Watch

Watch gets up early and finishes the IKEA thing in the cellar to surprise his wife, and it works, she is surprised.

You have a long lunch break on Fridays, don’t you? says his wife, and asks him to go to the Konzerthaus to get tickets she had ordered.

He drinks espresso, makes scrambled eggs, goes to work.

Watch reads an aphorism online, posted by a man who seems to have concluded that his function in life is to share wisdom. Much of the wisdom is good, so Watch keeps reading it.

This one says, The secret to unhappiness is taking life personally.

At lunch Watch walks fast to catch a streetcar, partly to get to the Konzerthaus as fast as he can, partly because a work colleague is walking the same direction, a little ahead of him, and hurrying to avoid walking with Watch for some reason. By walking the same speed, Watch prevents him from escaping; soon, though, he runs out of sadism and lets the man get away.

Watch changes streetcars twice on the way to the Konzerthaus. When he boards the second streetcar, which is half full, a woman cackles a nuthouse laugh.

Okay, thinks Watch.

Then an angry man walks past, two meters tall, wearing a leather cowboy hat. Watch is careful not to look at him, because the man is paranoid schizophrenic.

You learn to see this sort of thing.

The man is complaining about whatever.

The nuthouse laugh woman laughs again. She can’t help it. Paranoid man demands to know who is laughing, and threatens to bash their brains in whoever it is. The woman stops laughing for a couple minutes.

Soon, though, she can’t hold it back and laughs again. The man rushes back to where she sits, which is where Watch happens to be standing, and says, Who is it? Who is laughing?

The streetcar stops and Watch gets out. He walks to the next station and gets on the third streetcar, which takes him close to the Konzerthaus.

Everyone else conducting transactions at the Konzerthaus seem to be retired and in their seventies, a condition they all deal with using a variety of strategies. The man is important and loud and dominant. He spends €600 on tickets. Then he wants CDs and his act sort of falls apart here because he is not sure which CDs he wants. The cashier waits patiently, which doesn’t make him feel any better.

The woman after the man is irritable and short and impatient. She completes her transaction and then interrupts the following transaction to demand a receipt which, the cashier points out, she already has.

The other woman, in front of Watch, is nice. She tells Watch her transaction will take a long time. Watch says he is only picking up preordered, prepaid tickets, and she offers to let him go ahead. Watch expresses gratitude.

A couple sits at a table and talks about something. Meanwhile a second window opens and Watch gets the tickets and leaves.

He gets on a streetcar at an atypical stop, with an oddly shaped shelter, as if it had been designed in the 1960s to look futuristic. The streetcar putters along until they get to Karlsplatz/Oper. It stops at a light, abruptly, and the bell rings (which the drivers normally use to warn people and cars etc). It rings for a long time, then stops. The streetcar does nothing after that.

Watch looks up toward the driver’s cabin, which is in the next car, but sees nothing. No commotion, nothing that would mean accident or murder.

The doors are all closed and turned off so no one can get out.

Other streetcars start piling up behind this one. A driver forces a door open, and tells someone the driver of Watch’s streetcar had disappeared. Then he leaves and the door closes again, retrapping everyone.

Eventually, after 15 minutes, a female passenger forces a door open and everyone disembarks and uses alternative modes of transportation. Watch takes a subway. He buys food in a station. It takes him a long time to decide what to get, because everything being sold at the station has given him food poisoning at one time or another in the past.

He catches another streetcar back to work. It takes about 5 minutes to walk from the stop to his office, during which time he eats crispy chicken and rice and vegetables.

He gets back right on time.

The god of the office and the god of the streetcar

The god of the office is headed somewhere to learn something and gets on a streetcar to take him to the subway, but it is a different streetcar and turns left where the streetcar he wanted would have gone straight, but he looks at the chart showing the streetcar’s route and it will take him to an even better subway station so he decides to stay put and enjoy the ride.

There is a puddle of something under a seat two rows up, that is why the god of the office is sitting in the back row. He is quickly thankful for what looks like a puddle of piss because a few rows up, closer to where he would otherwise have sat, the god of the streetcar is saying something in a loud voice. The god of the office leans over for a better look. The god of the streetcar is in his thirties or maybe late twenties, pig shave, wife-beater shirt, random tattoos, large can of beer, open, despite the fact that it is just after nine in the morning.

And what a glorious morning it is! Vienna never looked this nice. Or, this section of Vienna, which the god of the office has never before seen, has never looked this good to him.

A woman wearing a head scarf gets off the street car and that is the god of the street car’s cue to give his opinion of foreigners, who are stealing jobs from Austrians, and apartments, and although they cannot speak German can somehow communicate well enough when they want to to take advantage of welfare and social services. There are some, in the past, and maybe even present, who would say kill the foreigners, but the god of the street car would not kill them, because he is a Mensch – he would just send them home, every last one of them.

The god of the office, who is himself a foreigner, imagines someone speaking up to the god of the streetcar and getting knifed.

The god of the office notes that no one is seated within three rows of the god of the subway. He looks out the window, where there is a park with large cages inside which boys play soccer. The god of the office is careful to keep his feet well away from the puddle of piss, which migrates slowly here and there as the street car accelerates, or slows, or goes around corners.

The god of the office first wants to tune out the other man’s ranting, but decides to listen closely instead. Because, crazy thing: who knows what something is good for? The universe has funny ways of communicating with us.

The god of the street car says his grandfather said, and he agrees, that politicians should be sewn up in a large sack and beaten with a baseball bat because they are nothing but lackeys of the rich and powerful.

The god of the office raises his eyebrows. When did the god of the street car’s rant take this tack? He does not condone violence such as that detailed by the god of the street car, but otherwise this could be something he has preached to his daughters in the car on the way to town.

Servants of bankers and high finance. The curse of materialism.

The god of the street car is channeling the god of the office!

That is me, thinks the god of the office. Never shall I rant again, for evermore.

Thanks, universe, he says out loud.

Moments

As the poet said, there are moments.

You are sitting in a humid kitchen feeling bad, say, and a cat comes in and starts freaking out because a petunia is stuck to its asshole.

There are moments that make life worth living. And you never know when they will happen, so you keep on going.

And there are the moments that break your heart, like a second of vulnerability crossing your kid’s face like a shadow when she is defying you as you yell at her about we had a deal about fingernail polish.

There are moments that make it clear you haven’t learned a goddamned thing in all this time.

My wisdom is being tested, and I’m flunking.