Lose Time Faster

A Passage from Luminous Airplanes, or Things As They Were: A Hyperromance

No hair parlor this but a group of writers who met in a bar in the Tenderloin. When the salon started, a year earlier, there had been a lot of them, but as people found work or left the city their number shrank, until the salon became a group of bar friends like any other, who played pool and gossiped and argued about who owed whom a drink. Still its members called it the salon, as if there was only one salon worthy of the name in all San Francisco.

A sallow bald individual named Phil had founded the salon, but Phil had gone into an obscure decline, related to a book he was supposed to be writing on the history of the cigarette lighter. I met him once; Alice made the mistake of telling him that I too was writing a book, and he shook my hand reluctantly, as though afraid that I would steal ideas from his body heat. Besides Alice and her friends Marina and Fiona, the salon was made up of a graphic designer named Holly, a copywriter named Ted, Ethan, an arts editor at the Examiner, who was only there because Marina was a friend of his from high school; and Arthur, who had got rich by registering a coveted Internet domain name and selling it to a company that coveted it.

In Phil’s absence, Marina had become the salon’s presiding spirit. She sat at the midpoint of a horseshoe-shaped banquette and moderated the conversation, which meant making sure that the female members of the salon didn’t lure the men into private discussions, and that no one left without paying his or her share of the check. The conversation was an odd mix of business savvy, philosophical notions dredged up from everyone’s years as an undergraduate, and wild historical ignorance.

When I first arrived at the Mondo Liquido, Holly and Ethan were embroiled in a debate about the future of the newspaper, which, according to Holly, was, like the giant sloth, the dodo, or the brontosaurus, big, slow, ridiculous and about to be replaced. “There’s no reason to invest all that money in infrastructure any more, not with the distribution channels available in the wired world,” she opined. “And there’s no reason for readers to subscribe, pardon me, literally to subscribe to a paper’s hegemony. Not when they have access to information that isn’t censored by some white guys in suspenders.” To which Ethan rebutted that, on the contrary, the availability of so much information made it more important than ever before to know who you could trust, and by the way, he said, scowling, his editor was Taiwanese, so, please, Holly.

“But information wants to be free!” blurted Ted, “you can’t sell it, even for a quarter!”

A discussion of what free meant in this context ensued. “Are we talking about freedom from something, or freedom to do something?” someone asked. “I seem to remember…”

“Hey, you guys, maybe this is a new kind of freedom,” Arthur said, and the members of the salon grew reverentially silent, as they would, I discovered, each time someone said the word new.

Whatever they might disagree about, the members of the salon shared this conviction, that nothing like this, whatever this was, had ever happened before, a conviction that was probably easier to hold because so few of them knew anything about what had happened in the past. They had never heard of broadsides; a coffee house was to them a place where folk singers played guitar. When Marina mentioned samizdat, Arthur asked, samiz dot what?

They reminded me of the salon Proust describes in Swann in Love, the Verdurins’ famous “little group,” but where the Verdurins, who were rich but bourgeous, rejected everyone of higher social rank than themselves, Marina and the rest of the salon rejected history itself, as an offense to the originality of their way of doing things.

I mentioned this once; Marina was not pleased. “Us, like characters in Proust? I don’t think so. Proust is so stuffy!”

“And there’s so much of it,” said Holly. “Who has that much time just for reading?”

“Life moves fast now,” said Alice, “not like in the nineteenth century…”

“That would seem to be the point,” I said. “Proust’s narrator was writing in the early twentieth century, about his childhood in the late nineteenth. So when he says that he’s in search of lost time…”

“Fuck that!” Fiona interrupted. “We’re not in search of anything that’s already over.”

There was a short silence, then Ted exclaimed, “We’re losing time faster!”

The remark wasn’t really in response to anything anyone had said; it had the quality of a sentence thought up a moment earlier, which Ted let loose before the conversation turned and it was no longer even marginally appropriate. Even so, it stuck. Lose time faster became the salon’s unofficial motto.

© 2008-2023 Paul La Farge. All rights reserved.