IDOLS ONLY SHINE IN A BORROWED LIGHT

My two earliest extant memories both involve elimination of bodily waste. In one I am scuttling sideways, crablike though sitting upright, not across the floors of silent seas but across a brick patio, keeping my back pressed to a low retaining wall as I inch along. I have just shat.

There is shame, of course, and also the strategizing of which three-year-olds are no less capable than their minders: do not get caught. Why the trauma of that, the fear, I can’t now gauge. My parents were advocates of the easy-going moral relativism of Dr Spock. (“How you fold the diaper depends on the shape of the diaper and the shape of the baby.”) The weight and heat of that dump, shifting in my underpants, the viscous mass of it clumping about my upper thighs, somewhat impeding my mobility — is that really part of the memory or a flourish added later?

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In the second memory I believe might be older, though not by much. I’m swimming — or rather paddling in an inflated inner tube — in the backyard pool that belongs to a creative director at my dad’s advertising agency. I’m the only one in the water. Nearby, adults in terrycloth robes and moo-moos are drinking G&Ts and chattering about stuff that makes no sense to me — the dictatorship of the proletariat, Linus Pauling’s vitamin theories, France’s first atomic detonation in the Algerian desert. Instead I’m having a far more interesting thought: I am peeing!

I can feel the warm current, invisible in that chlorinated azure, eddying through and round my legs. Phenomenology, like pleasure, is indisputable. It’s something slightly different that confuses me: does this adequately meet or merely circumvent what Martin Heidegger would have called an apophantic qualification? Am I, so to say, peeing-in-the-world? 

Tentacles of warm urine, gradually dispersing, cooling, achieve equilibrium with the surrounding medium. Presumably the temperature of the pool has now been raised by fractions of a degree. I paddle again, but in a circle, steering my orientation till I can survey those who are standing on the lawn that is adjacent to the pool’s concrete border. Do they know? What can they detect?

I hear a strange word. The word gets repeated twice more, as if — like many repetitions — to reinforce its falseness, its fatuous pretense of expertise. The word is “plethora.” I decide then and there never to use this word in my own extemporaneous speech. It is the first of dozens that, over many succeeding decades, I will consciously exclude or abolish from my working vocabulary. Foster. Amalgam. Exemplar. Stellar. Ersatz. Segue. Moniker. Burgeon.


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