City of Cities Historical Marker
[audio:https://newfound.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/cities2.mp3|titles=”City of Cities Historical Marker” at Newfound |artists=Jay Orff] Along the final cliff of the isthmus, the sea lions below in their lazy play, the memory of shellfish in your mouth, you will find a stone altar with a bronze plaque telling you of a town that was once here, a town so ideal that it would make fables of Atlantis seem paltry in their imaginings. Gold was far too cheap a material to be used for paving the streets and the city gleamed with a metal so rare it was found only here. The buildings hummed, each wall in alignment with the cosmos, the cathedrals and museums competed for better modes of expression, in a good-natured and productive, self-healing and annealing way, a way that made every day more whole, more complete, completeness becoming more complete in this city of cities, a town that got better every day even though it was the best the day before. It flowed, brimmed, chugged with music and food and culture and art and faith and physical prowess and marvels that could stop the heart. And maybe that’s what happened, perhaps you can get too much of a good thing. No one really knows how or why but at some point in the indistinct, untraceable past the city disappeared and we have only the idea, the story, to remember the place by. Or rather the place that marks the idea, a conundrum that is debated at the City of Cities Conference each year. But if you stand here long enough and watch the cliff against the sky, the beach along the sea, the waves upon the sea, the sea into the sky, you will start to feel it, the city that was here, the parallel lines of human creation and the natural world and their interaction, and believe that it was a great place, that it was a transcendent accomplishment, evidence of a greater, hidden truth and meaning. And these passing intuitions, and the subculture that has sprung up around them, are all that we have left.
[audio:https://newfound.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/furtive2.mp3|titles=”Furtive” at Newfound |artists=Jay Orff] There are some towns you remember, places you want to stay, move to, fantastic places because of their vibrant arts scene or fabulous food or delightful architecture or some unspeakable quality that the place possesses, that makes you feel more alive, more present. Furtive is not such a town. In fact, it seems like a town perpetually on the way to another town, a gateway to somewhere else. The lunch counters have no seats; the parking meters are good for only seven minutes; there are no libraries, parks, or museums (except for the brief Museum of Conveyance which is located in the back entrance to the town’s bank; the fifteen-foot moving walkway, like those you find in airports, flows past a series of photographs that constitute the short history of moving walkways). The town is lively, with everyone supremely busy, full of a sense of purpose, checking off lists, making appointments, walking from place to place in a hush that sounds like gentle waves, well-dressed legs swishing together, tires rushing on pavement, envelopes and paper bags and newspapers being sorted and moved from one place to another, creating a rhythmic white noise that measures the present and announces the future, never pausing, flowing forward, each day in this city leaving nothing behind, expertly unobtrusive, professionally invisible.
[audio:https://newfound.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/waiting2.mp3|titles=”Waiting Room” at Newfound |artists=Jay Orff] You are standing in a large room that looks like the expansive terminal of a well-kept bus station with clean linoleum floors and groupings of four white vinyl chairs molded together and placed every twenty feet. No one uses these chairs. The walls are glass and you can look out to busy city streets while you wait. Along one far wall are three vending machines, two empty and one filled with expensive coconut clusters. A clock chimes every twelve minutes, alerting you to an idiosyncratically measured passing of time but offering no explanation as to its significance. Without warning, a crew of janitors occasionally appears through a side door that you had assumed to be one of the wall panels. These big, loud men in white coveralls begin setting up yellow caution signs. They announce—holler, really—that the room is closed and everyone must leave, wait outside if you like (they won’t tell you how long you might have to be outside, but they do say, simply, aggressively, that you must get out). They chase anyone who refuses to go from one end of the room to the other, tackling them, dragging them out and locking the door behind them, you, everyone who may have been in the room. The smallest janitor then finds a key on his crowded ring, stabs it into a black box on the wall, opens a small door and vigorously turns a knob while shouting to another janitor, pointing to a row of chairs that was overturned in the commotion. As he spins the knob, glowing digital numbers, which indicate the hours of operation, blur forward, backward, turning indistinguishably on the display next to the door, slowing, ticking forward a few final digits and then back until the numbers stop. He slaps the black box shut to reveal that, in fact, the room closed an hour ago but will reopen again in exactly four minutes.
Jay Orff is a writer and musician living in Minneapolis. His fiction has appeared in Reed, Spout, Chain and Harper’s Magazine. He also writes about art for mnartists.org.