The modern building code. Modern architecture succumbing to the bureaucratic imperative. Art at the whim of a committee. The hermetically sealed modern building.
The problems with Jones’s nasal cavity, his need to pick his nose, the formation of excessive nasal ejaculate, are almost surely the result of this particular building’s construction. This building holds back the outside world, the air of the world and its natural ecosystems, with the efficiency of a German engineer, and this renders the inside of the building a sterile universe of industrially recycled air and half-truths and perpetual boogers. We live in an age where air is no longer good enough, Jones thinks, has thought, has ruminated on long occasions, sometimes over lunch, sometimes while watching the world from his office, sometimes while in the elevator, sometimes, even, upon entering the building, when he feels the change in the reality of the air for the first time. Of the processed environment. We live in the Processed Age. Pundits are paid incredible sums to convince people like Jones that we live in the Information Age, or the Silicon Age, or the Age of the Computer, or The Age Where Nothing is As It Appears, or something as false sounding as it is false, because we live in an age where we create new realities to replace the natural realities we have destroyed. Because we have to process our most basic things, those things that keep us alive, like water and food and air. Because our economy works when we destroy and then replace, first artificially and then less artificially, and then we return things to their natural state, often with great fanfare, and we are pleased that our notion of progress has evolved. The air in this building is cold in the summer and warm in the winter and the windows don’t open and if someone coughs on the 20th floor that ejacula finds itself in a mixture with the rest of the air and that air enters an intricate and expensive and expertly engineered ventilation system and is processed and recycled and is then sent to another floor, perhaps the one Jones is on right now, and he breathes it in, and it’s going to cause some chemical mumbo jumbo, and an hour later, that chemical reaction will cause a booger to form in Jones’s nose and at some point he’s going to have to pick it. He’s going to have to pick his nose. Because of the trends inherent in the conception and execution of modern architecture.
The elevator will take seven seconds to ascend two floors. But Jones is already searching in his nose before the doors close. He’s alone and the moment is ripe, before he meets Lamontagne and whoever else lies in ambush. These elevators have deep handrails, the perfect hidden cavities in which to wipe his quarry, and he probes and he finds what he must, and he pulls it out and he tries to wipe it on the far side of the handrail. He pulls his hand along the handrail. But the booger will not budge.
This one, so unlike the rest, so unlike the dry and crusty bits that the stale air of this building normally produces, this one is wetter, it is stickier, viscous, and it is made of the consistency of cement, or dough, and so the elevator doors open, and Jones has success, a form of it, he feels it on his finger, but can it really be success if Jones is so handicapped by his prize, by the sizeable bit of unwanted mucous now attached to the extremities of his person?
From the elevator, a long elegant corridor, the walls done in a soft looking, dark and impossibly masculine wood, he suspects it’s ash but it may be far more exotic, smooth and creamy to the touch. The floor is slate and a royal blue carpet with an almost imperceptible spring rests flush to the slate, running the length of the hallway. At the far end, the glass doors to the administrative heart of the company, glass doors that announce and promise something important, wealth surely, but more than that, stature, a commentary about those inside and those about to enter. On the other side of the door, Lalonde, the company’s face, the first gentle smiling matronly face an outsider meets upon entry, a face that forces you to recall your own mother, but only if your mother was the best mother in the world.
Jones exits the elevator and trails his hand along the wall, trying to dislodge the unwelcome guest on his finger but he fails, his booger has the elasticity of a toy made of materials that are surely bad for children and made in a country with low environmental standards, the mucous remains on his finger, it won’t come off, it refuses to, and, flustered, Jones blames the wall, the smoothness of it, there’s no friction here, the wall is too perfect, the wood is burnished so perfectly there is nothing to catch the booger and tear it off, nothing to break it of its power, of its unholy flirtation with his finger, his damned finger, this booger is harassing his finger, this building is awful in every sense, the architect must have been taught by an admitted Nazi.
And Jones imagines himself not a Nazi but an architect, he has imagined this before, it was something he was inclined to pursue when he was younger, he would be the man building the important buildings, because he doodled buildings, he doodled skylines during French class in high school, and he doodled buildings if he was on the phone for any length of time, he imagined new buildings, he critiqued some of the terrible things being done downtown, Montreal was so full of ugly architecture, it was a city saved by its age, by its mountain and its river, by what the colonials had built centuries ago, and by the circumstances that had saved their work, Montreal was a city of walkable streets and picturesque row houses and a reverence for beauty, but it was ugly in so many ways, in so many places, in the ways that obvious beauty had been replaced by mediocrity, by the after-effects of a corrupt and browbeaten bureaucracy, and he wanted to fix this ugliness, supplant it. But then the numbers came, and he was too good with numbers, not mathemetician good but good in the sense of being artistic with them, of manipulating the meaning of truth, of the way facts became malleable to him and still remain facts, and he was encouraged to follow this path, almost none of his advisors advised architecture, there were too many architects in the world, and so many of them were building malls or the headquarters for pharmaceutical companies by the side of a highway, or the dull tract housing of the deepest suburbs, or condos so banal they verged on evil, and this was not good, he was too good with numbers to be designing exurban split levels, he was a numbers guy and could fashion a career out of this gift, and he was pushed, forced he felt sometimes, into business, or pushed away from architecture, it was the same thing, and the result was the same, and that result was this booger on his finger.
Jones tries again. This time, he applies more force to the wall, he applies his own friction, but this simply spreads the mucous to different parts of his finger, it elongates the effluvia, but it does not relieve him of it, this alien thing that started somewhere inside his body. He curses the air of this terrible, sterile place.
And so Jones tries again, again with more force, he even thinks he can feel the wall give, this must be wood paneling of some sort, so perhaps it’s not even real wood, just a thin veneer of wood on something cheaper, but whatever it is, it gives, but not the booger, it’s still attached to his digit, and he is almost at the glass doors now, and he thinks Lalonde will save him, as is her wont, she is a savior, it is how she is described more often than not, say over a coffee in the executives’ boardroom, or in the elevator when the small talk is not about the weather or the Habs or politics because in this place, there is always politics, hovering in the background in two languages, and so the talk will be of some godsend performed by Lalonde, the savior, a saint — a sainte — in a city of saints even if there are those that want to delete religion and history from everything, even if some very progressive people can also easily channel the Cultural Revolution without trying, because, ironically, history, and because in the end, even the most sophisticated people want simplicity, they don’t want all of life to be complicated, and yet they find themselves alive in a complicated city, in a complicated society, but there is always Lalonde, and she will have tissue, she always does, because she’s a savior and Jones is in need of saving.
He would admire the tenacity of this viscous mucous, this non-ejectable thing, if he wasn’t close to panic. He might as well not have his hand. He might as well concoct a story about a freak household accident, some rogue weedwacker hellbent on mutilation, a Stephen King type weedwacker, a sentient implement, because he has no use of his hand, not now, not with what is befouling it. He cannot expose his finger, or his hand, in polite company, or in company in which he must defer, and surely this is the case in Lamontagne’s office. The booger has amputated him.
He opens the door, carefully, he opens it and Lalonde is not at her desk and nor does Jones see a box of tissue. He can’t walk past here, he must announce himself and then Lalonde must call Lamontagne and then Lamontagne must allow Lalonde to invite Jones into his office and then Jones can walk to Lamontagne’s office. Hierarchy demands process. Protocol. But Jones cannot, he will not walk to Lamontagne’s office with a stubborn bit of the most disgusting dried oatmeal on his finger. “Mr. Jones, how lovely,” he hears and he turns and there is Lalonde, her smile, saintly is the only word to describe her countenance, there is no other, and Jones feels somehow relieved, because Lalonde is going to help him.
“Madame,” he says, and he bows his head, that’s what he always does, but now he bows it more graciously, with more obsequiousness, and Lalonde wonders what’s coming, because she is hard to surprise. “Would you have a tissue handy?”