Stiff Upper Lip (With Chocolate All Over It)

It’s so hard to find a place to be. To just access the most rudimentary ability to sit down somewhere and cease the chore of having to walk. Cease to worry about finding: a bathroom, a chair, a drink of water. All these constant human needs gnawing at the body whenever one willingly thrusts themselves out into the world. And why does one so willingly do that? For the sake of feeling “at one” with humanity? Because, if that’s the reason, then going out is the worst possible thing someone can do to attempt feeling anything like “warmth” for their fellow man. And every time Cassandra pushed herself out of the womb of her apartment, that reality was made all the more apparent. Yet she still forced her daily outings into existence as part of her “ritual.” Even though, in the “modern world,” there was no true catalyst for ever leaving one’s own cocoon. 

The GovCorp conglomerate had seen to that. GovCorp being what the government finally decided to call itself after at last freely and openly admitting that all the interests it served were for the corporations of the world—not, as indicated in the Constitution, for the constituents it “governed.” Though oppressed was more like it. In order to help keep the raging tempers of the people at bay, GovCorp, now with all the resources of pillaging corporations at its disposal, had seen fit to ensure that the population (at least the middle-class and above one) possessed as many “creature comforts” as possible—if they were willing to pay for it all to be delivered right to their doorstep. And, for the most part, they were. Because, as a person in power, if you say “jump,” the masses will not necessarily say “how high,” but they’ll at least acquiesce to performing the movement. What choice do they have? With their hands tied behind their back by GovCorp itself, never wanting anybody to know true liberty, only a simulacrum of it. And with that crumb, they could tell themselves it was “all right,” that things might somehow get better one day. This is how even someone as jaded as Cassandra coped. Why she still “tried,” as it were. Including her self-imposed torture of entering the fray that was the public space. 

Although she didn’t get many invites from others to go out, when she did, she always accepted, citing in her mind the so-called value of social interaction. In order to keep the mind “sharp,” or whatever. The trouble was, her rather obsessive-compulsive tendencies made it so that she had to be at her destination meeting point at least an hour beforehand. It just made her feel “at ease.” The trouble was, she didn’t feel at ease with the effort it took to “kill time” within that extra hour. Which brought her back to the issue of finding a place to be. That endless search when one is out in the open and exposed to all the elements of the city’s vise grip on people’s pocketbooks. For there is nowhere a person is permitted to sit or exist without paying to do so. 

This is how Cassandra found herself shelling out five euros for an ice cream cone even though she really had no interest in consuming a sweet treat. But it seemed the “cheapest” way for her to be able to secure a seat somewhere while she waited for her rendezvous to commence. Alas, no sooner had she purchased the accursed confection than the man behind the counter told her that they were about to close. In other words, You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here. So there it was, five euros down the fucking toilette. And Cassandra refused to pay another similar amount to try and sit down at another scamming place of business.

The friend she was meeting had suggested they do so in front of the Centre Pompidou, which meant she could have just sat on the ground in front of the museum like everyone else. Except that notion totally disgusted her. What with disease running rampant, Cassandra didn’t much understand how anyone could feel comfortable engaging in such twentieth century behavior. But that was the power of denial. No one wanted to believe things were as dire as they were, so they chose not to by behaving “normally.” But to Cassandra, none of this was normal, least of all the capitalist con of “going out.” To what benefit? So she could feel little better than a homeless person as she scoured the streets for a mildly “affordable” establishment to be in? What a fucking sham. 

Thus, she walked. And walked and walked and walked until her feet were sore. As she did, she occasionally tried to look directly into the faces of people, realizing that none of them ever looked back at her. No one looked at anyone. They were either on their phones or taking pictures of themselves with said phones. Maybe that’s how Cassandra ended up going around with a huge chocolate smudge from the ice cream on her upper lip for so long. And nary a soul said anything to her about it. It was clear that no one even noticed it. Such was the level of self-involvement that every “human” possessed. What’s more, it’s not as though anybody felt the need to examine a tangible being in front of them when they could just stare at projections of people on their “feed.” The most telling and grotesque term in social media vocabulary. These combined revelations—the theoretical embarrassment of having chocolate on her lip and the fact that nobody even cared—made her want to burst into tears over what existence had become. 

Then her mind flashed to that saying inspired by the Stoics about keeping a stiff upper lip. Never showing emotion in the face of bleak or depressing circumstances. Yet Cassandra came to realize that the world had taken that platitude far too much to heart. That in their bid to repress all emotion for the sake of “appearances,” they had truly transformed into emotionless automatons. Marcus Aurelius once said, “If you are distressed by any external thing, it is not this thing which disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now.” But Cassandra would not. She did not have that “power.” In fact, she was keenly aware of her overt powerlessness as she stood motionless among the throng that whirred past her, oblivious to everything but their own “personage.” For being human was merely a construct now. One that people were only concerned about in terms of how it could be presented on-screen rather than in real life. And at that second, with the chocolate only vaguely wiped off her lip, Cassandra decided to say “fuck you” to the likes of Aurelius by openly weeping.

This was the state in which her friend, Marianne, found her outside of the Centre Pompidou. Reluctantly noting her distress, Marianne offered a napkin from her purse so that Cassandra might dab at the tears and the chocolate. Irritated by Marianne’s greater concern for how Cassandra looked as opposed to how she felt, Cassandra swatted her napkin-packing hand away and ran as fast and as far as she could into the equally anxiety-inducing recesses of the nearest metro. She simply had to get back into the safety of her cocoon. Social grace be damned. Needless to say, she didn’t get invited out again by that “friend.” 

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