The last couple weeks have been spent job searching online, an
activity which seems almost as effective and enjoyable as
wearing a "WILL DESIGN EMBEDDED SYSTEMS FOR FOOD" sandwich board
down at the freeway exit, minus the fresh air and the dignity. Every
company maintains an elaborate online "career center", peppered with
enthusiastic assurances that they are actively seeking people just
like me, and that a regiment of hiring managers are hunched over
their inboxes, waiting breathlessly for my application. So I go
through the charade of filling out forms and submitting resumes,
perfectly aware that they will never be seen by mortal eyes, let
alone eyes attached to people powerful enough to make hiring
decisions. It has all the futile exhilaration of playing the
But at least it gives me something to do with my day. My last
vaguely noteworthy day, I think, was Sunday. In due deference to
yet another overcommercialized national holiday, I met my parents
for lunch. (They arrived somewhat late; there's nothing that can
make you question your self-worth like thinking you've been stood up
by your own mother.) As a gift, I gave my mom a clay imprint of my
hand. When I was four years old or so, I made a plaster-of-paris
handprint in preschool, and my mom has treasured it ever since. But
I figured, hell, I couldn't have done a very good job if I was only
four. I could barely write back then, let alone craft a work of
sculpture. So I made my mom a new one. I'm not sure if the new one
is that much better, but it certainly is a lot larger.
But that's not why I'm writing about Sunday. The memorable bit
happened later. On the misguided assumption that my social
ineptitude and emotional disorder can be cured by publicly waving
around these undesirable features like a castrated exhibitionist, I
will now wax pathetic about the particular traumatizing non-event
that left such an impression on me.
After lunch, I went to the bookstore. I do that a lot these days.
The bookstore has the nice properties of being free, outside of my
house, and either entertaining or educational depending on my mood,
and this matches well with my own not-so-nice properties of having
no income, having nowhere to go all day, and wanting to be either
entertained or educated with unpredictable whimsy.
Anyway, I was sitting and reading, as I tend to do in bookstores,
when a girl walked in. She was gorgeous. I won't bother describing
her because that is better left to your imagination, and in any
case, if you had seen her, you probably would have said she was
"cute" or "pretty" or "not bad". But I'm not you, and to me, her
looks were nothing short of perfect.
Strangely enough, I found it somewhat difficult to continue reading.
I couldn't concentrate. I'd look up at her, look down at the book,
let my eyes float over a paragraph without bothering to parse the
words, look up again, quick, look away, she's about to turn around, wouldn't want her to think I'm STARING at her, repeat,
repeat, repeat until neck muscles have received an invigorating
I knew what André or Ben would say, as clearly as if they
were mythical miniatures perched on my shoulders. (Angels? Demons?
Not sure with those two. Okay, with Ben, I'm pretty damn sure.)
"Go talk to her." Right? Isn't that what one is Supposed To Do in
such a situation? "Go talk to her." "Go say hello, start a
conversation, ask her out, date her, marry her, spawn a mess o'
little'uns, and die hand in hand, gazing into each other's
cataracts." "Go talk to her."
I did not go talk to her. Didn't even move. And it wasn't because
I was shy or intimidated or socially awkward. (Certainly all of
those applied, but they weren't the reason.) The reason
was that I simply didn't want to spawn little'uns with
her, any more than I did with anyone else in the store.
Yes, she was beautiful. Yes, I couldn't take my eyes off of her.
But no, I didn't see how that could be relevant to my romantic
First of all, she won't be beautiful in thirty years. Nobody will
be beautiful in thirty years. The only people alive who will be
beautiful in thirty years haven't been toilet-trained yet. Second
of all, I strongly believe that familiarity distills into beauty
over time. If I love someone, she will become beautiful in my eyes.
Together, these two imply that it is wholly ridiculous to pursue a
romantic target based on initial physical attraction.
The idea is that I want somebody who can amaze me now and
in thirty years. Lust will fade but laughter is forever. I'll get
too old for bedroom games but not for word games. Yes, she was
beautiful, but I don't want beauty. I want someone who can
create beauty. Someone who loves words, or art, or
music, or code, or science, or any other act of incarnating dreams
out of elements and imagination.
Someone who builds sandcastles. Or someone who makes up her own
words, makes up her own games. Or someone who brought a truckful of
lumber back from Home Depot and built herself a bed. Or someone who
draws an awesome webcomic. Or someone who can do Fourier transforms
in her head. Anything of that sort. (All of them at once might
force me to renounce atheism.)
Anyway, you get the idea. I've justified to myself the
orthogonality of physical attraction and personal attraction, and
being a higher-order primate with a big brain and free will, I
should be able to use this ideology to govern my actions. But even
though I've filled my high-level mental centers with thoughts of
sandcastlers... I'm still receiving unmaskable vestigial prodding
from the brain stem. And lower. These parts don't care about any
long-range, eventual plans to optimally propagate my genetic
material; they want supple woman-flesh and they want it now.
And there's the problem. I've rationalized away physical attraction
as irrelevant, which means that when it actually comes along and
dumps a big pile of emotions on me, I don't have the slightest idea
how to deal with them. Girl walks into bookstore, Bret sees girl,
Bret's "lower brain" starts generating emotions -- lust! desire! zowie!, Bret's upper brain refuses to acknowledge the
situation or provide handlers for the emotions, and somewhere in the
middle... things start to fall apart. It's like a process receiving
a bunch of uncaught signals, as one might say if one didn't care
about the negative implications of UNIX metaphors on social
I, for one, do not. You might wonder why this is all suddenly
becoming an issue right now. The reason, I think, is that I had
SIG_IGN (the "ignore" signal handler) firmly in place for much of
the last decade, for one reason or another or another (reason #3
accounting for a good six years or so). When I was only looking at
One (or recovering from One), I never even noticed anyone else. The
blinders have just started to come off in the last few months,
and... good god. The life of a healthy, strapping young lad is
filled with curvy distractions.
Anyway. Back to Sunday, back to the story. After the sighting, and
the subsequent rush of unhandled emotions, and the subsequent shame
for feeling such emotions, and the concurrent shame for simply
staring at somebody in public, and the wonderfully post-modern
deconstructive shame for feeling shame in the first place for
experiencing a natural human emotion... I couldn't go back to the
book. I couldn't even think anymore. I had to go home.
Hm. I'm sure there was a point to all this, other than to simply
present myself as an emotionally miswired man-child experiencing
some sort of bizarre eructation of adolescence. Maybe that's enough
of a point. Maybe that's too much of a point.
I'm a nice guy. Really.