The Narrator now explains how he came to meet Tyler Durden. The Narrator thinks about his old job, a job that led him to travel across the country—as a result, he was familiar with almost all major airports. Tyler, the Narrator thinks, had a job as a projectionist—again, he thinks, “I know this because Tyler knows this.” Tyler’s job involved converting single-reel versions of films into five small reels. The Narrator notes that Tyler was a night-owl—all those nights that the Narrator couldn’t sleep, Tyler was working. Tyler also held a job as a waiter at a hotel.
The passage reinforces the almost telepathic connection between Tyler and the Narrator’s minds (“I know this because Tyler knows this”). And yet Tyler and the Narrator lead opposite lifestyles: the Narrator has a corporate job that requires him to follow orders, while Tyler marches to the beat of his own drum, and works during the night (suggesting for the first time that Tyler is the Narrator’s “dark side”).
During his work as a projectionist, Tyler would steal slides from movies—if there was a naked woman shown in the film, Tyler would cut out single frames of her naked body. Soon, he had a huge collection of naked frames of famous actresses. The Narrator’s job involved him traveling from airport to airport; he felt that his life was “ending one minute at a time.” He always brings the same clothes: white shirts with two pairs of black trousers.
Tyler uses his jobs to undermine what big movie companies are trying to do: he’s literally stealing audiences’ entertainment. By contrast, The Narrator spends his job following orders at all times. The monotony of his uniform symbolizes the monotony of his lifestyle as a whole, as well as its emphasis on appearance and superficial “perfection.”
In secret, Tyler liked to splice single frames from pornographic films into family movies—sometimes, there would be single frames of an erection in the middle of a cartoon. The Narrator then contrasts Tyler’s job with his own: the Narrator worked for a major car company. The Narrator’s job was to calculate the cost of a settlement in the event that a problem with the cars caused too many car crashes. If the company could settle for less than the cost of a recall, there would be no recall.
Tyler doesn’t just steal from film companies; he sabotages their products and subverts their goals of providing “family entertainment,” disobeying the rules of his profession (for example, the MPAA rating system, which is designed to prevent movie audiences from seeing certain kinds of content based on their age). In contrast, the Narrator obeys his company’s dictates to the letter, even suspending his own morals for the company’s sake. As he explains it, he helps his company save as much money as possible, even if doing so involves innocent people dying in their cars.
One day, the Narrator and Tyler met. The Narrator was on vacation, sitting at a nude beach and taking a nap. He woke up to find Tyler building a sculpture out of driftwood. At the right time of day, the sun would cast shadows on the driftwood to make a normal-looking human hand. Then, as the day went on the shadow of the hand would become increasingly grotesque. Tyler introduced himself, gave the Narrator his number, and left.
When the Narrator meets Tyler for the first time, he’s just woken up from sleep, immediately introducing the dreamlike nature of his friendship with Tyler. Tyler’s sculpture suggests the way that he uses ugly or chaotic-looking elements (like the pieces of driftwood) to make a coherent, organized plan, albeit a plan that breaks down over time (foreshadowing the way that Tyler’s plans with Project Mayhem will be successful, and yet also become increasingly villainous over time). Also notice the homoerotic nature of Tyler and the Narrator’s meeting: they meet on a nude beach, and Tyler gives the Narrator his number.