The first chapter, in which a phone call interrupts the -war, a job is lost, and the little drummer boy gets swept up in the irresistible
Pressed much later to tell how it happened, he could recall almost nothing but a constant chill, a sense of drifting, the haunted certainty back then that even his own experiences did not belong to him. "This was at a time when I felt," he'd explain, "invisible to the naked eye."
It started with the war. He was watching it on television, smart bombs falling on CNN, when the telephone interrupted. "It's for you," his roommate covered the receiver. "I think it's that guy," meaning the one who'd called a bit earlier, claiming to be starting a band and in need of a drummer. Not again. Invitations of this nature arrived frequently-too frequently. Everyone apparently wanted to lead a band; nobody wanted to sit in the back, to drum. Lit with a fleeting selfishness, a few managed to assemble the pieces correctly: the songs they'd need, the musicians, the resources. For what? Some rehearsals, maybe a couple unpaying party gigs at the college. Then some member gets too cocky, someone gets bored, musicians stop speaking, band goes away.
His roommate motioned for him to take the call.
He mumbled a greeting into the phone.
His roommate snapped off the TV.
"Boy, you're a hard one to get a hold of."
No, Camden considered scoffing, not hard to get a hold of. Just blessed with a protective roommate. He draped the flannel comforter over his head, yawned, and closed his eyes. Firing through his brain came this: Televisions used to turn off differently. Funny, he'd never given it much thought. The TV image didn't blink into disappearance before the way it did now. It simply shrank until, arguably, it was gone. When he was young, Camden often stayed up late turning the TV on and off, trying to pinpoint precisely when the television was assuredly off. Over and over be hit the button and watched the on-screen image retreat to a small blue dot, which hung on for some time, as if reconsidering its departure, before slipping off into the blackness.
No, not a hard one to get a hold of; I am just a small blue dot.
Since losing his job, Camden had curled up on the sofa, like any reasonable mammal will once set on hibernating his twenties away. Occasionally a siren dashed past or an illegally overburdened eighteen-wheeler rumbled through the intersection, steering down side streets to bypass the highway scales, creating large circles in Camden's soda. The flag above the post office would loll in the wind, craving attention with its goddamn limp waving. Camden'd set aside the rest of his days, from here on out, to be spent this way: in his apartment, dozing before the television, engine flooded, dead in the water, feelin' fine. He grew quite pleased with this picture of himself as a small blue dot. Now I'm almost there, he thought to himself contentedly. And now I'm nearly gone....
Earlier that week he'd been in possession of a thing some bluehelmeted neutral observers might charitably have termed a point to his being there. Namely: a job, years spent fetching periodicals in the basement of the local library, the stacks. But he had taken too literally a posted memorandum warning against overworking, bottoming out, which could result in short tempers and gruffness. He'd gone into work at 8:00 A.M., per usual, and written his name on the sign-in sheet hanging by a metal ring on a hook beside the employee entrance. Did that, then ran into Mr. Schuck, the boss, who'd positioned himself squarely in front of the memo re: the import of adequate breaks. How long'd Camden already been there, with zero time off? En route to his locker, with Schuck right there, Camden decided to-as they say-"seize opportunity." For the very first time, he asked for a few days off.
The sound of his voice gave Schuck a start, as if he hadn't even noticed Camden. "What?" he snapped. Mr. Schuck-a pathetic, solitary figure, the forgotten principal, favored beltless polyester slacks, scuffed wing tips, wide ties. He tried looking at Camden, but in the office fighting Schuck's watery eyes slipped right past and settled on blank distance. "Oh, hello there, you," was all he came up with.
"Sorry if I scared you, Mr. Schuck."
"Nothing of the sort."
"It's just, I was thinking, well, I've been here years now, and ... I just wondered if I had some vacation time coming anytime soon."
"What's your name again?"
Told him, Schuck harumphed, asked where Camden'd been.
"Sorry, Mr. Schuck. I don't understand."
"Where ... have ... you ... been?" he asked, speaking strictly man to goat here, cruelly deliberating over each word. Rapidly asked if Camden understood this, that, and the other about library policy, didn't he realize what the libraries of northern Virginia have meant to the people of northern Virginia, didn't he truly value learning. Quoted Camden exact figures on-number of people holding library cards, books lent for home use in a year, &tc. Spoke of the Public Library's founding visionaries, noble public servants of yore, asthmatic Littlefield, the brilliant Miss Tessa L. Kelso, &tc.
This ran for several minutes, them standing in a poorly lit corridor, fellow employees elbowing through, nodding at the boss, winking at Camden. They pretended not to notice Mr. Schuck's flushed face, his voice rising, starting to sputter. "Schuck sucks," the employees sang at him, not-so-nicely, behind his back. "Whoa! Tough luck, old Schuck, you suck."
Mr. Schuck asked again where Camden had been.
"I've been right here." Camden's uncharacteristically exasperated. "In the library. I've been right here, in this library, doing my job."
"Strange that I haven't seen you.
A sudden chill crept up his spine when Schuck said that. It was not the first time someone'd failed to notice Camden. It had been that way at other jobs, where teenage bosses barked that he was too shy and stuck-up to handle the register, so they kept him in back tidying drawers, washing dishes, turning locks for......Continua