4 • JUST LIKE Fate
Chicken Soup For the Soul. Empower Yourself. Unrequited Love. You Are Loved: A Guide to Self-Worth. I hated working Saturday nights. I always had to reshelve the books left in the reading chairs by the bookstore’s more lonely patrons. Just looking through the titles evoked a combination of sympathy and nausea. I longed to go back to the art institute, longed to see the couple in Nighthawks and the staff woman with the beautiful long fingers.
How could anyone read this crap? The Oprah Diet Guide? Oprah was about as qualified to write about dieting as Caligula was to lecture on civil responsibility. This job was hardly even worth the discount anymore. The more time I spent around these people, the more I hated the human race. Bookstore customers came in a variety of species. They were like the prizes in cereal boxes: collect all four!
There was the “Academic” (scientific name: Literius Wormus). This specimen is driven by an insatiable hunger for knowledge. It preys mainly on non-fiction, classic literature, and biographies, but has also been known to occasionally include philosophy or modern science in its diet. The creature lives a primarily solitary life and avoids social interaction with other species, especially of the opposite sex. One must be careful when encountering an “Academic” as they are very easily agitated and prone to quoting. Observing the interactions between two or more “Academics” can be quite intriguing. They each try to establish their intellectual dominance over one another by listing and quoting from previous kills. For example, an “Academic” that has recently dined on a James Joyce novel will surely emerge as the alpha over one that has inexplicably caught and consumed something from the Dan Brown oeuvre.
Next was the “Desperado” (scientific name: Licentious Pathetices). At any given time, the “Desperado” makes up anywhere from 85 to 95 percent of the population of a bookstore. Members of this species are motivated by a strong instinct to mate. They attempt to attract potential sexual partners by displaying a sort of plumage. They decorate their hands with the carcasses of fashionable books. The “Desperado” is a wily hunter that feigns the outward appearance of an “Academic” in order to lure potential mates; a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The “Desperado” does not actually hunt with the intention of consuming and has no interest in the intellectual nutrition provided by literature. These creatures are somewhat paradoxical in nature. They are fiercely territorial and aggressive. However, they cower and become quite docile when rejected by a potential mate. This contradiction has led many researchers to conclude that the territorial and aggressive tendencies of Licentious Pathetices are merely part of it’s mating practices and that the creature is, in fact, quite pathetic. This conclusion is partly to do with the choice of mating grounds and partly to do with the lack of success exhibited as a result. It would be necessary to radio tag several of these creatures and track their movements outside the mating grounds to understand more about them. However, my manager took issue with the suggestion and the American Journal of Zoology wasn’t interested in the study. Their loss.
The third on the list was the “Peeper” (scientific name: Erogenous Curioculus). This specimen is unique in that it is not actually a separate species. Rather, it is merely a social sub-group. However, it is classified as a unique animal and, therefore, categorized with an appropriate genus and species. It is an exclusively male social group. Prior to mating-age, immature males from all bookstore-dwelling species unknowingly become part of the “Peeper” social group and engage in its distinct rituals. The use of the word “unknowingly” is intentional, because these young males do not consciously make the choice to join the group. Rather, they are driven to adopt the characteristic behaviors of a “Peeper” by their own prepubescent curiosity. Once a young male has entered this sub-group, he becomes instinctually anti-social and avoids contact with all other sentient animals. The goal of the “Peeper” is to assess its sexual knowledge and preparedness through gratuitous visual stimulation. These creatures subsist on a very sparing diet of pornography and can usually be found cautiously stalking their prey in either the magazine or art sections. When hunting in the magazine section, Erogenous Curioculus’s intended prey is Playboy, Hustler, or Penthouse. However, due to the creature’s incredibly timid nature, it sometimes has to settle for a lesser kill, National Geographic. If forced to abandon a hunt in the magazine section by onlookers, the “Peeper” will migrate to more secluded hunting grounds. In the art section, books of tasteful nude photography are the intended prey. Though not nearly as satisfying, the creature has been known to subsist on tasteful nudes for months at a time, making it one of the most tenacious species encountered in bookstores. Erogenous Curioculus is a survivor.
The last specimen worthy of mention was the “Sleepless Seattleite” (scientific name: Mawkis Optimisticus). These hunters, typically more advanced in age, subsist entirely on a diet of romance and self-help. Desperately social creatures, Mawkis Optimisticus are driven to the literary hunting grounds by an irrational and counter-evolutionary need for love. Researchers have mixed opinions regarding this extremely strange behavior. Some believe the “Sleepless Seattleite” is better classified as a sub-group mainly composed of the social outcasts of other species that, for various reasons, are unable to successfully find a mate. These socially rejected creatures take solace in common hunting grounds and attempt to find and exploit some kind of evolutionary advantage. The choice of intended prey is well understood for its psychological and physiological benefits. Romance provides the “Sleepless Seattleite” with a rich source of endorphin-eliciting literary proteins. This composes the bulk of their diet. Self-help, though not scientifically verified, is thought by researchers to contain some kind of opiate or hallucinogen. When consumed by Mawkis Optimisticus, the creature’s observable behavior changes drastically for a short period and then inevitably reverts to its previous state. Very little is understood about these sad animals, but the very sight of them tends to evoke feelings of pity among other species. However, this pity very rarely leads to any sort of charity and the “Sleepless Seattleite” is left to fend for itself. Due to recent social trends, the population of Mawkis Optimisticus has expanded significantly.
It was these creatures that I was forced to clean up after on Saturday nights. They were usually older women and it was with these women that I sympathized most deeply. Pop culture had promised them a great love, perfect and uncompromising, and guaranteed their worth as an object of that love. Simultaneously, men and women were programmed from birth to be judge and judged, respectively. Women were evaluated on their looks, personalities, and utility from school-age well into their twilight years based on comparisons to an unattainable feminine eliteness. In this “civilized” age, to be a woman was to be a survivor. Men, on the other hand, were entitled to act as judge without regard for their own incongruities. And, despite appearances, they made up at least an equal part of the “Sleepless Seattleite” group.
I loaded all of the abandoned romance and self-help carcasses on to my book cart and pushed it down the long aisle. I quickly reshelved the more nauseating books in the romance section. I was amazingly efficient. I had worked in the bookstore for longer than I cared to consider and my boss had frequently offered to promote me. I had refused every time. After all, the whole point of working a menial job in the customer service industry was to avoid all forms of responsibility. Not to mention, my anthropology degree didn’t really qualify me for much else. I finished with the self-help books quickly and checked the last two volumes on the cart: A Complete History of US Mints and Coinage and Chakras: A Guide to Eastern Medicine. I’d never seen either of the books on my cart before. The book on US mints likely resided in the history section, but the book on chakras stumped me. There were a few possibilities; it could’ve belonged to religion, Asian studies, medicine, or new age. Come to think of it, I’d never laid eyes on the book before. I picked it up off the cart and opened it to a random page out of curiosity. It seemed to fall open in my hands with a sense of purpose, as if it was preparing to reveal some great truth to me. I read from the middle of the page:
The Anahata Chakra, also referred to as the Heart Chakra, is located in the chest and is associated with the thymus gland in the body’s immune system. The Anahata Chakra is commonly depicted as a green or pink lotus blossom with twelve petals in Hindu texts. This Chakra is of particular importance in Vajrayana and Tantric Buddhism, because it is considered to be the source of existential fulfillment. When this Chakra is blocked or unbalanced with the other six, a person suffers great dissatisfaction in their life and is driven to outside sources for solace. This solace typically manifests as the desire for material comforts and is therefore unable to resolve the imbalance. It is no coincidence that the Heart Chakra deals with complex emotions such as love and compassion. A person suffering from a blocked Anahata Chakra typically seeks comfort in love or in its physical equivalent. This physical fulfillment can lead to a further imbalance in the Muladhara Chakra, or root Chakra, which is responsible for sexuality and stability. In both Buddhist and Hindu interpretations, an imbalance in one Chakra causes a domino effect in which all Chakras are affected. This balance is as delicate as in the physiological systems in the human body. According to Abraham Maslow, love is not the highest priority in the hierarchy of human needs. Only after satisfying one’s physiological needs for food, shelter, and safety does love become the prime concern. However, due to the ascetic practices found in many sects of Buddhism and Hinduism, it is safe to assume that love is afforded much greater importance in these belief systems. In the Ägamas texts, love is more broadly defined as compassion. This idea is not limited to love between two people, but refers to unconditional compassion toward all human beings. Those suffering from an energy imbalance in the Heart Chakra typically lead solitary lives and feel contempt toward others. As a result, the afflicted individuals are incapable of loving or, indeed, trusting others. Many modern psychological models…
The woman’s voice startled me and I snapped the book shut with a sudden jerk. I hadn’t realized how engrossed in it I’d been. I looked up and was surprised to see the beautiful woman from the Art Institute. She wasn’t wearing her cream-colored suit, but it was definitely her. I would recognize those hands anywhere. She was wearing tight-fitting dark jeans tucked in to knee-high brown suede boots with pointed toes and big heels. She donned a very simple brown leather jacket over a black turtleneck sweater. She seemed to have an affinity for wearing exactly the right clothes for her figure. I was impressed with her all over again. She was examining a small folded piece of paper in her hands and hadn’t recognized me.
“Nice to see you again,” I said, hoping to draw her attention away from the piece of paper.
“I’m looking for a book called Hidden Japan,” she responded without looking up.
“I said…it’s nice to see you again.”
She looked up with a somewhat agitated look on her face and opened her mouth to speak, but stopped suddenly. The look on her face changed to one of recognition and she spoke softly.
“Hi. I wasn’t expecting to see you again. What are you doing here?” she asked, eying the title of the book I was clutching in my hand.
I looked down at the book embarrassingly. “Uh…self-diagnosing.”
An awkward moment of silence passed between us and then she laughed with her whole body and asked, “your Chi out of whack or something?”
“Nope. I’m Chi-tastic, actually. It’s my…” I stopped briefly to find the page I had been reading, hectically thumbing through the book, and continued. “…uh…a…na…hat…ta? Anahata Chakra. That’s what’s out of whack.”
She stopped giggling and gave me a puzzled look. She had obviously been expecting a witty rebuttal. I really sucked at flirting. She didn’t say anything, but her eyebrows arched suddenly and asked for an explanation. I wanted to take one of her beautiful hands and clutch it to my chest. It was the perfect non-verbal response to her non-verbal question, but I was too intimidated by her to be spontaneous.
Her eyes fell to my chest and seemed to penetrate my flesh like a medical instrument. Those eyes…
「Golden astronomical bodies suspended in deep space.」
Her eyes were hazel. I hadn’t noticed at the Art Institute. They were beautiful. She was still staring at my chest and digging her way slowly in to my body. She seemed to emote a genuine sympathy the likes of which I had never encountered. My life had been filled with insincerities and hollow pity. My mother was the worst; she had only ever understood the practical applications of sympathy instead of its benefit to others. This was real compassion.
“I’m sorry. You were looking for a book?”
“What’s the matter with your heart?” she asked, breaking off her stare.
“I…” I started to speak, but my mouth seized up. I wanted to tell her that I had only been joking, but I couldn’t. Her eyes had uncovered a truth that even I hadn’t seen before. There was something wrong with my heart. Something was terribly wrong. She drew it out and showed it to me, but I didn’t understand. My life seemed normal enough. It wasn’t overly happy. It wasn’t overly sad. It was a more or less balanced existence. It was…
「Passionless. It’s devoid of emotion. You feel nothing. You’re not happy. You’re not sad. You could hardly be said to be living at all. She sees through it all. She looked in to you and saw emptiness. She saw a hollow man. What happened to your dreams? What happened to your plans? You hate nothing and love nothing. When was the last time you lost your temper? How long has it been since you trembled with excitement? Your heart is gone. You gave it away and the rest followed. You are broken and scattered over a landscape of unforgiving terrain: mountains of guilt, oceans of regret, deserts of self-destruction, valleys of despair, and fields of wrecked ambitions. There is nothing left.」
“I don’t know,” I said honestly, for the first time.
“The book I’m looking for.”
“Right. Of course,” I said in a soft, disappointed voice.
I had completely forgotten the context of our situation. I was a bookstore employee and she was a customer. Her presence was disarming. I felt naked in front of her and my cheeks turned as red as a fire engine. She had stripped me down to the bone and shown me the empty space inside. I was shaken. I was embarrassed. I desperately wanted her to care. I thought she did, but her question of concern was followed by standard consumer etiquette.
“Travel and geography. This way,” I mumbled, motioning for her to follow me.
We walked past various specimens of the bookstore’s zoological catalog in their natural environment. Most of them were noticeably unconcerned with our presence. We spooked a “Peeper” in the magazine section and it slumped off in the opposite direction with its head down. The “Sleepless Seattleites” in the reading chairs, men and women both, looked up eagerly as we passed by and then quickly dove back in to their comfort food with disappointed looks. We saw the same spooked “Peeper” again as we passed the art section. It froze. Its head sprung up, eyes and ears alert, and surveyed its surroundings, photography book in hand. Poor thing. We arrived in the travel and geography section at the back corner of the store.
“Okay. Hidden Japan,” I said, scanning the shelves.
I pulled down the fat paperback and handed it to her. She looked at the front cover and then flipped it over to examine the back. I watched her read the bullet-points on the back cover, feeling strangely invisible.
“Where is it?” she asked, still looking down at the book.
“In Asia. East of China and Korea.”
“Not Japan. Your heart.”
I swallowed a golf ball’s worth of saliva with a huge gulping noise that resembled the mating call of a bullfrog. Did she care or didn’t she? Suddenly I was a “Sleepless Seattleite,” desperately craving her affection and approval.
“I…I don’t know how to answer that.”
“Would you recommend this book to a first time traveler?”
I was so confused. I wanted to take a cue from the “Peeper” and tuck tail and run. It was like having two conversations at once. Or, rather, having one conversation inside another. She seemed to be able to split herself in two. I was having trouble with my separation. Every time I got comfortable with being a bookstore employee, she asked me to be a human being again. Why was she doing this to me?
“Um…yeah, I would. I’ve been to Japan twice and I used that book a lot. It’s better than the Lonely Planet and Frommer’s guides.”
“Maybe it’s in Japan.”
“I don’t know. I didn’t even know it was missing until I met you.”
“I’ll take the book.”
I was starting to get used to handling two modes of conversation at once. She was maintaining with ease, like a deep-sea diver attached to a safety buoy. Her sense of propriety was a lifeline to the surface, in case she got in too deep.
“Sure. I’ll ring you up,” I said, walking toward the front of the store with her following close behind.
“Come with me.”
“Yeah. Come with me.”
「Go with her.」
I laughed my response, “sure, why not.”
「Don’t overthink this. Just go.」
“I’d love to go back there, but I can’t just take off. I have a job and…stuff…to take care of…”
「There’s nothing here for you.」
“Stuff?” she stifled a laugh and continued, “I know it’s really none of my business, but you don’t seem to have a lot of good reasons not to go.”
“Do I have a good reason to go?”
“I don’t know. Do you?”
I stopped and thought about the question. Did I have a good reason to accompany a beautiful stranger to an exotic foreign country that held great personal significance for me?
If I suddenly left, I would almost certainly lose my job, a job that I despised almost as much as the customers it served. The money was barely enough to live on. I ate all my meals at home with whatever ingredients were on sale that day. I had no TV, no DVD player, and no sofa. My bed was made up of a flimsy mattress from a broken futon frame and a stacked latticework of 2x4’s bought from the discount lumber corner of a hardware store. I would definitely lose my apartment with no way to pay rent while I was away, the apartment with no furniture and no pleasurable distractions. It was a large open loft next to the el that vibrated violently when the train went by. The shower was in the middle of the room and the hot water behaved like a teenager in love. My only “friends” were the people I worked with and a few former classmates that took me out for a pity meal once in a while. My only family lived 2,000 miles away and we’d not had a real conversation in years. No one would miss me if I left. Here was a beautiful woman asking me to travel with her for no other reason than I didn’t have a good reason not to. It was taking forever to walk to the front of the store.
I could hear the lack of excitement in my own voice. Maybe Iago was right. I couldn’t even muster an enthusiastic tone in response to an offer to visit a country that was truly close to my heart, wherever it was. I was totally devoid of passion, the walking dead. I had to find out what was wrong with me. I had to put myself back together again. Where were all the king’s men and all the king’s horses when I needed them?
“How long will we be gone?” I asked, trying to foster some sense of adventure.
“As long as it takes.”
What did she mean by that?
“I don’t think I’ll be needing the book after all. I have you.”
She pulled a pen from the breast pocket of my bookstore apron. She wrote her name and phone number on the folded piece of paper she had been carrying.
“Here,” she offered, handing me the paper. “We leave two weeks from tomorrow.”
“One more thing.”
“What did I have for dinner?”
“Nothing,” she answered in a yell as she walked out through the automatic doors, never looking back. “Go eat something!”
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