Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Empathy Part One

The man behind me is impatient. He feels like spikes in my back. I step forward a little bit and feel normal again. A girl comes around behind me, accidentally touches me and goes past without excusing herself. She’s not being rude though, she’s preoccupied with something and on the verge of tears. I try to make myself small, but it doesn’t work. They’re still there, all of them about to touch me.

“Hi, I’ll have the Mandarin chicken and the rice, please,” I ask the girl behind the counter. She uses an ice cream scoop to put the rice in a small ceramic bowl, wrestles the Mandarin chicken onto a plate and hands them both to me above the glass without ever looking at me. Her fingers slip on the bowl as I reach for it. All emotion in me is drained, replaced by buzzing habit. I’m glad to touch the tray again, cold plastic and my own feelings. They’re not pleasant in a crowd, but at least they’re my own.

I find a table and sit alone, happy to be that way.

“The Bauhaus was a rebellion against neo-classical design, and the first true rethinking of architecture as an art form in two hundred years. Other trends came and went, but the form was always based in function. Bauhaus is interesting because it rethought form by stripping it away entirely. By erasing all sign of it, they were the only school that had completely revolutionized form. Yes, Max?”

“In the west sure, but in the east they’d been doing that for years, and a lot of The Bauhaus’ ideas were stolen from there.”

“True, but you have to put this into context. When these guys were around, everything that was going up was the elongated columns structure and completely unnecessary flying buttresses. Japan was completely off of their map.”

Max leans back and puts his arms behind his head. His bicep flexes and there is a dip before the formation of his triceps. His white shirt has paint stains on it. He’s skinny, but all of it is meat.

“I’m just saying they didn’t come up with it on their own out of nowhere,” he says. The professor resigns this to him and moves on.

“Hey,” Max says. “Hey!” I suddenly feel a little nervous but somehow a little relieved and happy. He has touched my elbow. It recedes. “You were in my Asian history 320 course last semester, right?”

“With Professor Arendtson?”

Habit has dictated that if I’m not moving with the crowd I have to get far away. I talk to Max from the grass.

“Yeah. You know, he was right. We totally forget that the east invented everything.”

“Yeah, I see it everywhere now.”

“I mean Professor Lucas just shrugged off like ten thousand years of Japanese architecture like it never existed.”

“We do that.”

He smiles at me. “Yeah, I was just confirming that I didn’t make that up.”

I smile a kind of “I’m off!” smile, but he walks with me, so I keep up the conversation. “I mean, I want to like Bauhaus and all. I’ll acknowledge that it was totally revolutionary, but it wasn’t like, hard to think up or anything. Anyone can look at a blank slate and go, ‘Finished!’”

He laughs. I have a moment of glee before the usual denial. “Yeah, sometimes I think it only got popular because it was cheap to build.”

I stop and turn to look at him. Of course I remember him from the Asian history class. All I did was stare at him. I called it the Max’s body class. I point at the dorm behind me. “I’m going into this knockoff Bauhaus trash now.”

“Listen, what’s your name?”

I back away from the revolving door and almost fall into the bushes. “Sarah.”

“Sarah. Hey, listen, I don’t have a website or anything but I set this up last night and it’s got my email address attached to it. Why don’t you email me your email? I’m having a party this weekend and I could send you an invite.”

He writes a flickr URL on my palm. My heart is pounding and I’m feeling something like sex, some warm feeling that increases when he looks at me and before he drops my hand. The feeling is a little excruciating, however, and I’m glad when he lets me go.



Hi, Max!

Listen, I want to go to your party, and I would love to spend more time with you, but you need to know right off the bat that I’ve got a really rare condition that makes me avoid human physical contact. It’s strange, I know, but it would be more strange if I didn’t tell you and you wondered why I spent the entire time there in a chair by myself and went outside a lot. It has nothing to do with you or anyone there. Don’t be offended by it, okay?

I love the flickr page. Hilarious.

Wait, please tell me you were kidding.

Looking forward to it,


Max smiles at me in class and asks me what I’ve got. I tell him it’s a centralized and unique form of autism. Maybe it is. Maybe autistic people just know too much. He doesn’t shy at it.

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