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Through everything, the one quick look reigns supreme

You fall in love 20 times before you get to work. Walking down the street, on the bus, crushed on the dank, sweaty Tube, you fall. Fall for faces that you'll never glimpse again, for names you don't know and will never know, fall for men who probably fall those 20 times as regularly and as redundantly as you, every day, every week, every month of the year, and who will have forgotten that falling in love before their first cup of coffee, if they have not forgotten well before. And all because of just one look.

The look. Tricky. How to explain how necessary it feels, even though the word redundant has already been precisely employed, how this falling into love has nothing to do with happiness, the "authentic" sort that seldom grows outside the privacy of a home, how to pin it down for sober dissection when the temptation is to blow it up, to perversely beat the drum for that split (yet stretched, almost leisurely) second of ...

Let the tale tell itself. You raise your eyes from the crossword, the TV page, the headline about threatened famine in the Third World and his eyes are apparently waiting for yours - that's how it falsely seems - and, as glances lock, you burn through: (picture me squirm) a potential lifetime together plus.

And you remember the very first time this happened. Remember the sudden, almost sick excitement of it, when you were - let's estimate 14 - and that young man drove by the school gates in his cool canary yellow sports car. It was irresistible (as it always will be) and fleeting, him behind glass, you caught in a crowd, the look delivered, and him gone, leaving you to pretend for dumb friends, stunned because you are stunned, and stunned again because they have not noticed.

To you the look was as crude as a blow - you are destined to be permanently punch-drunk - and yet even as you reel you realise they have registered nothing of what you take to be mutual recognition, your mutual need (which is the right diagnosis and the wrong diagnosis). Even so, they and everyone else will fail to notice the look even when it has become a hopeless habit, a fix you either give yourself or allow to be administered, yes, 20 or more times a dull working day.

Which, you're thinking, sounds like a mere (yawn) curtain-raiser to cruising when thoughts of love, and the falling into of, have been floated. But the pursuit of sex has but one blunt aim while the look is - who can say how or why or what something else again: the potent illusion of limitless possibility - a macro-moment when a multitude of alternative futures can be contained, entertained and simultaneously dispersed. Dreams rather than desire. Great escapes.

No. Clear game and try again. Still not quite there. Still too sweeping for what is, on reflection (and the practice has everything to do with reflection), a self-inflating twitch.

OK. Citizen Kane. Joseph Cotton - or is it Orson Welles or Everett Sloane? (memory ill serves) - is telling a story to that hack reporter, and it's about a girl he once saw and who once saw him on a train or trolley car or tramp steamer, again I forget. But Cotton/ Welles/Sloane hasn't forgotten. The look - as quick as a flash and quite as blinding - has branded the vision of her so deeply into his retinas that she has come to represent everything lost by the experience of living and, exquisitely, cruelly, everything that could have been gained; the elusive might-have-been.

No wonder Cotton/Welles/Sloane fixates on every small detail. He can describe clothes, skin, colour of hair, and how he fell in love - see, love, not libido - and never fell out; how this old man has worshipped her (the flesh, the fantasy, the fetish of her) from that day to this. She has everything except identity - that would, we comprehend, be ruinous - and that makes her, not that anyone should care, the picture's real Rosebud, the mystery that explains everything about wanting and never quite getting. The greedy sensation that no matter one's portion there ought to have been more.

Almost there. Except ... Anonymous though she is, our Lady-in-waiting is still the ideal. This may be a boy-girl matter. I certainly couldn't say for sure. Not my territory, guv'ner, despite being raised, like a spy in a foreign land, to know the ways of the Other Side. In the circles (round and round and round) I move, anonymity itself is rather considered the ideal: all those individually hard (won) bodies that are actually a mass one-size-fits-all-form; all those records with various "featured" voices that inevitably sing the same old euphoric song of - here we go- go again - heartbreak conquered and passion renewed; all those oh so "original" clothes that are actually your uniform, making, as uniforms do, the wearer invisible - an obscure object.

Which is why the look itself reigns paramount, regardless of those casting it. That is why 20 different faces can sustain it, and why 20 different faces are required to sustain it, to keep it alive until the 21st look. Round and round and round. Which isn't to deny that we're still talking love. It's love. Tough love. Cold love. Projected love. In its fashion, perfect love - the imagination of romance finally refined to a reflex action and an indulgent regret for absolutely nothing. You couldn't even call it ironicn