The Man Under the Bridge: A Fiction

“Everything’s thin.”

The Wire

Setting:

We open onto a large office in what looks to be Moscow in the 1890s.  It could be anywhere in the East though, anywhere from Potsdam to Petersburg.  The office appears busy; clerks filing, apprentices bustling, managers shouting instructions and reprimands that go generally unheard and unacted upon–unheard not out of rebellion, nor compromised auditory canals, but rather because the generalized cacophony of the office space is such that the collective action set cannot but unfold without coordination or direction.

The office is draughty and usually cold, although an occasional over-active heat pipe burbles out a bit of local warmth for certain fortunate corners.  The walls are covered from floor to ceiling with filing cabinets; the major task of the office is simply to inspect, stamp, classify, and file an endless stream of nominally related documents.  It is mid-fall, nearly harvest season.  Summer’s bounty this year has been acceptable, and the local populace will have food for the holidays.  Inside, however, the mood is one of permanent resignation to circumstance.

Scene One:

You found me on the other side of a loser’s winning streak/ where my thoughts all wander further than they should

The office’s hierarchy is complex, following rules of its own.  Those at the bottom of the ladder are blissfully unseen and operate without oversight or sanction unless transgressing in a manner so egregious that the neighbours become involved.  Those in the middle-lower classes are a little more visible; their seating, for instance, is of great importance.  Members of this class are ever being told that their stool has been moved to another section of the office.  Reason is neither given nor sought.  Transience is the way of the world, and is widely accepted.

The scene opens in the morning, just after the workers arrive.  At a large oak table, two members of this class sit, within mere inches of one another.  One of these is a thin man–the other, a Teutonic Knight.  Both have piles of papers left over from the day before in their work spaces, spaces delineated by a crack in the oak.  One of the papers from the thin man’s zone has shifted by a fraction of an inch overnight, whether on account of the draft or the vagaries of the cleaning staff is unknown.

The Teutonic Knight turns to face the thin man.

“I think you forgot something in my space,” he says.

“I didn’t forget anything in your space, “replies the thin man, “if you are referring to this piece of paper, it has shifted marginally and is abutting the crack which separates my zone from yours.”

“You have forgotten something,” insists the Knight.  “Take it away.”

The thin man sighs and removes the paper.  Good money after bad, he thinks to himself, applying a concept he has learned recently at the card tables, tables which he has, perhaps, been frequenting a little more often than he might want to admit to his blessed mother or dear widowed sister.  The Knight knows nothing of the gambler’s demi-monde, spending his evenings as he does in endless rows over minor matters with one of the succession of women he sees.  The thin man has, on the other hand, managed to stay out of the clutches of the worst money-lenders and knee-cappers in the city thus far.  His taste, in the last analysis, may run more to the risque than to risk per se.  In any case, the skirmish over, the knight withdraws from the field of battle, content in his triumph.  The thin man looks at the clock.  These days, everything seems to take all morning.

Scene Two (a few days later)

Well I was drinkin’ last night with a biker/ and I showed him a picture of you/ I said “Pal get to know her, you’ll like her”/ seemed like the least I could do

The office has a kind of canteen, an open space where weak tea and an occasionally edible biscuit or two have been reported. Here lives another man, a man from the south. His status with the company is ambiguous–a matter of no little gossip. Tales are told of whirlwind romances, payments under the table, mutually compromising material. No one really knows. This southerner spends his days reading and drinking tea in a most relaxed fashion. Good work if you can get it, muses the thin man. The thin man and the southerner are allies of the kind that sometimes arise during wartime conditions. The details of his ally’s dalliances and contractual complexities are only of a general interest to the thin man, who is however curious what value the southerner is seen to be providing to the company. Literacy is good and all, but the filing by god, the filing waits for no man.

Sometime that fall, the southerner pulls the thin man aside, for a talk. His manner is furtive, his words oblique. The thin man’s time with the company is limited, he whispers. His number is up. Time to hit the bricks, pal.

The thin man takes this news in stride. The tables beckon and he’s met a woman, a lady of the evening, perhaps, yet classy–demure, yet perfectly capable of looking after her own interests. He has only seen her a few times, true, yet there are possibilities.

Of course being sans salary is not likely to widen that particular possibility set. So when the southerner leans in and whispers low, the thin man listens close.

“There is a man, a man you may meet,” says the southerner. “You must not ever tell anyone I told you this. The man will be under a bridge on a high holiday. There will be revelry. He may make you an offer.”

Gambling man he may be, but the thin man is confused.

“What should I do?”

“Stay alert. Pay attention. I can say no more.”

Easy to say, harder to execute, thinks the thin man. Alert for what? A man under a bridge is easy enough to spot, however the southerner seemed to be referring to another matter, another occasion where attention will be needed to carry the day. The thin man files the conversation away, and resolves to stay open to a situation that appears to have elements of fluidity.  It seems like the least he could do.

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The Ump

well it’s always been my nature
to take chances
my right hand drawing back

while my left hand advances

Bob Dylan, Angelina.  Circa 1981, A.D.

Preface: This little piece alighted on the author a few weeks ago when he was undergoing a bit of a midlife re-orientation.  The piece is presented as it presented itself, with edits for cleanliness only. 

Karma is simply the field of what you put in place in your last lifetime.  As a person you arrange your life in such a way that it leaves clues as to the road you took.  When it’s time to switchback, all you have to do is have the courage to take the turn.  After the turn, it’s basically just a matter of reading the tree markers in the forest.  The challenge is, some of the tree makers have fallen in the leaves, been washed out by rain, or moved by the wind.  So you are in new territory.  The map, the degraded set of markers you left behind, is not the territory.  However the last path was so densely specific that we keep trying to use our old map on the new path.  We need that old map for a bit because those markers are the only ones we have.   However we need to find our footing pretty darn quick in order to learn to navigate the new territory.  Otherwise, we follow the markers and mistake them for fresh signs.  Very quickly, the old signals become noise. And then we are in a deep dark wood and are in danger of over-exposure, or, worse, pure confusion and terror about where the path may lie.

The individual is mortal, and beyond mortality is the mystery.  Tribes and societies are forms of collectives, and collectives form a spiral pattern that we call a system. Collectives, and spirals, are mortal as well, and when a spiral approaches its switch back point, the map begins to degrade and the particles of the spiral, the people in the current incarnation of the pattern, must attempt to discriminate the signal from the noise.  Of course this is a much more difficult task than it is for an individual because there are many more tree markers and the winds and rains are howling all about.  This is simply because the field is larger to accommodate so many souls.  So instead of just having to read a few old tree markers, folks must try to receive the field.

To receive the field you have to read the field, and the only way to read the field is to be looking right at it.  In baseball, there is only one position that can see the field and this is the catcher.  That’s why catchers are said to be good management material in general. Another way to say this is they have a wider view of the constraint set.  However, although the catcher can see the field and understand the constraint set in front of him, there is one variable he cannot control.  And this is, of course, the umpire.  The ump.

The ump calls the balls and strikes and the ump is a court of no appeal.  After all, he has the power to toss you from the ballgame altogether.  The only way to deal with this particular variable is to hone the craft of a catcher.  The first piece of craft is the act of framing a pitch.  Here the catcher subtly adjusts his glove in order to obstruct the ump’s view of the location of the pitch.  It is easy for the catcher to whip his glove on a ball in the dirt back to the strike zone, but the ump will spot that in a second.  So a catcher, if he wants to be any good, has to learn a little guile.

This guile can taken pretty far; and there are other ways to work an ump as well.  The classic, “ah come on ump,” is OK, but it’s the same as whipping the bill out of the dirt really.  A more effective trick is chatting the ump up.  Becoming his friend and letting him think you are actually on his side.  This is effective to a point as well, and extends the craft.   However here is where we need to remember our Dylan.  From “Just Like the Tom Thumb Blues,” we learn the following:

I started out on burgundy, but soon hit the harder stuff/ everybody said they’d stand behind me, when the game got rough/ but the joke was on me, there was nobody even there to bluff/ I’m going back to New York City, I do believe I’ve had enough.

Dylan is saying that though the use of guile helps you work the ump, you can start to mistake guile for the deeper craft.  You start to fall into your own trick.  You start to think you are the ump.  And these are deeper waters indeed.  In fact, this is the most dangerous game.  And in this zone, we need a secret weapon.

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