Terebess Asia Online (tao)



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Apparently she saw what she was looking for because suddenly her entire expression turned furious. She slammed the door with all her might.

That SUIT you?' she shouted.

Rigel looked at her without expression and then turned back to the table.

The music stopped. Phasdrus asked with a wink, 'Is that one of the ones who love us?'

'No, she's not even a Canadian,' Rigel said.

Phaedrus asked, 'Who is she?"

Rigel didn't say anything.

'Where's she from?'

'Don't have anything to do with her,' Rigel said.

Suddenly they were hit again by another blast of noise.

TAKE A BREAK! . . .' it blared out.

The colored lights flashed around the room again.

'LET'S GET TOGETHER! . . .

'ME AND YOU!

Capella held up an ale can questioningly to see if anyone wanted more. Phaedrus nodded yes and Capella went off.

'AND DO THE THING . . .

'AND DO THE THING . . .

THAT WE LIKE . . .

TO DO! . . .'

Rigel said something, but Phaedrus couldn't hear him. The tall Canadian with the roving hand and his girlfriend were on the dance floor. He watched them for a while, and as you might know, they were good.

'DO A LITTLE DANCE . . .

'MAKE A LITTLE LOVE . . .

'GET DOWN TONIGHT . . .

'GET DOWN TONIGHT

Sensual. Short driving bursts of sound. A black sermon, up from the ghetto.

He watched Lila, who was now sitting by herself at the bar. Something about her really held his attention. Sex, he guessed.

She had the usual junk cosmetics; blond tinted hair, red nails, nothing original, except that it all came out X-rated. You just sort of felt instantly right away without having to think twice about it what it was she did best. But there was something in her expression that looked almost explosive.

When the music stopped the sexy Canadian and his girl came off from the dance floor. They saw her and almost stopped, then went forward slowly to the bar. Then Phaedrus saw her say something to them and three people around them suddenly stiffened. The man turned around and actually looked scared. He took his arm off the girlfriend and turned to Lila. He must have been the one Lila was looking for. He said something to her and she said something back to him and then he nodded and nodded again, then he and the woman looked at each other and turned to the bar and said nothing to Lila at all. The others around them gradually turned back to talking again.

This ale was getting to Phaedrus. Still his head seemed strangely clear.

He studied Lila some more: her legs were crossed and her skirt was above her knees. Wide hips. Shiny satin blouse. V-necked and tucked tight into a belt. Under it was a bustline that was hard to look away from. It was a defiant kind of vulgarity, a kind of 'Mae West' thing. She looked a little like Mae West. 'C'mon and do something, if you've got the nerve,' she seemed to say.

Some X-rated thoughts passed through his mind. Whatever it is that's aroused by these cues isn't put off by any lack of originality. They were doing all kinds of things to his endocrine system. He'd been alone on the water a long time.

'DO A LITTLE DANCE . . .

'MAKE A LITTLE LOVE . . .

'GET DOWN TONIGHT . . .

'GET DOWN TONIGHT . . .'

'Do you know her?' he shouted at Rigel.

Rigel shook his head. 'Don't have anything to do with her!"

'Where's she from?'

The sewer!' Rigel said.

Rigel gave him a narrow-eyed glance. Rigel sure was giving a lot of advice tonight.

The door opened and more people came in. Capella returned with an armload of cans.

'DO A LITTLE DANCE . . .

'MAKE A LITTLE LOVE . . .'

Capella shouted in Phaedrus' ear, 'NICE, QUIET, REFINED PLACE WE PICKED!!!'

Phaedrus nodded up and down and smiled.

He could see Lila start to talk to one of the other men at the bar and the man seemed to answer familiarly. But the others kept a distance and held their faces stiff as though they were on guard against something.

'DO A LITTLE DANCE . . .

'MAKE A LITTLE LOVE . . .

'GET DOWN TONIGHT . . .

'GET DOWN TONIGHT . . .

'GET DOWN TONIGHT!

'GET DOWN TONIGHT!'

He wondered if he had the nerve to go up and talk to her.

'BABY!!'

He sure as hell had the desire.

He took his time and finished his ale. The relaxation from the alcohol and tension from what was coming just exactly balanced each other in an equilibrium that resembled stone sobriety but was not. He watched her for a long time and she knew that he was watching her and he knew that she knew he was watching her, and he knew that she knew that he knew; in a kind of regression of images that you get when two mirrors face each other and the images go on and on and on in some kind of infinity.

Then he picked up his can and headed toward the spot next to her at the bar.

At the bar-rail the smell of her perfume penetrated through the tobacco and liquor smells.

After a while she turned and stared into him. The face was mask-like from the cosmetics, but a faint smile showed pleasure, as though she had been waiting for this a long time.

She said, 'Where have I seen you before?'

A cliché, he thought, but there was a protocol to this sort of thing. Yeah, 'Where have I seen you before?' He tried to think of the protocol. He was rusty. The protocol was you're supposed to talk about the places you might have seen her in and who you know there, and this is supposed to lead to further subjects in a progression of intimacy, and he was trying to think of some places to talk about when he looked at her, and my God, it was her, the one on the streetcar and she's asking, 'Where have I seen you before?' and that was what started the illumination.

It was stronger toward the center of her face but it didn't come from her face. It was as though her face were on the center of a screen and the light came from behind the screen.

My God, it was really her, after all these years.

'Are you on a boat?' she said.

He said he was.

'Are you with Richard Rigel?'

'You know him?' he asked.

'I know a lot of people,' she said.

The bartender brought the ales he ordered, and he paid for them.

'Are you crewing for Richard?'

'No. My boat's rafted against his. Everything's crowded with all these boats coming down at the same time.'



Where have you been all this time? he wanted to say, but she wouldn't know what he was talking about. Why did you go away in the crowd that time? Were you laughing at me then too? Something about boats. He was supposed to say something about boats.

'We came down the canals together from Oswego,' he said.

'Then why didn't I see you there?' Lila said.

You did see me there before, he thought, but now the illumination had disappeared and her voice wasn't the way he had always thought it would be and so now this was just another stranger like all the others.

She said, 'I saw Richard in Rome and Amsterdam but I didn't see you.'

'I didn't go into town with him. I stayed on my boat.'

'Are you all alone?'

'Yes.'

She looked at him with a kind of question in her eye and then said, 'Invite me to your table.'



Then she said loudly enough so that the others could hear, 'I can't stand the trash at this bar!' But the two she intended it for just looked at each other knowingly and didn't look over at her at all.

Rigel was gone from the table when they got there but Capella gave Lila a big hello and she flashed a big smile on him.

'How are you, Bill?' she said.

Capella said OK.

'Where's Richard?' she asked.

'He went to play pool,' Capella said.

She looked at Phaedrus and said, 'Richard's an old friend.'

There was a pause when he didn't answer this.

Then she asked how far he was going.

Phaedrus said he wasn't sure yet.

Lila said she was going south for the winter.

She asked him where he was from and Phaedrus told her the Midwest. She didn't have much interest in that.

He told her about seeing someone like her before in the Midwest but she said she'd never been there. 'Lots of people look like me,' she said.

After a while Capella left for the bar. Phaedrus was alone with her, facing up to a kind of emptiness. Something needed to be said but he didn't know what to say. He could see it was beginning to bother her too. He wasn't her 'type,' she was beginning to see that, but the ale was helping. It obliterated the differences. Enough ale and everything got reduced to pure biology, where it belonged.

After a while Lila asked him to dance. He said he didn't and so they just sat there. But then the tall Canadian and his girlfriend got on the floor and started to dance again. They were good. They really moved together but when Phaedrus looked over at Lila he saw the same look she had when she first came in.

Her face had that explosive look again. That son-of-a-bitch!" she said. 'He came with me. He invited me on this trip! And now he's with her. God, that just kills me.'

Then the music started again and the disco lights rotated and Lila looked at him in a curious way. It was just a glance, and the disco light moved on but in just that moment he noticed what a beautiful pale blue her eyes were. They didn't seem to match the way she talked or the way the rest of her looked either. Strange. Out of memory. They were like the eyes of some child.

The ale cans were empty and he offered to get some more but she said, 'C'mon, let's dance.'

'I'm no good,' he said.

That doesn't matter,' she said. 'Just do anything you feel like,' she said. 'I'll go along.'

He did, and she did go along and he was surprised. They got into a sort of a whirl thing. Going round and round with the disco lights and they began to get into it more and more.

'You're better than you think,' she said, and it was true: he was.

'GET DOWN TONIGHT . . .

'GET DOWN TONIGHT

He was aware that people were watching them, but all he could see was Lila and the lights whirling around and around.

Around and around. And around and around — red and blue and pink and orange and gold. They were all over the room and they moved across the ceiling and sometimes they shined on her face and sometimes they shined in his eyes - red and pink and gold.

'DO A LITTLE DANCE . . .

'MAKE A LITTLE LOVE . . .

'GET DOWN TONIGHT . . .

'GET DOWN TONIGHT

The hesitation was gone and the ale and the music and the perfume from Lila took over and her pale blue eyes were watching him with that strange look of are you the one? and his mind kept saying to her yes, I am the one and this answer extended slowly into his arms and hands where he held her and then into her body and she could feel it and she began to quiet down from her anger and he began to quiet down from his awkwardness.

'DO A LITTLE DANCE . . .

'MAKE A LITTLE LOVE . . .

'GET DOWN TONIGHT . . .

'GET DOWN TONIGHT . . .'

Once the Canadian dancer came over and wanted to cut in. Lila told him to 'get lost' and he could tell from a change in her body how good she felt about that. After that they both knew that something had been settled, for tonight at least, and beyond that was too far to think about.

He could hardly remember how he got back to this boat with her. What came through in memory was the beat of the music and that pale, blue-eyed questioning look, and then here on the bunk the way she embraced him, clinging with all her might, like a drowning person holding on for dear life.

Do a little dance . . .

Make a little love . . .

Get down tonight . . .

Get down tonight ...

He began to feel sleepy.

It's so strange, he thought. All the tricks and games and lines and promises to get them into bed with you and you work so hard at it and nothing happens. And then someone like this comes along and you don't try much of anything at all and then she's the one you wake up next to.

It doesn't make any sense at all, he thought sleepily . . . no sense at all. And the tune kept playing on and on in his mind - over and over again and again until he fell asleep.

Do a little dance . . .

Make a little love . . .

Get down tonight . . .

Get down tonight . . .


2

When Phaedrus awoke he saw through the hatch that the sky had become less black. Dawn was coming.



Then he realized he wasn't alone. In fact he was blocked physically from getting out of the bunk by a body between him and the boat's passage way. This was Lila, he remembered.

He saw that with some careful maneuvering he could slink up through the open hatch and come around on deck and re-enter the cabin from the cockpit.

He lifted himself up carefully and then got through the hatch without disturbing her.

Nice work.

The cold deck on his bare feet really woke him up. He couldn't feel any ice, but the fiberglass coachroof was the next thing to it. It helped to shake off all the alcohol fumes in his head. Nothing like walking around bare-naked on top of a freezing boat to wake you up for the day.

Everything was so quiet now. The dawn was still so early the turn of the creek in the distance was barely visible. Hard to believe what Rigel said: that around that turn a coal-barge could go all the way to the ocean.

He went over and checked the lines going over to Rigel's boat. They were a little loose and he took up on one of the spring lines and then tightened all of them. He should have done that before he went to bed. He'd been too drunk to take care of details like that.

He looked around and, despite the cold, a dawn mystery took hold of him. Some other boats had come in since he had, and were rafted ahead and behind him. Possibly one of them was the boat Lila had come on. The harbor looked scuzzy and old in places but showed some signs of gentrification in others. Pseudo-Victorian, it looked like, but not bad. Off in the distance was a crane and other masts. The Hudson River was completely out of sight.

It felt good not to be related to this harbor in any way. He didn't know what was above the banks of the river or behind the harbor buildings or where the roads led to or who the houses belonged to or what people would appear here today or what people they would meet. It was like a picture-book and he was a child, watching it, waiting for a page to be turned.

Shivering broke the spell. His skin was covered with goose-bumps. He went back to the stern of the boat, hung off the boom gallows with one arm and relieved into the creek. Then he stepped down to the cockpit, pushed the heavy teak hatch cover back and let himself down with the grace that came from a familiar motion. It was a 'grace' he'd acquired the hard way. When he first got the boat he walked around like it was a house, slipped on some diesel oil, plunged head-first down the companionway ladder, and broke a collar bone. Now he'd learned to move like a spider monkey, particularly in storms when the whole boat rose and pitched and rolled like a flying trapeze.

In the cabin he felt his way to an overhead light and flicked it on. The darkness was filled instantly with familiar teak and mahogany.

He went forward into the deck forecabin and found his clothes in the bunk opposite Lila. She had evidently rolled over since he left. Her shadowy shape looked about the same from this side as it had from the other a few minutes ago.

He closed the forecabin door and went into the main cabin where he pulled open a wood bin-cover, took out his old heavy brown sweater and drew it over his head. When he pushed the cover shut, the snap of its catch disturbed the silence. He went back to the companionway ladder, put the hatch's drop-boards in place, and slid the heavy hatch-cover shut.

This place needed some heat.

Next to the ladder, by the chart table, he found matches and alcohol. He carefully brought a little cupful of the alcohol to a small coal stove mounted on a bulkhead at the other end of the cabin and poured the alcohol over some charcoal briquets inside. On the picture-book shore out there everything was done by magic. They got their heat and electricity without even thinking about it. But in this little floating world, whatever you needed you had to get for yourself.

He lit a match, tossed it in and watched the alcohol go 'Pouf!' and fill the stove with a pale, blue-purple flame. He was glad he'd loaded the stove yesterday. He wouldn't want to have to do it now . . . Was that just yesterday? It seemed like a week . . .

He closed the stove door, watched it for a moment until out of the corner of his eye he saw an enormous suitcase that he had never seen before.

Where did that come from? he wondered.

It wasn't his.

Lila must have brought it with her.

He thought about it as he struck another match at a gimballed brass kerosene lamp. He adjusted the wick until the flame seemed right. Then he turned off the overhead electric light and sat down on the berth under the lamp, his back against a rolled sleeping bag.

As far as he could figure he must have made some sort of deal with her to come on the boat or she wouldn't have brought this suitcase.

Now the kerosene light glowed over all the wood and bronze and brass and fabric shapes of the cabin and another invisible glow of warmth came from the black coal stove that now made cricking heating noises. Soon it would heat everything enough to make it all comfortable.

Except for that suitcase. What was coming back to mind wasn't making him comfortable at all. He remembered she'd dropped the suitcase on Rigel's deck. Really hard. When they walked across to come aboard he'd turned and told her to keep it quiet. He remembered she shouted, 'Don't you tell me to keep it quiet!' in a voice you could hear all over the harbor.

It was all coming back: going over to her boat, waiting for her to pack, listening to her talk about that 'dirty double-crosser George' and his 'whore, Debbie.'

Oh-oh.


He guessed it couldn't be so bad, though. Just a couple of days into Manhattan and then she would be gone. No harm done.
He saw that her suitcase had shoved all his trays of slips over to one side of the pilot berth. They were for a book he was working on and one of the four long card-catalog-type trays was by an edge where it could fall off. That's all he needed, he thought, about three thousand four-by-six slips of note pad paper all over the floor.

He got up and adjusted the sliding rest inside each tray so that it was tight against the slips and they couldn't fall out. Then he carefully pushed the trays back into a safer place in the rear of the berth. Then he went back and sat down again.

It would actually be easier to lose the boat than it would be to lose those slips. There were about eleven thousand of them. They'd grown out of almost four years of organizing and reorganizing and reorganizing so many times he'd become dizzy trying to fit them all together. He'd just about given up.

Their overall subject he called a 'Metaphysics of Quality,' or sometimes a 'Metaphysics of Value,' or sometimes just 'MOQ' to save time.

The buildings out there on shore were in one world and these slips were in another. This 'slip-world' was quite a world and he'd almost lost it once because he hadn't written any of it down and incidents came along that had destroyed his memory of it. Now he had reconstructed what seemed like most of it on these slips and he didn't want to lose it again.

But maybe it was a good thing that he had lost it because now, in the reconstruction of it, all sorts of new material was flooding in - so much that his main task was to get it processed before it log-jammed his head into some kind of a block that he couldn't get out of. Now the main purpose of the slips was not to help him remember anything. It was to help him to forget it. That sounded contradictory but the purpose was to keep his head empty, to put all his ideas of the past four years on that pilot berth where he didn't have to think of them. That was what he wanted.

There's an old analogy to a cup of tea. If you want to drink new tea you have to get rid of the old tea that's in your cup, otherwise your cup just overflows and you get a wet mess. Your head is like that cup. It has a limited capacity and if you want to learn something about the world you should keep your head empty in order to learn it. It's very easy to spend your whole life swishing old tea around in your cup thinking it's great stuff because you've never really tried anything new, because you could never get it in, because the old stuff prevented its entry because you were so sure the old stuff was so good, because you never really tried anything new ... on and on in an endless circular pattern.

The reason Phaedrus used slips rather than full-sized sheets of paper is that a card-catalog tray full of slips provides a more random access. When information is organized in small chunks that can be accessed and sequenced at random it becomes much more valuable than when you have to take it in serial form. It's better, for example, to run a post office where the patrons have numbered boxes and can come in to access these boxes any time they please. It's worse to have them all come in at a certain time, stand in a queue and get their mail from Joe, who has to sort through everything alphabetically each time and who has rheumatism, is going to retire in a few years, and who doesn't care whether they like waiting or not. When any distribution is locked into a rigid sequential format it develops Joes that dictate what new changes will be allowed and what will not, and that rigidity is deadly.

Some of the slips were actually about this topic: random access and Quality. The two are closely related. Random access is at the essence of organic growth, in which cells, like post-office boxes, are relatively independent. Cities are based on random access. Democracies are founded on it. The free market system, free speech, and the growth of science are all based on it. A library is one of civilization's most powerful tools precisely because of its card-catalog trays. Without the Dewey Decimal System allowing the number of cards in the main catalog to grow or shrink at any point the whole library would soon grow stale and useless and die.

And so while those trays certainly didn't have much glamour they nevertheless had the hidden strength of a card catalog. They ensured that by keeping his head empty and keeping sequential formatting to a minimum, no fresh new unexplored idea would be forgotten or shut out. There were no ideological Joes to kill an idea because it didn't fit into what he was already thinking.

Because he didn't pre-judge the fittingness of new ideas or try to put them in order but just let them flow in, these ideas sometimes came in so fast he couldn't write them down quickly enough. The subject matter, a whole metaphysics, was so enormous the flow had turned into an avalanche. The slips kept expanding in every direction so that the more he saw the more he saw there was to see. It was like a Venturi effect which pulled ideas into it endlessly, on and on. He saw there were a million things to read, a million leads to follow . . . too much . .. too much .. . and not enough time in one life to get it all together. Snowed under.

There'd been times when an urge surfaced to take the slips, pile by pile, and file them into the door of the coal stove on top of the glowing charcoal briquets and thenclose the door and listen to the cricking of the metal as they turned into smoke. Then it would all be gone and he would be really free again.

Except that he wouldn't be free. It would still be there in his mind to do.

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