"Man, I haven't had a hot pocket in 3 years." Chuck confesses. We're knee deep in conversation talking about art, life, and books. We're sitting around watching someone dressed as Bob Dylan take selfies of herself...or we think its a female. I should have taken a picture. But as we drink our Oak Lawn Coffee and observe this person, I recall our last coffee meet up at a busy Starbucks on Memorial Day. A little while ago, I reached out to my friend about coming forward with a magazine called Radium. It was this creative project that I was looking to begin where I could call upon creatives who were struggling to make work or stuck in a rut...creatively. Radium was going to be a magazine that allowed people the chance to express themselves with a certain topic or criteria designated by me. I called upon seven uniquely different people to take on this challenge. The theme was COLORS - not just any colors - the colors of the light spectrum. Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Purple.
This was back in January.
I never had the time to get it started. When I tried to start it, I was a mess. My vision was really hard to obtain without resources and people. Months went by and people were wondering if it was ever getting published. I kept delaying and eventually they stopped asking. And for that I was ashamed because I had such great submissions for the theme just sitting on my desk.
To make up for it, I decided that I was going to reach out to all my contributors and just sit and talk with them. And photograph them. Below is what Chuck wrote.
The first time I saw you, you wore blue. It's so strange that a simple trick of optics can do so much. 35 measly microns along the visible spectrum, tucked neatly between indigo and green, have altered the history of generations of bums just like me. You, in blue, changed the hell out of my life. --- It was just a standard (meaning crummy) office party.Noise, smoke, sexual tension ricocheting around. Mistakes crouched eagerly, waiting to spring. Participant or spectator, everyone goes for the booze and the freakshow. I was there. That's enough about me, because this isn't about me. Not really. You were with a knot of my coworkers who had dug out a small conversational bunker. In that blue dress, you burned like a flare by their mild earth-tones. You were a robin's egg, an unmolested sky reflected in a calm ocean. A lone blue peony in a field of dirt and weeds. Okay, so I was a little drunk and thinking in trite imagery. Call it stupid, and I'll call it romantic, and we'll probably never meet in the middle. I flagged down some go-getter in a shirt that stretched heroically across his muscles. I remembered his jawline wandering between our cubicles a few months back, shooting the shit and avoiding work, but he switched departments a while ago. I didn't really miss his zealous attachment to fantasy football, or his invitations to Thirsty Thursdays. I leveraged what little connection we had--mutual interest in pretty women--to ask him if he knew you. After focusing his eyes a little (myopic from a few whiskeys by then, as he dismissed other drinks as "bitch brews") and gawking in your direction (I hoped you hadn't noticed me during this mortifying event, as I was strategically inspecting the carpet and pretending not to know him), he said he thought you were one of the new hires from another firm that gets invited to these things. He said something about how he'd be getting to know you better by the end of the night, but after baring teeth at him in what I hoped resembled a smile, I just nodded. I didn't bother to get into it with him, but empirically it made sense he would be attracted to you; studies have actually shown that athletes perform better in surroundings painted blue. He loped off--not to intercept you as I'd expected, but angled at the open bar, to refill his mysteriously-empty lowball. I'm not brave--more caveat emptor than carpe diem. Cowardice or prudence, I do my best to work with it. Something about you just fascinated me, but I knew from the outset I couldn't just run up and shout "BLUE!" in your face. So I looked at what I knew. I could feel my neurons pumping at the sight of you, and of the color you stood in. I hated to keep calling it simply "blue," but I didn't have the time or inclination to sort through the 52 named shades of blue, or pick one of the 65,536 designations of the RGB scale that contain it. I had to figure the primal attachment I felt was tied to some fond sense-memory I had of a blue that same shade--an instance of comfort or joy in my past. Who cared, though? Life is about presence. I was there, at that moment, and you certainly weren't my baby blanket or a blue raspberry popsicle on a summer day decades ago. You were part of that moment, and whatever that blue was triggering, I adored it. It didn't hurt that you were a knockout, of course. Regardless, my heart reached out, trying to brush fingers with yours. If you're into that kind of thing (I'm not), a blue aura is said to be sociable and highly capable at seizing control of a social scene. I was absolutely watching that happen, and while I didn't have the focused crystals or incense-fueled seance or other new-age bullshit needed to view your aura, I would bet it pulsed a brilliant cyan as I looked longingly across the thousand miles of that office floor. I wondered what muddy taupe my own would have been. Lacking the courage to simply approach, I fell into my default mode and schemed. I thought about trying to talk you up with some kind of trivia about blue--that etymologically, the word "blue" didn't even exist for hundreds of years in our language, and the closest anyone could come was the general-purpose word "bhle-" from Proto-Indo-European roots, that just meant "a light color." Maybe you would have been interested to learn that other cultures springing from those proto-men still only danced around the possibility of blue, naming yellow and gray and all sorts of other stuff, afraid to touch on this huge conceptual part of the spectrum, perhaps afraid to offend the gods they assumed lived in the vast "bhle-" expanse above their heads. I briefly shuffled through my index of past experiences with trying to interest people in things like this, and realized that in my efforts to sound learned, I probably just would have sounded creepy or *deeply* wedged up my own ass. Even I cringe at my monologue sometimes, but it's just how my thoughts tend to fit together. I was doing it again. Introspection is always a convenient excuse for avoiding action. Cue reality. I decided to stroll over and at least find out who you are, and maybe see if you watch Kings and Tyrants, the trendy new show making the rounds, chock-full of incest and murder. I'd learned not to mention the books they were based on, as it seemed to alienate good people by making them feel judged for watching TV. I looked up to gauge my directions--bitch brews or not, vodka stingers catch up to you eventually--and you were gone. You had taken that blue dress, and your social panache, and all the intrigue and adventure of the evening, out the door for the night. I couldn't say I blamed you; I wasn't having the time of my life carefully observing my coworkers for future blackmail, but I stayed a while anyway. The party might as well have been in black and white after you left. At some point I vomited on the fantasy football guy. He joined me outside while I caught some air, having quickly worn out my welcome inside. I slurringly apologized and promised that I'd pay for his dry cleaning, not least fearing a beating for messing up his night. He laughed, told me not to sweat it, and took my tie and my jacket so I could retch over the curb without damaging them. I know Itold him how cheap my suit actually is and not to bother, but he did it all the same. He said he'd leave his dry cleaning receipt on my desk. And when I was blearily thanking him, and saying I missed my chance to meet the woman I knew deep in my bones I was supposed to hold until I died, he laughed again in sympathy and hugged me--a good strong hug, complete with a manly slap on the back. I weakly reciprocated. "It'll be okay, bro. Plenty of fish, right?" I agreed as I miserably thought of blue fish. He dug a change of clothes out of his trunk and went back inside in a sleeveless t-shirt. I admired that a great deal, but didn't tell him. I just left. Over the next few weeks, any further questions trying to find out who you might have been bore bitter fruit. Unsurprisingly, people weren't anxious to talk to the guy who barfed at the office party. To be fair, someone always does, but usually they have kind of a built-up credit balance of friendship to lean on. I never really made an effort to make work friends prior to my little demonstration, so forgiveness and reabsorption into the hive were slow. I was avoided, and I damned sure wasn't accommodated with answers. I saw a lot of blue in the next few weeks--or more likely, I was far more prone to noticing it where it had always been. Some Pavlovian trigger was set off by seeing you, so these hues started to form a feedback loop of happiness. This ran very much counter to my usual disposition, which would have chalked it all up to the universe's surprisingly mean sense of humor and given up on it completely. My victim complex generally needs no encouragement. I took to scouting out new kinds of blue to enjoy. My boss's severe navy pinstripe pantsuit with the subtle shoulder-pads. The background of my computer monitor, set strategically to a robin's nest, replete with four gorgeous hi-definition eggs. Fantasy football guy invited me to lunch a couple of times, but I made my excuses; I spent the whole of my lunch hours in the small smoking courtyard, just looking up at the cloudless sky. I took to believing that if it was meant to be, I'd see you again, and you'd be in blue. I don't know if our next encounter really counts. What you did seemed so perfect, and yet so wrong. It seems I wasn't alone in feeling the crackling blue current between us that night--nor was I alone in being too shy to do anything about it. All those times I tore my eyes away from you, so sure that I was wrong to stare. Those few moments at a time where I examined the walls, my shoes, my drink--those are the times you stole glances at me. You did some asking around too after that party, and that blue aura got you what few answers people could provide about the weird quiet guy in the office. It was enough. It's worth noting that not everything you learn about blue when you're obsessively romanticizing an encounter (because I am painfully aware this is what I did) is positive. For instance, cyanosis is when the body turns a shade of blue, usually through a lack of oxygenation in the blood, or from getting too cold. It's usually in the lips or extremities, except in cases where the body's blood isn't flowing anymore, where it develops all over. It often goes hand-in-hand with another bluing condition called hypoxia, in case someone reading this is watching Jeopardy some day. You had written my name on the envelope by the tub. The steam in the bathroom smeared the ink some, but when they found you, they found me. You let all your red out that day. The water was warm when you did it; must have felt like drifting off to sleep. Over time it got freezing cold, though; it was inevitable you'd be back in blue the next time I saw you. The word "cyanotic" made it into the coroner's report. Every letter of it is carved into me. The cops called me. Understandably, they had quite a few questions, almost none of which I could answer. They had to repeat themselves several times, and in fact they had to clarify who you were. Since they'd opened your envelope for evidence, they didn't really believe I had no idea whose name I was hearing. I couldn't even verify your identity. The morgue doesn't buy "the love of my life, seen at the office party, never a word exchanged" as an official name. Because it was addressed to me, they handed me the small heavy envelope, and on the carefully-folded card inside it just said I COULDN'T WAIT. Now I'll never see you, and I'm as blue as it gets. I wasn't arrested because there was precisely nothing to link me to you. I was named by that note, but without prints, motive, or evidence, I couldn't be charged. They glared as I walked away from my arraignment, head hung low, feet shuffling, terrified and confused, cornflower blue tie (RGB 101, 156, 239) thumping gently against my chest with every dejected step. Sometimes it feels like we knew each other for a thousand lifetimes, since the times of "bhle-." I wear a lot more blue now, in your honor. My supervisor tried to fire me for the scandal surrounding your death, and I won a settlement against the office for unjust termination. I was, after all, exonerated, with not a shred of evidence against me. Leaving the legal aside, I didn't actually do anything. That's the problem. I didn't do anything. I have a lot more time now to think about things like that. I doubt this is for the best. The "blue note" in jazz music is based around a note played flatter than the major scale from which it is derived. It's flatter. Sadder. Out of place, yet somehow it fits, like the loner at the office party who can't look up from his shoes and be a part of the larger piece. This blue tone never crosses the beautiful treble high note, yet the two belong together, each making more of the other than it would be alone. I picked up a taste for jazz--and, in a cliche I cannot defend, the blues. I don't know how long it will be before they find me with my own envelope. All I know is I've spent a lot of time deciding what to write in it: I WILL FIND YOU. WEAR BLUE.
Written by James (Chuck) Innocent
"I've never been good about smoothing out the rough edges in a story anyway. I'll edit it to pieces and in the end all I've done is added more $10 words that didn't need to be there." -C. Innocent