Intervals were longer than they seem in retrospect: I could not physically and mentally maintain that kind of intellectual unproductivity, because the more I discovered, the less I slept, and the more I fantasized. My fantasies here filled whole blocks of time, turning inside out to lapses, merging upon the borderline of sleep when, just having closed my eyes, I had gotten so agile in practice that I was able to physically place myself in any world or surrounding I wished, before I either concentrated too hard and woke up, or drifted off to deeper sleep. Any incident or nuance that I saw around me entailed an innumerable series of outcomes, each of which I constructed with meticulous detail. Likewise an Italian girl in black pigtails at that cozy, run-down-antique coffee house on Avenue A, who looked like a personage I had read about somewhere, in my world would have pulled out a picture of myself from her wallet, claiming wistfully that she knew such a man somewhere in Montenegro. She would have described my own character in detail, to my disbelief and astonishment; she would have commented on my familiar dark hair. They would be almost like the lapse I had with Sergei, which was itself borne out of such a fantasy.
But my preoccupation was constructing alternate realities. I reconstructed walks down a street I believed to have never seen in my life, but was nonetheless unable to get rid of the certainty that it existed. I traced the contours of the holes in the side of its tratoir, decided whether it was autumn or winter and subsequently populated it with pinecones or dirty frozen-over puddles that smelled like benzene and the subway. I imagined taking tea with persons I thought I knew but could not place or prove, remember or invent the temperature of the tea held in my hand, refilling itself automatically before the ruby liquid reached the bottom of a granular glass in a silver holder, rattling in the shack of someone else's Siberian novel. Sometimes forgetting I would be transferred there too, wooden table with torn cloth, boiled tea in a glass without a holder and an iced over window, and I managed to extrapolate upon the glass to that setting, just as in every novel there is a portal into any other novel- thus the bum waiting for Nabokov's main character in Despair is Vladimir in Waiting for Godot. At any rate, that was how I managed to travel in my fantasies, not sure whether what I was reliving in painful detail was something I had actually seen or creatively invented. They were too detailed to be able to tell: sometimes the smell of a soggy Washington Square Park hotdog crystallized other elements around itself and turned into a Syrian gyro in old Constantinople, somehow having retained its name and below a minaret housing one solitary house I had seen in Prague but whose windows I had never accessed, below a theatre whose representation of Kafka was no longer a play but another reflection of another room I had been in or slept in.
I was constantly building other worlds. When programming, something I specifically enjoyed at work, I built whole atmospheres structured around rules I juxtaposed from other memories that never happened. Worlds evolved based on living territories that were placed underground, with windows facing the sky, and transport passing through pipes winding sewer-like through the ground, instead of roads. That, for a long time, was my alter image of Los Angeles, and sometimes, working late into the night elaborating this set up and the rules of movement that it implied, I was unable to believe that this was not LA, that it was in any way dissimilar, because the logic I was dealing with, especially a static material of time which I had made quantitative so that any paradox was true and no longer a logical paradox, but a physical one, did not permit me to consider one world as real and the other fictitious.
Other times I imagined and abstract future and had problems reconciling myself to the material of real time, when lost in the yellow glow of another kitchen in the cold and the snow, I would be walking down a real street and so immersed in the image of a window I had seen a few blocks back and therefore already altered to fit my context, I would miss my own street and walk forward, noticing my lapse already three streets down.
Real life having solidated itself into routine clean and clear and emotionless, even meetings with my friends were a video clip of my construction that I filed away for later use and extrapolation, but the present company of which I never savored. Browsing the internet dizzied me with the lush material of its virtual hues, and working those hues into pages I also mentally videotaped myself in the eighth story of a rundown brick building midtown, the cramped office where I worked and occasionally pierced into the other worlds through my high old window when it got dark early and I could see Times Square in the distance. I could imagine anything I wanted. I lacked emotional stimulus, I invented it, felt tears well in my eyes at the appearance of an old woman picking a banana from the garbage and reminding me of another old woman picking a banana from another garbage can somewhere else, because it was not this old woman who reached the back of my eyes recursively by that time, but a hyperbolized image of her placed in another structure, and herself restructured. I was a self image of myself, my ideal was my set of actions, and I never worried about shortcomings, because placing myself in the context of my paper and my work, even though I had recently begun to believe I would never really finish this paper, and probably take this class for the rest of my life, fulfilling the requirements of a professional student of the 19th centuryÖ there was one thing that I would sometimes forget in all these fantasies, but which nonetheless undermined and was the reason for all of them: I couldn't stand living here.
Realizing that, suddenly everything else would shatter, and I would no longer be able to juggle several different worlds at once. I fantasized then about women, and reconstructed elaborate variations of situations so that at least to me they wouldn't seem banal. Those that populated them were never the girls I met, unless those were exceptionally mysterious, otherwise I hyperbolized a face I had seen in the street: moist eyes, sharp pale cheekbones revealed from a shock of black hair by a rounded arm and a gentle elbow, and a rounded, soft white shoulder revealed, as well as a fold of skin by the underarm, but that was only in summer. I never imagined their voices, or what they could say to me, as though by understanding the simplicity of their being here I was revolted. They acted complacently in my worlds, but encompassed whole worlds in themselves, which was the reason I could never have people really speak in my fantasies. If they did speak, it was the lyricism that decorated their surroundings, but meant nothing on its own. They spoke in sounds, and I could never discern what they said in my worlds, nor did I want to. They were physical fantasies, they were easy to construct.
Once a strange thing happened in those kind of fantasies, however: on the borderline of sleep, after having spent a week intoxicated by sleep deprivation and mind-numbing work, my fantasy took a liberal form, and for a while I was comforted by the new turn, and did not notice right away its absurdity. The object was a man, and he addressed me in the feminine language until I began thinking in it, utterly oblivious to the fact that there could have been something unusual about the object being a man. The man, worst of all, was not an anonymous one- endowed, as it was, not with a mysterious void and a bottomless soul that was not my problem, like in the traditionally chauvinistic cases I was used to, but with vaguely familiar characteristics that included those same vivid images that struck me down in the middle of the street sometimes through someone else's lit windows and the bookcases inside. The instances of that imported character included the red flowered bowls that were used occasionally instead of tea cups, as well as an affinity for dry snow which came only in temperatures that never happened here, whether this was New York or San Francisco. But they were also mirroring habits of neurosis and sorry cynicism. The bed had become painful to lie in, foreign, and almost repulsive.