How do you take the measure of a page? Of a block of fictive text? Words, words, punctuation, story. Do you count, block by chunk Tolstoy style, merit based on some scoring system like a sports game ruled and scored, subjectively, arbitrarily, feeling like a teacher criss-crossing and short form noting in stark red amidst the scrawly hand of a high schooler’s piece of creative writing, written last Wednesday in period seven for M(r)(s). X, you, hypothetical teacher judge? Or do you own one of those bookmarks with a ruler on them and so find yourself reading inch by inch, sometimes two centimeters at a time such that, at the moment your eyes have traversed the last sentence on the last page, the end, you've read over fifty meters. Is that good? Fifty meters a week? Is it enough? What is enough?
The other day, I thought the way to do it was to look at a man on the bus, dark grey-green jacket meant for freezing winds overheating him in the back of the bus sauna. He wears a black and white striped hat with a black pompom, size: small, and it’s pulled down to just above his eyebrows. Not thick, the hat not the eyebrows, but substantial. Also adding to the heat. Probably. As for the eyebrows: thinning. Well, once-thicker but age sparsed, a fallen eyebrow maybe confused for a fallen eyelash by a past lover and a wish that would from miscategorization never come true made upon it. This is how we pass our time. Black, though. The eyebrows. Well, black with a dash of grey, like the beard, which was significantly more salt and peppery than the eyebrows. Not a full on Marx, maybe a month long, a baber’s six at best. But, well: monarchial, monarchical, august. Gives his face that you can tell me anything and I’ll have some wise advice feeling. He could’ve been a priest. In fact, that’s what his face - brow eyes, medium length nose (slightly flat), weathered black brown skin, somewhat full lips - says: trust. He could’ve been a great con man. But I don’t know what he is; aside from reading.
The bus: hot; crowded; a man coughs and doesn’t cover his mouth - a few people make a brief show of can’t you be polite or considerate you ass disgust; end of winter, start of spring, no snow but still zero temperatures despite a bubbly sun; a child squeals, but refrains from crying, thank god; someone laughs in the front; stops and jerky motion sickness nausea in the back of your throat; a window is opened; still, heat; faint music bleeding from someone’s headphones; taps of phone texts; frustration; still seven or eight stops to go; someone’s relieved at being the first to occupy a newly vacant seat; a cute, albeit small, dog looks at the giants surrounding him. Alternating between barreling down the five meter distance to the car ahead and stuck in traffic.
And yet, as he is sitting and reading, he is oblivious to all of this. He is engrossed in the word world in his hands. Perhaps the swaying of the bus and the heat are womblike in the back of his mind, subconsciously, and he is experiencing dreamstate. Too metaphorical. He is sitting and reading. Holding the book with both hands, almost supplicatively, like a parishioner ready to receive the eucharist. Too wordy, and who knows what the book is about. He is sitting and reading, holding the book with both hands. We’ll go with that. And then he read that passage, I don’t know what it was, but he laughed. Not out loud. There was a slight sound that escaped, but he had to stop reading and that was it, yes, hey that's what I’m talking about, the page making you react.
He stopped reading and buried his forehead in the book, laughing silently, like a really good mime. His face lit up: creases by the eyes, I counted five on his right and assumed some symmetry on the left but, as I sat, I only had a sort of profile view, semi-isometric, but anyway, really genuine, I thought, and he’d be a good dad face to have, I thought; his nose got a little flatter, too; and his mouth was ear to ear split in a smile - that may be an exaggeration but you could see the muscles straining because they were too stretched already; his lower lip covered his bottom teeth but his upper lip revealed the resplendency of his smile by way of the pink gums and recently dentist cleaned white teeth that greatly contrasted the skin darkness of his face but complemented the delectation his mind marked the words with.
And he kept reading, after that brief pause, a joyous excitement in his eye (again, profile), and probably not even noticing that he was still smiling. I was curious what the book was, or was about, but all I could make out with my bad eyesight was some tagline about women’s darker side of life, sex and friendships. Was it quality writing? Something to aspire to? Something to make you think? Was it literary literature? Or the sellout kind? Which sells, so, (healthy-pumpernickel) bread on the table or the literati, what’s your priority and does it matter when here we have an author that will never know the moment she’s (assumed!) given this man? Why did he laugh? Was it a plain old joke? A situational thing? For me, from my sonder point of view, this laugh-moment was only the onstage glory; I am entirely missing the backstage stories that impart context.
But my guess, I guess, is that the she-author found the bus-book-man. Meaning: perhaps, in the words, he saw himself or a loved one, friend, or something that’s part of him, past, present. Isn’t that why we read, to see ourselves, drafts as rough as a book will always be to its author, drafts trying to learn from other drafts, rewriting with what’s been rewritten, recreating a narrative, reviewing what we’d like our published form to be and where we’re at in that editing process? And then, I momentarily clarify the following thought to myself: perhaps, then, we should take the measure of a page in the same way one might take the measure of a man.