Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Tale of One City

As I walked up 9th Avenue in the late afternoon of a lazy, sunny Sunday. As I walked up and the bodegas and shuttered-up stores. A woman stood before me on the corner and wandered a little ways into the street.

"What are you doing?" she said, shaking her head at the traffic coming across 37th Street. "What? What are you doing?"

I looked to my left. She was talking to a car. A car, there, rolling slowly through the intersection and toward the southeast corner. A little like a listing ship.

"What?" she said at it, again. "What, what are you doing?"

The car very slowly and gradually came to a stop. Right there in the intersection, pretty much, still. Its shadowy occupants seemed to me to be wide-eyed and at a loss. But then again.

The woman, young woman, handed to the person in the passenger seat a neatly folded pair of pants.

Blue jeans.

And this transaction I spied over my shoulder as I made my way across the street.

I was looking for a grocery store.

Then I crossed 9th Avenue, an achievement of some inspiration and ingenuity.

Moments later a puzzled and fearful man. Faced me from across the sidewalk. And gazed upon me with wide, uncomprehending eyes, and he was walking right at me, quite deliberately, though his body betrayed some strange and stiff reluctance.

Out from behind him sprang Eevin. She'd been pushing him in my direction. Him, her fiancé, Carl.

We all said some things for a while. Then I asked her if there was a grocery store nearby. She said go to the Food Emporium on 42nd Street. She said this as though she were saying, "Go to Yellowstone" or "Go to the Guggenheim Bilbao."

So I went to the Food Emporium on 42nd Street, where for some unnamed but doubtless catastrophic reason the freezer section was entirely denuded of ice cream, leaving a cluster of
the forlorn to mill about and murmur perplexedly.

I got my things and got out.

Taking Eev's advice I walked back on Dyer. Dyer's a half-avenue, half-exit ramp that leads right up to my window from where I hear trucks roar at night from outta the Lincoln Tunnel, delivering foodstuffs and other goods of every imaginable variety into Manhattan and don't kid
yourself, it's a greedy city.

I walked down the narrow sidewalk and it disappeared; I had to make my way along the undemarcated and perilous path between the traffic and the street's edge.

There was a lot of pigeon shit and I didn't know why. I mean, I knew why, but I didn't really know why. You know?

The street narrowed and wound around a concrete-walled bend. I wasn't sure I was supposed to be here.

Traffic coming into the city was at a crawl and some folks were nice enough to let me through.

I stepped on and off that narrow concrete lip between the lanes of the tunnel exit ramp, traversing that strange space that's not meant for human beings.

The springtime sun in all its glory beat down upon the concrete walls and cement pavement that form this valley and keep for a minute longer the city out of reach of the grasping hands of
intruding interlopers – tourists, merchants, thrill-seekers and hedonists – courtesy of Robert Moses.

I was lost for days and nights and days and nights and then was found, the end.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I awoke with the impression that my dreams had been narrated, or facilitated, by some disembodied personage.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Spoiler Alert

Everybody dies.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The other day at the gym, as I rounded the puddled poolside and approached the ladder in, I saw the light beat off the limpid, chlorinated water in such a way that I was instantly reminded of my deepest terrors as a child. I remembered those Wednesday afternoons, 31 years ago, when my class at Mont-Saint-Aignan, the dull suburban French town perched on a hill above Rouen, would exit school and proceed in twin rows down the orange cement sidewalks and past the neatly tailored shrubs and the little plaza with the laundromat and bakery and between the housing projects and their well-tended parks and to the epicenter of my distress: the swimming pool.

The instructor, in Speedos and plastic sandals, would bark at us to sit along the edge and face him. One by one, he'd push us roughly back like some sadistic baptist, shouting commands made immediately abstract and alien underwater. Was he telling us to swim? I didn't know. To somersault? I'd get a dose of acrid water up my nose, splash desperately, try to find my bearings, grasp at the granite edge and breathe again.

I could not swim and in my shame I felt it was absolutely out of the question to say so.

One day he had us line up in the water, on one side of the pool. At the sound of his whistle we were to swim across. I'd never seen a chasm so perilous and vast. But when the whistle sounded I knew I had to move. I lunged away from the edge and at once began thrashing madly, trying vainly to beat down the enveloping deep. I could not imagine how I'd keep from drowning. The other kids were proceeding purposefully, quite comfortably somehow. They'd been blessed, I guess; they possessed some power I not only lacked but could not even conceive.

I was drowning. I was going to die.

About a third of the way across a panic gripped me and I decided to cast aside all restraint and save myself. I grabbed the swimmer to the right of me for life, shamefully judging that dragging her down, too, was worth the risk. She was a black girl with a red two-piece swimsuit and I grabbed at her smooth, brown belly and back which slipped in my grip like some strange creature I'd never touched before. She twisted around and protested with a howl, her face fixed with such a curious mixture of alarm, outrage, fear and derision that I let go of her at once.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

I was a Private in the Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1944. With the 29th Infantry, Omaha Beach.

Bert was a medic and bad at poker. He had a habit of paying his debts in dope. So the night before, we played, the last game of condemned men you might say, in the barracks back at Portsmouth. I bluffed him in the last hand of this last game and told him this: Keep me high enough so I don't care if I live or I die tomorrow and we're square.

So the morning, in that infernal landing craft. We was bobbing up and down in the spray, doughboys moaning to the left of me and to the right, all pukin' and prayin' to Jesus.

I was high as a kite. Earlier, Bert stuck me with a syringe of morphine in the soft, pristine flesh of the web of my right big toe. I knew the only anguish I'd have to face, ever, from here on out, was the stab of that thick, cold needle into me. That awful, awful momentary incongruity – and then – oh. Oh, oh, oh.

"Give it all to me, you cheap, lousy-card-playing cunt," I groaned.

Bert grunted and didn't withdraw until every last gummy drop was plugged into my vein.

A couple times I junk-puked over the lip of the heaving bucket and everyone figured I was scared sick just like them. But in reality I was happy, happier than a man could ever be.

I gazed above us at the baleful, yawning sky, still half-merged by dawn with land and sea. It was extremely beautiful and fabulously moving and as my comrades muttered and cursed and shivered I considered: June 6th, 1944. June. 6th. Such a sweet melody of a date. I felt honestly that no circumstance could possibly better embody the serenity and glory of this day and date and place, no combination of sights and sounds and smells, than what I saw above and beside me and before me with the gray and ocean green and froth of surf and frightened seasick boys and up ahead the gray band of the Old World shore.

I thanked Christ and my mother and His besides that I was high.

There was a bit of commotion that I had to respond to in my reverie and I deduced that we were running aground. The craft opened and belched us at the beach and I was up to my balls in cold, cold water – and OK, this is OK – I waded – do I have my rifle? – whistles everywhere. Whistle, whistle – ahead of me men were falling and at first I didn't in my ecstasy quite perceive why. But they'd been pierced by bullets. Evidently – I didn't see but – that guy – might have been Davy – he got turned around and I saw his jaw fall apart in a curious mash of bloody sinew. Mostly guys flopped backwards into the surf as though on cue. (Did they know just what to do?) I waded forward, tranquil. I imagined if I took a whistling bullet in the brain it might somehow make me higher in the moment that I died. Surely it'd coalesce all my pleasure into a sulfurous bead of – wow, wow! A bullet grazed my right hand; my blood sprayed in the water, the water rose and fell and stirred and eddied, troubled. I trudged forward, I saw others fall before me, some stayed up, I walked some more and then the water went away and I was stepping in the sand and then it came back 'round my ankles and I remembered waves, tides, swimming on the beach on Martha's Vineyard as a kid, running down the beach to tease the foaming edge of waves, of this enormous, hungry sea that wants to take me, then running back to safety once again.

I felt heavier now that I was out of the water. Soaked through and through. I had no idea where I was or who was in charge. My CO was supposed to be Corporal Popovic and I'd last seen him rollin' a cigarette in the boat, I don't know. Some guys waved at me from behind a dune. All hell was breaking loose and I do mean hell. There was blood and gore and mayhem, arms and legs and cries of grief, mortar, grenade, all in a smoky, salty mist and I ran and hunkered down beside these men I don't know I'd ever seen before.

I was in that part of the high you're very relaxed, you're not too high no more and you know you'll come down sometime, but not just yet and that's just fine.

There was some discussion what to do with the German gun blaring down on us from up above. I had an idea. I looked at the guys. All dirty-faced and worried.

"Cover me and follow when you – who's in charge?" I said.

They shook their heads, dumbfounded.

"Follow me when you can, boys," I said.

I stepped up from behind the sand and stood right up and I can tell you I never once felt freer. I felt some sandy grass below my feet – oh God, hardy tufts of seashore grass – and I loved this grass, and I loved the field off in the distance. There was a field, there seemed to be a stream. Certainly there was a road. I ran. I pointed my rifle into the dark slit from where the machine-gun turret was spinning and shooting, choking on its ammo belt, and I shot, and shot, and shot, and I saw the smoke and the trees and, far away, a road behind a row of trees, and behind the road another field and a wood and by the wood I spied a house and I wondered who might live there and if – a bullet tore through my shoulder and I felt a good, hot burn, a terrible, good burn through the muscle of my shoulder and I could no longer hold my gun, I couldn't do it, I absolutely could not hold and lift and shoot my gun no more so there it went, bouncing soundlessly upon the sandy grass and then I – I – I felt a huge, huge feeling in my face and eye and in my head – do you understand? A huge feeling - and I fell backward, absolutely conceding to the attraction of the earth.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

A Slapstick Death

Gilles Villeneuve's crash is also worth a mention. It's an extravagant, absolutely ludicrously violent, cartoonish accident. His Ferrari seems to modestly, even coyly, tap the rear wheel of Jochen Mass's car ahead of it. Immediately it shoots up off the track like an airplane, flips backwards, pounds itself top-first into the ground, bounces, flips, flips, bounces, flips again, pouring parts off with every gyration. It flies through the air – it ain't over! – and flips and bounces and flips, and finally it smacks down to the ground again, the chassis half-denuded now, with a – dare I say – comically emphatic thud.


It's a slapstick death, frankly. Resolutely spectacular and over the top. Clownish in the best way. In the way a clown will offer body and soul on the altar of our childish and kingly wants. It's the sort of death that Buster Keaton would've envied. And to tell you the truth, the way Gilles drove, it was absolutely fitting and he oughta be proud of it to.

U.S. Comedy Teams

Amos 'n Andy. Laurel and Hardy, Martin and Lewis. Burns and Allen, Nichols and May.

Hamilton and Burr.

The Heat Miser and the Snow Miser. Huntley and Brinkley. Tweedly-Dee and Tweedly-Dum. Mason and Dixon.

Nixon and Kissinger.

Sacco and Vanzetti, peanut butter and Fluff.

M & M.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Today the sun was shining strong above the roofs and through the streets and thick, white snow fell upward.

I lowered the shade beside my desk and returned my attention to the inviolable world of my desktop: Internet, e-mail. Word.

Tonight there was a noise outside my apartment door as of an aged imbecile in slippers, open-mouthed, pawing at the wall. Or of a drunken teenage couple just in from the cold, locked in their halting exertions, hands brushing nylon.

John and Jim and I returned from lunch down Greenwich Street today and I was under the impression we'd be swept straight off the island by a gust of wind. I suddenly felt myself susceptible to flying debris such as gargoyle fragments, billboard buttresses, windowsill pies, stoplights, wrought-iron window gates, hubcaps and wrecking balls swung free of their chains. I half imagined a parking sign cartwheeling up the sidewalk to plant itself in the center of my brain. Instead a fat man walked around the corner with his barely earthbound dog.