“Do you think ethics are universal?”
“No. But I do think that when you cross a certain line, it’s hard to turn back.”
The sun’s low. It falls right down into these narrow streets. Chinese-American toddlers dance to dance music in a school courtyard. Teachers demand passers-by to erase their videos. We walk into the concrete valley between Chinatown and Financial District.
“Last week, I met this Indian guy at a conference”, she tells, “he experienced his psychosis in an entirely different way. He had lost his mother as a young child. But his mind recreated her – he started having very clear, realistic hallucinations of her. She would walk into the room where he was sitting, walk him around, be there for him, all the time.”
“You mean he saw her as a person of flesh and blood?”
“Yes. He could talk to her and hug her – as if she hadn’t passed away. Eventually she vanished, but only when he had had enough time to say goodbye to her. He had been given the chance to say farewell, in his own time.”
We’re surrounded by reflections of reflections of the setting sun, beams and grids of refracted light. “One day”, she continues, “he met this girl in the subway – a complete stranger, a very cute stranger. He took his chance, walked over, talked to her and got her number. One thing led to the next and before he knew it, he was over the moon in love with her. But everything about her being as real as possible, after a while he discovered – to his own awful surprise – that she was a creation of his mind, too.”
“You mean she’d never existed at all?”
“No. Even though he could kiss her, hold her, have sex with her, have long talks, touch her, everything.”
“He has a powerful imagination.”
“Right? It’s beautiful, in a way. His love for people is so strong that his mind makes them into tangible, real people with thoughts, actions, moods. He fell in love with me. “Marianne, come to India with me”, he said before leaving New York, “because I’m in love with you.”
The scene brings back painful episodes of my own romantic coming-of-age, acting out Prince of Persia on a bridge in Turkey. “Do you trust me?”, I asked with an open hand, and she didn’t.
Marianne continues: “I told him I didn’t feel the same way. He riposted that this may well be, but that in his reality we would be together. “Listen”, I told him, “in your reality you do what you want. But in our shared reality it’s not going to happen.”
“Bit harsh. Those were your exact words?”
“Verbatim”, she chuckles without restraint, “we had a good laugh and I bet he appreciated the clarity.”
Wall Street. We’re surrounded by halftones. It’s freezing now. We hide in Starbucks, where a dozen black homeless men sit in the backroom, covering their eyes. My girlfriend calls, checking on romance. I make Marianne wave at the camera.
“It might be me or the state I’m in”, she says while sipping the chai I bought her, “but these streets make me sad.”
“What makes you sad about them?”
“Building next to building full of offices, filled with people that don’t have the slightest concept of the consequences of their actions in the great scheme of things. It seems so fucked up sometimes.”
“We’ve come to this rather perverted situation”, she continues, “where it doesn’t matter anymore whether you’re doing something meaningful or not.”
“Meaningful is debateable.”
“Yes but no. The only thing that matters is whether or not you have a job. When you have a job and appear to be busy, you’re okay. Whether that job contributes anything good to the world, whether it’s meaningful or not to yourself, that’s of minor importance. Having a job. It’s all that counts.”
Marianne’s gaze is clouding now. She paints a picture I can’t possibly disagree with, sketching the nature of the fucked up work ethic in the country we call home – a work ethic that is far from innocent. In short, absurdism chased her away. Boredom was killing her and her co-workers – there weren’t enough chores to go around. Nevertheless she got assigned to ask the ministry for ten extra workers.
“I still can’t think of any reason. Why ten? My boss answered: “if we ask ten we’ll get three.” Not this time – we got the ten we asked for. I gave it all I had convincing him not to hire them, but I failed.”
“Why? Lobbying against job creation is blasfemous?”
“Supposedly it was too late to reverse the decision. I was the one interviewing and selecting these new people – all young kids eager to start their first job, hired with the help of unemployment plans for the vulnerable. They started out all motivated, but over the course of a few months you could see one after the other slipping away in utter boredom. The things we made them do to cover up the void didn’t make sense to them. This is how they entered the job market.”
“Did your boss realize he’d made a mistake?”
“On the contrary. Those who stayed home on sick leave – an ever growing number – he blamed them of being too lazy to work. He’s wrong, plainly wrong. There wasn’t enough to do. People in general have the natural tendency to contribute, but making them to do things that don’t make sense will drive them crazy. I couldn’t keep looking at that. How come so many don’t know how precious our time is?”
It’s dark. Marianne and I travel to fifth for dinner with friends. Most of the conversation is taken up by stories of other friends who because of business success moved to the city. While one of them buys up collections of sneakers to sell them at outrageous prices after creating a buzz, another one buys up seats at events to sell them with a probability of attendence. A fair amount develops complex financial products designed to make rich people richer and other quite a bit poorer. They’re doing good, for themselves. We’re truly to be proud of our generation.
Dear readers, thanks for making it this far. Here this tale ends. Soon I will pack my bags, leave the sunlit Manhattan apartment and move back to the Bushwick loft. I have to prepare for an appointment with the most destructive force in the universe. And strikingly enough, contradicting all laws of attraction, one month after arrival I still haven’t made it to Harlem.
Last, I owe many thanks to Marianne. She provided corrections to the last two chronicles. I thank her deeply for her courage to disclose the details of her psychosis. I thank her deeply for the permission to use her words.