The Jousting Match / 15 January 2002

The formula for Concourse F at O’Hare is z equals 1 over the square root of x-squared plus y-squared. I am at the very end of this infinite drop, crowded by asymptotes, the heat from collapsing spacetime almost unbearable. I am on the floor, legs splayed, trying to identify the tattoo that’s been etched right above the ass-cleavage of a woman crouching over by the vending machine (a jousting match? two boxing gloves? and anyway I forget about it until a few weeks later when I receive a hauntingly similar photograph of me and L and M taken at a holiday party I attended, a party with the smoothest segues in years). The book I’m not reading sa—

L: look at the pic! L: you can see my orange thong, which is a bonus J: i think the other one works better, actually - though i’m on the verge of throwing away this little story because it’s dumb L: then rewrite it to be about me, repeatedly coming over to crouch in front of you and talk animatedly, every time i remembered you were at the party J: that might be better L: “hey! Josh!” L: did i start every conversation like that J: i have no idea. let’s say yes! L: ok!! L: are you going to take me up on my colonic offer

A week earlier I’m at a holiday party in a San Francisco apartment. The elevator has the steel-bar door that you open and close yourself (Barton: “You read the Bible, Pete?” Pete: “Holy Bible?” Barton: “Yeah.” Pete: “I think so… Anyway, I’ve heard about it.”). L repeatedly comes over to crouch in front of me and talk animatedly, every time she remembers I’m at the party. She is sure to introduce me to strangers, which are legion. I hear about a divorce and job where they are cataloguing every known species, just making a big list. I’m invited to a party at the house of Edward James Olmos. Bea Arthur reportedly says the word cunt onstage. A man introduces himself as Cloud which I happen to know is his last name.

“A week from now,” I say to M, “I’ll be at the tail end of Concourse F at O’Hare.” And she asks me to close my eyes and describe the artwork on the walls there, contributed by a local kindergarten, and how one of them features a woman with uncomfortably realistic breasts, and I shrug her off and say: “The book I’m not reading sags in my hand and I feel like I stumbled in the gap between years, stuck in this well-vacuumed purgatory. A tall guy, sweaty beard, he staggers into view, he’s got the bags strapped against his chest like bandoliers; sits:

—Where in the hell are we? he asks.

—I’ve got an idea.

—Lay it down, clown.

—Maybe a long steel tunnel with a pod at the end, the pod’s where we are.

—Maybe stretching out into some arctic wasteland.


—Some kinda arctic laboratory.

—Right and there’s a flashing red light on top of our pod to keep things from crashing into it.

—Or maybe it summons the nomads.

—We swap coffee for whale blubber and make jokes.

—And yet you know, you know they’re going to open that door and we’ll go down the stairs and onto the tarmac and it’ll be O’Hare and that’s it.

—I suppose I’ll savor the in-between, then.

And he knows enough to clam up and wander away, bother somebody else.” And M complains about me inserting semi-colons into my conversations with her and about how I’m never here, never present, I’m always tucked away into some glossed-over past or some arctic-wasteland future, always savoring the in-between. I pretend not to hear her — the music and chitchat are loud — and bend down to tie my shoe, for something to do.

Joshua Green Allen

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