Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Imagined Conversations - 1

I was reading over someone’s shoulder on the subway. Trying to look away from time to time. At the right time, ideally. That is: whenever he grew suspicious and glanced at me. I hoped that by staring indisputably in another direction at those very moments—at the floor, at the pole, at the old lady’s knee—he’d be satisfied that I hadn’t the least bit of interest in his book. Oh no, not me. And yet I felt a few cold seconds of his reproachful glare.

“You’re reading over my shoulder,” he declared.

“What?” I stammered, trying on a perplexed expression.

“No, no, no—I saw you.”

I considered pressing the point but I could tell the jig was up. There was nowhere to hide, nothing to say. I made a shameful little shrug and grimace.

“That’s rude!” he declared righteously.

“Yeah, well—”

“You don’t do that. You don’t just look over some complete stranger’s shoulder like that. And read.”

He spat out the word “read” as though it were some terrible violation. As though I hadn’t been reading a page out of the trendy paperback he’d had on his lap but had actually peered through him, through his clothes to his nakedness, through his skin to his soul. And I wondered if maybe that wasn’t true.

“It’s my art project,” I countered bravely.

It was the only card I had to play. And it also happened to be the truth. Reading over other people’s shoulders in subway cars was my ongoing project. I documented the random fragments of text I spied in a Twitter feed.

“Your what?”

“It’s an art project. I read over lots of people’s shoulders. It’s nothing personal.”

The man stared at me like I’d just told him I fucked his mother. He’d stuck his book between his knees and now hunched over it protectively; his entire body closed. Still he kept one hand in as a bookmark. You never know when you might be free to read again.

“What the fuck are you talking about, art project?”

“I look over someone’s shoulder. I pick a part of the page at random, see what I can read real quick. Usually a sentence or less. Then I memorize it.”

A pause. Then he said, “And what do you do with it?”

“I write it down. Share it with the world on Twitter. Share it on my blog.”

He leaned back a little. I thought I might have defeated him somehow. Defeated him with reason. Or better yet non-reason.

“You share it with the world?”


As we entered a station he precipitously stood. And he said something I still don’t understand. It was one of those snappy lines you’d hear in an action movie or something. Except it didn’t make sense. Or maybe it did. You tell me.

Let me save you the trouble,” he declared, and slapped me on the side of the head with his book. He threw it at my chest in disgust, as though it were somehow to blame for its own violation. As he walked out the subway doors I read the title peering up at me from the speckled floor of the car.

“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” by Jonathan Safran Foer.