Where Death is, I Am Not

These are some things that happened in the 90s when I was a temp typist for a re-insurance firm.     The re-insurance firm was headed up by two guys, a Swiss guy whose name escapes me and a corpulent guy with a beefsteak charlie mustache named Mr. Banfer.  The Swiss guy would travel the country and write down insurance quotes on little slips of paper which I would type up, but ninety per cent of my job was dealing with Mr. Banfer.

Mr. Banfer said “gumption” “Moxie” and “Doggone it.”  I discussed this with Michaela who was some kind of support staff down the hall and she said it was because he was old-timey.  She was Russian.  I said no, the time table doesn’t work out.  Mr. Banfer was not old enough to actually hail from a time when people said “moxie” and doggone it.  I said it was because he wanted to have a jokey persona so he can put the support staff at our ease without actually having to learn anything about us as real human beings. We both agreed he was an asshole.

But look.  Let me be honest.

Just because Mr. Banfer is an asshole is no reason for me to go into his office and read the notes he takes when he talks to his troubled son, T.L. Why is he called T.L.? There are 26 squared number of two initial names young people can have. Some are pretty common –A.J., D.J. – some are rare – MK – but nobody is known as T.L. As far as I know other than Mr. Banfer’s troubled son. If I tell you what is in the notes about his troubled son I will draw you into a circle of guilt, like people who witnessed a murder and didn’t do anything about it, like people who share secrets they have no right to know but listened anyway. I’m comparing something to itself, which is like comparing something to itself. Believe me, I know.

In the secret notes about the troubled son there is a discussion, a brief one but memorable about a weird civilization where the people don’t have skin and instead have something analogous to sex where they overlap with each other and experience something a bit like pain and a bit like pleasure. There is a lot of discussion as to whether pain and pleasure are different experiences – like if you have an orgasm is that the same sort of thing as when you have a really bad pain in your foot and it goes away. And T.L. Explored these issues by creating a world where creatures without skin overlap and they have a feeling of vulnerable connection that is so intense it is difficult to know whether or not to use our words pleasure or pain to describe it.

I ran my fingers across Michaela’s lip and I realized what an intense thing it is to be a woman. I realized that compared to them we are ephemeral, ephemeridae, walking ideas, while they are the people entertaining the ideas, deciding whether or not to think us from potential into being.

Because honestly almost any woman fertile could become pregnant in the next five minutes.  Put your hand on the shoulder of that drifter and invite him into a private space — behind a hedge or in a bathroom, and there is no question that she will be able to achieve a limited physical immortality.  The question is — with whom?   Can you do better than that drifter?

But for men the possibility of complete erasure of the genome is very real.  Life is a perpetual audition and if you fail it you are extinguished for good.

For good!


You select us from the pool of possibilities and when you do that they decide which of us will have descendants in the next generation and which of us will extinguish our lines (going back to the first hominid) in us. Who will live and who will die. No wonder they pretend to be what they pretend to be, when they have the weight of gods upon their shoulders, deciding as they do each new creation, each new generation.

Michaela no wonder we are so needy!  No wonder we are so desparate, Michaela, michaela, michaela, michaela, michaela!

When they fired me I walked out to find that snow was falling and melting above where the subways made the sidewalks warm. I really made such a brief impression upon the world for a moment I realized what they had all been trying to tell me. “Eric, it’s okay. You don’t impinge upon us enough for good or bad for pleasure or pain for us to be very angry at you at all.”

At least not for long.


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