Rumble in the Jungle

“Google it! Google ‘hedonic treadmill.’”

Sarah Lucas, Au Naturel. 1994, mattress, melons, oranges, cucumber, water bucket. 33 1⁄8 × 66 × 57". Courtesy of Sadie Coles HQ, London. © Sarah Lucas.

The wind blows through Copenhagen’s Vesterbro quarter of students, artists, and immigrants, whirling up dust and leaves and parents—anything desiccated and worn out. “You can visit in the afternoons,” say our beautiful hipster spawn. “You’re welcome when you’re delivering new furniture, and when you’re bringing clean laundry, and when you’re getting the kitchen cabinets to hang flush. But that’s it.

The wind sucks the smell of freshly painted walls onto the street. All those walls that we parents daub away at, applying paint in hues we don’t understand. We parents who press paint rollers—with ferocity, frenzy, and aching wrists—against uneven walls that would have been spackled smooth back home in Kolding or Roskilde or wherever the kids lived until last month.

And when we run through the high winds to our charmless vehicles to retrieve the tool we had the foresight to bring along, we dash through clouds of dust kicked up by the wind, as if every second were ticking down toward some distinct catastrophe. Our clothes flap in the Vesterbro gales—we chose the oldest and drabbest in our closets, because they need to be able to tolerate spatters. As if anything we wore would be sullied by paint stains, and not simply made more interesting.

And even though we sped down the staircase with long, booming, almost youthful steps, and even though we hastened through the gale and quickly spied the needed tool, lying upon a sheet of protective plastic, since there’s no need for the car to get any dirtier than necessary, we nevertheless remain sitting in the driver’s seat longer than we’d intended. Over the years, our weeping has grown strangely soundless. Over the years, some people have come to believe us when we say, “No, it isn’t anything.” Without our knowing how it’s happened. “No really, it’s nothing.” And so we sit in our cars and do what we’re doing now, which is not really crying and not really not, and not really hurrying out for the tool, and not really retrieving it with ordinary speed. While the sun sinks lower over Vesterbro, the hipsters shiver at the cafés’ outdoor tables, and the wind gusts up, so that an ice cream wrapper lands on the windshield, and we, for reasons we don’t care to think about, fish out the key and insert it into the ignition for the sole purpose of turning on the wipers and knocking away the wrapper.

It isn’t till the wrapper blows away, sailing among the shops of custom-built bicycles and fresh-squeezed juices, that the weeping becomes so pronounced that anyone who showed a trace of interest couldn’t help but notice.

And it’s almost a relief that we’re invisible to them, the handsome young people who drape their arms across each other’s shoulders and rejoice as they spring across the paving stones of Dybbøl Street. The cars in Vesterbro are full of weeping fathers and mothers, and nobody sees us.

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