Monday, November 10, 2008

Complicated CUC problems

I've been thinking about Richard Brautigan for a few days.

It started, like many of my musings these days, with the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation. Oops, I thought, maybe Friday afternoon isn't a good time to pay my bills.

Two laps around the parking lot should have warned me. Maybe they're all in Joeten shopping, thought I. Oh. No. The line snaked in a backwards 'S' around the ropes with its twitching tail almost at the door. They probably just cashed their paychecks. What's my excuse?

Years of training kicked in. I looked for acquaintances to kill some time chatting. No luck. I carefully calibrated the personal space of the attractive girl in front of me. That didn't seem to be a problem with the Chinese guy crowding behind. Line etiquette; that cultural thing.

It got more complicated when we reached the 'S'; total strangers forced to stand face-to-face. We all studied each other, not too closely and definitely not too long. I memorized every sign in the room, studied the ceiling, studied the floor. Studied the video camera, but not too closely and not too long. What's that all about? Get a grip, I told myself, they're not going to drag you out of the line for looking.

A small boy sat on the floor and kicked a wooden partition out of boredom. I chuckled, for the benefit of the embarrassed mother and because I was a little jealous of him.

Finally, a familiar face. Okay, we'd just played against each other a few times in a pool league. Not important, today we were good buddies, and the line trudged forward.

Another boy got caught looking at me too long. I smiled at him. He'll learn.

Really, somehow I knew it was coming. When only one person was in front of me a cashier frowned. She studied her paperwork, went into the supervisor's office and started querying the other cashiers. I thought of Brautigan.

"It always happens when you're next in line, doesn't it?" I asked the girl in front of me. She smiled and answered. We were honorary acquaintances after an hour in line.

The next cashier patiently waited for her customer as someone walked up and gave her a few bills. She must have texted a friend because she was short of cash. I'm guessing, mind you, because one sign said to respect other customers' privacy. The first messenger didn't bring enough. Another friend came, and another after five minutes. (Maybe I'm exaggerating) I thought of the Sistine Chapel.

The third cashier had her own worries. I wasn't watching closely-- privacy, you know-- but there seemed to be some haggling involved, with the customer periodically reaching into various pockets.

I'd recreated most of Complicated Banking Problems, a Brautigan short story, by the time I sailed through my turn at the counter. He was back in my head after all of these years.

That was the only story I could remember, but an amazing thing happened. I Googled his stories but didn't even have to open most links. The title would bring them back, or a teaser like "When I got there they were burying the lion in the back yard again. As usual, it was a hastily dug grave..."

I liked him a lot at a certain time, though I took some flak because he wasn't a Serious Writer. I can live with that; it was his surrealist sensibility I was looking for.

And I found someone reading the story:

1 comment:

Saipan Writer said...

"I thought of the Sistine Chapel."

I laughed out loud when I got to this part of your post. Even if it is recycled Brautigan, it's still oh-so-perfect!

Charming post!