the science and soul of an innocent world

Modern Love in the Age of Lead

By Eric Dovigi

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The Rustic Modern Lover

Often Ridiculed Choices
The Real Reason for these Choices
  • They don’t worry too much about the color of their clothes or that of their peers’ clothing.
  • The only affordable clothing comes from the thrift store, so they learn quickly that the available styles are few.
  • They have wood burning fireplaces, and have gardens and grow all their own food.

  • They have to live in the cheaper south-side of town, where recently a community-orchestrated push for gardens has given them access to some pretty sweet seeds. Also, it’s cold, and wood is cheap (kind of).
  • They go to the Museum and get very upset when they miss the Vermeer that they didn’t know was coming through town until too late.
  • They have masters’ degrees in art history and are freaking obsessed with Vermeer.5

  • They unfriend the Museum
  • delete their Facebooks,

  • and sell their laptops.
  • Fuck the Museum.
  • Facebook eats in to time that ought to be spent working in the garden.
  • “Whoa….I have money.”
  • They move away from the Museum
  • and closer to the bakery.

  • Fuck that elitist Museum.
  • All of their attempts at baking have gone horribly awry, and their kitchen windows are bad at ventilating, and now the kitchen always smells like burned crust.
  • They get a job at the bakery
  • The only place in town that pays above minimum wage.
  • Covered from head to toe in flour and paint-splatters, they announce to their friends that they’re getting married, and seem oblivious to everyone’s barely concealed skepticism, which skepticism is the result of the fact that they are barely twenty years old.
  • After twelve hour shifts at the bakery, half of which was spent painting the storefront, they decide to get married. They pretend they don’t see the skepticism. They aren’t cynical about their young age.

Girl with a Pearl Earring Girl with a Pearl Earring,
Johannes Vermeer, 1665

Most of the above are only practical cosmetic choices—the Modern Lover makes cosmetic choices, and makes them very, very carefully. That’s a hallmark of Modern Loving: an immersion in the cosmetic and the consequent need to make choices regarding cosmetics, and society’s ensuing attempt at creating a guilt complex in them for daring to be a poor person who makes cosmetic choices. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

Arbitrary Aside #3

F. Scott Fitzgerald drank only gin, because it left no odor on the breath.

Okay, if you have any Modernity about you at all, even the smallest bit, you’re probably reading this at some kind of café or coffee shop. Look to your left, look to your right; ah, there they are: the true Modern Lover. The guy or lady or whatever who one-hundred percent conforms to all of the above description, who carelessly and expertly makes an identity out of it. Watch them closely. They’ve got some kind of coffee in front of them, don’t they? Latte, espresso, Americano, cappuccino—something. Watch their eyes. See how they stare deeply into the foam, into the little bubbles collecting around the rim. Wait patiently; they’ll take a drink soon. Soonish. While you wait, scroll back up and read that first paragraph about how my girlfriend and I don’t sleep together. Okay, now you’re back. I have a confession to make: I don’t have a girlfriend. At least, not insofar as the label ‘girlfriend’ kind of by its definition implies some sort of surety, some kind of mutual understanding. There’s a lady that I like a great deal and who likes me, and we sometimes share a bed together (lots of cool stuff two mutual admirers can do in a bed, even if it’s a twin), and sometimes we go for walks, sometimes we kiss in public or hold hands. I couldn’t call her a girlfriend though. The sort of certainty required for that is not present in large quantities in Modern Love. Remember how I told you that Modern Love plays with form? Well then, remember how I also told you that Modern Love has a shelf life? Oh quick, look! They—it’s a guy I think—the guy to your left (or right) is taking a sip of his coffee. Perfect timing. Watch the odd, tightly wound sorrow: it was there, for a split second, where his crow’s feet sharpened, and his nostrils twinged. That’s because he knows that his coffee is getting cold, so he’d better drink it. He wants to have his Modern Third Wave Organic Source Coffee, and drink it too. Every morning and every cup the pain is renewed.

There was a period, he thinks, somewhere between the filter and the cup, when the coffee was perfect. A duration of, perhaps, two seconds? Three seconds? That period can never be reached, though. The Golden Age of the coffee cup. He settles with the Age of Heroes, and watches the bubbles collect in the corner of the surface. He takes his first sip in the Silver Age, and sighs, and looks out the window, and by the time he’s looked back the Bronze Age has past and the Iron Age arrives. He’s heard of this. He kisses the surface with another sip. Now approaches the Leaden Age. He finishes the cup before it can arrive. Should he, you think on your side of the coffee shop, have downed the whole thing during the Silver Age, when the coffee was the best as it could have been? Should he have taken one sip each eon, to make it last as long as possible? Should he have sat there and looked at the cup and admired the dark color until long after the last age dies away and it’s late evening and the coffee shop politely asks him to leave?

This is the tragedy of Modern Love. The same tragedy that befell Odysseus and Penelope, Dante and Beatrice, Scott and Zelda, David F. Wallace and Mary Karr—the ungraspable singularity that sticks to us and carries us on into the future, no matter how hard we beat our boats against it, so that the crow’s feet crevices seem to deepen before your very eyes and your friends stop wearing madder lake without telling you and your twin bed collapses under the weight of you, and something was there once but it’s gone now, and it went really quick.


Arbitrary Aside #4

I drink coffee every morning at particular coffee shop in Flagstaff. It’s quite good. I may have mentioned that somewhere above, I can’t remember. Anyways, it’s the only place I can work. I Love it because they give you a free refill, so if you leave the first cup until too late and have to down it lukewarm, you still have another chance to do it better.

Modern Love is composed of a series of arbitrary asides over a duration of time. The time itself is not pure, symmetrical, meaningful, or beautiful. It only acquires these things when filled with arbitrary moments that together create a clutter of memory: their disjointedness and asymmetry is pretty—and that is meaningful. All of it is an alleyway that twists and turns and is filled with a million wonders you won’t buy, and it’s pretty.

And then, it’s over. Before you thought it would be. In some small segment between the fruit stand and the book seller, between the Gold Age and the Lead, you turn from the Modern Lover back to your cup.

Your coffee is cold.


5 Maybe due to the plethora of windows in Vermeer’s paintings. The house they live in now has tiny, dim, cracked portholes they refer to as “windows” purely for convenience.

About the author

Eric Dovigi

Eric Dovigi lives in Flagstaff, Arizona and studies creative writing at Northern Arizona University. His short story, "The Nova of Taft," won Westwind Journal's alternate history short story contest and was recently published.

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