Hans didn’t know what to do. That age of his uncertainty had set in. Would he cook soup for the rest of his life, or would he accept a high-paying, high-respect position in the aerospace industry? Life was like that, binary, the perpetual exclusion of the infinite. Why not go into insurance instead? Hans hated insurance. We live in a rich environment, he thought. Too rich, perhaps. Neither more nor less.
Fun or love, Hans thought. Before one could skip the 4:30 train and go out for a drink with a colleague or two, one must call home. “Sorry, dear; I’ll be late; you have something to eat without me.” Santa Clara, Lawrence, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Castro, how predictable, Hans observed from the window of the train.
Hans was afraid of physical damage to his eyes. As he turned around to pull his pants down in the men’s room stall, the coat hook on the back of the door came dangerously, it seemed, close. Why do I think of it if I’m not afraid? he thought. And yet there seemed to be nothing to fear.
Hans didn’t know whether other people had this experience. He had always accepted, as a valid philosophical explanation of human behavior, the fascination with the difficult. But, after working late, he walked in the dark to the train as a cow, as a mollusk, as a lump of dough, and could neither comprehend his difficulty nor keep it firmly in mind.
Little things delighted Hans. Not all little things. Having arisen before the sun to catch the train, he wasn’t pleased by the sunlight on his cheek (it also struck him in the eye) as by noticing that the conductor, half way between Mountain View and Sunnyvale, said “Monty Ville,” and, with a rising intonation on the “next,” “Monty Ville next.” And Hans remembered the conductor on the train to Hoboken who, instead of “Orange,” having passed it too many times, loudly intoned “Boring.”
Hans was amused. We are amused, he thought. Were they amused because they were both being silly? or were they only being happy to be together? Sometimes it was hard to tell. Sometimes Hans wondered, You can’t be serious? And at other times Hans had no doubt.
Hans felt capable of anything, but he was a little drunk and he couldn’t fly. Nor could he change night to day, or water to wine. Self-respect is not granted by communities, nor by wives or by mothers, he thought, and, as he athletically and majestically crawled into bed, he added, it’s a good thing it’s not.
They show movies on the bus, too, Hans observed as he watched the windshield which unfolded a moving panorama, a story about people like you and me, who drive vehicles like you and me, a story filled with tension, humor, and pathos: Freeway.
Hans wasn’t really going to the museum. If you want something enough, Hans considered, then you’ll hurt enough when you don’t get it.
I know not “supposed to be,” Hans thought, when he overheard someone happily say, while passing in a hall, that a certain movie was supposed to be good. Such a one goes to bed with “supposed to be good,” an innocent induction, but wakes up with “supposed to behave,” an imposition. Hans silently objected, and around him glowed a princely aura of self approval.
Hans knew a responsible citizen supports the causes in which he believes, but pleas for time and money from those who supported causes in which Hans believed made Hans feel only guilty, not responsive. What reasons did Hans offer? Could he claim solutions must first be established in the individual before they can be established in society? Yes, and he did, but Hans presumed he had already established the crucial solutions in himself. Could it be said Hans didn’t have the time or money? Yes, but it wasn’t true. Could Hans assert he supported the causes in which he believed in his own ways, in little discussions of opinion with friends and acquaintances, in statements recorded on the walls of toilets, in passive but unswerving defiance? Yes, but these ways were far less effective in promoting the good Hans desired. Maybe Hans declined to support the causes in which he believed because he was not asked to do so in the least offensive manner possible. Hans disliked that they assumed he needed to be persuaded when, in fact, he already agreed. Poor Hans. Hans always meant to support his words with deeds; he always meant to write his congressman; he just never had the address. Rationalization, rationalization—these were reasons but not the real reason. What reason could Hans have, unknown to Hans, that diminished his responsiveness as a citizen? Maybe he unconsciously feared he was doomed to never matter, he would never be heard—even if he screamed. Maybe he felt lost from a tribe he had never known and would suffer no replacement, for nothing he could join would ever replace it.
Hans thought he heard the phone ring, but he was in the shower and his imagination often constructed such ringing from the sound of the water in the pipes. Sometimes he even thought he heard his name called as if by someone coming into the empty house, but from the experience of standing wet and naked behind the bathroom door and calling “Who’s there?” Hans thought this, too, was just his imagination. There, he heard it again. Couldn’t, he imagined, she be calling? Would she want him to run dripping through the kitchen to the phone if it were only the Salvation Army to say their truck would be in the neighborhood on Saturday? No; it had to be she. Hans had been calling her all evening, and she hadn’t been home. “Where have you been?” he imagined asking her, and she: “I’ve been fucking Fred.” If his imagination constructed all this from the sound of the water in the pipes, then Hans was sure the imagination is not, like reason, as he had once supposed, merely a survival function.
Lines at banks bore one not because of their lack of sensory stimulation but because of one’s “gaining ideas,” Hans thought, trying to apply a principle taught by a famous Zen master. Doing something for the sake of something else is to have a gaining idea. Here Hans’s gaining idea was his purpose in visiting the bank; he was not waiting just to wait; he did not want to wait; therefore, he did not obtain the value of waiting. Hans was excruciatingly conscious of waiting, but he was not conscious of why his waiting was necessary and what his waiting meant about his role in the banking industry.
Hans discovered that the light rain that slanted toward him when he moved with the light wind slanted away from him when he stood still. Not only that, but he also realized right then people walking everywhere were perceiving different slants of the rain according to their speeds and directions of movement. Thus the relativity of time and space, he thought, and the independence of perception that justifies individuation. Hans was, however, late for work, walking in the wrong direction, and wet.
“How now blown Jack! How now, quilt!” Hans had been reading Shakespeare and was full of the vitality of language, imbued with the spirit of jousting joviality. But Ever, who had this suddenly thrust upon her when she opened her door, took it amiss.
Hans didn’t know what to do with praise, although by himself he seldom doubted his genius. While Hans’s friend pointed out the correct sequence of imaginings consequent upon each step of Hans’s attempt to do good, suddenly it was as though Hans had died and floated above himself to observe the minute details of the operation. How is it, he thought, you think so, too?
Hans had burnt the toast. But that is, Hans consoled himself, part of the experience.
How can I complain, thought Hans, standing in an aisle of the supermarket with his bread, eggs, milk, and $3.52. Before and behind him and on either side were eggplants from Mexico, oranges from Florida, cheese from France, coffee from Ecuador, tea from China, pineapple from Hawaii. Even if Hans wouldn’t buy canned sea urchin and artichokes out of season, there they were, ready for the money.
Hans couldn’t decide what to order at the Chinese restaurant, or at least he didn’t decide to order what he wanted. But then he wasn’t sure what he wanted. Perhaps some unobtainable combination? Perhaps not Chinese at all, but Tai, or maybe Mexican?
Pool is more a test of character than of Newtonian mechanics, Hans thought as he wavered his stick before the cue ball on the precipice of possibly his final shot. And character is an ability to ignore success and failure, he realized, to place them in a frame of reference that conserves realistic expectations and self-respect. Hans thought this, and he knew this, but if he made this shot he would feel like a hero, and if he missed it, like a fool.
Hans knew that if he wanted he could act like everyone else, but he wasn’t going to insist upon it so he wouldn’t have to prove it. I’m not inflexible, he thought; I merely prefer not to.
Hans couldn’t understand why people wished to pay for and wear T-shirts with beer labels on them. I, for one, am not a can of beer, he thought. But then neither are they, and I doubt they think they are. Obviously, Hans was missing something. Was it because he didn’t watch television? Hans had thought he was right and everyone else ridiculous, but, all of a sudden, Hans’s world had assumed an alienating aspect.
Hans realized he was talking to himself. I’m talking to myself, he said, which frustrated him; he didn’t realize his problem was that bad. I didn’t know it was that bad, he was telling himself. Now he was embarrassed. Is this petty neurosis too strong for consciousness to dispel?
Listening to the radio, Hans tried to sympathize with those whose dogs were announced to have been lost.
Hans had thought one always colludes in one’s suffering, but when a mote, a most puny speck, blew into his eye on his bicycle in a busy intersection, it might have as well have been a beam, for all Hans could do about it and about his neighbor’s automobile rushing towards him.
Hans had finally, after a few disappointments, put his foot down on infatuation. In this he invested his defense. Infatuation, he was convinced, was neither balanced nor stable. As he told this to a friend, she described how wonderful the ascent of infatuation had always been for her. Hans admired his secure, rational approach, but he also admired her daring. As Hans realized his ambivalence, doubts crept upon him. Is this the onset of age? Wouldn’t it be better to be duped and found out than never to be duped again?
Hans collected ducks. He had a rubber duck for the tub, a Donald Duck clock, a duck calendar, two matching duck lamps, paintings of ducks in flight and on the water, a crystal duck, a porcelain duck from Italy, a plastic wind-up duck that walked. Hans even had decoy ducks, although he never wished to deceive a duck. To Hans, ducks were not just birds; they were sacred emissaries from a wild country, a land in which, unlike where Hans lived, instincts reigned to the good of all concerned.
It was just a movie, but Hans couldn’t stand the suspense. Why didn’t he leave? He was not bound to wait as one is bound to wait for an event for which one feels one can’t wait. Nor was it the price of the ticket, although Hans might have come to that. A machine projected on the screen before Hans images of a woman caught in a web of intrigue, and Hans sat in the dark, similarly.
Hans walked through the city, pretending to be a writer of stories. “Man With Dog,” he observed. “An Afternoon in the Parlor.” “My Life in the Trees.” Hans was full of ideas, or rather, he thought, the world was. In his magical awareness of “story,” truth and fiction merged, and he thought for a moment that he had made up this happiness.
Hans admired the flexibility by which, as he believed, he could act upon a just appreciation of common value, rather than upon habit or selfishness. In this way he attempted to promote the common good. Hans had even put these words on his wall to meditate in times of stress. Flexibility—for the common good. But now that his supervisor had yelled at him for his absent-mindedness the third time this week, he stared at the words in bewilderment. Why in the world had he put them there? And what did they really mean?
Cool Hand Luke. Hans had always liked the name. It had for Hans the assurance of less oppressed country in a less oppressed time. Cool Hand Luke. It was enough to pick him up when he was down. After all, Hans was an impressionable young man—a little John Wayne after seeing True Grit, a little Humphrey Bogart after seeing Casa Blanca.
Hans was in love with Patch, who was a cat, but, as love goes, not just any cat. Patch was not solely, as most cats seem, quiet, curious, independent; she was also affectionate, gentle, playful. When she moved, it seemed to Hans, the sleek strength of the large jungle cats and the unhurried luxury of the cats of the queen of Egypt moved with her. Since Hans expected nothing more than this, he was thoroughly satisfied with the relationship.
Hans had a theory that the repressed psyche was perverse. The more repressed, the more perverse, and you couldn’t protect yourself from it. One woman accomplished her avoidances with sneezing fits. One man picked his nose in public. Another man had an excessive fascination with women’s breasts. Breasts were windows to his psyche, and bigger breasts were bigger windows. The consequence was he often made a fool of himself. Hans pondered the implications of this theory. What is the difference between the perverse evidence of psychic repression and the genuine marks of character, or brain damage? Did the theory justify human deviance, or argue for freedom from repression? Was there any evidence to support the assumption that if the psyche were freed from its cage it wouldn’t bite its keeper? Hans scratched his head. Then he sneezed and picked his nose, but that didn’t make him feel any better, or less uncertain.
Sometimes, Hans stopped thinking. He remembered once when he was scraping paint off an old desk to reveal the wood, as the acid ate into the paint, his thoughts lapsed into silence, and a quiet cacaphonic chorus rose up from the vacant church, full of music and singing and talking, as though he were hearing the sounds of several radio stations at once. They say in the mind you retain the impression of everything your senses bring in, that if we were conscious of all this, we would go crazy. Certainly, Hans felt a little crazy, scraping paint off the desk as the noises in his head got louder, but if it were to stop altogether, Hans wouldn’t notice.
Fate, thought Hans, is little more than anything you can’t explain, such as why you get a hole in the left elbow of your sweater, and not in the right, which you probably abuse more. Fate is the law of chance with small numbers.
Foolish love, thought Hans, although any fool could disagree. Hans was falling in love with his teacher, and he knew, if it went any further, that it could hurt. But Hans teased himself with the possibility that he could heroically rescue himself from his predicament by indulging completely in the fantasy and attempting to seduce her. Everyone loves a lover, he considered. Meanwhile, Hans was paying no attention to her lecture on concurrent programming models, which he would need to understand for the workshop. When she opens her mouth to speak, you can see her teeth.