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Apple Chigurh

In the Coen Brother’s film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s book “No Country For Old Men” the murderous yet oddly principled hit man Anton Chigurh (played by Javier Bardem) grows annoyed with a folksy gas station proprietor and makes the man call a coin toss for his own life. Cognizant of danger but unaware of the specific stakes, the man protests that he “didn’t put nothing up,” but Chigurh corrects him. “Yes you did,” he tells him. “You’ve been putting it up your whole life. You just didn’t know it.” Multiple metaphorical layers can be inferred; the guy’s done nothing wrong beyond leading an unexamined life. That he calls ‘heads’ correctly and the stakes of the coin toss are never revealed is in keeping with this idea and he’ll continue to keep ‘putting it up’ unconsciously until death revisits. It isn’t oblivion itself that’s incomprehensibly chilling, but the indifference with which it arrives for us all. “Well done !” says Chirgurh after revealing the tossed coin, lending an air of absurdist levity to what’s transpired. That part, of course, only happens in the movies.

There’s been a low and persistent cloud cover hanging over New York for what seems like a month now, interrupted every five or six days by sunny respite before returning. I took a cab in to the city yesterday to wait on the cable guy at a friend’s apartment, and sat silently in the back seat watching ‘Taxi TV’ with the window cracked just enough to let the air circulate without too much rain getting in. It seems like cab drivers have grown less talkative over my years here, but the odds point to me. The novelty of ‘being driven’ has subsided with space and time between me and my car in California, and novelty is the mother of all conversation. I handed the guy a twenty and walked about a block in the light, washed-white drizzle to my destination. Inside I turned on the AC and got busy waiting for the cable guy while staring out through rain-beaded glass at the drippy urban landscape. About two hours later, he arrived.

What brought you to the Big Cesspool?” the guy asked, making his own clever play on ‘Big Apple’ while staring at a non-functioning light on the cable modem. He was maybe fifty and heavily compact, sweating profusely despite the air conditioner, and apparently out of breath every time he rose from kneeling to study the connections. I gave one of my few standard answers which was enough for him to continue with his back-story. He grew up in and hated New York, preferred Oregon where his four kids and seven grandchildren lived, was studying to become a psychologist, and writing a book on his experiences installing cable in the Five Boroughs. “Nobody’s written anything like it,” he told me. “You wouldn’t believe what you see going in to peoples’ houses every day.” I knew the inevitable anecdotes were to follow soon, but was more concerned about the way my friend’s cheap Ikea entertainment console buckled like a Mexico City high-rise in an earthquake every time he braced himself on it to stand. The stories were disappointingly mild, including an extended, rambling tale about a guy who kept pristine litter boxes and an elaborate, empty bird cage in his apartment while owning neither cat nor parrot. “Those are the ones you got to look out for,” he advised, and I hoped he was embellishing with an embalmed closet corpse for his book. Fortunately it was a quick fix, and he was out the door shortly after we segued in to a cheerful chat about Bundy and Berkowitz. I’ve seen some shrinks in my day and would put this guy solidly in the middle of the pack. Outside of his ‘Big Cesspool‘ comment, which was good enough for my daily round of existence-questioning, he left me feeling more or less the same as when he’d come in.

I headed for the subway home late that evening after watching half a Giants game on TV. It was being played in San Francisco and shots from the blimp revealed a dramatic sunset just above a horizontal layer of chunky fog. My new iPhone arrived earlier in the day and I listened to some tunes on it while checking out the cool purple light bathing the Empire State Building; tribute to the Rangers or some other local sports team currently engaged in post season play. I’m bothered on some subconscious level by Apple despite owning the products and a small amount of stock. Something about the overly simplistic and aesthetically pleasing packaging, self-consciously clean design, fan-boy enthusiasts doing ‘un-boxing’ videos on Youtube, and cult-like Ashton Kutcher celebrity worship doesn’t sit right with me. But I needed a phone and am not above the occasional binary illusion that I haven’t been putting it up my whole life. Back home in Brooklyn, I ate some cold pasta and went to bed.

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