In the Shadow of the Valley of Measurement Elias Keller Macro-Fiction

map In the Shadow of the Valley of Measurement

by Elias Keller

Published in Issue No. 248 ~ January, 2018

The question occurred to him as he scurried into his kitchen to inventory his foodstuffs just one more time. Of all the minutes he spent at home, in his house {two fungible phrases} {or were they?}—anyway, of all the minutes spent in the physical structure of his dwelling, in which room did he spend the most minutes?

There were four choices:

1) the bedroom, the seeming frontrunner, but his personality wasn’t suited to long slumbering, so it wasn’t as simple as that

2) the bathroom, a long shot even though his showers were rather leisurely {another durational measurement of some interest} {the data he’d seen online about average human showering time was generated from self-reported estimates of other humans, not exact measurements of his showers, and the difference between the two seemed, well, immeasurable}

3) his office, where he did his philosophizing and writing {and the room he felt should be graced with most minutes of his presence}

—and finally, and what he started to think would come in at least second-place:

4) the kitchen, because he cooked for himself upwards of ninety percent of his total meals {a reasonable guesstimate, and yet another unrealized metrical ambition}—and also because he was a trifle fussy about how meals were prepped and cooked, and a trifle fussier about:

—how the dishes and pans were washed {with abundant suds and wearing yellow latex gloves as protection against the hot water and the gunk he was scrubbing away}

—how the counter was wiped {four liberal spritzes with lemony cleaning spray, a firm wipe with a rugged cloth rag, then a follow-up caress with a disposable paper towel}

—how his perishable foodstuffs were stored, examples being: 1) unfinished canned food left in the can and covered with squares of tin foil, each square used for at least five unique cans, except if the canned food was something “messy” like tomato sauce instead of something “clean” like black olives or hearts of palm; and 2) opened bags of frozen vegetables secured with a durable clip or a rubber band, the latter of which eventually broke after repeated freezing and thawing, which always made him ponder exactly how many times that rubber band had been frozen and thawed before breaking out of its annulated incarnation for a more linear existence—

The precision of his clean-up ritual, which seemed like it should save time {another alluring metaphysical bramble, but one not worth getting raveled in right now, partly because he’d already written an amusing but hardly definitive inquiry about “saving time”}—anyway, far from “saving time,” the clean-up ritual actually meant that most nights it was nearing eleven o’clock by the time he was finished preparing, consuming, and cleaning up from dinner.

Lunch was usually a quicker process, but not by much, and not always.

Shortly after he started contemplating the how-many-minutes-in-each-room question, his familiar metric apathy crept upon him—and how would he actually measure this, anyway? Keep a running stop clock for a set period of time? But it was obvious that sooner or later he’d forget to click start or stop when he crossed from one room into another—and then, kaput, the tabulation was ruined, because he wanted exact numbers or none at all, which of course was why his measurement ambitions remained soaring in the firmament rather than traversing solid metrical valleys and procuring solid data that, beyond just being “interesting,” could improve him as a person, as a writer, a worker—because “what is measured, is managed,” went the truism.

Thus, to state the obvious: what he really wanted was not to measure, but to be measured.

He supposed he could hire someone to measure him, but then there was the pitfall of him being aware of being measured and thus acting in “unnatural” ways that would produce faulty and thus useless data. {But isn’t acting “unnaturally” in the presence of a strange observer quite “natural”?} Nevertheless, even if he did go about his life exactly as he would if he were unobserved, the high probability of human error quickly quashed his interest in the mercenary mortal option.

Thus, to state the slightly-less-obvious: what he wanted was not just to be measured, but to be measured by an invisible omnipresent omniscient timekeeper.

Now, he was much too much the atheist to call that entity “God,” and besides, if there were a God, wouldn’t He {or She} {and this was exactly the point, that gendering God was a stout step toward “proving” that God was “only” a human construct}—let alone the issue that if there were a God, wouldn’t “It” have “more important” “things” to “do” than measure how many minutes he spent in each of his rooms?

Or, maybe not. The outlandish glut of quotation marks in the sentence two sentences ago points to the point that the moment a human starts describing God in flagrantly anthropomorphizing terms, envisioning God as something or someone with priorities and tasks and stop clocks, or even eyes or thoughts or “things” at all—kaput, the divine jig was up, and that mortal was taking an even stouter step toward “proving” that “God” is at most a human construct, ideal, or abstraction.

Much like this invisible omnipresent omniscient timekeeper that could finally quantify all of his unmeasured measurements.

For convenience, he started calling that entity—“The Measurer.”

But, he deigned to acknowledge, swerving into his office for a tissue to blow his nose, just because humans can only perceive God through a human perspective doesn’t affirm that God is only a human construct. After all, we can only perceive a kangaroo through a human perspective, but that doesn’t mean kangaroos are only human constructs. Then again, the word “kangaroo” is only a human construct: a “kangaroo” obviously doesn’t know it’s a “kangaroo.” In fact, a “kangaroo” isn’t a “kangaroo” from the perspective of a “kangaroo.” {Or is it? How would we ever know?} He noted, too, how strange and quasi-meaningless the word “kangaroo” sounded by now, in other words, how fragile and evanescent our human semantic representation of a “kangaroo” really is, compared to the touchable, seeable reality of the furry pouched “marsupial”—

Wending back to the more specific cogitation at hand, though, he considered two human suppliants, one praying to “God” for concrete answers to the mysteries of human existence, another requesting from “The Measurer” an exact number of minutes spent in each room of a house. What was really the difference between the two petitioners? Wouldn’t the replies to both questions—namely, silence—be identical? {But could a “non­-reply” of silence be classified as a reply?}

—yet another excursive inquiry distracting him from actually measuring things, thereby necessitating The Measurer in the first place—

But how fantastically lovely, wouldn’t it be, if he could just soar and lucubrate while The Measurer did the tedious legwork and then created an actionable report complete with a compendious executive summary and variegated pie charts—because he had kitchens to tidy until eleven o’clock at night, at which time he’d take his luxuriously long lavation, wondering exactly how many minutes he’d been in the shower and exactly how many of those minutes had been devoted to each component of the showering process:

1) wetting of body and hair 2) shampoo hair and rinse shampoo out of hair 3) apply conditioner to hair, leaving in hair while 4) washing body with bar soap 5) rinsing off of soap 6) washing of face with expensive upscale face wash {wondering exactly how many days of usage each bottle provided} 7) rinsing of face and hair 8) letting the hot water run over him and ruminating upon topics ranging from the ultimate fate of humanity to whether he should seek out a higher interest rate for his savings account 9) finally overmastering the sensuous pleasure of the shower and turning off the water 10) wicking water from his body with his hands until he’d dried himself as much as possible sans drying accoutrements 11) exiting the shower and donning his bathrobe and hair towel, and finally 12) cleaning his ears with Q-tips.

By the way, he could, in theory, determine how many milliliters of the upscale face wash came out in his one daily pump and then divide that into the 177 milliliters of the entire bottle. But that assumed each daily pump was robotically identical in force to release an identical volume of face wash, which probably wasn’t the case, partly because of the gradual accretion of residue in the pump that produced increasingly strong coefficients of friction between the plastic spout and the viscous substance of the face wash—and thus the measurement wouldn’t be divinely exact. Besides which, when he actually contemplated the time and effort needed to even attempt to measure the precise payload of one pump, his soul shuddered at this ostensible boondoggle and he visualized himself keening on his deathbed for leaving words unwritten and words unread in order to measure—and only exactlyish!—how many days a bottle of fancy face wash lasted.

His shower complete, he’d go into his bedroom and put on his pajamas, then go to his office to work, which usually meant ricocheting between his desk and the kitchen, making textual edits and revisions and notes at the former, and in the latter making plans for the next day’s menu and mentally inventorying his noodles and legumes and frozen vegetables and packaged snacks. Usually there was so much scurrying back and forth between rooms that it really would require The Measurer to track the minutes exactly—if he, the mortal, even tried to do it, that’d be all he could do, so hardly an improvement, anyway, over the time he now “wasted” {?} in his kitchen and shower. But The Measurer could clock everything, all the time, and not just for him but every mortal, simultaneously, so that whenever any inquisitive human had a hankering for data—behold! an epiphany of executive summaries, pie charts and bullet points recommendations for personal improvements. Imagine that!

Yes, imagine that, he thought, beginning his bedtime bathroom routine, which he undertook with an air of weariness of his sacrosanct regimens and inutile rituals, a faint elegy for all the fugacious minutes of his life, washed and wiped and wicked away. Nonetheless: urinate, prophylactic facial acne treatment, brush teeth, floss, mouthwash, lip balm, wash hands, urinate again, a small squirt of hand sanitizer, and then one more pre-sleep defensive micturition {wondering exactly how many times he’d peed since the moment of his birth}—

But yes, again, imagine, imagine that we all believed in The Measurer, imagine that instead of “Be good, God is watching,” we exhorted each other to “Be measured, analyze the data, adjust and improve.” Yes, he asked himself, turning down the covers and plugging one ear with an earplug, the pillow itself serving as the other plug, and then setting his alarm optimistically early and turning on his fall-asleep music—yes, why don’t we all pray for the advent of The Measurer? Is God as The Measurer any more preposterous than God as whatever He, She, It, or Non-It we pray to now?

A step further. Imagine that instead of either God or The Measurer, that we mortals worshipped our splendid anfractuous imaginations, made offerings and oblations and prayers to neurons and cells that spat out creations like “God” and invisible omnipresent omniscient timekeepers—not to mention worshiping our neurons that pondered the dubious distinction between God and The Measurer and concluded that, all told, the latter really would be more useful, at least more deserving of so much attention and gratitude, and that our default hosanna doesn’t have to be the generic “Thank God!” but could be: “Behold my ability to manage myself to more productivity! Thank The Measurer!”

Then he pulled up his sheet to cover his ear and closed his eyes. And just before oblivion benighted him, he mouthed a prayer, for a day of unneeded quotation marks, the day when all divine metrics and exact measurements would be revealed, when The Measurer would finally come down from that lofty metaphysical mount and trudge through the damned valley already.

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Elias Keller is a Philadelphia native. His fiction has appeared in Literary Orphans, Crack the Spine, Every Day Fiction, APIARY, Slush Pile, Forge, and elsewhere. He currently lives in New Orleans.

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