Sophia and I went for a walk in the West Village and I showed her the apartment where e.e. cummings lived for forty years, 4 Patchin Place. As we walked I taught her how to write haikus. She already knew what they were but didn’t know the number of syllables in each line. Soon everything she said became a haiku:
I need to pee bad
Where’s a place to urinate
Without buying stuff?
My hands are frozen
Did you hear? – frozen solid
Like hands made of ice
Soup is the best thing
Well, it’s one of the best things
Anyway it’s good
The soup poem was written in a restaurant called Sacred Chow. There we decided that everything good begins with an s – soup, sleep, showers, sun, and sex – though not necessarily in that order.
On page 141 of A Lover’s Discourse, in a chapter entitled This Can’t Go On, Roland Barthes writes:
Once the exaltation has lapsed, I am reduced to the simplest philosophy: that of endurance… I am a Daruma Doll, a legless toy endlessly poked and pushed, but finally regaining its balance, assured by an inner balancing pin (But what is my balancing pin? The force of love?). This is what we are told by a folk poem which accompanies these Japanese dolls:
Such is life
Falling over seven times
And getting up eight.
Having read A Lover’s Discourse long ago, I’ve often remembered this poem and have quoted it many times to friends. Today, though, I read it again and was surprised to find I’ve been misquoting it. In my version, the poem ends with getting up six times, not eight, a mistake that reverses its meaning.
The way I always remembered the poem, it was about death, about the final time you fall, the first and last time you fail to get up. Barthes’s version is about some freakish form of endurance. The legless doll is invulnerable; no amount of abuse can knock it down, since abuse is what it was made for. Indeed, if abused in the right way, the doll is indestructible. Its fate is like that of Sisyphus but without all that nasty, backbreaking, spirit-crushing toil.
The alien is living with me now. I still don’t know her name. I’m not even sure that aliens have names. When I asked her about it, she told me to call her whatever I wanted, so I picked Sophia. I picked it because I’ve never known anyone named Sophia and don’t associate it with anyone.
We had burritos today for lunch. I ate mine too fast and got hiccups, so I stood and bent over and drank some water like that, with my head upside-down.
“What are you looking at?” she asked.
“Nothing,” I said, “I have the hiccups.” I was upside-down when I said this.
By her tone, it seemed that she really didn’t know what I was doing, although it’s possible she knew but wanted to make it seem she that didn’t so I would trust her more and treat her like I would treat any other woman.
This is the question: How much is she like other women? It comes down to whether she knows things that no woman, no person, could know. Can she read my mind? Can she call up my past? Nothing she does reveals she can, but I’m not convinced.
She has a laptop computer. When we’re not talking, she likes to sit on my bed and type what she calls her “notes.” She’s a fast typist but doesn’t always keep her fingers on the keys. Her main problem is the delete key, which she types with her right forefinger instead of her right pinky. This slows her down. When I mentioned it to her, she nodded, but I haven’t seen her trying to change. This seems suspicious because I imagine that an alien could type any way she pleased and would choose to type the most efficient way possible.
Here’s the thing: I suspect that everything she does is to get me to treat her as I would treat any run-of-the-mill woman who happened to be sitting on my bed drinking herbal tea (she likes Wild Sweet Orange) and typing a tremendous volume of “notes.” And I find myself falling for it. If someone or something looks like a woman, smells like a woman (!), and acts like a woman, you can’t help but think of that person or thing as a woman. And I think she’s banking on this, and on the fact that I will react to her as any man would, which to this point I have resisted doing, although it hasn’t been easy.
While walking home from work last Friday, I noticed a spaceship in the Shakespeare Garden. At first I thought it was for one of the Garden’s cutesy community events (Plants from Outer Space perhaps?), but I couldn’t figure out what it was doing in the Shakespeare Garden. Was it built there with the intention of moving it later? If so, this was a stunningly bad idea because the ship was blocking the path and had crushed several flower beds.
The spaceship was shaped like a giant frisbee and had a bubble-like dome and a ring of round red lights along its circumference. It stood on three stilt-like legs and had a bottom hatch, which was down. When I ran my hand across its surface, I was surprised how smooth it was. I don’t think I’ve touched anything that smooth.
But the real surprise came when I climbed up the hatch. I expected to find a cramped room with a bunch of hokey alien spacecraft controls and navigation screens, but instead the room looked exactly like my own apartment. In fact the pot I had used that morning was still soaking in the sink and the clothes I’d worn the previous day were where I’d left them, in a pile on the floor by my bed.
Just one thing had changed: there was a woman was sitting in my green chair.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hi,” I said.
“I’m an alien,” she said. “I’ve come to study you.”
I don’t know why, but she reminded me of a certain ex-girlfriend.
“Really,” I said. “That’s awesome.”
For obvious reasons I didn’t believe she was an alien.
I asked if she happened to know why there was a spaceship in the Shakespeare Garden.
“There isn’t any more,” she said, indicating the hatch with her eyes.
I climbed down. The hatch led not into the Shakespeare Garden but into the apartment of my downstairs neighbor, a creepy guy who always has a can of Coke in his hand. I knew it was his apartment because it was shaped like mine and had eight cardboard boxes of Coke stacked against the wall.
I climbed back up and pulled the hatch shut.
“Nice trick,” I said.
“Who are you?”
“I’ve come to study you. I will sleep in your bed but I won’t have sexual relations with you.”
“I don’t remember asking you to have sexual relations with me.”
“It is expected. I have assumed a physical form that you find hot. Did I use that right, ‘hot'”?
“It’s more like hottt, with three t‘s.”
“I thought it was just one t.”
I noticed she had a space between her two front teeth, just like that certain ex-girlfriend.
“Hot is fine, but it’s flat. The extra t‘s add a touch of irony by referencing how the word is spelled in phone sex ads. It’s ironic because phone sex ads that spell hottt with three t‘s are too moronic to be sexy. To refer to this is a kind of wink. You’re saying that you recognize how moronic and unsexy it is to spell hottt with three t‘s, but that you are going to do it anyway. By some roundabout logic, this sort of stubborn self-consciousness is itself sexy.”
“But how do people know how many t‘s you’re using when you say it this way?”
“They can’t, so you have to find other ways to indicate it.”
“Gesture, intonation, facial expression.”
“This conversation is not very hottt,” she said.
The moment it happened I just wanted to rewind the tape. Of course I knew you can’t rewind anything, but still that’s what I kept thinking – Please god, just let me.
Not that there was any tape to be rewound.
Nor any god to allow it.
No tape and no god and yet there I was, practically begging.