“People sleeping on/
trains don’t give a good goddamn/
about your billboards.”
On the Metro ride home yesterday, I found myself fantasizing about the reversal of gravity and those brief, panic-ridden seconds before everything not already bolted down would suddenly go flying north. All around me, people would be grasping desperately at building ledges, crammed into bus stops, stuck safe inside the subway, and trapped at work. Those in traffic would have it the worst, doomed to explore the outer reaches of space in their brand new Hummer, wholly unprepared for the rushing sound of precious oxygen to go whooshing out through the rubber seals. Might as well start the engine, and turn up the radio. There’s not much left to do at that point but enjoy the view and think kindly upon your life…
The Metro is like some kind of anthropologist lab experiment; the set scowls of those who know they’ve been fucked every day of their lives, and when they wake up, they’ll be fucked again. The cartoonist indifference, the minor indignity which adds up up over time. Time rolls on, wholly unaware of our perception of it. We chop the river into pieces, and label it ‘years’, ‘months’, ‘seconds.’ It wouldn’t matter if we labeled it ‘rye’, wheat’ or ‘potato’. Did we begin to age faster from the moment we first created the calendar? I’m sitting in a rail car moving at X speed along unblinking steel rails.
07JAN08 – Staten Island, New York. This trip has so far reaffirmed my desire to avoid big city life. It’s loud, hot and way too fast. I have the distinct impression that with one wrong move, I could slip, fall, and be eaten alive by the sidewalk, yelping and screaming as the city devours my legs. A large man named Paulie from the pizza place on the corner will shrug and say, “Enh, it’s New York, whaddya gonna do?”
Winter has a way of making things look worn and tattered. This can be compounded by staying in a Staten Island Navy Lodge with a glamorous view of the parking lot, and an honest-to-fuck trundle bed that creaked like the belt of a fat man when I pulled it down from the wall. Right now, all I want to do is wash my face, brush my teeth and kick off my Docs – proof positive that I’m getting older. I can remember a time when a cold drink and a wild time were paramount upon arriving somewhere new.
Hotels used to keep pads of stationary in the occupants rooms. All I’ve seen lately are notepads, and shitty Bic pens with the hotel logo on them. It’s as if we have lost the opportunity to be elegant, to sit down and compose our thoughts on paper, or express ourselves in complete sentences. Everything is moving faster, sentences are getting shorter, attention spans are shrinking. Or maybe we’ve just shifted our medium.
09JAN08 –Later, on the train home: the job went smooth. I packed in a king-hell hurry and flung myself into the back seat of a Lincoln Navigator as we raced off to the Staten Island ferry. Saw the Statue of Liberty from the bow, and was buffeted by winds so strong I thought I would lose my glasses. Took the 1 Red to Penn Station, a heaving, groaning thing, that crawled toward me like an old farm horse begging for a mercy round. Times Square was too much noise, and too much flash; like taking a Viet Nam vet to a fireworks display in the swamp. I was braced for craziness, anticipating thievery, and moving too fast to look around properly.
But now that I’ve dipped my toes in the waters of this town, I can begin to see pieces of the attraction, and the necessity to document it. I could happily wander the streets with a point-and-shoot camera and fill the entire memory card in ten minutes with portraits, details, buildings, and a thousand different perspectives. It never ends. It’s like doing anything hot, loud and fast enough to be considered formidable, and then spending the next lifetime trying to recap that original high. I tend to function much better with a guide when I visit a new jungle, otherwise I find myself falling forever into the organic machinery of a single flower, or the weird bark of some tree, feeling as though I’ve seen it all.
Staring out the window of the train on the way out of town, listening to the Pachebel Canon, eyeing the red brush strokes of the cloud formations and the good-as-dead fields of useless marsh, wondering what Indians used to hunt what animals where.
Note to self: In this moment, you feel hopeful. The coins of possibility are in your hand. Don’t lose them. It wasn’t so bad. Receding in the distance, the concrete fingers of that heaving thing… Do you think New Yorkers wince when a plane flies too low? How do they take it, crammed in tight with their faces to the Wheel? I’m watching out for graffiti, a pastime of mine, and sneaking peaks at old brick history. From here, all I see are power plants and cramped little hovels advertising Chinese takeout. For sale signs grace faded brick warehouses, and empty loading bays with giant puddles on their rooftops are but empty canvasses to hooded youths armed with Krylon cans.
A window, the light is on. Someone in that very apartment will be watching TV tonight. They will answer their phone in an offhand manner, their attention divorced between the voice of the caller and that of David Letterman. They will be assailed by pizza commercials, and late night dating ads. They will laugh at something, without knowing why.
Parking lots, pink houses, neon signs, and strip malls, none of it relative to your life. Metropark signs, solid yellow lines, billboards and 4-digit numbers on the sides of the trains. No smoking; a girl with a cup of coffee standing on the platform looks like someone you’d want to get to know, but that’s just how she dresses on Wednesday. Tomorrow, she could be an entirely different person. (Everyone in NYC looks so much alike.)
Sun sets in the high rise windows, fire lights the trees. Early man probably thought his gods had abandoned him when the sun went down; left him blind and alone among the wolves to fend for himself, and all the prayers and burned-up rabbits in the world weren’t gonna make a lick of difference when the fire died… parked cars, parked cars, parked cars and Motel 6 signs.
Half in, half out of consciousness now… does God have a favorite color? If he’s above such petty things, then what makes you think he’d listen to your pleas for the Seahawks to win? But if he likes everyone equally, why worship yet another politician who can’t make up his mind? That’s why the ‘popular’ button on the jukebox was invented. Sorry, I’m ranting without purpose.
You will be outlasted by a parking garage. How do you feel about that? What will be left of you when it’s time for you to vanish; when the violins and other gentle instruments are serenading you with a swan song, and your body begins to peel away like the pages in Grey’s Anatomy, flinging into the wind like something out of a Japanese Anime. Which part of you will feel the Fear first?
Yes, think on that: when the rest of the living world takes that first step away from you, and you see the human race clearly for the first time; their heads bowed, arms linked, marching in a circle, shuffling in the dark, propelled by fear, led by lies, each step made in the hopes that there will be one more to follow… Our minds are like a universe encased in glass, giving us the ability to see forever separately, but never truly touch it as one… and suddenly, everything you are and have ever known takes that first step away from you, and you realize with a sudden shock, “Oh, God! I’m dying!” What then?
Your hands grip tight but there’s nothing there, it’s like gripping at fog, and you realize the hands of the people you’ve been holding on to for your entire life have just slipped past your fingertips. Your parking voucher has expired. Your heart will leap in your throat as though you realize you’ve just lost your wallet, and you will seek immediate reassurance, some soothing or authoritative voice to reconnect your call and send you the bill. Will you laugh to yourself, as though finally getting the punch line of a long-gotten joke? Will you shriek in terror, with your hands to your mouth? Or will you see it as just another adventure, knowing that the secret You, the one you dare not expose to your closest friends or dearest lover, will never truly die, but that You are only leaving your body behind – will you finally accept that this was all a dream?
The distant light of a crucifix shines in through the darkness, superimposed over the reflection of the seat opposite me, like an embroidered logo for God’s Private Railroad.
For a man who doesn’t believe in God, I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately. The older I get, the more I’m convinced it’s a trick; one that politicians, authority figures and those who claw their way into Middle Management use to keep the rest of us in line, placing strong hands on the necks of the meek, demanding penitence and subservience.
Why the hassle? Remember that woman you met in H.H.I? She wanted to go to New Orleans to give blankets and food to the homeless. You thought it was a good idea, and you offered to help but she wouldn’t take you. “We prefer those who believe,” she explained to you patiently, as though you were dull. You wanted to help your fellow human beings, but all she wanted was for these poor fuckers to drop their final defenses and pledge allegiance to the Great Magi in the Sky, so they could have a warm blanket and a can of Dinty Moore. How fucked up is that? What ever happened to teaching a man to stand?
That happened a long time ago, but it comes flooding back so clearly tonight, borne on the smell of melted plastic and burning rubber on this southbound train in the year 2008.
I’m tired. I want to go to bed.