So close! I've almost completed "The Mezzanine" by Nicholson Baker. I borrowed this book from my cousin what seems to be ages ago. At 135 pages, you'd think I would have plowed through the slender novel in a heartbeat. The deceptively simple premise of the narrator's ride on an escalator and his contemplation of everyday actions (tying his shoes, opening a carton of milk, performing bathroom rituals) is so very engaging and entertaining, but there are a number of reasons why it is taking me so long to finish the book.
Every little tangent (often in the form of gargantuan footnotes that can, at times, flow over the course of several pages) deserves attention. No joke, the passage on the safety of escalators produced a four-page footnote focusing on grooves. The grooves of the escalator. The grooves left by an ice-skater. The grooves of a record. Each example he gives instills in me the need to meditate upon the subject, quietly turn it over in my head, and then next thing I know, I'm napping.
Every little observation triggers a recognition of my own experiences and I find my eyes drifting away from the page as my mind rolls over my own memories. Take, for example, this appraisal of escalator protocol:
Often in department stores I would get stuck behind two motionless passengers and want to seize their shoulders and urge them on, like an instructor at an Outward Bound program, saying, "Annette, Bruce - this isn't the Land of the Lotus-Eaters. You're on a moving stairway. Feel your own effortful, bobbing steps melt into the inexhaustible meliorism of the escalator. Watch the angles of floors and escalator ceilings above and around you alter their vanishing points at a syrupy speed that doesn't correlate with what your legs are telling you they are doing. Don't you see that when you two stop, two abreast, you are not only blocking me? Don't you see that you indicate to all those who are right now stepping onto the escalator at the bottom and looking timidly up for inspiration that if they bound eagerly up they too will catch up with us and be thwarted in their advance? They were wavering whether to stand or to climb, and you just sapped their wills! You made them choose to waste their time! And they in turn impede those who follow them - thus you perpetuate a pattern of sloth and congestion that may persist for hours. Can't you see that?" Sometimes I rudely halted at the step just below the one the pair stood on, my face a caricature of pointless impatience, tailgating them until (often with startled sounds and offered apologies I didn't deserve) they doubled up to let me pass. Headway was easier to establish going down, because the rapid thump of my steps would scare them over to one side.
I read this passage and then started thinking about my own escalator experiences: how, when I encounter these kinds of two-on-one-step people blatantly ignoring the signs stating that passengers wishing to stand should do so on the right so that those wishing to pass may do so on the left, Fezzik's booming "Everybody MOOOOOVE!" or Ed's "Turn to the RIGHT!" always echoes in my mind.
Every little witty turn of phrase and clever description demands my appreciation. I rinsed my glasses quickly under the tap, eager to be able to study my shoes in detail once again; I polished the lenses with the fifth paper towel, making bribe-me, bribe-me finger motions over the two curved surfaces until they were dry. Wha? "bribe-me, bribe me"? Oh, I get it! Hee hee!
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have 30 pages left. Oz, you'll get the book back sometime in the fall.