by Jay Santini
What concerns me is the CD player. As I enter the family room sipping my morning coffee, I notice that Amy has once again left the player on overnight with its tray extended, the machine’s countenance that of a child sticking its tongue out at me ― or Amy sticking her tongue out at me. Turning my back on the player to gaze out our large bay window, I find it impossible to enjoy the bright sun and twittering birds of a fine spring morning, because the CD player, despite my back being turned to it, remains a felt presence, its openness I mean.
Normally I would correct the problem myself. I would retract the tray and switch off the power as I’ve done on all other occasions that Amy has left the player open for an extended period, after which I would politely mention that perhaps next time she could remember to close up the machine herself. This morning, however, I wish to challenge Amy, call her to task. I will therefore leave the CD player as I have found it. When Amy goes to play some music, as is her habit in the morning, she will discover the player’s openness, and will realize her negligence in failing to close the machine last night. She will see me standing near the player, and because she knows that I would never allow a CD player to remain open in my presence for no reason, that closing the player and turning it off would have been my natural compulsion, she will recognize my leaving open of the player as significant ― a calculated move meant to remind her of my concern. My strategy, then, is to utilize as a rhetorical device the very openness that Amy herself created, with the expectation that, confronted by the hard evidence of her deed, she will undoubtedly reproach herself for the blunder. I myself will not blame Amy for leaving the player open. In this manner will I create an environment conducive to the development of a guilty conscience without, in the process, appearing to be giving Amy a “guilt trip.”
Let me be clear about something: my primary objective is not to make Amy feel guilty and uncomfortable, but to create an atmosphere in which she will come to appreciate the weight of her action by way of these feelings. Of course, an added benefit of this strategy is that by withholding any kind of corrective statement such as, “Amy, you left the CD player open again. Could you please remember to close it and turn it off next time?” I will actually be making quite a powerful statement, since Amy will know that, having endured the player’s openness, I must be dying to bring the matter to her attention, but have chosen instead to be silent about it. Should she attempt to characterize this tactic “passive aggressive,” my response will be to assert that, on the contrary, I was not motivated to silence by the prospect of personal gain, but for her sake, to spare her my nagging. Thus will I not only have helped Amy to realize fully the severity of this matter, but I will have positioned myself as an altruist in the process. Devious, you say? Vengeful? I suppose I am, though it seems to me that, more than either of those, I am, merely, fed up, having endured Amy’s negligent disregard for the matter one too many times. I know, of course, that I should not care about the openness around me. I should not care because most people don’t. I can only answer that I did not choose to care about openness; it chose me.
I do not take this morning’s openness lightly for the following reason: it has ruined the simplicity which inheres naturally in the CD player’s form and mode when the machine is not in use, when its tray is sitting snug within the hull of the machine and its power turned off. That is, the protruding tray and open circuit have unnecessarily complicated the machine, made it more complex than it needs to be. The problem, of course, is that Amy does not share my concern; she has never known, so far as I can tell, the desire to simplify her environment to a more basic or finite form by the elimination of complicating variables.
The complication of an object by way of openness necessarily leads to an excess of possibility, which is my other major concern this morning. In a sense, the CD player with its tray out and power on exists as if it were about to play a disc ― to do that which it was made to do ― though it is not. Thus the mode in which the player exists is blatantly inconsistent with the facts of its existence at the moment, like a man who went about with his mouth open in preparation for the moment when he might eat something. That is, the CD player exists in a state of heightened potentiality or readiness. It is ready to play a CD, or to receive a life-threatening power surge should an electrical storm develop, or to have its delicate tray bumped by the errant motion of a human limb.
There is simply more that can happen, from routine use to a sudden calamitous event, to an object which is left open, because the object is exposed to its environment to a greater extent than it would be if it were closed. It is literally “open” to new eventualities, much as I might speak of my friend Carl being “really open” to new ideas. I do not mean to suggest that the CD player in a state of closure ― power off, tray in ― does not, strictly speaking, also exist in a state of potentiality. Of course it does, but the potential is further removed from actualization. To actualize it would require, in most cases, human intervention, someone to act on the machine. With the machine in a heightened state of readiness, however, no intervention would be needed to actualize at least some of the potentialities, such as a person stumbling into the room half asleep and accidentally knocking into the open tray.
Now, to an extent, I can and do accept the openness of daily life, as it is only practical for me to do so. There are occasions ― not periods or stretches but occasions ― when openness is an object’s proper condition, being consistent with its function, i.e., the object must be open to be used or to access what it contains. In this case duration of openness, as I see it, is the relevant variable in determining whether or not the openness is acceptable. For example, when Amy, having ejected a CD from the player, has left the tray out while she looks up and down the rack for a new disc to listen to, it is quite unreasonable of me to retract the tray; I understand that the tray is open only because the machine is “in use,” which constitutes a legitimate reason for the openness. On such occasions it is of course necessary that I allow for some openness, regardless of how much it pains me. It is in this way, by my determined acquiescence to the practicalities of daily living, that Amy and I manage a generally harmonious relationship.
I realize, further, that Amy did not do what she did on purpose, that she was, in all likelihood, not even aware that she had left the CD player open. Amy never intends to leave the CD player open, or the cabinets, or the soda bottle, or anything else she leaves open, which is just about anything that could possibly be left open in a small apartment. (Our kitchen, quite frankly, is like a second job for me, with its abundance of drawers and cupboards and lidded containers.) By now, I am resigned to it. Leaving open is simply Amy’s “way,” as natural to her as digestion or sleep. It is not that Amy prefers objects to be left open, merely that she does in fact tend to leave them open because for her the openness is not a problem. Although we have never discussed the matter formally, I feel I can say with confidence that for Amy the sight of a protruding CD tray, or a mailbox with its flap down, or a cap unsheathed from its pen, is of no concern at all.
While I acknowledge Amy’s natural tendencies, it seems to me a reasonable request that she attempt to apply a bit of the golden rule, and consider what it would be like were I to disregard her needs and concerns, were I, say, to start leaving my shoes on when I enter the apartment, or leaving my barbell at the foot of the bed again after she has repeatedly requested that I leave it up against the wall instead. While Amy does make an effort, she does so only when I get after her about it, and then only briefly. After a couple days of diligently closing things up, inevitably, she reverts to her old way again.
By leaving the CD player open this morning my goal is not to change Amy or her behavior, which goal would be futile given her basic nature as a leave-opener and her previous undisciplined attempts at behavior modification, but simply, as stated, to enable her to appreciate the seriousness of what she’s done by communicating to her my concern. In fact, I can hear her in our bedroom down the hall, rousing from sleep, and I am ready for her to discover the player and to apologize for having left it open, or perhaps to sulk, thinking I am indeed trying to guilt trip her. I am even prepared for her to slyly “ignore” the openness, in which case I too will “ignore” it, the prolongation of my silence thereby emphasizing the matter even further. In short, I am ready for all.... wait, something’s happened. I have just heard from the bedroom a tremendous thud and a sharp cry of pain. Now calls for help. I must go.
The CD player. As I have turned to dash off, my eye has caught it, and the nature of the situation being as it is, with Amy crying out in pain, I cannot help but notice that time seems to have taken on the peculiar, prolonged quality typical of a moment of heightened stress. That is, the tick of time, or more properly duration itself, has become noticeable or present to me in a way that it was not a moment ago. I am, now, hyper-aware of every moment and its subsequent passage into oblivion, so that the simple act of pushing the buttons to retract the CD player’s tray and turn off its power, although in actuality taking mere seconds, feels as though it were taking a lifetime.
You will want to know what happened to Amy. I have left you hanging, and quite naturally you want closure. You want to know how this story ends. Is Amy, having run afoul of my barbell, in a cast up to her hip, hobbling about the apartment on crutches but otherwise in fine spirits? Or did she bleed to death on the bedroom floor, resulting in a large stain in the rug and several rounds of “interviews” with the authorities before the author was cleared of any wrongdoing? Or perhaps she is perfectly fine and nuzzling the author’s neck even as he types this. You simply do not know. The story is open-ended, and that is distressing ― for both of us. Needless to say, as much as you want to know what happened, probably more so, I want to tell you. And yet we must endure this open-endedness. We must endure it for the greater purpose that it serves, which is to say that it is a fine example of what I have been discussing heretofore, an example that I do hope, by having engaged your own desire for closure, will enable you not merely to understand what I have said, but to experience it firsthand, to feel for yourself at least a modicum of the pain one might feel at being exposed to openness against one’s will. g
 To explain: part of the CD player, its tray, remains exposed when it might instead be snugly enclosed within its body, as a drawer encloses within a chest (hence withdraw). Also, the power is on, onness being, as I see it, the electronic equivalent of a physical object’s openness. It is for these reasons that, although such a description might appear to be a faulty characterization of the CD player as “open,” I can, in fact, properly speak of it as being so.
 Is it accurate to term the leaving open of a CD player ― the leaving open of anything, for that matter ― a deed, when in fact leaving a thing open can be achieved only by inaction? Briefly, the reason I characterized Amy’s leaving open of the CD player in this manner was that the images of the open tray and glowing lights, in the course of their journey to the sections of my brain responsible for recognition and linguistic codification which allow me to understand an object I’m seeing as “CD player, power on, tray open,” ceased to exist as purely incidental images, but were reformed into a thoroughly subjective, associative experience shaped by a lifetime of contact with open objects. Thus I have experienced Amy’s inaction ― not turning the CD player off and retracting its tray ― as an action, something she has done to me.
At least I would be logically justified in maintaining that I was not giving her one, since she could not prove (even though she knew it) my motivation for leaving the CD player open. I might, in theory, have left it open for any number of reasons. Perhaps I was distracted by something I saw out the window and didn’t notice the player. Perhaps I noticed it but was concerned, standing as I am on thick carpeting in my stocking feet, about getting a shock upon touching my finger to the player’s metal control panel. False scenarios, to be sure, but Amy, were she to accuse me of attempting to “guilt trip” her, could not, as noted, prove them false.
 It is correct that the reader should notice a weakness in my strategy insofar as pure altruism may be considered a proposition the validity of which cannot be accepted as certain. Some have argued that the altruistic act, though it may by extension benefit another, is at heart a self-serving act, its performance intended, consciously or unconsciously, to benefit the altruist himself, to exalt, ennoble, assuage, et cetera. The altruistic act, then, is a selfish one ― not selfish in the manner of the child who won’t share his candy, but quite literally selfish. That is, the altruistic act is one which has as its primary goal not the external object, but the benefaction of the self itself.
In any case, I raise the controversy around altruism only to acknowledge its possibility as a mode of attack against me. I will now close the door, so to speak, on the possibility of such attack by responding that I know my opponent, and I assure the reader that she is unlikely to undercut my claim of altruism by asserting that it is based on a premise which might rightly be considered fallacious, because she is unlikely to even consider such an argument, lacking the tendency, if not the ability, to think a matter through to its logical conclusion. And what if Amy, accepting that altruism itself is possible, should simply disbelieve my claim to it? I am not concerned, as she would be unable, once again, to prove the claim false.
 It should be understood that the closing of the open object does not, as such, constitute a truly positive or pleasurable experience. Rather, the “pleasure” results from a return to the neutral condition. Strictly speaking, it is the removal of the painful, unwanted stimulus (openness) that is “pleasurable,” not the positive application of closedness as such. An example may help to illustrate: if I have a canker sore on my gum, I do not think of not touching my tongue to the sore as something I’d quite like to do, but I am relieved, when in fact touching my tongue to the sore and suffering the pain associated with such behavior, to stop doing it.
 To clarify. Although a thing’s openness might contribute to a shortening of its life span by way of material degradation, it is not the degradation itself which is primarily at issue here. Rather, it is the possibility inherent in the situation, apart from the damage that might be caused, that most concerns me. In fact, I am nearly as concerned to know that the player is “merely” ready to play a CD as I am to know it is ready to be destroyed by electrocution, and until this morning I had rather either of these outcomes actually occurred than for them to exist in a prolonged state of possibility.
 The reader should note that the pen cap, although it does not, strictly speaking, constitute an example of openness vs. closedness in that the application or removal of the cap cannot really be said to open or close the pen in the way that ejecting or retracting the CD tray opens or closes the player, does essentially serve my point in that a cap which is left off its pen constitutes a significant disruption in the synchronicity between pen and cap. As long as the pen is not in use, it and its cap are meant to go together, to exist as a neat, complete unit, the pen sheathed by the cap, just as the CD tray is meant to be enclosed within the shell of the player when not waiting to receive a new disc.
 The phenomenon I describe is often mischaracterized as a “suspension” of time. Mischaracterized because if our experience of time at such moments made it seem as though time had suspended or “stood still,” it follows that everything in time would seem to stand still with it, including the self, its duress and the cause of the duress. As noted, the experience is rather one of time’s prolongation. In the context of some drama ― not any drama necessarily, but one with clearly implied, imminent consequences generally of a perilous nature ― time, although we might rather it did stop, instead seems to drag out, simply because we are more aware of its passing than we would be under more typical circumstances. Consider the movies, when the mundane act of starting a stalled car or fumbling for the correct key to open a door becomes a moment of nearly interminable duration given that the person trying to start the car or fit the key into the lock is attempting to escape an evil presence.
 Although a communication is of course not a physical object, I feel at liberty to speak of it in such a manner ― as that which can be opened and closed ― because like the physical object the communication is a worldly entity. Its material may consist of a combination of the ideal (words, thoughts) and the material (paper, ink), but the end product is nonetheless a thing of the world just as a CD player or a barbell is a thing of the world. As such, the communication, or more precisely that part of the communication which consists of thoughts, has the capacity to remain in a state of openness.
Jay Santini lives in Rockland, Mass. His poetry and fiction appear in a number of print and online journals, including Cautionary Tale, Front Street Review, Modern Haiku, The Heron's Nest, World Haiku Review, and others.
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