Saturday, September 11, 2010

Part IX: This Has Taken Far Too Long And Proves To Be Completely Worthless

-Notes For This Edition-

Let us begin with some notes on grammar regarding the piece you are about to read. When events are written of in the present tense they are happening, as best remembered, on September 11, 2001. When events are written of in the past tense they are to be viewed as a recollection as recounted today, September 11, 2010. This will not be as difficult to follow as it sounds, and there will be markers to guide you along the way. Let us begin.

-Notes From The Author-

This is the last time I will ever write about any of this so it's important that I make it completely unreadable. This must be utterly incomprehensible. All measures should be taken to insure it is also totally repulsive, entirely reproachful, thoroughly repugnant, wholly revolting, altogether reprehensible, and in every respect insufferable. Let us begin.

It's Fall. It's Back-to-School time. So let's go to school.

You can do this. You can do what I am doing here. You can take your time and set it up carefully, meticulously, like a house of cards or an endless complex structure of dominoes. You can do this. You can waste your time and the time of everyone around you, and you can type out word after word that tells no story. You can do this. You can do this over nine long years. Eventually, you have to start. Let us begin.

"At 8:46:40 AM, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City, killing everyone aboard, and an unknown number of people in the Trade Center."
                                       -The Final Report of the 9/11 Commission, issued July 22, 2004

The buildings are already on fire when we exit the train station. The two airplanes have already struck, and already the sky has filled with long dense clouds of black smoke and ash and bits of paper. It has already started. It started when we were underground, me and the members of the straphangers club, the ones who are late to work like me. I'm running late for work. It is just after nine o'clock on a Tuesday morning. It is September 11, 2001. We are now in the present tense.

The color of the air around us is odd, not quite clear blue, not quite gray, but like that moment on a sunny day when a few random white clouds roll overhead and diffuse the sunlight like vaseline on a lens. The air is vaseline. It is not like air at all. This corner feels like a movie set, like the backlot of a studio. Everything only exists one block at a time and beyond the block you are on are people on phones, people holding lights and microphones, pulling cables and holding reflectors. It is not like air at all. It is the mirror reflection of air. This is not real.

I walk to my office, through a maze of streets and alleys that make up the Financial District, and I turn the corner into my building, and ride the elevator up to my floor. 

I have no recollection anymore of which streets I would have taken to walk to my office. We are now in the past tense and all the small details are non-existent. These memories are not simply blurs, they truly just don't exist. I have not walked those streets in nine years, have not even been down below Canal street in that time. I've spent countless hours in the intervening years pouring over all kinds of maps - street maps, satellite maps, subway maps - maps of Lower Manhattan from before this day, maps of the area as it is today. I've gone nearly blind pushing little cursors and little yellow icons through internet street-level maps retracing different routes I could have walked to work every day, routes I may have taken when we were finally allowed to leave our building and evacuate the area. Very little of it looks familiar to me now. I drag the cursor around one corner and I'll recognize a place where I would buy soup for lunch, or a plaza where I would sit and have coffee on a break, but then the next street over will look completely wrong, not like how I remember it all. The orientation will be off. None of it makes any sense. 

I'm in my office and it is Tuesday morning. My office is a cubicle at the end of a long row of cubicles. I am the head of the table, so to speak. Sitting at my desk my bodily orientation would have me facing North, toward Midtown. I am late by about ten minutes. I did not have time to get my coffee or morning bit of breakfast. Our office building is like many in Lower Manhattan, seemingly made entirely of glass, the windows stretch from floor to ceiling. I have worked for this company for almost a year now, but this is only my fifth day in this new position, on this new floor, with these new colleagues. Many are milling about at the northern windows gazing out at the two Towers of the Trade Center as clouds of smoke and ash billow out from them. One gentleman in a pale yellow dress shirt offers up that this was most definitely a premeditated attack, that it was two large passenger aircraft, that they could read the logo on the second plane as it careened into view and slammed into the South Tower. This was no accident. We were attacked. He tells me this and he is calm. We're all so calm. There are phones ringing in other offices, people typing away in random other cubicles. We were attacked, but it's still a morning at the office. It's still New York.

"At 9:03:11 AM, United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower ... killing all aboard along with an unknown number of people in the Tower."
                                      -The Final Report of the 9/11 Commission, issued July 22, 2004

I go back downstairs to buy a large latte from the cafe in the lobby. It's a morning at the office, and that calls for coffee. Let's look at this detail from the perspective of today. Let's see if we can make it make any sense at all. Two large commercial passenger jets had just been slammed into two 110 story skyscrapers, presumably killing all on board and probably a large number in each building, both of which were now on fire, which was undoubtably causing even more death and injury. This was happening a mere ten blocks away. I went downstairs to buy a coffee.

The cafe is part of a chain so they don't put the sugar in for you; you have to stand at the little island station where sits all the little bins of sugar packets and little red stir-straws, silver metal tubes holding various lids of various sizes, napkin dispensers, and dusty clogged-up shakers of cinnamon and cocoa powder, and you have to make a small mess while you add more calories to an already fattening beverage. I take out two packets of raw brown organic sugar, pinch them together at one end, shake them hard to settle the contents to one side, then tear them open and upend them to pour the jagged brown crystals onto the pillow of milky foam atop my latte. I like to watch as the foam slowly gives way to the weight of the little sugar pile, and the pile disappears, the last bit quickly sinking below the foam. Then I stir. I use two red stir-straws to stir with because one alone is too flimsy to perform the task with the required vigor. As I stir, a couple of office workers I do not know, from some other part of the building, stand at the counter awaiting their beverages. They are talking about work. I am stirring irregular shards of brown sugar into a large whole milk latte. It's a morning at the office.

Here is how I rationalize the coffee. It is important to understand that at this point, everyone seemed quite calm, nothing seemed changed. Looking back from today it's remarkable to state this, it seems unbelievable to some people, that there was many of us just going about our normal morning routines; answering emails, checking voicemails, catching up on meeting notes with co-workers while stirring sugar into expensive coffees. Nothing seemed out of control. New York's finest and bravest were on the scene. They would save who they could save. They would put out the fire. That's what they always do. That's what we always do. At this point, there was no sense that anything could get any worse.

This is how this is going to be; a mad chronicling of as much minute detail as I can possibly remember; an obsessive piecing together of every moment culled from disparate shards of memory. It will continue like this. I assure you it does not get any better from here on out. You do not have to continue reading this. This isn't for you. This is for me. You can stop right here. I promise I will not be upset.

I am alone in the elevator riding up to the 34th or 37th floor. I have yet to be able to remember this bit exactly. It was mid-thirties, like I am now, today. This is then. I am alone in the elevator holding a ridiculously large coffee. I exit on my floor and for the first time decide to walk over to the North face. Along this part of the floor are another row of cubicles arranged perpendicular to the rows I head so as to form there own little neighborhood. Every grouping of cubicles is it's own district with it's own personality and character, forged by it's own unique residents. I have not been to this neighborhood before. I walk up to the glass. The Towers are ablaze. They are massive. It's hard to adequately express to someone who has never lived around skyscrapers just how enormous 110 stories actually is. Their power is extraordinary and this moment they are on fire, puffing forth smoke at their tips like two smoldering sticks of incense that have been stuck into the sandy pit of Lower Manhattan. This is when I first feel any real small sense of trepidation. No full-blown fear, but an awful sense of dread. Maybe it is worse than we think.

Next come the phone calls. I am sitting at my desk checking emails and voicemails for the woman I work for when the phone calls start. First off, my mother, to see if I'm OK. Of course I'm fine. It's close but not too close, about ten blocks. No, I was late by about five or ten minutes so I didn't actually see the planes hit, but some of my colleagues did. I'm glad I missed that. We're not evacuating. It's fine. It's OK. Yeah, terrorists, probably. This has happened here before.

Then, to my surprise, "J" calls. She is absolutely relieved to hear my voice, to hear I'm unharmed and safe. She has spent the last half-hour calling her students and friends to see if everyone is safe. There is one friend of a student that can't be located, who works in a bank or at a brokerage house or mortgage lender near the WTC. They can't find him. He's not answering his mobile. I offer reassuring words. Phone service is down. He's stuck on a subway. He's fine. I'm fine. You're fine. Everything's fine.

I'm standing by the glass again with a few people from the department I work for. The gentleman in the pale yellow dress shirt is standing with another gentleman in a white button-down and tan chinos. The three of us stare out at the Towers. We say words I can't remember exactly, but they are about how terrible this all is, I'm sure. What else could we have said? The white button-down breaks his stare and offers his hand. He introduces himself. I shake his hand and return the favor. He says something I've always remembered: "You're the new guy, right? I wish we could have met under better circumstances." I remember this vividly because after he said it, the three of us actually shared a bit of a soft laugh, the kind of small-talk chuckle used to express mutual agreement in the positive when proper words can not be found. We exercised a social ritual common in the American office. Then we stared back out the glass.

I'm at my desk. I'm shuffling around papers and post-it notes. Then, it all starts to break apart.

First comes her voice.

"Oh my god. OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD!!"

I rush out from my cubicle towards the northern glass with others who are also responding to this desperate feminine wail. We are stopped cold at the sight. It is the South Tower, collapsing. It's silently crumbling in a massive cloud of white ash. There are shrieks, gasps, more 'oh-my-gods'. A woman next to me falls into a rolling desk chair, her hands to her face as she begins to cry uncontrollably. It was her who sounded the alarm. It was her voice that started this. She is of Asian descent, from her facial features I guess Korean. She is in a fitted yellow satin blouse patterned after a men's dress shirt and black suit slacks. On her left hand ring finger is a massive diamond engagement ring. Someone with money loves this woman. She is crying, she is scared, but at least she is loved.

"At 9:59 A.M., the South Tower collapsed in ten seconds, killing all civilians and emergency personnel inside, as well as a number of individuals - both responders and civilians - in the concourse, in the Marriott, and on neighboring streets."
                                 -The Final Report of the 9/11 Commission, issued July 22, 2004











That seems impossible, but I can't decide if it seems impossibly too long or impossibly too short. It's just impossible. There are engineers and scientists much smarter than I who know of these things, so I leave that up to them.

It is collapsed and a gargantuan cloud of ash, smoke, and debris hurtles towards us. A few of us press ourselves against the glass to peer down to the street where we see people rushing madly like little ants desperately running from the oncoming clouds. The smoke reaches our windows, bits of paper debris float before us, and then we are overtaken, our view north completely obscured.

The woman next to me is crying so hard, her hands pressed against her face with such force, the yellow satin cuffs of her shirt have darkened with splotches of wet tears. It's as if she is bleeding water.

This is where it becomes a hazy mess.

"The North Tower collapsed at 10:28:25 AM, killing all civilians still alive on the upper floors, an undetermined number below and scores of first responders."
                                     -The Final Report of the 9/11 Commission, issued July 22, 2004

The clouds had barely begun to dissipate before the North Tower gave up the ghost. The debris clouds are so thick and black that our building is completely surrounded, north, south, east and west. I'm at my desk. The internet is down but the landlines are still working. A few people who keep small radios at their desks have them on and reports are coming in of other missing planes, of other explosions. There is mention of the Pentagon and Pennsylvania. We can not see out of our building. Word comes down from building security that we should remain inside, that the air outside is unbreathable and visibility nil. I'm at my desk.

I could die today. This really could be the absolute end of life. We can see nothing outside our glass prison. We can hear nothing. There is only the panicked hush of voices, the ringing of random phones, the serious yet grasping voices over the small pocket radios. There are other missing planes. There are explosions on the ground in Lower Manhattan. We could be next. This building could be rocked by an explosion at any second. Death is imminent. There is no certainty of survival for any of us.

The feeling that any moment could be your last is one that is utterly indescribable. The feeling that death is ready, that the glass walls around us could shatter in a billion little pieces, the ground underneath us could give way in a rumble of gas and fire, life could be over without any warning, that this is your very last small bit of life left, is the worst and most horrifying thing I've ever felt. Helpless is the word. There is no help for this.

Just an hour before we were all stirring coffee, answering phones, checking email, thinking it was already over, that the fire and rescue and police would take care of it all and we would move on. Now it feels like it will never end until we are all dead.

At some point there is another phone call with my mother in which I express none of this. I'm certain I reassure her everything is OK where I'm at. I'm certain I tell her we are not that close to it, like 20 blocks or so. I'm certain of this, though I really don't know. I have no recollection of our conversation other than knowing it took place.

There is another call from "J". She tells me their missing friend has been found and he is fine. She tells me that all subway service has been shut down and that when we evacuate I'm welcome to come to her apartment to wait it out. She lives around the corner from the Empire State Building. There is such deep concern in her voice, such compassion. I'm elated by this. I'm so utterly convinced I'm in love with this woman.

Over the course of the next hour the debris cloud turns from black to gray to soft white as if the building has been draped in loose gauze. We gaze out over the new horizon. The Towers are now completely gone. This is the first hour of New New York and we are it's first citizens.

We are all alive in this building and we have been given the all-clear to vacate. Lower Manhattan is closed for business and we are to leave immediately. It is around Noon.

We take the elevators down to the building lobby. It's quiet. No one is saying anything. At all. We are just riding the elevator down to the lobby. We are alive today.

The lobby is full of people, there are security agents directing people but it is remarkably orderly and calm. Outside is still hazy, dusty, ashy, smoky. At various points around the lobby there are water coolers set up, accompanied by stacks of tri-fold paper towels. We are advised to take advantage of this. I stand online with men in suits and women in pencil skirts. I reach the cooler and calmly pour out a few pulls of water onto a folded stack of paper towels in my hand. I shake out the excess into a trash can that is set beside. I turn to leave.

As I walk outside I place the cold wet paper towels to my face, press it tightly around my mouth and nose. Around me are people doing the same. We are the first explorers of a New Land. These are the first steps into a New World. Safety first.

Outside is covered in gray dust. Everywhere. Everything. Cars, trees, buildings, streets, curbs, people. The air is fluttering with specks of paper and ash. There is no glass between us and it now. This is real.

I can not remember what streets I took to get around all of this, to get myself onto Broadway for the long walk North up to the Empire State Building, to "J"s apartment. I know I had to walk around the south-east side of Lower Manhattan, curl around to avoid what was now being called Ground Zero. I remember eventually finding myself walking alone, passing a group of Red Cross workers at a make-shift station going over maps and instructing volunteers. Maybe I took Water Street to Fulton and crossed  over through City Hall Park? Maybe I took William Street, or Nassau? Is it possible I went up the Bowery or Centre Street, crossed over to Lafayette? This is all a guess. I'm looking at another map right now as I write this. I'm waiting for it to tell me what I can't remember. It never does. Instead, every map tells me I've done something wrong. They point out my failings, my mistakes, my half-remembered truths. They chip away at everything I think I know, destroy all my confidence in my own memory. Every map kills me a little.

There are papers everywhere, torn, charred, shredded. I stop somewhere to pick one up. It is the top-half of a fax cover sheet, it's bottom-half burnt away. I put this in my bag. This honestly sickens me now, to see myself taking this piece of paper from off the ashen ground and stowing it away like a collectible, but to be fair to myself, at the time it seemed like the right thing to do. Was it archeology? Was it needing to hold onto something that had been on someone's desk just a few hours earlier, knowing that person is likely dead? I don't know what I was thinking as I carefully placed the brittle piece of paper inside a notebook inside my bag. A few months later, while packing for a move, I will find this piece of paper folded together with a stiff dry stack of paper towels. I will throw them both away.

Eventually, I find myself on Broadway. I turn around to look back at the smoke clouds. I continue walking. I pass people who are all looking up and South, staring off downtown. A few people give me odd sad looks. I realize I'm still holding the paper towels to my face.

I reach "J"s apartment. I dial her number and she buzzes me up. She greets me at her door with a strong hug. I don't remember what we say to each other. I enter her apartment. It is a typical Midtown Manhattan one-bedroom; small, with everything in it also small. Small kitchen. Small bedroom. Small furniture. The television is on. There is footage of downtown, of people covered in ash, of firefighters and police hauling people through debris, pouring water over their faces, of the second plane hitting the South Tower. It's the first time I've seen that footage. "J" is not alone. There is another man in her apartment, another student of hers who is also stranded in Manhattan waiting for the subways to start service again to the outer boroughs. I've not met him before. He shakes my hand as "J" introduces us. He is friendly with a big smile. He seems to be in too good a mood all things considered. He sits back down and continues to watch the news.

I am holding her in my arms. We are holding each other at the end of the kitchen. I can not remember how this feels. It is 2010 when I write this and I have been unemployed for two years. I have not touched a woman in two years. It is amazing how quickly certain sensations will leave you. The feel of a person's body against yours is the first to go. It is 2010 and I can not remember how it feels in 2001 to be holding this woman in my arms. We are holding each other at the end of the kitchen. I am completely convinced I am in love with this woman. We have not slept together, nor have we even come close to the level of physical intimacy that would be recognized as being a precursor to sexual activity. We have never even kissed. The kitchen is a small galley that runs into the bathroom at one end. Around the corner of the other end is the tiny bedroom that lends truth to the rental listing. It is the bedroom of "J"s roommate, the woman who's apartment this is. "J" sleeps in what would be the living room if not for the small twin bed in the corner that makes the living room a bedroom. Around it are a few small bookshelves, the type one buys in a flat-pack and assembles themselves. They house various books of various sizes, all covered in Japanese characters. Alongside the bed stands the large electronic keyboard "J" practices on; it is on a large keyboard stand and in front of it is a chrome wire sheet-music stand that is full of dog-eared and pencil-marked sheets of Mozart. I am holding her in my arms. She is holding me in her arms. I am completely convinced I am in love with this woman and it's a ridiculous thought. We have never even kissed. Except for one very awkward non-kiss on a park bench in Union Square she has never allowed my lips to come near hers, the closest she has offered is her cheek. We have not slept together. There has been no groping of erogenous areas, of breasts, of crotches, of buttocks. We are holding each other at the end of the small galley kitchen. Her head is nestled on my left shoulder. She is facing the apartment entrance. I am facing her small bed, keyboard, and music stand. The television is on an endless loop of the second plane hitting the South Tower. Jammed between her mattress and the bed frame underneath a stack of small pillows is an open box of condoms.

I am a fucking idiot.

We break from our hug and turn to the television. Words are spoken. This other man in the room wants to talk to me, pleasantries and small talk that is meaningless when your city has just been attacked by terrorists. I want to remind him of this, but he is not worth it. His smile is so big, so genuinely effusive. I want to punch him really hard in his head.

The phone rings periodically over the next hour or so, as other friends of "J" check in. There are other people coming over. One of them tells her the subways are running again above Union Square and service to Queens is restored. She relays this to me, and I decide to leave. She hugs me one more time. We hold each other and she tells me we should get together later this evening, that she will come by my apartment in Astoria to see me. I should call her when I get home.

I walk to the 34th St. - Herald Square Station and take a Ditmars bound N train.

When the train emerges out into the daylight of Long Island City, and makes the pass over Silvercup Studios, all of us aboard turn collectively back towards the large plume of smoke and dust still rising out of Lower Manhattan. The train is completely silent and had been the entire ride. I mean completely. You won't believe me now, but I swear to you, not even the train itself was making noise. No grinding wheels or gears. No dings when the doors opened and closed. Nothing. It was complete silence. No radios. No talking. No words. Nothing made a sound.

I'm back at the apartment and my roommate is packing a small bag. I think we hug, but I'm not sure. We did not ever seem comfortable with each other in any physical way. It would make sense to think we hugged given the circumstances, but in all likelihood, the circumstances changed nothing. Why would we want to hug now?

She is packing a small bag. She is heading up to Tarrytown to stay with her boyfriend for a few days, maybe the week. She is upset, visibly shaken, and she doesn't want to be alone. We talk about our respective days. I gloss over my story fairly quickly. She does the same. She is anxious to leave. Maybe we hug, maybe we don't. She leaves. She doesn't want to be alone.

The paragraphs are coming fast and loose now. There are less details now. There is less story. I'm home. I'm safe at home. I'm alone in a two-bed in Astoria, Queens.

The evening is filled with phone calls with friends. We share our stories of the day, express our happiness in each other's safety and friendship. I talk with my parents again. I talk with an estranged brother who lives in the Bay Area. The surprise of the night is a conversation with "M". I'm almost positive we talked, that she called me all the way from Taiwan. I know she called, but she may have only left a voicemail, and the conversation I think I had with her may have just been me mumbling "I love you" into the phone receiver as I played her message over and over. I sincerely, truly, genuinely, honestly don't know. But I'm sure we talked somehow, in some way.

"J" and I talk on the phone but it is only so she can tell me she will not be coming over, that we will not be seeing each other. There are still friends of hers over at her apartment. I can here them in the background. It sounds like a party. There is wine open.

At some point, I order Chinese delivery from one of the two take-outs in the neighborhood I would split orders with. There is a level of normalcy to this, to eating dumplings and wonton soup from plastic containers while sitting on the floor. I'm watching the news since that is all that is on. I switch from channel to channel and it is all one endless loop of the second plane hitting the South Tower. Except for Food Network, which has suspended programming and in it's place stands a screen which states that they have done this out of sensitivity to the day's events. I leave it here for awhile. The only light is this screen, the moonlight coming in the bedroom windows and the soft light coming in from the kitchen. I'm eating a large dumpling stuffed with pieces of pork and vegetables. There is a hole in my bedroom wall. There are cuts on my right hand. I can not remember when in the evening I did that.

This is what I remember of that day.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Part VIII: NYC Subway Map - July, 22, 2001 Edition

It is several weeks earlier and we have decided to pretend to date. Here is how pretending to date works. We somehow come to a mutual decision to have dinner together under the auspice of it being for me to introduce her to a Japanese restaurant I think she'll like. I interpret this as a romantic date with intentions of it leading to something more substantial, all while she interprets it as a friendly dinner out with a man she finds attractive but is oddly not attracted to. We will both be completely self-aware of our individual interpretations as well as both have a fairly strong suspicion as to the other persons feelings. Nothing is a secret in real life and this is what makes playing pretend so painful once you've grown up.

Dinner with "J" consists of conversation I can no longer recall, though I'm positive it contained many instances of my profusely complimenting her on any number of things; her appearance, her language skills, her strong will. I have undoubtably complimented her appearance too many times. I'm compensating for not having any real charisma to speak of. Compliments are easy to give, and easy for the receiving party to deflect modestly, and they inevitably give the impression that the small-talk of insignificant conversation was filled with the heady bluster of solid discourse. Nothing memorable is said but a vague impression based on past patterns can be forged. I'm sure I've told her how beautiful she is at least five times before the end of the meal and I will tell her five more times while we sit on the park bench in Union Square. I will tell her five more times after I awkwardly kiss her, just to fill up the dead air surrounding our lips, to keep from saying what I want to say, what I should say, that I can tell she doesn't ever want to kiss me again, and didn't even want that kiss to begin with.

Her body stiffens the second our lips meet, though I'm not really kissing her lips, since she has pulled them in, so what my lips are pressed against is the taut stretched skin around her mouth. I'm holding onto her arms as they are slumped along her sides, her hands cupped together in her lap. I'm holding her there waiting for her to respond in some way that would express a positive reaction to this act of intimacy I've just committed, waiting for the signs of passionate acquiescence; her lips to slightly part, her head to softly bend, her back to gently arch. After seconds of awkward stillness, I pull away from her motionless face, release her rigid body and smile to cover my complete sense of humiliation and fear. She smiles, too, most certainly to help me in my recovery. I can no longer recall if I complimented her right then, but I'm sure I did shortly thereafter. I'm almost positive that's exactly what I would have done.

We hold hands on the subway platform as we await the N train that will take her two stops and me fourteen. We smile at each other repeatedly. She says something incredibly sweet to me that now, all these years later, I can not remember, but I know I was caught off-guard by her seeming sincerity and confused by her intent. Despite the uneasy kiss on the park bench, I'm left convinced our feelings are mutual, that she is perhaps only sexually prudish in public, my show of public affection too much for her too early. She holds my hand in her lap as we sit side by side on the train the two stops to 28th Street Station, the stop nearest the Empire State Building.


It is the week before and there are friends from out of town, visiting from San Francisco, and there is a chance meeting on a corner in the East Village, and there are art students involved, homemade t-shirts, and a Japanese girl in town for the U.S. Open. As of this writing, I am in contact with none of these people, and I'm almost certain that's entirely by choice.

There is one night spent in an underground saké bar with the two girls from San Francisco, a boyfriend of one of those girls, a student photographer, myself, and "J". We drink and eat and talk about nothing at all that matters, except that in the moment it brings forth laughter and happiness, which is all most conversation is good for. Conversation is a drug like any other, that is momentarily abused, exploited for pleasure, leaving behind vague cavernous pits in the skin and memory. It's harmless, mostly, but it can kill in the wrong hands. On this night, it's so harmless as to be instantly forgettable, as to vanish into the air like clean white puffs of perfumed smoke pouring forth from a lit pipe. I'm sat next to "J" in the dimly lit booth, she holding my left hand clasped in hers nested in her lap, in a private embrace hidden from view under the table. Periodically, I will exchange my left hand for my right hand so that I may place my left hand on the small of her back, right at the point where the soft concave arch rounds out into buttock. Through the soft fabric of her blue floral-print cotton summer-weight dress, I can feel the slight depressed edge of the thin waistband of her panties. With a nonchalant air, I allow my fingers to play over this soft ridge with gentle ease. She smiles for my friends at the table. She smiles at me. It will be the closest thing to sexual intimacy we will ever share.

In early September, 2001, I have a job and a "girlfriend", albeit, with quotation marks (though I am not aware of the quotation marks 'til later). Money freely pours forth from ATM machines located throughout the five boroughs, and smiles grace the faces of all those who call those boroughs home. The sky is a shade of blue its' blueness has not been witnessed before. The chirping of MetroCards being run through turnstiles fills the air like joyous flocks of birds singing out songs of peace. It's the dawn of another wonderful Autumn in New York. Good morning, sunshine. Good morning, Empire State. Have you your personal belongings? Next stop, Rector Street.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Part VII: The Revisionist Tide - Various Colleagues and Friends

I'm sitting on a train. I'm exiting the station. I'm stepping out onto the sidewalk. It is 9:05 AM. I am now leaving the borough of Queens, leaving the section known as Long Island City. It is an industrial area full of warehouses, storage facilities, bakeries, television studios, car parks, and increasingly, housing in the form of condominium developments. It is 8:26 AM. I am standing on the Astoria BLVD. platform and the lightly condensed clouds of breath that surround my head are making their way into my mouth and nose, filling up my body with the coolness of early morning. I am running late. It is 8:10 AM. I am walking to the station down the long wide stretch of road that is Astoria Boulevard, walking from an apartment I share with a college student enrolled as a freshman at Hunter. She is asleep in her room. It is 7:55 AM. I am getting ready for work, showering, dressing. I'm waking up to the sound of sharp electronic chirps coming from a clock radio that sits on the floor next to my frameless futon mattress. It is 6:40 AM. It is a beautiful morning in New York City. It is the eleventh day of the ninth month of the 2001st year and I am waking up in the section of Queens known as Astoria.

I am in a gay bar in the West Village that reminds me of the dance club where the television show Club MTV was filmed in the late 1980's. It is cavernous, with multiple rooms of various size serving different purposes depending on the night and the particular clientele in that night. There is one large room where the main dance floor resides, there is a raised stage off of this dance floor where shows are performed: drag shows, musical performances by aging gay icons, and various "beauty" contests involving barely legal muscular Chelsea boys stripping nude are among the most popular events staged here. This room is surrounded by a balcony level, small tables and chairs placed against the railings so groups may get drunk and entertain themselves by judging all those below them. The walls are all lighted squares of white translucent plexiglass, large mirrors, and inset television monitors. Musical video promo clips from obscure European DJs and dance music acts, interspersed with the occasional Madonna and 1980's new wave or club classic, play on these TVs. Nights are themed, so certain nights will see Broadway clips emanating from the multitudinous screens, while other nights will cut the music with gay-themed clips from television sit-coms. The bathroom is one large black-tiled room ringed by urinals, and above each urinal there is a small TV screen inset into the wall. Broadcast on these screens are surveillance images of the bar, dance floor, and other club areas, intercut with clips from hardcore gay pornography. The bartenders are all muscular, gym-toned, and spray-tanned, and all are wearing only ribbed tank-tops and underwear, generally boxer-briefs. This is the standard uniform for all bar employees. There are no women working in this bar and there is a strict quota of how many women will be allowed in the bar. One bartender refers to it as the "hag limit".

There are no women in the bar tonight. I am sitting at the large main floor bar next to "H", a friend of mine who works with me in Lower Manhattan. He is older than me by about 15 years or so. He enjoys picking up boys who've just come of legal drinking age. He is a funny and intelligent man, well-read, educated, traveled. He lives alone in The Bronx in the home where he grew up. He works in the cubicle third down from mine. I am a temp doing data entry. I was informed recently this assignment will end without producing an offer of full-time employment. My friend has been working to try and find me a position in another department. We are sitting at the large main floor bar drinking very strong mixed drinks consisting of gin as the main ingredient. It is happy hour and the drink specials are two for one. "H" is a friend of mine. I am telling him of my meeting with "J", a woman I am romantically interested in, who until just an hour ago was also my Japanese tutor. It is a weekday evening, around 6:30 PM, some time in August. Kylie Minogue is playing onscreen, and Gus Gus, and Pet Shop Boys, and a clip from "Frasier".

It is summer in New York City and it is hot, mildly humid, and still very bright outside. I am sitting in an enclosed outdoor plaza somewhere near Fifth Avenue, near Mid-Town, sitting with "J" who is my Japanese tutor. She is young, younger than me by a year, and she is very petite, slight of frame, with skin the color of a soft white light bulb, and short black hair. She is wearing a sleeveless summer dress in burgundy covered with some type of small floral print. She has a lightweight black cardigan sweater tied around her waist for wearing in overly air-conditioned stores and subway cars. She is Japanese, a classically trained pianist, working as a language tutor to pay rent on a small studio apartment near the Empire State Building she shares with another Japanese girl. She spent time working on a cruise ship that routed around Alaska. She is beautiful, natural, unassuming, and further serves as proof of my continued attraction for women who do not wear cosmetic products. I have been taking lessons from her for the past two months. We meet once a week after work. Tonight is our usual lesson night. It is around 5:45 PM. We are talking about our friendship, skirting around the subject of our mutual attraction to each other. She says she wants to take me out for a belated birthday dinner. My birthday was a month ago in July. I am informing her that I have just learned my temp assignment will soon end and I will have to stop taking lessons for the foreseeable future as I will not be able to afford to pay her until I'm working again. She is surprised, concerned for me, outwardly expresses disappointment. "J" is a friend of mine I hope to turn into a lover. It is 5:34 PM.

I'm in a restaurant off of Fifth Avenue near Carnegie Hall. I am at a long table around which are seated people I do not know and have not met before this evening. They are friends of "J", some students of hers, some friends of students of hers, some boyfriends and girlfriends of friends of students of hers. "J" sits across the table from me and down one seat to my right. She has short black hair, but tonight it has somehow grown at least six inches and hits her shoulders. I mention to her how impressed I am at how quickly she has grown her hair since our lesson three days prior. She smiles gracefully at my compliment, and, as if to school me, put me in my place, and seduce me simultaneously, says to me, "That is the mystery of woman." It is after 10 PM, Friday, August 3rd.

I'm sitting in CAMI Hall, a recital hall located in the Carnegie Hall building. I'm dressed in a suit that fit me perfectly before I moved to New York. Around me are the friends and relatives of those who are performing pieces in tonight's program. The program consists of several violinists, several vocalists, and several pianists, of which, one of them is performing now. It is "J" and she appears almost dwarfed by the glossy black hugeness of the Steinway she is sitting at passionately pounding out a Chorale Prelude by J.S. Bach. There is so much ferocity to her performance it occurs to me that if the piano weighed just one ounce less, it would find itself being shoved offstage with each note. There is a seriousness, a solemnness to her face I have never witnessed prior, a visage that completely disappears, replaced by her usual lightness when she takes her bows upon completing her piece. It is 8:40 PM.

There are things that happen, things that involve people who are now gone and who can never actually exist in their entirety; they must be edited down, cleaned up, made to fit into the accepted parameters set up by those around them, protected from the consequences of truth. I keep certain promises and only break the ones where I will be the only victim. There are little things that can survive, like the feeling of her body weight on top of me as we lay in each others arms in a dark empty room. There is a television on in the room next door, emanating a murmur of scattered laughter and advertisement jingles. This is taking place in New York City in the early Spring of 2001.

They know about each other. They are having dinner together and I am sitting in my apartment watching television news in a foreign language and I am knowing they are having dinner together. I came home from work, walking towards the apartment, down a street in Queens, and ran into her walking towards the station I had just left. We exchanged the usual "what and where to" and she was coy but not clever, so I knew what was happening. I walked the rest of the way home with that feeling one has when they feel they have been caught doing something they've sworn they were not doing, a small sense of dread of consequence. Though, only small because what I've done is not really wrong, and two of us are in on the joke. It is a joke, after all, though one that will prove in short time to end with a most unfunny punch-line. It is nearing the end of a long New York City Winter, early 2001. All Winters can be described as harsh, this one was particularly cruel, more so for certain others. One of whom, is sitting in a restaurant in Manhattan right now waiting for her dinner companion to arrive from Queens.

I feel sorry for every single woman I have ever fallen in love with, doubly so for any woman who has found herself in the unenviable position of reciprocating those same feelings. Luckily, this has not happened often. As of this writing, I can think of only three women who, for however short a time it ended up lasting, were in love with me more than I them. One of these unfortunate incidents happened during my senior year of high school and involved a freshman on the girl's basketball team, so I refuse to count this because any love under the age of 18 is ridiculous. I can think of only two women who were in love with me more than I them. One of these unfortunate women ended up fostering a most unhealthy attachment to me that stemmed from a psychotic fear she had that she was destined to die single and unloved, all because she had recently reached the age of 30. She was under the misguided notion I was her last chance. I refuse to count her because I believe her love to have been fueled by her mental anguish. I can think of only one woman who was in love with me more than I her. She is now happily married to a man considered to be greatly superior to me by those who consider these types of things. I refuse to count her because she has now so obviously found a greater love. As of this writing I can think of no women who were in love with me more than I them.

I am sitting on the rim of a large stone fountain, itself situated across from the Plaza Hotel just off the entrance to Central Park. Seated next to me is "M", a girl who represents a pattern in my life, one of a more common occurrence, that of being the recipient of a pedestal upon which she will sit atop, gladly, looking out beyond me. It is something like the waves of the ocean that lap up onto the sands of the coast; if one sits and stares at these surging tides, it is said, over the course of centuries patterns will emerge, one will see the same waves crash in the same exact way, and, as they recede, leave behind the same darkened stains across the land. Everything that seems random and without structure ultimately will prove to be part of it's own pattern. Patterns are just decorative repetitions, most unhealthy. "M" is a crashing wave in the form of a beautiful 19-year old girl, at this moment sharing the rim of a large stone fountain with me, on a cool summer evening, both of us staring off into the mouth of the park, both of us moving our mouths to form unremarkable sounds we will not remember as words. This is the type of conversation former lovers have when they both know the evening is over, that it will end for one of them differently than hoped, one not knowing how to gracefully put the pin to the balloon, the other not wanting to let go of the string keeping that balloon from flying away. It has been a year, almost to the day, since we were lovers. Now, sitting side by side with the gentle splashing sound of water directly behind us and the wide yawn of manicured city forest before us, that time is only a quaint memory of youthful lust for her, and a bitter taste of soured hope for me. It is the evening of my birthday, July 20, 2000. "M" is a girl I know, who may or may not be a friend, who once may or may not have been in love with me, who once shared a bed with me in San Francisco; a year ago, a side note of another vacation. In a few minutes, she will enter the lobby of the Plaza only to have the doorman procure a taxi from the queue for her. I will watch her slip into the back of the cab, watch it pull off down Fifth Avenue. I will never see her again.

"M" had made promises. She had promised she was going to tell me she loved me and flew half way around the world so as to say it face to face in the greatest city on Earth. It would be very simplistic to say she broke this promise, because to keep this promise would have required her to lie, and lies are worse than broken promises, especially lies about love. A credit to "M" is that she always was honest. It can't be held against her that her truths came sharp as knives. We all have burdens to bear and this is hers.

It is early evening, just before 7 PM, in Mid-Town Manhattan as I approach the theatre at Studio 54. "M" is waiting outside the glass doors that still bear the famous logo of the long-defunct club. As she takes notice of my arrival, and our eyes meet, a smile that is all youthful energy and teenaged sexuality, all teeth and upper gums, beams brightly out at me, cleaving me into two bifurcate halves of boy and man, lust and need. She is dressed in dark denim jeans and a purple sleeveless top; a small lightweight black cardigan sweater folded over her crossed arms serves as a balancing parallel to the stick straight brush strokes of jet black ink that frame her face, fall past her shoulders, and end sharply over her chest. She is pure feminine seduction and has probably been handed business cards and bad lines from passing men several times whilst waiting on my arrival. This, too, is a burden for her to bear, but one she secretly revels in.

After we hug, "M" hands me the large softly colored envelope in which is my birthday card. We are here tonight to see "Cabaret", the tickets to which were a birthday gift from another woman, one who loves me with a severity built out of desperation, so it does not count. She bought these tickets for us, but I ended our relationship shortly after, out of recognition of her failing mental state, and in preparation for "M's" arrival and promised declaration of love. Now, we enter the theatre on tickets bought and paid for by another woman. Such is how exploitation and advantage works. It's OK, though, because I'm being used, too. "M" is here for the show, mostly. One can't come to New York without taking in a show, after all, and how much better it is when one does not have to pay for it with more than the $2.99 of a birthday card. "M" is 19 years old and this is the most narcissistic age in the life of beautiful women. She is merely taking advantage of pleasures and experiences she can get out of men who are all too willing to offer them up for the chance to fulfill their objectification of her. I'd like to think of all of these men she meets while traveling I am the only one who truly loves her. This may even be so, but it may also stand to reason that other men feel this way, too. All she has to do is pout her lips and furrow her brow in an expression of regretful sadness, an expression that says she is wounded as much by her own actions as you are, and any man believes anything she says, any man believes he is the only special one, the one who truly loves her. We are just victims of wanting something we can't have; the love and affection of the type of woman who needs and requires neither of those things.

I'm riding the N train back to my apartment. It is some time after 3 AM early Sunday morning and the car I'm riding in is empty. I have just left a group of people behind in Brooklyn, a group of people I will never see again. They are not friends, only people I had met tonight through a girl I had met this afternoon after I lit her cigarette outside of H&M on Fifth Avenue. She is from Arizona or New Mexico, is of Korean descent, and has a name that speaks of both her adoptive parents and her hippie Southwest upbringing. She is in town for the weekend, and has a boyfriend back in Tempe or Santa Fe. She will be starting University in the Fall and is out visiting friends who've already made the move to loft spaces in Williamsburg. We all hung out in a dive bar near their apartment and shared an eightball of coke, taking turns snorting it off our house keys in the small single-stall restroom just off the pool table. One of them asked me how I felt about Australians. When I answered that I had never personally known any Australians, and have nothing against them, he looked at me with disgust, ranted on about how horrible Australians are, then stormed across the room to the bar. Later, he would call a group of people at another table "faggots". I said my goodbyes to the hippie-chick and departed for the L train. Now on the empty N train, I'm dancing down the middle aisle, swinging around the poles, humming an incomprehensible song, staring out the windows as the lights of the city flicker by. Out in the distance are the landmarks of the Manhattan skyline, marking off the various districts; Rockefeller Plaza in the 50's, the Chrysler in the mid-40's, Empire State in the mid-30's, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. It is a beautiful, quiet, still, warm early morning in the early Summer of 2000. I'm alone on a subway car, swaying above the empty streets. If there is an afterlife beyond death, then it is this moment here, in a forever night, in an infinite existence of peaceful stillness. There will be no death and Heaven is a small apartment in Queens.

I'm sitting in a gay bar in the West Village with "H", summer of 2001. It is the third night this week. A friend of his, a young man "H" recently started sleeping with, asks why I am so amenable to being dragged out to gay bars by various colleagues and friends. I tell him that I don't enjoy the hassle of straight bars, the expectant need of having to be a straight man. He tells me I'm just afraid of women. We drink our hi-ball glasses filled with vodka. He is wrong. I'm not afraid of women. I'm secretly afraid of all people, and I enjoy being around people who are also secretly afraid, as most homosexual men are. It is August of 2005 and I am staying at "H"'s house while I look for a new apartment in Queens. It is near 3 AM. The door to my bedroom swings open, "H" stands in the frame with arms out. He is wearing his fringed tallit shawl and has the leather tefillin prayer boxes tied around both arms. He enters the room with boisterous Hebrew. He is extremely drunk. He stops suddenly as he catches sight of himself in the mirror that hangs over the dresser. "H" is sitting on the end of the bed, crying. He has confessed to me drunkenly before that if he could do it all over again, and had a choice, he would be heterosexual.

I'm sitting in a gay bar. I'm sitting in an empty cubicle. I'm sitting in a Human Resources office. I'm sitting in a classroom. I'm sitting in a cab, on a subway, on an airplane. I'm watching out over Manhattan. I'm watching a clip from "Frasier". I'm watching her pound out Bach on a gigantic grand piano. I'm holding a pair of scissors. I'm holding a mechanical pencil. I'm holding a curved hip ruler. I'm holding a stack of manila file folders. I'm holding her wrist as she is clenching a pair of scissors. I'm holding her face in my hands, her tears wetting my arms. She is shaking uncontrollably. She is shaking uncontrollably. She is shaking uncontrollably. I'm holding her in my arms for the last time. I'm holding a bottle of champagne as we run through the streets of Brooklyn, in and out of subways and taxis. It is the first hours of the new millennium in New York City and it is all one big opportunity. The city is open for business and nothing is impossible and their is an endless stream of tomorrows and forevers waiting behind every smile and every kiss. We only look like adults on the outside. It is 2009 and I'm opening a door I don't like opening. I'm in a hotel room in San Francisco. I'm vomiting into a toilet. I'm peeling away pieces of my life, ridding anything I can no longer stomach, so I never have to look at them again. I'm leaving myself with only that which is necessary to continue from this point on. Their are those people who are no longer needed and those who were never important at all. If I am friends with you now I will not be in five years. If I am friends with you in five years I do not know you now. We are all washed over and the waves cleanse. I'm leaving things loose so that they will be carried off. I'm writing a love letter to a New York that no longer exists. I'm holding my stomach. I'm holding a time sheet. I'm holding a cup of coffee. I'm watching a heart break in front of me. I'm watching a building collapse. I'm watching 2,600 people die.

It is a beautiful morning in New York City. It is the eleventh day of the ninth month of the 2001st year and I am waking up in the section of Queens known as Astoria. I'm waking up to the sound of sharp electronic chirps coming from a clock radio that sits on the floor next to my frameless futon mattress. It is 6:40 AM. I am getting ready for work, showering, dressing. I am walking to the station down the long wide stretch of road that is Astoria Boulevard, walking from an apartment I share with a college student enrolled as a freshman at Hunter. She is asleep in her room. It is 7:55 AM. I am standing on the Astoria BLVD. platform and the lightly condensed clouds of breath that surround my head are making their way into my mouth and nose, filling up my body with the coolness of early morning. I am running late. It is 8:10 AM. I am now leaving the borough of Queens, leaving the section known as Long Island City. It is an industrial area full of warehouses, storage facilities, bakeries, television studios, car parks, and increasingly, housing in the form of condominium developments. It is 8:26 AM. I'm sitting on a train. I'm exiting the station. I'm stepping out onto the sidewalk. It is 9:05 AM.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Anatomy of the Re-Brand

The concept of peopleareobjects has been with me for awhile now, through many incarnations of personality and many ebbs in career. I have come to realize that it now, in lieu of any actual product or tangible thing, represents a core concept around which my life has, for better and for worse, like a crystal in solution, formed.

To go along with this, it became necessary to reassess the look and feel of all of this nothingness. Hence we bring you:

peopleareobjects Proudly Presents: Anatomy of The Re-Brand

The images featured here consist of pictures I took several years ago whilst I was the lead fashion stylist in the Juniors department for Macy's Union Square in San Francisco, CA. The pictures are of actual mannequins I styled during my last few months at this location. These pictures were taken with a Holga camera shooting 120 medium format film, using only the store lighting. I have blurred them in post to hide any brand labels or other obvious identifying markers. There is no intent to endorse any brand or label that may be discerned by knowing viewers. The pictures were chosen based solely on aesthetic preferences.

The texts featured atop each image are the actual yearbook inscriptions from three different girls I attended junior high school with. They are uncensored and unedited, excepting phone numbers and last names. None of these girls were "girlfriends", though one was a serious infatuation of mine.
I have recently come across these yearbooks in my mother's home and have spent more hours than could possibly be healthy going through them, studying the grainy photos of burned and/or decayed bridges. That's what they are now, no longer friends, crushes, acquaintances, only missed opportunities, regrets, and long shadows.

They are also mothers and fathers, husbands and wives. In the interest of full disclosure, I am not in contact with any one I attended junior or senior high school with, however, through various social media applications I have seen the tell-tale signs of marriages and children: hyphenates and baby picture-avatars. We are all collectively in our 30's, with the Freshmen now preparing to enter this demographic group, so it really should be no surprise to find these ex-classmates, especially the women, to be in states of wedded and parental bliss. This is the natural order of things, after all, and by this age it is expected that certain milestones will have been reached, certain life markers ticked off the grand to-do lists. Yet, it did hit me with much surprise to see certain few of these cheerleaders and drama students removed now from the analogue monochrome of a yearbook to the digital color of adulthood, holding husband and/or child in hand.
Some history, if you will.

Upon graduating from high school, I found myself lacking any sense of what was supposed to come next. The plan had always been for University to follow, but this seemed somehow now a far off and misplaced idea to me. After two years of false starts in various community colleges near my parental home, I picked up and moved to the big city of San Francisco. Once removed from the flatlands of Southern California, bridges to the past became tenuous, at best. Attempts were made at friendship maintenance, but I was no longer in any shape to participate in such activities with full heart. It was so much easier to just lose things than to work at keeping them. Everything was included in this philosophy; books, clothes, apartments, jobs, photographs, documents, people. Friendship and love required work I was not adept at or qualified for in the least.

(For the record, I do not enjoy looking at this part of my life - and am greatly reducing it down to minimum recap - and truly consider it to be all but dead to me, and only write about these things now because it has become interesting to me at this particular time, when I find myself shoved so ingloriously off the life path by harsh economic climes. I do not much like who I was in the years following High School, nor in my first years in San Francisco. I have often felt that my life did not truly start until yesterday. Life is a perpetual yesterday and a forever tomorrow.)

I do not have children. I have never been married or engaged. I have had very few lovers and those of note were few and far between, and quite short-lived. I have never owned a car or real estate or property of any kind. All my jobs have been entry-level, temporary, freelance, or middle-management, nothing of any real power, prestige, or monetary wealth. I have no wedding band, no birth certificates with the inked footprints of a newborn, no pink slips or deeds, no award certificates with stamped gold foil accents, no honors, no spoils, no notched bedposts. To all casual observers, previous girlfriends, and me own poor widowed mother, my life has been a seemingly endless wreck against the berms and traps of the obstacle course of adulthood. It would seem I have nothing to show for my journey, no trophies with which to fill the glass cases or mount along the wood paneled halls. Now, in my early 30's, peering back over 15 years of life experience, of lost jobs, lost friends and lovers, lost homes and cities, of the things that make up life, I come across the hyphenated married name of a former cheerleader or the picture of a five-year old who calls a former drama student "mom", and I realize that those things I thought I lost were not lost. They were things I never had.
Once upon a time I had an interesting story for how I came up with the moniker peopleareobjects. I have mentioned this before and cast it aside by stating that it no longer was of interest to me, that I could no longer remember it, or that it, upon closer inspection proved to no longer be very interesting at all. The truth is I remember when the words formed in my head, when I wrote them out as one connected word, an idea of human objectification not seen as exploitative but as beautiful truth. Reading over these yearbook inscriptions and looking at these oddly beautiful pictures of eerily realistic mannequins dressed in the low-level junior wear of a major department store brought all of this together.

There is no product. There is only the idea of the product.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Part VI: Coffee Stirrers and Fax Cover Sheets

I have trouble with the little details. I often invert numbers, days and years. I can't remember if Fitzgerald was 40 when he died in '44 or if he was 44 when he died in '40. It's one I'm constantly forgetting, though, I constantly look it up. I do the same with my father's birthday, confusing the month number with the day. Now, I can't remember if it was the 34th floor or the 37th floor my cubicle was located on. I had only worked in this position for a week, and it was a holiday-shortened week, at that. Either way, it was a long way up.

I was 25 years old in 2001. I know this because I was born in 1976, not because I have any memory of being 25 in 2001. I have discovered a severe lack of overt sentimentality in myself. After years of moving between the West and East coasts, from apartments to hotels to friends couches, of leaving in the middle of the night to avoid officers with eviction orders, I have learned the importance of being completely unattached to objects and assorted possesions. Dishware left in cabinets. Books left on shelves. Clothes left hanging in closets. The things of life which will not fit in an overhead compartment, instead, shoved unceremoniously into large industrial garbage bags, left on the curb at 3 o'clock in the morning. I have learned the real truth is that you can never really own something physically, everything is temporary in some way. The only way to hold onto anything is in memory, and in this, as established, I am especially weak in.

I am attached emotionally to very little, and of very little I will admit being attached to. Numbers are not something in which I put effort into remembering, nor bestow any importance upon. Having no memory of being 25 years old in the year 2001 is akin to me having no memory of being 3 years old in 1979. The numbers are meaningless, just arbitrary markers of time, simple units of value, like inches or grams, or floors or blocks, or the age of a dead author. They don't stick. They can be looked up, again and again. They've been written down, recorded by smarter men than I.

I often say it was 10 blocks between the World Trade Center and the office hi-rise I worked in as an administrative assistant, but that has only ever been an estimate based on nothing more than just a feeling I had. Everything feels like 10 blocks in Lower Manhattan. I know that it was a reasonable walking distance because I would go there on lunch breaks with a colleague friend of mine. I have since occasionally taken to counting the blocks on a map, but this is an exercise that serves only to satisfy futile curiosity, and that is like feeding a hunger that knows no satiation. There is no answer to be found in the number of blocks. There is no real question that would be served by any such answer, anyway.

Rector Street station is about 4 blocks south of the Twin Towers. My office building is about 10 blocks south of the Towers. My cubicle is located on the 34th or 37th floor. I am mathamatically 25 years old. Fitzgerald was 44 years old when he died in 1940. My father was born on April 11th, 1918. The five boroughs of New York City are populated by roughly 8.3 million people. I will be unemployed for 10 months following today. It is just past 9 o'clock in the morning. It is the eleventh day of the ninth month of the 2001st year.

Every cubicle in every office building consists of the same general layout of upholstered wall units, industry-grade countertop desk, and cabinet/drawer system. Fastened to the underside of the desk, generally in the space designated for the office chair, there is a single, long shallow sliding drawer. Open this drawer and one will find it divided inside into various small compartments and shallow wells and basins by a caddy of some sort. There will be a long concave well up front designed for pens and pencils, two to three basins for paper clips, binder clips, and rubber bands, several deep boxed wells for hi-liters and Sharpie markers, and assorted other divots for assorted other office tools. What also will be found in all such drawers will be some, if not all, of the following: loose packets of sugar and/or sugar substitute; short brown or red hollow plastic coffee stirrers, some single-barrelled, some double-barrelled; loose packets of herbal tea and several packets of regular Lipton tea; half-empty containers of Tic-Tacs or other types of breath mints; packs of gum containing only one last stale, brittle stick; various balled up pieces of foil gum wrappers; clear-cellophaned red-and-white striped peppermints from a local Chinese take-out.

In the filing cabinet to the left or right, there will be one standard-size manila folder, unlabelled, stuffed with the take-out menus of all local eateries. These will include: several delis and sub-sandwich shops; several pizzarias and italian food take-outs; three to four Thai noodle shops; three to four Chinese take-outs; an Indian curry house; a sushi bar; a Middle Eastern vegatarian shop; a juice bar; and several bakeries, one for croissants and danish for morning meetings, another for cakes for birthdays, anniversaries, and going-away parties.

Another file cabinet drawer will contain a pair of scuffed black pumps and/or a pair of white running trainers. In another drawer will be a half-eaten box of Ritz crackers or a half-eaten, crimped up tube of saltines; another drawer, a box of single-serving packets of instant oatmeal; another drawer, an unopened box of some type of feminine hygeine product. Amongst all of this will be drawers and files containing the various stuff needed for daily activities: FedEx and UPS shipping labels; expense account forms; fax cover sheets; telephone call log forms; yellow college-ruled writing pads; catalogues for various office supply companies; boxes of blank white mailing labels and file tab stickers; small plastic cartons of multi-colored dots; large shrinkwrapped blocks of Post-It Notes; boxes of staples, paper clips, pens and pencils; empty three-ring binders of various size; padded envelopes of various size; and reams of standard-size printer paper, some in cream, yellow, pink, or grey, but most in bright white.

On the desk will sit a black rectangular multi-line phone with the speed-dial tabs only partially filled in; a computer screen, keyboard, and mouse, the latter sitting on a frayed black and gray foam mouse pad; a stapler that jams every fifth staple; and a wire or smokey black plastic pencil cup overstuffed with mostly non-working pens, pencils and markers. All of the pencils will have there erasers completely worn down to the metal band. Most of the pens will be promotional pens stamped with the logos and brand names of either pharmacuetical companies or hotel chains, at least one being Marriott. In front of the keyboard will be a gelatinous foam wrist pad with slight sweat stains corresponding to the placement of one's wrists. The keyboard, phone, and monitor frame will be slightly discolored due to years of dust and contact with oily skin. You will sit at this desk, stare at this screen, type on this keyboard, talk on this phone, and you will develope a habit of repeatedly lifting one end of the wrist pad and releasing it producing a satisfying slapping noise against the desktop. This will be your job for anywhere from one week to one year, depending on the companies eagerness to higher a permanent replacement. This is your life as the middle-child temporary office employee. Welcome.


I am staring up into the sky, staring through a jungle of towering glass and steel, of bricks and concrete, of architecture both turn-of-the-century and new-millennial. There are massive plumes of black smoke rushing out from the Towers into the glossy smooth Pantone blue sky. It is snowing; tiny specks of ash and paper flutter in odd gentle swirls, seeming to melt as they hit the street. The air is crisp and cool, the type of cool that can only exist before Noon. Everything feels closed in, stopped, quiet and loud. I look around to see I am not alone. We are all standing out here, on the sidewalks, in the street, all looking up. I think some people are talking, shouting, shaking their heads, holding their hands to their mouths in disbelief. I think some people break their stares and move on, continue on to their offices, to their jobs, move on with the rest of their day. I think I am one of these people for I am walking to the office. I am somehow reminded that I am still running late. I'm walking and it's important. Right now, work, jobs, time sheets, coffee, voice mail, filing, the office banter of the early morning, is still important.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Part V: This Morning Was Uneventful

The weather is always described as being unseasonably warm, as if that early in September is expected to already be tinged by winter. It's Autumn in New York and the air feels clean and sharp, biting everything playfully like a lover waking you up in the morning through some sensual form of torture. It's agonizingly beautiful and makes one's skin feel new as if freshly revealed out from under layers of dead earth and ash. It's not unseasonably warm, but just the type of weather one sees in New York more often than they care to recognize. It's more fun to complain about the freezing axe of winter or the humid club of summer than it is to tout the days that rock the cradle of the five boroughs and send the crying babies into a sense of well-being. It is not unseasonably warm, but the type of weather that makes life worth living.

I don't remember much about that early morning, mostly because I'd spent it like any other weekday morning for the past 8 months, getting ready for my temporary office job. Morning routines are that type of thing that is both memorized in strict detail and instantly forgotten once it comes to end. The muscle memory remembers the motions of teeth-brushing and shirt-buttoning, but the brain never records anything. When asked what one has done in the morning, one generally answers simply, "I got ready for work." This particular morning, something has happened to jar this pattern slightly for I remember doing everything five minutes later than it would normally have needed to be done to allow me to be at work on time.

At this time, in my early 20's, I was fond of setting my morning alarm at 6:40. I don't remember why now, but I had an elaborate reasoning for this odd designate. Everything was planned out from this asymmetrical hour so that I would hit other specifically designated activities at specifically designated times. I allotted the perfect amounts of time for showering, dressing, and walking to the Astoria Blvd. Station so that I would be walking to the North platform end in time to enter the last train car on the same train, and sit with the same people every morning. For all of its vibrancy and electricity, New York is still a towering industrialized mess of people who do the same exact things in the same exact way every single day for their entire lives.

I have already decided that stopping for coffee will now not happen, as its allotment of time must be sacrificed for the greater good of the overall day's agenda. I also realize that a woman I admire every morning, who enters the N line at 30th ST, will now not be not noticing my subtle passive stares from across the car, as she will be on an earlier train. I know she works in high-finance, too, as is evidenced by her smart black pencil skirts, white blouses, and her exiting the train at Rector St. Station, also my stop. I often follow a few feet behind her up the station stairs to afford myself views of her calves.

She does not enter at 30th St. Station this morning, as expected, so now I search for other women to fantasize about. Some people read the Times, I imagine myself having sex with any number of secretaries, personal assistants, fashion designers, sales clerks, real estate agents, drama majors, and art students who enter and exit along the NRW's long, weaving route. These are the games lonely people play.

There is nothing eventful about any of this at all. There is nothing that separates this morning from any other morning. Nothing happens that makes this particular morning subway commute any more or less interesting than any other commute on any other day. The train empties like a ship with a leak, slowly losing passengers as we get closer to Brooklyn, until there are only two of us left. There is myself and another gentleman. We are approaching Cortlandt St. Station. There is nothing eventful about any of this at all.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we will be skipping Cortlandt Street due to a fire situation in the station. Next stop will be Rector St. Again, we will be skipping Cortland Street due to a fire situation. Our next stop will be Rector Street. Rector Street next stop."

This is the matter-of-fact announcement made by the train conductor and my initial reaction is one of relief. I'm going to make up a few minutes. I may even now have time for coffee.

Our train slows as we enter Cortlandt Street station. The underground tube of tile and concrete is filled with smoke. The feeling is immediately one of bizarre disquiet coupled with rubberneck curiosity, as though we have entered an amusement park ride in which, at any moment, animatronic mannequins will emerge from within the black clouds dressed as end-of-the-world zombies and the walls will shake around our tram in perfectly timed and choreographed movements of theatrical violence. Seconds pass and the echoing buzz-saw grinds of the train wheels turn into a white noise; the gentle rocking of the snaking car disorients as we lazily wobble through the asphyxiated chamber. It becomes clear that this is more than just a trash can fire, still it is not serious.

Out of the station, back into the tunnel, next stop Rector St.

We enter the station and both myself and the other gentleman exit the train. He is tapping on his Palm Pilot. As we make our way to the station stairs, this man turns to me and says, "It hit the building." There is amazement in his voice, a nonchalant disbelief at what he has just learned, that comes across in his broken statement, this non-sequiter with unassigned pronoun. "It was a plane." He turns back to his phone. I don't respond verbally, just nod with a smile, realizing then he is referring to the "fire situation" we have just passed under. We continue on towards the stairs, the two of us joined now by other financial district stragglers from other cars on the train.

Two weeks before this, a man piloting a paramotor, a small single-propeller craft, managed to entangle his parachute around the torch of the Statue of Liberty while attempting to land on it to perform a stunt bungee jump. This was not unusual, for New York landmarks have always been targets for stunts by publicity-hungry thrill seekers, and this is what immediately entered my mind when told of this mysterious "it" that had hit a building above us. A small stunt-plane, single-prop, at the misguided hands of a idiotic adrenaline-junkie. Nothing more than this.

Our small sleep-weary, commute-addled group climbs the station stairs to greet a beautiful September morning in Lower Manhattan. As we emerge from the green-railed steps onto the street, our eyes are all immediately drawn up to the sky. It is the last Autumn morning in New York City.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Plates - Part I

"The Games We Played As Children"
Acrylic, spray paint on canvas

"There Had Been Cake"
Acrylic, spray paint on canvas

"Things We Dreamed And Didn't Dream"
Acrylic, spray paint on canvas

"I Understood What Was Meant Most Of The Time"
Acrylic, spray paint on canvas

"Hello, Kitty"
Acrylic, spray paint on canvas

"Vending Machine"
Acrylic, spray paint on canvas

"Our Letters Home All Went Unanswered"
Acrylic, spray paint on canvas

"Higher Now Than Ever Could Have Been Imagined"
Acrylic, spray paint on canvas

"Basic Shift, Mid-Thigh, Part-Time"
Acrylic, spray paint on canvas