Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Went out with Mari tonight, she's the girl Lis told me about, the one who's the daughter of some fashion writer Lis deals with. She was a summer associate at a law firm, with frosty lip gloss, and she was friendly but weirdly formal: she asked questions all in a row, without reacting to the previous answer. "And what do you do?" "Uh huh, and do you like what you do?" "And so where are you from?" Her eyes darted around the room while we spoke and though that terrible habit subsided over the course of our meeting I knew this was not going to be anything, not anything at all. I walked her to the supermarket, a peck on the cheek.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Our office is five floors above the corner of Greenwich and Canal and in the afternoon we hear the gathering honks as rush hour approaches and traffic backs up from the Holland Tunnel. Then traffic cops come and bellow things out of megaphones like "You! Pull over!" Today I heard one say this, nothing more, nothing less:

"I don't care."

And then the horns went still a while.

I marveled briefly today at the fact that my little sister and I are both grownups. We have jobs, city lives, a predilection for wine. We have American Express® Membership Rewards™ points.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Up all night after the Fete de la Musique, because I've got a morning plane, losing my mind a bit from being tired and there's a periodic hollow throbbing sound coming from somewhere and I can't tell if it's the hot water in the pipes or if I'm hearing a rave still going on, echoing down the streets.

I love the good will in the airport waiting room, the young couple still in love and their two little kids, the hiss of espresso and the tear of Velcro.

I went in the duty-store and found I wanted nothing but I lingered because I loved the easy rapport among the all-American stewardesses trying the perfume, looking at makeup, talking.

Saturday, June 21, 2003

I returned to Paris from the country on Wednesday to find that the hotel I'd wanted in the Latin Quarter had booked my room so they shuttled me across town in a taxi to their other hotel, trois etoiles, monsieur, she assured me. All the way there was traffic, traffic, traffic and the cabbie played horrible French easy listening on the radio. There were cops too, cutting through in their little French cop cars, and I wondered where they were going but there was always something wasn't there.

I got to the hotel, a ludicrous tourist trap by the Champs-Elysees with a tumble of faux Louis furniture in the lobby and a tapestry behind the desk. In the room I put the TV on at once, and it was the news, and today people had set themselves on fire in the streets of Paris and there it was on the screen. Hysterical Iranian mujahideen expatriates were protesting the capture of their leader and one, then another, then another set themselves ablaze. The first rose to her feet after others had smothered her. Her burns made her face appear ashen and otherworldly; she extended her arms and fixed the camera with a haunting, vaguely recriminating gaze. One of the immolators died the following day, maybe her, I don't know. The footage of the others showed only angry flashes of scarlet and then police furiously dousing them with clouds of extinguisher. The next day there were more protests, here and in other cities, and this time there was a man racing down the street, on fire from head to foot.

I wondered, Where is he going?

There is a medieval quality to these self-immolations that makes them seem almost appropriate to Paris, as appropriate as they possibly could be I suppose. They are consistent with my view of Paris as alternately refined and savage, precious and perilous. It is a beautiful city and the statistics might show that crime is low but I never feel safe here. There's an aura of menace everywhere; it's as though Parisians are more accustomed to a certain level of risk or pain than are New Yorkers. Here catastrophe is integrated into life whereas in New York we repel it with all our psychic might. We don't want to believe in it. I still think of the story Eliane told years ago about the pedestrian who was decapitated by a car in the nasty intersection in front of their apartment – not just of the story itself but of the way she told it: brusquely, with a little shrug. C'est la vie. This is a city where the blood has never really been washed from the streets.

I was in a phone booth on the Boulevard Magenta, on the phone with my sister, when a young guy, he looked like a young Arab guy, walked up and rapped on the glass door.

I was all annoyed and I acted like it too. I opened the door.

"Je n'vous demande pas d'argent, j'vous demande une unité," he said. He didn't want my money, he wanted to borrow my phone card.

He was gnawing on a piece of bread.

I felt helpless and a little stupid, inside with the phone in my hand, him outside. But annoyed, really.

"Je suis au telephone," I told him. I'm on the phone. I felt like an idiot, like maybe I really did owe him something but I was denying it.

"Pas la peine de vous ennerver, merde!" he said. No reason to get all worked up.

"Vous m'avez interrompu," I insisted. You interrupted me.

He slammed the door shut and, looking to his left, took an angry bite of bread and walked away.

When I got off the phone I thought of finding him and handing him my card, to fuck him up, to prove a point. He was nowhere.

Bless those who travel from the third world to the first I love them every one.

At the Chope du Chateau Rouge at the end of a burning hot day, the longest day of the year, the festival of music tho I haven't heard a lick of music yet. A drunk man just walked into the bar with a bag of celery and a roll of Euro coins.

The DJ came in and set up and after terrifying us with an accidental electric shriek he played some Indian hip hop thing and it lifted up the room and the sidewalk too, and even the old timers at the bar felt it and said go on, keep it up, after he turned it off.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

Dad had formed bad habits long ago, which people must have noticed without alerting him to, which now haunted him into old age, like chewing with his mouth full and occasionally spitting a bit of food across the table.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

I've got to come back to life and it had better be now.

So far I have slept gluttonously, after flipping through hours of shitty, shitty European TV.

Friday, June 13, 2003

Suicide is masturbatory, the ultimate self-indulgent act. What more can you give yourself besides an orgasm? Death. The gift that keeps on giving. That's why we're so dumbfounded with shameful, prurient awe at death from autoerotic asphyxiation. The math isn't sex plus death – a heady sum already – but sex times sex. Masturbation squared, and escalating into the stars. Do we envy them, discovered dangling and enrapt?

There is a fundamental friction between the races in the United States which doesn't seem to exist in France. The source of it is obviously slavery, the blunt fact that whites owned blacks and that the presence of blacks in the country and their citizenship and their identity will forever be colored so to speak by this fact. It tends to leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Monday, June 09, 2003

I entered the mouth of Penn Station, the escalator going down, with an old vacationing couple, the woman had red espadrilles. Halfway down, on the stairs to the left, a homeless black man clung to the partition between us. He was howling something repetitively in a gasping, croaking voice. At first it seemed inarticulate, then not, then so. As we floated by I strained to understand it.

"Moon river!" he howled. "Moon river!"

That faint, singing hum, like a hint of tinnitus; the hot salty smell from the galley, woven with the scent of extraordinarily synthetic things; the anechoic, blood-drained cabin; but outside the roar of pure atmosphere, uh sounded together with oh, phasing gently into a melodious murmur like river rapids.

A little turbulence and the engine dances under the wing – the plane seems elastic, alive, made of cartilage and sinew.

Little stars of frost form on the window and here's what it says on the wing: no step, no step, no step, no step.

On the screen the red arrow has us well over the Bay of Maine, south of Bangor, east of Portland, west of the moon.

We get infantilized when we fly: put your seatbelt on, watch the safety video, put your bag under the seat, no, all the way in front of the seat in front of you. Maybe we like this? It's a ritual of regression, the chance to be helpless once again.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

When Janet bit her glass when we were all tripping on ecstasy and a perfect half moon of glass broke off in her mouth. We were all tripping but it wasn't very good, it was creepy, with Pete looking off into the distance, and he played guitar for Janet to sing that blues, what was it. She never did sing it well. She had a maniacal leer, she was thirsty and she had a glass of water that she kept up close to her chin, as though she craved reassurance that it wouldn't take more than a nod to quench her thirst. At times she had the glass in her mouth, without drinking, the rim wedged into her grin. And she just bit it, she bit the perfect shard into her mouth and she was not cut.

Sarah hid under the table and played with her cat.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

In the morning first thing I do is check my e-mail, have a look at the news to see what disasters befell us as I slumbered. Today: Congo clashes, Kabul blast, three shot dead.

Friday, June 06, 2003

At Zesty's on 95th and Third, drunk late last Saturday night, stumbling in the open double door and in line with the rest of the kids, I spied this behind the counter: a shelf full of grape jelly and Pam spray margarine. Alternating impeccably. Pam grape jelly Pam grape jelly Pam grape jelly Pam. It was so perfectly precious and surreal that I had the impression I was the butt of a very clever joke: you think this is funny don't you?

But the joke's always on us because what we see is real.