and felt a chill run through his jacket.
A jacket. Not a coat. He needed a coat tonight.
Shifting about always causes you to feel the chill. That aggravating chill that served to remind him that he should have been here by now.
Of course movement causes your blood to flow better. And that’s what keeps you warm. It’s the circulation. Or so he had been told. Or so he had learned. Or so he had been told. Does it even matter? These are stupid thoughts.
The point is that he’s running late. And it’s cold. It’s a cold night.
He exhaled.
A short, deliberate, but strong exhale.
He did it again. Only softer this time.
He exhaled the first time to let his breath go. He exhaled the second time just to watch the warm air that left his mouth form a vaporous white cloud.
Like a cigarette, he thought to himself.
He laughed without actually laughing: He didn’t smoke.
Where in the hell is he?
He checked his watch again. Or maybe he didn’t have a watch.
It was so dark.
It was a typical night on this street corner. Or so it seemed. He didn’t really know this street corner. It was familiar, but he had never been there.
He glanced upward at the street light on the corner.
It was so dark. Just the street light and him. And some occasional, nameless and faceless faces. Bustling by to get somewhere worthwhile. To get somewhere warm. Not so cold. To get somewhere, anyway.
He shifted and shrugged his shoulders and felt that aggravating chill again. So cold. He shifted again and let out some kind of a noise. A growl? Whatever it was it made him feel warmer.
So late. Where was he? What was he doing?
Why was he late? Didn’t he know that he was waiting?
Doesn’t he know how cold I am? It’s almost more than I can stand.
Two quick breaths. White vaporous clouds. They quickly vanish.
They provided that least bit of entertainment.
Vaporous clouds vanish as quickly as they appear. A moment of glory. A moment of pleasure. And then gone.
He let a long, slow breath escape from his mouth. He did it just to watch the clouds.
It looked like a cigarette. He wanted a cigarette.
He laughed again without actually laughing.
He didn’t smoke. Never had.
When he was a kid he pretended that his warm exhale on a cold day was cigarette smoke. But he wasn’t allowed to smoke. So, he always felt this little bit of guilt for having smoked. But he didn’t smoke – he was only pretending. Why pretending? Yes, probably pretending to smoke because he knew he wasn’t allowed – that’s what gave him the kick. It was fun to pretend to smoke when you knew you weren’t allowed. Besides, it was fun to watch the cloud.
Where the hell is he? He should have been there by now. It’s not polite to keep someone waiting at a street corner this long.
He should really get going. But he didn’t have anywhere to go.
So damn cold. He really wasn’t dressed for this. If he had only worn something a little heavier.
Another layer. A heavier shirt.
His legs were cold, too. Jeans really didn’t keep you all that warm. Not really.
And his toes were freezing. He had to keep them moving. They were feeling a little bit stiff.
Had to keep the blood circulating. Circulating to keep me warm. It’s uncomfortable and cold.
He should really get going. But he didn’t.
To get going you need somewhere to go. But he didn’t have anywhere to go. This is what he was supposed to do. Wait for him.
So, he waited.
But it was cold. He glanced upwards. At the light above. It was kind of hazy and cloudy looking.
All of a sudden he blinked. And then blinked again. And then just as quickly he closed his eyes and pressed them together.
He felt the moisture that had built up on his eyelashes.
He kept blinking and pressing his eyes together. He was aggravated. Where the hell was he?
At the same time it was something to do. It was a cool and invigorating feeling.
His eyes were tired and sore. The wet stuff that had accumulated on his eyelashes suddenly brought him out of his sleepy, zombie state and made him feel just a bit more awake.
Why was he late?
Was he usually late? He really didn’t seem to remember.
Was it like him to be late? He really couldn’t remember that, either.
No matter. It was important to keep the blood circulating. Important to keep moving about every once in a while. It’s not good for the toes, especially. To let them get so cold and stiff.
And so he felt that chill run down his body again. It seemed like the whole dark night was pressing in on him. The cold winter air pressing against his inner being with no regard for those few layers of clothing he had on. Those few layers that really weren’t thick enough for a cold night like this.
There it was, again. A breath. That vaporous cloud. Here and then gone.
A little bit of moisture left on his eyelashes. Helped wake him up.
Gotta keep moving around to make sure the blood was circulated.
The light overhead was cloudy and kind of hazy.
Where the hell was he?
He really ought to be more considerate. How long had he been out here waiting? It had to have been for some time know. Hours? Or not. Not really sure.
Another breath. Vapor cloud.
I’m sure he will be here soon. But then again he may not be.
Maybe he should get moving. Of course, he could be here anytime now.
In any case it’s important to keep moving. Blood circulation.
Was he usually late? Think. What is his track record? Does he even care about time?
It’s so frustrating.
He felt a bit of panic. Just for a millisecond.
And then he shook his head and breathed.
Vapor cloud.
He felt his heart beating faster. That’s not good – for the heart to beat faster. The cold air isn’t good for the heart. His heart was good, though. So, it wasn’t so bad. But it’s just not good on the heart. Being out in the cold air for so long. How long?
Ok, think. He always shows up. Doesn’t he? Even if he might be late. Or does he?
Shake the head. Clear the mind. Take a breath.
Vapor cloud again.
Again. He usually isn’t late. Or is he? But he will show up.
What time is it?
Keep moving. Circulation.
It is irresponsible to be so late. But even so, it is important to shift around ever so often. Even if it is chilly and cold.
Shrug the shoulders. Shift the legs. Flex the muscles in the body. It was cold, but it had to be done. You have to try to keep yourself as warm as possible while you are waiting. Especially when you aren’t well prepared.
Dammit. Why didn’t he wear a thick sweatshirt. Maybe a cotton tee shirt and another long tee shirt and then a heavy sweatshirt. That would have been good. And then the heavy coat. The winter coat that always kept him warm. Hhhmmm. For some reason he couldn’t remember which coat he had in mind. No matter. For the time being he was cold.
There weren’t many people out at this time of night. Or were there any? No matter.
Had he forgot about my hands?
He had been moving those too. Kind of without really thinking about it.
The hands are just like the toes. Got to keep moving them. Circulating the blood. That’s what keeps you warm. On a dark night when it is cold. And you have to wait.
What if he doesn’t come?
That thought was accompanied by that ever so slight moment of panic. It was so late. Wasn’t it?
He should really check his watch to see what time it is? Maybe he should get moving. Get going. Leave.
Nowhere to go. Better to wait. That’s what he was here for.
Was it like him to make people wait like this? In the cold, no less?
He was starring below at the pavement. At the place where the street met the sidewalk. The curb.
That’s when he stopped short and his mind was attentive on this one thought.
The thought occurred to him suddenly and made him feel panicky.
He starred intently ahead, and had to wait for a moment as the thought sunk in.
He felt his heart beating.
He felt all of his other thoughts stop as this one revelation occurred to him.
It made him scared.
He looked about, but didn’t look at anything in particular.
He looked this way and that. Flashing glances.
He was definitely scared by the thought.
This is not good. It isn’t good at all.
Who was he waiting on?
Who was he waiting for?
What was his name?
Dammit. Wake up and think. What is his name?
Who the hell was he?
He covered his face with his hands and blew warm air into them warming his hands and face.
It felt good.
He stuffed his hands back in his pockets.
Keep the hands moving. Feet and toes, too.
Keep the blood circulating.
He took a breath and watched the vapor appear and then disappear so suddenly.
He took another breath just to watch it again.
He paused. Calm again.
It was like when he was a kid. He kind of smiled as he thought about it.
It looked like cigarette smoke.


ktismatics said...

Yuh. I like it. I'll be back to go through the experience again.

Melody said...

Interesting. I like your writing style, but I have to confess that I don't know what the point of your story is.

Jonathan Erdman said...

I'll weigh in on some of the points I was trying to make, however I must first hear some feedback on what you think the point is.

There is a man who is waiting on another man. Who do these men represent?

There are various elements of cold and light and movement, etc. What do these images represent?

What does this story-type-of-thing do to you when you read through it?

ktismatics said...

You're sure it was here?
That we were to wait.
He said by the tree... What are you insinuating? That we've come to the wrong place?
He should be here.
He didn't say for sure he'd come.
And if he doesn't come?
We'll come back tomorrow.
And then the day after tomorrow.
And so on.
The point is-
Until he comes.
You're merciless.
We came here yesterday.
Ah no, there you're mistaken.
...In my opinion we were here.
You recognize the place?
I didn't say that.
That makes no difference.
All the same...that tree...(turning towards auditorium) that bog.
You're sure it was this evening?
That we were to wait.
He said Saturday. (Pause.) I think.
You think.
I must have made a note of it.
But what Saturday? And is it Saturday? Is it not rather Sunday? Or Monday? Or Friday?
It's not possible!
Or Thursday?
What'll we do?
If he came yesterday and we weren't here you may be sure he won't come again today.
But you say we were here yesterday.
I may be mistaken.

-- Samuel Beckett, Waiting for godot, 1954

Melody said...

If knew what all these things represented I wouldn't have to ask.

I've never been good at symbolism. Left to myself I would have to assume that the point was not to leave home without your coat, lest you go insane with the cold.

Except that it's written in a style that says "this story is really about something other than the story".

I dunno, the guy waiting doesn't seem to be sure about anything at alll...except that he doesn't smoke and never has...and that it's cold and he is waiting on someone.

But that doesn't tell me who he is.

ktismatics said...

He's waiting for godot. Godot still hasn't shown up yet. No, I give up, I don't know. I'm waiting to hear who it is. Who could it be? Waiting...

ktismatics said...

It could be exactly what it appears to be: somebody waiting for somebody else. But it's kind of hallucinatory -- he's not sure if the other guy is going to show up. Sometimes it's unclear whether the text refers to the waiter or the one being waited for. Maybe there is nobody else; there's just the one who is alienated from himself, kind of waiting for himself to show up.

I read the story and was reminded of Waiting for Godot -- I put up an excerpt in the comments that paralleled this story. So I also read the story in literary continuity: here's somebody else waiting for the enigmatic Godot to show up. Now it's kind of a commentary: the absurd reality of Beckett continues into the 21st C.

I read it in the context of this blog and my own blog. He's waiting for God to come -- but maybe he's not coming, maybe there's no such guy. Or maybe it's God at the beginning, his breath hovering like cigarette smoke over the dark and formless void before he starts the work of creation. Maybe the waiter is going to make a whole universe take shape in this dark and vaporous emptiness.

Or maybe it's the reader of the story waiting for the writer to show up and tell him what the dang thing is all about. But maybe there is no writer: the story just is, or else the reader is also the writer and bestower of meaning. Or maybe the writer is waiting for a reader to show up who can tell him what it means...

Jonathan Erdman said...

But it's kind of hallucinatory -- he's not sure if the other guy is going to show up. Sometimes it's unclear whether the text refers to the waiter or the one being waited for.

Yes. That's sort of the effect that I was going for. A guy who isn't all together capable of focusing on the real purpose of what he is doing or why he is doing it. He just has a vague idea that he is waiting.

I noticed when I read through it the first time that the pronouns could be a bit confusing. This might be especially true the first time we see the phrase "Where the hell is he?" Who, exactly, is the "he" referring to? Well, it could be either the guy who is waiting or the guy who is late in coming to pick him up. Either one applies. The guy who is waiting doesn't seem to fully realize where he is. Most of the time he is just kind of zoned out. He experiences episodes every now and then where he wants to focus on his purpose for waiting and the identity of the one he is waiting for. This is a difficult task. He has to concentrate. And the task is all the more difficult because it requires a lot of effort just to try to keep moving - to stay warm. He is in a dark and cold place. As such he doesn't have the luxury of thinking too deeply about who he is waiting for or whether or not the guy will show up.

As I was writing I had in mind that the guy waiting is a metaphor for humanity. The one who we are waiting for is God. It is a difficult task to seek after God while dealing with the realities of a dark and cold world. A world in which we sometimes seem to walk around in a sleep-like state, not fully aware or fully able to focus on the God question because our spiritual and moral and even cognitive faculties have been sedated....

Jonathan Erdman said...

Or maybe it's the reader of the story waiting for the writer to show up and tell him what the dang thing is all about. But maybe there is no writer: the story just is, or else the reader is also the writer and bestower of meaning. Or maybe the writer is waiting for a reader to show up who can tell him what it means...

I like it!