I am having some trouble understanding you, but I'm pretty sure you are upset. What is that about baby carriages? I'm sure you can find some way to get them home. Can you carry them? Some people carry their babies with their arms. The priest is not here, and I have nothing I can give you. I think when you say "lurhes" you mean "churches," and there are many around here, but I don't really know the area very well. No, the priest is really not here, only me.
I hope your babies are ok.
Dear Irritated Firemen,
I'm sorry about the false alarm. The plumber did not tell me he would be using a blow torch in the basement. Also, I don't know how to work that alarm system yet. I hope you are not too angry, because you have an ax.
Dear Woman Who has Surgery Tomorrow,
I am glad that seeing the marriage certificate of your parents and your grandparents, seeing their signatures on the page, that they are still here, somehow, brought you some relief. I hope that your friend holds your hand tomorrow, and your tears are only temporary.
Dear Buddy the Mailman,
Thanks for bringing the mail! I like that you remember my name, and sometimes bring me books.
Dear Sad Voiced Man,
I am sorry that you have come by again in the rain, raindrops on your shirt, old baseball cap covering your white hair, only to find that the priest is still not here. He will be back soon. I hope that you stay dry, and that someone makes you smile today.
I could live this life: the itinerant reader, traveling from place to place, park to park, blue plastic subway bench to yellow and orange molded seats, reading as I wait for the subway. I have become adept at reading standing up, one hand around the metal bar, the other hand holding my book, feet slightly apart. Stand near the door, if possible, and you can lean on it (ignore the signs that say otherwise). Put your weight on your right foot, keep your leg straight when the train takes off and you won’t stumble when it lurches forward.
Oh, how I love the warm electric subway breeze when it comes, the gushing air pushed along by the trains, a little relief from the stagnant air on the platform that piles on you like heavy invisible sheets.
The girl across from me on the train is puzzled. Furrowed eyebrows, calculating – the route to her destination , the number of stars in the sky obscured by the ground above and the city lights, the meaning of a conversation, over now, but still unfolding itself in her perplexed head? She is carrying a soup dish, covered in foil, wearing a purple dress, on her way to a dinner party/home from a potluck/down to her boyfriend’s tiny apartment.
We endure the slow rocking amble of the D train on the weekend. The Express trains, the 2 and the N, that seem to get a little ahead of themselves, then break between stops. The ear popping depth of the R as it travels under the East River to Queens.
I am sad when the couple gets off the train. Dark skinned, round and happy. The woman laughing, pushing an earphone into her man’s ears, smiling. He is skeptical, then smiles. She kisses him on the cheek. They step off carrying their shopping bags.
Something about riding the subway with your headphones stuffed in your ears makes everything seem holy, sanctifies it. If only it were in slow motion, a Wes Anderson movie, the rattle and screech of the train muted, the highs and lows of people’s voices covered by some dreamy pop song, the rough edges worn off and everything imbued with artificial beauty and constructed meaning.
Across from me now sits the Saddest Asian Ever. Big eyes, a little red from crying. He’s not looking down; he’s looking out, pleading on behalf of his heavy heart.
A man in a suit, whistling hurriedly, pulls a wooden chest onto the subway. He does a trick with a scarf, makes some flowers appear, then pulls a live dove out of his hat before placing it into the chest. We are surprised, but no one gives him any money.
The violinist, bracing his back against a pole as the subway travels uptown, plays Bach, provides a little relief from the Friday afternoon crowds.
I come up from under ground and I am surprised by the daylight. I have forgotten it’s not yet 6 and sun will not be setting for another two hours. In the park at Union Square on colored woven rugs two people sit face to face, legs crossed, one clearly teaching the other, explaining the mysteries of the universe. The woman’s hair is dyed orange; the man has tangled white-boy dreadlocks and an army-green headband. Signs nearby read: “Free Hugs,” “Become an Intergalactic Being” and “Free your spirit here.” Some strange cross between Scientologists and 60s hippies, trying to find their way up.
If there were enough cookies, the world would be at peace. Cookies would end war. We'd all be so fat and full of cookies we'd just roll around, our soft hands too pudgy to grip our weapons, fingers too thick to pull the triggers of our guns.
We'd stop driving cars because we wouldn't be able to fit through the doors. We'd just roll ourselves down the streets to our neighbor's house or the local cookie store. The earth would breathe easy again no longer choked by our fossil fuels.
Our population growth would finally slow as we stuffed ourselves with butter and chocolate and delicious cookie dough and clogged our arteries, but we wouldn't mind. That's the way it is with cookies. They make you happy and round and soft. We'd live like children sitting on cushy living room couches, a glass of milk, a platter of our mother's cookies, our limbs and stomachs and faces still round with baby fat, peacefully watching cartoons. We'd die young and happy with cookie crumbs on our lips.
Afterward I wonder, why Regina Spektor and Kurt Anderson?
Then again, why not? New York is where everything just gets smashed together. Walking home from the 30th St. stop I typically hear couples or groups of young men and storekeepers speaking in two or three different languages. None of which I recognize. Greek? Italian?
I ask Kurt Anderson (via Twitter. Kurt Anderson does not know or care who I am) whether he is a fan of Regina Spektor’s music, and why they were paired together.
He is a fan, he says. They met and liked each other, etc. The Barnes and Noble organizers paired them together.
Mr. Anderson (trying to resist Matrix joke) has set his twitter feed such that I cannot email him back, or I would tell him what a disappointing answer that is. I should have asked why they were paired together, not how. But perhaps the how is the why. They are paired together because they are artists living in the same city, alive at the same time. Mix this with that and see what happens. Even if nothing happens, we’ll pack 1,000 people into our bookstore and maybe sell a few books.
They did not have a particularly interesting interaction. The questions were forced, Regina Spektor was clearly nervous. But her songs were lovely, and Kurt Anderson was charming and thoughtful. He read a little from his book, she played a song, he said some stuff about modernity, they talked a little about how the recession will help slow us down a little.
“To be modern,” says one of Kurt Anderson’s characters, “is to be artificially aglow.” Perhaps. Maybe to be in New York is to be artificially aglow. Artificially active and artistic and interesting just by association. You live in New York, and you’re somebody. Or you live close t somebody who is somebody, and maybe that’s good enough to make you somebody.
The next day I returned to Barnes and Noble to hear NPR host Michelle Norris interview Toni Morrison. There were half as many people there. The conversation goes more smoothly. Ms. Morrison talks a lot about her book, “A Mercy” out in paperback. I’ve never read it, but she is engaging enough to hold my interest. She talks about lore and religion and stories, and how they are the “way in which we grasp, control, and certainly decorate our lives.” Lovely.
There isn’t much to relate this experience with the previous night’s except that they both take place on the fourth floor of Barnes and Noble in New York City, where I stood quietly surrounded by people for a couple hours trying to think of interesting observations to make for a blog entry. Just things mashed together, unrelated dots I’ve connected. Why not?