The Tactical Situation

Confession: I don't pour tea from teapot directly into a cup. Oh, no. I decant the teapot into a small vacuum bottle, from which I pour small cups of tea. It's nearly always only for myself, and drinking the entire bottle--the heat of its contents carefully preserved--rarely takes more than half an hour. Nothing else but tea goes in there. I never wash it except by warming it with boiling water while the tea brews. I often spill, pouring from bottle to cup.

I overdress for the cold, and for the heat. Even in the heat, I suspect I may at some point sit inside in a place cooler than 80 F and find my bare legs and arms chilled. Going out in shorts and a t-shirt without carrying more clothes with me gives me far too much exhiliration. Going out without a bag at all (no book) is skydiving.

I read a cooking blog post with the epigraph "Drink your tea as if it is the axis on which the world spins." In other words, slowly. This is exactly the way I treat tea, but I drink it too quickly anyway. I run out. Hence the vacuum bottle and the tiny cups.

When it is at all cold, I conceive of naps in terms of forever. I will never leave the blanket; my body is infinitely cold and will be warm forever. I moan. I wake up two hours later, overheated.

My friend went to a romance writer's conference in Texas, and received this bit of advice on writing a hot sex scene: banish your mother from looking over your shoulder. I thought, with Freudian arrogance, isn't that what makes them hot: the mother hovering? But that's not right either. It's the banish*ing*. If she's ever gone completely, you're free to do whatever you want. Nobody's looking. What's hot about that? Or maybe it's hot like sex in a hot tub.

Rolling down the windows, my brother said when it's hot like this you just feel tired. I stared languidly out the window, watching wilting willows whizz by. There seemed to be no reason to answer. Consonance was implied.

I was told summer in San Antonio is one series of excitements about thresholds. One is never without a superior temperature on the other side. Dry and 65 F inside, 100 F and humid outside. One is always stepping across going "ahhh."

Perhaps one wants revenge for having been born. Revenge fully realized is anathema. In Damsels in Distress, Violet grants that sending drinks to a table is "a tactic or perhaps even a ruse, but without some of that, would our species even survive?" I believe she's right; procreation is acheived through a series of questionable tactics. She did not say it's desirable that our species survive.

Even thirteen years earlier, Whit Stillman was preoccupied with tactics. Strategy isn't the word. The Last Days of Disco's Alice and Charlotte are divided by what moves they consider violent. Charlotte accuses Alice of putting off men with her deployment of truth ("you're a bit critical"). Charlotte suggests that Alice instead deploy "sexy." Alice tells a man Donald Duck is sexy. Later it is revealed that it is not Alice but Charlotte who puts men off Alice, intentionally, and that the man was put off by Alice's use of the word sexy. (He wants her to be virtuous and uncalculating.) Not enough not to have sex, apparently. I don't know where each little cup of tea leads, but inevitably it leads to the bottom of the bottle.

Lately in the movie theater there's been this ad, I've forgotten what for, in which a cinema ticket-taker tells spoilers as he tears tickets. Spoilage isn't usually wilfull, just negligent. But it's the worst offense when it's a movie that spoils. Who feels that leftovers too long in the back of the fridge are a gross lack of etiquette, nearly of morality? (The ticket-taker is literally a pig.) It seems movies are more fragile than thimbleberries. Their best defense is offense, if the aghast looks of the spoilered in this ad are anything to go by.

It would be an offense to join Alice in saying everything must develop naturally. (That would simply be to sink, naturally, into the tar pits of what I'm prone to think.) But this word "tactic" covers the stink of fear.

30 July 2014

Jetlag, Two Months Late

I was sitting on a bench with good company. I stood up. "I think I'm..." "Getting heatstroke?" We all laughed. I threw up, hunched over with my hands on my knees, inspecting the bits of splattered food. I saw sun-dried tomatoes. Voila, my scapegoat: that "House Salad" at the Amsterdam airport. It had shrimp and slabs of smoked salmon. Maybe this explains the wait staff's faintly amused air.

Which is just to say that at the time, I only wondered vaguely (everything is vague, travelling by air) should I trust this more or less raw salmon? This was after having eaten half the plate.

Ill-timed, too, was this airport survey conducted by a Dutch pixie (one green eye and one blue, small enough to buzz aloft in her black suit). The last of the tedious questions was a general "do you have any comments about the airport, things we might do better?" I could not have said "the salad gave me food poisoning."

What is the right time to be awake in Delhi in summer? It's 110 in the afternoon, but nobody is awake in the middle of the night (which is why I was up writing this).

After my rebirth in bile (four times was the charm), jet lag went from offset to chaos. It made no sense to stay awake when I felt like sleeping (which was most of the time). I slept for a few hours, layed around reading in a dark air-conditioned room, fell back asleep. (The consensus was that it was more heat than salad.) I woke up at 2AM to eat two slices of toast. The kitchen light made me nauseous. Being awake during the day seemed senseless.

The mental haze of the fever has passed. Sleep and the day have flipped back into opposition, and back again on the other side of the earth. But there's always something pulling me away at the wrong moments. The sense remains that I'm awake at night and asleep during the day. Idealism.

21 July 2014


Cornell is bisected twice by The Gorges, and both are crisscrossed with bridges. As you walk across, you see the stratified rock improbably drop straight down to the rushing water. The Hawthorne bridge in Portland greets pedestrians with a suicide hotline and a narcissus flower. He looked too long into the water, we giggle.

If you see a spider's web revealed by the dew when you wake up, can you resist messing with it? When it's been dried incognito by the sun, can you avoid breaking it to get where you're going? Once I was delineating a wetland in a field of tall grass. Huge yellow spiders lurked (this was their aspect!) in every gap between grass clumps. (This is what I assumed, once I accidentally walked through one.) I am someone who has slept on the couch after encountering a spider in my bed. Traversing the grass induced an unlocatable crawling sensation. And webs stick to you.

Cornell's bridges used to be partitioned on both sides with fences high enough to prevent casual suicide, like the 2oz limit on carry-on liquids prevents casual terrorism. They prevented bodies going over the edge and they prevented gazes falling into the water. They were unsightly on a campus of huge, empty lawns, century-old trees, and student lounges where one expects cigars and brandy or a teddy bear named Aloysius. I don't know if walking through a corridor of fences is akin to standing paranoid and still or stepping boldly through webs (going where many have gone before).

In place of obtrusive fences (though that was the point), there are now nets spanning the gorge below each bridge. "Each one is unique," someone who walked across those bridges for a year of his life tells me--"a snowflake." One is triangular, inviting some ambitious (the wrong word?) individual to find just the right point to jump beyond its geometry. Another is a square so skimpy it presumes that the suicidal have waxed brains.

I'm told the nets are designed on the theory that most suicides are impulsive, which must be taken to mean amnesia about the nets you see every day on your way to class. In this I hear an idea that preventing suicide is about nets. If all the gaps are covered, nothing can escape. Or everyone will know the exits are blocked, and perish the thought. Maybe next the school store will stock razors with plastic covers that read "REMOVE BEFORE USE."

If someone does get caught in the act, so to speak, what then? They freeze to death in an Ithaca winter night? Maybe that would be preferable to Cornell, because their preventative measures remain on display. There's no way off the nets that I could see, other than a plummet slightly shorter than the one they are designed to interrupt. It is as if all that is asked of the net is to impart a "thou shalt not" before allowing the act, like legislating dissuasive literature to be passed on to the patient before an abortion is performed.

Why can't I stop laughing, when suicidium interruptis, as far as I know, actually works? It can't be because I expect an institution to care about something other than its image. That would be unreasonable. It can't be because I don't believe in the value of life after attempted suicide. I'm pleased about the survivals I have known and know. Obviously not for their sakes (what would that mean?), but for my own.

Is it because, as fishing goes, an expected catch of six in a decade (this was the number at Cornell, pre nets), does not seem worth the trouble? The incomprehensible complexity of city plumbing seems, by comparison, a more productive result of frantically burying what we don't want to think about. You'll have to excuse the mixed metaphor, ignore the sticky silk.

10 July 2014