Jon Cotner & Andy Fitch
Box Trick: A Re-Emergence of Socratic Dialogue
Public performance of introspective practice has often fused critical and creative discourse, esoteric and exhibitionistic tendencies. Socrates and Diogenes first announced many of their most radical propositions from the Athenian marketplace. Thoreau sowed his solitary beans while remaining (as scholar Stanley Cavell suggests) just barely within his neighbors’ view. And now, as archivists of evanescent urban experience, as grazers of the public space (commercial, aural, textual), we offer an excerpt from our book-length project in transcribed transgression: Conversations over Stolen Food.
Between December 2006 and January 2007, we recorded forty-five-minute conversations for thirty straight days throughout
4:50 p.m. Sunday, December 31
Union Square W.F.
J: You look messed up.
A: I slept twelve hours. For the last three I wrote sentences. Have I explained how I’ll do this? From Gertrude Stein?
J: No, I’m not that familiar with Stein, and hadn’t heard of you writing while asleep or...
A: She thought…
J: trying to sleep.
A: sentences don’t have emotion but paragraphs do. Though she tried to write sentences that had emotions.
A: “A dog you know best waits patiently.”
J: I see.
A: It seems not to get anywhere as a sentence.
J: Yet creates an atmosphere.
A: Or traces an emotional turn. Anyway my brain composes hundreds of these trying to fall back asleep, but also I am asleep. I wrote down the last one for you: Beside my stated theme was a towel.
J: Beside your stated theme was a towel.
A: I had a weird night Jonny. Once we left this store I made bad decisions. I biked without a coat for decongestant (it felt contradictory). I’d thought I set the alarm then slept…
J: Hmm I got two garbled voicemails around midnight, while riding the G back to Clinton Hill. What did you want to say?
A: [Cough] invite Alex to talk sometime.
J: Oh absolutely. He knows he’s one of our most honored guests, as do Brian Spinks and Steve Yosi.
A: Good. I’ve brought Airbourne if you know that medication.
J: Yes which quickly converted your water cup into frothy orange juice.
A: If you ask for cold advice these days, health-food shops say Go with the effervescent.
A: Twice I woke scratching my scalp maniacally.
J: dur during summers when we’d split a room…yesterday we discussed our Williamsburg summer but before that came Allston and Roxbury—where often I felt disturbed at night. I’d never get smooth sleep.
A: But didn’t know why?
J: Well, we slept on foam egg-crates…
J: and you jitter while asleep.
A: I shift if what…
J: Or um thrash about.
A: True I’ll thrash. How was your night?
J: Pleasant. I walked downtown and gave Stephen a call. He’d met two friends, guys from UCSD, with one who lives near…
A: This is Dak?
J: Dax is his name. Dax practices architecture and it’s funny: he looks our age, a few years older, yet has advanced highly in his firm. You can tell by how he dresses and lives that he makes a ton of money.
A: And you enjoyed time with him?
J: Oh yes. We headed to a bar on
A: Have you heard of fun events tonight?
J: Stephen did suggest several parties. Alex drove last night from
J: So I slept with a cell phone…
J: active through the night.
A: Never have we…
J: I’d prepared to wake and walk downstairs to…
J: let Alex in if my buzzer didn’t work.
A: Jon that’s true friendship. I would maybe hide keys in a crinkled bag to the left of an apartment door.
J: Well I don’t have complex dreams to interrupt. Mostly my sleep stays black and…
A: Right, the philosopher’s sleep I’d—so we’ve read at least?
J: Who says that?
A: I want to say Aristotle somewhere…
A: Or want to say…
J: He made so many remarks you can’t read each one.
A: True. True. [Pause] My love is in the air still. Kristin’s hovering above this blizzard that has since become a downpour, it looks, through the window.
J: People have umbrellas out, you’re right.
A: I’ll enjoy using umbrellas in snow. In
J: I took the C to Chambers then walked, hoping to wake a bit before meeting you. Sometimes I’d drop the umbrella and let the snow hit me, or pause to watch snow fall through sky.
A: Yes did you...
J: between snow and my face.
A: notice not snowflakes but snow puffs or something, much more like cotton puffs? A shape I’d never seen. Some of the…
J: [Cough] softest snow I’d felt.
A: largest flakes I’ve seen.
J: You’re right.
A: A a Polish girl sprinted to catch particular flakes and cradle them.
J: Yeah, I watched fifteen-year-olds stick out tongues, trying to lure flakes as a woman snapped Polaroids. I also saw a little girl in a minivan driver’s seat roll down the window. She used her hand to crank it (the car looked old). And she…I heard her squeal Momma, it’s snowing. She’d stretched a hand in pure delight, reaching for flakes, couldn’t grasp any, yet wiped some off the side-mirror to taste with her tongue.
A: Oh I’d meant to ask. I didn’t pass people sticking tongues out. I did watch someone our age grab flakes and put them in his pocket. It might have been a nervous tic. Because my right calf kept getting soaked I’d left my tongue in my mouth.
J: Sure I entered W.F. with both thighs soaked. Since we approached from opposite directions different body parts got hit.
A: Hmm, I’ve pictured friends crossing distinct blocks simultaneously during snowstorms—that this occurs in
J: So lovely.
A: as you’ll push up Chambers, which I know well, in snow. I’d like to see it from above sometime. Today along the path below my window squirrels converged from various directions on a man. He didn’t have bread or anything.
J: I’ve watched this happen.
A: Though he stopped…he wore a thick coat but turned as far as he could without crimping his shoulder.
J: Do you think he’d stuffed both pockets with acorns?
A: Maybe. Or I wondered if mammals could sense the storm. I recently read, and perhaps everyone knows this: with the tsunami last year (which I didn’t follow), as elephants left the coast…elephants that could break free broke free and ran from coastline right before the tsunami came.
J: They showed a hypersensitivity to storms?
A: Well it’s hard to say if they had hypersensitivity or the the sensitivity all animals have when humans don’t get preoccupied. A four-year-old British girl recalled water recedes before a major wave, and warned adults on a beach to clear out. No one else remembered.
J: Perhaps parents lay contemplating real-estate investments…
A: Right or thinking how how they’d hoped on vacation they could love their spouses again, something I’ll never fear when we reunite, as we sit for…I see a brown box.
J: Yeah I’d a, today’s lunch pleased me. I ate broccoli, some shredded carrots and a tofu-chicken mix. Now I have ginseng tea and two waters so I don’t feel parched during the conversation.
A: Jon I would think at, what, 6.99 a pound for the cold-food bar, that you’ve spent twelve dollars on your meal, does…
J: I’ve spent, not counting my organic Braeburn apple—nobody could ask for a better apple in terms of firmness and shininess and taste—I paid one dollar sixty-five cents.
A: Can you explain that disparity from the expected cost?
J: Well, I got a tiny chicken breast from at the prepared-foods counter, in a box. This worker knows how I like food placed, so I need no longer specify.
A: Not the short Tibetan girl?
J: The short Tibetan girl.
A: She’s sweet.
J: She is sweet. Still I held back from wishing her Happy…
A: In case she keeps a different calendar? Sure.
J: Figuring she does, though Indian New Year gets celebrated tonight. Her New Year comes February 17th.
A: Every year? Could that—is it a lunar calendar?
J: She, yeah, she said this year. I guess the date varies. But once she’d placed some chicken in my box I headed to the salad bar, where I carefully unfastened the label and filled remaining space, the remaining box-volume: preferring not to waste, also accommodating my appetite.
A: This box held a sticker sealing it, a…
J: Bearing the price one dollar sixty-five cents. Yet after I’d filled my my box I refastened the label as if it contained only chicken.
A: Then you’re telling me you did the box trick.
J: I did the box trick.
A: [Cough] we’d called it in the past.
J: That’s right, and I’m sure that’s what we’ll call it now on. [Pause] The term’s not self-explanatory, so I did have to go into detail. What…do you and Kristin have plans tonight?
A: Um Stephen wants to talk before—I bought a new cell phone six months…
J: Yes I saw the sleek…
A: ago and lost my numbers. The the only two I know are yours and Kristin’s. I figured I’d find you and plan from there.
A: I haven’t seen my honey for several weeks, so I do look forward to passing time, but for the first New Year’s this decade I feel I feel festive.
J: That’s good to hear. I feel festive too, and would love to spend the evening with friends.
A: Five years ago you barfed on my shins when the Knitting Factory’s manager wouldn’t kiss you. Three years later I slipped into a puddle on my back: an icy puddle, a slush…
J: Oh right.
A: Wearing a leather coat.
J: It had no zipper.
A: Yet I’ll consider those fond memories.
J: Will you drink a bit?
A: I think so. I’ve had few drinks the past five months.
J: Hmm by and large I’ve stopped drinking as well.
A: I’d I bet I’m allergic to alcohol. Perhaps all humans are. Last August I took a break and bright…
J: Now I’ll tell you Andy: for the most part alcohol makes me tired and weak. It tunes me out. But I’ve discovered one drink which, which I, one drink which which, I’ve discovered one alcohol to thoroughly enjoy.
A: What’s that?
A: I can’t say how my drinking will go. I’d brought a big breakfast to W.F.
J: Yeah, I noticed. You looked messed up.
J: I mean you look better now.
A: sleeping…I hadn’t slept twelve straight hours since college.
J: Did you ignore the alarm?
A: It never rang or I didn’t set it correctly. Though the clock hums—have I mentioned…
A: Something must vibrate inside…
A: it that keeps getting more and more displaced. And this sound might be bad for me. I mean purring-cat vibrations are good for you. I’ll wrap the alarm clock in bed sheets dur…
J: So this clock vibrates as it runs, not just…
A: Like fifteen computers strung together.
A: [Muffled] don’t know what to do about…
J: You may want to invest in a new clock Andy.
A: I think I’ve never purchased one. Clocks come my way.
J: Right, I remember reading in 60 Morning Walks that you’d never bought…
J: an alarm clock. Yes this happens in the initial version, the contents of which you no longer remember. But I read it as I drove from
A: Now did you want any cheddar?
J: Cheddar would be great; I forgot to sprinkle some on my box.
A: Do you care? The cheese smells like fruit juice.
J: You can keep it for yourself. That sounds absolutely disgusting.
A: So I’ve…sure you don’t want some?
J: I may have trouble digesting just just thinking your spoiled cheese tastes like fruit juice.
A: I’d brought hard-boiled eggs but no carrot. I did pack an orange. I then approached the baked-goods/coffee area—on this mezzanine-level of…
J: That’s right.
A: W.F., grabbed a bagel, poppy seed, stuck it in deli paper, stood in line with two security guards, one of whom works undercover yet…
A: wears a flamboyant suit.
A: They continued talking. When my turn came I simply asked for hot water. I’d brought my own teabag (I drink half a cup of green tea now), and ate a full public meal for no money. However I did get paranoid. Both guards made eye-contact with me. Though I’ve I had the experience all afternoon of people seeming to stare then smile, laughing and, you know, sort of laughing at my presence. You’ll have these days?
J: I can’t say I do. I’ll shave and bathe, rather I tend to bathe and shave regularly.
A: Yeah, I’ve considered this difference between us. The fact you read while driving demonstrates what I value in our friendship: that at moments when I turn pessimistic and think people all the same in the end, my friend does the otherwise inconceivable—driving while reading. I’ll know he’s enigmatic but everyone else is too. In the same way I couldn’t…wait I blanked, what did you want…
J: We’d mentioned…
A: I blanked.
J: bathing and shaving.
A: I still don’t understand.
J. No please go on. You’d asked if strangers burst…
A: Oh shaving. Bathing and, ok. So this difference between us (that I could never read and drive, nor imagine it if I hadn’t seen you) makes me feel close to us, and that I understand you. But daily shaving presents a permanent gulf. Some chores I couldn’t tolerate.
J: Though sometimes I’ll go weeks without shaving.
A: Last night I talked to my grandpa, who turned 94 and cut his neck since he’d lacked a fresh razor yet needed to shave. He he’s shaved each day for seventy, no eighty-one…
J: Started as a teenager?
A: Yes, but I pictured you, curious if those feet got bit...
J: Just twice, though I considered locking
J: When he slaps his toy across the floor, or plays in
A: As you lay in bed?
J: Oh yeah. Between five and six. And I thought how, while studying at
A: Which shattered?
A: Then you stood up?
J: I didn’t want the cat to injure itself.
A: Yeah. Yeah good. That’s nice of you. Now I’ve forgot what we said about a fan:
J: She has no fan. Still the best solution might be to put her cat in the bathroom with a fan on.
A: I’d recommend placing this fan near your head, pointed away, though we’ve had differences if I recall?
J: I dislike sleeping with drafts.
A: I do remember, as we drove across the country last year, fighting in
J: That’s right. We slept on the pull-out in your mother’s office.
A: First I’d caught a bad cold. I’d been exiled from the one domicile I knew in
J: You didn’t have a cold. You had juniper allergies. They seized me the week before your trip.
A: [Muffled] claim that when we left high altitudes this “allergy” would disappear, then my frustration as…
J: I did not say it would disappear. I’d painted a picture of your lungs, describing a coat of yellow dust, and how after a few days the dust would disperse and your breathing could return to normal.
A: This picture of dust developed retroactively—after the scheme to get to low altitudes fast.
J: No, a woman who works in the homeopathic section of Santa Fe W.F gave me that image. I don’t mean to take credit. I’ve sensed how menacing her image was while stuck in the thick of my juniper allergy (which does have flu-like symptoms). It’s the fiercest allergy I…
A: Did it have to do with global warming? Does it typically come this time of year?
J: It came much earlier than expected.
A: Hmm. [Pause] The woman if you’ve noticed, the maintenance woman who swept beneath this table recognized me today. She snickered. I can’t tell why we bother her. As long-term busboys we’ll both keep conscious...
J: Yeah perhaps her sense of ease gets divided among the tables. Right now ninety-nine percent of tables seem fine, but then one table, namely ours, looks cluttered, which she could find hard to neglect. Li living in
A: Mongolian homes Mongolian homes.
J: Mongolian homes. Circular homes.
A: I couldn’t figure that word out for my dissertation. This gave me…
A: I’ll bracket phrases which are not what I want but hopefully will remind me of others, and I’d put “portable Mongolian home” in brackets. A yurt.
J: And with yurts…
A: You’ll move frequently, or you have the option?
J: You hold that option. Though
A: Because nomads had sex in there?
J: I think people had sex. Brian Spinks, a Hampshire graduate, says parties often got held in the yurt, and I imagine couples paired off for sex following the parties, or maybe during parties, and when the powers at the college learned they shut it down. This yurt stands a monument to former times. Students listen to music broadcast from there, music which features liberating messages about making love in yurts, but they no longer do such things.
A: While while you spoke a taxi sprayed one girl—to the point where she recoiled.
J: Is that right? I face away from the window and couldn’t sense this catastrophe.
Jon Cotner is completing his Ph.D. for SUNY Buffalo’s Poetics Program.
Andy Fitch is an assistant professor in the
Their book, 10 Walks / 2 Talks, is forthcoming from Ugly Duckling Presse. Other publications include 1913, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, LIT, Paper Monument and UbuWeb.
RECONFIGURATIONS: A Journal for Poetics & Poetry / Literature & Culture, http://reconfigurations.blogspot.com/, ISSN: 1938-3592, Volume Three (2009): Immanence/ Imminence