The Things That Matter

Robert Frank, “Elevator-Miami Beach”

The problem with chopping yourself up, really, isn’t that you lose an arm down the grate in the parking lot, or that your pontomesencephaloteg mental complex somehow warps itself into the living embodiment of the monsters who would skulk out of the attic at night if your older brother weren’t there to fend them off with a sledgehammer. (He always claimed the sledgehammer was a guaranteed creature-killer, but now he sleeps in his New York apartment with a knife under his pillow, and you don’t understand how his arm hasn’t fallen off in some Herculean battle with a shadow.) The problem with chopping yourself up, really, happens when you can’t keep the email addresses straight, when one forwards into another and you can’t separate your official self (the self that emails your parents and your bosses and your sister’s husband’s best friend to thank him for the wedding-gift cutlery) from the erotica writer who has recently begun refusing to get out of bed. There are 21 minimized Internet windows and not one of them is porn. You moved everything off the desktop screen, gravitized it all into a black hole, but the menu bar at the top of the screen was still this unbearable beam of white until you found out how to get rid of that, too. But the real problem is made up mostly of the missing that tiptoes up behind you at three in the morning after the elevator doors close and whispers how you’re not good enough for anything or anyone or yourself and why do you even bother. You stare at it, and you wave all your banners of success, all your pins and laurels, trumpeting how you’ve been so great, how you are so great, how you are so capable of future greatness–see? See? But it doesn’t see, and you’re still staring at it, and that’s all it takes. The missing doesn’t have to say anything back at all because you’re still staring at it and it’s just you and it and the elevator. Where’s the sledgehammer? Where’s the porn? The fake problem is the purple jellybeans, especially at 3:17 in the morning, especially when you can’t sleep, and when you find a purple in your hand instead of a citrus flavor, it wouldn’t make any sense to drop it back in the bag and reach for a yellow, because you’d just get the purple again later. Instead, you wedge it between the cushions of the couch, or flick it across the room where it rolls into the grate under the radiator, because where else would you put the grape jellybeans while you’ve got one hand toying with the tip of your cock and your left big toe jabbing at the television, scanning through no-one’s-awake-to-watch-this programming which is telling you to “get excited about your life!” You look at the overweight man blaring from the screen and want to smash him, but you explode out of yourself instead. You know that sometimes when you are in Paris in the Louvre, and sometimes even when you are not there, elevators stop working. This is the real problem. Sometimes elevators in Paris in the Louvre and sometimes elevators in other places stop working and there’s no way to get them working again and you’re stuck for hours in Paris in the Louvre or in other places because no one can get them working. But you get on the elevator anyway, even though you know that elevators stop working and keep you inside themselves for far too long, which is intolerable alone, or in bad company, which is really the same thing. But you get on the elevator anyway, even though elevators, like 3-a.m. nights, are better in the right company. Elevators, like 3-a.m. nights – just say it outright—are better with sex. You don’t get on the elevator anyway, even though you know that sometimes even in Paris the elevators start working again. You could walk up the three flights, because three flights is well within the comfortable boundaries of vertical movement for an able-bodied human. Ten flights, though, is a bit harder, unless you’re a hot-air balloonist, and even those crazies struggle. You used to sometimes walk up the three flights, but mostly you took the elevator, because you were often in the right company. Now, though, you’ve discovered that the missing lives in the elevator, and it also lives in the tinny-ness of pop songs and House, M.D. repeats, so when you are alone together with it in the evening or at 3 a.m., you patiently explain to it how A) exercise is good for you, and B) you no longer have the patience for songs shorter than 4 minutes, and C) you no longer have the patience to read anything longer than a postcard, so ∴ can it kindly screw itself. You stare at the unfazed missing until you stop staring at it and you end up listening to Wagner overtures (except you only actually listen to Tannhauser, on repeat) and skimming The Road (because it’s written in postcard-like segments), and you think maybe you should look into online dating because your hand is getting tired and might fall off into the grate under the radiator. Instead, you eat Doritos and stain everything orange. It has been known to the Food and Drug Administration that a diet consisting only of non-purple jellybeans and chips is imbalanced and even dangerous, often correlated with and perhaps the cause of melancholy affect, agoraphobia, and fatigue. You’re convinced that this is just propaganda spread by the Fair Treatment for Purples lobbyists, as you continue to flick the purples into the grate beneath the radiator and sometimes into the gap behind the elevator doors. Ten floors is a long time by foot, but even longer by elevator, and sometimes, by the time you’re passing the 3rd or 4th floor, the missing clears its throat behind you and says, “Pardon me, I don’t mean to bother you, but it looks like you might have a problem.” You turn and stare at it and it continues. “It looks like your arm is not very securely attached to your shoulder. When your arm is not well-attached to your shoulder, it’s just common sense that you shouldn’t stand over any grates if you expect to give anyone any chance of stitching it ba-” A flicked purple jellybean explodes its face. The light in the elevators is not Vermeer’s. Or maybe it is, because they’re both heavy and make your eyes hurt trying to lift them, but the elevator-light is bright white fluorescence and Vermeer didn’t have electricity or mercury vapor or purple jellybeans. If you try, you can see some Vermeers at the Louvre in room 71, beside the Ruisdaels. That is, you can see some Vermeers at the Louvre if you’re willing to find the room, willing to deal with the crowds and the cameras, willing to brave either the elevator or the stairs. In other words, you can see some Vermeers if you’re willing, but the Louvre isn’t really worth all your willing anyway, and it only has three things that aren’t there anyway: no head, no smile, no arms. Plus, the elevators aren’t worth half the trouble. The elevators in Paris in the Louvre (and maybe elevators anywhere) aren’t actually worth any of the trouble, especially when there’s all kinds of monsters creeping out of your pontomesencephalotegmental cholinergic system, and especially when you don’t have the energy to smash them or anything to smash them with because it would be uncouth to throw purple jellybeans around the Museum of Museums. It would be uncouth to throw purple jellybeans, or any jellybeans, around the Museum of Museums or any museum, and it would really be much better to instead squeeze all the problems into your falling-off fist and explode them out of yourself. Instead of intercontinental ballistic jellybeans, it would be better to just squeeze all the problems and explode them out of yourself, and then it would be better to eat compote de pomme crepes until it’s all you can do to just to sit outside on the Pompidou P?laza and watch a fire-breather or sledgehammer-swallower or “statue” in the sun, and kindly thank the missing for playing. Missing, thank you for playing. Thank you for playing, missing.

-Miranda Forman, Contributor 

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