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.

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