Started - September, 2007
Finished - March, 2010
The Old Enclave Folkadir
As if there were a world. As if it could be met. As if there were a congruence between a rag of a newspaper and a rag of existence. There is no congruence. There is no hope. There are only lies.
As if there were a congruence between an idea about living still traceable in the architecture of old buildings and the remnants of a world, now fossilized, which still exists in them. There is no congruence. There is no world.
The scene through the apartment's kitchen window is a drab ostentation. The mummers on the pavement below move awkwardly, seeming to take stage direction for their exaggerated motions in flagrant missions of display, straining to appear to onlookers as icons of a still living world. But they don't convince; no world is evident or evoked. No people really live here.
In the short time it takes the elevator to reach the ground, the mummers observed through the window have become phantoms. The cars in the parking lot suggest the presence of people but the yard is still and along the face of each building the tiered walkways are empty. A narrow pavement connects and surrounds the twenty or thirty multi-dwellings of the enclave, now mostly untenanted. The greenery along the face of each building is sparse and sickly. The grounds' caretakers, who slip in and out almost unseen and never heard, regularly replace the cropped scrubby bushes with the same kind of cropped scrubby bushes, scrupulously maintaining the landscape, but without relish. A brief walk along the pavement finds the solarium, a remaindered amenity on one of the harsh, graceless spaces between buildings. Peering through the gate, the activity seen is welcome relief, a lively beckoning indicating that in this place one can find company and conversation; acquaintance can be established here. Past the gate and inside the hundred-foot square fenced in area, four or five noticeably energetic, garrulous figures, spread out around the small dipping pool, call to each other sociably as they sit or stride among more sedate loungers reclining on deck chairs. The vociferous sunners have a vigorous air which, whether chatting from a deck chair or wading in the dipping pool, sets them apart and marks them as pivotal. Strutting like actors trained to make themselves conspicuous, they hold the spotlight through the sounds of their voices. Although their volubility is directed towards one another as to a group of friends, it is obvious that they intend to be overheard by others around the pool. Like that of most people, their patter is filled with cracker-barrel such as stories of their nephews successes or discussions about local restaurants or ratings of television programs, all with a genial chattiness that seems to invite participation and does sometimes include others at poolside although usually most of the other loungers quietly recline, absorbing the sunshine. After listening for a while in eagerness to join co-residents in conversation, there slowly begins to be perceived in the speech of these glib performers a studied wariness of the impromptu. It becomes disturbingly apparent that the attraction of homey gregariousness was merely a first impression. Their speech sounds noticeably contrived and gives an impression of hearing slick performance, not extemporaneous conversation. The firmness of individual identity usually sensed in a speaker's groping attempts to set hooks onto reality through conversation cannot be perceived through their chatter. Their talk holds no quirky details of actuality of lived life, only a travesty conforming to preconceptions of what people would say in such a situation, a realization disheartening to someone come onto the scene hoping to find the conversational interchange of new acquaintance. Gabbing like been-arounds and seen-it-alls, they stumble onto topics less familiar to themselves than to a listener and reveal through bluff and fudge that they are pretending to be who they aren't, from places they have never been and talk of things they don't know about. Through time I have witnessed that starting a new discussion or developing a new topic with one of these cynosures can cause abrupt intervention as if to an alarm. The enclosure suddenly might be found to require emptying for repair of the plumbing, or a distant shout call the flamboyant speaker to an emergency, or the microphone blares an announcement of an impending dangerous storm, causing the loungers to scatter. The improbable but actual intrusion ends any further discussion. Any attempt to begin a conversation with a less conspicuous lounger is a call for one of the manipulating talkers to convivially walk over, join in, and gain control of the conversation. The chitchat discretely started by unobtrusive sunners slips away unshared by them and the conversation is redirected. Why some of the sunners permit the intruder to take the lead in their conversation is unclear. Maybe because some of them are themselves functionaries of these grounds. The manner and method of the speakers, besides hiding the truth about their actual lives and the world they live in, make it evident that they don't regret not hearing anything anyone else might have to say. Whatever the facts about this puzzling enclave, it maintains advanced resident control, although obviously lacking in subtlety and finesse. Focusing on the players' demeanor, they can be observed to consider themselves as unquestionably above the naiveté of the others present, as being in possession of unchallengeable worldliness in comparison, and as justified in being confident that onlookers cannot see through their affectations. They have developed a panache which implies, "Observe how we, conventional, humble, no different from you and the same as everyone else, have masterfully rooted in the very world you people believe is in evidence around you." After having listened to them for some length of time, each of the role players seems to be personally without a past or present, as if brought into being for the purpose of creating such contrived scenes, arrogant without ego, secure in obedience to their unspoken mission. Although it's likely that they are endowed with greater trust and stature than the mummers, they appear to share the same purpose to present a façade, to falsify actualities. Mostly, the monopolizing players-of-parts scant the onlookers and one can observe the players' annoyance at the continued presence of the uninitiated for whom they are constrained to act, those required to accept the busy attention of conspicuous displays of concealment regarding the truth about this elusory situation and about the players-of-parts themselves. The hollow-spirited players do not hide scorn for the ingenuous at their rim. They despise the comparative weakness inherent in their autonomous individuality, yet they enjoy attempts to weaken them further. Their domination is strengthened by at least one other startling tactical employment. On occasion their chatting tosses out a quip which contains a concealed humiliating insult alluding to something known uncannily of an unidentified target who, recognizing the reference as connected with himself, registers a rising dread and visibly shrinks in withdrawal. Fear has been instilled by intimation of secret gatherings of personal information. The players disdain the outsiders' claims to private, individual histories, self-regarding "selves," unlike the team of players enacting the conspirational complicities of the stage of "no-life-of-one's-own" and "our lives are representative of everyone's life," who are so surely and securely, so knowingly, so one-of-the-bunch, so arrogantly yet collectively, conformingly, humble but not weak.
Except for the few actors in such briskly spun scenes as at the solarium, the grounds of the enclave are starkly bare of people. Sometimes a figure flits to the foreground and disappears as one continues to walk along the pavement. No one greets. The hot sun bakes but the heavy air is soggy with dampness. A few cars pass on the narrow winding road adjacent to the walk, but the heavily tinted windshields conceal whoever is inside. No passing automobile ever opens a window to reveal a neighbor or to offer a lift. On one of the longer sides of the rectangular perimeter of wall and bush which surrounds the old housing development, at each of its two ends, exiting paths abruptly enter onto a broad, impersonal, dangerous speedway of onrushing traffic. It is along this speedway that one reaches the nearby merchant center where necessities can be purchased. On the opposite side of the rectangular perimeter there is no egress beyond a thick tangle of tall impenetrable shrubbery. The cement walk circles around and through the grounds to lead back to the start. No large expanse of space is visible and the enclosure encases only the stillness of cemented buildings, the empty, portentless, uninviting walk, and the bushes which on one side display through their gaps the road of heavy traffic.
Little can be determined about nearby communities which, as one enters them from the speedway, appear as untenanted as Enclave Folkadir. Several times a day a bus on the speedway carries it's few passengers to the civic center ten miles away, a town surrounded by major roads and in size no more than half a mile square. It is beautifully maintained, has a very modern aspect, and is pleasant to walk through, but except for guards and a few other key personnel in the official buildings, it seems as abandoned as the solely residential areas. A local newspaper purporting to be news of all communities within the paper's distribution area, not far from its (undisclosed) office address, U.S.A., is delivered before dawn to Ma'am Driftwater, the apartment's owner, and placed on a table just within the living room entrance for the use of anyone who enters into the apartment. None of the reported events and no events anything like them have been witnessed in this location. None of the people mentioned by the paper are known in Folkadir. Murders make front page headlines often. Multiple reports of sexual attacks on girls in public are frequent, the accused rapists counter-accusing the girls of wearing their skirts too short, inviting rape. Bishops of the Catholic church have been accused of homosexual enticement of high-school boys who are considering life in the monestary. Trials of the infamous offenders are held by consensus of opinion in newspaper surveys. Pages labeled "Society" are filled with reports of awards for knowing the well-connected, and reports of divorces by famous husbands of dependent wives with children who become homeless or with reports of women who receive millions in alimony after divorce, leaving their string of formerly rich husbands penniless are frequent. Seldom are headlines about politics. Discussions of national policies are avoided. Reports of elected or appointed state-wide or local officials being forced to step down from office after being accused of behavioral scandal are regularly presented as politics-as-usual. Local political involvement for which approval is shown is extending invitations to luncheons. Traffic accidents occur. There are banking questions regarding an unprecedented number of home mortgage foreclosures due to growing numbers of business bankruptcies causing loss of jobs, columnists suggesting as a remedy the institutionalizing of government financial backing and funding for new mortgages to spur the housing economy along with reduction in taxes. There are regular sections of sports, of entertainment. At present, computer games are "thrusting their way into the central economy." The communications of the newspaper, attempting to create a frightening ambiance of threat and foolishness in the description of local surroundings has little effect on those within the household because that described world is experienced as undiscoverable anyway. The forthrightness of the newspaper's reporting of the supposed facts, as of other of the enclave's displays, is soon doubted.
In the shallow-depthed porch-like back room Ma'am Driftwater sits alone. No one has visited for a long time. No friends run in to offer a drive to the market. No neighbor knocks to share local news. The apartment receives only those people who are paid by Ma'am Driftwater for their services. I'm paid room, board, and a small amount of cash to do kitchen work. In my distress during the era of displacement and economic overturn Ma'am Driftwater, a distant relative, offered me this position and I am the only other person, besides herself, to live in the apartment. Although we had known each other earlier through family get-togethers, within this household Ma'am Driftwater refuses all conversation and shows no concern except as required for practical household reasons. Other workers who enter the apartment perform their work quickly and leave just as quickly. Almost no words are spoken. Except at her meal and bed times, she sits all day in the porch-like, open-windowed, non-air conditioned, tiny glass-encased room, its interior entirely visible through the broad sliding doors separating it from the livingroom. A television, which she watches during evening hours, and a telephone are in that room. The glass expanse of its outside wall faces a large artificial pond adding its sogginess to the already heavy humidity of the surroundings. Despite the need for air conditioning in this sweltering climate, she makes it clear that the expense of air conditioning is not a benefit to her. I am the only other person to live in the apartment, and the air-conditioning is included in the agreement for room and board as pay. Across the pond, the windows of the identical buildings on the opposite side are sometimes lit at night, but no people can be seen through them. The view of the pond, narrow stretches of grass between pond and buildings, and the buildings themselves holds no one. Fishing is not allowed; pamphlets of rules are delivered monthly. At seasonal intervals maintenance men driving power lawn mowers are briefly seen through the back window, but they don't live within the enclave, their voices aren't heard, and they quickly disappear from the grounds. Turning from Ma'am Driftwater's glass-doored room to face the opposite livingroom wall and its open passthrough to the kitchen, one can see along the full length of the kitchen to its window in the front wall. A walk through the hall into the kitchen and one can look through that front window to see the mummers on the pavement below.