The Trouble with Sitting
by Eric J Kregel
part 1 of 2
The old man gave me a startled look. “Come again?”
“I admit, it’s a strange question but one I need answered. What kind of person are you?”
He looked away for a second, suppressing laughter. “Look, I’m just trying to sell a car. Mister, I-”
“Please, call me Terrance. And I’m not a Mister but a Doctor. And it’s a fine car. This is the first time I’ve considered buying a used car and I’m new to the process.”
“Certainly, but I think you should try looking under the hood or see if there’s any sloppy body work or-”
“Of course, of course,” I said. “But first, before I sit in the seat of that car, I must know: what kind of person are you? Do you go to church? What religion are you? Is it mainstream? Or does it have Holy Wars?”
“Sir, are you going to look at the car or not?”
“Peter, eh?” I hoped this reduced the tension. He nodded, affirming that I’d got his name right. “Okay, let me just ask you: what kind of work do you do? Do you work for the government?”
“I’m a flipper. I buy homes, fix them, and sell them. I also sell used cars.”
I stared at him, wanting to get behind his skin and read his brain like a magazine. I couldn’t. Peter stared back at me with enough expression to match a white wall. I tried once more, “How do you vote? Republican or Democrat?”
“Enough! Are you going to look at the car or not?”
I slumped, feebly shuffling to the driver’s seat of the car. Feeling defeated, I threw my hands up. “I don’t normally buy used cars. I don’t like to. I don’t know who’s driven them. I have to buy something for my daughter. And money is tight... I hate sitting in seats that don’t belong to me or my family.”
Slowly, I opened the door. I slithered into the seat. And waited. Waited for the fireworks. The images came...
Blue laughter. A moon. A star. A spoon. Washing. Drowning. Father laughing. Minister shaking. Wheat in a bowl. Ashes in a tree. Alicia laughing. Alicia is blue. Choking Alicia. Download Alicia. Tie her up. Who else is like Alicia? Candy is like Alicia. Sharon is definitely like Alicia. All dead. Next is Alicia. Sweet. Alicia. I shall wrap Alicia in plastic.
I jumped out of the seat. I doubled over for breath. The man selling me the car, put his hand on my back. I struggled to breathe. I felt myself tingle and shake and came close to hyperventilating. Must. Breathe.
I caught my breath. “Sir, does Alicia mean anything to you?”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“I need to sit down. Please, can I rest in your house?”
Peter shrugged and walked with me as I weakly wheezed. Inside his little townhouse I found a chair near his computer, where he did his business. I gulped and sat down again, in another stranger’s chair. Waiting for the read...
Kettlecorn. Going to the fair. 4H. Running through the weeds in Iowa. Emmetsburg, to be exact. It felt warm. Lutheran. Growing up Lutheran. Can’t take it seriously, though. Be a good person. Work hard. Celia. Working in the garage. I could spend half my life here. Wonderful, being alone. Sell homes. Make enough so I don’t need to rely on Social Security.
I stood up. I felt my breath calm. “That car hasn’t always been yours, has it?” I asked.
“No. I flipped it. I bought it a week ago, did some work, and restored it to its true value.”
“Do you know the owner?”
“No, I can’t give you that information.”
“It’s important. Who sold you that car?”
I gave up. “I’ll buy the car.”
I can read people’s souls by sitting where they once sat.
There. I’ve said it. The faster you can come to terms with my special gift, the easier it’ll be to understand why I did what I did.
This gift came to me during puberty when I, one morning, got up and sat in my teacher’s chair. Mrs. Gabrielle. She left the classroom for a moment and I jumped into her seat, trying to get a rise out of the class. They laughed. I wore a face common to her angered, tired expression. They laughed more. And then it started.
Hungry pregnancy. Unsold prayers. A baby. A small casket. A husband crying. Broken wine glass in the key of G. I hate Ward. A roller coaster derailed. Mamma mia. Violent Italy. Ward is a disappointment. Ward shouldn’t be a father. Ward is egotistical. Ward doesn’t like to shop. Ward is horrible. Horrible. Ward should be killed. Murder. No, divorced. No breakfast. No clean house. No war for Ward.
I sprung from her chair, sweating. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I wanted to urinate. I wanted to clear her desk with one angry swipe in protest at what had just happened. But I was at school. In school, you’ve got to act normal.
So I put on a blank face. Sat down. And waited for Mrs. Gabrielle to return to her seat.
This ability only sharpened with age. Soon, it became every chair that I did not own, every time I sat down, and I could read the person who sat on the chair before me.
So the sooner you can get all of this in your head, the better. I can read people’s souls. If you can buy all of this, then when I talk of such things as murder, it may make a bit more sense.
At least, it’ll make as much sense as it does to me.
An example of this gift being used in my present situation as a Therapist / Husband / Homeowner / Father of two happened last week. As a rule, if you date my eldest daughter for more than three dates, the fourth date has to be over for a family meal.
The boy came over, promptly at 6 pm, dressed in a tie and shirt and combed hair. He looked good but not natural. Although it was weird seeing a 16-year old boy dressed in his Sunday best, I figured this odd streak should be seen as an advantage: he’s meeting her parents like going to a job interview. Very nice.
We exchanged anecdotes. He shared that he met our daughter from the youth group at our church. I shared with him that I work with crazy people for a living. A bad joke, but it got him laughing.
I excused myself to use my private bathroom to wash my hands. Gone in a flash, I returned to find the boy sitting in my chair. My daughter shrugged, telling me that she tried warning him that it was dad’s special chair at the table. The boy played deaf.
My wife asked me, with a cautious tone in her voice, if this was all right. I told them all no. As soon as he got into another chair and I got into mine, my gift happened again.
Mom is a weak, tiny woman. Get good grades. Get good grades for a good job. Get a good job to get the rest. Dannielle. Sweet Dannielle. Next week, at the camp, we’ll go hiking. Hiking alone. Get under her top. Tonight. The pleasure. I know pleasure. Alone in the bathroom. Alone with myself in the bathroom. Dannielle. I think I like...
“Get the Hell out of my house!” I screamed at the little pervert. He recoiled in shock. My wife’s jaw dropped. “If you so much as touch my daughter, I’ll turn Southern on you! I was raised in the Ozarks and I’ll get Southern all over you, boy! Leave!”
The boy stood up, backing away slowly. I lunged at him, “Leave! If you don’t leave right now I’ll toss you out the door like the devil himself! How dare you try to even get near my daughter!”
“But what did I do-”
“The South! I’ll go Southern on you tonight if you don’t leave! I’ll go South of the Mason-Dixon line and may never come back!”
The boy bolted for the door. I slammed the door behind him. I heard my daughter sniffle and whimper, bursting into tears.
Later that night, my wife would comfort her by saying, “Daddy just goes a little crazy sometimes. It’s always for the best.”
Better they think that.
The world thinks I have an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I discovered this disorder while in grad school. I took it upon myself to behave in a way where I cannot have anyone sit where I sat or where I’m going to sit. To keep up my pretend OCD, I purchase new chairs (factory sealed from the company) and replace them every six months. I tell people that my mind turns reptilian when it comes to furniture, especially chairs, and I can’t handle anything unclean. If need be, I’ll even take up some strange ticks like touching corners repeatedly or repeat myself a couple of times. I’ve only had to use those ticks a couple of times.
My wife, an educational researcher, accepted my alleged OCD and realized she loved me despite this disability. The problem with her acceptance is that she has researched it and knew that those with OCD tend to be clean: as a result, it’s up to me to tidy the house.
My real condition isn’t as tidy as OCD. For the most part, if the weather is good and I’m wearing thin pants I can pick up images and senses from other people’s souls. It’s only with thin pants, though. If I’m wearing denim or polyester, I get fuzzy or muddled reasons. Underwear, I’ve found, doesn’t affect the read: I’ve tried boxers, briefs, and going commando with no effect.
And I have to sit down for a read, standing does little for it. I’ve often brought up the idea with people, in a “what-if” context, of reading people’s souls instantly. Most people, hearing the notion, jump at the chance. Young singles would say it would make dating easier; mothers state that child raising would be simpler; and employers praise this possibility: interviewing would be a thing of the past.
I’m sure even you, ubiquitous reader, would love my gift. I assure you, it isn’t a gift. Souls, for the most part, are dirty, filthy things. Reading people’s souls is like trudging through a novel where there’s only one hero and the rest of the characters are villains. Souls are filled with primordial violence, abounding in lies, dank fantasies, and unabashed evil. Few have been redeemed, worth a good read. Most are evil and unimaginative.
Ever since I could read people’s souls, I appreciated the fact that people put their best face forward, sparing the world from their iniquity. Adding to this, just because I can read a soul doesn’t mean I can understand it. Souls, for the most part, are like crude oil: unprocessed, full of blackness and coarseness. When I read a soul, I mostly get just images and words, flashing at me all at once. I’ll reel for a second or two, trying to figure out what I just witnessed.
Most of soul reading is like watching a complicated auto accident: you’re not sure what took place, but all you know is someone got hurt and someone must be at fault. Who’s at fault? You don’t know. What is hurting? Rarely can you tell, since the images and words flash before you too fast.
On the day I bought my third car and I found out it was used, I got an imprint of someone strangling a woman. The murderer and former owner of the car liked killing and, according to my read, would kill again.
* * *
Danny Dacken saw me before I saw him. He was sitting in his cubicle, at the DMV, going over paperwork when I marched into the maze of lines, numbers being called, long faces, booths being used, booths not being used, and the sad order of the place. And Danny Dacken was a manager at the DMV.
Danny exited through a small door off to the side and hidden. He walked amongst the invading applicants, coffee in hand. He came up behind me. “Hey, Shrink!” I twirled around, coming out of my scan of the room.
“Danny! I’ve been looking for you.”
“Well, I’m here. Can I get you some coffee?” He led me behind four-foot high walls, back to his cubicle. Believing my disorder, he let me stand as he sat in his chair. He poured me a cup and asked, “I know this isn’t a social call, otherwise you’d find me at home. What can I do for you?”
“I recently purchased a car for my kid. I’d like you to run a history on the plates. Let me know who owned it last.”
Danny exhaled. At this point, I expected a speech. A speech about people’s privacy. About people having rights not to have their information known. In our day and age, someone could get in serious trouble for looking into someone else’s folder. What was I thinking?
“Sure,” Danny chirped. “Give me the plates and I’ll get you a print-out.”
“But the DMV must have laws and rules against handing out people’s personal information?” I wrote out the plate and the VIN numbers.
“They do. And I could get into trouble. But the system is so confused that no one will know if I look something up and print out something for you. Really, it’s no big deal. People are looking at each other’s driving records and personal information all the time. This is the DMV! If we were organized enough to protect people’s personal information, don’t you think we’d apply that same thinking and make the lines shorter?”
I quickly gave a glance at the 2- to 3-hour wait outside of the offices. Then I gave him the plate and vehicle numbers.
“I’ll be right back.” Danny beamed and marched away, seeing if he can help his Godfather. He was back with a print-out on the back of a flyer. “It looks like your car only had one owner before it was sold to you. Here’s his address, phone number, and social security number.”
* * *
Copyright © 2007 by Eric J Kregel