2B – The Printing Room

Diogenes went to work on the press.  Grant, a diminutive, hook-nosed introvert who resembled a maniacal stamp collector dressed in a technician’s robe, instructed him.  Religiously devoted to the press and to the minutiae of its operation, Grant at first treated Diogenes like a neophyte, “a man from upstairs”, as he charged one morning.  But this solitary, hiding in his apartment or storage room during breaks at work, this eunuch of panels, screens, keyboards, ink, typeface, fibers and the press itself — slowly warmed to Diogenes once he sensed his dedication and experience in printing.  Grant would smooth his hand across the printer, bifocaled in technical hypnosis, pouring over manuals.  He peered at blueprints like a peeping Tom or like an alchemist at the keyboard worshipping the process of turning paper into gold.

Diogenes noted immediately that Grant refused to understand the premise of their counterfeiting.  All this microchipped wizardry led to making money to be spent, not dumped.  More remarkably he didn’t respond or differentiate between this and the Treasury Department either.  When Diogenes mentioned these things Grant squinted back — eyes split by double lenses, mouth agog, embarrassed — as if he had been mocked for soiling his leather seat.

Grant’s spine tortured him.  As he laboriously rehearsed the operation of the physical plant, traced circuitry in blueprint, tested color shifts, inspected inlaid fibers, pulling up panels, replacing fluid, he had to writhe or twist his hunched back into position.  Bernard, the maintenance man, explained that as a schoolboy Grant was forced to high jump into saw dust pits and that a knobby outgrowth at the base of his skull cut into his spinal cord and left him paralyzed for a year. He underwent painful and elongated treatment by quacks until he was able to walk — but no therapy followed the Collapse.

Often he found Grant huddling in the storage room to sniff cocaine — which both relieved and accentuated his anxiety.  Grabmaler supplied him but severely limited the dose if he found any flaws in production or if he discovered Grant, from the omnipresent overhead cameras, snorting while servicing the printer.

Bernard was a good sort who loved to tell obscene jokes about Grant’s impotency or asexuality.  And though he ridiculed Grant for peeing his pants (it was difficult for Grant to move quickly enough after remaining seated over a manual or fascinating crossword) he also waxed sentimental about his fellow inmate.  Grant was pitiable.  Yet he possessed a craftsmanlike pride admirable even in a counterfeiter.

Diogenes lived alone.  Supplied with a modest library on the history of printing and cedar shelves with a few French classics — Lautréamont, de Sade, Céline — in translation, he enjoyed a whisky ration and meals brought him by Ms. Duykinck. He studied technical manuals on computer graphics and paper, and photographic albums on the history of counterfeiting.  A wall hanging with the American dollar in the middle under magnifying glass adorned his phony fireplace.

Rumor held that Grabmaler was traveling.  Diogenes buried himself in the development of the hundred, which badly needed work, losing himself in aesthetic touches of fiber coloring.  The more he buried himself in production quality the less Grant plagued him about technical details, until Grant seemed to vaporize into the machine itself, cleaning, sniffing, slipping back into his old routine.

Playing poker with Bernard, watching instructive videos or classic Hollywood movies, studying German and French — dreaming of foreign travel — Diogenes spent weeks without seeing the sun.  It was more pleasant inside, anyway, he reasoned to himself. He hibernated, burrowed into himself.  Ms. Duykinck would escort him around the series of corridors which comprised their floor.  They had a tanning center where she would message him and gossip and where sometimes he would use up his entire week’s ration of whisky.

Diogenes heard nothing of Rupert or Undine and now, absurdly, began to romanticize a friendship with them.  To occupy himself off-hours he shaved, took long hot showers, played poker or checkers, and relived the nightmarish world he survived in New York.

As he resumed the habit of talking to himself aloud, he found that Grant, Bernard, and Ms. Duykinck grew quite used to it, even in their presence.  When he walked the corridors he could only circle from right to left.  The lift never opened, as his key proved useless except to open his own quarters or the printing room, which he could visit at any time during the night.  Everything else was sealed.  Sometimes he borrowed Bernard’s key and walked from left to right, or used both keys in order to start the opposite way with his own key to vary the pattern.

New York, his old days in the Met Life building, were certainly not safer.  There too he consoled himself and hid in his niche.  In terms of comfort, this hiding place offered diversions, transitions in routine, clean water, food.  And weighing places to hide what could be safer than to work and sleep — underground, in an inverted skyscraper?

To further distract himself, Diogenes developed the concept of an archive on printing lore and history.  He wrote a series of unanswered memos to Grabmaler on text-selections and funding — including a cataloguing system — but failed to inspire in Ms. Duykinck, Bernard or Grant even a mild curiosity.  He was unsure whether the memos ever reached Grabmaler.  But from the first he devised the plan not as a recluse plotting escape but as a shrewd manager.  Eventually, the archive-dream evolved into an obsession, as he lost track of time.

He missed the sun.  If he saw it again he would perform salutations, rise at dawn, and sleep only at sunset.  The sky, the moon, the stars seemed sacred now, even when masked by smog.

And with the lengthening shadow of time, new meditations and questions arose.  How he came to work for Grabmaler, Lazarus, the pit, Basarov — counterfeiting money which would never be spent — the Plague, the Civil War — everything seemed to discomfit him, as he tossed and turned through each malignant night.  He chastised himself for these questions, for these fits of curiosity and suspicion.  Often he reached a state of near panic, biting nails or masturbating, sobbing tearlessly in a corner — all the time grateful to have a bed and cooked food to eat, and a press to work.