by Ryan Johann Perry
L'Appel du vide. It is technically an untranslatable word: the desire we have when on the edge of anything to simply jump. Both physical and mental, its litmus test is best seen when climbing something high up, and seeing if, through that perspective, the feeling translates thought into action, or sometimes, thought into paralysis. There are places in El Paso, where you can climb without social networking, schmoozing, where you can climb physically and feel a resonance in your mind. Its resonance is always harmonious with the static, the silence, the sound of the unintended, involuntary hum of the external, the hum of that which is ignored.
Most of the time there is no sound, no response, no cheering. Crowds rarely go wild anymore, they simply document, condensing moments into meme's and eight second loops. There is a vulnerability to this, it is the vulnerability of self voyeurism. It is vulnerability affected. How this differs from the vulnerability of being alive is in the editing, always a posteriori and informed by a lifetime of flash cut's and sound bytes. Human vulnerability is essentially binary, what one believed before will either vanish post facto or become some sort of truth. This truth is always found in the audience, inanimate or otherwise, it will respond. This truth works like a good joke. Those who have ever opened themselves up to another human, told someone truly how it all feels knows the sound of the A.C. blowing can be interpreted as laughter or a sigh and can feel another sort of L'Appel Du Vide in ones central nervous system. These facts, sensory and undefined moments, are portals into something larger, something to be seen via adventure.
It was immediately following such a moment when I, as one half of Charming Elusive, put on my shoes and began the walk with Mari Gomez, towards the Gateway Hotel. The Goal: to climb that motherfucker and look down and try not to jump, to try and see if emotions could mitigate gravity and its waving finger. Architectural spaces are often the defining condition of a memory, tactile and sense oriented, they trigger like no other. What is my memory of the future?
And so there we stood, looking at the building. Mari, my companion, noted its proximity to the busyness of passing life, cars, its wide openness in public. The hesitation was not founded on height, but rather on an introverted-ness that made the idea of climbing some building in plain sight of those anchored in concrete and lost in the profane, too exhibitionist.
Luckily, we had just passed a building with a equally manageable fire escape, with more stories to boot and so we backtracked a block and took a few photos of our now immediate, vertical future. Interestingly, this one way up had its bifurcations, subtle and telling, to remain in the arena of L'Appel Du Vide and all its misfit words. There is an inhalation that occurs with any expenditure of energy, past the smells of sulfur and carbon monoxide, it is the moment the world uses you as a lung, when you become merely an organ of your environment, a white blood cell attacking the existential nihilism of the ticking clock.
The climb was full of trepidation at first, as the limb of the fire escape from ground to air was rickety and held in place with metal wiring. Past that, however, it was simply a matter of attrition, of not looking down, of holding the carrot of a new view just past our noses. This is where belief entered into play, where the precariousness of the now was put into stark relief with the immediate past and you could see the emperor's old clothes, strewn upon the ground beneath your feet, and could feel the nakedness and envelopment that is the now/here/ me.
The top of the fire escape concluded with a white rebar ladder, approximately fifteen rungs high, that when climbing, reminded one of the great power and history of steel. We were essentially climbing the exoskeleton of the building, protruding ribs that led to the plateau of all engineering: the roof.
The top was flat and infinite without edges or barriers. The roofing, a tile with lots of give, made steps slightly bounding and reflexive. This also amped up the nerves, the occluded CNS nerves seared by years of television, of wildly comic Chevy Chase varietals falling through roofs and somehow still walking away. I, more of the Buster Keaton mold, liked to think more of a falling through couples copulating manically to Led Zeppelin, elderly persons watching the Andy Griffith show from the deaths warm water of Laz-E-Boy recliners, children dreaming of some computer chipped monster, screaming streams of data into their air, before finally reaching the boiler room where I would meet myself from many years in the future, scribbling non-sense love letters in a marble composition book, shit faced drunk and listening to A.M. radio oldies. I always envision such a fall as forward movement, gravity as a silent enabler of time. To leap, however, is to find autonomy, is to find an acceptance of one's lack of control. It is the ability to simply tap the first domino in an endless chaotic string of baby steps.
But none of that happened, as nothing ever really does. Instead, I was a voyeur to my own imagination and to Mari. I watched her move across an elevated horizon of steel and glass. As is the case, with everything passing by, you become solipsistic, the ultimate ego of the birds eye view, of the Plaza, of the demolished building, of the Gateway hotel, of the El Paso County Courthouse. All previously towering monoliths, now reduced to something akin to ant hills, something less authoritative, something less larger than life, while life shrunk into the sheer, overwhelming, panoramic view.
The first word that popped into my head was maybe, as in maybe this is it, maybe it will happen. Maybe as in the unconscious admission that everything is fifty-fifty, and that life, through the net worth of ideas, is always a zero-sum game, one in which the investments you make are the involuntary ones and you reap nothing but remembrance.
But maybe was not to be. The static that stood watching as we climbed the fire escape eventually rejoined with us and held us close. The lights on in buildings seemed at once random and part of some logistics expert. Age is written on the buildings through fire escapes. Newer buildings house their fire escapes in stairwells within the building, designed so that in the case of emergency, there is concrete between them and the fire. There is no view but of the others moving in the same direction, unaware of you, unaware of anything but their own lives. As we stood still, the emperor became clothed again.