Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Oulipo Story: The Agent's Oversight

Escher's High and Low
Puzzling over the map, he slows down and drifts to the side of the road, where the oaks lining the curb are casting a cool shadow like a tarp, restraining the blazing July sun. He likes to be early--you can't do this job properly if you're rushing--so he left the house a little before noon, but once again his plan has raveled as he's gradually found himself lost in a neighborhood he's never visited before, and it's now after 2. The imagery is so indistinct, the landscape so featureless--every detached house similar in size, shape and color, the same flat green-brown lawns, trim juniper hedges, black driveways--he feels like he's been driving into and out of an immense mirror. When he finally does find the house he's looking for, a development he's sanguine about, he intends to draw a large, red circle around the exact spot on the unfolded chart before him, like he's done every other time he's ended up in a similar situation, though he realizes it's unlikely he'll ever have to come back here; he never does, he's so good that once is always enough. Which is why he's got like models carefully stored away in his basement from previous trips to any number of destinations, in countless cities, but the targets in the suburbs are always a trial, and the exurbs are the worst. He's like to pull out his afro in many of them, because it's as if the surveyors and planners simply clipped fragments of various other pictures, ideas and concepts of what a town ought not to be and then, using the assembled mess as a template, gave developers and homeowners the go ahead. His head is starting to hurt so he turns back to the map and scans the crumpled squares and squibbles, fathoming that their like is blurring into a colorful abstraction. The shade shifts, so he starts the car, his chances of finding the place perhaps moot at this point, he thinks, and advances like ten feet, to where the light relents. Then he glances up, through a window in the wall of trees, and experiences a quantum moment of insight: like, hello, the house he's been searching for is directly before him, to his right, straight through the driver's side window, and when he squints, he can see the person's he's looking for, whose future hovers on the tips of his fingers, passing back and forth behind the grail of blinds....

Copyright © John Keene, 2005.

Question: Two different verbal games are operating in this ultrashort story.
One is obvious, one not so obvious. Can you figure them out?


  1. Thanks, Zun! I was hoping some intrepid reader would trace out the two "games" threaded through it too!