Culture, transmigration and imitation in all forms. These are lesser, yet still very important points to the spectrum of human evolution. We bump into each other on the way to making our empires and the story unfolds. Kill or be killed; fight or flee; enslave, destroy, learn from one another, remain ignorant and rot with the weeds of history. I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about.I’m sitting in the closest thing to a cafe in this town, my local Stewart’s Shop. It’s the one point I’m able to identify where everyone meets. Imagine Damascus in antiquity, where traders, warriors and prophets from all races, for this brief moment in time, crossed paths. They’d hear foreign tongues, but in this place THEY were the foreigners. How powerful and humbling it must be to see yourself in the light of ‘the outsider’… powerful, humbling and terrifying.
I don’t come here often, but feel the need to come this time in an effort to ‘count the forms’. How many forms of transmigration can I find in this simple town? So much hope and possibility went with these wanderers and it was all because of this one place. The Stewart’s in Rensselaer epitomizes this principle to the smallest degree. It’s a microcosm of Damascus. In a small town it’s the same ideas every day. It’s the same people talking about the same shit with the same view point.
Behind the counter, I see a beautiful young girl, most likely in her early twenties, with light brown hair. Three people wait in line. She makes eye-contact with them all, but it’s such an impersonal coercion of something intimate. I stare, like a creep, from the corner. I see the weight of something almost sinister. It’s hard to believe, but it makes more sense why she can’t seem to offer them the courtesy of a fake smile. Her eyes flutter from one person to the next, impatiently seeking release from this false intimacy with people she’d rather not get to know. She blinks from them to the register, closing her eyes for the longest second I can count and back to them, to the money, to the bags, have a nice day, end of story. I note a mark in pen on her right hand between the thumb and index finger. It looks like this ; and I know it’s something that those with something dark in their past are meant to share. It symbolizes a pain them that has gone unspoken for so long that they express it, as in a Scarlet Letter. It’s such a personal request done in such an impersonal way. It seems so desperate. It seems like suffering is hard to count.
Count the forms… right
An old man sips his coffee and offers her the propriety of idle chatter. She fake smiles. I feel a cold terror wash over me, the same terror I felt as a boy when the monster finally lept out of the water to claim its final victim. By this point, I couldn’t tell which of them was the monster. The way her face moves into the ajar, ghastly grin of fake approval and joy is horrid and disgusting and I wish him gone for forcing her to do it. He sips his coffee and offers her a compliment on preparing it. Their coffee is greasy, but I’m not a devout coffee drinker. He wears an old, beat-up baseball cap and white shirt that’s covered in dirt and torn under his right armpit. His blue jeans are the same, dirty and torn at the knee.
He’s there talking to her for so long even I feel her discomfort. It ends when a few of his friends walk up to the picnic table outside. They wave to him, bearing their treasured cigarettes already burning. He offers a polite tip of his baseball cap and goes outside. The girl shows no signs of relief. She goes about working, straightening loose cigarette packs from the container and walking to the back.
Outside, I see three old men and one woman. One is our friend from before, while the others are regulars who come to enjoy their coffee, along with a few dozen cigarettes. They meet to discuss the business of the city, as well as old memories that might’ve come to mind. One of the men scrapes together change for another coffee, pulling it from his pockets, one piece at a time. They discuss the weather and how warm it was yesterday, claiming it’s only going to get hotter today. For some reason, this is neither proof for or against ‘global warming’, nor is it proof of ‘end-times’ or the coming resurrection. One of the men claims to have stopped going to church years ago, while the others shout at him in good fun to condemn him as a ‘blasphemer’.
Another old man approaches, providing more idle chatter for the group to digest, before heading inside for his coffee. He takes a seat in one of the booths. He spends fifty dollars on ‘scratch-offs’, of which he wins back ten. One step closer. You lose for now, but the trick is to keep playing in the same losing way, until that lucky moment when you win it all. The mind of a gambler is not so hard to understand. It’s the same with those who pray for world peace. Keep moving in the same wrong direction until it becomes the right. Always reach towards that impossible future.
In between all of these forms are those unremembered. People come in and out in such a flash, a brief moment in time that they hardly seem worth mentioning. They buy gas, grab a soda, a pack of cigarettes and are gone. They hold no other significance, but to catch the eye, like a glimmer of light flashing before my eyes. They offer no conversation, just off to do their business. They aren’t rude… some of them are, but not all. They’re just people moving through the forms of the cosmic dance, being led by whatever force that might govern this world. From my seat in Stewart’s I cannot dare label such a force… but to give it a name… just sounds hollow.
Trade is what made Damascus great. It was the center of everything. You couldn’t get where you were going without going through Damascus. I wish I could’ve gone before our corporate overlords destroyed it. Just another great city I’ll never get to see. I think of cities far away. I think of Stewart’s shops in distant worlds, like a Stewart’s in Hong Kong, with different old people gathering, like animals to a watering hole in the Sahara. All forms of life, proof of it… bringing them together… and all I can do is count.