What I desire, above all else, is to be a pneumatic tube. I have tried to be good. (Mary Oliver says you don’t have to.) It’s not that I’m especially wicked, I just rush headlong into things without thinking them through. The rush is the key. I want the thrill of plunging your hand into ice water and holding it there as long as you can stand. The idea is also momentum. I am forever tripping down a hill. Acceleration comes easy. If you build up enough of the stuff, you might not fall over but take flight—impossible and also unlikely.
This essay, for example, I had a better opening line for, but I forgot. It’s on the tip of my memory tongue if only I would pause and reach back. But when you’re traipsing down a hill, a reaching back isn’t possible. There is no danger here of a pillar of salt.
Wickedness is also not the thing I desire. For one, that requires assiduousness and a wardrobe overhaul. For two, it seems far too late to go rogue.
A pleasant middle ground, then, is the goal. No, not middle ground, other ground. And a ground that goes straight up and down and side to side without any dangerous angles. No danger of falling off here. Pneumatic tubes are too useful to be called wicked and too outdated to be called good. Sure, we see them at banks sometimes if we go to banks or in hospitals if we work at hospitals, but it’s hardly the same as the Parisian system back in the day.
Here is what a pneumatic tube is and how it works—which are practically the same thing, bless them.
There’s a sturdy container, the size of a small housecat, say. It has a hermetic seal on top like a mason jar lid, but in one piece not two. You put your cash in it at a bank drive-thru or your tissue sample in it at the hospital (although I don’t think it’s illegal to reverse this), seal it up, and place it in the tube. Pneumatic pressure shunts the container from point A to point B. And there you have it.
What is pneumatic pressure? you might ask. No one knows, don’t worry about it. The general idea is a great woosh and a shunk when the container pops out the other end. Pressurized air (by what? by whom?) does the work of an efficient delivery of cash or organs.
I, too, would like to be borne along. No more great galumping with my big feet and waving with my small hands. I would like to be compact, neat. Useful. Hidden and specified. Beyond good and evil.
Look, the world is too bright and full of advertisements. A pneumatic tube does not even bother to say Here I am. It just goes about its business. Shunk shunk shunk.
I am forever making a fuss about myself—walking into the things, taking too much space with my body. Trying to apologize myself into charming. I feel a great deal of kinship William Shatner, to tell you the truth, a corpulent bashfulness that can be summed up as Aw shucks, I know I’m terrible, but don’tcha like me?
William Shatner is emphatically not a pneumatic tube.
As a typical non-tube, I have to bluster a bit before I get to what I’m actually trying to say. I wish to be a pneumatic tube because they are the opposite of feeling embarrassed. We would think this would be an emotion as emotions are often paired as opposites, but, I assure you, I have thought it over, and it is not.
Let’s take a look at what is embarrassment. There is an out-of-control-ness to embarrassment, isn’t there? But not in a joyful way. It’s more of a I’m-out-of-control-but-I-shouldn’t-be-I’m-an-adult. That’s why bodily things are considered embarrassing. Farting loudly in church (a thing I’ve done!) for example. It’s not so much defiling a holy and lofty space—although that’s part of it—it’s that something happened out of your control, but it really should have been within your grasp.
I shouldn’t have put the words fart and grasp so closely together, but it was already happening, so I just went with it.
This approach leads more often to embarrassment than to giddy joy. But the first rush is often a mixture of both.
The opposite of embarrassment, then, is not giddy joy, not control since it happens when there is no control but should be, and it isn’t shamelessness either, because shame isn’t stable. Meaning, I’ve looked back and felt shame at something I didn’t used to, and sometimes the other way around.
But I rarely look back.
Pneumatic tubes are controlled, neat, exacting. Pneumatic tubes are assuring. Pneumatic tubes are the opposite of showing your whole ass in front of everyone. Private without being secret. Finding out, not fucking around.
There are, of course, different types of sealed chambers. I hope I’ve convinced you which one is the best—the small one that moves!—but ignoring the rest feels somewhat disingenuous. This is an un-tubelike move on my part. But all I’ve claimed is that I would like to be a tube, not that I’m well on my way.
I find myself thinking about confessionals, and my fingers start to sweat. Biting my nails will make me feel better. Telling a joke—rushing into a joke—will make me feel better.
Has anyone heard the one about a brother who thinks he’s a chicken, but they still need the eggs?
Once, I found myself sealed up inside a confessional, and the confessional would not move. I thought of a nest on the side of a cliff. Once, I was forced to go in and confess my sins.
My sin—the sin—was so embarrassing that now well over a decade later I am not sure I want to tell you. A shame of being caught. A shame of taking wine when you’re not supposed to. There it is: the little packet of information arrived against my will. It got from point A to point B well enough, without too many asides into C.
I snuck wine when I was 17. From the fridge, Sangria. I got caught. I got my tailbone broken. Then I had to go to confession. And that’s it. That’s all there is to it. Hermetic. There’s nothing to do but let it all go. Let the tube go on its way. Except this isn’t a pneumatic tube, it’s a confessional, which doesn’t move.
I get all mixed up.
What I want more than anything is to not be in that sealed chamber anymore. I got Hail Mary-s. No one got jail time.
It’s not in my will to keep looking back. I want to move like a tube or a great big idiot tripping down a hill, even, but it would seem for all my headlongness, I still have the capacity to go Lot’s wife.
Bless me, father. Fill me up with a heart, because mine is gone. Put cash in me so I can leave. Make me shunk shunk shunk when I go. Let the sound echo. That is the sound of a neat leaving. Let me never have to say For I have sinned.
But, of course, I have never been wicked for long. So I said For I have sinned and did not leave in peace. I had to pretend to be good for just a little longer. (Mary Oliver told me I didn’t have to.)
I said I went Lot’s wife, but that’s not true. So much of what I write isn’t true. Liars go to confession. Privacy and sneaking are the same thing. I have said it. I have willed it. I did actually not go Lot’s wife. I will never be a tube. I am as briny and unmovable as the ocean.
Nadia Arioli (nee Wolnisty) is the co-founder and editor in chief of Thimble Literary Magazine. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Spry, SWWIM, Apogee, Penn Review, McNeese Review, Kissing Dynamite, Bateau, Heavy Feather Review, Whale Road Review, Poetry South, and others. They have chapbooks from Cringe-Worthy Poetry Collective, Dancing Girl Press, Spartan, and a full-length from Luchador.