In his fascinating and insightful book, Doormen, sociologist Peter Bearman encourages us to look at cities as a hive of villages, each building an individual unit in the hive. Every village has its stock characters: the idiot, the priest, the busybody. The proverbial village bicycle. Characters. Personages. One, two, and three dimensional personalities. My two “villages” of which I am the night watchman, seem to be as teeming with characters as any literary population of Faulknerian dimensions.
Like most mice, the Dorm-mouse keeps nocturnal hours. She is so named because she is invariably wearing a shapeless ashen sweatshirt with the name of her university on it, and because she looks, well, she looks and acts like a mouse.
Her hair has the flat sheen of dust and grease, as if she had earlier worked up a sweat compulsively cleaning some forgotten corner of the library, using her hair because a feather duster was not at hand. Here eyes are too round and too shiny, usually behind sunglasses (too large). Her frailty carries with it a jumpy tension; not too thin, but thin enough to barely be there, her body seems easily snap-able, though I don’t know how she feels about peanut butter or cheese.
She comes in and out several times a night. Trips to the all-night bodega where she nervously nibbles at a bagel clenched between two paws. Hyper-aware, wary side glances at the door, licking furiously at the dribbling straw of her iced latte, over-sweetened and over-brewed.
Looks aside, it is the squeaking that names her. It is a high-pitched vocalization that punctuates our interaction, turning her “goodnight” or “thank you” into one grudgingly monosyllabic vocalization. It is either timid or aggressively annoyed depending on if she is in a “rat” or a “mouse” mood. Her moods are like species within a genus, a variation on a theme, except the theme is not genetic, but emotional, and that emotion is of the genus “irritated.”
To be fair, her uniform unfriendliness may be my fault.
I was experimenting with a variety of forms of surreptitious texting-a compromise between the need to keep my job and the need to feel connected to the world that kept normal hours, that slept and ate, procreated and recreated according to the consensus schedule.
I texted in my pocket, subtle, subtle enough-I thought-to keep me out of trouble when the Dorm-mouse pattered unexpectedly into the light of the lobby, blinking impatiently.
Oh, clever me, I praised, her steps receding, ignorant of my little cellular composition. Slick me, full of tricks me, no slips, clever me. That is, until I happened upon myself in the mirror. Instead of looking like he was doing nothing, Reflected me looked like he was doing something quite active in his pocket, a something that would only require the phone if calling one of those breathy-voiced hotlines advertised in the late pages of magazines and in the early hours of the morning.
Maybe I can win her back by betraying Jerry and siding with Tom, by declaring Mickey Mouse to be as much a caricature of mice today as he was of black men in the thirties, or maybe when the bodega is unexpectedly closed, commiserating that my best-laid plans, too, are oft disrupted.
Maybe, maybe not. “Squeak squeak,” certainly the response.