Five Essays in Miniature

I. Vanity 

I walked in on the dog in my room staring at himself in the mirror. His nose was right on the surface and he was just staring and doing nothing else. When he heard me come in the room, he looked around, appeared to be embarrassed, as did I. 

Later, I go to a lecture called, “Can non-humans speak?” and the conclusion confuses me. While leaving the lecture I almost step on a dog who is lying quietly on the hot stones of the sidewalk. A friend points it out just in time. 

I step out on the balcony with a roommate of a room that I am renting for a short month. I compliment the plants; he says thank you it is my pride and joy. In the distance a bar named after America and the sound of the bus station. Between the plants you can see a lot of the neighborhood, the reddish colored buildings that gave Bologna its name, La Rossa, the red. 

Navigating the nonhuman world, I wonder how much we can only organize it for our aesthetic pleasure (houseplants, housepets). Albert Camus, in The Myth of Sisyphus, writes: I can understand only in human terms. What I touch, what resists me—that is what I understand. And these two certainties—my appetite for the absolute and for unity and the impossibility of reducing this world to a rational and reasonable principle —I also know that I cannot reconcile them. […]  If I were a tree among trees, a cat among animals, this life would have a meaning, or rather this problem would not arise, for I should belong to this world. I should be this world to which I am now opposed by my whole consciousness and my whole insistence upon familiarity. This ridiculous reason is what sets me in opposition to all creation. Though I suspect Camus thinks highly of himself.

My grandmother holds up a pink orchid in the living room and says something like I think I’ve finally figured out how to take care of them. You run them under the tap. They need more water than you think, orchids do. 


II. Listening to Strangers

The notes I have found inside used books have never been particularly interesting. This specific anonymous reader of The Sorrows of Young Werther, who owned the copy before I did, found the novel to be “sad” among other things. 

Recently, while home and in a Dunkin Donuts, I overhear a man describing how he got a prosthetic heart valve just like Arnold Schwarzenegger and just like Bush got one too and so did some other guys he listed. 


III. Subletting

One summer, I lived in a different person’s room which had a big map of a country I have never been to on the wall across from the mattress. In the spätkauf below there was, as far as I could tell, only a single employee; he sat at a computer in the front of the store and chainsmoked. He would not tell me the price of my purchased goods, preferring that I guess. 

Now, because I am upwardly mobile, I live in a smaller room with a proportionally sized bed that is not on the floor. The former tenant was the daughter of the woman I live with. The bookshelf is still full of the daughter’s possessions; there is an abridged volume of the Grundgesetz and various school notebooks. There are perfume bottles and some other glass objects that I cannot identify, a porcelain cup with the Starbucks logo, and small horror movie memorabilia. A large bottle of unopened, or so I think, Sierra Tequila next to a box that contains a chocolate fondue machine for one, pictures from the drop of a roller coaster. The floorboards make light creaking noises but I try to learn to step only on the parts where they do not. 

There is no balcony but the windows are large, look out onto the courtyard, buildings painted in an overripe color and trash cans with lids that close like heavy marching boots. I open the window, breathe the thick spring air and feel like Mrs. Dalloway when she decided to buy the flowers herself. The squeak of the French windows sends Mrs. Dalloway in the opening scene into memories of her youth in the countryside. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave, chill and sharp and yet, writes Woolf, solemn.  

It is a strange negotiation, other people’s rooms. Like an investigation I am compelled to piece together these clues, in order to understand the last person who lived in this room. The little things I own and small pictures I hang on the wall are an overcoat underneath which the last tenant’s world runs deep and without disruption. For what did you need the broken grey clock on the wall, dearest previous tenant, the one with the name of a pharmaceutical company in the dark blue center? The upstairs neighbors shuffle around, presumably in circles. “Can you throw out those flowers on the desk?” asks my landlady. “They really are getting too old.” 


IV. Change

Is it just me or have the flies been getting bigger?


V. Nostalgia 

Today the coffee had the color blue as an undertone. “Love is expensive. One must put furniture around it, or it goes,” states one of the characters in the novel I am reading, Another Country

“I would not want to be in a place where I feel nostalgic,” says a friend over dinner. 

If I were to be frank, we could do away with the question of nostalgia for the time being. I watch a video on the internet about Woodstock and see a picture of Joni Mitchell’s half-open mouth as she stares upwards into nothing in particular. 

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