“You want the meaning of life?” Harvey asked. “I know the meaning of life. I’m your boss. You should have asked. We’re like that.” Harvey held his index and middle fingers up together. Tiny pieces of plastic fell from Harvey’s hand. “I need a bath,” Harvey said. “Imagine me, a custodial engineer, looking like this.”
Everyone wasn’t listening. Everyone was thinking about what Harvey had said about the meaning of life. Everyone couldn’t believe she or he had spent half a year writing a blog to find the meaning of life when Harvey had known the meaning of life all along.
“Where is the meaning of life?” everyone asked.
Harvey patted down his shirt and pants. Dust rose into the air. “I really need a bath,” Harvey reiterated.
Everyone had no time for baths. “How do you know the meaning of life?” everyone asked. “What does it look like?”
Everyone thought she or he sort of knew the answer to the last question, though at times, everyone questioned whether she or he had found the true meaning of life or simply a poser.
The meaning of life had a blog. On it were hundreds of photographs of trim, smiling people with tans standing on a motorboat with Popsi Colas in their hands. The meaning of life stood next to each of these people, wearing shades and a baseball cap. But everyone could not get a good look at the face--not at the eyes nor at the hair. Still, everyone noted, by the white teeth and the lack of wrinkles, that the meaning of life seemed exceptionally young for being so famous and rich.
Harvey unbuttoned his shirt, shook out a vacuum cleaner’s worth of dirt, laid it on everyone’s dining room table. Harvey’s chest hair was stickered with white droplets shaped like kilobytes--lice eggs, skin, three-week-old linguini sauce, puke. Harvey pulled on the longest with the fingertips of his thumb and index finger, squeegeeing off the mess. “It’s a dirty business,” Harvey said.
“Never mind that,” everyone said.
Everyone grabbed the hose of the vacuum cleaner sitting beside her or his desk, turned it on, began sucking at Harvey’s chest.
Harvey stared at the nozzle on his torso, grabbed it, then ran the hose left to right, up to down, the upper half of his body. “There’s nothing quite like seeing something come clean to give me a sense of accomplishment,” Harvey said.
Dirt continued to cake off Harvey’s skin.
“But,” everyone said, over the din of the vacuum cleaner.
“The meaning of life,” Harvey said, assenting now to everyone’s earlier question, as the hose continued down his body, “is all about cleanliness, accomplishment, doing what you love with your whole heart. That’s why I started this business.”
“So you could meet the meaning of life?” everyone asked.
Harvey nodded, moved the nozzle to his back. “Before,” Harvey said, “I simply existed, cataloging experiences--and really more other people’s experiences than my own. I wasn’t living. I was letting others live for me--I was living their lives.”
Harvey turned off the vacuum, looked at his pants, shook his head. “I really need a bath,” he said.
“But my spouse,” everyone asked now, desperate, “do you think? Do you think that if I found the meaning of life, I could find my spouse?”
Harvey stared at everyone. “Works for some people,” he said. “But like I said, I think you really have to find meaning yourself. No one in the end can help you. I mean, the meaning of life doesn’t hang out with just one person.”
“I’ve seen the photos,” everyone acknowledged.
“Never seen one myself,” Harvey said. “I find the meaning of life every time I polish a desktop or clean off a mirror. I work hard, and there, meaning is, every time, staring right back at me.”
Everyone wants you to read the book on which he or she is working, a novel everyone is writing in order to find the meaning of life, with which everyone’s spouse ran off. But everyone has to finish the novel before everyone can know where the novel begins. In the meantime, there are all these distractions, such as the twelfth-floor window at the office building where everyone works out of which people or maybe just one person keeps jumping or falling--everyone isn’t sure--or everyone’s sexy coworker Sam, whom everyone is struggling valiantly against to keep from becoming a paramour. It’s kind of pitiful, actually, the way everyone keeps begging you to read, sending you e-mails, dropping it into conversation (“I have a book, you know?”), posting links to it on social-networking sites. Everyone figures that if he or she begs enough, you will break down and try it. Everyone is like a dog that way, watching you eat your dinner. The way you handle the dog is to push it away from the table, lock it outside the room. Sometimes, of course, you hand the dog a bite, an inch-sized bit of beef, and that is all everyone is asking for--a bite, that you read just the first line of his or her book. The problem is that you know everyone too well. If you read one line, everyone will beg you to read another. Just one more.
To start from the beginning of the novel, go here.