I felt no shame in these activities, because I understood what almost no one else seemed to grasp: that there was only an infinitesimal difference, a difference so small that it barely existed except as a figment of the human imagination, between working in a tall green glass building on Park Avenue and collecting litter in a park. In fact, there may have been no difference at all.
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I picture it like Judgement Day, ' he says finally, his eyes on the water. 'We'll rise up out of our bodies and find each other again in spirit form. We'll meet in that new place, all of us together, and first it'll seem strange, and pretty soon it'll seem strange that you could ever lose someone, or get lost.
When the clock stops on a life, all things emanating from it become precious, finite, and cordoned off for preservation. Each aspect of the dead person is removed from the flux of the everyday, which, of course, is where we miss him most. The quarantine around death makes it feel unlucky and wrong-a freakish incursion-and the dead, thus quarantined, come to seem more dead than they already are... Borrowing from the dead is a way of keeping them engaged in life's daily transactions-in other words, alive.
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Like all failed experiments, that one taught me something I didn't expect: one key ingredient of so-called experience is the delusional faith that it is unique and special, that those included in it are privileged and those excluded from it are missing out. And I, like a scientist unwittingly inhaling toxic fumes from the beaker I was boiling in my lab, had, through sheer physical proximity, been infected by that same delusion and in my drugged state had come to believe I was Excluded: condemned to stand shivering outside the public library at Fifth Avenue and Forty-second Street forever and...
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happened as I listened: I felt pain. Not in my head, not in my arm, not in my leg; everywhere at once. I told myself there was no difference between being 'inside' and being 'outside, ' that it all came down to X's and O's that could be acquired in any number of different ways, but the pain increased to a point where I thought I might collapse, and I limped away.
Rebecca was an academic star. Her new book was on the phenomenon of word casings, a term she'd invented for words that no longer had meaning outside quotation marks. English was full of these empty words-"friend" and "real" and "story" and "change"-words that had been shucked of their meanings and reduced to husks. Some, like "identity" and "search" and "cloud, " had clearly been drained of life by their Web usage. With others, the reasons were more complex; how had "American" become an ironic term? How had "democracy" come to be used in an arch, mocking way?
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Yet each disappointment Ted felt in his wife, each incremental deflation, was accompanied by a seizure of guilt; many years ago, he had taken the passion he felt for Susan and folded it in half, so he no longer had a drowning, helpless feeling when he glimpsed her beside him in bed: her ropy arms and soft, generous ass. Then he'd folded it in half again, so when he felt desire for Susan, it no longer brought with it an edgy terror of never being satisfied. Then in half again, so that feeling desire entailed no immediate need to act. Then in half again, so he hardly felt it. His desire was so small in the end that Ted could slip it inside his desk or a pocket and forget about it, and this gave him a feeling of safety and accomplishment, of having dismantled a perilous apparatus that might have crushed them both. Susan was baffled at first, then distraught; she'd hit him twice across the face; she'd run from the house in a thunderstorm and slept at a motel; she'd wrestled Ted to the bedroom floor in a pair of black crotchless underpants. But eventually a sort of amnesia had overtaken Susan; her rebellion and hurt had melted away, deliquesced into a sweet, eternal sunniness that was terrible in the way that life would be terrible, Ted supposed, without death to give it gravitas and shape. He'd presumed at first that her relentless cheer was mocking, another phase in her rebellion, until it came to him that Susan had forgotten how things were between them before Ted began to fold up his desire; she'd forgotten and was happy - had never not been happy - and while all of this bolstered his awe at the gymnastic adaptability of the human mind, it also made him feel that his wife had been brainwashed. By him.
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And then I notice the music flooding out of every part of the apartment at once - the couch, the walls, even the floor - and I know Bennies alone in Lou's studio, pouring music down around us. A minute ago it was 'Don't Let Me Down'. Then it was Blondie's 'Heart of Glass'. Now it's Iggy Pop's 'The Passenger'. Listening, I think, You will never know how much I understand you.
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And it may be that a crowd at a particular moment of history creates the object to justify its gathering, as it did at the first Human Be-In and Monterey Pop and Woodstock. Or it may be that two generations of war and surveillance had left people craving the embodiment of their own unease in the form of a lone, unsteady man on a slide guitar.
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Even the financial disclosure statements that political bloggers were required to post hadn't stemmed the suspicion that people's opinions weren't really their own. "Who's paying you?" was a retort that might follow any bout of enthusiasm, along with laughter - who would let themselves be bought?
A bit of theory as we settle down for lunch: the waiter's treatment of Kitty is actually a kind of sandwich, with the bottom bread being the bored and slightly effete way he normally acts with customers, the middle being the crazed and abnormal way he feels around this famous nineteen-year-old girl, and the top bread being his attempt to contain and conceal this alien middle layer with some mode of behavior that at least approximates the bottom layer of boredom and effeteness that is his norm.
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Sasha's green eyes were right up against yours, the lashes interlocking. "In Naples, " she said, "there were kids who were just lost. You knew they were never going to get back to what they'd been, or have a normal life. And then there were other ones who you thought, maybe they will."... You opened your eyes, which you hadn't realized were shut again. "what I'm saying is, We're the survivors, " Sasha said... "Not everyone is. But we are. Okay?
I would lie of course. I lied a lot and with good reason: to protect the truth-safeguard it like wearing fake gems to keep the real ones from getting stolen or cheapened by overuse. I guarded what truths I possessed because information was not a thing-it was colorless odorless shapeless and therefore indestructible. There was no way to retrieve or void it no way to halt its proliferation. Telling someone a secret was like storing plutonium inside a sandwich bag the information would inevitably outlive the friendship or love or trust in which you'd placed it. And then you would have given it away.
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