——Hey Paul, it’s Ed!
—Oh hi, Ed! Funny you happened to call me now because the weirdest thing just hap—
——How are things, bud?
—Well, yeah I was just about to tell y—
——What? Speak up; I can’t hear you.
—OK, I was just go—
——I’m on a Greyhound, man. Lots of engine noise and people around me talking, so I can’t hear you real well. Can you speak a little louder?
——What did you say? “Yes?”
—Well, actually I said “yeah,” but bas—
——What? What are you saying?
—I said “yes.”
——No, what were you saying before that?
—I was about to tell you abou—
——Damn it, Paul. Quit mumbling.
—I’m not mum—
——You sound like you’re trying to talk with a mouthful of bread.
—I assure you, I’m not eating any brea—
——Seems like this always happens.
——Seems like every time I call you, unless it’s on a land line, I catch maybe two words out of ten and have to figure out the rest from context clues. I don’t get it. I—
—Give me a break, Ed. Geez.
——Whoa, whoa, whoa. I’m just trying to carry on a conversation here, pass the time in this friggin bus. Got babies crying from every direction, this damn driver jerking to a stop at every light, shifty hobo types eyeing me like I’m a prime rib. Goddamn I miss having a car. So whaddaya say. Gonna talk a little louder?
. . .
—You’re the reason you can’t hear me. You’re riding on a—
——Hey, you know what?
——I got another call coming in.
——It is great. It’s Dave. He’s picking me up from the bus station in downtown St. Louis—when and if I ever get there.
——Alright is right. I’ll call you back later.
—Talk to you la—
. . .
. . .
. . .
——Hey, Paul. It’s Ed again.
——Just got to the station and now there’s no sign of Dave, though he said he’d be here early. Tried calling him, but it went straight to voicemail.
——Yeah, I don’t know what that’s about. I was just talking to the guy an hour or so ago. So then I was gonna call you once I got inside where there’s A/C, but now it’s too noisy in there, too, so I came outside, and now I’m sweating balls. Christ. Forgot about how humid it is here in the summer.
——What was up with that earlier? I could barely hear anything you said.
—I don’t know. Honestly, I think you need to get a new phone, or else stop calling me when you’re in noisy places.
——Yeah, I don’t know what the problem is, but it seems like quiet is hard to come by in public. You think of cell phones as such a convenience because you can use them anywhere, but then everywhere you go is noisier and less suitable for making phone calls.
—No kidding. I know what you mean.
——Anyhow.. . . ——You were about to tell me about something earlier?
—I guess I was.
——What was it?
—Eh. It’s not important anymore. Just something weird that happened at O’Malley’s. I’ll tell you about it when I see you.
——At where? That restaurant?
—Yeah. I’ll tell you about it when I see you. But what about you? I heard something about you working in St. Louis this summer?
——You heard right. There aren’t many jobs for me in Piasa. No one really wants to hire a college kid for just a summer, except maybe McDonald’s.
—I guess that’s true.
——God knows I don’t want to resort to that. I had enough food service experience for a lifetime at the dorm dining hall. So I got a job at the Art Museum.
—Huh. What do you think they’ll have you do there?
——I’m not real sure yet. Hopefully just mill around, looking knowledgable.
—You’d like that?
——Sure. Looking at paintings all day, making sure no one takes off with one? That sounds peachy.
—Sounds more like death.
—Well you’d just be walking down rows of paintings, looking at one, and then another, and so on.
—I don’t have anything against art museums. It can be relaxing to stroll through at a nice pace, look at this and that. But when you’ve seen them all and then you start the loop again. And again. I just imagine that that’s what hell is like, if there is a hell. You know?
——I see what you’re saying, but I disagree.
——I think each time you look at a painting, you see something new. The closer you look, the more you see, until eventually your thoughts about a painting are nothing like your first impressions. You start to see the painting as not just a painting but a slice of another world, frozen in time, or like a glimmer of the big picture, the human experience, everything we know or think we know.
—Hm. I supp—
——Or knew once and kind of forgot. And then you come full-circle and think of it as a painting again and admire the artist’s brushstrokes that make the painting what it is.
—I never really looked that closely.
——Yeah. I feel like we’re always getting pushed around in different directions without any reason. Look at this billboard. Take this class. Eat this burger. Watch this commercial. Read this blog. Get this job. It’s always on to another thing, and usually before you finished the last one. You can hardly escape it. At least I can’t. But in a museum, you can become just absorbed in one thing.
—I just don’t know if I have the attention sp—
——No, it’s not death at all, man. Being able to savor that work of art, put yourself in that moment . . . That’s living.
. . .
—If you say so.