That the world is a manifestation of events as I see them unfold is easily illustrated by the following anecdote, which concerns a woman I just noticed during my daily walk in the park. As she passed me I thought I recognized her as the woman I had flashed, almost exactly one year ago, in this very location. “I recognize,” I said to myself, “that woman.”
On the other hand, my powers of perception being—as usual—in excess, I could not help noticing that she also resembled the man who works in the deli underneath my apartment.
So closely had this new consideration followed upon my impression that it was “that woman” to whom I had unsheathed my finest parts, that I had trouble distinguishing between the two thoughts—and I hypothesized that it was the man from the deli, dressed in drag and headed to some party downtown.
There was a certain logic in this thought: downtown is, I suppose, where such parties happen, though as I think about it now it seems no less likely that, in truth, “such parties”—one notices a certain evasiveness, if not outright avoidance, in this term—happen just as often in my own building.
In order to come to terms with whatever was causing me to think of “such parties,” I sat down at the nearest bench and watched her legs conquer the mild slope of the hill I had just walked down and which, with no less vigor, she now ascended. On the bench across from me an older man read the paper.
I cringed as I noticed this “older man.” Undoubtedly, my use of the term tells something of my age, or rather, my discomfort—or should I say the difficulty I have in coming to terms with—the fact that I am growing old.
In any event it seemed plausible that the man at the deli, having relocated from his native country to our friendly city, might have seized the freedoms, already embraced by so many of the occupants of our spread-legged metropolis, to engage in the fantasies of which he was once, while trapped in his country of origin—wherever that may have been—unable to dream.
I pause now at my use of the term “country of origin.” Is there not something somewhat sinister about this term? As if the individual to which one is referring has wandered out of his or her proper territory, a trespasser in perpetuity.
I find it strange that I have written “his or her.” It is as if, in writing these lines, I once again wished—albeit unwittingly—to conjure the confusion of genders first noted in my observation of the woman or man who passed by me in the park.
And yet, I am simultaneously distracted by the notion of becoming a trespasser in perpetuity; is perpetuity a closely guarded space? And if so, how does one become a full-fledged resident? Furthermore, the possibility of a confusion of genders would seem to have obscured my original impression—that is, the resemblance of the woman that passed by me in the park to the woman I flashed, approximately one year ago, in the very same location.
Indeed, I cannot return to the instance of my first utterance concerning this woman without returning to the matter of recognition: seeing her, I was reminded of a previous event in which she may or may not have participated, albeit unwillingly—an event which, furthermore, would locate me, playing myself, in the same location in which I now find myself sitting.
I use the term “unwillingly” with regret, as I would like to consider the willingness of my partners—regardless of their sexual identities—a certainty, verifiable in the looks with which they grace my humble body. Perhaps what I mean to say is “unexpectedly.”
In endeavoring to remember the event to which I am referring I am reminded of Rousseau, who, resting by a fountain in Italy (or was it Spain?) revealed himself to a young washerwoman, only to be (unexpectedly) chased down by some thugs—or were they police?
It was also Rousseau, as I recall, whose father held him dearly and told him how he (Rousseau) reminded him (the father) of his deceased wife (the mother of Jean-Jacques).
Indeed, it was also Rousseau whom I spotted coming over the hill now, and toward whom I pivoted while parting my overcoat, screening myself from the old man in the process, while allowing for Jean-Jacques an unrequited revelation concerning the state of my own arousal.
From downstairs I hear voices, I’m not quite awake, I can’t fully make out much of anything. Let’s say there’s something between me and a phone that’s just stopped ringing, a timepiece or more specifically a clock, but not a clock as you would expect a clock to be. This clock is a microclimate, a current through which ideas pass, a conduit for tropes. Whatever gets said happens inside this timepiece, it’s measured, every phrase turns gears tangled in roots and muffled by fallen leaves.
I don’t read the letters my grandmother sends, says Guy. His voice climbs the air outside my window, slips under my pillow. Ramsey’s not answering the phone; let’s ring the bell.
I sleep through the afternoon and drink beer before dinner, says another, who Guy calls Tom. Call him again, Tom says.
Tom, says Guy, you’re a short-wave radio enthusiast and marjoram farmer, in theory at least. I play an African thumb piano called the kalimba. Maybe we should put our skills together, start something.
Right, says Tom. Tom’s been to the flea market, he’s purchased pictures of a priest posing with Andean flute musicians; he’s booked tickets for Reykjavik, he’s finished the mural on his wall. Jupiter riding a whale may seem out of place in a park designed by pointillists, but the rookery needed an overseer, Tom explains. Inside the clock it’s getting humid, moisture collects on the edges of numbers, and fern fronds conceal the second hand. On distant hillsides, minutes in tamarisk.
I’m writing about shoes, Guy says. Shoes, because there are some important things and some things less important, and shoes are somewhere between. I’m writing about shoes and feet, so many missteps, the slips and falls one would rather forget, you can’t pin all that on a pair of loafers. He still isn’t answering.
I’m going shopping, Tom remembers, I’m bargaining for an electronic sign from the now defunct Flatbush Beauty Salon: red and blue logo with silhouetted headshots and a border of blinking, multicolored bulbs.
It’s an aimless sense of obligation toward absent-minded whimsy; we both want to do something perfectly worthless, Guy reminds Tom. We want to hold onto highway signs, failed enterprises, all the tragedies capitalism dreams. The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, the plangent rhythms I pluck on my kalimba, the hotplate and the greasy spoon; if we situate ourselves here, it’s because we don’t want to be shopping-malled out of existence.
Yes we do, Tom argues. Let’s buy a waxing kit, organic shoehorns, body oils with orange essence. Some people prefer evergreens, some prefer deciduous trees; let arboreal tastes determine patterns engraved on tombstones. Let’s buy a storefront and fill it with sand. Let’s eat dinner at White Castle, smoke crack, watch anime.
In my unwritten novel, says Guy, his voice straining toward anachronistic reminiscence, drug-addicted teenagers summering in East Hampton steal hits from glass pipes between restaurant shifts. Resin stains their fingers, they sleep on the beach, have sex in skiffs stolen from a marina, breakfast at country clubs…
I have an Aldis lamp, Tom interrupts, a guide to Morse code, a pair of hobnailed boots; we’ll reduce the communiqué to a patterned series of flashing lights. If only we could see each other from our rooftops.
Listen Tom, I brought a suitcase full of sherry back from Spain.
Guy’s tone suggests an activity, but Tom’s nonplussed; you can only drink so much sherry, and it’s not very much. Still, Guy continues, this stuff’s from Cadiz; starved children, consumed by marasmus, picked the grapes. We already drank all the gentian brandy your brother stole from the Argentine legation in Madrid.
Forget sherry says Tom, the Scandinavian House is showing photographs of Laplanders this week, reindeer and white nights. Let’s eat meatballs and drink citrus vodka. Let’s play the pan flute in casinos, bribe croupiers with narcotics, steal artificial flowers from hotel lobbies. Let’s get Ramsey out of bed and put him in the car, go to the airport, take pictures of travelers while they sleep.
The doorbell rings. Downstairs, Tom explains their plan. There’s a beer distributor next to the dry dock, the waterfront’s empty in winter, Guy stole his little sister’s sidewalk chalk, and we have four hours to transcribe his novel onto the concrete surface of the pier before the local bar opens. Go back upstairs and get that bottle of whiskey you haven’t been drinking. Bring back whatever you left behind, put on your jacket, take out your harmonica, it’s cold out here and you never answer the phone, by six o’clock the rain will come and wash it all away.
Bring your slide rule, Guy adds, bring your jack of spades and your bottle cap collection, we’re going to the pier, let’s fill our pockets with pancake mix and powder parking meters along the way.
My first recollection is fraught with a sense of secrecy, of something always beyond my own reach: whatever I can imagine as having been present—the colors of the room, the bars of the crib (if cribs can be thought in terms of bars)—withdraws into the shadows of what is, now, the written word, the conspiratorial qualities of which I have not the time nor the cognitive capacity to fully examine. Instead, I am reminded of the tying of fishing lures to which Mr. Lemprosky, the owner the of hardware shop in town, dedicated his life, and the methods by which he concealed his knowledge of this craft from others. In his apron pocket, he kept a piece of paper, on which he would record the details culled from interrogations of fishermen who entered his store and purchased lures; at any moment, he might disappear for the day, leaving the shop to Mrs. Lemprosky, only to reappear near closing time with several new creations to add to the locked glass case near the register, in which the lures were kept.
I cite the example of Mr. Lemprosky in order to illustrate the potential for narrative to fill a space that might otherwise be covered in questions. Mr. Lemprosky was not a fisherman, and it was his wife, Mrs. Lemprosky, who wore the apron. They ran a restaurant, notable not for its cuisine but for a policy which required that ketchup be served with every dish; if they also sold fishing lures, they were almost certainly kept in a locked glass case next to the register, as was a tally or series of notations, on which Mrs. Lemprosky recorded, half in Russian and half in English, the conversations in which she failed to successfully communicate her thoughts.
A brief notation documenting things I have not successfully communicated would be kept somewhere close to me. I think of the spy known as Lexter who, while traveling in the USSR, kept his notes, written with his left hand (he was ambidextrous), composed in a language he had created, in a tiny, rolled sheet of paper that could be inserted into the frame of his eyeglasses.
A central difficulty concerninng this documentation—not Lexter’s documentation, but my own—involves the method of recording failures. How did Mrs. Lemprosky record her failures to communicate? I suspect that her methods were influenced by Reginald Ulysses Hayworth, whose abstract charcoal drawings of fog-infused skyscapes won accolades from such journals as The Beyond Tallahassee Quarterly and Native East Oregonian Art & Culture Review, and who once sat down for lunch at the Restaurant Lemprosky in Gold Hill, Oregon. Mr. Hayworth ordered the chef’s salad. Upon delivering his food, Mrs. Lemprosky placed a cup full of ketchup next to the salad, and it is this ketchup-filled vessel, according to Mr. Hayworth, which inspired his rediscovery of the human form and of figures in general. Accounts differ, but Mrs. Lemprosky recalls that Mr. Hayworth ordered her to hold the ketchup over her head, while he sketched her silhouette on the paper the Restaurant Lemprosky used in place of tablecloths. This sketch, along with Mrs. Lemprosky’s tally of incommunicable utterances, has been lost.
The possibility of recording a failed effort at communication would also posit the potential for the very things contained therein to be read and understood by another at some later date; a code would therefore be necessary, whereby certain information could be concealed beneath layers or figurations whose meanings would remain remote to all readers save myself, lest the tally of incommunicabilities revert back to the ordinariness of communicative speech, to which much documentation has already been devoted, and for which encryption would be unnecessary.
According to Lexter’s diaries (which hint at his breakdown over caviar salad in Minsk) the first and foremost difficulty in encryption is to divine a functionality; in order to recognize function, one must achieve a fragmentation of wholes into parts, whereby a discreet series of individual elements might be recognized as forming a cohesiveness that engenders sense. Fingers and toes, for example, should be engaged in an activity that steadies the nerves and allows the conscientious fragmenter to follow his craft without distraction. Maintain a level of saturated disinterest at all times, says Lexter; for breakfast, consume breaded veal; for lunch, a simple salad of chick peas and roasted garden carrots, cooled of course; for dinner, split a single potato into seventy-five discrete pieces while playing chopsticks with one hand.
Perhaps when Lexter wrote potato, he meant to say narrative; for a reason I cannot explain, I am reminded of my decision not to confess the circumstances of an affair to my last lover, the evidence of which I concealed in a series of letters. Might these letters form the first entries in my list? In which case, I am beginning to think that the list might involve rather a lot of paper, and more space than I had envisioned; in order for secrets to become irrelevant, says Lexter, it is better to burn bodies than to bury the hatchet.
I don’t want to write about digging in a profound way, I don’t want to remember why I started digging or what purpose it served, I don’t want to allegorize every damn act, I only want to say that I dug a hole and spent a day doing it and at the end there was a hole in the ground, a few feet deep, not very round, with roots and rocks reaching out toward its center. I made this hole with a shovel and a pick and I remember that when I started digging there were a number of difficulties. Tree roots obtrude, after a single layer of decaying leaves and black soil the clay is orange and firm, almost impenetrable, and sometimes there are rocks buried beneath the clay. The difficulty with rocks is that when you strike a rock with a shovel or a pick you can’t tell whether it’s a small rock or a big rock, you hear a noise when you strike a rock, and then you see a rock or a piece of a rock and until you’ve fully dislodged the entire animal you can’t be certain just how big it might be. When I dug my hole in the ground I wasn’t very old, I was maybe eight or nine, I had an idea to dig a hole and I took the shovel which was really a shovel, though someone else might call it a spade, a spade is an elegant word and I remember that what I had in my hands was really a wooden-handled shovel, rusty at the blade and worn at the places on the handle where hands had most often gripped it. I also remember that we had any number of shovels around our house, some for my mother to use in her garden, and these looked like a shovel ought to look, and others my father used for construction work, and these shovels were flat-nosed shovels, and then there were shovels for digging fencepost holes, and these shovels had two handles and a hinge in the middle, and two blades, and when you used this kind of shovel you had to pull it apart and thrust it into the earth and then push it together to lift the dirt out of the ground, and then there was a long, narrow shovel that my father actually called a spade, and there was yet another kind of shovel which was wide and flat and this shovel was for snow. Once, at the Grange Co-Op, which was a store that sold seeds and hoses and many other items and implements my mother used in her garden, I saw a whole row of shovels, all kinds of shapes and sizes, and I remember that I was surprised to see that some shovels had blades painted green, and some were painted red, and I remember wondering why our shovels weren’t green or red, until I realized that at one time our shovels had been green or red, but the paint had worn away and what was left was only a rusty blade and no trace of paint. One of these shovels, perhaps the one that I used to dig my hole, I used for a Halloween costume when I was little, or at least littler than I was when I dug my hole, and so when I dug my hole I may have remembered my Halloween costume as one memory I had of a shovel. I was a prospector that Halloween, and to be a prospector there were a few things that you needed. One thing was a hat, which was not a cowboy hat but a beat-up type of hat with a round-ish, malleable brim, so that it looked dented here and there, and you also needed a red bandana, and a beard or something that looked more or less beard-like, and a flannel shirt, and blue jeans tucked into boots of some kind that came to just below the knees, and finally you needed a pan, because prospectors used pans, or if your parents wouldn’t let you carry their pans around you needed a shovel, because without a shovel someone might mistake you for a hobo, and you weren’t a hobo, you were a prospector. But when I dug my hole I was no prospector, I just dug, and I had an idea that I would do just that, dig, and when I was done there would be a hole. What I did not know when I dug this hole was that there would be a time, a later time, when digging the hole would be a memory, and the memory would be of a time when I would do some things just to do them, for no other reason than that, to do, as something to do and have done; and so I can say that, whereas at one time I would dig a hole for no other reason than to dig a hole, now if I were to dig a hole for no reason, others might say my digging must mean something, must be a sign of something I might otherwise be unable or unwilling to express, whereas I might think that I was only nostalgic for a time when I would do things just to do them and for no other reason than that.