Discovery of Visiologic in English
DISCOVERY OF VISIOLOGIC
Copyright Boris PISMENNY
Originally in the author's book - "Îõîòà ê Ïåðåìåíå Ìåñò", New York, 1995,
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Number 00 - 191672.
Blame it on heat in New York. The head is buzzing with myriads of mosquitoes from the old rattling A/C. The processed air tastes funny. It feels out of sorts, like somewhere on a plane. Thus, flying his imaginary plane he got over a short July night, crumpling bed sheets, whipping pillows, not sleeping a wink, just tossing from one dream to another. In his last dream he had a fight - sparring with a lanky bully from Poland; and Suzy was also there, watching him in the round circus arena of the `Soviet Wings' Athletic Club. Over the rumble of the arena, she was yelling to him - C'mon, Nose, get the Kielbasa, slice him in pieces! -
He came to boxing by chance. His pals in Moscow were waging never ending street wars fed on nothing but boredom - one neighborhood casually fighting the other. For a while the fights kept the boys distracted and busy; until a day when it wasn't fun anymore. Enough, they decided, enough of this ridiculous cruelty, the Cossacks - Robbers hunts, the cards and vodka excesses. That's when for the first time they mentioned joining a sport club.
- Gymnastics is the thing! - Someone suggested. - Say, you are slipping on ice - hoopla, a somersault, and you're back on your feet - cool, isn't it?
The boxing coach was impressed: - With your nose, buddy, you are our man. The nickname `Nose' stuck to him, together with others - the Fist, the Mug, Jean - Paul Belmondo... Well, he had not won any big sport titles, but they liked to take pictures of him for the Athletic Club's shows. A photographer asked him to assume a position: - Pretend you're a champ, Matthew. Look fierce now.
Usually he would forget his dreams right away in the morning, and Moscow hadn't come to him for awhile, since the first years of immigration. But, probably because of the sweltering heat this time, after he awoke, he continued seeing the dream and himself watching it, and he didn't want to wake up completely so as he could to see it all way through. Especially the moment, hot and sexy in which he and Suzy were strangling each other in a freaky kind of embrace. That had never happened, not for real. Funny that in this dream, each of them was wrapped in a bed sheet like in a personal sack, and thus rolling about in their separate envelopes, completely blinded, they managed to perfectly match each other configuration in some only acceptable perfect way - surface to surface, projection to cavity.
Still in his dreams, squinting at the sunlight, he stepped out of the bedroom. The morning sun was hitting the wall tapestry handmade by his skillful landlady Madam DeSoto - crossed spears, swords, a curly Roman soldier's head, and golden embroidery along a flying banner - Vini, Vidi, Vici.
On the table, left from the yesterday party, there was a fence of wine bottles, rotting slices of watermelon, marbled ice cream melt in the glass rosettes, and a biscuit cake oozing its chocolate - vanilla smells. That's why this `Soviet Wings' in his dream. To this Athletic Club, the chocolaty aromas were reaching across the Leningrad Prospect from neighboring Bolshevik Woman candy factory.
A green bubbly shadow from a gin bottle all pierced through by sunrays, was stretching on a yellow paper pad with a handwritten message left by his father- in-law: - Daughter is yours for Sunday till 5 p.m., sharp.
Dashing down the subway pit, feeling terribly sleepy, still he was in the best of the moods. Friday is his day - the promise of eternal freedom and happiness. Saturdays melt away all too quickly, while Sundays are totally compromised by imminent Mondays. Today, he knows it - things are going to evolve at last between him and Suzy. The night dream must be telling him something important.
At first, he expected to invite Sue to his Muscovites friends. He changed his mind - the drunken Russians talk only Russian, and Sue will be bored to death. He considered another, much better plan.
Even in the morning, it was already stuffy in the subway tunnel. Disheveled underground tenants were crawling from under their cardboard contraptions, yawning, scratching themselves, clanking their collection mugs in the commuters' way. Evading them as he run, Matthew noticed broken tiles on the walls, and the weak, urine colored illumination.
A serious renovation is certainly needed; the place looks gloomy like a prison latrine. That's why the subway is associated with all kinds of crime - rape, murder and mugging. Rumors have it. Frankly, he had never experienced it himself. In seventeen years he got accustomed to take the subway as a necessary evil. He learned his survival technique - take a deep breath, dive, and, good luck - you'll surface somewhere in the downtown.
A tenor saxophonist squatting by the platform's column was swinging a famous George Colman's piece smartly accompanied with shuffling and knocking sounds of footsteps. Jazz is traditionally an underground activity hidden deep in basements, surrounded with the bare piping and bricks. The New York subway is exactly the place. Perhaps encouraged by the music, Matthew quickly forgot his recent criticism, turning sentimental instead.
What the hell - that's New York City. Take it or leave it!
With this sudden patriotic aplomb he dropped coins in the musician's hat, and dashed ahead to his train.
His lucky day - the car's doors had opened right in front of him. First in, Matthew grabbed the last vacant seat. At one side from him there was a huge Nigerian with the bulging red eyes red and black sweat droplets on his face. At the other side - two miniature Vietnamese snugly fit each other like blades of a folded pocket knife. What kind of a geometric obsession I'm having today! Wasn't it the same in my morning dream when Suzy and I were involved in a spatial acrobatics?
The subway car's was packed up very quickly.
In front of Matthew, a maintenance guy was standing with the garlands of keys jingling on his belt, next - two Latinos girls looking stark naked in their very tight tee-shirts and pantaloons. The girls were exchanging small talk and laughs, doing it so fast that Matthew could not make a word of it. During his long daily rides, not to waste time, Matthew tried sometimes to pick up the Spanish language by listening to people and by deciphering city ads plastered on the walls. Hidden underground, it was a totally different city, with its different preferred language, customs and population. The place somewhat reminded Matthew basements of old Moscow where, incidentally, the language and dwellers were mostly Tartar.
Train whistles and voices were floating in the stuffy air around the passengers' heads. Matthew distracted himself watching lights and electric cables snaking and disappearing behind the train window. In a sudden thunder, with its gleaming headlights, an oncoming locomotive flashed by. And there, on that passing train, Matthew fantasized, he - a boy of five, is standing with his knees on the vinyl seats, pressing his nose to the cool window glass, looking into enchanting darkness of the Moscow Metro tunnel, into his future mysterious life...
Not far from Matthew, a sleazy young salesman type was picking at a sickly old man: - Jimmy-boy, how come, you look better than me? Ah, womanizer, ah, trickster, I know your racket!
At the opposite bench, there was a hairy junky guy, reminding Matthew a scary picture from long ago, from his zoology school book. With his fingers the man was eating fish, getting bits out of a brown bag. The disgusting stink was making Matthew sick, involuntarily swallow his saliva.
The Moscow elegies were fading away.
Somewhere in the mid-tunnel, the train jerked and came to the full halt. The Nigerian had apologetically rolled up his strawberry eyes, falling aside on Matthew, who pushed people sitting next to him, causing the whole domino chain reaction. Stops like this happen. Minutes later, the train usually is back on its way. This time, however, everybody had managed to return to their places, to apologize to the neighbors, and to mock the clumsy engineer. Everybody waited but the train didn't move a bit. Gradually, all conversations had ceased. The engine which was idling for awhile had stopped completely. This time there were no rustling newspapers, nothing; only a thumping tachycardia rhythm was coming from somebody's earphones. People were patiently closing their eyes in order to momentarily open them up questioning: - How long will we stay like this?
A curly artificial blonde pushed her head through the crowd; her begging eyes found Matthews'. As an obedient boy-scout, he jumped up, surrendering his seat.
- Molto grasias, - the lady whispered, using her big Lord and Taylor bag as a cooling fan. She was incessantly praying in a low voice. In all fairness her praying must be addressed accordingly - Oh, Lord and Taylor!
All of a sudden, the last lights in the car went out. Next were the air conditioners. From now on, the car went dead silent. Odors of sweet cosmetics were mixing with the fishy stink. It was too much for Matthew to bear. He was getting dizzy, actually close to panic attack. In his confused mind he started seeing again those crazy snaking amoebas from his recent nightmare - the hieroglyphs of a mysterious language. Now they spelled the only word - Asphyxiation. Matthew had vividly imagined himself breathless stretched on the dirty floor. Some frightened fishy eyes were spinning above him. The aliens tried to get Matthew up, to fit him in a proper jig-saw-puzzle position - bad luck: no matching spot could be found for him.
Eternity later, irregular crackling sounds could be heard from the radio. Then - silence again. In awhile, the dynamic was rustling again, a little longer this time. Weak emergency lights went on. A reluctant voice with African-American intonations, had pronounced stretching syllables:
- Ladies and gentlemen, the train will restart in due time.
In the yellow semi-darkness, the shadows were swaying, like dying fish people were gasping for air.
- In one of the cars, - the voice continued in the same reluctant manner,
-...passed-a-way... In a word... - the voice hesitated,
- There's a passenger died. Thank you. And have a nice day.
Somebody had been trying to open an upper part of the window. They did it at last. It made no good, even worse - the burning smells were coming inside the car. The blonde started moaning aloud. From the distance, a baby's voice has joined her. The whines quickly changed to screams expressing everybody's feelings. People tried not to lose it, not to let a general panics happen. It would be the worst. They struggled to endure just a bit, at least this very minute, and the next after that too.
Could it be that the prayers of the blonde had been finally accepted? Only the time came when the engines revved up all at once, the lights flashed bright and stayed on, the train was moving again. The passengers started to applaud like on a plane after landing. You could see the happy smiling faces around - not quite usual picture in New York City, especially on subway during rush hours.
That's when the doors between cars swung widely open. A tall gentleman emerged, reciting: - Beloved brothers and sisters, you see in front of you a total orphan betrayed by Mother and Father and the White House... -
Matthew had already seen this guy many times before; his cheesy pitches could have been handy everywhere, even on Moscow trains.
- Helping me you're helping yourself. Wake up, you, poor and confused souls. -
The declamatory was apparently stark naked under his two raincoats pulled one upon the other. One his pocket was bulging with the New York Times, another - with a baseball bat. After the guy moved to the next car, and his preaching could be barely heard, Chinese peddlers took his place, advertising their indispensable merchandize - fake phone buzzers, yo-yos, bubble gum, and whatnots.
- Van-dalla-van-dalla! - With the mechanical frequency they asked their universal rounded dollar price.
The train pulled into a station and the commuters seemed to have forgotten the recent troubles; everybody looked energetic and busy. Paramedics were rolling away the dead man's body zipped in a plastic bag, but it was old news, nobody cared about it anymore. The usual human puppet show was taking over. People's minds were switching to the roller coaster of their daily routines and considerations. Matthew was deciding if he should buy a present for his daughter from the Chinese or, better, wait for a kiosk in Flashing. He knew a good place. You could find all kinds of exiting and improbable gadgets there - infectious laughter or collywobbles in a magic box, invisible ink for counterfeiters, flies trapped within an ice cube, funny money, and a bullet wound or bloody scar for your face.
Exiting at the Flashing station, Matthew changed his mind about the kiosk; the irresistible herding instinct was dragging him further forward; he run with the crowd to catch the oncoming Manhattan train.
Nearing the business district, metamorphoses took place in the subway. Anxiety faded as the remote regions were left behind. Instead of the permanent civil war atmosphere, a blissful truce arrived. Now that's time to relax. People began shedding their cocoons, wrapping away the camouflage jackets. Everyone suddenly looked picture perfect like from the pages of a fashion magazine. Women fixed their make-up. Men, in the conservative suits, sifted through their business papers.
Not just papers - look at the excited youngsters, the recent college graduates, engrossed in the impossible abracadabra - skimming computer printouts written in the machine code. Ladies and gents, the next stop is the financial capital of the world. Money is name of the game in town, the only game.
To be exact, there was just one non-player around, a beautiful young woman, hardly more than school girl, sitting by the door, and smiling in to her newspaper. Matthew guessed she might be reading a romantic horoscope section popular with the youngsters. - Your dreams will come true, blah, blah, blah...
But as he got out of the car at Chambers Street, nosy Matthew sneaked a pick over the girl's shoulder. Giaconda was smiling at the European commodity index report in the Wall Street Journal.
What do you know? Marvin's right again, - Matthew sighed. - Assumption is mother of fuckups. That's how it is. My fucking boss knows the ways of the world.
Above ground downtown, early morning was coming into bloom. Sunlight, still a little smoky, was already getting into your eyes; from every street corner grill, pretzels and hot dogs were teasing your nostrils. The bells were jingling melodically at Saint Paul's chapel - a toy-sized church hidden among the giants of New Babylon. The herds of brokers, accountants and clerks - the most nonchalant and sophisticated folk on the planet, were quickly finding their ways through the maze of off-streets and by-streets, connections and passages, giving not a damn to the architectural wonders challenging limitless skies.
- Just over there, my dear Shura, they have so-called `Gracie mansion', - Matthew overhears, recognizing a familiar accent. He looks around. A couple of elderly Russians, maps in their hands, their mouths open, were staring at back at him, waiting. - Newcomers, bless their soul! Who else dares to stare right at a stranger so openly in New York City?
Matthew pretends that he doesn't notice them and plunges into his company's vestibule.
Stepping out of the elevator on the twenty-first floor, he is a new man - Mr. Matthew Pechkin, an information technology guru, a project leader, a pro of the CAD/CAM design. He was flattered at the last technical conference to be introduced as the company's `top gun'. - Matthew - our top gun and our secret weapon.
Slipping his magnetic pass through the register slot, he grabs coffee on the run and dives into his cubicle. Dropping into his swiveled chair, like a piano virtuoso, he punches in his personal codes. Immediately the cooling system starts softly purring; logos and windows quickly follow one another on the monitor screen, and in a few seconds, an elaborate image of his design gradually appears as if emerging from under ocean deeps.
For the next quarter Pechkin and his team were assigned to change the whole technical calculations and schemes. The project had to do with the huge oil- tankers logistics and structural arrangements. When the job was basically done, the client had suddenly decided to adjust parameters here and there. That's kind of trouble Matthew remembered from long ago, from his student years.
You proudly bring your professor a complicated technical drawing consisting of thousand lines painfully executed in your own hand. You had been slaving on it day and night. And the professor, the nicest of guys, asks you very politely to shift everything just a little aside. `A little!' - This was before the computer era; you had to sweat redrawing the whole damn thing manually point by point.
Most annoying about the oil-tanker revisions was that many of the small changes suggested by the client, seemed purely whimsical and unrelated to one another. Matthew could smell the rat - unpredictable chaos coming. And there was another catch too. The company couldn't afford to refuse the job because the client was too important to lose. In a panic, the bosses kept calling meetings and consultations - useless, time-consuming talk shows. There was no way to work productively in-between: the next emergency summons could be announced any minute. In a word, it was a vicious corporate business as usual - everything sliding from bad to worse.
When in a crisis, Matthew had a habit of pensively scratching his crowns, the sensitive whirly points at the top of his head. He got three of them.
- You are the lucky, my Motty! - Mother use to tell him. - You're the chosen one. There's a famous Russian superstition that three crowns mean three wives in your life. And Motty - diminutive for Matvey (his proper name) had readily accepted the predictions. He knew it could take time for these future marriages and wives to come true. But even then little Motty had believed he was different. He had sometimes toyed with pretty crazy ideas, unusual for his innocent age. For instance, he was convinced that kids like him were merely pretending to be kids, since grownups expect it from them. In the kindergarten he used to study children dealing with their parents. An angelic blonde girl was playfully lisping to her daddy - carrying out a practical coquetry routine, what else? A chubby kid in a sailor's outfit was pouting his lips and threatening tears while he developed his extortion skills.
Matthew delighted in his ability to get into everybody's shoes. He could easily see this human mimicry in all places. More than that, in some mysterious way he could actually become anyone and anything he saw or just was thinking about - turning into a dog, a butterfly, a rainy cloud, even in an obsessive phrase or a song. That, by the way, was how he learned things, by imaginatively becoming the subject of his attention. That's the only way he had known. And though he was aware of the rule that the older you get, the more knowledgeable you should become, to top the long list of his peculiarities, he had the weirdest idea that he already knew everything there was to know. An appalling discovery for a kid! The brazen impudence, one must say. Sure, he didn't dare to confess his discovery to grownups. They would never understand it.
Each day after kindergarten, his mother would drug him through the snowdrifts to the street car stop, reprimanding his misbehavior: Motty was again making messes, mixing soup with soda, teasing girls, playing football with handbags. His usual response: - If I wish, Ma, I can improve, don't you worry.
- So do it, if you please, my little philosopher, my troublemaker!
And we interrupt this description of a day in the life of an ordinary Russian immigrant, a new American trying to make it in New York. This Friday was his mother's death anniversary. Frankly, Matthew had forgotten the date. His mother didn't. On this very day, her soul, or whatever substance it was over there, kept exclaiming her dearest son name. She did it with such a wild persistence and passion that it broke through the heavenly spheres reaching, who would you think? - Saint Matthew himself.
Matthew in Greek and Levy-Bar-Altheas in Aramaic, the Apostle is known for his eternal obsession with the logical chain: Eye-Vision- Reason- Faith.
-The Eye, he teaches, is the Light for the Body - (Matthew, 6:22).
Perhaps, in response to a mother's prayer, the Apostle chose his name-sake Matthew Pechkin to become his medium and proselyte, rushing brainy storms down to Earth, to the above-named Russian programmer. That's why Matthew did not sleep a wink last night.
Thus, in deep thoughts, scratching his crowns, Matthew tested one algorithmic job after the other on his computer. All of them finished abnormally - each run was abended, crashing before completion. Matthew changed gears, turning away from the screen; he started mindlessly sketching his ideas on paper. The scribbles didn't look like any reasonable calculation, more like doodles that children draw. There were some Mondrianish looking grids and patterns, and also those sneaky amoebas. Matthew shortly realized he had seen these figures before. They were all in his recent twisted night of dreams about the boxing match. The figures with hairy tentacles were crawling around, joining each other, separating and trying eventually to match configurations. Sometimes the match was in error - cats in the bags were grabbing others cats' tails thinking they were catching paws.
But some of his geometrical combinations actually seemed to make sense. Close to his lunch break, which Matthew had decided to skip, his puzzles finally assembled in a single logical picture. In it Matthew instinctively recognized the beauty of the only feasible logistical solution. It gave him more than a hunch that the long sought algorithm had been miraculously found.
In a few minutes Matthew converted the picture into calculations and programming statements. The very first run of the compiler returned the completion code - 00. When the job finished, the computer friendly jingled once with no objections. So far he had designed just a small area of the oil-tanker deck. It was a beginning. Matthew crossed his fingers. Step by step he advanced his work while munching crispy junk food from the snack machine, his lunch for the day. By late afternoon he was close to completing a considerable portion of his shipping design. His new programs worked like charm, all calculations were matching each other perfectly. The resulting shipping structure was looking literally ship-shape.
What have I done in these few hours? What is this Brownian movement of abstract figures performing their fanciful dance, the dance which all of a sudden has resolved my logical impasse?
Matthew's mind was clear. He felt great. He felt a remarkable unity of all things under the Sun - no borders, no classifications, whether it be animals, trees, insects, or living cells. Everything felt interconnected now for Matthew in some miraculous way - his mindless doodles and mathematical calculations, his dreams and the shabby subway scenes, the statements of programming language and the lyrics of old forgotten songs from his childhood.
Of course, why not, if it all stems from the same spot - from our mind. Was it Pascal saying that the Universe envelopes us all, but our mind embraces the Universe? This embracing is just a way of making sense - the thing our mind is perpetually doing. That's the mind's only business. The undeniable fact - no other meaning is available to us, just our human consciousness. There's nothing beyond that, not in space, not on the Earth. Mind is our only home.
Matthew remembered that in the neighboring cubicle there was Webster or another, even more complete dictionary. Americans having trouble with spelling, keep dictionaries everywhere. Following his instant insight, Matthew started with scrutinizing words and explanations of logical terms. What literally is defined? He felt like Archimedes sitting in the proverbial tub. Okay, he thought, I am an ignoramus, and I'm going to invent the wheel. So what, let's try it.
And - bingo! The dictionary has confirmed his guesses - the definitions were not explaining anything, rather indulging in a verbal tautology, meticulously translating from Greek or Latin simple consecutive movements. More specifically, these definitions literally described our visual process, step by step like a pantomime or, rather, like a metaphor effectively creating a picture to show the meaning of a particular term.
`To analyze' - means to split one from another;
'To solve' - to cut away completely;
`Condition' is the visible environment where an action is taking place;
`To compare' is to apply one thing upon the other; a on and on...
A remarkable pictorial story is the word `Abstraction' which in translation means `Moving away'. For example, you see a maple leaf with all its veins and patterns. By moving away from it, you'll see the whole maple tree first, later - many trees forming a grove, then - only a hill covered with woods. In the end, you'll see just a green patch on the geographical map. In a word - you have to `abstracting' (moving away) from any specific details, if you want to see the woods behind the trees.
At first, Matthew felt embarrassed.
How come such conceptual truths were unknown to me? People say that great ideas are too important to be new. How about that! Why I have never heard this one? If we, humans, are strictly Visio-Logical beings, if vision prevails so much that our mental awareness is nothing but an overwhelming visual event, then what? Is it an instinctive illusion, sort of a holographic reflex we experience in being alive? Why they didn't teach it in school? Or maybe I skipped that particular lesson, being down with flu or with something else?
He went back to the dictionary to check the paragraphs explaining fundamental ideas, the exact wording of these explanations. And, again, what he has found were pictures - signs, symbols or hieroglyphs...always the same descriptive conversions of an idea into an image. What else can it be! Try to explain economics and its tribulations without visible diagrams of ups and downs.
Yes, it's quite possible we can have a non-visual sense, a gut feeling, and an intuitive private perception of something faceless and fuzzy - foggy je ne sais quoi. That's OK. But there is no way you can communicate it to others without the help of a visual transcription. The point is not that vision is the most important of human senses. That's given. The remarkable fact is that famous logical terms consist of NOTHING BUT imagery, i.e. meanings, to be communicable, always require visual legs to transport them. Understanding is difficult, seeing - easy.
The world is fast changing. Egg-headed geeks in their dens are busy untangling their invisible puzzles, while we, the public, are being fed with their output as the easy visual dessert - the pictures and symbols everywhere, TV, PC with Windows, videophones, watches... More chewing gum for the eyes is coming, that's for sure.
Matthew's daydream was interrupted by his boss, Mr. Marvin Fox, who handed him another one of his urgent memos: - I'll see everybody in the conference room at 5 p.m.
The company's programmers always suspected Mr. Fox was constantly peeking over their shoulders. Short and exceptionally quick, Marvin was like a bird on a branch, his speech and movements were jerky and stroboscopic. He didn't stutter, he pattered. Even simple phrases came out him with machine-gun speed. He advised subordinates to type faster on their keyboards, eagerly volunteering to demonstrate his spastic style of typing. Like a pushy school master, he pestered programmers with his dictums: `don't look outside, `value every minute'.
They really didn't know how to take him. Mr. Fox looked professional enough not to actually mean it, but if he was kidding, it wasn't funny at all.
Matthew knew that now the project was practically done, much sooner than anybody had expected. But what should he do - to rush upstairs and please his bosses? Or, maybe follow the unwritten rule - take it easy, let the paper settle down, juice up and mature? Matthew knew that if he delivered the job right now, management will look foolish after all that panic and emergency meetings. His extra zeal might even damage their authority.
Managers have to come up with emergency projects. Constant pressure is their lifeline, the key to maintaining their status in eyes of the higher ups. That's the unwritten rule of the game in any office.
That's why Matthew had nothing to do but pretend to be busy. Pondering the oxymoron - how to turn working hours into his own pleasure - he went for a long walk around, seeking coffee, while visiting his compatriots. It was only to Elizary Schpolnik, an ÈmigrÈ from Lvov, that he hinted the job was done, suggesting Marvin could be a nice guy and let everybody go home early on Friday.
- Hush. You're crazy even thinking this bull. Molchi, genuk and sheket! - said Elizary, mixing every language in his lexicon.
With a full coffee cup, Matthew dropped in at the cubicle of another Russian, Lisa Rechnitz. He asked her to give him something to read from the secret library hidden in her desk drawers. She had mastered an ingenious way not to be caught reading novels. Lisa searched her treasures and gave him only a local Russian-language newspaper.
- Back home, in Minsk I loved to read so much. Listen, Matt, why I cannot find any book smarter than me now? -
- How about smart people? Have you met anybody? -
- Well, the people - that's totally something else, you know... - Lisa's eyes glazed as she started wrapping blond curls around her forefinger.
It was a nasty idea to call for an additional meeting, after working hours on a Friday night! Matthew hated to be late for his date. But then, it happened, the meeting ended quickly and he had time to kill before meeting Suzy. He chose a long route from the golden monument of the Grand Army, past the fancy hotels to the zigzag that Broadway makes around Columbus circle.
As he walked, twilight started to creep in, enveloping streets in nightly darkness, while upper - story windows were still shining orange bright, reflecting the sunset. Carriage horses were shaking their heads, snorting tiredly by the sidewalk, their harness and phaetons touched with gold, red and black, strangely beautiful and somewhat funereal colors. With the clatter of hoofs in the street, with proud glances from tourists buying a ride, the merry-go-round of New York summer was rolling full speed.
After passing the Plaza, crossing Central Park West and circling the Maine memorial, Matthew reached the theatre triangle on Broadway. He was supposed to meet Suzy by Lincoln Center's fountain. At two minutes to seven, he was already on the spot. He strolled around the fountain two or three times, watching the sculptural ensembles made of people just like him, waiting for their dates. Eventually he sat down on the fountain's black lip, facing Avery Fisher Hall. He peered so intensely into the faces of the passing crowd that it seemed, by force of his look alone, he could materialize Suzy from the New York twilight.
They had met not long ago. Matthew had noticed her at a subway station. The day was windy and wet. Sue must be looking so seductive in her transparent plastic raincoat that Matthew's heart was immediately broken. Like a boy, he wished he could grab this tempting toy. He just couldn't help it then. And now what he remembered was not even a girl's look but rather a figment of his exited imagination. Waiting at Lincoln Center, he wasn't even sure if he would recognize Sue in the crowd. That's OK, he decided. I'll wait. He was preparing for his vigil to be long and hopeless, when somebody touched his hand, pulling him aside.
- Choosing you, stranger. -
- Glad you could make it, Sue. -
- Sure I did. But I got to admit you came on pretty strong at first. Remember when you stopped me in the company's lobby, and you apologized, saying that you didn't mean to follow me in the subway? I was really upset. Why not! But after that, in the elevator, Betsy told me how silly you looked, like an eager puppy. I even told her if all Russian guys are so cute, I have to go there and check for myself. Am I talking too much, ah? -
- You travel a lot? -
- Not at all. Last year when my dad retired, he took us to Europe. My folks have been talking about this like forever. And know what? Right on the departing plane they told me how much they miss our Manhasset place, our garden, cats and those stupid bridge games with neighbors. -
They were sipping champagne from plastic flutes in Avery Fisher's buffet, talking non-stop and, as if by chance, touching each other's hands now and then. Matthew considered it a good sign, as well as that Suzy had clearly demonstrated that she was intrigued with his Russianness - an unknown territory for her.
Any immigrant knows that everything depends on whimsical things - the context and good will. Usually there's no advantage in being a newcomer. If you're out of luck, you'll feel hopelessly crippled, in the wrong place. Otherwise, like now with Suzy, Matthew suddenly felt he was kind of a Big Shot, enjoying special attention and interest. It's so easy to fall for this, believing that you're some superman from Krypton, a mystery man leading a fascinatingly rich life. At age forty, Matthew knew better than to get carried away so easily.
Lights were dimming over the audience and brightening on the rising curtain. A latecomer, an elderly gentleman squeezed past them, with his arthritic, unbending knees touching Matthew
He whispered to Suzy, - In Moscow you have to pass sitting people matching their configuration, not scratching them as you go. -
- OK, we are conservative folk preferring the old-fashioned FTF, face-to-face position. -
- You're just uncultured Yankees. -
- Hey, it's you uncultured, Mr. Judge. - Suzy jabbed him hard with her elbow like a pro hockey player.
- OK, right. As matter of fact, I knew one really uncultured guy - Prochorov was his name. He got aroused during the ballet in Bolshoi. -
- What do you mean? -
- Exactly what I have said. -
Neighbors hissed at them because the orchestra had already started. After a slow and tensioned introduction, the first violin took off, pleading, reaching the highest notes. And soon, Mendelssohn's Third symphony, - the Scottish, - flooded the audience with its powerful anguish and sorrows. Matthew held hands with Suzy while stormy currents of music transported him to the crammed family room of his childhood where exactly this piece was played over and over on their old gramophone. His tall uncle Volodia Pechkin was sitting frozen like a meditating Buddhist monk on their Samarqand carpet-covered sofa. Another uncle - the short one, Isaac (Itchy) was beating time with his hands and feet. He was terribly pushy, self-centered guy. He wouldn't let anybody just listen, disturbing them with his importunate exclamations.
- What a piece, what a genius! You, hopeless fools, listen to it better. You don't understand its cardinal greatness. Oh! It grabs you and squeezes so hard! -
Volodia and Isaac were born twins. According to the family legend, they had assumed the 69 position while in the womb. Isaac flattened Volodia's face, making him look strangely Oriental. The flat faced Volodia was an impossible drunkard and womanizer. And he had his revenge; he also did his part of damage while in the womb - Itchy turned out to be a childless bachelor and asocial ribald. He lived his entire life with Volodia's family. Different in everything else, they both adored the same piece by Felix Mendelssohn.
When the concert hall lights went gradually on, people started coughing, first carefully one by one, and then all together like dogs barking at night somewhere in a god-forsaken Russian village. With a short laugh Matthew woke up from his hypnotic dreams.
Sue said, - Matt, you are listening well. I can tell. -
They gossiped a little, watching the people around them. Matthew recalled his old whimsical theory - how to spot real music lovers. Watch their ears. If they're red, meaning - filled with blood, the person is listening in honest. Otherwise - just faking it, just waiting for time to obediently applaud, for the moment of long-awaited relief when all the noises are over.
During the intermission they walked in circles like in a school yard, sipping some more champagne. People watched them with a mix of sympathy and ironic mockery - happiness and romance are terribly infectious things.
The impressionistic music of Ravel and Debussy in the second part of the concert seemed to change the hall's temperature, causing a definite cooling effect. At the very end, Suzy, a bit ceremoniously, thanked Matthew for the beautiful evening and invited him for a dinner.
- I'm not really a Blue Ribbon chef, but I've cooked something. If you don't mind, we could, you know... Well, the night is young and there's no hurry. -
Hand in hand they walked towards the subway at Columbus circle. Nearby, in Central Park, crickets were going crazy, cutting the air like thousands of scissors.
- The louder they sound, the hotter it's going to be tomorrow, - said Matthew.
- By the way, what did the weatherman say? -
New York's subways run less frequently at night hours. Matthew thought even the train doors opened in slow motion with a tired sigh. The car was almost empty. In one corner, a cleaning woman in a blue coat was napping probably after her honest day's work. In another, an elderly Korean couple talked softly to each other. There was also a girl surrounded by gift boxes. And on a separate bench, a homeless man slept, maybe not alone, wrapped head to toe in a blanket together with someone or something - a friend, a child, a dog?
Suzy browsed through the concert program. Then she put her head on Matthew's shoulder and closed her eyes. Her warmth and flowery perfume made Matthew proud and happy; he tried not to move, not to disturb her rest. Matthew as well considered a nap, but decided against it. He was too excited to sleep. It was such a beautiful moment. He wouldn't change a thing now, not moving, not sleeping - nothing. The wheels' rhythmical knocking acted hypnotically, urging to sleep. Sue snuggled closer to Matthew, putting her handbag and umbrella out of the way, behind her back.
The doors clicked open. Someone dressed in a basketball warm-up suit and a woman's hat entered from another car. Big and wide-shouldered, the man waited for awhile, swaying in the distant corner. Then, after looking around, he rushed to the girl with the boxes, grabbing her mouth with one hand and pointing an army knife at her throat. It took just a second.
Matthew saw the girl's terrified eyes. She was afraid make a sound as the guy shuffled through her boxes, while keeping his knife ready to stab. The car was silent except for winds whistling in the tunnel and the wheels knocking as ever.
Could it be that nobody had noticed what was going on? Or, rather, didn't want to notice. Nobody did except me. The wheels started to knock louder still right inside of my head. What should I do? Whatever it was it had to be decisive and quick, that's clear, but what exactly?
I could have been peacefully napping like Sue, like everybody else in the car, sleeping or just pretending to sleep. Why not? I feel my eyelids getting heavy and warm, shutting down naturally. So easy! What can I do empty-handed against this big thug with a knife and maybe a gun too? It feels awful. Anything I do will wake up Sue, scaring her to death. I'll look like a laughable sissy with nothing but my bare hands; the guy will cut my eyes out or stab me; he'll jump Sue next....
Matthew couldn't bear to think more about being helpless, unable to protect both the girl and Susan. Nobody in the car would help him, that's for sure. These weren't sober, analytic thoughts, but rather a primitive animal fear talking in him, a complete paralysis of will. He'd wish to forget the whole thing, to switch off this disturbing channel, but how will you do it? There was no remote control in his hands. Folk wisdom invaded his mind: Never play the hero, don't make things worse, only movies provide happy endings with everything thoroughly scripted, rehearsed and staged. Remember the American rule of thumb: Stay alive. A helpful witness is better than another victim.
Yeah - that's true. It's wise, it's reasonable. Oh, shit! Think again. Maybe I'll close my eyes a minute longer. That's enough for things to be over. This bastard will disappear soon; no way is he going to kill the girl. What's the point! She will probably cry a little, that's all, no big deal. The train will make to the next stop, to Suzy's place, where she tried hard cooking something yummy, especially for me...
And then, as if to calm himself even more, he actually closed his eyes, but only for an instant. He jumped up yelling Durrak! - calling himself a fool in Russian. He grabbed from behind Suzy's umbrella, pointed it like a rifle and moved toward the thug, without a plan, acting on instinct. The guy seemed shocked first, frozen in place, staring at Matthew. Then he realized the threat was just a lady's umbrella. Now he stood, calling wryly, - C'mon man, c'mon, - moving closer to Matthew, playing with his knife, shifting it from left to right.
He quickly bloodied Matthew's hand, the one holding the umbrella. Then, circling his knife, he aimed for Matthew's legs, slashing the air back and forth. Matthew tried to concentrate on the blade, evading its point, not seeing, not hearing anything else around him. He was like waiting for something. Yes, he was waiting patiently for one thing - for his opponent's right side to open a little bit. It will come sooner or later.
When it happened, Matthew tried to call up his fighter's skills, all he had learned long ago on the junior boxing team. He put everything he had in one shot - a quick uppercut swing - landing squarely on the jaw. In a sec, the huge opponent gave way. As if in a cinematic slow motion his heavy body was crumbling lifelessly to the floor. Knockout! A clean shot!
Instantly the subway car came alive with sound. Matthew heard the victory gong, and Suzy was screaming to him along with everyone else...Then a sudden Bam! Somehow his useless rifle-like umbrella had really produced a shot. What a shock! He heard it ringing in his ears. Then he felt a blood sweetened metal taste in his mouth when the dirty car floor hit him hard in the face.
From this moment it looked like Matthew was not anymore. Life was going on without him. He was lying motionless in a pool of blood. His hand, still holding the umbrella, was stretched toward the car's rear door where a second thug, an accomplice, had escaped, waving a metal baseball bat. Seated on the floor by Matthew, Susan was desperately sobbing. Nobody else had the guts to come near them. One bespectacled lady was chirping from far away, repeating over and over again: - Are you OK, sir? -
A recorded announcement invited passengers to switch to another train. The station became quickly deserted. Only at one end of the platform a tenor saxophonist was swinging his jazz. On the other, policemen were dragging both of the arrested criminals upstairs. Susan was almost in a trance, ready to lose it when two paramedics rushed in with emergency gear, a stretcher and a body bag.
He had no idea how long he had been in the hospital's ICU, entangled in bandages, tubes and wires. One day he simply woke up. It was a strange awakening in total darkness. His eyes were covered as well as the upper part of his head. But the thing bewildering him the most were these strange sounds. He was breathing noisily like a steam-engine. It took him awhile until he figured it out - an oxygen pump was helping him breathe. Another discovery - he couldn't move at all. One more thing he just guessed was that it was Sue herself who must be looking after him now.
And she was. Certain that he, as always, couldn't hear her, she whispered and begged pleading with him: - Just don't you die on me, Matt. Live more, please. Do it for me. I don't want you to go... no... -
Terribly confused with the words he apparently wasn't supposed to hear, he choked out a muffled reply from under his bandages:
- I can't die, not yet. Remember, I told you. My triple crowns. I haven't married three wives. - And - click! - He fell unconscious again.
Eventually, weeks later, Matthew finally felt that the crisis was over. His head didn't hurt that much anymore; he was moving his hands and legs, slowly becoming his normal self. He thought it was the best feeling he had ever known, the irresistible animal joy, euphoric practically all the time. He wanted to talk non-stop and do many things right away, no matter what. His eyes were still bandaged still, but in the muddy chaos of flowing shadows, he could already make out borders between dark and light, and he guessed it right, detecting the nearest window. So, when his neurosurgeon came for his daily visit, Matthew proudly proclaimed: - Guess what, Doc. I'm not blind. I can see all right. -
- Yes, you certainly can. - Dr. Mortis agreed, taking Matthew's hand.
- Your pulse isn't bad and the sutures are healing nicely. Only next time you play the hero, try to protect the occipital portion of the brain. It's not the best place for experiments.
Overexcited as he was, Matthew started confessing to the doctor how he was always intrigued by the human brain puzzle; how he had read piles of books specifically about head injuries and neurology.
- That's cool, my estimated colleague, - the doctor smiled. - You got your chance to advance our science. By the way, your bandages will come off pretty soon. -
It was getting dark and rainy. For the first time in weeks, Matthew could feel the soothing breeze on his closely shaven head. Suddenly giddy, he seemed almost weightless in his bed. Outside his window, orange Halloween lights flickered in the dark, transporting him to the family room in his Moscow apartment, with its big, orange colored lampshade. Its tassels were always shaking, hypnotizing little Motty, inducing a state of vertigo and sleepiness when Motty could feel his limbs stretching, becoming huge. He must be growing. It wasn't just the tassels shaking; the whole family room strangely shook, revolving around the gramophone's open cabinet, with its shiny nickel elbow in the center. As always, his family's favorite symphony piece was playing, Mendelssohn at 70 RPM.
After hunting Cossacks and Robbers with his friends, Motty returned home, running upstairs to the high fifth floor. The old tenement had no elevator, of course. His Uncle Ephraim was sitting in the middle of their only room, between the parental bed and the cupboard. Matthew highly respected this particular uncle. A lieutenant-colonel, Ephraim regarded as the wisest one in the family.
- Uncle Fima, isn't it lousy to be a kike? - Motty asked him point blank. Someone had yelled that word at him in the streets today.
Their neighbor Rosalie had immediately intervened: - You are not a Jew, Matvey, don't be silly. First of all you have to be an exemplary Soviet pupil and pioneer! -
Among the guests there were other uncles - Volodia and Isaac, of course, and a certain comrade Margolin in his beautiful navy uniform. He was mother's first love, not really a captain but a political functionary. He used to teach Matvey:
- Every morning like brushing my teeth, I read only an editorial article in Pravda, that's it, and I'm ready to start my day. -
- Bull! - exploded Matvey's father. - There is nothing in Pravda but blatant lies; all the papers and radio - the same old shit! -
Matthew recalled that sometimes there was another, a very unusual family guest, a real American dame. She was a friend of mother's from college, Mrs. Lea Cooper. The Cooper family, the incorrigibly romantic leftists, had sent her to build socialism in Russia. Lea - a petit lady with the dreamy eyes, liked to say that after socialism triumphs - all of us, comrades, we'll go to India to ride the white elephants. -
- Yes, the white elephants, - Matthew said aloud to himself, listening to the downpour washing the hospital windows.
There is nothing better than to stay like this in the dark, listening to the rain. It makes you come back to yourself. In New York's daily rush you cannot hear yourself thinking. Funny, that I could never remember this name before - Lea Cooper. Yes, she was the very first person I've seen who came from that fairy- tale dream called America. And, one more thing about her - the famous manner she was passing her exams. In a very convincing way, she was telling a professor - I `see' the subject very clearly but I cannot say it in Russian. And, gesticulating, she tried to demonstrate how she was desperately looking for the appropriate Russian word.
Being an English speaker himself, even thinking now in English, Matthew thought he should reevaluate this story, from both sides. He believed that at first Lea wasn't trying to be tricky - she wanted to say exactly what she had said. For her `to see' was synonymous with `to understand'. Everyone is familiar with the clichÈ phrase - `seeing is believing': one has to see to believe.
At this point in his deliberations, Matthew suddenly sat up in his bed, feeling that various bits and pieces of his old insights were coming magically together.
Not only do we have to see to believe, we literally understand things in the exact same way as we see. Our language is the best evidence of that. Our logic is pre-wired for this, the neatly structured Visio-Logic! That's where they were coming from to me, those amoeba-like figures of understanding - the alphabet of logical symbols. When they match each other, the intuition yells - Bingo! The knowledge we are capable of acquiring is of the Visio-Logical nature. And more than that - the same is true for all our senses, even the least visual one - the sense of smell. Proven is that it is based on geometrical correspondence: we recognize a smell when either triangular or oval molecules of a chemical substance fit into related cavities in the epithelia.