A Hyperbolic Manifold


 8-13-92. Vermilion, Ohio.

Walking around Vermilion, Ohio, while staying at the Motel Plaza, Highway 6, near where the Vermilion River flows into Lake Erie.

Sidewalks on gas station property on a main road and sidewalks on the property of an apartment complex off to one side of the main road: both cement walks were laid down in the last decade, by the looks of it, but neither meets the other --- they stop near the edge of the 2 properties, leaving about a 12 ' space (grass) between. The gas station's builders were probably legally obligated to put in "public walks" but did the absolute minimum, probably realizing that just about everyone drives by this space anyway.

An example of how many "public" spaces are created in modern urban spaces after private property is divided up --- spaces that are strangely absent, borderline, and suffused with melancholy as the evening crickets start up.

Or is it that with a turn of the head these spots may become exhilarating instead? Spaces holding something we can't quite see by looking directly at them, something that can be seen only through the corner of the eye, or only once we've looked away, something unbounded and found and lost and found?

TV lights flickering like campfires in darkened living rooms.... images changing rapidly, often more than once a second.... endless REM loops....

Down the street farther, the entrance to a cement contractor's business office. Huge solid cement blocks, c. 3 ' x 3 ' x 3 ', line the entrance road.

The blocks have metal `handles' or loops (of rebar?) on the top, used by a crane or backhoe to hoist them into place (they must weigh at least a ton). All are standard smooth cement, made by filling in a mold. But the tops of each show individual patterns, little ribs and ridges and nubbly crusts in the cement left from the swirl of a hand-held cement trowel (?) topping off the block in the mold.

Why are these blocks here? To advertise the contractors' expertise, his ability to make and handle cement? (Or, rather, his ability to hire people who have these skills.) Probably it is something like that: these blocks are a 15-ton ad. But the blocks also shift and seem stranger the more I think of them, floating halfway between work and play, sign and object.

The traces of the movement of a human hand and its tool on the tops of these blocks is like an anonymous signature of the moment of their making. I am moved by this despite myself, despite the fact that I know full well I am thinking absurd and irrelevant thoughts right in the middle of a commercial strip, staring at a space that no one else thinks worth a second glance during either the day or the night.

The elements of the sign extraneous to the sign are the most moving, the most human: not the obvious features of weight and smoothness in the blocks that show off the contractor's expertise, but the swirl of a person's trowel on the top that is irrelevant and invisible to anyone driving by to do business in the building. These are marks that can only be seen if you are walking and looking late at night, out of proper time---for in the daytime all this activity might be seen as loitering or trespassing. The marks that are invisible until nightfall are marks that are full with the movement of their making, a sign of sign-making. Yet they are also full of absence: the maker's hand moved here and then moved on, signature-swirls that actually erase his presence and name rather than sign it.

Been here and gone....




 Evening Shift


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