#2 Dear Plexiglass, What Is It Like to Be You?
Two years ago, most of us sitting in restaurants gave you no thought. We gathered in dozens around circular table tops, the type most efficiently moved by rolling across garishly bright banquet halls, and we gathered along multimeter rectangular tables, happy to lean shout to our comrades at opposite ends.
Now every one of us sitting in a restaurant has you as a close companion, with or without our human company. You stand wherever mandated. Last month, it could be at the edge of a tabletop — defining a compartment for diners facing each other, or in the middle of a tabletop — cloudy-ing the view them.
Now with Hong Kong relaxing, your job is to group people into fours instead of twos.
You’re sliced into sheets, sometimes polished round at the corners, sometimes not and threatening to passersby with naked eyes.
You’re called glass but over the past year — you’ve been scratched, bumped, chipped, rubbed, scraped, scalded, sauced, drooled on, oozed on, boozed on, wiped, and scoured — over and over again.
You’ve had stickers pasted onto you — new menu offerings, the LeaveHomeSafe QR code that everyone must scan to legally sit at your table, little posters with rainbows and cartoon families with health department slogans about fighting the virus. Stickers have been pasted on and peeled off, over and over again.
You harbor scratches, smudges, smears, residues, sticky and slippery.
You’re called glass but you’ve become a cataract transparent as cream.
Dear Plexiglass — what is it like to be you?
What conversations have you overheard, reflected, deflected, or contained?
Lovers sneaking in pillow talk over fried potatoes — what movie did they see last night?
Daughters mothering elder mothers — what medicine did they miss this morning?
Elders muttering to their maids — why don’t you talk to me?
Middle aged pottering over grocery costs — which store charged them unfairly today?
The employed discontent — what did their boss say this time?
When you came into the world, did you know you had a purpose? Did you imagine that one day you would be most well known for separating people, for making walls in space while preserving an illusion of vision?
Are you an illusion of safety, an illusion of sight, or both?
Or do you truly provide these things when otherwise there wouldn’t be?
Tell me about your creation, Plexiglass. Wait, plastic, that’s what you are, right?
In your molten state, did you have to get as hot as liquid glass? How many sources contributed to your making? Are you the byproducts of petroleum processing, some creation of sequestered waste, some manufactured raw concoction?
I know nothing about your origins.
How did you get to become so flat on two sides, so evenly thick, 5 mm thick from one side to the next? Your curved cloudy edges show you’ve been sliced out of a sheet much larger than you, one that is meters by meters — or perhaps one that is many more meters long than wide, like something off a roll. How did they make you the exact same size as your counterpart standing on the opposite edge of the table facing you, and its counterpart, standing at the edge of the neighboring table and facing it, and so forth? How did you all become so… uniform?
Plexiglass — isn’t it true that you can come in all different colors, all different shades, and all different transparencies? If that’s true, why have the humans in all the restaurants chosen the colorless transparent version of you for every table?
Like a hall of mirrors, you line up, giving us an illusion where one can see much more than they can contact from where they are.
Do you fear the end?
You stand at the edge of tables, your bottom edge slipped into two makeshift feet fastened to the tabletop. An unprotected fin, you flail and flitter when customers bump your table as they arrive and as they try to leave, or when a waitstaff underestimates your height, crashing into you while setting down a hot ceramic bowl of soup noodles, scalding broth splashing your face.
Do you picture yourself smashed, smithereened, shattered, sweeped into a bag, your bits in a bin, transported to a pit and piled into it with tissues, orange peels, corn husks, potato skins, tea bags, bleach-soaked paper towels, sealed into a black, truly opaque, eternity?
What a life, Plexiglass.
This is the second ‘chain link’ of ‘Don’t Break the Chain’ — a writing course by Cole Schafer. Today’s assignment — read back through the piece you wrote yesterday, choose a single object or thing or idea from the environment that was described, and write as many words as you can on that object or idea or thing in 45 minutes.