From Op Oloop.
The clock struck ten.
He'd taken great care writing the invitations. Now all he had to do was address the last envelope, to his closest friend, Piet Van Saal. But he couldn't. He felt as though two leaden talons had alighted on his shoulders, determined to wrench him from his task.
He sat there for quite some time, his head lolling against the headrest of his swivel chair. Laxity suited him. Then, slowly, demurely, he opened his eyes. And once again leaned toward the desk, trying to fool fate. He looked left and right, furtively--like a common criminal--and took up his pen. But he could get no further than the S of Senor. A fine, elegant capital S, like a meat hook. And on it he hung what remained of his body (fatigue) and soul (exasperation).
Thus, Op Oloop was convinced yet again that it was simply impossible for him to act contrary to his nature. "SUNDAY: WRITING, BETWEEN 7:00 AND 10:00 A.M." That was the rule. When life is as ordered as a mathematical equation, you can't just skip a digit whenever you feel like it. Op Oloop was entirely incapable of any impromptu act that might violate the pre-established norms of his routine, even such a trivial, graphical act as addressing an envelope he'd already begun while still within the allotted time.
"Oh well. I'll see him in person," he consoled himself. Op Oloop was method personified--an accomplished executioner of spontaneity: method made word; all his hopes, desires, feelings channeled into the vessel of method. He was method incarnate: undisturbed by even the tiniest rogue impulse, the littlest leap or bound--be it spiritual or carnal. How could he break that rhythm? How could he alter that flow?
"It's no use. I'll never break free. Force of habit has forced my hand. All I ever wanted was to mold myself from something small and insignificant into something great, like a little Renaissance jewel, patiently chiseled, sparkling with intuition, shimmering with wisdom. Alas, idiotically, I chose to enroll myself in the bitter school of constraint. I've turned my psyche into a stopwatch of perfect and ineluctable exactitude--complete with alarm and glow-in-the-dark numerals ... I hear and see my failure at all times, and with absolute accuracy. And I suffer, unable to defeat my undignified genius, strangling everything from the tiniest whims to the most overwhelming urges. And yet ... I find that a new insurrection, timid yesterday, implacable today, is trying to create chaos in the already crowded house of my mind. To no avail. Constraint has long since castrated my need to be something in the eyes of the world. Instead I've only managed to be some thing."
He wasn't actually speaking. His voice was directed inwards, towards a daimon curled up in his mind.
Just then his manservant walked in.
"Sir. Allow me to remind you that today, Sunday, at ten-thirty, you are scheduled to have your Turkish bath. You have only a few minutes if you still want to arrive on time. Shall I call for the car?"
"Unbelievable! I've told you before, I never forget anything: the car has already been called for. Now, please see that you deliver this correspondence to the corresponding addresses. Today."
The mechanical nod of his manservant's close-cropped head caused his chin to tap his chest. Then he bowed to hand Op Oloop hat, cane, and gloves.
Some people measure out their lives in streetcar transfers, or overdue notices from the bank, or calendars hanging on the walls of the offices where they illicitly refill their fountain pens. Op Oloop was not one of those. His entire house was a living ledger, a meticulous archive, a veritable emporium of mementos. Each wall displayed a profusion of synoptic tables, statistical maps, and polychromatic diagrams. Each piece of furniture was a warehouse of data, of old reports, of studies and experiences. Each drawer, a file folder safeguarding the reliability of Op Oloop's memory. Even his pockets held remnants of his profound lucubration.
Thus, being the only begotten son of method and resolve, Op Oloop was the most perfect of human machines, the most notable object of self-discipline that Buenos Aires had ever seen. When everything in life from the important universal phenomena to one's own trivial, individual failures has been recorded and annotated since puberty, it's fair to say that one's systems of classification will have been honed, condensed to their most perfect quintessence. Or else deified into a great, overarching, methodological hierarchy. Method's very greatness, of course, is revealed in its sovereignty over the trivial!
He left the room.
The picture of savoir faire and distinction.
Standing in front of the mirror in the foyer, he put the finishing touches to his toilet, readjusting the angle of his hat for maximum jauntiness and confirming the pulchritude of his lapels. Two accents offset the shade of brown he wore: his matte-white face and his tobacco-colored eyes. Three sharp points provided the requisite contrast to the overall effect: the clairvoyant sparkle of his pupils, and the pearl stud twinkling like a star in his crimson tie.
From this vantage point, he contemplated his office. A breeze filtered in through the wide pointed arch of the open balcony. A calm morning. Curious, festive sun. His eyes fixed on the solid order of his bookshelves, the columns of bound folders, the straight plinths of adding machines and hole-punchers, standing out against the sedate gray walls, curtains, and carpets. The whole of it gave him a feeling of assurance, of self-possession, of fitting squarely into the balance of the world. He nodded. Everything was in order. The inscrutability of his labors could never have withstood the incursion into his sanctum of any fashionable decor, feeble and vapid, demanding orthopedic armchairs on which the indolent prefer to perch, facing luxurious bookbindings (containing no text), Brandt wrought-iron fixtures (vain, superfluous), and Lalique glass bowls (brimming over with thorns).
Once in the car, these ideas took off in search of higher ground. And before he knew it, Op Oloop began to sermonize to himself:
"Alas, the great princes, heirs, and priests of today--jaded by court favors, idleness, and easy women--have never truly worked, never toiled to the point of exhaustion, have never truly made a noble effort! They know nothing of the heroic, nothing of violence or the harshness of life--they live lives of sloth, privilege, wealth, and pride, receiving these gifts both from above (from God! silver spoons and embossed plates!) and from below (servants wiggling their coccyges! lackeys with bulging muscles! girls offering up fleshy caresses, cottony sweetnesses, and silken Christmases!)."
People squandered their lives tracing useless patterns in the air, on the ground, in the water, and onto objects: trails, furrows, wakes, text. Freeloaders blowing smoke rings, choreographing dance steps, contorting their bodies to play sports, all tilled him with the greatest indifference. If instead of producing these inconclusive patterns they diligently counted the number of umbrellas lost in cafes, the number of cases of bigamy and appendicitis, the number of commas obstructing the clarity of local laws, then at least they would have proven themselves of some use, helping to establish indices of normative probability in the causal links between these disparate elements. Alas, not everyone is born with a calling, infused with a divine fervor. Some people know no duty outside of tracing their pathetic patterns in nothingness. Op Oloop was not one of those. Wearing a raincoat, he knew exactly the number of umbrellas lost; being single, he know every line of the national jurisprudence with respect to bigamy; enjoying good health, he could quote at length the ancient and modern theories with regard to appendicitis; and abhorring lawyers, he could tally the precise number of commas speculated over in this or that tangle of Latin and hermeneutics.
The car pulled up in front of the bathhouse.
Yes, incredible as it may seem, the lonely lives of some of the most evolved specimens of our species have always swung on the well-oiled hinges of routine. Poor Kant's imperatives never let him get past the beer halls of his own hometown; poor Pasteur's microbes forced him to steep in a pure and pasteurized milk of solitude; poor Edison's inventions kept him wired all day and night, insomniac and deaf. As the spirit expands, so the flesh is subjected to includible cliches. Imagination, fornication, and inebriation become mathematical habits--all the hours of the day become irrevocably allocated to pleasures, functions, familiar events.. .become as ingrained as duty itself. Whenever the mind tries to ascend into realms of new and sublime abstraction, matter persists and confines it in the cellar of habit.
At precisely 10:40 in the morning, Op Oloop was just emerging from a changing booth and heading for the bathing establishment's sudatorium, a small percale sheet covering his sex.
Ever-smiling, ever-flexible--thinking of their tips--the employees bowed as he passed: the attendants, like xylographers, worked their clients' woods thinking only of the final cut. Op Oloop appreciated them--truly, he did. The moment he crossed the threshold, his thoughts in the apodyterium focused on their concerns. And he sought to enlighten them.
"Some day, when I build a decent house, like Pliny the Younger in Laurentum, I'll construct the most perfect facilities. And then I'll take one of you as my assistant: I'll have a masseur from the Maison de Bain on Rue Cadet in Paris, a parfumier from the hammam I frequented in Istanbul on that boulevard in the Pera district, and the Yankee engineer who built the great bathhouse in Valparaiso. Much as modern mansions boast an arsenal of bottles behind their bars with which to intoxicate their guests, I hope instead to have heavenly, hot thermal baths--a miniature Caracalla--for the heartfelt happiness of my friends."
"And, of course, your girlfriends ..."
"Never! Clearly you've never seen that Ingres painting...There's nothing more repulsive than a group of academically obese women melting in the tepidarium. Forget all the perfume and music floating in the air--no exorcism in the world could free us of the ill humors of women! They're a pain in the nose--that's their greatest shortcoming."
He'd reached the first room. His robust physique hadn't diminished in the least in the heat. No. His five-foot eleven-inch frame bore his pre-dehydrated one hundred and ninety pounds perfectly. Yes, Op Oloop loved Turkish-Roman baths for several reasons. To begin with, because after nearly two decades living outside of Finland, he'd finally completed his process of Argentinification. Secondly, because baths like the ones he'd grown up with--such as those at Helsingfors--were a priori doomed to fail in Buenos Aires. Thirdly, therefore, because these local baths awoke within him a long-vanished feeling of nationalism, incompatible with his usual hatreds; here, in these Argentinean Turkish-Roman baths, he found he was able to love his homeland, and in a much different way than the Finnish masses: with a sort of meaty patriotism, achieved synthetically after decanting his great universal love. But the most important reason might have borne some relation to his flat feet and plantar corns. To the remarkable physical aberration that were his flat feet and plantar corns!
"Have you ever reflected," he often asked, "on the network, the web, the pattern that your feet weave and tangle in their diurnal maneuvers, over the long canvas of the years of your life? Well, of course not. Normal people are so unaware of their own normality."
But Op Oloop often pondered said theme. When one suffers from a deformation such as his, the brain naturally rocks back on its heels. All roads seem to lead to a steep precipice. And one builds up stores of tears and prescriptions--both entirely useless.
The Statistician knew perfectly well, for instance, that pains in the feet could be caused by an infection of the dental alveoli, or of the tonsils. So, just in case, after having removed the latter, he replaced most of his teeth with dentures. Likewise, he knew that inadequate footwear led to bad posture and that the resulting foot deformations could lead to a whole host of maladies, including: poor circulation, indigestion, anemia, back pain, rheumatism, renal dysfunction, insomnia, and weak legs. And so, again, likewise just-in-physiotherapeutical-case, he spent most days at home, barefoot. Like certain democracies, his problem was constitutional in nature. And he saw it transcribed onto a collection of plantar molds that a specialist in podiatric deformities had made under the pretext of lumbering Op Oloop with a whole series of useless apparatuses.
"Orthopedy," he consoled himself, rubbing his feet in the 48[degrees]C heat, "is an old dodge unworthy of our internal perfection. What difference does being paralyzed make if the brain cells corresponding to our absent feelings aren't active anyway? Lazarus was perfectly happy when he was stock-still and silent, but does anyone know how things turned out for him post-miracle? And orthopedic thaumaturgy would certainly count as a miracle. What matters is avoiding spiritual cripple-dom, which mildews the entire psychology of one's life into resignation. Desires are made lame--designs, handicapped . . . No matter what canes and crutches hope and the wise men of the world might extend to you, all your decisions become abridged before coming to fruition. And the vital problem remains unresolved throughout our lives."
The profuse perspiration provoked by the first room of the bathhouse triggered a languorous, abulic sensuality that tended to put most novices under. Op Oloop placed a cold, damp cloth on the nape of his neck and lowered his eyelids, like two rattan blinds, in repose. In doing so, he hoped to stave off the evidence that his feet had spliced the prime of his life into a premature decrepitude. Because, he thought, culture ages individuals. It reins in juvenile exuberance, compresses adulthood, and compels one to live by its own strict principles. No one is more a slave--which is precisely what culture turns us all into--than he who worships freedom. Thus, Op Oloop's sensual sensibilities, sick at their roots--in his physical form--resented his intellectualism, since everything is, after all, related ... and it all ends at the brain. Unless, that is, you're some kind of brute--a soccer player or marathoner--whose feet are in demand precisely because of their terrible vigor ...
By the time he reopened his eyes, this latest outburst of his had run its course. But he rose resolutely, nonetheless. He wanted to assert the glories of exudation in the 65[degrees]C caldarium. What a bitter failure! His movements were awkward and halting. Sweat poured off him--he looked a small-town fireman's leaky hose, or a weak old man, riddled with woes.
For an athlete or stevedore, thirty-nine isn't a difficult age: prodigies, both, in mercenary, dispassionate professions. But for a yogi who's remained passive, saving up a lifetime of psychic energy, or else a phlegmatic gentleman trying at all times to economize on any potentially futile gestures, it can be quite a lugubrious time. As in Op Oloop's case. As far as he was concerned, everyone who tries to economize--whether internally (that is, emotionally) or externally (that is, monetarily)--lives inundated by ghosts. While he knew from his own experience that spending one's time analyzing the sentiments of others tends to eclipse one's own feelings of foreboding, this same property allows one's skepticism to mature to the point that--rather than simply tempting one away from the path of righteousness--it begins to populate the inner peace one had been seeking ... with specters.
He was right not to enter the laconicum, the petite, maximum-temperature enclosure. Three emaciated jockeys were within, rubbing themselves down exhaustedly. Their faces, wasted away to begin with, wore bitter, sneering expressions. Perhaps they were thinking of all the little friends who had wheedled hot racing tips out of them and were now sitting pretty in the city's bars, spilling the hows and wheres at tables laden with aperitifs and hors d'oeuvres. Perhaps they were dreaming of mayonnaise and noodles, the fattening foods and the fragrances that tend to fill family homes on a typical Sunday. And obsessed by the lurid contrast between their lives and these dreams, they went on rubbing themselves down, exhaustedly, in order to keep themselves at the starting gate, at the proper weight, atop the sinews of a thoroughbred, themselves just one more long sinew, beginning at the spur and ending with the whip.
Op Oloop shot furious, sidelong glances at them all. When ones head sits a little more than five feet eleven inches off the ground, and that distance is filled by a sturdy architectural mass, then the procedure of observing these kinds of fellow--bony, aristiform, their skin sallow and saggy--is necessarily carried out with the dogmatic superiority felt by a MAN confronted by three sacks of kindling.
Besides, he detested betting, detested turfmen. When one has "systematically" gone broke in every casino in the world by following supposedly infallible methods for winning; when one has invested thousands of insomniacal nights obeying Napoleon's postulate, "Z-e calcul vaincra lejeu"; when one has subscribed to La Revue de Monte Carlo for fifteen years in order to assess the probabilities of risk from the eternal verities of the roulette wheel; when one has waded through the "Six Hundred Fifty-four Habits of the Perfect Gambler" in order to compare the success of Marigny s system (irrefutably logical) to the predictions of "Madame Cassandre, Voyante" (random and improvable); when one has placed bets following the theories of Theo d'Alost, d'Alembert, Gaston Vessillier, Professor Alyett, and Ching-Ling-Wu, and lost one's time, money, and patience on each and every occasion, be it in differential games of chance, equilibrium, intermittent progressions, etc ... .one reaches the irrefragable conclusion that, in the end, chance is something that's rather hard to grasp, like an eel slipping through a child's fingers.
Just at that moment, a fellow so obese he'd need a whole harem around him to get a hug, pushed past Op Oloop with the protruding prow of his paunch.
"Please, sir! Do watch where you're going!"
Grunting was the only reply. Strange, ventriloquial grunting. Almost flatus vocis.
Op Oloop suddenly forgot his tirade against jockeys and gamblers and redirected his vitriol onto this big brazen bather:
"What on earth does this fellow think? Does he think? No! Individuals like this suffer from a sort of animalistic regression. They're only capable of 'thinking' about whatever it is they happen to desire. The more they stuff down, the more they gobble up, the more their stores of fat act as levees, holding back real ideas. To the point that their actually conceiving of anything of substance borders on the impossible. The ideas just seize up in their corporeal prison! And the few that do break free, after daring and no doubt hair-raising escapes, meet their demise when they make it to the mouth--where they're strangled by such curious sounds ... It's rather difficult to make head or tail of these people. Their skinny legs and disproportionately diminutive derrieres speak to the enormous pains they take, trying to assimilate. But their paunches grow and grow, regardless of how much they fast--because flab is born of a shortage of ideas, growing in inverse proportion to cogitation. It brings forth a flaccid rotundity as soon as the mouth stops articulating thoughts in favor of gobbling meats and sweets. When one reaches that stage, the cerebral lobes abandon the skull and sink down into the buttocks ..."
Hypothesizing thus, Op Oloop returned to the tepidarium in order to shower and then get soaped up. He ambled sadly, with a low-flying tristesse that hovered around his feet--that he trudged through like a man ankle-deep in sand, or a man scaring toads in a ditch.
He'd never before made this journey wearing such a profound expression of bitterness. His mind was still boiling over with new diatribes against the jockeys and the fatso. But the instant the shower's cool streams hit him, a new, somewhat tepid smile welled up, more in his eyes than on his lips. He'd just managed to convince himself that, yet again, he'd successfully fought off--silent Quixote of equilibrium that he was--the forces of evil, on this occasion embodied by the emaciation of some and the corpulence of others. Then, along with the showers cold water, he too released a spray--a spray of pure thoughts regarding his health and coenesthesia. And then he rang the bell.
An attendant, on tiptoe, wrapped him in two towels, tied as robe and turban.
"Shall I call the masseur?" he inquired.
"No. I'll take a swim first. Followed by a Scottish shower, salt scrub, pedicure, and a sherry cream cocktail made with three egg yolks."
With that, stepping lightly and gingerly, and before even reaching the edge of the pool, he dove naked into the tourmaline salt water.
Op Oloop knew that nudity was strictly forbidden. But being a man respectful of all prohibitions, he had previously alerted the attendant to his intentions, offering a hefty tip in exchange for his turning a blind eye to this infraction, which would allow Op Oloop's own naturophysiocratic naivete the pleasure of swimming nude and guilt-free.
"Ah, to swim! To swim! What a fine, graceful kind of joy, to dive into the water from atop a quivering board! A man in the water seems as though he's flying in the sky. The economy of one's strokes is borne out by the rhythm of the waves. And in the depths--utter delight. One's body surrenders, transported in a mystical union. To swim! To swim!"
Agile, golden, strong, his body forged its way towards the frigi-darium, the final room in the bathhouse. Humming. Andante. Allegro vivace. Presto. ... The magnificent statue of his flesh withstood the alternating assault of hot and cold blasts from the Scottish shower; he delighted in the nickel tub, the cunning of a thousand tiny jets penetrating his pores; and finally, swathed and draped in towels and reclining in a chaise longue, he let his blood and his fantasies run free with delicious nonchalance.
He'd been reposing thus for ten minutes.
"Your cocktail, Sir..."
"Your pedicure, Sir ..."
The physical and psychic relaxation was so utter and perfect that opening his eyes at the intrusion of the two voices represented quite an unpleasant effort. But there was nothing to be done. He extended his arm to accept the golden glass from one and stretched out the physical aberrations that were his flat feet and plantar corns to the other.
"Take as many precautions against happiness as against the plague," he thought to himself. "Getting carried away causes bloating, and happiness quickly turns to misfortune. If only people were cautious and employed a bit of strategy--savoring the stuff in tiny sips, in little swallows, we wouldn't have such an abundance of unhappy idiots about."
And with that he downed his sherry cream cocktail in one gulp, caressing the liquid with his tongue.
All at once, his thoughts sunk then into an almost atmospheric depression.
A sharp, hostile feeling, the result of a brusque maneuver on the part of his pedicurist, had cut short his flight of fancy. His sense of self had been impregnated by one of anxiety. He felt the futile flutterings of his soul as it tried in vain to recapture its former gaiety. And then, apathetically, he plunged down, down, down--that is, inside himself--until he butted up against the soulless soles of his feet.
Op Oloop said nothing. He had trained his sentiments so well that, in emergencies such as this, the gravest of admonishments and the harshest of reprimands--if well delivered--could be condensed into a single grimace of displeasure.
"Please, sir, a tad gentler. I'm well aware that my plantar corns are many and rough. That they resemble rubber-soled shoes. Yes, to a T. But I beg you not to be intimidated, not to rush. You have precisely half an hour in which to perform your task."
"Sorry, sir ... I won't rush ... your feet will feel fine when I'm finished. What's more, I'm going to give you a home remedy that'll work wonders. Three grams of collodion, three and a half of salicylic acid. Soak your feet every night ..."
"Mind your own business. I have not got a single night to spare."
His words, weighty with solemnity, sank the pedicurist in his place, and he bent back over his work as though he'd been shot in the back of the head.
An equally weighty silence engulfed them both.
Op Oloop's riposte no doubt upset him more than it had its target. His was an anima symphonialis, and any sharp remark was enough to shatter the intimate rhythms of his decorum, to destroy the great harmony of his methodology. But something even more upsetting lay ahead.
Sometimes impatience boils over in even the most phlegmatic of creatures. Op Oloop suffered from this fundamental weakness. It was surfacing. He couldn't bear having let slip, and spontaneously, a belief he ought to have guillotined with his two lips the moment it strayed into his mouth. And now he burst out again, this time to and for himself:
"I have not got a single night to spare!" "I HAVE NOT GOT A SINGLE NIGHT TO SPARE!" "I HAVE NOT GOT A SINGLE NIGHT TO SPARE!"
Indeed, he now felt hounded from within by a ferocious, uncon-tainable compulsion. The retort he'd issued so naturally, a dictate from his subconscious, had now been rekindled and multiplied in every corner of his mind. It bounced off the walls of his soul, shattering into yelps and titters. It wove itself into the boulevards of his nerves, echoed, spelled out in sonorous, synesthetic, Neolux script. Strident and sparkling, it bubbled over in a veritable pandemonium:
"ERAPS OT THGIN ELGNIS A TOG TON EVAH I!" "I SIN HAVE GLE NOT NIGHT GOT TO A SPARE!" "ERAPS A OT TOG THGIN TON ELG EVAH NIS I!"
There was a moment when he believed chaos had entirely conquered his mind. The words tumbled about capriciously like a troupe of acrobats at a dress rehearsal. Never in his life had he endured such a sickening sensation. Accustomed as he was to an orderly calm--indeed, verging on the spiritual tranquility often ascribed to your garden-variety beggar--he could abide neither life's grand mals nor their accompanying din.
A lucid interval brought on by the sound of the jockeys' high-pitched voices nearby briefly armed Op Oloop with just enough good sense to try and free his mind of this chaos. All in vain. His entire self was being subjected to a kind of insurrection, and it rolled in a maelstrom of anxieties while an ill wind blew through his heart.
Thus--he'd been left with no other choice!--Op Oloop took up the age-old position of his ancestors, the stance of those who'd come before him, when they came upon hard times. The stance, that is, of Soren Oloop, the most illustrious of the Oloops, in that Van Ostade painting. The stance of defense, of buttressing oneself! The stance that closes off all points of entry and affirms the supremacy of silence! He straightened up slightly in his chaise longue. Thrust his left elbow down onto the armrest. Wedged his cupped hand under the tip of his chin. Stretched his index finger the length of his nose, so as to be pointing at his baleful eyes. Barred, with the triple lock of his remaining fingers, the embrasure of his mouth. And placed his thumb beneath his jaw as a final indication of his new disposition.
He kept this up for a quarter of an hour. Immobile.
Anyone who's managed to tame their passions, urges, and desires knows that a peremptory tone can subdue any impulse: once the peak of rebellion is past, insurgency will always obey the command to surrender arms, to allow discipline to be reestablished. This was a phenomenon well known to Op Oloop. On many occasions, the rigors of his method had led to coarse pronouncements of his entelechy, ideas, desires; but, each time, the pull of familiar comforts, and his familiar tranquility--ruled, admittedly, by an excessive implacability--finally rendered them docile before returning them, chastised, to his mental barracks.
He was still shaking, upset. All his hastily repressed protestations could be seen in the twitching of his eyes. This particular rebellion had been profound. It was a rebellion of instinct itself, with the most intrepid representatives of his consciousness--intellect and will--standing guard as meneurs, condottieri, patrones.
The pedicurist had finished. Holding Op Oloop's talons in the palms of his hands, he admired his work, highly pleased, satisfied with these objets d' art. When one achieves this sort of ecstasy in so lowly an occupation, this ecstasy tends to denote a certain mystical quality, even an outright psychopathology. But the pedicurist was blissfully unaware of this--he sat, absorbed, Op Oloop's feet in the palms of his hands like two cracked porcelain statuettes.
The cry Op Oloop let out on seeing this was imprecise in nature, but entirely dismantled the buttressed ancestral stance he'd assumed. Seeing this adoration of his semi-handicapped feet, the intellectual and psychological regiments that had been struggling to beat back the guerrillas of his unease collapsed entirely.
"What aberration! Absurd! Get this fetishist away from me!"
And he ran, nude, towel in hand, toward the changing booths in the apodyterium.
Again, that obese fellow blocked his way, his colossal jelly-belly quivering like some jury-rigged shock absorber.
"Please, sir, do watch where you're going!"
This time the elephant stopped. The grunts he'd emitted on their previous encounter were now clarified, expressed as completely comprehensible commentary:
"Look here, sir. This is the second time you've said that to me, but I'm not the one who's running around crashing into people. If you're not crazy already, you must be most of the way there ..."
Op Oloop froze. His lips curled into a blasphemous sneer. His eyes, intent on rebutting this accusation, squinted and nearly crossed. His comeback, however, was somewhat less than spectacular. The abuse his contorted rictus had intended to hurl at the fat man dissolved into panic-stricken jibbering:
"Crazy? Crazy? Crazy...'Crazy.' Crazy! Crazy. Crazy! Crazy? 'Crazy!' Crazy...Crazy? Crazy!?"
The word went through every possible nuance of expression. It traversed the inverse staircase of his psyche, up and down, adding entirely unprecedented steps to the route. And suddenly recovering his vanished fury, he escorted it from the point of its initial feverish intensity until finally it overflowed once more in stentorian desperation:
"Crazy? Crazy? Crazy...'Crazy.' Crazy! Crazy. Crazy! Crazy? 'Crazy!' Crazy ... Crazy? Crazy!?"
This ballyhoo was short-lived. The other bathers' calm downs acted as a balm, blunting his obsession, helping him attribute the insanity in question to others. An admirable procedure! Out of inertia, however, the word had now become an ineradicable concept in his consciousness, and continued to lurch around his skull.
He tried to calm down. A look of serenity returned to his wild eyes as a towel was returned to his heretofore-exposed member. And entering his changing booth, Op Oloop said, "Thank you, boys. No call for alarm. It's nothing.. .It's all over now. What a disgraceful elephant! Please excuse me. My head is a pocket-sized edition of hell!"
Omne individuum ineffabilel That old adage from his school days finally applied to him. Op Oloop, method and order personified, perfect picture of sophrosyne--as he used to characterize himself privately, the better to accentuate the apparent instability of others--had cracked, and over nothing, crashing from the peak where his personality sloped down into the pit of dementia.
As he was dressing, his brain engaged in its usual unconquerable inclination to cerebrate. Op Oloop looked on the mishaps of the morning as minor traffic accidents in the proper flow of his ideas. And noting the external barricades imposed upon this flow by the occurrences in the bathhouse--as well as his resulting internal persecution by incomprehensible forces--he tried coquettishly to hide this new flaw in his metaphysical mirror.
Nothing but a fallacy! You can have a supreme command of reason, understanding, morality: all that which man has achieved or inherited through contact with other men; but your biology, the exclusively biological, cannot be controlled mathematically. Yes, it's quite absurd, this determination to conquer oneself every single day, to be wholly worthy in one's wishes and wants! This ever-so-distinguished desire to disdain the scruples and edicts issued by the flesh and its passions! This unhealthy hierarchical desire to be an emperor of discipline, never bending to whim or fancy!
During the aforementioned emergency, Op Oloop should have taken psychoanalytic inventory, insightfully and solemnly: that is, methodically. Sadly, however, method is of no use when one is dealing with the stratagems of chance. The man of method may channel all his spiritual currents towards productive ends, he may be relentless in his suppression of predilection and propensity, but when accident upsets the flow of his life, the man of method finds himself drowning in a sea of tedium, hatred, and rage. Op Oloop, strong swimmer that he was, felt the profound sadness of his situation--the premature exhaustion of a shipwrecked seaman with no shore in sight.
Achieving sovereignty over one's external actions and the internal psychic processes that allow them to occur is of little use if--the moment a risky situation arises--every effort aimed at assuring control is thwarted by some quirk of natural instinct.
Indeed, as he well knew, every scrap of sequential thought--acting to abolish that cardinal sin, error, as well as emulation and syllogism--and every drop of logical comportment--meant to tame base matter, to subjugate the flesh and restrain the blood--lay prostrate, enfeebled, before the image--the mere image!--of a woman.
Translated by Lisa Dillman
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|Title Annotation:||JUAN FILLOY|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2009|
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