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2005-03-05

Lindsay and I waited for a table at the little French breakfast place in Berkeley. We stood out front with the other hungry hopefuls. The crowd was very Berkeley—full grown Generation X adults complete with children and dogs and their very own starter houses in areas that they gentrified against everything their favorite bands in college sang about. Everyone had nice shoes. So we all stood around in our nice shoes and enjoyed the wait. The sun was out in full force, thumbing its nose at the first week of March. Birds sang and little bits of pollen got caught in our hair as it leapt down from the trees.

So, she and I walked to the bookstore to whittle away our wait. In the window there was a large color photocopy of a page from a book that Andie once bought me as a present. It was a graphic novel sort of book—an epic comic book about a boy named Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Boy on Earth. In this particular scene Jimmy stood on top of a building at the world's fair with a girl he was in love with. She told him that he could see his house from there—he could see the entire city from there. But, Jimmy wasn't even aware of the world sprawling out around him. For him, that moment would forever be defined by only one thing: the one, single strand of her red hair that the wind was blowing in front of his face.

My eyes welled up with tears as I remembered reading that page.

The book had so many pages it was more a tome than a book—thick and daunting, even as a comic book. I never thought it would end, so I paced myself accordingly. I used to read a little bit of it every day, slowly—maybe a page or two at a time, but never more than that. I unwrapped the story the way the boy in the Willy Wonka story paced himself when opening what would be the winning chocolate bar—glacial speed.

There weren't many words in the book. It was mostly gestures and scenes punctuated by the occasional hand–picked word or short, perfect sentence. The author was reticent and careful with his words, while generous with his illustration—lines and color and emotion. He said so much whlie saying so very little. Hm. Kinda like Andie.

As I stood in front of the window I got a tiny glimpse of how Andie may have seen herself in that book. And, for the smallest fraction of a second I understood what it might have meant to share that with me. It was like saying look into something that means something to me which is basically the same as look into me.

And with the sun and the shining and the birds and the Berkeley all around me, the floodgates broke. Damn it. Why here? Why now? The tears. The sadness. They sprang forth from aome pregnant pressure I'd been holding in for who knows how long. I resisted about as well as a paper pup tent perched on top of a geyser, which is to say not well at all.

I walked inside to the rows of books to hide in a remote place in the store where nobody would see me cry.

All the walls were lined with shelves full of books except one. There was a big, empty wall that was home to a map of the world. I ran my fingers across the paper and touched a few countries where I wished I was instead. I looked at names of cities and wondered how to pronounce them. Jokulsargljufur. Drangajokull.

The part of the map that was California was soiled and darker than the rest of the paper Earth. I imagined the fingers of all the people who'd come before me and put their fingerprint on the map in the general location of that bookstore. I imagined them standing there and pointing and wondering for a fraction of a half of a moment where they were in relation to everything else.

That's what I was doing. Except, I forgot to touch California. I went straight for the North Pole and the Sahara Desert and Iceland. I found the city in Sweden where I made my album and touched it with my finger to remind myself that I was there once. I wanted to be in any of those places so long as I wasn't in the place I was at then—the one smudged and dirty with the fingerings of my life.

Silly, silly. Futile thinking. I'll smear my fingers on every spot I touch. Then it becomes just another smeared spot on the map. Should I dirty up the whole entire map with those messy hands I call my life? Because, that's what I'd be doing.

My thoughts got jumbled and confused. I was all mixed up between two metaphors. The first, well, was there some way to wash my hands? And then, why did most people only touch the one place they were at at that very moment—the place they were the most familiar with?

A tear fell from my right eye. It's always the right eye. I think it's the sadder of the two, maybe because it has worse vision. It's the leaky windowsill during the sad times.

I walked over to the graphic novel display. I tried to hold in the tears. I picked up books I knew would make me laugh and flipped through them. [I read through a miniature book depicting a hundred or so ways for adorable bunnies to commit suicide. I was most entertained by scribbly, low–fi comics with simple, offensive texts—Joe Sayers, for example. The free comedy soothed like a salve. I laughed out loud.] I didn't pick up any of the Jimmy Corrigan books, though. I noticed where they were on the shelf and wouldn't even let myself look near them, for fear of glancing them and remembering and crying any more.

It was time to go. Lindsay knew I was sad and wanted to make me smile again. She bought me a present on our way out—the pocket–sized Joe Sayers zine I'd been perusing. It only cost a dollar, but the gesture seemed so generous.

We stepped out of florescence and bookworms and light into sunlight and warmth and a confused springtime that arrived a little too early for the party. As sad as I felt, my life was pretty lovely at that moment. In fact, my life was pretty lovely at most moments, when I thought about it—which I did right then. Then, what do feelings mean? What's the point of them? How do they relate to the real world? Why are our feelings here?

A piece of a flower fell from a tree. A smiling mother pushed a stroller. Instead of a toy, her baby clutched a brand new kitchen mixer in a box. Another woman walked by—she had neon green pants on with shoes to match. A man and woman older than my parents held hands as they sat on a bench.

I looked down at the little booklet in my hand and Lindsay's hand in my other and cracked a smile as best I could.


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