Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Paper Towns - Hour Six

For some reason, the stretch of I-95 just south of Florence, South Carolina, is the place to drive a car on
a Friday evening. We get bogged down in traffic for several miles, and even though Radar is desperate
to violate the speed limit, he’s lucky when he can go thirty. Radar and I sit up front, and we try to keep
from worrying by playing a game we’ve just invented called That Guy Is a Gigolo. In the game, you
imagine the lives of people in the cars around you.
We’re driving alongside a Hispanic woman in a beat-up old Toyota Corolla. I watch her through
the early darkness. “Left her family to move here,” I say. “Illegal. Sends money back home on the
third Tuesday of every month. She’s got two little kids—her husband is a migrant. He’s in Ohio right
now—he only spends three or four months a year at home, but they still get along really well.”
Radar leans in front of me and glances over at her for half a second. “Christ, Q, it’s not so melodratragic
as that. She’s a secretary at a law firm—look how she’s dressed. It has taken her five years, but
she’s now close to getting a law degree of her own. And she doesn’t have kids, or a husband. She’s got
a boyfriend, though. He’s a little flighty. Scared of commitment. White guy, a little nervous about the
Jungle Fever angle of the whole thing.”
“She’s wearing a wedding ring,” I point out. In Radar’s defense, I’ve been able to stare at her. She is
to my right, just below me. I can see through her tinted windows, and I watch as she sings along to some
song, her unblinking eyes on the road. There are so many people. It is easy to forget how full the world
is of people, full to bursting, and each of them imaginable and consistently misimagined. I feel like this
is an important idea, one of those ideas that your brain must wrap itself around slowly, the way pythons
eat, but before I can get any further, Radar speaks.
“She’s just wearing that so pervs like you don’t come on to her,” Radar explains.
“Maybe.” I smile, pick up the half-finished GoFast bar sitting on my lap, and take a bite. It’s quiet
again for a while, and I am thinking about the way you can and cannot see people, about the tinted windows
between me and this woman who is still driving right beside us, both of us in cars with all these
windows and mirrors everywhere, as she crawls along with us on this packed highway. When Radar
starts talking again, I realize that he has been thinking, too.
“The thing about That Guy Is a Gigolo,” Radar says, “I mean, the thing about it as a game, is that in
the end it reveals a lot more about the person doing the imagining than it does about the person being
“Yeah,” I say. “I was just thinking that.” And I can’t help but feel that Whitman, for all his blustering
beauty, might have been just a bit too optimistic. We can hear others, and we can travel to them without
moving, and we can imagine them, and we are all connected one to the other by a crazy root system
like so many leaves of grass—but the game makes me wonder whether we can really ever fully become


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