By the time Nico called Raymond, exactly one month after Mr. Squidge’s blue period, his goal was well over half complete. The bleak grayness that infected the soul of society following the holiday season had done nothing to diminish Raymond’s upbeat outlook, bolstered by his single-minded determination to complete his work, send it off to a publisher, and promptly take his own life. His plans and financial situation demanded he continue his daily trudge to the mental asylum, using hours in-between dutifully changing bedpans to furiously scribble in his notebook. After completing each shift, he would journey home and compile his ravings into a palatable narrative.
The encounter with Nico Leftiè was slipping away like a nightmare unraveling as the conscious mind remembers it’s supposed to control the waking world. When Raymond heard her voice on the other end announcing itself as Ms. Leftiè, the plunge back into the void proved traumatic. However, it also the seeded growth for a naïve hope, which fiercely flung itself into battle against his fear, ensuring a scenario of Mutually Assured Destruction for his psyche.
“Mr. Clock, this is Nico Leftiè. I would like to meet to discuss your idea. When are you available?”
Raymond hesitated, unsure if this was his actual reality or just another in the hundreds of moments he’d imagined Nico saying just that. Deciding that this was most likely really reality because he distinctly remembered eating apple-cinnamon granola that morning and breakfast had never played a role in any of his fantasies before, he replied.
“Hello, Ms. Leftiè, it’s a pleasure to hear from you. I am available any day after 4pm.”
“Good. Let’s meet today at 6. Where do you prefer?”
“Oh, yes that works,” Raymond stalled, panicking slightly at the sudden requirement to think of a suitable place to encounter her overwhelming force. There was no time to carefully consider and vet his options, so he chose something both safe and familiar. “Let’s meet at the Busboy’s and Poets just off U Street. Is that acceptable?”
“Perfect. I’ll see you there at 6.”
She hung up.
Delirious, and with hope steadily taking the high ground, Raymond began to prepare.
He finally chose his outfit after cycling through every bit of clothing in his closet. Under normal circumstances Raymond would make a selection from one of three predominant styles according to his mood, his projected surroundings, and the image he wished to instill in the minds of those he would likely encounter throughout his day. This was a special situation, however, and required special consideration.
Costume in place, he sat down to write to condense the hours that existed between now and Nico. Though he spent nearly twenty-three-and-a-half-minutes valiantly attempting to produce his usual brilliance, his mind, normally an unfettered source of creative material, was entirely unable to put even the simplest thought down on paper. Reaching the limit of tolerable frustration, Raymond put his novel aside and decided to instead walk the distance to U Street to pass the time.
Prior to the Nico affair, one of Raymond’s favorite activities had been strolling through the streets of his city with a hot cup of coffee in his black-leather encased hand from which he would occasionally sip. Music piped into his brain served as both a barrier distancing him from the world and an inspirational soundtrack for his wanderings.
Casually walking down New Hampshire Avenue towards Dupont Circle, Raymond wondered whether a move was just what he needed. It was probably about time, he thought to himself, as it was only when he’d exhausted his interest in exploring side streets that he would ever stoop to taking a mainstream route like New Hampshire Avenue. Maybe this city was spent for him and a fresh start in an unfamiliar place would renew his joie de vivre. But he reminded himself he’d be committing suicide soon and the time consuming logistical tasks involved in a major inter-city transfer would most certainly delay his planned execution.
As he walked, Raymond noticed his environment seemed more defined than usual; clearer. The air was brisk but not biting, and the waning light of the approaching evening glistened on the surface of the westerly oriented structures lining his path. During these golden moments, the world adopted an ethereal radiance with the power to flood the underdeveloped sensory organ of any human being unfortunate enough to stop and notice. This poor soul must then contend with the unfathomable sensation of unadulterated and devastating transient beauty that passed the enthralled witness with no regard for their yearning to embrace and possess.
Raymond wished he’d remembered his camera. He forgave his mistake with the knowledge that forgetting his camera meant he wholly understood the truly temporal nature of beauty and thus preserved the meaning of this beauty in its natural form. Rather than muddy the experience attempting to capture and commoditize the visceral splendor, Raymond could take in the full depth of the aesthetic event.
He arrived at Busboy’s and Poets thirty minutes early, immersed in thought. His premature arrival provided ample time to arrange the environment to work in his favor during this crucial summit. Now that he was here, he was rather pleased with his quick thinking in the selection of this location; there wasn’t another spot in the city where he felt more comfortable or naturally at ease. The establishment served as an all-in-one liberal-hipster stronghold, with a well-stocked, politically-focused bookstore, a screen for movie nights, a stage for live bands and poetry readings, and a vegan-friendly menu. Having previously served on the staff, Raymond knew the majority of the servers by name, which helped increase his confidence significantly. On a sudden, inspired impulse, he decided to purchase Paulo Freire’s The Pedagogy of the Oppressed from the café’s store, a book he already owned but did not physically possess. In Raymond’s mind, having the book on hand, just in case it came up during any possible conversation with Nico, certainly couldn’t hurt.
His unexpected purchase left him with less than ten minutes to strategically position himself for Nico’s arrival. His goal was to project a calm, detached posture; one not indicative of his eager anticipation of her arrival, but not entirely indifferent either. After cycling through a number of candidates, Raymond decided to go with leaning his shoulder on a light pole with his arms and legs crossed while watching the clouds drift over the dying embers of the late-evening sun.
Raymond believed it was now past the proposed 6pm meeting time, but was not sure. He feared if Nico saw him look at his watch as she approached, she’d consider him impatient.
In a calculated risk, Raymond reached into his pocket to retrieve his cellular telephone, the only time-keeping device on his person. His grip, however, was not as firm as it should have been and as he withdrew the small machine with his usual stylized gesture, it slipped from his grasp and soared through the air, landing on the sidewalk precisely one meter to the northeast. His fight or flight instincts immediately seized control of his brain functions, and his first impulse was to cut his losses and beat a hasty retreat back home, leaving the object where it had fallen. He battled this idea with the belief that the situation could be salvaged if he acted with decisive haste.
As scurried across the immeasurable distance and bent to retrieve his phone, a recognizable voice immediately filled him with dread, “This seems to be a motif running through our meetings, Mr. Clock.”
Momentarily frozen by the shock he felt at being caught outside his planned posture, Raymond remained stooped with his fingers mere centimeters away from the surface of the now cracked casing.
“Is that yours?”
Raymond looked at his phone and replied, “No, it isn’t,” then hesitated, calculated, and corrected himself, “Or, I mean yes, this is my mine. I dropped it just a moment ago.” At that, he picked up the shattered device and hastily shoved the shards into his pocket.
“Are you sure?”
“I’m not sure of anything.”
“You seem sure of yourself when it comes to selling your idea to me.”
Raymond sighed, “That’s one of the things I’m the least sure about, but I think what I’m doing is right. Or, not right as in good and evil, just… it’s what the person I want to be would do.”
Nico paused to consider, “Who do you want to be, Mr. Clock?”
“To be frank, I’m not sure. It kind of fluctuates. But I know what I respect and what I think I should respect. So I guess I want to be the type of person the type of person I want to be would respect. Does that make sense?”
“Well, it’s a little convoluted and navel-gazing, but I like it.”
Raymond’s soul swelled in his body. He didn’t know what he was doing and wasn’t following any plan or set strategy of engagement, but she’d said she liked something he’d said. He supposed he should continue making things up based on what she said and how he felt about it rather than trying to follow his script.
“I’m glad then. I don’t really know a way to live that lacks convolution and the incessant gazing of navels. But, you know, it’s the idea of knowing yourself so that you can know exactly how you can best affect the surrounding world, right?”
She responded placidly, “I agree with you, Raymond, we all have weaknesses we have to quantify and keep in check.”
The use of his first name by Nico Leftiè catalyzed a series of electrical signals firing throughout his brain in an increasingly powerful chain reaction that eventually reached the tip of each appendage. Raymond felt this sensation was so overwhelming he would suffocate from the uncontrollable and choking excitement welling up within his breast. He tried very hard to mask his emotions.
“I think one of my weaknesses might be finding the act of standing outside in sub-freezing temperatures not particularly enjoyable, so maybe it might be possible to discuss my impressive and substantial list of other weaknesses indoors?”
“That’s the second good idea you’ve had. After you, Mr. Clock.”
As they approached the entrance to Busboy’s and Poets together, Raymond considered the door conundrum. He dearly wished to demonstrate his manners and good graces, but he was afraid if he opened the door for her, Nico would consider him chauvinistic for infantilizing her by stripping of her equality in the name of an antiquated system based on outmoded gender roles. Thinking quickly, Raymond decided to open the door for her while stating, “I am opening the door for a human being I respect and would like to be polite towards. I do not mean or intend to degrade your status as an equal through this act, as it has nothing to do with gender. However if you feel degraded in any way, I do apologize and hope you take my intentions into account.”
Nico looked at him in a shocked bewilderment that swiftly transformed into appreciative bemusement as she realized what he meant. “That’s kind of you Mr. Clock, but aren’t you just saying that to convince me of your feminist credentials as you strip me of my humanity?”
“That’s definitely a possibility; while I’d like to think of myself as self-aware enough to notice something like that; I could very easily be a subconscious sexist. I promise I’ll try hard to not do anything that might strip you of your equality or humanity, but please let me know if you feel I’ve violated this at all and I’ll correct myself. I can’t swear that I’ll not make any mistakes. I am a member of the historical oppressor class, but I do swear to work to get better through those mistakes.”
Taken aback by the adamant sincerity of his tone and the sheer length of the apology he delivered as she stood in the open door of the café, Nico replied as she walked inside, “I was actually joking, but thank you for saying that. Just try to dial down the intensity. It can feel a bit overwhelming. “
Walking in after her, Raymond joked, “Right. Well I guess you know another weakness. Anyways I’ll do my best, though I admit I enjoy living intensely.”
They made their way to the host podium. The man there recognized Raymond with a brief nod of acknowledgement and was about to take them to their table when Raymond loudly declared, “Sisyphus, party of 2.”
“Yes…Hi, Raymond. I know. Follow me.”
“Sisyphus? Really? Is this level of pretension like an everyday thing for you, or is this like a special occasion because I’m here?”
Embarrassed by his misstep, Raymond muttered back, “Ahh, I just kind of…well, I mean, what I want to say is: do you know The Myth of Sisyphus by Camus?”
“Yes, of course, and he’s an existential hero and all that. It’s wonderful and meaningful and important literature. But aren’t you trivializing it by using it in the same way you would use some dumb pop-culture reference? If you want to talk about it, let’s talk about it like adults. I don’t really care about the bumper stickers you paste all over yourself to project some ideal image of how you want to be seen.”
They sat down in the corner booth Raymond had specifically reserved for its secluded position and relative privacy. He was both terrified and exhilarated by what Nico had just said. She could see through his pretension! All the smoke and mirrors he used to construct his characters were useless with her. This discovery awoke within him a terrifying but liberating freedom. It was new, and for that he reveled in it.
“That’s a good point. I think the problem is I know love is dependent on chance and luck. Oh, sorry Christian, I’ll just have water if that’s ok?” Raymond said, turning from Nico to the impatiently waiting waiter.
“Water is fine for me as well.” Nico said before turning back to Raymond. “I’m confused as to how the probability of love is related to you appropriating works of art as accessories.”
“Ahh…well that’s the frustration! These things, like Camus and Paulo Freire,” He motioned to the book he’d placed on the table, “Are incredibly important and meaningful to me, but I’ve no idea how to adequately express that in a pithy statement. Finding love, or someone I have the ability to love who also loves me, is extremely rare, I know that. The only way I can think to increase my chances of finding a person like that is to telegraph my taste and worldview as blatantly as possible, so I’ve accepted acts like blaring music as I drive around with my windows rolled down, ostentatiously holding meaningful books I’m reading, and blasting serious thoughts and opinions across the channels of social media as necessary evils in my desperate gambit to connect with other people.”
“But don’t you think the type of person you’d be attracted to wouldn’t be attracted to someone who does all those things?” Nico queried.
“Hmm, perhaps. But then what do I do? I’m constantly haunted by lost opportunities. I could risk not mentioning my love of Fritz Lang, but what if someone around me really loves Fritz Lang too and that’s the launching point for a relationship that will change my life? I have to go to every event and take every possible chance just to increase the probability that I’ll meet someone who sees the way the world works in a way that’s similar to me.”
“Do you really feel so misunderstood and exceptional?”
“Yes! Absolutely! I hope everyone feels misunderstood and exceptional, because they are. It’s impossible for me to understand the world from your exact perspective, and you can’t understand it from my exact perspective. I mean, it might even be impossible to understand the world from your own exact perspective! But we spend our entire lives trying to interact with ourselves and everyone around us. Sometimes it’s horribly difficult to empathize with other human beings, so we get angry at one another when we feel this intolerable friction between opposing ideas. From this we get hate and conflict, right? Okay, but on the other side, and I think this is ridiculously rare, you find a person whose worldview and perspective you can almost completely empathize with, meaning you can, for the first time in your entire existence, feel like you’re not alone and that another human being actually has a chance at understanding you.”
Throughout his wild gesticulating and fervent rhetoric, Nico was amazed to note that he actually seemed to believe in this simplistic and naïve view of humanity. She felt a twinge of jealousy at the lofty heights to which his passion seemed to ascend, misguided though it may be. For a moment she even felt slightly uplifted. Despite the fleetingly breathtaking nature and style of his speech and subject, such nonsense was soon halted by her intellect.
“Mr. Clock, you’re inspiring. But you’re wrong. I’m sorry that you’re lonely, but the world is not some simple dichotomy where you connect to like-minded human beings through empathy and where a lack of empathy causes all conflict. Every situation is infinitely nuanced and unique. Empathy might be important, but it isn’t the only thing.”
“I…agree, but only from a certain perspective; the world is far more complicated than I’m making it out to be. But I feel that sometimes we have to focus on a single, simple idea if we’re ever going to achieve any measure of happiness. Every thought I have has an additional thought analyzing the thinking of that first thought. These layers of complexity might be the most honest or realistic, but I don’t think they leave any room for experiencing real emotions.”
Nico looked at Raymond with a steady, thoughtful gaze before carefully phrasing her next words.
“This is something I’ve been thinking about for myself. I have a sensory deprivation tank I use and…”
“Yes, I…well it’s just for my personal use.”
“What happens when you deprive your senses?”
“Your brain creates a new reality where you get to choose which parts of your experiences and beliefs you want to include.”
“Only if you’re terrified of what’s in your brain.”
“Layers of complexity cloaking my reality?”
“Constructs we’ve created to serve as a narrative.”
“What’s the narrative?”
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out. We create structures to encase our souls and serve as the false edifice of our being. We pursue ideal states of what we feel we’re required to be if we’re going to be judged in ways we’ve been indoctrinated to deem as acceptable. The only sincerities we allow ourselves are the small doses prescribed as inoculants against appraisals finding us ‘uncaring,’ ‘pretentious,’ or even ‘sociopathic.’ But how are we who wield sincerity as a defense not sociopaths? How could we even conceive of not toiling to craft our desired image in the mind of the world; consciously choosing to present what’s under that veneer, a life of lattices and bulwarks we constructed to prevent reality from ever touching us? With our entire existence entrenched in this self-deception, what is even the initial step we might take to recognize what we are? If what we’ve created is an existence where we can still feel a facsimile of happiness, though filtered through the guises we’ve adopted, why is that not good enough? Though they’re only imitations of emotions, they’re still fluctuations in the middling hum of banality present during every other moment we experience. So then, if we’re to strip away our protections, are the real, full, and robust emotions we might potentially achieve vastly superior? I have no idea; I’ve never been in that situation and know of no one who has. So then why even take a chance on that unknown reward? Sometimes I think suicide is the only ‘real’ act, but even the decision to commit suicide is impossible to uncouple from our Golem, freeing us from the influence of the narratives that guide our lives. And so suicide instead serves as the ultimate absurdity; an existential insult to the concept of sincerity. The world we’ve created is the world we deserve, inane and mediocre.”
“I know.” Raymond admitted after the seeming-eternity of silence following Nico’s calm and measured diatribe, during which the surly waiter had brought their waters and left again without taking their orders after it became obvious they’d failed to notice him. “But why can’t we at least try to transcend that trap, escape the inanity? Maybe it’s impossible, but I see less of a point in not trying than I do in making the effort. For me, it all comes back to Sisyphus. I believe it’s possible to recognize the hopelessness of our meaningless fate while still holding out hope that maybe, somehow, there’s still a way to understand ourselves, feel connected to others, and learn how to give our lives some type of meaning. Only we have to keep trying, even if we know it’s almost certain we’ll fail.”
“Are you a religious person?” she asked, shifting tones.
“No, actually I’m fairly anti-religious.” he responded with startled bewilderment. “Why, are you?”
“Definitely not. I was wondering because your level of faith is astounding. You speak of ‘transcendence’ and ‘meaning’ with all the zeal of the most ardent religious fanatics. Do you have room for doubt?”
He laughed with relief, “Of course! I’m nothing without my doubt! I would never say or think I’m totally right; in reality I have no idea. But I want to think this way because it inspires me to accomplish and achieve slightly more than deciding the universe is cold and dead and that maybe I should try to fit in.”
“I guess I see your point.”
“So why don’t you commit suicide?” Raymond asked abruptly.
“That’s an extremely personal question…”
“Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to ask something you consider off-limits. But you already mentioned suicide, so I thought it was fair game. I completely understand if it’s too sensitive.”
Nico calmed herself and reconsidered, “No, it’s fine. I don’t think anything should be off-limits in a quality conversation; you just caught me off-guard. I’ve never discussed this subject with another human being, so I feel inexperienced.”
Raymond’s joy reached new heights upon hearing this revelation.
She continued, “Anyway, I don’t commit suicide because I find no pleasure in the idea of nothingness. While I agree life is full of misery, I don’t see it as a ledger with a column for pleasure and a column for suffering weighed against one another to derive net happiness or pain. I think they’re different subjects altogether. Experiencing suffering doesn’t diminish my capacity for pleasure and pleasurable activities have very little effect on that which causes me suffering. So of course I prefer to maximize the happiness in my life, but even if my entire existence only contained one pleasurable moment, I would still desire to experience the whole thing. One moment of pleasure is infinitely greater than the nothingness found in death.”
Raymond openly gawped at her words, “Th-that’s an amazing perspective!” he stammered, “I’ve never thought about suicide on those terms. I’ve always found the nothingness of death preferable to the net unhappiness and suffering we experience in life.”
“So then why are you still alive?” she asked curiously.
“I feel an obligation to humanity to accomplish something before I earn the right to die.”
“Why do you feel obligations in an existence you believe is meaningless? And what do you want to accomplish?”
“To be honest, I don’t know. I’ve just had this burning desire to do ‘something’ my entire life. You know, I’m actually pretty curious about it myself.”
“So what you’re saying is you consider life too horrible to continue, but before you kill yourself to escape you have to accomplish ‘something,’ and you have no idea what it is?”
“In a nutshell, I suppose that’s about right,”
“That must be infuriating! What an absurd way to live!”
“It works for me.”
“Oh, of course it does. I just find it extraordinarily entertaining. You’re ridiculous, but you’re an interesting person to talk to, Mr. Clock.”
“Well, I do my best.” he replied,
“Has our waiter given up on us?” Nico asked, noticing it had been a significant length of time since the perturbed service industry professional had graced their table with his presence. “Though to be perfectly honest, I’m not actually even hungry. I ate just before I came.”
“What? Why?” Raymond immediately panicked.
“Well, I thought this would be a very short meeting. I never assume competence on the part of potential conversation partners, so if I turn out to be wrong, it’s a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately surprises often put me behind schedule.”
“Well I apologize profusely for being worth your time; I assure you it’s taking a great deal of effort.”
“I appreciate your exertions on my behalf. However, if neither of us is going to eat, it’s time for us to leave. Unless you’d rather we stay and you eat while I talk about business?”
Raymond, famished, replied swiftly, “Oh no, let’s walk and discuss. I’m sure it’d be a more efficient use of your time.”
“Shall we leave a tip?” she wondered as she peered at Christian, who was frantically rushing from table to table, “I feel bad for wasting his time.”
“Umm…I don’t know. If it were anyone else, then yes. But Christian’s prideful to the extreme. He might look at it as charity or us trying to purchase his forgiveness for being horrible customers.” Raymond contemplated, his eyes following the stern man darting about the room.
“I guess I’ll have to make it too nice an offer to turn down.” she said confidently, and proceeded to take $200 out of her custom-made $50,000 handbag.
Raymond glanced nervously at Christian as Nico placed the money on the table. “Alright then, let’s go.”
They stood up and slunk towards the heavy doors. Before they could make their escape however, an irate Christian could be heard shouting behind them. They turned around to see him standing with the money held contemptuously in his clenched fist.
“Excuse me, Ma’am, you left your cash at the table.” he said through gritted teeth.
“Oh, no. That wasn’t an accident. That was your tip for being patient with us.” Nico said cheerfully, beaming a radiant smile in his direction.
Her light was absorbed in the singularity of his expression, “Thank you, but I do not accept charity.” He handed the money back to her and returned to attending his tables.
“What an odd person!” Nico goggled as they opened the door to be greeted by the cold evening air.
“I don’t know about that. I think I can understand his point of view.” Raymond said, thoughtfully.
“I’m sure you could.” Nico responded testily.
“Anyway, where are we going?” he asked quickly, attempting to avoid spoiling the genial mood.
“I’m headed to the Georgetown LLS; that’s near your place, right?”
“Very close, definitely.” he continued excitedly, “I’ll show you my favorite route! You’ll have to trust me on its quality though; it isn’t exactly direct.”
“Fine, fine,” she replied with feigned indifference.
The well-coiffed young pair meandered through the dreary January streets of Washington D.C. discussing their respective interests, ideas that inspired them, and worldviews. With every new topic in which they found themselves of one mind, Nico and Raymond felt as if they’d forged another link binding them to one another. Their deeply entrenched natural defenses slowly eroded. This connection didn’t grow by discovering a mutual passion for Russian literature, Swedish art house cinema, and, of course, French existentialist philosophy; it grew because they were talking to someone who didn’t make them feel like their brain was too much to handle for desiring to discuss Russian literature, Swedish art house cinema, and, of course, French existentialist philosophy.
When the Vice President of Howard University’s Young Republicans, Greg “Jasper” Johnson, and his domesticated date, the always pleasant Cheryl Merryface, passed Nico and Raymond at the intersection of Q and 15th and overheard Nico remark, “Well if you look at the use of shadows in The Seventh Seal and take it as an allegory for the oppressive and haunting dehumanization of modern capitalist systems, I think you’ve got a powerful new interpretation of Bergman’s work” and Raymond’s enthusiastic reply of “That reminds me of Upton Sinclair’s use of existential malaise as a central motif in The Jungle!”, the self-assured couple burst into fits of properly stifled, mocking laughter. Nico and Raymond, for their part, took one look at the living Brooks Brothers mannequin and his Stockholm Symptomatic companion and began giggling at the encounter. After recovering, they delved into a serious discussion on issues involving historical racial and gender privilege and its effects on human development.
“We’re just a bunch of aquatic apes in the end anyways.”
“Well you know what they say about aquatic apes!”
“No, what do they say about aquatic apes?”
“I’m not sure actually, probably something about how we should all be pescatarian.”
“That sounds accurate. Though I think if humans all switched to eating only fish meat the oceans would empty almost immediately. Sustainability isn’t our strength.”
“The great human tragedy: our ability to imagine a better world while also knowing that world is impossible entirely because of our inability to overcome our own weaknesses.”
“You’re pretty obsessed with human weaknesses.”
“What can I say, I’ve got a weakness for weaknesses!”
At this precise moment in their journey, a strong sexual desire towards Raymond Clock crept into Nico’s mind. Raymond prattled on about the oppressors and the oppressed, occasionally reading directly from specific passages in his recently purchased book as they neared his home, completely oblivious to this new development.
Their expedition came to a halt in front of the chipped stone steps leading to Raymond’s humble townhouse. Raymond had just finished a fiery diatribe on the small-mindedness of believing in a white race, leaving the two stranded in silence.
“Well thank you for dinner, though I suppose we didn’t actually eat anything.” Raymond said.
“We didn’t get a chance to discuss our business. So, I’ll call you soon to set up a time and place to do so.” Nico said, with a tone of finality she regretted. As she turned to leave, Raymond burst out with a shout.
“Would you mind if I kissed you!?”
“No…I mean, Yes, I might. Or, no, I don’t mind but I don’t think we should. That doesn’t mean I would find it unpleasant, I just think it’s an inappropriate moment and place,”
Raymond felt an extreme ambivalence sweep through him. Though he was embarrassed, he worried she might possibly believe he was only interested in her for physical or sexual pursuits. He steeled himself and said, as lightly as possible, “Oh, I’m sorry, and yeah, I think you’re right. Besides, I think I’m too hungry at this point to be in proper kissing condition anyways. Unless you like the taste of bile or something.” He grimaced at his own words, but soldiered on, “Just, the thought suddenly struck me and I asked before I really analyzed the full consequences.”
“Are you really that hungry? I’m sorry we didn’t eat anything at the restaurant.” she said sympathetically, happy to have something else to talk about.
“Oh, no, no, it’s completely fine. I’ve felt nothing but happiness since we first started talking. Or…to be completely honest I did feel a bit of hunger as well, but I promise it’s like 99% happiness and 1% hunger.”
Nico narrowed her eyes, scrutinizing him closely as she chose her next words with extreme prejudice, “I’d like to sleep with you, Mr. Clock.”
Raymond’s mind stumbled, twisting over itself, entangled in confusion, overwhelming joy, terror, suspicion, disbelief, hunger, and curiosity. The equivalent of years passed in his brain before he could utter a sensible phrase, resorting to an old stock idea he’d previously used whenever he was unsure but wanted to appear aloof and mysterious.
“Well, ma’am, as much as I’d enjoy sleeping with you, I’m pretty strict about that. I think delayed pleasure is the best sort of pleasure possible. I guess you could call me a pleasure-delayer.”
She looked at him strangely and asked, “Did you steal that from that movie Vanilla Sky?”
Raymond was caught off-guard, so he responded instinctually with his natural defense against a perceived existential threat, “Actually it’s originally from Abre los Ojos by Alejandro Amenábar, which I think is the better film and one in an incredibly long line of foreign movies Hollywood unnecessarily remade to cater to low-brow American taste.”
“You’re an idiot, Raymond.” Nico intoned, gazing at him with an ambiguity that made Lisa del Giocondo positively transparent.
“I…well, I know…” He muttered as she seized his waistcoat and pressed her lips to his.
 For formal events, or whenever he required an extra dose of bravery, Raymond would don a bespoke three-piece suit. The prototypical version was black with a matching tie, though he occasionally experimented with gray accompanied by a robin’s-egg blue tie he believed complimented his sky-blue eyes. The suited version of Raymond Clock helped him feel separate and superior to his surroundings, particularly when worn to the dingy music venues he frequented. This outfit effectively softened his acute insecurities.
His second motif was that of a modish, well-coiffed intellectual. When he initially discovered this incarnation, he limited his wardrobe to dark colors and simple patterns. However, as he gained confidence in this character, his color palette branched out. A typical outfit included dark blue slacks, a gray waistcoat, a thin, bright red tie, and one of his two-dozen white dress-shirts. Though he eschewed the idea of gender roles, Raymond felt extremely masculine every time he bought one his high-quality white dress shirts. They reminded him of the patriarchal 1950s- era businessmen whose politics he despised but style he greatly admired. This was the configuration he preferred whenever he desired a large amount of positive attention, and so it had become his default design. Many of the interesting characters he’d met during his life were encountered through his patented method of standing around and looking different in public. Unfortunately, due to his inability to live up to the sophistication his clothing implied, none of these interactions had ever resulted in the development of a personal relationship. His conversation partners were often left with feelings of disappointment and regret after engaging this nice-looking man who, once approached, seemed too surprised to form a coherent string of thoughts beyond a few obviously well-rehearsed anecdotes.
His final manifestation was the uniform of what he liked to call “the quintessential indie fuck.” These garish, revealing, and often outlandish articles of clothing were worn on the rare occasion Raymond felt defiantly different and wanted to push the boundaries of people around him. They consisted of too-tight, brightly colored deep v-necks, multi-colored keffiyehs, large, obnoxious sunglasses, and overly tight skinny jeans. Raymond’s favored pair of jeans were the centerpiece of his outfit. They were stained in strategic areas with paint from a music venue Raymond had helped his friends run during college. The paint was a conversation starter and gave him a remarkably natural platform from which to launch into stories describing how he’d hosted now-national acts back when they could barely draw a crowd he could count on his fingers. Though these conversations also never resulted in a meaningful relationship, Raymond was content with knowing people thought he was cool.
For his important meeting with Nico, Raymond felt the well-coiffed intellectual look would strike the correct tone. He was looking forward to speaking to her in person while wearing his own clothing, a distinct regret from their first encounter he wanted to rectify.
 Coupled with a highly prized natural sense of direction, his penchant for meandering through urban areas meant that whenever he visited or moved to a new city, Raymond had a remarkable talent for quickly integrating the layout of the surrounding terrain into his personal knowledge base. This was something he took great pride in. Nothing made him glow more than moving to a new city, intimately learning the urban blueprint, and impressing the natives with his newfound familiarity. “You’ve only been here for a month!?” was the phrase he aimed for, though, “I can’t believe you know about this place!” and, “Wow, I’ve lived here my whole life and didn’t even know this existed!” were acceptable alternatives. The immensity of the happiness utility he derived from becoming an impressive urban expert meant he could never remain satisfied while living in one place for very long. He would ride out this heady high of praise from local natives for approximately two years, after which the adulations ceased and his special knowledge became less extraordinary. Whenever this happened, he knew it was time to move on.
 During these primal moments Raymond would cease all activity and psychologically caress the emulsive supremacy of refracted photons. He fought off labels and struggled to experience the moment with a purely sensually attuned mind. However, his need for validation through intellectual justification meant he always failed.
 He’d lent his copy to a past romantic interest who’d failed to return the book when she failed to return his calls.