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A Place to Stand

If you have ever gone through a toll booth, you know that your relationship to the person in the booth is not the most intimate you’ll ever have. It is one of life’s frequent non-encounters: You hand over some money; you might get change; you drive off. I have been through every one of the 17 toll booths on the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge on thousands of occasions, and never had an exchange worth remembering with anybody.

  

Late one morning in 1984, headed for lunch in San Francisco, I drove toward one of the booths. I heard loud music. It sounded like a party, or a Michael Jackson concert. I looked around. No other cars with their windows open. No sound trucks. I looked at the toll booth. Inside it, the man was dancing.

  

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m having a party,” he said.

“What about the rest of these people?” I looked over at other booths; nothing moving there.

“They’re not invited.”

  

I had a dozen other questions for him, but somebody in a big hurry to get somewhere started punching his horn behind me and I drove off. But I made a note to myself: Find this guy again. There’s something in his eye that says there’s magic in his toll booth.

  

Months later I did find him again, still with the loud music, still having a party.

  

Again I asked, “What are you doing?”

 

He said, “I remember you from the last time. I’m still dancing. I’m having the same party.”  

I said, “Look. What about the rest of the people”

He said. “Stop. What do those look like to you?” He pointed down the row of toll booths.

“They look like tool booths.”

“No imagination!”

I said, “Okay, I give up. What do they look like to you?”  

He said, “Vertical coffins.”

 

“What are you talking about?”

  

“I can prove it. At 8:30 every morning, live people get in. Then they die for eight hours. At 4:30, like Lazarus from the dead, they reemerge and go home. For eight hours, brain is on hold, dead on the job. Going through the motions.”

  

I was amazed. This guy had developed a philosophy, a mythology about his job. I could not help asking the next question: “Why is it different for you? You’re having a good time.”

  

He looked at me. “I knew you were going to ask that, ” he said. “I’m going to be a dancer someday.” He pointed to the administration building. “My bosses are in there, and they’re paying for my training.”

  

Sixteen people dead on the job, and the seventeenth, in precisely the same situation, figures out a way to live. That man was having a party where you and I would probably not last three days. The boredom! He and I did have lunch later, and he said, “I don’t understand why anybody would think my job is boring. I have a corner office, glass on all sides. I can see the Golden Gate, San Francisco, the Berkeley hills; half the Western world vacations here and I just stroll in every day and practice dancing.”

  一个人的空间

  如果你仔细观察一个收费亭,你就会知道你与亭子里的这个人关系不是最亲密的,这是生命中常常出现的非偶遇者。你递给他一些钱,或许他还要找你些零钱,然后你开车走了。我仔细观察过17家收费亭,并在奥克兰-旧金山海湾大桥千百次路过,却没有一次找钱值得我记起某个人。

  1984年的一个上午,很晚了,我驱车去旧金山吃午饭,开到一个收费亭旁边,我听到很响的音乐声。听起来好像在开舞会,或是迈克尔?杰克逊的音乐会。我朝四周看了看。别的汽车没有打开窗户的,也没有宣传车。我朝收费亭里望去,有个人在里边跳舞。

  “你在干吗?”我问。

  “我在开舞会呢,”他说。

  “那其他人呢?”我看了看其他的亭子,没什么动静。

  “我没邀请他们。”

  我还有十几个问题要问他,但我后面的人急着要去某地,开始按喇叭,我只好开走了。但我在心里告诉自己:还要再找这个人。他眼里有某种东西,告诉我在他的收费亭里一种魔力。

  几个月后我又见到了他,音乐仍然很响,舞会还在举行。

  我再次问他:“你在做什么呢?”

  他说:“我记得你上次问过了。我还在跳舞,还在举行同样的舞会。”

  我说:“瞧,其他人呢?”

  “打住。”他说,“你看那些东西像什么呢?”他指着那排收费亭。

  “看来就像收费亭啊。”

  “真是没有想象力!”

  我说;“那好,我放弃。你看它们像什么呢?”

  他说:“直立的棺材。”

  “你在说些什么呀?”

  “我可以证实。每早八点半,活的人进去。然后他们死亡八个小时。下午四点半,就像死人中的拉撒路,他们复活回到家中。整整八个小时,头脑思维中断,他们只是呆板地工作,重复着相同的动作。”

  我感到非常惊异。这个小伙子发展了一种哲学,创造了一个有关工作的神话。我禁不住又问了一个问题:“为什么你不一样?你过得很快乐。”

  他看了看我:“我就知道你会问这个,”他接着说,“总有一天我会成为一个舞蹈家。”我指向行政机关大楼:“我的老板都在那里,他们花钱为我培训。”

  十六个人呆板地做着工作,而第十七个,几乎处于同样的情况,却找到另外一种生活方式。那个人在举办的舞会,你我恐怕连三天都坚持不了。无聊!他和我后来确实一起吃过午饭,他说:“我不理解为何每个人都认为我的工作很枯燥。我有一个街角办公室,四周都是玻璃。我可以看见金门海峡、旧金山和伯克利山,半个西方世界都在这儿度假,每天我只是漫步到这里,练习跳舞。

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