July 9, 2007

Situational Ethics (and Wayward Bones)

Andromeda II

Nathaniel told me about the skeleton last night. While poking around down at the shattered docks that terminate Huron Street, he came upon this specter marring the skyline, dangling from a beam about twenty feet from shore. I was determined to get some pictures of it before it was lost to the elements or wanton desecrators.

As I loaded my camera and prepared to leave, I was stung by the terrific acquisitional instinct that is so problematic in our society. I decided to test this urge on Nathaniel, who has always stood alone among my friends as an individual who will not cheat, will not tell a lie, and would loan me his last dollar if I asked. He is the closest thing I have to a conscience. So on my way out the door I poked my head into his room and said, "So... I think if that skeleton is still there, I'm going to get it." He looked up and without a second thought said, "Wait for me, I'll come and help."

That is how I came to find myself straddling a beam ten feet over the water this afternoon, sawing through an old rope as quickly and covertly as possible. As confident as I'd been that I would score my prize, I hadn't thought far enough ahead to bring a knife, so I had to employ the bottom of a broken bottle as my tool. This required great concentration, as my flesh was notably less durable than the adversarial rope. The physics of the situation were not working in my favor; I was balanced in an awkward position on rickety ruins, trying to liberate a fifty-pound humanoid without losing it to the deep or hacking into myself. About halfway through the rope I decided to be realistic and bleed a little. Nathaniel informed me from the shore that we had antibacterial Band-Aids at home. There was clearly no turning back now.

During the walk over I had felt very mixed up as to whether snatching the skeleton was a violation of the spirit in which it had been strung up there. As an artist or situation-stylist, how would I feel if I discovered that my interesting contribution to a secluded area had been pirated? Was the river not a more interesting place with the skeleton watching over it than without it? Was I stripping myself of the benefits of this gesture by stripping the docks of their skeleton? Nathaniel was quick to remind me from his solid footing onshore that in a city like this, such an object's life as a public fixture was limited to days, if not hours. If it could and would be gotten, it may as well go to the most ambitious and appreciative adventurers.

If it was ambition that got me out on that ledge, it was tenderness that kept me there. As I draped the skeleton over the beam, I was stricken by the how easy it was to anthropomorphize such an object. It seemed so defenseless; I began to be appalled that anyone could dangle any human figure so vulnerably and abandon it to fate. This was not a raid, it was a rescue mission-- we would give it a better home. And so as I finally chopped through the rope and lowered the body down to where Nathaniel could haul it ashore, what I felt was not the thrill of acquisition, but of a good deed well done. Nathaniel was good enough to carry it all the way home, so that I was free to apply pressure to my cut finger.

The long, conspicuous walk back (and accompanying paranoia as we kept an eye out for the skeleton's former master) led us to a decision that will hopefully transform our mission into a equivalent contribution to the area. When Nathaniel and I arrived home with our new friend, we took pictures of him looking relaxed in his new environment; tomorrow we're going to put the pictures in a bottle and hang it from the same beam. I can only hope that the message will reach the intended party-- and that he or she will understand that their wayward charge has gone to a better place-- but no matter who finds the pictures, the legend of this beautifully ruined place as a site where one abandons and discovers strange and mysterious things will remain intact.

Andromeda V

1 comment:

Zuzu Petals said...

You are one of kind, dear. This makes me smile and shake my head all at once.