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  • She didn’t look like the rest of them. She was neat and clean and careful, piloting a pair of silver scissors through a piece of bone-colored cloth, stretched across a table placed at the edge of the plaza. Her bright white shirt was loose and low and flowing, and her cutoff denim shorts were baggy, like they used to belong to a guy that she loved who lay on the bed and watched her cut them up with scissors on a slow afternoon in July so later they could go outside together into the sunlight and with the cicadas and she could wear his pants and have them fit her legs.

    She was wearing navy espadrilles, fastened to her feet by little strips of cloth wrapped around her ankles, and the shoes were slightly platformed, which made the many barefoot guys who came to say hello to her look shorter than they really were.

    I saw her again a few hours later, when it was dark in the camp and people were drumming and dancing. I was walking through a corridor of tarps and ropes and blankets, and she was sitting on a milk crate, working a teal-colored sewing machine, her face lit up by the bulb — an oasis of order and style in the midst of a tent-city desert.

    “What are you making?” I said, and she looked up at me.

    “A banner,” she said. “Kind of like prayer flags. Except they say ‘Occupy’”.

    “You’re certainly industrious,” I said.

    “Industrious?” she said.

    “Industrious,” I said. “I’ve seen you working constantly since the late afternoon.”

    “And assiduous,” she said.

    “Assiduous?” I said.

    “Assiduous,” she said. “It’s a synonym for industrious.”

    “I see,” I said.

    “I like words,” she said.

    She invited me up on the wall and next to her milk crate, so I sat on the ground beside her and looked up at her face and we talked to each other while she did her sewing.

    “You don’t look like you fit in here,” I said.

    “What do you mean?” she said.

    “You’re so neat and clean and tidy, totally intent on your work. You look like a girl from another place and time, maybe a girl from a painting by Ingres.”

    “By who?”

    “Ingres,” I said. “It’s one of those funny names. When you pronounce it the French way it sounds like ‘anger’.”

    She smiled to herself and laughed a little.

    “What’s so funny?” I said.

    “It’s strange you mention Ingres. One of my former, well... one of my former partners had a poster of a painting by Ingres up on his wall in his dorm room. He told me he had it because it reminded him of me. And I told him I didn’t like the way the woman in it looked. She looked meek and weak and stupid. So he got all self-conscious about it and took down the poster.”

    “And that was the beginning of the end?” I said.

    “Something like that,” she said.

    “Yeah, once you start criticizing a guy’s wall art, it’s all over,” I said. “Live and learn.”

    “Well, you don’t look like you fit in here either,” she said. “How’d you get into being an activist?”

    “Oh, I’m not an activist,” I said. “I’m just a curious human being.”

    “Well, at least you’re a liberated human being.”

    “Who said I was liberated?”

    “Well, you’re here, aren’t you?”

    “I guess so.”

    “Why, what are you attached to? Your masculinity?”

    “No, not that.”

    “Money? Security? Your ego?”

    “I don’t know. Maybe swimming. I’m probably attached to swimming.”

    “Well, that’s ok. I’m probably attached to swimming, too.”

    “Here, hold this,” she said, handing me one of her flags. “You know, activists don’t have to be messy and dirty,” she said. “I think that’s one of the big problems with movements like this. People like things that are clean. Clean and neat and orderly. They just do. I think that’s one of our main accomplishments as human beings over animals.”

    “So you’re trying to clean up the camp?” I said.

    “I’m trying to push things in that direction,” she said. “I want this place to look nice. It’d be so much more approachable to average people. Like the tents. I kind of wish they were all white.”

    “Like Arab desert tents,” I said, “flapping in the breeze?”

    “Bedouin tents would be great,” she said.

    “With nice persian carpets and hookahs and camels at the ready?”

    “That would be nice,” she said, laughing.

    “Or like the food,” she said. “I know it’s tough with donations, but it would be great if we could feed the community the way we’re actually saying the world should be eating — with good, tasty, healthy, local food. Not PB and J and pizza and takeout Chinese. But good food costs money, at least the way it is now.”

    She shifted her weight on the milk crate, and handed me another flag.
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