Saturday, January 20, 2007


Shifting lanes on the New Jersey Turnpike, I'm knocked out of gear by a 747 landing at Newark airport directly in front of me. The landscape blinks like a Pachinko machine as I maneuver the gearshift back into place, drafting off of an 18 wheeler. Manhattan is on the right, the Moulin Rouge of cities. On the left: oil refineries, closed factories, and then… swamp. The landscape darkens and I know that I'm just a bridge away from home.

My apartment gets direct sunlight for about 4 hours each day (it slips in between the cracks of skyscrapers, riding a serenade of the electric sanders of roofers. We have been growing a bulb in a glass bowl, a Christmas present that is blooming on cue, pink fading to white. I have put it in our sliver of light, and rotate the bowl every once in a while to make sure it grows straight, but in fact the effect is the opposite. The two stalks bend this way and that on their way up to the blooms. I feel like a snake charmer.

In the city, I have discovered a neighborhood bar that is not crowded where I can get beers for $3.00 (thus allowing me to go out for a drink without arranging financing beforehand). Unfortunately, the local video store closed. They delivered to my door: Altman, Melville, Marx, Allen, Polanski, Renoir, and Godard. Now it's gone. No wonder I'm drinking.

Overheard: "It's not like I want to sleep with you every night." "I don't need you to tell me you're despicable. I can see it through your ways and actions." "Four inch margins, you're such a fucking princess. Grow up."

I'm reading Shopgirl, by Steve Martin. It's engrossing, and I'm lost at a glove counter, and remember the particular bite of loneliness. My wife stirs me, makes me talk about Christmas shopping. I'm to buy mixing bowls today.

On the fucking turnpike again. Southbound, we are jammed into two lanes with no margins, no room in front or behind. Lewis Thomas says we are more like ants than artists, that all this crap about the individual pales before the regularities of our collective behavior. The New Jersey Turnpike is just one part of the colony, and I am a worker, returning with my crumb. I worry that my tires are bald and may be about to blow. I worry that the truck driver in front of me is on speed. I worry that the kids in the car on my right will start laughing too hard to concentrate. I worry that the moments, the pieces, the cars add up to something totally banal, as wasteful and useless as a bad dictator. But I am breathless in this motion, the acceleration and deceleration and danger.

It's just so hard to pay attention.

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