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Bad Ideas

Catalogue of Thought

Blueprint - A Short Story

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To be perfectly honest I did not know where I was. A friend led me to wait in this long line, filling me with promises for what lay beyond the threshold. A din of infrastructure swallowed our casual conversation. Traffic circulating, sirens echoing in the distance, unceasing industry, impressed itself upon us like a warm body, soothing away any flares of anxiety. Mangled birds waddled at the periphery cooing in a native tongue. A man who slept, propped up against the facade, provided the sense that it were his dreams holding the whole thing up. The passing eye could easily move through him, but if one took the time spent waiting to notice they would see many things.

A gray sweatshirt, echoing the fog, contained history of stains and burns; matted hair of indiscernible color, interwoven with beard, standing on end; the soles of shoes well worn, duct taped at busted seam but still spotted with holes exposing ravaged and swollen feet. A lipstick-red eggshell suitcase, jammed into the cavity of a baby stroller, held the contents of his life. What could it possibly contain? Where had his feet taken him, and how did he arrive in this place? Was it his decision to take on this incredible burden, to uphold the face of a single structure, the very one I dreamed to enter? What was in it for him?


My friend nudged me: “This place is famous!”


The concrete asylum surrounding this amalgam (brick, glass, and steel) surely rose and fell through the age. Its crescendo was so near its birth that no passer-by could answer simply what purpose it might have originally stood for. This structure was the pride and legacy of an architect, the shame of a bankrupted enterprise. All of whom might have unconsciously thought it would stand forever. Indeed it stands, but no longer of its own will. It is held up by a man of the age, who contains all that memory in his body. His stopped watch is proof, but even so it tells the right time twice a day: Once, when entered at dawn and, twice, when abandoned by dusk.  


Now waiting, peering beyond the threshold, I witness a different man on the inside. He delicately pours an elixir. He presents it to a colleague who casually sniffs, sips, and returns a discerning nod. The show can go on.

I ordered that very drink. I was hypnotized. The way it glistened in the light, the showmanship, my trust in the promises of a friend, the wait, the view from afar – every detail elevated this experience. The moment had been carefully planned. Who wouldn’t take the cup? After digesting the ether, after feeling the histories of the Western World converging upon the shoulders of a forgotten man, after longing for any path past him to avail itself, I’d take anything to be delivered to the front of the line.


The wait was now over. I took my first sip. “Dear God, thank you for heaven.”


Thus was the first of premonitions to the moment, years beyond those first sips, when I would become a colleague nodding. What followed appeared as a recurring dream: the setting was often a bright day amid perfectly green fields; the sky cloudless and blue suspended moderate temperatures carried by soft breezes. At the center was a hill with a subtle upward grade, punctuated by a single tree. Beneath its sturdy branches, in the shade of fluorescent leaves fluttering in the gentle breeze stood a small crew, generator of this tranquil scene. Clusters of patrons were scattered across the landscape. They appeared more like blotches of pigment, contrasting a neutral backdrop, than people. As they expanded into the distance, their trace became more and more faint.

This paradise did not last. It began with essential items vanishing. First, a crystal glass. Then, its ceramic counterpart. The situation became more dire as a line extended further and further into the distance. In exasperation I placed my hand on a granite countertop only to find that it disintegrated into a million particles under the weight. Upon closer inspection, the counter no longer appeared functional but instead as rotting detritus born from the onslaught of time. Strangely, this predicament did not cause the alarm it should have. There was something comfortable about the challenge to push forward.

Moving furiously in any direction still possible, I did not become instantly aware of the shards of darkness fracturing the light of the sky. It only became noticeable when I could no longer discern the shape of my own hand. In the absence of light, I moved slowly, with careful precision. In that moment I felt the piercing gaze of frustrated eyes. I heard a voice: “How long must I wa...?”

I cut the voice off, firmly, by saying “No”. And at that moment, a new plane of existence appear. There in the silence, in the darkness, was the warm sensation of wilderness unscathed by human touch or control and it was beautiful.  Then I awoke.


If I were true to my ideals, I would never had waited in the first place. There are valuables you must leave behind to move forward, first a thing and then the next an idea, and before long your entire self is called upon to be committed to the very source of your affliction. But before the fog and before the dream, I had been on the road somewhere between Dallas and Oakland. I remember embarking without delay on the evening before my graduation commencement. When my name was called, I was elsewhere delirious from driving through the night. During which, when there were no more signs of civilization, I stopped to take in the sight of a star drenched sky. I had never seen anything so vast. Possibility for the future felt just the same.

But it wasn’t enough. It was never enough to hold on through what waited. Some thing waited for me there in the mist. The ghosts of the past one hundred years, who loom in the fog, are neither more nor less than the dreams of those who went before me. Throughout the age, the sleeping man has become a fixture on the outside; he remains as an irrational number, a necessary figure, pointing to how precarious this building's construction is. They have a name too, cleverly, Circe.

Circe, made famous for lavishing incredible bounty upon weary men, feeding them concoctions that made them to forget their homes, and turning them into swine. Circe, maiden to Ulysses, who offered him the gift never offered to any man – to become like the gods, immortal. Ulysses, who decided, rather, to live and die as a man; to know fear so that he might also know courage, to know greatest despair so that he might also know hope.

In reality, Circe is an artist, a recovering addict, one who sells sharpie drawings to people waiting in line for coffee. I bought one for $2.00. It’s a picture of Mr. and Mrs. PacMan. Mrs. PacMan is dressed as a nurse and holds a needle. A speakerbox stands between them, their mouths gaping open ready to consume the world.

zach cothamComment