Kane X. Faucher
a selection from Castor & Pollux
Chapter 6: Renting Powder Blue
It took some length of time to get to the nearest town big enough to have a car rental agency. My convertible had been given a temporary patch job which would get it as far as a the next small town before Lexington before all matter of combustible evil sprang up and threatened to cause the whole rigging to seize and blow up in a leaping inferno. The vehicle was now limited in its options and couldn't go over 55 without belching thick, black smoke—much like a Republican. I couldn't show up to the rental agency in this beast without making it impossible for me to rent a car and be trusted. So I parked three blocks over and hid it in an alley for the wolves to find.
I walked in the agency and one of those annoying little bells just over the door jingled to announce my arrival. All small town stores had this feature…I believe there's something inherently Pavlovian about consumerism in these parts. A friendly faced yak of a man, early forties with that failed look of one who would never get above assistant manager while his younger colleagues sped to the top, gave a customary nervous hello. People like that, absolute losers and meek rodent wimps, always made me uncomfortable. They were always afraid of bending company rules, seeing as this job was the last barrier between them and certain self-despondent doom. They were easily spooked by brash talking out-of-towners in a kind of mixture of fear and star-crossed admiration. Meanwhile, they deprecated themselves to humiliating levels to their younger, meaner bosses. I knew this type well, and so I had to fast-talk my way out as quickly as possible, confuse the frightened animal into giving me what I wanted. The trick here was to be impatient; the meek bastards who desperately want to please everyone cannot handle it. Though, at the same time, I didn't want to make this poor schlep pick between me and his boss, for he still has that slight survivalist glimmer of intelligence that knows who signs the checks. Rather, I had to put on the airs of the carefree, fast talking city guy, just out enjoying the country life on an idle weekend. He would want my respect, of course, and if any hitches occurred that would cause my delay, this would earn my impatience and displeasure. His accumulated knowledge of city folk told him that these people preferred a quick and seamless transaction, were easily annoyed, and just didn't have the time to haggle over unimportant details like "where are you going? How long do you need the vehicle for? When will you bring it back? Would you like to sign this accountability for damages form?" and so on. Needling little questions like that irritate city folk who just want to get the affair over with as quickly as possible and get on the road. Those questions are fine in dealing with the townies, but city folk are too important to care about earning the trust of inconsequential people when it should be universally understood that we are well beyond trust. That would be the card I played.
"So, what car would you like to rent today, sir?"
"I like the powder blue convertible in the lot."
He made a worried inward sucking sound between his teeth and I could tell that he was trying to formulate some polite excuse to deny me access to that particular, most expensive car.
"Well, the thing is, sir that this particular car is a new addition to our family, and I don't think my boss wants me renting it out to anyone outside of town just as yet. Could I persuade you to rent another car? We have a beautiful and luxurious beige Sedan that is roomy and good on gas." A clever lateral move, hiding behind the boss to pass the blame ball up the chain, and go for the safety pitch.
"What?" I suddenly said in controlled outrage. "Are you telling me that I don't know how to take care of a good car?"
"Oh, no, no, no, sir, it's just that the Sedan—"
"Fuck the Sedan! I want that powder blue convertible!"
"I know, but it's just that my boss is not ready to rent it out to people he doesn't know."
"What kind of lame excuse for a business is this? Back in Chicago, I don't have to know squat about the guy who's renting me a car! What kind of Nazi suspicion racket are you running here? I don't have time for this bullshit! I'll call my lawyer if I have to! This is favoritism and discrimination!"
"I-I-I know, sir, um, but the thing is, my boss is very—"
"Ill? Depraved? A goddamn fascist cunt? What, do you think I'm a criminal? You think I'm some sort of goddamn, low-down criminal, don't you? What, you think I'm going to go to some county fair and abandon your precious convertible to be picked apart and destroyed by a raving mob of lunatics? Is this a business or a bloody three-ring circus? Am I not good enough for that car; is that what you're telling me? Because if that's the case, let me tell you something—"
"Oh, no, not at all, sir! You seem pretty decent to me, and I know people well. I got a sixth sense about people," he said with a nervous quiver in his voice, yet I still hadn't won him over and clinched the deal just as yet.
"But it's your goddamn Nazi boss, huh? Fine, I want to see your boss right now! Get him over here! I want to give him a big piece of my mind of what I think of him and his shady operation! Imagine! Him trying to nickel and dime me like this! In the city, he'd be run out of business so fast that the thought of renting cars would give him a seizure! Get him here, now!"
That clinched it. The last thing Johnny Do-Good wanted was to demonstrate to his boss, master of his financial fate, that he couldn't handle this on his own.
"Well, let's wait a minute here…I think I recall my boss telling me that I could rent that convertible out, but I need your strictest word of honor that you can have it back sometime, say, by tomorrow night? Would that be okay?" It was okay for weasely fiction.
"Sure. Now this is more reasonable. I'll get it back to you by tomorrow afternoon, even, without a scratch and a tank full of gas."
"Excellent, sir." Relief was restored, but doubts remained. "But you do promise to be super careful with the car, won't you? I mean, it's my head if anything goes wrong—not that anything wrong would happen under your care, I'm sure, but you know, I just want to make absolutely certain and sure," he said, a nervous laugh to cut the edge of his serious doom speak.
"Yeah, yeah, I'll treat her like a newborn baby. Let's just sign the papers and get this over with, already. I'm starving."
"There's a nice diner just on the corner and—"
"That's swell, buddy, but no. I want to get some real food in me, someplace where the smell of cow won't upset my digestion."
"Oh, of course." He started to read off the mandatory set of questions, checking off boxes and all that. "I have to ask some questions. It will only take five minutes of your time…Just a formality, really. Will you be smoking in the vehicle?"
"Will you at any point during the tenancy of this vehicle be drinking any alcoholic beverages?"
"Will there be anyone else operating this vehicle other than you while the vehicle is in your care?"
"Are you on any form of medication that alone or in conjunction with any other medication would in any way impede your abilities to operate this vehicle?"
"To the best of your knowledge, will you be leaving the state of Kentucky with this vehicle?"
"Have you been charged for any automobile-related crime to which you have not received an official pardon?"
"Are you currently paid up to date with your automobile insurance policy or other affiliated insurance plan?"
"Will you be involving this vehicle in any illegal acts considered as such by federal or state law?"
"Is there any reason that you can ascertain, not addressed by these questions, which would in any way make you an unsuitable lessee of this vehicle?"
"Okay, great!" he said, this formal questioning session not enough to fully allay his fears. But he had come this far, and he couldn't turn back now. "I'll just get you to sign here…and here…and, oh, yes right where I put the 'x' over here…and if you could write down your valid State driver's license right in that box. Okay! While you look over our agreement and the insurance deductible, I'll go and bring the car round!"
The ordeal was at an end for me, but it was just beginning for the rental agent. Perhaps years from that nervous next night while he chewed his fingers to the bone, just waiting, looking up the highway every ten seconds at every set of lights hoping it would be that brash young man behind the wheel of a completely unscathed powder blue convertible, I would wonder whatever happened to him…what he was forced to tell his impatient and short-tempered boss. I would wonder whether he would curse the day I walked in, and me, and perhaps himself for being so naïve and trusting. Would he hate all city folk and carry this hate like an enormous chip on his shoulder? Or would he, for the rest of his natural life, continue looking up that road for any sign of that fatal mistake, that powder blue convertible humming along and mocking his last shred of human dignity? But it is my hope that he looks back on this moment in a different light, with a new dawning perspective…That I had been crucial in a magnificent change within him, that my act of blatant theft which cost him his job was the same moment when he suddenly grew a spine and began to walk strongly in this world, not fearing anyone. Not the city folk and their fast-talking, not his young and successful bosses, nor even his own shivering smallness. It can only be hoped that he has found his power center, and driving back home within himself is the powder blue convertible he let get away. Perhaps then he will know what is truly at stake, that the world is more than just petty bosses, city hustlers, and powder blue convertibles.
Un film numérique (homage to Jørgen Leth)
Scene: Blank backdrop, camera pans obliquely from upper corner perspective, sweeps face-on with a solitary man, no special distinguishing features. The man is wearing a dark suit and is attended by a laptop bag. His face is expressionless, and he looks right at the camera. Close up. He is an attractive young man of about thirty. The film is shot entirely in black and white. The voice-overs are spoken slowly, punctuated by silences and stills.
Voice-over: Who is the digital man? What does he look like? Does he speak like this? Does he speak like this in a room? Watch the digital man. He assigns keystrokes in rapid succession. [camera moves to left, with shot of man cut in half on the screen. Repeats with movement to the right. Briefly out of focus.]
Voice: This is how he checks his email [camera close-up on serious, pensive face. Glowing as if facing a computer screen. Backdrop darkens slightly]. This is how he manages his mail. How does he manage? How can he speak? Where does he keep his nuance?
The digital man reads global Braille, he signs. He signs with his digits, his numberless numbering digits. The nuance (of communication) may be in his nails.
Man (speaking): I want to be alone on the internet and everywhere all at once...I want to be everything. I keep a portrait of the network in my house. In my house. Network Bonaparte.
Screen blackout. Scene relit with the close-up of a young woman's bare leg. Then her eye. Her mouth. Her foot. Full view. She is a dark-haired and attractively thin woman of about twenty-five. She is wearing a short skirt and a sleeveless shear top.
Voice-over: Who is the digital woman? What does she look like? Does she speak like this? Does she speak like this in a room? Watch the digital woman. She closes one sultry eye, winking at the virtual. A wink of the virtual winking back. Form. Copy. She looks at her knee—form. She looks again with saddened eyes—copy.
This is how she logs in [dainty fingers over flower petals, as if typing]. This is how she opens the door. Connected, depistillated, restamenized, she traces her own contour along the edges where she enters.
The digital woman boots up. She checks her viruses. She waters them carefully. Her email is Petri. She cultures the numbers, tends a hidden garden. Look at the digital woman shutdown [slow fade to black as she slowly curls downward into fetal position, sleeping].
Scene: a bare desk and an empty shelf. The man sits at the desk with his hands folded neatly in front of him. His face is deadpan. He is in tableau.
Voice-over: A book. A wall of books. Space and spines. The digital man hardly remembers. He is mobile. He is violently mobile, and pregnant with purpose. All history as HTML.
Man: I have bookmarks in a left-hand column. I have the right hand of God on the mouse. I touched God once: he was impossible and unlimited. With catlike stealth, I surreptitiously am reminded of how many books I pulped to make these endless bookmarks that stack flatly, all my information a complete surface...Knowledge in the flattest sense, in two dimensions. I only ever have two choices.
Voice-over: Eye. Finger. Eye. One. Finger. Zero [on screen: oscillation between stark images of "1/finger" and "0/eye"].
The digital man controls crude metaphors. He creates concrete poetry at every turn of the click. Look at the digital man. Everything is potentially his, possibly his. He is encultured. Watch the digital man read a poem and a painting simultaneously, his many acts of glissade. He loads and unloads...He controls the flow of culture with a click and a click.
...[shot of woman with her index fingers obscuring only her eyes. Shot of eye, blink. Shot of other eye, not blinking.]
Look, here...the digital woman finds herself...There. There.
Wait. She slips into someone else, for a moment.
Woman: He loves me [on screen: 1]...he loves me not [on screen: 0].
Voice-over: Her fingers fall silent now.
Shot of man standing with hand raised.
Voice-over: This is the way the digital man signals attention [sound of mouse-clicking and keyboard tapping]. This is the way the digital man makes a hotel reservation. This is the way the digital man touches the earth, with gloves. He is a loss engine. Memories either tickle or hurt him on a case-by-case basis.
Man (looking at camera): I had a dream whose meaning will come by way of an email or a guillotine. In the dream, I am the last man at the last machine, and we are connected by a circuitous feeding tube. I, as motherless as my machine, an omphalos we co-created. I feel somehow very free and exalted, and isolated too. The ocean is so very grey from here.
Voice-over: This is the way the digital man entertains himself. Watch the digital man entertain himself. This is the way he shows his appreciation [slow applause]. This is the way he is entertained [standing, deadpan, no applause].
Man: For the time being, I am waiting for a response.
Voice-over: The digital man keeps in contact with sliding distance, differential speeds. How does the digital man make new friends? How does he maintain old friends? How does he speak? How does he speak to them? How does he speak in a room? The digital man imagines a kiss and a laugh and imagines no more.
The digital man is reading Savitzkaya [shot of man reading from Eugène Savitzkaya's Célébration d'un marriage improbable et illimité].
Man (reading): Un ou une Convives: la femme se donne à l'homme, l'homme se donne à la femme, il et elle conjoignent, l'homme et la femme, la femme et l'homme, la femme apporte ses dents, l'homme apporte ses gencives.
Voice-over: He is a man of device. Watch the digital man plan. Look as he subscribes to romance, online. Look as he dreams with perfect acuity. He is torturing himself. He is attaching self-importance to acts. He sneaks past the firewall with email tucked behind the night. He pays his bills online. Watch as his fingers do the talking, his tongue robbed of words as they fan out across his digits. Look at him despair over his prize of anonymity.
Look at the digital man as he plays lover-conquistador. Look at him as he mediates romance with his gloves on. Look as he fumbles trying to peel them off. At a remove he plays Walter and speaks to Betty [man starts wrapping bandage tape around his fingertips].
See the digital man build – ing
Dwell – ing
Think – ing.
He has filled his shoes with dreams.
Cut to woman.
Voice-over: The digital woman is reading Savitzkaya, spread across a distance.
Woman (reading): Viellle femme, criant comme une poissonière: la femme ets Grecque, l'homme est turc, il et elle boivent du café byzantin...
Voice-over: Look into the digital woman's eye: she dreams Venus. The virtual winks back.
Woman (speaking to the camera): I found something on the internet today that left me uneasy. My finger provokes my computer to remember. The thing that I lost today will not be retrieved. When will my carriage return?
Voice-over: The digital woman is tracking tracked. A bloc writes the index. Watch as she ejects herself [she falls, slides across the floor, repeated at three camera angles].
The digital man. The digital woman. On opposite sides of a wall-less room. They curl up into URL dots, they stipple the electric global canvas of Seurat. See them connect. Note their progress, note how they dilate and contract over distances [overhead view of the man and woman on opposite sides of the room, curled up in fetal position; between them a chalk arrow denoting circular motion].
The digital man speaks. Watch as he speaks to her [the sound is cut off. We see him mouthing the words only].
I want to make a difference [close-up of tall glass of water with 'Internet' printed on a label. A hand delicately opens a salt packet, pours the contents in, stirs. This is repeated three times. Scene cuts to a shot of the man slumped in a chair. He sticks his finger in the glass of water. He brings his bandaged finger to his eye. Stares].
Voice-over: In one diluted granule, the digital man looks for a trace of himself, of his works. Where is he? Where is he in the wetwork communication?
Let us watch the digital man and digital woman as they reconnect [man and woman profiled on opposite sides of a table, their hands on their respective computer mice which are connected to one another by a single wire. A small barrier on the table separates them].
Camera closes in on man. Show him laughing (no sound). Show him pensive. Show him tap his fingers against his thigh.
Voice-over: Watch as he laughs at separation anxiety. Watch as he laughs at separation anxiety.
Man: I feel as though I am perpetually on the border of beautiful accidents waiting to happen.
Voice-over: The digital man knows that all metaphysics ends with him. He will check his email now. Watch as the digital man disappears.
Slowly fade to black.
Credit/Note: the Savitzkaya selections appear in his book, Célébration d'un marriage improbable et illimité, Les Éditions Minuit: Paris, 2002, pp. 8 and 72.