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Oh You

You won’t be able to do it. It is a call, and it is something you only know how to do by doing it over and over. Birds practise their musical tunes. Cows practise their ‘moo’ as they stroll through the fields. But persons don’t know how to make a call, and so you will never be able to do it.

 

‘Oh you’ is sung. It starts out a little bit lower and ends a little bit higher like the call for a Bob White bird, only slower. You hold on to it longer. And like the call of the Bob White bird, you do it over and over and over again. The more you do it, the more you have to do it. And you have to think of a 1% solution of W.C. Fields and little bit of bursting at the end. ‘Oh you,’ ‘Oh you.’

 

But anyway, you can’t do it. You can’t do it because you hardened your voice around some sounds you heard once. And now you can’t change it.

 

You thought it would sound good to hold on to the ts at the ends of words with a breathy whistle that is held until the beginning of next word. You make that whistle for every single word that ends with a t. You like it, and your head jumps a little bit every time you say it. You say ‘but’ or ‘but-uh’ a lot so that you can make that t sound a whole bunch more times. You put it in everywhere: But-stah-aah. But-stah-aah. You put it in between words, at the end of sentences, and at moments when other people would have a chance to talk.

 

Or you say ‘Sure, sure, sure’ while other people are talking like you already thought of everything they were saying a thousand years ago. Sometimes you say the name of someone and then ‘Sure, Sure, Sure.’ Then sometimes you repeat the name several times together with ‘Sure, Sure, Sure’ while holding your finger in the air so that they will stop talking and you can say all of your sentences filled with whistles and but-ahs or words like ‘by and large.’ You don’t never even know what it means, but you are dying to say it. You are dying to say ‘by and large’ and ‘but-stah.’ Or you just repeat some other words of your logical argument in a stutter so you can keep on making noises even when you don’t never ever got nothing to say.

 

There is a noise made for every thought and then little grunts and puppy noises in between thoughts. It sounds like a brain. And it is very, very loud and always coming out of the mouth. The sound of it is everywhere because no one will shut they big fat trap. Persons speak high and show their teeth. And it is so loud and so high. No person will speak low where the sound vibrates.

 

You used to have other voices. You used to be able to make the cat-hissing sound. But you can’t do it now. For the cat-hissing sound, you have to blow air through your nose instead of your mouth. You have to have your mouth open. And it sounds better if you raise up your paw. Anyway, you can’t do it now.

 

Peter Sellers could stretch and change the inside of his lungs and his tongue and his mouth to make the sound of a cartoon elevator or a newscaster inside a box, or a cat moving from this century into the next one. But you can’t do it because you don’t try. You could tell the sound of Donald Sutherland’s voice, just from a cough. You could even tell that it was Donald Sutherland faking a Russian accent when he coughed. But persons don’t try hard enough to know about this. You can make the voice of a radio announcer who has a beard and the sound of a radio announcer who doesn’t have a beard. You can make the sound of one whose front teeth are a few millimetres forward where there are little pools and geysers of saliva that are part of the sound. But you don’t do it. You don’t try to do it for so long that now you really can’t do it.

 

You would rather say ‘by and large’ than be able to make the cat hissing sound. You act like the cat hissing sound is not important. Only saying ‘by and large’ is important. You are dying to make the stuck up whistling sound, but you don’t think that blowing air through your nose and holding up your paw is important. Singing ‘Oh You’ is not important to you anymore.

 

Now the only sounds that comes out is loud talking pushed through a strangulated snout.

 

It smells funny too. It smells like ureated house dust with cooked corn and a drop of Evening in Paris. It smells nervous.

 

And you will be making these sounds on the bed where you die, because you cannot sing,

 

Oh you.

 

You cannot lift your head and round your lips around a low howl that goes up and down through unmarked tones. Your whiskers will not quiver as it repeats and repeats. A howl that balloons the anus. You don’t know how to smell the rounded perfume-strength saliva that is pungent and sweet. You don’t understand why making the sounds is all that matters. You don’t know nothing about it.

 

You don’t know nothing about it, and you don’t know nothing about it. And that’s why.

 

Oh You. Oh you.

 

*

 

You look at people until they look at you back. You can’t keep your little eyes off of them. Every two or three seconds they have got to look at you. If they don’t look back, you just keep looking at them until they turn to you. You keep trying to put yourself in front of them, to face them like they were a page or a picture. You seat people around a table so that they are looking right at another person.

 

But the eyes are too strong. Look to the side and lower your eyes and make your voice vibrate. Watch the mouth from the side and smell the breath. Stare at the mouth or the slowly moving hand. Stare at the muscles of the leg. Don’t never look at the eyes.

 

Your eyes are little sphincters that are always flexing and arching with a little ball rolling inside. You are always looking up to catch your little thoughts. A string of words that are all jumbled and tangled by your bobbing head. The little eyes rolling and the tongue clucking. Your little lips moving around boomeranging out to the side and back again.

 

When you are not talking, when others are talking, you keep on moving your lips and mouthing your little sentences. You cannot shut your mouth.

 

You have five or six things you say and you try to remember them and find a place to say them. Except that when someone actually asks you for one of these sayings, you start choking and coughing and trying to say all of your words at one time.

 

You draw a little shape in the air and three sentences later say the word ‘house.’ You draw an imaginary line on your arm and three sentences later you say ‘short-sleeved.’

 

Or you start to hum a little nervous tune. Tum-tee, tum-tee, tum-tee, dum.

 

And if persons still don’t look at you, you go into another room and start to sing as if you were just as relaxed as you could be, so relaxed that you are singing. But the singing is so loud that, it is just like staring at a person’s eye from far away through thick walls.

 

*

 

You wake up with yourself every morning. Next to yourself. With yourself lying too close to you, flinching and apologising and smiling too often. You have been waiting for you to wake up, staring at you, trying not to smile too soon. But you do smile too soon. And furrow your brow. And worry that you smiled too soon.

 

Your skin is white as a very old baby. And that skin is furless, except for some fine and vestigial fur of the nervous system. You worry even over these wisps and try to pluck them out all the time. And you don’t have no idea in the world how to get away from that person who is clinging to you.

 

You smell like air-conditioned skin. A vinegary smell of fear all over coming out of your skin. It smells like one hair. It smells like one hair coming out of a mole with its own hair. A vinegary drop of pink chicken water, sweetened by an artificial maple syrup chemical and a sugar snap pea that has something wrong with it.

 

But you can’t smell it.

 

You spend a lot of time to look at that skin on your body.

 

It’s because you have such a short tongue.

 

*

 

You run across the street to the store with noisy lights to buy unscented creams and lotions that you think have no smell, even though they do if you would know how to smell it. You run with your arms straight down by your side. You don’t run with your arms bent. Your arms are straight down and your little clenched fists are going back and forth in little bitty quick swings. And just like you don’t bend your arms you don’t hardly bend your knees. You don’t really run. You do this tense stiff-kneed hopping where your whole body goes side to side. And when you finally get to the door you nearly bump into someone, and that is supposed to be the funniest thing on earth. And your little baby voice cries out, ‘Oh! Pardon me!’

 

You think you are so interesting when you are a little bit formal. And you are so pleased with yourself for stepping aside and holding the door. You are kind of like a really fidgety person who thinks they are saving a ship full of people by holding the door at the store. Your little salute is a tight-lipped smile as if the situation was so funny in a special way that only you understand – so funny that your chin goes up and in to your goody face. Someone thanks you and instead of saying something back, you hold your breath in your little stiff body. You say nervously, something that sounded like a cross between a guttural cough and a sneeze while moving in a stiff way to act like it was funny. Then into the store you go under lights you can’t hear to get creams you can’t smell with the little leftover smile on your face.

 

You walk just like you run.

 

With little huffs and puffs, you are overly excited about the completion of a task that will then complete a category of tasks. Your little heels making farting scuffs across the floor. The little wheels of your mind spinning like a fan. Moving around like a squirrel except that a squirrel is doing it confidently.

 

You swim just like you walk.

 

You walk over to the water and every time you step your toes curl up and then slowly come back down. They curl up like there is some danger of them being on the ground and then they slowly curl back down as you make your little walk over to the water.

 

In the water you hop up and go under like you are going to push off hard and glide. The whole body disappears under water for a while but when it comes to the surface it is still in the same place. That is how you push off, and only now are you ready to make your old slow way down the pool. The hand slowly reaches over the body while the legs, one bent, are kicking with the ankle at right angles. For every ten kicks, the slow elbow gradually straightens and the flat palm presses into the water with all of the fingers sticking out of the water. Like the toes, they don’t want to go into the water too quickly. What happens to the arm underneath is not known to you or to any person looking at it. No progress has been made through the water, but it is time for the face to appear from underneath the water as if from the anguish of hell to make an orgasmic yawn. Looking up at the ceiling, it breathes. And the next arm quickly bats at the air and smacks the water. One arm is quiet and slow. The other one is loud and quick. A quiet one and a loud one, a quiet one and a loud one all the way down pool. Sometimes one foot appears above the water, all by itself, makes a loud hollow kick and then disappears. The rest of the time the legs only think they are kicking. They sort of go back and forth, but they are trailing along behind close to the bottom of the pool.

 

You have decided that this will be your little way of swimming. Just like you have figured out your little way of holding the phone. Your little way of saying ‘think you’ instead of thank you. Or your little way of cocking your foot. All special little flourishes that other people have to look at.

 

And your plain old skeleton is up in there. Your old white stiff skeleton. It could be swinging loose, but it is strung up inside your horrible tight muscles.

 

Why you don’t just sit still? Why you don’t just sit still and cry out,

 

Oh you, Oh you.

 

*

 

You sat next to that man that had a lot of hair all over his body winding and unwinding your old skeleton all the time he was talking.

 

You can’t listen to him. You just can’t do it. All you hear is his sentences. And you are making up all your sentences and wildly pointing at them as they float around and evaporate. You don’t never just sit still and stare at him or listen to his breathing or the sound of this over-bite. The face was shaved smooth with hairs waiting underneath. It didn’t seem like there could hardly be skin because there was so much thick black hair trying to come through. Why you don’t think about that? And it was all under his clothes. One meaty leg of lamb had crossed the other one and there was hair in the tiny crack just escaping the socks and usually covered by the pants. And all the clothes were standing out a little bit from the body because of all the curly fur that was in there.

 

Why you don’t stare at this? You move your eyes everywhere, up and away from his white collar even though somewhere in there is probably where the really furry part starts.

 

You are busy with your high soprano sentences when you could have been listening to his deep voice against the bags of fluids and air in his lungs and through thick cheeks. And when he shifts his weight all the air and water slosh around inside him, and all the muscles squish together. Some wafting puffs of air blow across his skin that smell like rounded mustard, whiskey and cedar floated on a current of shaving cream. A blue oregano crayon in a thunderstorm.

 

Except that you don’t really know how to smell it. You do smell it, but you don’t know you are smelling. If he would be swimming instead of you, the air inside him would buoy him through the water. The water would roll off his fur, and you could hear his breathing.

 

His voice gets lower and more humid. You hear it but you don’t know you hear it. Your voice is playing the scales on the piano, going higher and higher into its pinch-ed range. And the eyebrows are flapping. And the eyes are rolling around. And besides that, you don’t say nothing. No person can understand what you are saying because it is coming out really fast, and it is all broken up.

 

Anyway you missed hearing the furry man speak. The voice has slanty, droopy eyes and thick cheeks. You have to get very still and stare at the mouth and wait. It’s the cheeks that change the sound of air coming in. Moist warm air. And the sound that comes out is so low except for tenor softenings on some words. It sounds like Stanley Donen and rounded Walter Pidgeon with teeth moved slightly forward and it is spoken in deadpan, like how a pouting hound would talk.

 

And after every sentence that he finishes, he opens his mouth slightly. He isn’t panting, it was just that he leaves the mouth slightly open to let things into his mind.

 

If you stare at the cushiony lips, and if you touch them, you could feel them buzzing like a Hawaiian guitar.

 

And the taste on your finger would be salty.

 

But anyway, you missed it.

 

*

 

Why, why you don’t be still and stare at the fur.

 

Why, why you don’t make yourself so heavy that everything else has to go around you.

 

Instead you are swept up. Still stammering sentences and writing them in the air, you are swept up into a crowd of other people who talk even more than you. They are all talking all the time very loudly. They worry if they are not talking. You think you like the little stories told by persons who can’t smell heated lettuce and will not stop telling you everything that is on their mind and everybody else’s mind. You are so flattered to be one of them. You want them like you want all the other songs on the album except the one that you would really like to listen to over and over again. You think you need all the other songs that aren’t really as good as that one so that you have something called an album. Just like the book has all the extra pages it needs to be a book. All, all, all the other furless persons, who actually made up the idea of the extra songs and the extra pages are moving you along.

 

Sometimes you act like you are going to be all still in the crowd. You are kind of posing as if you were being still, making little notes in your book. But you are taking too many notes. Your little fine-tipped ink pen is moving the entire time. You don’t look up that much except that inside your little eyes are still darting around begging other people to look at you. But you have to pretend like you are being still so you look down and act like you really have to write down all those notes. You sit there and take notes the entire time. Tum tee Tum tee Tum tee Tum.

 

And if anyone talks to you then you are slipping and sliding and choking and bobbing trying to say ‘by and large.’

 

Most of them know how to bite. Almost everyone knows how to bite but you. You should have sunk your teeth into the fat white jelly of their candy-ass butts, but you don’t do nothing.

 

Everyone knows how to stick their face into another face and wait – wait until they hear the click. And when they hear the little click, they know how to slide their foot into the door. They all have big teeth and they are always baring their teeth – teeth that have been straightened with braces.

 

You can’t smell it but all the persons together smells like a staleness that will never go away because once it was left on there too long and now it won’t wash off. It’s sticky. A Velcro smell. A smell like a fuzzy piece of gum or an oily car tree rolling over every other smell. It’s a strong smell of Styrofoam, sage and chilled cigarette smoke that has been run through an air conditioner at night and smoothed over with a gas dryer. And it is all stuck together with flesh coloured pancake stage makeup.

 

All you have to do is shift your weight, look down, move your ears and smell. But you will not be able to do it. All you have to do is lower your head and sink your teeth into the flesh. You just have to look with calm eyes at the white flesh, raise your paw, send air through your nose and say, ‘I want to bite your furless butt, you.’

 

But you will not be able to do it. You are the worst kind. You are the worst kind because you don’t know nothing about biting but you wish you did.

 

You don’t know how to bite like you don’t ever know how to be still.

 

You don’t know how to be still like you don’t ever know how to be quiet.

 

You are a dry bun under a lid.

 

*

 

Sometimes, almost never, you do know how to sit still and stare.

 

You are sitting really still with your hands folded on the table, and one of your hands reaches over and touches your other hand. A warm, soft hand, soft, loose, calm hand reaches over and touches your old nervous cold, hand filled with knobby bones.

 

Sometimes, your tongue gets longer and lighter and floats up to the roof of your mouth and the lips become a fat bouche. And the salt water evens out on either side of all of the membranes of all of your cells.

 

Then you smell like seltzer water and tears and a Band-Aid. And the taste of the wooden stick inside the ice cream bar.

 

You lift up off the ground and fly around the room. Air is like water and it is not hard to bob above the floor.

 

And you begin growing a little taller again.

 

And the hips get a little plumper and the belly swells.

 

And a new tooth cuts in through the gum.

 

And you could love the music that doesn’t repeat and the story that doesn’t have a plot.

 

And you could smell the rare spores of a mildew that grow in the lobbies of incandescently lit bank buildings and department stores. They find nutrients in the machine oil that lubricates the elevators, and you can smell it.

 

You lie on your back with your paws bent over your wrists, your fat lips sagging into a puddle on the floor.

 

And somewhere from a far away canyon of your bowels sails a long high-pitched meow.

 

At that moment you could lift your head and round your whiskered quivering bouche and sing

 

Oh You. Oh You.

 

*

 

But you don’t know how to do it.

 

You have the wrong things. Not the huge things that cause pain and death. Not the things that are so crazy and annoying that people want to be around you all the time. Not so crazy and annoying that you can make people your slave for the rest of their lives. Everyone really likes that. What you have is what people just don’t like – the weak, nervous stuttering that can be dismissed. You are that one. Persons will always ask you to move if they want to sit next to their wife or child. Persons will always ask you if you wouldn’t mind giving up your sandwich.

 

It’s because you have thin lips with no slobber and no fur.

 

Just in case you don’t understand, you are the runt. You flinched instead of rolling and tumbling.

 

Something hungry would want to eat you for a meal. You would be the obvious one to get rid of.

 

You will be eaten. You will be taking notes and whistling tum de dum and someone will snatch you up and eat you.

 

And the meat on your bones was chewy. There wasn’t much of it and it wasn’t really all that good. The flavour had been washed out with soap and lukewarm water. Lots of thin blue-white gristle. And the little muscle you spent a year trying to get to move a certain way wasn’t even worth eating more than half of.

 

Nothing happens before or after you are eaten. No special music. The world smells like it always does ­– like cake mix, skin and a hot TV at 3:30 in the afternoon. But you won’t be able to smell it.



ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR


is an architect, writer and professor at Yale. Her most recent book, Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space (Verso, 2014)examines global infrastructure as a medium of polity. Another recent book, Subtraction (Sternberg, 2014), considers building removal or how to put the development machine into reverse. Other books include: Enduring Innocence: Global Architecture and its Political Masquerades (MIT, 2005) and Organization Space: Landscapes, Highways and Houses in America (MIT, 1999). Her research and writing was included in the 2014 Venice Biennale, and she lectures and exhibits internationally.


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