{ All This in Front of Me }
Pavel G. Somov
photo by Dawn C. Bisi

sit hereThe thing that keeps me stable at work is my half-hour lunch break that I spend outside with an inflexible menu of a packet of dried turkey meat and a can of diet soda. This is the time when the world around me turns into a television the channels of which I switch with the turn of my neck.
   Right now—on a Tuesday, at noon—I am looking to my left at a couple of guys in starchy lab coats leaning back against a wall and looking down at their feet, as if unaware of each other's presence. At the same time, these two are endlessly moving their mouths, sluggishly shaking and nodding their heads. Their voices are producing an audible hum, but I can't tell what they're saying. At one point, the one on the left puts his foot on the rim of a square, knee-high trashcan, with the bottom of his lab coat hanging over the can's opening. The other, having taken one long last puff, flips a cigarette toward another trashcan several feet away, and misses. He doesn't go over to pick the cigarette butt up; he merely looks at it while still moving his mouth. The two then suddenly straighten out—as if at attention—as an older lab-coat clad man passes by. The one on the right hurries to pick up the cigarette butt when the older man turns the corner; the one on the left looks in my direction. Continuing to move their lips, they start for the entrance door across the lawn.
   Switching to another channel, I turn to my right, toward the vague hysterical laughter somewhere far off. From where I sit I see a group of teenagers form a circle around their backpacks, near the corner of the street. They're shifting from foot to foot, bending backward in laughter, adjusting their hair, turning around and occasionally waving finger-V's at the passing school buses. I take a gulp of my soda. The can reaches the point where it no longer feels full, but instead feels like a light aluminum container with something sloshing on the bottom. Feeling habitually betrayed by this transformation of quantity into quality, I look at the sliced dried turkey folded between my fingers—my timing is perfect: two or so more bites and enough to wash it all down.
   Still looking to my right, I am studying the school bus that paused with a bounce at the stoplight, eclipsing the group of the teenagers with its race-yellow side. An image flashes in my mind, an image of a race-yellow Porsche I saw somewhere on the commute back home the other day. That race-yellow seemed so fast, the race-yellow of the school bus in front of me seems so slow. I take a bite and a sip, the food squeezing past the turnkey of my tongue. I swallow and want to loosen my tie. Instead, I touch the cold wet aluminum of the can to my temple.
   With my neck and head still turned to the right, I realize I am no longer watching the street, but a different channel, a channel of introspection. I am watching myself. I'm thinking about my half-hour routine: the three elements—the street, the dried turkey, the diet soda—like the three whales that once supported the world, served as the foundation of my sanity during the last ten years. No matter what goes on inside the building behind me is always erased by the tidal wave of this half-hour, this mindless television show. And now I'm losing it too: my attention—for the first time in years—switches inward during this sacred ritual of oral and visual pleasure, and all I'm seeing is the hollow cathode tube of my consciousness.
   I look at the watch wondering how much longer I have left. The digital display of the watch on my wrist is flashing. It flashes: "Change battery."

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