Variations on the Very Small
by Jody Azzouni
I once heard a philosopher lecture. At length. All things being equal, she said, if fifteen people are happy it’s better than if only one person is happy. And if fifteen big people are happy it’s no better than if fifteen small people are happy. In fact (and this is still that philosopher opining), it’s no worse for fifteen absolutely tiny people to be happy than for fifteen rather gargantuan people to be happy. Utilitarianism (apparently) is the doctrine that the best social policy is to maximize the number of happy sentient beings, regardless of their sizes. Such a policy seems in conflict with the evidently huge and growing number of humans on the planet. The solution, so this philosopher concluded, can’t be population control because that policy inexorably leads to smaller numbers of happy humans. And that’s less of a greater good. The solution is to make even more humans, but to make them really tiny. Unsaid is this: And to get rid of the big ones.
Chelsea is Todd’s girlfriend. She wears a lot of blue makeup, and her feet always point inwards towards each other. She wears bright pink baby clothes and small toys as jewelry. Long straight blue hair with pink tips and black highlights. She’s Japanese too. Her real name transcends the speech-productive capacities of many Caucasians, Todd and myself included. “Chelsea” is her chosen name. “New York,” she tells me, was already taken by her older sister.
Todd lives at home and I overhear everything they do and say. Don’t you guys like privacy? I once asked, hoping they would say yes and move away. But they didn’t say yes and they didn’t move away. Privacy isn’t much valued by young people in their thirties and forties—not if they live at home with their parents. Privacy wasn’t valued in the Dark Ages either. What goes around comes around.
Chelsea and Todd practice their relationship daily. And that, I’ve involuntarily overheard, requires relationship pets. Although Chelsea thinks Todd is really cute and really bright and a lot of fun in bed, she tells him regularly that he’s currently too autistic for the long term, a little too much into spinning objects, sports, computer games, and genetic reprogramming toys. He’s too much like the boys back home. So they have to start practice-bonding with third parties in case they have children. There’s always cartoons loudly gesticulating in the background, by the way. Their television is just never off. This is a paradigm of something or other that they think is good, that they think we should strive for: a whole world in a tiny box.
Wherever will the grandchildren fit? I wonder. Will closets suffice? I hate my apartment, I admit. I hate the slick contemporary Manhattan contractors who build these things. Whatever happened to stone, brick, quiet and space? If space is so empty, why is there so little of it? Why is it so expensive? Philosophers just never ask the right questions.
The walls of Todd’s room: Framed pictures of homo floresiensis bravely taking down pigmy elephants (stegodon). Posters of diminutive rock stars (Frank Zappa). Tom Cruise standing proud. Smartly dressed hobbits and dwarves.
My living room: large parts of it taken up with several of Chelsea’s practice rock gardens. Well, practice pebble gardens actually. Don’t walk so hard, she tells me, you’re making everything bounce. I take to socks. I take to tiptoes.
Chelsea is cute and small, big on cozy, big on little spaces. Sometimes, when I get home, she’s curled up asleep on a bookshelf, neatly fitted between War and Peace and Ulysses. (My books aren’t alphabetically arranged, and there’s lots of white space between them.) Okay, okay: I exaggerate a little, I’m making a joke. But she does tell me this: You should sleep in a small box because it’s better for the back. And more of us will fit together that way. Fitting together. That’s very important for Chelsea. Social feng shui, she