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Surreal Swing

And now for something a little different

by Sean Bolen

I just wanted to tell someone.

I have been told that the surrealist movement wished to create art and music more real than real. I might have been horribly misinformed, but after a 14-hour shift, at 1:30 in the morning, everything seemed more real than real. By my definition, it was surreal.

Sometimes you find yourself sitting in a room where there is no noise, where it is silent. And then, abruptly, the air conditioner or the refrigerator will shut itself off, and you will think to yourself "the air conditioner was humming, and I thought there was silence. Now the humming has stopped, what am I not hearing now?" It's like peeling-onion logic, just layer after layer—the point is this: so many things are obvious, so why do we not notice?

Driving home, after the rain, I noticed the reflection of streetlights in the stagnant puddles. I could hear my tires circling over the wet asphalt. With the window down, I could smell the unquestionable scent of fallen rain. The stoplight seemed more red than red, was this an illusion caused by the rain? Or was I just exhausted? A combination of both, maybe. Or was I really seeing things for what they were, and if so, why was I seeing them any other way?

Life is a combination of necessities and urges. When our necessities are satisfied we try to fulfill our urges. Driving down Kingston Pike, in a lucid haze, exhausted, but very awake, I had a desire. And maybe it is my Irish heritage, but I simply wanted a beer.

My craving was for a specific beer, a beer that had come out several years before with a huge publicity campaign. It was popular, it was served in most of the cardboard-cutout chain restaurants in Knoxville. From the day it was released the beer had lost popularity, and now, three years later, I know that they probably won't brew that beer much longer. The beer is impossible to find, except for this small little place on Kingston Pike.

It's a late-night Middle-Eastern deli. They sell beer side-by-side with coconut milk, you can order a greasy Vol burger with cheese fries, or you can get a falafel with hummous. I am not a fan of Middle-Eastern food, it's a Pavlovian response to a very mild childhood incident. When I was 8 or 9, I had a cousin come down from Connecticut for Thanksgiving. My cousin came down with my grandparents, he was two years my senior. Before the big meal, with the entire family seated watching my father distribute the turkey, my cousin, who was sitting next to me, told me that if I could eat 10 olives in a row, without a drink, he would give me a dollar. I got about three olives in when I ran to the bathroom, stomach wrenching. I couldn't eat food for a day, I didn't get my dollar, and I upset my family who was trying to enjoy a feast full of food while some little boy was in the bathroom crying with dry heaves.

This elongated digression serves only one purpose, and sadly, that purpose is this: When I picked up my beer and placed it on the counter, I placed it next to this basket of Middle-Eastern pastries. My digression was my excuse for not knowing the names of these pastries.

It was late, a television sat on the counter playing some Indian gameshow. I stood there and the man behind the counter asked for my ID. I gave him my driver's license. He held it up and looked at it, looked at me, looked at it again, looked at me.

"I cannot sell you this beer," he said.

"Why not?"

"This is not you."

"Of course, it is me."

"No, is not you."

But it was me, which was odd.

"But I've been me for 25 years."

"No, you leave now."

"If I'm not me, then who am I?"

"This I do not know. Leave now."

And I left.

And I drove up the street. And I went to a supermarket, to buy some beer.

Inside the store I thought to myself that there are certain truths in life that are unquestionable. One truth would be that I was born. Another, that I would die. And one more, the one foremost on my mind at the moment, that in between these first and second truths, I will always be me.

All of us are envious of other individuals at one point in time or another. I wonder if I ever wanted to be someone else, or was it rather, wanting to be me in another person's situation.

As I went up to the cashier, with my second choice of beer, I wanted so much to tell him what had just happened. Just to say it out loud, to express the surreal within the real. But when he asked for my ID, I decided that it would be in my best interest not to say a thing.

As I got into my car, 10 minutes from home, six hours from when I had to be at work again, I wanted nothing more than to just tell someone.

And while driving home I am sure that I will.

Just not tonight.

March 16, 2000 * Vol. 10, No. 11
© 2000 Metro Pulse