How much text is left?
How many words to go?
How many conduits remain for self-searching. How many new atoms survive for the brain to inhale?
Someonething about on-line text confuses me. It sets my delicate senses asunder. Text rises. Until I saw text on a screen I knew text to fall. It filled pages from the top down, accumulating underneath itself as if to illustrate that the introductory material was fortified in substance and, seemingly, in physical girth. With much online text the pattern is the opposite. Text rises. It piles skyward, to the off-screen atmospheric firmament in which textual overflow is inhaled. Even scrolling down a page causes the text to rise. That simple reversal of motion has bothered me since the Usenet days, when text rose up like spray from a fire hose, filling the screen from the bottom up, passing off the screen into a sort of oblivion. Until then I read text backwards or from bottom-to-top in the context of word puzzles and games, and even then I remember the arch feeling of my senses turned asunder.
Asunder asunder asunder.
“Body and soul being wrenched asunder … the sensations of an immense rough file thrust through the quivering fibers of the body” is the phrase I remember when I encounter the word “asunder”. That phrase is from an account of Thomas Edison’s assistant, Charles Batchelor, who accidentally stepped onto an electrified sheet of tin foil on which animals were experimentally electrocuted. The description of Batchelor’s near-death matched perfectly my memory of electrocuting myself as a child. I stuck my finger into a light socket. My body filled with a clean but angry energy. The power coursed through me steadily, but it seemed also to marshal its forcefulness as the seconds passed. I believe I escaped fatal peril only because the energy threw me a few feet across the room, forcibly dislodging my finger from the light fixture.
Certain words raise resolute memories whenever I encounter them. Charged. I remember the girl who said she was “charged.” She said “I was soooo… Charged,” with emphasis on the CHAR. CHAAARRged. She was describing an anticipated sexual encounter between herself and a much older man she had just met at a hotel bar. They fondled each other in the elevator and she was almost overcome by anticipated satisfaction of unrequited desires and febrile lust. They entered the hotel room and he retreated to the bathroom. That’s when she said “I was sooo … CHARged!” She described her stomping around the room, disrobing, having trouble getting her bra off when the telephone rang. The man appeared from the bathroom to answer the phone. He was obviously talking to his wife. He silently gestured in various ways — apologetic, sorry, dismayed. Nothing he attempted could restore her drive, which had instantly evaporated. She left the hotel room, still putting her clothes back on, before he hung up the phone.
This story came near the end of a long-running saga in which Lisa (a woman in her early 20s) called an anonymous telephone confessional to air out and possibly make peace with her anger toward men. Nowadays we might refer more gingerly to the woman’s misandry as “issues” but she was never coy or unaware of herself in describing her anger and thoughts of malice toward men.
Her stories ended abruptly. The moderator of the telephone confessional announced that he had had personal contact with this woman. This was unusual if not unique at the time. The moderator (a God figure of sorts) stayed mostly aloof from the individuals who called his telephone line. He took a special interest in this woman, who he felt to be particularly vulnerable. He apparently thought his attentions would return mutual benefit.
They had met in Central Park. Long phone conversations followed those in-person meetings.
The phone conversations ended, he said, when he made a “two-bit comment” intended to be humorous but at which she took offense. She never called the confessional or him again, leaving the moderator to assume that his comments contributed to her decision to stay away. He also recounted something she said about having over-exposed herself and possibly even made herself personally identifiable to a community of listeners she originally presumed to be more-or-less anonymous.
The arc of this sorry story passes through my head when I look at my cell phone and see the word “CHARGED”. That word indicates that the phone’s battery is 100% full, but it reminds me of the lion’s-roar manner in which Lisa said the word. I wonder where she is today, and how she turned out. The last I heard she had taken a job driving a limousine.
Lisa and I spoke on the phone once. For over an hour we talked about things I can’t remember now, 20 years later. I had naïvely and needlessly flirted with entering into mutually dangerous territory. At the time I found it tantalizing and even erotic to get involved with a misandrist. Today I think I missed a boat that would have drowned me.
That’s a difference between me in my early 20s and me today: Dangerous women don’t excite me like they used to.
Other words frequently revive other sodden stories that really should just vanish from this trap of mind. Stranded. “Stranded” recalls a time I randomly and unintentionally entered into a strange telephone world. It took me many years to understand what was going on, and for now I’ll only recount part of the experience.
I was listening to conversations taking place on a party line. As far as I could tell there was nothing confidential about it. People called this line to talk to other people and I assumed they knew that others listened and lurked without saying anything. I didn’t fully understand at the time that this was probably a pay-per-minute service and that I had somehow connected to the line used by moderators of the party line. If I spoke my voice was unheard by the others, though I assume a code or some technique existed which would have allowed me to enter the conversation.
This line, I believe, was used to monitor the conversations for illegal activity. This form of surveillance, I later learned, was routine in virtually all commercial telephone services. An acquaintance I knew in corporate once described his roommate’s job of screening calls at a newspaper’s personal ads service. He spent his days listening almost entirely to lonely men describe themselves in recorded announcements intended to seduce, lure and coax similarly lonely women into sexual congress.
“Yeah, I’m 35, I work in advertising and I have a dog. I’m looking for someone fun and active…”
“I’m a single white male. I live on the Upper West Side. I like to go to the park and take walks on the beach.”
I felt a bit of horror screw up inside me as I learned of this person’s job and very existence. I had left recorded messages like these on telephone services under the ignorant assumption that I was in control of the situation. I even imagined myself a publisher, or a sort of radio announcer whose platform happened to be a telephone line. Instead my messages — meant to fill a space of abstract intimacy only between myself and other lonely individuals — were graded and approved by faceless strangers. At the time I thought that this person’s monitoring of the messages left on the personal ads service constituted illegal wiretapping. I didn’t understand yet that freedom of speech does not necessarily apply when the resources of others are utilized as the platform for expression. Alas, by my estimate this moderator simply put a new spin on the expression that freedom of the press is only guaranteed to those who can afford to purchase a press.
But I digress from the original word: Stranded. After dialing in to what I did not yet realize was a party line I was somewhat spellbound. I listened and heard as 5 or 6 elderly women talked about their lives. One woman talked about how her children were all gone. Another responded by saying her husband had died, and that she felt depressed and alone. For a few minutes one woman seemed to take the floor, so to speak, talking the longest about being old and tired.
As I listened to this on the phone my mother walked in to the room. She could tell I was captivated by something. There was no speaker-phone, so I tried to describe what I heard. I handed the phone to my mother as the woman on the party line repeatedly said she felt stranded. “I feel stranded. The children have left me stranded. Everything is gone. I feel stranded.” This was what my mother heard as she brought the phone to hear ear. Her reaction was almost immediate. She recoiled and complained to me: “This is really depressing. This is not nice. I don’t want to hear this shit.” She resolutely handed the phone back to me and said “That’s really, really depressing.” As our hands shared and competed for possession of the phone she continued the gesture, yanking the phone from my hand and throwing it to the counter. “I don’t like that!” she said.