Let us call him Denby. Because, well, his name is Denby.
Denby, with a kind of performative humility—“aw, shucks” with an emphasis on the “awe”—divulges a few of his idiosyncrasies. He luxuriates in their peculiarity, pleased as punch they couldn’t be more unusual, and as he recounts them it’s clear they’re things everybody does.
“Firstwise, when I’m done eating a plum,” he says, “I like to put the pit in my mouth and suck on it like candy.”
Denby appears to be honoring a moratorium on blinking. He wears a mid-distance gaze that signals contemplation of some moment in the future when he will look back on this moment and understand with a poignant rue that he failed to apprehend fully its significance as it was happening.
“When I sing to music I sometimes use a tube of toothpaste as a pretend microphone.”
The gaze is just a long way of saying you better be paying attention. He could go on for hours like this. The all-morning conference call with Antananarivo got canceled. So literally he could go on for hours like this.
“On Sunday nights I watch movies until late because I don’t want the weekend to end.”
These are not idiosyncrasies at all. They are pansyncrasies. They are lived universally except by those in comas and those caught unarmed in knife-fights and trying to survive one juke at a time, which is to say effectively universally. Denby’s recitation is disillusioning—hope-obliterating? maybe hope-obliterating better captures it?—because it suggests that we all are living lies, that the thoughts and experiences we daily encounter as fresh and singular are in fact utterly unspecial, blank iterations of off-the-shelf delusions unwrapped and swallowed and excreted and reshelved billions of times around the planet and vigintillions of times through history, separated from pure meaninglessness only by the happenstance that our brains privilege with neural fire whatever pings on the blood-fed bits to which they’re attached. Individuality is a provincial myth. We feel big because we are small. Our lives are private dreams that children recount breathlessly but grown-ups, knowing better, understand mean nothing and interest nobody.
Denby Rozzi, who stands declaiming with his back to the nondairy creamers, blocking two, three, four successive coworkers’ path to the microwave, is oblivious that his treasures are a worthless hash. He is equally oblivious of his real assets. For example, he says firstwise and secondwise when explaining. Also, his fingers resemble butter sticks, truly. Thirdwise, he sings “Happy Birthday” with impeccable rhythm but without the slightest variation in tone after the first note, likely because he is musically inept and not because he worships a glow-eyed ram, which you note because during the holidays his drone turns every carol into an anti-carol.
Noting his two-way obliviousness makes you feel guilty for being a snob. This, in turn, makes you resent Denby for making you feel like a snob because his obliviousness to enduring if not patent truths is a little bit his fault. This, in turn, kind of makes you a snob.
Then you realize this whole sideways thing, this barely articulable bundle of infelicities, has a cure. Where you cannot make meaning, you will at least make beauty. You will forge out of this existential dreck the kind of looping, self-resolving, superelegant symmetry that the likes of Duruflé and Tolstoy could admire. You will simply reciprocate. Pansyncrasy for pansyncrasy. You’ll answer embarrassingly delighted accounts of plum pit sucking and toothpaste troubadouring and Sunday night wilding with a pansyncrasy of your own: a story of pansyncrasies, about a Denby proving oblivious and a you feeling snobbish and resenting the Denby for that feeling and thereby transforming at that moment into a snob and how funny and enlightening.
But wait. This isn’t elegant in the least, because this, alas, is not pansyncrasy. It is idiosyncrasy, highly particular and somewhat recondite. Who goes around answering talk of plum pits by wargaming aloud, to the third derivative, the branching implications of a mill-run interpersonal dynamic? There is no elegance here. The situation is bereft. Only dispiritment and dark confusion. Now you resent Denby for that, too. Fuck Denby.
No, wait. Wait. You’ve won, haven’t you? Put a cancel on the fucking of Denby. In failing miserably at fashioning a pansyncrasy, you have, in the attempt, inhabited real idiosyncrasy. This wasn’t the false aberration of the showy oddball; both endeavor and defeat unspooled strictly in your head, where there was nobody to impress. It wasn’t the stale cliché of the committedly weird introvert, either, reveling in haphazard thoughts for hygge’s sake to insulate against the world’s alienations. You conceived of neutralizing pansyncrasy with pansyncrasy in an earnest spirit, free of meretricious, self-presentational motives, with a clearly defined and verifiable—indeed, noble, you don’t mind saying—objective in mind.
Success. You’ve broken out of the blank, no-relief mural in which we’re so often buried alive—first a hand cracking through, then a knee, and then the whole thing shattering as you emerge bodily—you’ve emerged, wreathed in a cloud of comminuted plaster and breathing the way escapees breathe, each inhalation like it’s the only one, each breath a destination wedding. It occurs to you finally that only in venturing boldly and failing gloriously do we attain our humanity. No! You straight-arm this thought out of your mind, you forbid yourself from apprehending it fully, because—yes, you know already—it reeks of pansyncrasy. It reeks of Denby. You don’t know which you feel worse about—identifying Denby with a soul-killing stench or getting a little ahead of yourself when you said fuck Denby. You also don’t know how long you can stay out here, teetering high and sere in a place of idiosyncrasy, atop the office pantry mini-fridge, Denby still talking, but you like your chances.
On the Denby thing, though, you do resent Denby for making you feel a little bad yet again, so, final answer, fuck Denby.
Cover art: “Through It All” by Kristen Baker