Wednesday, June 29, 2011

In Other Words...


XIV: On Foot At World's End: After It Ends, Begin

The smell, post rain, is good. And the flow of people, now that it's dark, seems more agreeable. There's nothing to hate now. Tolerance, maybe even a glimpse of some kind of rhythm or logic to it -like the chaotic method of an anthill. It's getting closer to midnight, and on the ground everything looks normal. High above, some of the building tops are lit. Smoke or cloud or fog moves ghostly through the light. That's all I can find to inject the scene with anything supernatural. I move toward Times Square and there must be thousands of people on the streets here which are lit up brighter than the brightest of day dreams. I don't share in the celebration. I'm alone. Until a man wearing a hockey helmet comes roller skating toward me singing at the top of his lungs with a hockey stick in his hands. The lyric is lost on me, but not the gesture. Two minutes to midnight, and in our madness, we skate and we sing.

You shouldn't judge us. Sure, we're flawed, bent, broken and horrible. But sometimes we are beautiful, noble, upright - innocent. We are beleaguered, besieged and bereft. Go easy here, it's no picnic for us.

Midnight occurs, and I see no one whisked up into the clouds. Not a beat is missed. We're either all unworthy or all saved, I guess. And that's my conclusion for today as I sit down for a steak and a Heineken at Tad's Grilled Steaks. Business as usual. A couple on a date sit together - it looks like television or theater, must be a first date. A latino family celebrates an occasion that I can't interpret -eating together- comfortable, familiar. Two men come in, sit for a second, make an exchange - it's a criminal enterprise for sure. And so it goes on. The steak is not good, but not bad either, and I leave full of it.

I walk slowly back toward the midtown apartment of my brother and his wife wondering if they're still up, half regretting not spending the day with them instead of this walking and brooding. There is something that draws me to this though- alone, quiet streets, darkness. But now I'm thinking of souvenirs for the kids and a morning train to Hoboken to fulfill my daughter's wish. I can think of nothing cleaner, nothing brighter, and that is the light that I walk toward now.

There is a breeze, a clean scent in the air from the rain. I stop on a corner, wait for a cab to pass, and see a young man in his mid-twenties walking briskly toward me. Our eyes lock, there is no one else around. He is wearing shorts, his head is shaved, and I cannot help but notice one of his legs is made of metal. We greet each other.

Nice night, he says, and there is something brighter than average about his presence. He is open. You don't see that much on these streets.

Army or Marines? I ask, assuming his leg was lost to war service.

Oh no, neither one - I wish I was a Marine. Only cancer.

He says this with such humility, it hurts me.

Only cancer!

We walk together for a couple of blocks, talking easily. Bone cancer. He lost the leg at the knee just three weeks ago, and he's in rehab now. He walks quickly, with confidence, like he was born on that leg. I am in awe.

This is where I get off, he stops suddenly and looks me in the eye, it was real nice talking to you.

Man...good luck, is all I can think to say.

It's very quiet after that, and after a moment, I pick up my pace.

Monday, June 27, 2011

XIII. On Foot At World's End: The Psychic Was Delayed

My original plan was to stay out until the sun came up, a full 24 hours. But at this point, most of the air had gone out of my sails for this adventure. If the end of the world was coming, it would have to come and find me. My revised plan was to end this mission at midnight no matter what.

All day walking in Manhattan I noticed signs for $10 psychic readings on nearly every block. Here I discovered another one advertising a discounted psychic reading for $7.50. I decided to go in. I'd ask a psychic what he/she thought about this end of the world business.

 I opened the door and the chimes jangled and banged chaotically announcing the annoyance of my presence. Ahead of me was an interior door, mostly closed. To my left was a narrow parlor furnished with two worn wooden chairs and a small, rickety wooden table. The floor was dusty, grimey with cigarette butts and ash. A male voice from the interior said, "she went around the corner to the store, she'll be back in a minute... just have a seat".

Okay. I took a seat in a chair, not sure that it would hold me, and found myself on display in a brightly lit store front window - a side show, like pictures I'd seen of the red light district in Amsterdam. A Mets game blared from a radio somewhere in the interior of the building. Radios do still exist. Five minutes passed, then ten. A phone rang...some inaudible muttering... the male voice said. "she says she's sorry...she'll just be another five minutes. She says she'll give you a discount.

Five minutes comes and goes. Passer-bys regard me strangely through the window. Suddenly, and without provocation, the Tarot deck falls from the table to the floor. I was not touching the table. No one was. I scoop up the cards carefully- trying not to look at them, lay them quietly on the table, tip toe across the creaky floor out the door down onto the sidewalk.. No one follows.  It's no longer raining.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Social Psychology

One man walks up to the bar - a white man. He asks for a beer. A second man stands behind the bar - a brown man. He gets the beer. A third man sits at the bar - a black man. He drinks beer out of a green glass bottle and water from a clear plastic one.

"He kinda remind me of Clark Kent", the black man says, not really looking at anyone.

"It's the glasses. I've heard that once or twice before", the white man answers back glancing at the side of the black man's face. What he sees is not provocation, only observation.

"Naw, it's not just the glasses. You kinda bashful."

"I'm stiff too", the white man replies self deprecatingly.

"That jes goes wit the bashful"

"You see a lot out of the corner of your eye. I've been standing here like twenty seconds"

"It's what I do. It's what I study. Weed has done most of the teachin... that and life."

"I don't know much about that, but I've heard it can make you laugh harder than you ever laughed before"

"Took that bashful away, right?"

"I might worry that I wouldn't be able to get it back in the bottle"

"See, that's because you shouldna been in no bottle in the first place. All you ever gotta be is yourself"

"You pay attention. I don't think most people do."

"That's the problem"

"That's one of them"

"This man, here (the bartender), never seen me when I wasn't higher than an eagle's ass"

The white man stretches out his hand and says his name. The black man does the same.

Goodnight, Mr. Falk. Rest in peace.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

When You're Strange

XII. On Foot At World's End: What You See Is What You Are

The remainder of the evening was mostly squandered in Manhattan - walking and aimless, buffetted about by shifting moods. I was irritated by the chalk board sign advertising a "Rapturetini" outside a Mid-town bar. I found myself caught in a herd of slow moving tourists several blocks long in Times Square. This time, looking into each face, I felt only contempt, judgment, and the strong desire to be away from those faces.

After dark came a drenching rain shower. I sought shelter under an awning within ear shot of a man begging from a wheel chair.

 How about thinking of someone other than yourself for a change? I'll bet you have a home to go to tonight. C'mon, give a homeless Vet a hand...

He's deranged, I think, and feel easy compassion for him at first, but after listening to him use that same basic guilt trip, slightly individualized, on the next several dozen passer-bys; I come to hate him. It doesn't take much, really. I think the formula for hatred of another human being might be as simple as  exposure + time + no perceived escape.

I'm deranged, I think, and choose the rain over continued exposure to this. Walking is better. People are better - more interesting, more attractive, more likable - when you're just walking by. This is the story I tell myself now, the one that colors the world I live in and all the tiny judgments that I make.

Do we attribute this kind of inconstancy to God? Is this why we think today is Judgment Day? Because we're disappointed, annoyed, envious, small, bitter, petty, hateful - or because God is?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Exhibit S

You Can't Hang Up On Your Self

They comment on how it's just about
all gone grey
since the time they saw you last,
and you're a little sick over the slippage
of time, of life, all the thrashing you've done
just to keep a nostril above the waves,
to get almost nowhere.

The fact that you still aren't convinced
that there was anywhere to go in the first place
gags you, knowing better now...
well, suspecting better.

What are you waiting for? go!

And you're left sitting with that feeling
wringing the steering wheel, revving the engine,
shift lever cemented
in Park.

That demented French kid said,
everything here is shame and reproach,
and you wanted to hit him back with something,

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day Proclamation

Today, the older two made me breakfast. Jack gave me a key chain and a laminated scroll he made in school. The scroll contained some of my vital statistics, such as my weight and height - 74 pounds and 100 feet tall. When I thanked him for the gifts, Jack proclaimed, "you are a man-angel who stinks up the place".

Friday, June 17, 2011

Exhibits O and P

Waiting For The Miracle

XI. On Foot At World's End: Pilgrim's Progress

You find a park along the shoreline and watch a ship enter the harbor. Something about the scale of it and its closeness, the speed at which it moves, is surreal and vaguely destabilizing. You're a sore thumb here, eyed by a group of teenagers, one of them talking loudly to impress the females, saying something about robbing someone, and since there just aren't that many someones around, you think you get the idea. You aren't fearful, you're a pilgrim. You have this notion that pilgrims, by the nature of their undertaking, are protected or at least resigned to accept the consequences. You pretend to be both and sit on a bench in the sun feeling the rumble of the container ship as it passes guided along by a tug. Nothing terrible happens, so you walk back to the road but cannot be sure in which direction the terminal lies.

A mother and child wait for the bus. The child wears a pretty spring dress and tells her mother the sun is killing her. You smile. The mother moves the child to some nearby shade and you ask if you are walking in the right direction to get to the ferry terminal. The child looks at you like you're a chimpanze that suddenly spoke. The mother says, yes but it's a long walk. You better wait for the bus.

Back on the island of Manhattan, you stop to watch some kids breakdancing and try to figure out where to catch the train to Queens. A man asks you if you can help the homeless out with a little change. He's well dressed, clean, sitting on a bench with a shopping bag and a notebook on his lap. You give him a dollar and he over thanks you and then the two of you talk about the sun finally coming out after about forty days of rain, and he wants to know where you're from and where you're heading, so you tell him Queens, and he points you in the right direction saying he grew up in Astoria his damn self. You take your leave, but decide to sit down and write in your own notebook for a few minutes. When you finish, you notice a woman has joined your aquaintance on his bench. She's wearing high heels and her nails look newly done. He catches you looking at them, looks embarrassed, introduces her as his girlfriend, and explains they aren't really homeless just short of cash and trying to get back to Staten Island. They're both a little drunk, in their forties, you guess. He asks what you're writing about.

You say, embarrassed, I'm reporting on the last day.

He laughs, shows you his notebook: 2:00 PM: NO EVENTS as yet to report.

That's his latest entry.


We talk about what we think will or won't happen today and it gets kind of animated between the three of us.

Shit, he says, you still going to Queens? Because we'll go up there with you.

Instead we end up walking North for awhile and stop into a bar in what you think is Hell's Kitchen, but you're not at all sure. We drink Coney Island Lagers. We talk a little and size each other up. I'm a pilgrim, you say to yourself, surrender.

Later, blurrily we leave the bar headed to the subway. You follow. We are all three going to Queens together apparently.

They show me where to get my ticket and then both duck under the turnstyle explaining, it's alright, we're from here.

On the train there is a sign, an ad for the end of the world, and emboldened by the lager, you take it's picture. We talk seriously, for a minute, about God and Judgment Day- the idea of The Rapture. You confess that you're not really a believer, but that you just could not say for certain.

She says, I do so want to meet Him.

She says it longingly, like a child waiting for Santa Clause with all of her hope, and it seems very sad to you right then. The mood of the whole enterprise shifts.

You notice we're travelling South instead of North, so we get off the train. A mistake, or something else? You decide to take your leave from them. You decide then to skip Brooklyn and Queens entirely. It's getting dark. Your feet hurt. You're losing the thread, getting tired of the end of the world. You remember the sound of your daughter's voice asking you to go to Hoboken to visit Carlo's Bakery, made famous by Cake Boss. You remember her excitement. You remember the sound of her voice.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Exhibit N: The Good Lady

 Give me your tired, your poor,
 Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
 The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
 Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
 I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Our Suffering Bodies Will Suffer No More

Exhibits L and M

The above image of Santa Muerte was borrowed from an article in Time Magazine.

X. On Foot At World's End: No Man Is/All Men Are An Island

The bus picks up and drops off along the shore road and then cuts inland. The passengers are brown and black. A pair of teenagers eat rice and beans from a to go container behind me with gusto and share relaxed conversation. We pass a convenience store called AK 24-7, and I consider getting off at the next stop to take a picture of the sign, think better of it and ride on. After a while the driver announces the next stop, Port Richmond. It sounds vaguely interesting, and I'm restless, so I get off.

I'm not sure which way to walk, so I pick a direction and go. The stores, bakeries, and barber shops appear to be Mexican. The first place to grab my attention is a botanica. In the large display window are a legion of plaster statues - Our Lady of Guadalupe, various saints, Aztec warriors, charms and cures - but featured most prominently in the center of the display are statues of Death. Seated and standing, of various sizes, they stare out of  fake gem stone eyes. The large sitting one, solid black with emerald eyes, stays with me. I want to take a photo, but I know the flash will reflect off the glass. I think about going inside to ask for an explanation and a better shot, but tourist curiosity doesn't seem like the right approach here, and I walk on.

Most of the other stores are closed. The neighborhoods here are pretty worn down. Some young men duck out of site when I cross the street. Tell-tale sneakers hang from the telephone wires.

Later I do some research on the death statues, and what I find is so much more frightening than what I had imagined. Read the article at the link below if you care to know more.,8599,1671984,00.html

The One Minute Writer - Today's Prompt: What is the definition of healthy?

I'd settle for waking up and saying "yes" versus "no". Looking forward to starting the day, to life, with acceptance and exuberance rather than wrestling with dread and having to call upon endurance.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The One Minute Writer - Today's Prompt: Tacky

Weiner - the man, the story, the coverage, the interest - tacky alright.

Point of View

Exhibit K

IX: On Foot At World's End: Staten Island Ferry

I finally arrive at the Staten Island Ferry after marvelling at the crowd of international tourists in front of the New York Stock Exchange, a pilgrim's destination, grand temple of the U.S. Dollar. The sight of the water provides me some relief, but the crowds of people funneling into the terminal neutralize that feeling quickly. Ferry service from Manhattan to Staten Island is free, and that pleases me as I chalk up a point in the Save It column.

The ferry departs every 30 minutes on Saturday, and I just missed it. Over the next few minutes a crowd of people begins to amass at the exit, taking their positions in the line to board the next boat out. When the crowd of people gets to over a hundred or so a security officer announces, there's no line here. It gets quiet for a second and then someone in the crowd asks, what ?

There's no waiting on line in here is the officer's reply, and he says it with a little attitude like it should be obvious to these people most of whom look confused and speak languages other than English. He doesn't say anything else, and we all stay right where we are. This has nothing to do with me, but I feel anger and frustration rising at this meat-headed security officer who is either to lazy to explain himself and clarify his meaningless statement or too dense to realize his message was not received. I add another point to the Let It Fall column and take a walk over to the pretzel stand. One of the security guard dogs, a German Shepherd, eyes me I think suspiciously. I eaves drop on cell phone calls, and before too long the doors open and the herd of us, speaking all the languages of the Earth, board the boat.

Onboard, I take an internal seat and let the foreign tourists take up the spaces beside the windows with a view of the harbour, Ellis Island and Lady Liberty. When the statue comes into view, a little girl of maybe four looks at her parents excitedly speaking rapid fire French and I get warm inside again. I study the faces, looking for clues, until we dock on Staten Island.

The disembarking crowd guides me outside the terminal to a bus transit center. I purchase a single fare and step onto the first bus I see bound for somewhere else on this island. I can't figure out how to get the card into the thing-ama-jig and the driver finally does it for me after watching me try six or seven different ways. So much for blending in.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood

VIII. On Foot At World's End :Throngs

On Broadway, in the general vicinity of Times Square, throngs move en masse on the sidewalks and for awhile I try to look into each on-coming face as I walk. I feel an unexpected tenderness again and imagine that I could love each face, each story, all their effort and pain and hope, everything they carry and bear forward. It's overwhelming, so many eyes, and it's not long before I leave that path onto quieter streets, closed by construction, cast in the shadows of impossibly tall buildings.

This is the other side, and I sense it on my skin before understanding where I am.  The construction here is a grave stone for nearly three thousand souls, and for a moment I feel like I'm drowning. More than struck by the magnitude of this humanity, living and suddenly gone -  and this is just one section of a few blocks in a single city on the suffering Earth -  it overfills me and I want to scream, who are You to judge us at someone, but I'm not sure who.

Maybe you should pray, stop into a bar and have a drink or find a bathroom. There's no good answer, so I walk until finding a bathroom becomes mandatory. A little later I run into a young woman sitting in the shade of some scaffolding with a cardboard sign that says STRANDED. She's got a hat with a few dollars and some change in it sitting out. I ask her if she's travelling or left behind after The Rapture. She doesn't know what I'm talking about. I told her some people are saying that today is the foretold day of  The Rapture, when those who are saved will be whisked up into the clouds to be with God, and the rest of us will be left be hind to suffer horribly. She answers kind of dead pan, that must have been what all the drunks were screaming about in the streets last night. No, she says, she's just trying to get somewhere else. I wish her luck and then head that way myself, by another route.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Where No Man Before Me Had Bothered To Go

Exhibit H

VII. On Foot At World's End: Bleecker Still

And then I thought I was alright, until I crossed Bleecker Street, at first quickened and enthused by the lure of strong coffee even if it was from Starbucks the Ubiquitous and not one of the beatnik coffee houses I'd heard about in fables. It took less than a minute to get tired of the over-groomed denizens in their fitted t-shirts, and I thought distantly and childishly of detonating myself, of dropping to the floor in a fake seizure, or taking the person in front of me hostage. Everyone in there, except the people stone facedly making the finicky-soy- based-drinks, appeared to be on the catwalk, wearing smug expressions of studied indifference - very, very conscious of being looked at.

Is this why You're pissed?

Vanity cuts both ways, and before I became too precious with my own snide observations, I exited out into SoHo and a street full of paintings and sunshine. One artist said, "it's the most beautiful day of the year, and the Chrisitians say it's The End".

I liked this. The light, the art, the people quietly strolling made me start to relax again. Have I mentioned that
I kept hearing someone call my name? Yes, all day long. Whenever I entered a new scene, I'd hear it. Sometimes the first name and sometimes the first and last, but each time it made me look around for the source. I am not generally prone to hallucinations, and to be honest, it worried me a little.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Exhibit F

Are you accusing
or consoling me?

If I was on top
If I had the chance
If I had access

be as bad as they are
take advantage
become a monster

If I was on top
If I had the chance
If I had access

create a better world
be a better man
save us from ourselves

Exhibit E

VI. On Foot At World's End: The Sound of Sainthood

You leave that place a foreigner, exhaling an expanding cloud of scorn, long strides. The shaded streets are nearly deserted and my equilibrium begins to return. Brownstones, exotic dogs, expensive cars parked unmolested - if students live in this neighborhood, you think it's safe to say they're not here on work study. You turn a corner and think you hear spare rich echoing notes blown from a saxophone, but there is something so ethereal about the sound you can't be sure it's real. Another block and you find the source tapping his left foot, keeping time, eyes closed, playing to an audience of zero.

What is it about this sound, this man, this moment that makes you forgive everything?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

V. On Foot At World's End: It's Personal

So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it.
Revelations 5:4

Breakfast turned to brunch, and I stumbled into a mostly empty place for coffee and eggs, sat at the bar, and noticed the altar of enticing bottles still covered in a sheet of plastic. The wait staff looked miserable, all of them, and they apparently worked as models in their other lives. They all had the same look, both male and female - tall, too thin, vaguely sick, mostly blond,  something miserable about their eyes. My order - an incredibly overpriced Greek omelet and weak coffee - was apparently not high on their list of priorities, nor was getting me out of there when I had finished. The tip I left was proportionately miserable. I almost left a note of explanation with it.

 None here shall be spared.

I walked on. The soulful feeling I had earlier in the morning is gone now replaced by a broadening anger. Everyone is suddenly too cool, too precious. Sickening. Insufferable. And I can't help but think that it's this very phenomenon that drives us when we hope for the end of the world. Some tiny personal disappointment, or a lifetime's worth, magnified, and the resulting negative reaction is over-generalized. A minor transgression against the ego and what, Apocalypse?

Such conceit.

Is it the same for You?  I ask this with only the vaguest sense of who I'm talking to and then seek shelter in the nearly deserted streets behind New York University.

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