I’m not saying it’s the cancer. Nor am I saying it’s the chemotherapy. What I am saying is that something — belike Cancerland itself, and my translation to it — is turning me into a maker of very minor public spectacles. And I do mean minor: One of those odd birds who causes others involuntarily to stop in their tracks, not alarmed (if alarmed, obviously, they wouldn’t stop but would rush on) only because they are puzzled as hell: What the devil is that guy doing? You’ve seen these people, I’m sure. I certainly have. Well, now I’m one of them.
The other day, on a major Cancerland cross-street, Fourth and Myeloma, I stood as if in my own home, unconcerned about being seen, while struggling with a fancy museum shopping bag (I had made some purchases at this museum’s shop), which bag — hip design, you know — used beautiful stark flat white sneaker laces as handles. I was seized with a desire to rid myself of the bag, but to keep the laces.
You’d have thought it would be a simple matter to tease the laces out of the grommets at the top of the bag. But there was some arcane knot involved, and then bizarre trianguar ferrules at the tips of the laces that kept them, even when unknotted, from coming out of the bag.
So there I stood, for all I know at the center of a ring of staring strangers, fighting with the ferrules and the laces and the bag, looking pretty probably like a man trying to flap a piece of sticky tape off one hand without using the other; making, I mean, wild bye-bye motions, turning the bag sometimes into a matador’s cape, sometimes into a semaphor flag, sometimes into a sock out of the dryer, laminated to my palm by static.
A very small part of me remained aware that I was out on the street, visible to any others who were there. But it didn’t matter. I persisted until finally I had freed the laces, put them in my pocket, and then — and here, if you ask me, is the coup de crackers — proceeded to fold the bag up, slowly, slowly, in halves and halves again and halves again, till it was nearly as small as a matchbook. Not to put it in my pocket with the laces, but to drop it in the trash a few feet away. For some reason, however, I wanted it to be neat when dumped, tiny, reduced, unrecognizable as a shopping bag. So I did this insane origami business with it (I had previously rolled the laces up like anchovies, by the way, before putting them in my pocket), all in plain sight, unperturbed, never even looking up from the wacky work I was at, like some old-time nightclub hypnotist’s subject thinking himself entirely in private while humping a table at the mesmerist’s bidding.
I surfaced at last, there at Fourth and Myeloma, not knowing for a fact but feeling pretty certain that I had been watched, had been wondered about, had made couples standing arm in arm look deeply into one another’s eyes and shake their heads, and had made mothers shush their children and pull them on in mid-sentence: Mom, what’s wrong with that…..
I ascribe all this to the dislocating and discombobulating atmosphere of Cancerland, which makes the ordinary, strange, and the strange, ordinary.