It started out small.
I was at a restaurant, waiting for my chicken or whatever to show up. The place was one of those modern joints built into a turn-of-the-century building: wood and steel, high-efficiency lightbulbs and exposed brick. Seated near the window, I was absent-mindedly rubbing my fingers along the mortar holding the wall together. I felt the smallest of snaps, like breaking the arm off a porcelain ballerina, and suddenly I was rolling a piece of mortar between my fingers.
It was small, y’know? It wasn’t until I got home to my cramped little efficiency that I realized I was still carrying this piece of mortar. I put it down on my little Ikea desk and stared at it for a while before I went to bed.
For the rest of the week, I’d get up, go to work, come home and watch TV or whatever. But every time I’d go to bed, I’d look at this little piece of mortar, and I wouldn’t know why.
When I went back to the restaurant like three weeks later or so, I by chance got seated at the same table. And waiting for my pasta or whatever, my hands found the spot where the mortar used to be. And there was fresh mortar.
And then it hit me: I stole a part of the building.
The worst ideas are the ones where you can’t tell if it’s the worst idea or the best idea. But that night, the mortar on my desk was joined by a loose piece of wood from the windowsill.
I was eating at that restaurant three times a week now. I’d just take a little of whatever was falling apart. Bits of brick, mortar, wood, linoleum. A fixture was loose in the bathroom. A bolt was loose on a bar stool.
Pretty soon I had a duffel bag full of detritus in my apartment. I wasn’t sleeping. Eight hours of staring at this bag, then right back out the door to catch breakfast and a hunk of loose marble from the bartop. And every time I thought I took something too big – a doorknob, or a light fixture – it would just get replaced. I was a bacterium, really, eating bits and pieces, and this building was healing itself.
The leg of a chair broke off. That Thursday morning it was in the trash. That Thursday night it was in my overflowing apartment. My apartment looked like a construction site, but I knew where everything belonged. I had long since memorized the restaurant. But I finally realized why the junk wouldn’t let me sleep; it was homeless.
Soon I was too. Turns out, eating out all the time gets really expensive. I was wheeling crates of building around, looking for a home. What I found was an abandoned lot with a 1000ft spool of stiff steel wire.
I built a wireframe. I knew where everything belonged. Everything. Light fixtures hanging on wire, brick and wood tied to the frame. Chairs, and bits of tables. Empty liquor bottles stocking an empty bar.
It took two days to flesh out the wireframe. And now I can see it – the full, original restaurant, here, 70 blocks away from where it was born. Waiting for me to finish. My Sistene Chapel. My Ark.
If you replace every part of a boat, is it the same boat?
If I steal this building, won’t mine be the real one?