“But that’s a drag–my life.” (Norman Davies)

1967 short 1
The story as it originally appeared in Forum (1967)

People Not Located

by Norman Davies

At thirty, I don’t wait for ideas, I chase them. They glimmer, and dart–I wish I could use my bare hands on them.

Ideas aren’t trapped in books, either. I open the cover, and get all tangled up. The ideas, greased in language, slip away, scatter. Or else (worse) just stare back at me in a line of print, not really telling me anything. Quiet. I hate that quiet.

Other people haven’t helped me much. They’re doing their own looking around. They don’t know anything yet.

So, what do I do? I sit, and I go after ideas. I go to work right inside–which is really outside.

Better explain. Take my head. No. Just take the distance from my eyebrows up to where my hair starts [sic] Now, I got this distance of skin (I’ve even measured it) three and a half inches high and six inches across.

Okay, concentrate on the skin, the surface, first.

The forehead is supposed to tell something about the character of a person. But I’m careful of believing that. Some professional actors can just act from the eyebrows up. I don’t want to get fooled here.

My own forehead doesn’t fool me. I have two real thin lines across, and an old chicken-pox mark over my right eye. Outward significance? None. As far as I’m concerned, these are entries: canyons, and a volcano mouth, to jump into!

Inside my skull, I’m really outside of everything. My mind is really myself. But I don’t think that’s such a possession. I mean, I don’t feel I own my mind. Maybe I find a notion now and then that I can keep–but real ideas are still dancing free, and they’re not giving themselves away.

My own life is just a notion that I can make work. I’ve captured one name from it that has meaning: Relief. I’m employed at a place that is closed half the time–a frozen berry pie cannery–so in the winter I get my little bit back. That’s all I’m qualified for. And my qualifications for relief checked…

But that’s a drag–my life.

All right. Back to going inside. (I guess I can’t call it living–yet.)

When my eyes are closed, and I’m sitting–sitting in my room–I really get behind my forehead.

The fight is on. A lot of noise: but the ideas are shooting blanks. Nothing hits and hurts.

There’s a blaze–and I see something and I go running over–and the flames are out already. What true is going on? That I can watch? Just for a moment, maybe–then–wham!–grab.

I’ve never had a real thought. I reach for the Accident, when an idea will stumble and sprawl over me.

I never leave the hotel except to eat, sign up for unemployment, or go to the Public Library. Yes, I still indulge myself in the waste of books, but only on the chance I’ll find contents other than words.

Over the past few years, I have found three valuable items that have been left in books at the Public Library. Which books they were left in would have been important–actually most important–at one time, but now I no longer remember. I keep and study these items–because they have urged me the closest I have ever been to an idea of my own. The people who left these things didn’t offer them. If I was not so merciless a judge, maybe I’d even give myself credit. Sometimes, I almost do.

When I close my eyes to see these items They [sic] form a relationship with the thoughts that erupt in my mind. What I see with my eyes closed has become more real than anything else, so that even if these items are lost somewhere in this littered room–which they are–it doesn’t matter. I still have them.

There is a Christmas card from a young couple to the parents of the husband. I found the thing in a library book sometime in February. It was in an addressed envelope with no stamp The card was obviously signed by the young wife, in a delicate looping hand: Merry Christmas, love from Ron and Donna. Just beneath, was their names in print; they’d probably had their names printed on about fifty copies of the same card.

Then there was a love letter, on a spiral notebook paper, to a girl named Susan. The guy must have been trying to patch things up. He wrote: The most important thing is remembering what we have, not what we don’t have. We should try to forget everything but each other. This was probably just a first draft, because then he started some sort of shopping list:

Toilet Paper

Last was the following. The third item was typed. It was misspelled, ungrammatical, unfinished. It’s my favorite.

Dear Sir

Regarding this note or contract I don’t understand it.
I filled out one contract, what is this one for? I will not stand to be threaten.
if you think by threatening, to send the sheriff to my job you are wrong. This will not insure payments.
Sir, I intend to pay every penny I owe you. I repeat I do not intent to be threaten

Well, I keep looking in library books for things like that. I love, “I will not stand to be threaten.”

These items have found their place in my mind, along with the flash of elusive ideas. And one time, I wrote something down and took it to the Public Library. I just wandered around among the shelves in the Literature, Philosophy and Religion section. I closed my eyes and felt along, and finally shoved the paper into a book.

Sitting here in my room, I am aware of all my own discarded books around me. I have books on the floor, under the bed, climbing the walls. Books in the closet.

I’m trying to find spiritual answers, so even my love life is here. Scattered around the room are dozens, and dozens of abused and stained old copies of Playboy, Cavalier, Dude. Magazines that also–sure–had some pretty good topical reading in them.

I don’t have time any more. I can still close my eyes and see what I wrote; it’s the closest thing to a real idea I ever had. At thirty, I show myself I’m still ambitious.

What I left in the book is there in my mind, in the middle of the fireworks. But because I didn’t have to chase it–how can I trust it?

I’m unlocated, except inside my own head. If I give myself credit for that, at least, maybe I should give myself credit for what I wrote and gave away. Maybe.

I can close my eyes and read it, there in the flicker of ideas I can’t grasp. In some book, someone will read what I read now.

There is a list of classmates not located. If you know the name of anyone on the list, would you please write it in. We would like this information as soon as possible.

“People Not Located,” by Norman Davies originally published in Forum (1967, City College of San Francisco).

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