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The Other Entrance

I was walking past the park in my neighborhood at dusk when I saw the pikes and green-lighted globes. A subway entrance, several blocks down the frozen sidewalk, which I had never noticed before. I found this strange; I had lived in the neighborhood for well over five years and walked to my station several blocks in the opposite direction every morning with my eyes half-closed, blinded by tiredness. I had stood in the purgatorial cold of tiled station platforms and boarded the steel trains with the other early morning commuters, all droopy-eyed and half-dead, and believed that I would always be shuttled into the city, crossing the East River like Styx. I knew both the dank, black stairwells of my station well, the torn-up street corners that they emerged onto. Had their been another one all this time? I walked down the sidewalk and crossed the street, but as I drew closer to those familiar green orbs and dark staircase, it seemed to draw further away from me in perspective, still seeming distant. It wasn’t until I came right up on it that I realized that it wasn’t further down the block, but was just very small. The wrought-iron ledge around the staircase only came up to my thighs, and I could wrap my hands around the green lights. Where usually there was the name of the station and circled letter denoting the train line, there was only a thick coat of black lacquer, impasto’d on like swirls of frosting on a cupcake. The staircase gaped below yawning into darkness, each step descending in miniature scale. Curiously, I lowered my legs down past the steps and touched the bottom, like testing out the water in a swimming pool, wobbling as I stoop up unevenly and gripped onto the small stairwell with my hands. I could feel a decent amount of space down in the tunnel, and stooped my head down. The tunnel was covered in white tile and fluorescent light fixtures buzzed on the ceiling. Horrified by the scale of this mirage, I ducked deep inside and crawled along it on my hands and knees, taking up the majority of the tunnel, like some urban Gulliver. The floor of the tunnel was dismal, sopping from the runoff of ice and snow, and my palms were soon caked in dirt and grit. In short order, the tunnel opened up into a vaulted, tiled room, where normally there would be machines for dispensing tickets and turnstiles. Here, the circular room was empty, the floor clean and untarnished by muck and detritus, and I heard and felt the whoosh of heat coming from vents near the ceiling. There were no turnstiles, but instead a wide opening onto the miniature train platform, flanked by rusted metal that looked liked the remnants of what used to be the iron bars of some kind of prison or dungeon. A red light, like an eye, centered over the amphitheater opening onto the wedge-like train platform glowed brightly. I rubbed my mucky hands on the back of my shirt and crawled forward onto the platform with little room to move. I turned my head down the miniature vanishing train platform and saw people—if you could even call them that. They weren’t quite people. They were children dressed like people waiting for the train on their tiny wooden benches, beside monstrous black garbage cans, standing up reading newspapers, wearing suits and little Stetson hats. They looked on at me, my hunched body and dirtied shirt, and colossal stature with unrestrained horror. One of the little men dropped his newspaper. Helium-inflated voices echoed out on the stagnant train platform.

-My lord, what is that!

-I’m not ready to die!

-Oh my dear God, will someone call the authorities!

Several of the men, these little Lego-people, ran toward me and began kicking at my face and shoulders. It hurt badly, but I took it like a man (retaliation just isn’t in my nature).

The Dam

The dam is creaking, breaking, spouting holes all over and we are trying our best, we are running back and forth along its length trying to cork up the length, trying to keep it from bursting on us, all with the dread knowledge that the structure will eventually give way, that the concrete is weakening and the water will come soon to drown us all.

Love

The great grinding pistons of our relationship hissed steam and slowly churned to a halt. The massive machine lie rusting in a field, enveloped in moss and kudzu. A monument to failure.

Morgue

On my lunch break, I left the office and stopped at a corner store to get some flowers for my sweetheart to bring to her office building across town. All the flowers were crammed in little feed buckets under the awning outside the bodega—flowers of every variety. Single roses, sunflowers, spring mixes, tiger lilies, lilacs. They all looked so beautiful. I considered just getting a single rose, but it reminded me too much of the end of an opera, the final ‘BRAVO!’ when fans throw them up on stage for the lead actress. But, conversely, I didn’t have enough money for a dozen roses so settled on the mid-grade option of an arrangement of lesser neon magenta, violet, and yellow flowers. I picked them up and took them inside. The plastic wrapped around them crinkled in my hand and the flowers dripped from the stems—I laid them on the counter and pulled out my money. The counter girl pulled out a plastic bag.

“What are you doing?” I asked, She didn’t answer me, and started wrapping the plastic around the stems. “Plastic? No more plastic.” I said curtly, pointing. “It’s so they won’t drip.” She said without looking up at me, continuing to wrap the stems and taping them so it looked like some kind of amputee’s stump, done up in cellophane. Now everything but the heads of the flowers were covered by a wall of plastic, slippery, glazy, without scent, moisture, or any kind of natural characteristic. I felt sad. A gentleman, the proprietor I assumed, walked up.

“Ten dollars” he said, sticking out his hand.

“Take off the plastic. Please…” I begged. The girl protested, but the man’s eyes showed empathy. “No plastic?” he repeated my request, “OK.” He shrugged, unwrapping the plastic and rolling the flowers in wax paper. I went over to the ATM and pressed buttons so I could get some money to pay him for the flowers.

I gave the counter woman my money and said thank you mechanically, and then took the flowers I bought for my sweetheart that I purchased with money that I had received from working my job, which I was temporarily on the lunch break from. I took the flowers and walked out onto the street—they seemed happy and released smells, and made me happy. The day was beautiful and breezy. I liked the feeling of the wax paper in my hand more than the feeling of the plastic in my hand and think the flowers did too (I vanquished the unpleasant truth that they were actually dead, autopsied in fact, from my mind).

“I hope they weren’t grown in bad chemicals…” I thought to myself, frowning. I walked down the bustling boulevard, carrying the flowers. I raised the bouquet to my nose, pricking up my olfactory to be hit by their sweet musky scent—I took a deep whiff. They smelled like nothing.

Great Writers (2008)

All those nights I stayed up late doing nothing but biting my fingernails and watching life pass me by. All those nights where I would try to grab out for some frame of reference to hold on to—for dates, for memories, for reflections of my meager, incidental accomplishments. All those nights I found a sick kind of comfort in flickering through the Wikipedia pages of long dead authors to see what they were doing, what kind of books they were writing when they were my age. Some where in the army, some had already been married, some had written books and had government jobs. Others will still traipsing around the world without a thought for writing–drinking, loving, working—just living life. Capote and Fitzgerald had novels, Cheever was a boy genius. Thomas Wolfe didn’t do anything until he was 29, but when he finally got around to it, it was like a freight train that had long been gathering steam. I read their first novels, their early stories, weighing their early-20s talent against mine—the unplumbed depths of my talent, only to find little in the way of competition. The Heart is a lonely Hunter—couldn’t finish more than fifty pages. Other Voices, Other Rooms—juvenile, dragging, popularized by that sexy picture of Truman Capote on the back. Cheever’s early stories—achingly upper-middle-class, the kind of person that I would like to punch in the face. This Side of Paradise—boring, horrible, lacking. Dos Passos? Cather? Djuna? Hart Crane? What was I procrastinating for? Why as I obsessing over the mile markers of the dead? My talent unharnessed, I didn’t know what to do or where to start–so instead of building my own life, I just sniped at the lives of others, pointing out their mistakes that I wouldn’t make to guide me through the murky present. Most of the people who are considered in the sexist Eurocentric canon ‘greats’ didn’t write novels until they were 25. Having just recently turned 25, I can testify that that’s when the fear starts to set in. But I never thought about the passage of time as much as when I was twenty-three, standing on the cusp of something big and horrible and hoping that I would think about it less as it went on. It was like playing an online matching game—looking at the years of others and matching them with mine. This was ridiculous because everyone goes at their own pace. Some people are late-bloomers, some are busy living life, some are preserved in Cytogenesis by a long adolescent and early-20s Christianity, like my friend Josh, emerging into the world like butterfly as he approached thirty. Henry Miller says he never read a novel until he was 25, let alone wrote one. You can still start today. The problem is one of willpower that limited amount of willpower that has to be rationed through the day with respect to your artistic pursuit—the sad truth is that your willpower can be significantly depleted by work, school, and arguments with your significant other, excessive masturbation.  Without willpower, there is no drive to do your grand idea justice—you slump out over your computer, you diddle around on Facebook for five hours. There are a million little tricks and routines to maintain and steady your willpower, none of which I seem to be able to follow—Sure, you can move out of New York City and have cheap rent and an easy job that affords you plenty of time for artistic pursuit but it’s a gamble, because if you fail there’s no excuse to fall back on. You had the time, you had the space to make something great. Conversely, there’s the problem with the city, this great core of energy, but filled with so much culture that you have to beat away other people’s stuff with a stick—there’s always a reading or a party to go to, always some kind of entertainment distracting from the blank slate of your own effort—If you’re here tonight postponing what you should be doing, distracting yourself with passive entertainment, raise your hand. What are you waiting for? Also the issue of how to survive economically and preserve energy late at night or early in the morning for your creative endeavors. Once you have gathered the willpower, there’s the problem of caffeinated over exuberance to contend with, the horror of soberly looking back over what you made the night before in a sped-up frenzy only to find that 95% of it is emotional garbage, unsalvageable.

Conversations

Conversations, once so easy and carefree, have become like delicate archeological excavations—everyone has a lot that has been buried, and you don’t want go digging it up, for fear of breaking all their artifacts, dredging up their history. Careful, always careful, because just below the surface are vast reserves of pain, like patches of noxious gas. There is trauma and pain aplenty, broken friendships, unmet expectations galore, goals and dreams unaccomplished. The ever-present weight of gravity and time pressing down, obsolesence bottled up in tiny little jars and put into a museum Eventually, all the coffins come spilling out of the graveyard. This is why I veer things toward ‘conversation topics’ now—books, magazines, abstract ideas, anything to keep us from realizing that there’s no floor below us. Anything to keep the conversations from veering towards angst and despair—we simply wouldn’t be able to stand it. But somebody always ruins our gentle, congenial rapport–convincing themselves that they need to be the pernicious bearers of ‘reality’—then the pain rises up—the grimaces on the faces, visage of death—despair pulling down the sides of the mouth, jowls sagging, a pressure building at the back of the skull. Age that was hidden in laughter and joy begins to show, and like some contagion that spreads from face to face.

Tunnels

There are still secrets to be found everywhere—a new life can be had for us all. Anti-wrinkle, anti-aging fountain of youth never get old, new life and discovery. This is the only way to get back into the nostalgic glow of the past. I read in the newspaper the other day about a man in Brooklyn convinced of the existence of underground subway tunnels that hadn’t been found yet. Obsessed, he did his research and found reference to the tunnels and the schematic diagrams of their whereabouts. At night, he and a friend went down a manhole, and broke through a brick wall with a sledgehammer—there he found his misty El Dorado, his ancient underground secret—the first subway, which lay undiscovered by all the city historians and bureaucratic planners, with all the finances of the state behind them, but was easily uncovered by his passion. He made a deal with the city and now he conducts his own tours down there, his own little plot of earth, his own little cocoon. He’s planning on breaking through another concrete wall, where he is convinced that there lies a dusty old disused locomotive that would have been too much effort to disassemble and lift out from underground. The forgotten and the disused and the abandoned are our only hope—everything else has already been built up, appropriated, demolished, developed, and finally when the ethereal credit casinos collapsed—they slowly returned to dust. Our only hope is in rediscovering the lost and buried corners of the earth.

Nightlife (2009)

I couldn’t stand to stay in and watch movies. My bookshelves reflected my boredom back at me, as if trying to tell me how foolish it was to be attempting such an accumulation of knowledge. I couldn’t even pick up the New Yorker, that potpourri of urbane social interest, that fuel for conversational anecdote that kept social awkwardness forever at bay. I didn’t want to have any more conversations, learn anymore, read anymore, talk anymore, sleep anymore or sit at a desk anymore, use computers anymore. I threw open the door and stepped out into the cool night. Onto the sidewalks hemmed in by the buildings on a flat plane, only able to walk in two directions. I wandered down the dark streets, past strangers, trying to relieve the pounding stress that had built up in my head. I stuck out my tongue and made machine-like hissing noises, pretending I was a valve letting off steam. I flapped my arms in the air like a flightless bird and stretched, hearing my back crack. I sung fake opera and made different tonal sounds—the vibrating tingle of my humming felt good on the back of my neck. I walked down the sidewalks with my eyes closed on blind trust, hoping I wouldn’t veer out into the street and get run over. Only once did I run into someone—a woman who was probably as scattered as me careened towards me without seeing where she was going. We ran into each other and both screamed and took off into opposite directions. I continued my wild meditation through the full city, through the massive urban exploration chamber, eventually finding myself in the meat-packing district—like so many parts of Manhattan, it was formerly a neighborhood that produced things that now produced mainly culture. I walked past the spectacularly built up glinting stainless steel lofts, art spaces, and cafes. Past the darkened stores, crawling with spectral pastel-colored lights, I spied some kind of public gathering in distance–the sidewalk was crowded with women in dresses and men in polo shirts and suits, laughing. As I verged on this soiree, I saw that the two double doors to go inside were open. With as much confidence as I could muster, I nodded my head to the doorman and walked in. Inside, house music thumped from the back of the sleek space and bartenders in black shirts slung out free drinks from the open bar—industrial design objects–sleek minimal lamps and scale models of new condominium complexes filled the gallery floor. Gawkers walked by smiling and peaking in the little Styrofoam windows, looking into them like King Kong. Strangers were staring at me and I couldn’t quite figure out why—maybe my loneliness had given me the rosy bright look of someone who’s just bathed in cold water? I made my way through the waves of people, only hearing the mixed murmur of their conversation. People networking and women looking for men, men looking for men, speaking words and talking with their bodies instead. Mock-ups, miniature neighborhoods, miniature cities and parks all haphazardly rendered with cheap paints, the smears of hot glue showing through in between the cracks in the walls. I had proven to myself that I could do it, that I could walk among them and drink their free booze and be stared at, but realized that I didn’t really want to—like some kind of reluctant conqueror I regretted ever even having entered their gluttonous social bacchanal, their sterile orgy of plastics and emotionless institutionalized design products. But over and over, like one cursed with an incurable addiction, I find myself drawn towards it, unable to repel the magnetic allure of the seductive ‘good time’. It reminded me of the difference between a one-night stand and a long-term relationship. The one night stand is all seduction—the easy, the erotic, the unaccountable that leaves you empty and alone-feeling once the post-coital endorphins finally start to wear off. And the other option is the hard road—a steadfast, bunkered-down resistance. Resilience to the trappings—difficult, hard lesson, but probably more fulfilling.

 

Bookstore

Feelings of despair in the bookstore: too much unread, not enough life years to both produce and consume the desired amount of work, unable to do away completely with sleep. And at the same time—feelings of lightness and happiness on the street, in the freedom of movement and the expansiveness and time and possibility that unfolds like an accordion once its no longer crammed into a single human lifetime. On the streets I could wander all night, for days, weeks, years and never reach it or never tire, the flow of the earth passing underneath and the landscape of trees, buildings, cars, meadows mountains. So different than waking up in this apartment day after day, making coffee, and immediately being crushed by the weight of the things I need to do but am not sure I enjoy. Strange continuity of the days—the accomplishments happen in small bursts, the wasting of time happens in much larger ones.

West Columbia

Back here in the city brush, I find the house I grew up in.  The windows are fogged up with dust and its long sun-baked driveway is splintered with fault lines.  It yawns at me hauntedly, set back from the leafless Martian trees of the city park.  There are cars parked in the front yard, but I ignore them.   I walk around the side of the house and find the old sandbox that I would play in almost naked, where my parents took Polaroids of me when I was happy.  I go around back and there’s the deck where I stood outside eating Jello and watching the dark clouds swirling during Hurricane Hugo, which turned the neighborhood to rubble.  There’s the screened-in porch—one year at Christmas the front doorbell rang and my parents sent me out to run and get it.  When I opened the front door, no one was there.  When I turned around, I saw Santa Claus coming through the Chimney, several seconds I will describe as the most magical in my life.  It could be argued that Santa came in the back door through the patio, but that would be purposelessly crushing dreams.  Inside, the big living room with the bay windows where we would open presents and where I was really happy.  There’s the banister staircase where I waited and could feel the strange ambient anxiety when my parents came in the house with my newborn brother Ben.  Up the huge, distortedly big stairs is my bedroom, where I would have dreams of seeing through the house’s thin walls and out into the clear cold sky; in the brisk dark sky, what I saw was terrifying, a giant hand, with long green fingernails beckoning me to come out and join it.  I piled deeper into my blankets, and I could see it all happening without having to look—I would’t go to it, so it was coming to me.  The monsters flooded in from outside, tearing down the doors into the house and piling up the stairs, knocking and splintering at my door before coming in like a swarm and overtaking me.  The other dreams and alternate realities of childhood-through the black gates I can’t tell what was real and what was fiction.  Getting chased down dirt roads on bicycles.  A video that we watched about a girl who could go through a looking-glass, and ended up in a middle of nowhere cow pasture.  The cow pasture turned out to be a metaphor for death, as in “putting someone out to pasture”, because her grandmother had just died and the movie suggested that she would be reincarnated as a cow.  The girl went back through the looking glass to the attic of her mother’s house, and dealt with her grandmothers death in a respectful and mature way.