Thursday, April 5, 2012

Short By a Foot

An Austrian man named Hans Url cut off his left foot with an electric saw shortly before unemployment officials were to determine his fitness for work, then put it in an oven. “He wants to work,” said Url’s wife. “But the job he imagines for himself doesn’t exist.”
                                               (Harpers Magazine, "Weekly Review," April 2, 2012)

Yes, they would have put me to work. A job that would, I envisioned, have been hopelessly pedestrian. Work makes the man. Arbeit macht frei.

Perhaps as a courier, walking packages and dossiers, billets and leases, memoranda of intent and understanding, contracts, letters of agreement, assigns, easements, mortgages, diplomatic packets, papal bulls, encyclicals, minutes of session - in short, the ephemera of geopolitics, global commerce and the ecclesia. They would have set me to walk about bearing these things, pretending for everyone's sake that they are of consequence as am I, by extension, implication and contiguity. Would doubtless have denied me even a horse or a moped for the purpose. A bicycle might have ennobled the task.

No thank you, I said. I'd much prefer not to. So I cut off my foot.

They would have put me to work as a guard, consigned forever to watch over empty office corridors, to remain wakeful, to navigate the sweaty press of a shopping mall, or walk some abandoned, interminable stretch of fence at a storage yard, or keep the sagging gate at a power plant about to explode or melt down. Guard something no one wants.

I would have fallen asleep in boredom. I would malinger. The world on my sleepy watch would have been unguarded, on its own recognisance. No thank you, I said. I'd much prefer not to. So I cut off my foot. 

If not a guard, then perhaps a barista. They would have put me to work, standing. I would stand at a counter and make endless kaffees for a succession of happy customers moving in and out of the space in which I would remain eternal, immobile. The soles of my shoes would wear thin, my arms would attenuate, my mind would cloud, my eyes grow dim. I would grow old, my substance would evaporate in a cloud of espresso.

No thank you, I said. I'd much prefer not to. So I cut off my foot.

The world's oldest profession may have been as they say. The second oldest profession surely cleaned up after it. Left to their own devices as they are, they would doubtless have deemed me suitable, fit to become apprenticed in that art. Had I remained sound of limb. I might have swept and hauled, polished and wiped and dusted as I walked through their leavings, leaving little for me. But I much preferred not to. So I cut off my foot.

At best I might expect a fine uniform and a place on the tram system, tramping up and down, backwards and forwards along the tram car, punching tickets, rolling along in the same small circuit until I am no longer suited for the task, can no longer remember who has just come on, whose ticket needs my ministrations, can no longer stand and must ask the passengers on their honor to come to me for validation. I, who cannot validate even myself. 

I am Url, no longer pedestrian; no longer suited, of no particular fitness. I am not of any recognizable caste or class, bereft of occupation or vocation, unchurched, without sacrament, without communion, denomination or diocese, devoid of liturgy, of no rite, unclubbed, unsuited, unjoined, disjointed. I mean only to amuse myself. The job I envision for myself does not exist, which is to remain myself, uncircumscribed, uncircumcised, unsected, unsurveyed, unsurveilled, undescribed, indefinite and indescribable, unfit, requiring no validation.

In the scheme of things, I do not miss my foot. The opportunity to be exploited is a privilege for which one must be suitable. It rendered me suitable.

1 comment:

  1. I think the man was misunderstood, even by his wife. He wanted a job and was just trying to put his best foot forward.