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by Joseph Prever


Yesterday in D.C., I met a man who, to protect his privacy and because I don’t know his real name, I will call Elmer.  He was a fat man, dressed in green khakis and a polo shirt with small horizontal stripes.  He asked for change and I offered cigarettes instead.  The following conversation ensued.

E: So, I come from C_____.  It’s much nicer there.  The hills, everything.  Just beautiful.  In tourist season it gets a little crowded.  Here, it’s crazy, crazy, people all the time.

M: Yeah — I’m not a city kid myself.  I’m just getting used to having so many people around all the time.

E: Yeah.  You know, it’s too bad though, it’s — you want to know what Big Brother is?

M:  I —

E: Big Brother.  It’s 1984.  All these surveillance cameras everywhere.  Traffic lights, everywhere.

M: Yeah, that’s —

E: And not just traffic lights.  I mean everywhere.  I mean restaurants, my apartment — bathrooms…I’m telling you, these people just — you know what they do?  They see you doing something, and then they copy you, I mean they come up to you on the street and they do what you did, to make fun of you!  And I don’t know why.

M: Really?

E: Yes, absolutely.  They make a page for you on the internet — two days ago, three days ago, I went into a Starbucks, I went into the bathroom and I piddled in the sink —

M: [not interrupting]

E: — and the next day, you know, these two girls are walking down the street across from me, and one of them turns to me, and she says, she yells “Sink pisser!”  And you know, these people, they make a page for you on the internet, and anyone can see it, they can see what you’re doing, and they come up to you and they even mimic your gestures.  Or —

M: [not interrupting]

E: — the other day I was in my apartment, singing to myself, I was singing “Werewolves of London” and the next day when I was crossing the street this black fellow comes up to me and he looks at me, and smiles, and goes, “Awooooo,” just like that!  Can you believe it!  I mean this is hard to believe, that people do this, but can you believe it?

M: [stalling for time]

E: I know!

We finished the cigarette, and I am a little ashamed to say that I told Elmer I had an interview to get to, and had to be going. (This was partly true, though the interview was not for two hours.)

Elmer, if you should come across these lines — and in these latter days, who can say what might not happen? — my intent is not to mock.  I don’t know why you piddled in the sink, but you must have had your reasons.  I don’t know why the black fellow made fun of you — Werewolves of London is a great song.  Anyway, you are probably used to this sort of thing by now.