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2005 04 01
Transit Stories - Out of Order
imageWhenever Horace was out of sorts, he found it was a certain contextless self-consciousness that irritated him most. Probably he saw this ostentatious self-awareness—for it always was ostentatious—as weakness, or, at least, passivity, an offering of excuses for what was.
He was forced to feel this way the morning he turned into the subway station and saw a neatly fitted black cloth cover thrown over the transfer-dispensing machine. It reminded him of the black shroud-like slipcover that came with his first typewriter—to keep the dust out, presumably, though it also offered a prideful noli mi tangere warning to strangers.
“Out of order”, read the careful white letters distributed across the face of the transfer dispenser’s cover—in the sort of print that attempted to trade simultaneously in imperiousness and obsequiousness.
It was good of the transit commission, thought Horace, as he headed for the alternate machine, to come right out with the news that the damn thing wasn’t working. There’s nothing more enraging than to have it swallow your quarters and toonies and smugly refuse to give you a token in return. But why not just say so straight out? Out of Order. Fine. Thank you. Why the fawning quotation marks around the words? Why the special pleading? Why try to convey the feeling that the message “out of order” was a cute, even rather racy colloquialism? The thing is either OUT OF ORDER or it’s not. It’s not, you should forgive the phrase, “out of order”! How unwontedly cozy and insinuating quotation marks make everything, thought Horace.
How “cozy” and “insinuating”.
Horace stepped into his subway car feeling exhausted. He felt wearied by his unsought dialogue with the wounded transfer machine. Now everything seemed pointed and vectored. He spotted a guy who also worked at the paper and found it already too late to head off his being spotted in return. His fellow-worker moved along the car to within speaking distance.
“Good morning!” he said. Horace felt himself wince. Who had the right, after all, to address him so particularly, with such embarrassing directness? Suddenly quotation marks seemed to be everywhere, a toxic black rain falling and falling and falling to earth.
[email this story] Posted by Gary Michael Dault on 04/01 at 09:07 AM

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