May 27, 2007

Montauk Is For Lovers

Hotel Bed Jumping Hotel Bed Jumping II

We are a motel manager's worst nightmare. Everything you need to know about my trip to Montauk is summed up in these two pictures.

Okay, if you really must know more, then suffice to say that I'm fantastically lucky to have any family around whatsoever this far from home, but even luckier that it's someone as adventurous as Kelly, who...

♥ ...When I invited her to come with me on this trip on short notice, said yes before she even knew where Montauk was. Actually, I'm not even sure she knows now. It's the ass end of Long Island, the island which Brooklyn and Queens are on the complete opposite side of. Actually, it probably makes more sense if our end is the ass.

♥ ...Agreed to spend a chunk of the trip bicycling and invest in a rental, even though she hasn't ridden a bike ever since she got pretty enough for guys to begin driving her around everywhere. And whom intrepidly took to the road with a fearlessness natural to one who has cheated death or at least fallen on one's head many, many times.

♥ ...Does not get one bit as cranky as she used to, even when it becomes so obvious that we are trapped in our motel room for the night without any food or beverages that she threatens to drink her face moisturizer.

♥ ...Will brave the cold winds and crossing the highway on foot (while wasted) in order to buy me the best coffee-flavored malt I've ever had, bare minutes before the last open purveyor of refreshment closes for the night, and whom afterward will barely even bother to taste the fruits of this expedition, even though it's the best thing I've ever engulfed and I could do little but sit and concentrate on relishing it for ten full minutes.

♥ ...Will scramble up somebody's private driveway without hesitation if it means getting a closer look at a deer.

♥ ...Will inform, and not judge, my daytime-TV as nighttime viewing-options during our after-hours imprisonment at the Sands Motel.

♥ ...Answered a morning "how are you?" with, "I feel like I was gang-raped. But it was probably just all the bike riding."

♥ ...Can somehow manage to fully explain the rules for "Crazy Eights" but forget to mention even once what eights have to do with any of it.

♥ ...Was totally freaked out by the tiny crabs we found while digging our sand castle and refuses to touch them, but had no problem building a pit in the castle's center where we can house them to devour our enemies for sport.
...Will confirm for me that yes, that IS Molly Shannon who just came into the diner we're having breakfast at, and who will also stop me from being a huge freak about it.

May 13, 2007

Compound Eye

The Surface of the Water

My collection of Newtown Creek photos has gotten so extensive that I decided to map them. This is for my benefit as well as yours-- it's getting hard for me to keep track of where I've been and where I've yet to go. Click on the oil-slick above to check out the map!

I don't exactly understand the magnetic yank that's pulling me toward the creek these days; I'm sure most people are already sick of hearing about it. Perhaps my desert upbringing has imbued me with a natural craving for bodies of water; perhaps it's my fascination with disaster and wreckage; or maybe it's just my simple tendency to drift toward places that afford the most privacy-- and for solitude, nothing beats these creekside trashscapes. It's all of these reasons, I suppose, plus the one that I'm not allowed to tell you, the one that fades like a dream unless I'm actually there, sitting on a shelf carved out of rock by centuries of failed optimism. You know that reason well, it has a footprint in all of us, deep enough to fill with water when it rains. So it has been during these wet months; I am overfilled and underfed, and I can't see the bottom of the moments I'm stepping over.

When I was young and first began my search for someone to love, I sought out places where only someone like me would go; my logic was that if one spent enough time in such a place, sooner or later someone else would arrive who would be instantly recognizable as the answer to my silent question. This led to my spending lots of time in lots of really questionable places, as well as lots of disillusionizing false positives-- it turns out my own tastes weren't so esoteric after all, and there were always plenty of creatures there doing the same thing I was, looking around at each other in unhealthy anticipation and whipping their heads around each time someone new entered the room. And at the end of the night everyone winds up compromising their vision a little bit, with chemical assistance if necessary, in order to go home feeling like they got just what they wanted, whether or not they actually get anything at all.

You can learn to stop using solitude as a lure to capture company, but you have to hunt something or you'll starve. I suggest you go out in search of imaginary creatures. There are many: the famous cryptids such as the Basilisk and the Hoop-Snake, the Skunk Ape and the Jersey Devil, with their historical sightings and campfire tales. Stories are meant to be shared, but they are born in isolation-- the howl in the woods that no one else was there to hear, that inexplicable footprint. And belief in them, or in anything, is something that never happens to you when there are people around to share it. You return to the world with your hackles raised, or with your heart drenched with awe, and you can infect people with your vision, but you can't give them the piece of yourself that was there, that knows.

Suffice to say, when I meet other humans on my trips to the city's bare edges, I no longer wonder whether it's a fateful encounter. I'm hunting larger game, so I assume they are too. Sometimes it's me they're hunting, as security guards are pretty touchy about people snooping around these areas taking pictures of bridges and waterworks and the like. And when I'm in that state, reduced to an eye zipping around at the speed of bicycle, I don't always have the capacity to remember the right answers a citizen ought to provide when asked questions about touchy subjects. I have no name, I have no business, and I have no excuses. Good day, gentlemen. The other hunters are usually can-pickers, committed industrialists, immigrant laborers, and their children. The occasional Greek chorus of testy grey gulls. Butterflies. Cats make up a significant number of the non-cryptozoological creatures that these out-of-bounds areas have to offer. New York City is home to tens of thousands of feral cats, and I run into them everywhere.

Today as I leaned over the guardrail of a lesser bridge crossing Dutch Kills to take this photo, I suddenly found myself face to face with a coot and a Great Egret preening together in the muck below. Whoever capitalized one of these birds and not the other certainly knew what they were doing; the Egret looked like music pressed into flesh and its body moved like a pennant, over three feet long but weightless and unpretentious. It was twenty feet away, but through my camera you could barely tell what it was. Almost unconsciously I climbed over the guardrail and scanned the embankment for a place to scramble down to get a closer shot. I was just letting go of the railing when two things happened: first, the bird shook its wings and flew away like the details of a dream, and second, a NYFD patrol SUV pulled up to the curb behind me. I admit, it looked bad. To his credit, the officer didn't outright ask me whether I was thinking of jumping. "What are you looking at?" he asked me. "There was... a bird," I said lamely. "A really big bird, a crane or something. I wanted to take a picture." He and the fellow in the passenger seat glanced beyond me just enough to see that there was clearly no such bird in sight, and exchanged a look. "Just try not to fall in, okay?" Having served and protected me to the extent they could, they left. I could see the Egret bathing further down the creek, mythologically out of reach. I don't believe in every experience being mediated through photographs, but I felt genuine loss knowing that without having gotten the picture, I'd never be able to prove what I'd seen to anyone, not even myself. Those few seconds hadn't been enough, the great bird was already fading from my vision like the spots you see after you look at the sun.

I'm hunting that myth. Not the Egret, not the sudden love of familiar strangers. Not the Roc or the Mngwa, or at least not exactly. It's the impossible reality of a populated privacy that I'm after, a skin stretched over the known world that gives thoughts a safe place to manifest unchecked. The deeper I reach into it, the harder it is to come back with anything but photographs; everything that happens to me there is somehow more real than the scrapes I have on my elbows and back when I get home. If you want to know what fastens this world together, and how to dismantle it if necessary, you'll either have to search for fault lines of your own, or else meet me at the middle of the Pulaski Bridge, where Abby's goblins have laid out their trash-bag traps so they can feed on human garbage, and we can roam the shore together, alone.

End of the Line

May 12, 2007

Chriskadecaphobia: the fear of thirteen Chris Kellys

Storm Drain II

Yesterday evening spontaneously turned into an opportunity to photographically ensnare Chris Kelly, from which all parties emerged satisfied. Check out the photos here.

May 8, 2007

One Day In Pictures

Some days it just doesn't go your way, and even then the world isn't shy about letting you know that it could get worse any second.

All of my plans have changed within the last few days. Everything I know about where I live and who I love is different. This summer, when I find myself with a bed and a room to myself for the first time in years, I will be thinking about today and wondering at how crowded and pregnant my life used to seem. I try to imagine that future self as having drawn some very important conclusions about all this, though I know that even by then my great experiment will be just beginning.

This Property Is Condemned

I visited my old house today, to pick up a delivery that had been sent to the old address by mistake. Every block I traveled down Graham avenue was like having a blanket pulled up around me another few inches. Nostalgia is treacherous, but I needed to bed down with an enemy today, needed evidence of my climb so that I would feel a little better about slipping.

The graffiti I left on the building two years ago was a familiar face of sorts, one I'm glad to finally have gotten a picture of. When we'd moved in there was a big sign on the wall that said POISON, warning people away from the rat traps. The sign fell down eventually, so I decided to take up the cause. If anyone ever noticed, they never said anything. It seems as if I've worked on so many little things that required tremendous effort, but were by definition meant to be abandoned. Often they wind up lasting longer than anything else in my life, turning up in odd places long forgotten.

Hannah and I took advantage of the 2003 blackout by painting graffiti on the much-decorated warehouses near the East River, working in total invisibility. I looked for it today on my way to the water, but it's all gone already, lost to salt mists and raw winds. You can choose what you do but you can't choose what stays done. I return to the same spots by the river at different times of day, in different seasons, always searching for new features but also visiting the part of my history that slips further into the water each year. The concrete ledge where we spent that night of the blackout under the obscenely full moon with so many other drinkers and lovers and apocalypse junkies is gone now, it slants at 45 degrees straight into the water like a slide, which it would be if you sat on it, since the surface has been slicked with a bright coat of green slime.

How many times can a person take the same picture? I know the eastern edge of Manhattan by heart now, I could draw it from heart. I could describe it to someone so well that they could draw it. Today my life was new, today I was being pulled out of retrograde and sent forward into action, whether my heart or my environment could bear the strain. So where were my new visions, and how would I know them when I saw them? The glass crunched under my feet as I paced. And then I found them, my new heroes. Click to enlarge, they're worth a closer look:

Rise Sprouts Snowflakes In Green and Glass

Describing these in words would be redundant, their power is in what they are and what they are doing so simply, gently turning over the blades and taking what they need from everything around them. It was while I was scrambling to take these pictures that I found another hero, another loss, another instance of permanent ephemera that had blended in among the garbage piled high by the fence.

Laura's Letter

"In memory of my friend Sandy & her lover.

Sandy and her lover drowned in these waters on January 31, 1986

Sandy accidentally backed a vehicle into the water off of the pier. Her lover died trying to save her.

Sandy was free spirited, young, beautiful, talented and a loyal friend. I wish I would have had a chance to tell her that I love her before she died.

Sandy, I miss you and think of you all the time.

Love, Laura"

I looked at the joint where the concrete buckled just beyond the fence, trying to imagine what had been there before, finding it impossible to visualize the scene that Laura's letter described. Finding small improvised shrines and monuments is common in the city, I see them everywhere, but here? So far out of the way, where only the most curious or lost person might notice it? The letter was sheathed in plastic, but I could see moisture bubbling up beneath it. Despite the effort put into preserving this message, after another week in this warm weather I'd never have been able to read it. January 31, 1986. I thought of the icy water, the distance of the nearest telephone, the lover, who I imagine to be a woman, diving and diving until the cold overruled her frenzy and she couldn't tell anymore whether her limbs were moving. That was over twenty years ago.

Laura's Flowers

I think that I am going to always be the same. I think that in twenty years I will return to this place, to all my places, over and over again. I hope that I will be able to scatter elements of these places in other places, leaving biblical omens and chintzy souvenirs and letters to the dead in places where they are likely to be found by the curious or desperate or casually interested. But for now I would like to think that I can tell when the story that most deserves to be told is not my own (which is still being dreamed and drafted). And on the days like today when it hurts to wake up and the sky is practically too blue to tolerate, it's a relief to refuse the option of rising to that occasion. Not every day or every year gives you your own story to tell, or someone to tell it to. In the lean times the stories that blow in with the dust, sprout under garbage, or are left taped to the fenceposts, will be enough to sustain you.

May 3, 2007

The End of Literature


Woke from a dry sleep, careful not to rustle the pages as I lay there. You slept between 204 and 205 that night. I was between 200 and 201. We meet at the binding while we dream and eat through the paper like mites until our blind mouths sink into each other's. Fresh pages every few days. The spine is cracked from being laid open for so long. I can never remember to pick up my clothes.

Literature, dismayed by rumors of new storytellers that feed while sleeping and feel no hunger by day, feels obliged to uninvent itself. History rolls backward, stuffing jewels back into the mouths of our heroes, putting their hats on backwards and reminding them of their worried families and overdue bills. They are dismissed. Kisses run under fingers like Braille and race up the arms, reaching mouths but never eyes or ears, lovers gasp at the mental rockets but exhale nothing, glowing like cast-iron stoves packed hot, so perfectly hot that there is no exhaust ever, just more heat. More and more.

Speculation flies through the headlines, reinforced by omens and market trends. Global economies become obsessed with their own thoughts, and explode. Pilots point their planes at the earth for a full two minutes during each flight in an effort to unite people in wordless expiation. Ticket prices soar; people pay them. Certain products are discontinued and not missed: sunscreen, dental floss, vitamins. And books.

Books are still made but they have evolved. Not into flickering words on electronic paperscreens, but into something between a wedding cake and a letter-bomb. Thickly frosted, with pockets of dye or liqueur that will occasionally rupture and run down the wrists, staining clothes. Fold out panels of spun sugar printed with India ink, the creases laden with pollen and freeze-dried berries ground into a fine powder that stops up the throat in a spasm of wet thunder. Compressed air that suddenly sprays from a concealed jet in the binding and cools the brow so that one can smell the frakincense and cholera that's rubbed off onto one's fingertips. Unexplained flashes of heat or creamy smoke as tripwires taped between pages are pulled loose. Bindings of all shapes, with textures and grooves made to be coveted between the breasts or taken into or against oneself, figurines embedded into illustrations, radium alloy airbrushed onto their marzipan shells. A concerto within a witch's gingerbread house within an epic novel within a faberge egg. Each new volume practically oozes out of its box when delivered, like fresh fish in a newspaper. Its pages akimbo and its letters marching like ants, running like mercury, the cover sticking to fingers and its innards recondite with impossible flavors illustrating facts mined from the collective heart of living-- or from the void-- it promises a digital transfer of information to the brain, by way of heart, by way of stomach.

The first books made exclusively of edible components inspired unrest and a sort of audible sighing above the cities as the waiting began. We weren't satisfied anymore, you see. We needed to be able to take in all of it. The importance of words was eclipsed by the need for communion, for intercourse and physical transmutation, over and over again. We wanted to tattoo our organs with the things we knew, and sought creative ways to swallow the needle. The new books have come, and we, the ruminant, can feel our clockwork hitching and galloping to accomodate the strange mass, our mechanisms busting their teeth on the indigestible and incandescent compost seeded with suprahuman utterances and spongiform manifestos scattering through the body like dandelion parachutes. We excrete the paint and lithium battery-cases while our cells feed and our faces shine, but there is no name for it, and nothing to discuss. One book at a time per person, no sharing, so that we cannot continue life's illusion that anything is actually shared, nor tell if we are awake or asleep together, or whether we are making love. The world is something that happens inside each of us. Each person, every man and woman, is a star.

Together you and I broke apart our furniture to make room for the new hardware. The new models were bound in leather and velvet, with scallops sawn into their edges so that one could grip them for leverage while turning the heavy pages. The words printed in these stiff oversized texts were not meant to comfort or inspire-- we are inflated from within to the limit of our seams and have no use for these alphabetic overtures typed by the spidery fingers of machines. Having embedded whole libraries into ourselves, however, the appeal of becoming ourselves embedded became almost unbearable. The larger models were unfathomably expensive, but the ads ignited the public's imagination and with our post-human eyes we all sought to build our castles in miniature, a slim volume of Blake-ean verse writ large, perhaps, just large enough to house a couple or two. The immense pages curl over me like a shell at night, the smell is hermetic and clean. We squander in sleep what our ancestors spent their lives searching for: a feast, an idea, an other.

There is no such thing anymore as together, or alone. We have survived the death of clever. The death of ability. We have survived the death of magic by building a house from its bones. In the morning, when the sun shines through the heavy paper over my face (in transparent gold coins where my sweat has bled into it) I can see the letters from both its sides inked above me forward and backward. I hear someone, maybe you, turn over between other pages, in another chapter, and I smile at the words overhead. They are meaningless. They are embellishments that cannot describe the themes in my life or universalize my experience. They can not arouse me or read the future in my entrails. I brush the pulp from my papercut lips and sit up in bed, waiting for you to wake up.

May 1, 2007

Wiley Rides Again

Having been recently laid low after his appendix was deemed expendable, my friend Wiley asked if I would take a triumphant photo of him for his birthday invitation to show that he wasn't licked. As it turns out, the artist who made Wylie's T-shirt liked the image so much it's now up on her site. Check out her other shirts as well, they're pretty classy.

(Other shots of Wiley looking superheroic)