i am ten

August 12, 2011

I am ten
James Douglas

I am ten.

This not a story about one through nine. This is a story about ten. This is a story about perspective. I am telling this story. First person. They call it first person for a reason, whatever that reason is, and whoever they are. And the world– it revolves around me, to me at least. As it does everyone, from their own view. So this story, well, it’s about me. And it starts on 12th street, 5th Avenue.

One foot in front of the other. The gum- covered ground is a spotted black. The cracks in the pavement split off into obscure patterns without reason. I find them offensive. Or maybe I find the people who stomped on this concrete without any regard for the concrete itself, offensive. Either way, I’m offended. But it’s a Tuesday and sometimes that just happens.

As I am walking, I open my book, and begin to read. I’m one of the lucky people who doesn’t get motion sickness when in fact, reading in motion. But then again, even when I am reading at a desk, perfectly still, I am in motion. That’s all science I suppose.

I read the first few pages of By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolano. I choke down one line, and re-read: “Life is a succession of misunderstandings leading us to one final truth, the only truth.”

I stop walking, or just slow down my pace, I’m not sure. I lift my head, as if my thinking is more productive with my head held higher. I probably saw that it works in the movies.

What if the truth, Mr. Bolano, is that you just don’t understand. Who the hell are you, to tell me what life is.

I put the book back in my bag. Walking and reading is more suspicious then walking with your eyes on the ground. And anyway, Roberto Bolano has managed to offend me as well.

I am passing people on the street. Rather, they are passing me. On my left, they are going in the direction I am coming from. On my right, they walk alongside me, only faster. Behind me, I can feel the line of people hurrying my pace. I watch them weave in between one another. I wonder why I ever paid any attention to the ground, when the ground itself is covered by the shoes of millions of people, who put cracks in it. These people who stomp on the sidewalk until it cracks—they are more interesting to me now, than the cracks that I had studied just a hundred yards back.

Inside of those shoes they stomp the pavement with, are feet, which are connected to legs, which are connected to a body, which lead to a head, and a face, and a brain.

A brain. Everyone I pass on the street is thinking at the same speed I am walking, if not faster. Everyone I pass on the street is wondering the same things I wondered about them. Unless of course, they are looking at the gum-covered, cracked up ground.

I start to count.

Number one, why are you so vigorously scratching that lottery card? Are you poor? Are you lucky? Do you waste all of your lucky money on the prospect of winning more lucky money? That is a nice suit you’re wearing. Mr. Number One, you must be a corporate man. I bet you are good at convincing people they want what you have. Those people don’t know that at 4pm, you stand outside your car, a four-runner no less, and viciously scratch lottery tickets.

One foot in front of the other.
Two steps from number one lotto man and I spot number two.

Number two, there is nothing remarkable about you. You’re In fact, you are the most average human I’ve ever seen. I would keep looking at you, but I’m bored.

Number three, you are standing with number four. You are about to kiss…no you are fighting. You are trying to look like you are getting along because I am walking by. You are fighting and I am judging you. You don’t need to fight on the side of the road, let’s be honest here. You could easily step inside and keep your petty argument to yourselves. If you ask me, you should just break things off now before you think that fighting on my sidewalk space is acceptable. It’s not.

Oh hello, number five. You are running very fast. Very fast towards me. I blinked, and now you are gone. I wonder if you ever get tired of running so fast. I wonder if you will take a break in a few minutes. I wonder if you used to be fat.

Number six, you’re not fooling anyone. I hope you just had great sex, because the flush on your cheeks and the awkwardly large smile you are wearing does not suggest anything less. I hope you used protection. There are too many babies in this world as it is, and it would be selfish of you to have just made another because you haven’t learned to control your reproductive organs. I wonder if she was pretty. I wonder if she is actually a he. It’s hard to tell these days…not that it matters at all what sex you are having sex with. But if it was a he that you were having great sex with, then I retract my statement about the overpopulation of babies.


Number seven, I don’t like you at all. I bet your name is Judd, or something of that nature. I bet I’ve seen your name on the neighborhood watch list. You probably are not allowed in playgrounds or schoolyards. If I had children, I wouldn’t let you near them. In fact, I don’t think I feel comfortable sharing this sidewalk with you. Please don’t look at me as you pass. I feel your eyes in my hair.

Number eight, you just brightened my day—literally. You have neon spewing out of your head. And you love attention, I can tell because the color of your hair says so. So let’s get this straight: you dye it to be different, yet you hate being judged. You get offended when people stare at your mane of hot pink and green highlights, still you could have written on your forehead in a large marker: LOOK AT ME—you must know this.

Number Nine, you look sad. Your eyes are not fully open and still you don’t look tired, just sad. I don’t know what color your eyes are. I actually don’t think they have any color. Please look at me so I can smile at you, so maybe you won’t commit suicide this afternoon. Number Nine, I wish I knew why you are sad. I wish I knew you. I bet you are a better person than you think you are. I bet someone, right now is thinking about you. I want to tell you that. I won’t, but I want to.

Number nine prompted me to open my book again. I re-read: “Life is just a series of misunderstandings that lead us to one final truth, the only truth.”

I arrive at the steps of my second floor walkup. Mr. Bolano was half right. Life is a series of misunderstandings. We are the misunderstandings. The cracked pavement did not mean to offend me. One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, and Nine are nothing that I described.

I am number Ten, and I misunderstood one through nine.
I misunderstood the cracks in the pavement.
I will continue to misunderstand one through nine.
And you will continue to misunderstand one through nine.
And you will continue to misunderstand me.
And we will all continue to misunderstand things like cracks in pavement.

So yes, Roberto Bolano was half right–but he was half wrong too: There is no final truth. Nothing is final. We are all always in motion; and being in motion makes you pass things; and then it makes you forget that you even passed them.

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