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Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey Read Online (FREE)

What I’m trying to say, the theorem that must be accepted as a premise if any of my behavior is ever to make any sense, is that I have been, that I continue to be, best at being a vessel for the desire of others. And that this has made me good at exactly two things, school and sex. Also that you’re not supposed to use people as means to an end, you’re only supposed to treat them as ends in and of themselves, a very smart and famous man by the name of Immanuel Kant says so. Only I did want to be used as a means, and mostly it made me miserable and was evil besides, and in an attempt to fix this fundamental problem with me as a person I’d used John as a means and that, not questions like What are you going to do for money, and How are you going to find a job, and Have you opened the e-mail from your manager in response to the e-mail in which you quit without notice, and Is it irony to quit without notice i.e. in a very inappropriate way when the job you’re quitting is in HR, the fact that I’d used John, that was what was eventually going to bother me, when I allowed myself to feel things again.


But the time when I allowed myself to feel things again, that time was not now. Now was early afternoon and I was fixing myself a gin and tonic and watching YouTube videos. In the spirit of Well certainly there must be people who are even more miserable and evil than me, the search terms I was using included the word violent and also the word marriage.

What I found first was a scene from Robert Altman’s 1973 film The Long Goodbye. This was one-and-a-half gin and tonics later. In the scene, a gangster breaks a Coke bottle across his girlfriend’s face. The attack is unprovoked. The girlfriend is wearing a peach-colored dress made of some gauze-like material, chiffon, possibly. The dress has modified bell sleeves that cinch at the wrist and are finished with ruffles. It has what appears to be a natural waist, likely elastic, though this is impossible to determine with any certainty because the waist is partially concealed by a loose, slightly asymmetrical panel that falls on top of and is constructed of the same material as the body of the dress. The panel floats on the left side to just below, and on the right side to just above, the elbow. The girlfriend’s name is Jo Ann Eggenweiler and she is played by an actress named Jo Ann Brody. Not an actress, a waitress who served Altman and two members of his cast during a break in the shooting of the only scene in which she appears. Onscreen, Jo Ann is mostly silent. She and her gangster boyfriend, Marty, are in Philip Marlowe’s apartment. Philip Marlowe is played by Elliott Gould. She sits, impassive, while Marty tells her how beautiful she is, how much he loves her. “I sleep with a lot of girls,” he says, “but I make love to you. Right?” She nods. A few moments later, he breaks the Coke bottle across her face. She screams. As the gangster’s henchmen hustle her offscreen, she utters two words: “Oh god!” “Now, that’s someone I love,” the gangster says to Marlowe. “And you I don’t even like.”