Archive for the ‘Misc.’ Category

Walked into the coffee place in Fort Greene the other day. Weekend morning, around eleven. Two rows of people hunched over their laptops, a couple squawking into their cellphones so their nasal voices echoed all about the cafe. 

They looked like electronic galley slaves, bent over so intently looking into their computers, the blue of their screens reflecting back on their faces. This is what people do in their spare time now – go to cafes and even bars and sit hunched over their laptops. 

 Like Johnny Rotten used to say, “boring, boring, boring!’

Whatever else the Obama era brings, I hope it makes life less inane, less asinine, less flipping boring.

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Friend sent me this:

London from High Up, At night.

Great shots of Trafalgar Square, the decidedly unlovely O2 Arena . . .

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More cautious optimism . . . tainted by uncertainty. A sense now of momentum building up to the inauguration (coronation?) Tuesday.

All up and down Washington Ave, here in Prospect Heights, shop windows display Obama posters, ‘change is coming to America’, quotes from the Bible foretelling the coming of ‘Barack’. You walk into black neighborhoods and you feel a change – people feel happy, more open than I’ve seen black people here in a long, long time. You feel too that some of the tension with white folks has dropped – since everyone but the most obtuse black folks know that any white folks living in Bed-Stuy or Prospect Heights voted for Obama . . .

A friend tells me her business down in Tribeca catering to the wives of hedge fund managers is pulling in one tenth of what it pulled in a year ago, three stores on her block have closed up in the last six months, Bobby D’s new restaurant around the corner opened in September and closed just a couple of weeks ago. Other friends talk about how difficult it’s getting to find work, even temp work.

The jetliner landing in the Hudson somehow sums up the spirit of New York in this moment – potential disaster, the pictures of the passengers on the wings, all the rescue boats and commuter ferries rushing in, no lives lost, a heroic pilot. And I’d walked down the boardwalk along the Hudson just a couple of days ago . . .

For the moment, New York City feels joyful, exhibiting the wonderful, even liberating strength and humanity that I’ve always loved in this city. A good time to be here . . .

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Victoria Tube Station, 8:30 am.

I missed the train and caught the tube. At Brixton, the very end of the Victoria line, two tube trains were sitting in the station, packed full of passengers, with no sign of leaving. More and more people got on the trains until they were full right down the aisle while a couple of inspectors or coordinators or whatever they were strolled around trying to figure out which drivers to send to which train.

Finally one train left, another sat there as more people piled on – another train pulled in and me and a bunch of other ‘customers’ (as the euphemism has it) rushed over to get the seats before that train filled up as well – and by the time the train did pull out five minutes later, it was standing room only.

   By Victoria, four stops on, the car was so packed you could hardly squeeze through to get off the train. I followed two other passengers, a man and a woman, as they forget a path through the impossible press of bodies. You felt bad pushing through – having been on the receiving end more than once, with someone stepping on your foot – and really having nowhere to go since people are pressed in all around you. But you have to get out. Some nice London touches – the man pushing through fell over on top of a woman standing on the platform, and sort of half-embraced her to say sorry – so many times you encounter this sort of ‘we’re all in this together’ feeling in these impossible situations in London – but before I was even off the people on the platform were pressing in, pushing me backward, knocking me off balance so if I really slipped I’d be pushed under the crowd – until someone pushed me from behind and I yelled out and people gave way.

Upstairs, they’d blocked off the entrances so they could regulate the flow of people descending into the station. That is, pulled back the metal grates they use to shut off the station after closing. Outside, people were queued up around the stairwells, dozens and dozens deep, and once they opened the gates, people flooded  into the station to queue up in the hundreds in front of the ticket barriers (which, curiously, they leave open after hours at the train stations and sometimes the tube, but never at rush hour, when people have to queue dozens and dozens deep to pass through the gates).

I swore I’d never catch the tube at that time of day again. But people do it every day – stand in the aisles on packed trains with people on their mobiles yammering in their ears and the train waiting at an interminable time at the station because of some delay (‘We regret any inconvenience caused’) queuring for the ticket barriers at the train station, queueing for the ticket barrier at the tube – standing crushed together in the tube for the bruising ride to work.

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Unreal City,   60
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,  
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,  
I had not thought death had undone so many.  
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,  
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.

TS Eliot, The Wasteland.

Boy, does that describe London. As it was then, so it is now . ..

I don’t understand people here. I don’t understand their coldness, the way they can be crammed so unbearably close together, yet remain so comopletely isolated – like they hardly even see each other. When I think back to the long period when I was away from London in the 90’s, it was this isolation that most scared me about this city – the fear of being swallowed by the grey, by the extreme anonymity, until I felt I hardly existed. The grey creeping into my nerves, senses, soul . . . a weight where my heart should be, congealed into grey mornings and grey afternoons . . . that monotonal emotional pitch that comes so easily to the Anglo-Sexon spirit.

This fear is a little further away now, but I still feel it. Isolation hangs about this city like the damp. When I first got back to New York this spring, one of the most intense pleasures (and pains) was being able to feel again. it was like discovering a faculty that had gone missing, like the ability to see colour after seeing only in black and white . . . I don’t remember London always being this way, but perhaps my circumstances were different before. Maybe that’s part of why people drink so much here, so they can feel again – so they can feel like they EXIST . . .

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Westminster Cathedral Tower at dusk

Westminster Cathedral Tower at dusk



That Iconic Eye

That Iconic Eye

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The Road

When all this economic tumult started I was reading Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’. What a thoroughly depressing book.

The plot revolves around a man taking his son down from the cold and very arid North-Eastern US to the warmer though still very arid Soutwest US, through a landscape rendered lifeless by an unnamed catastrophe. On the way they encounter bands of cannibals who follow the roads leading katamites (sex slaves) in chains, or keep other human beings in basements chained up so they can feast on them limb by limb – hacking their limbs off while their victims are still alive, boiling  them in a pot or impaling them on stakes and so on. In one scene, man and boy stumble on a cooking pot in the woods after seeing a pregnant woman with two men trudging along the road. In the cooking pot is a newborn, evidently the woman’s.

People eat each other because every other form of life has been wiped off the face of the earth by this unnamed acopalypse, in which terrible fires swept the globe, reducing the forests to carbon, covering the planet’s surface with ash, choking even the seas. In the end, the man dies but all this grey is capped by a triumpth of love over death in the form of the man’s love for his son, a faint glimmer of hope for humanity, life, God in this love.

Yeah. Sure.

This is one of those books that, because of the author’s reputation and the apocalyptic theme, is automatically rendered ‘A Great Book’. But frankly, if you’re going to depress the hell out of me – and the thought of a future where no life exists except scattered bands of crazed human, where a woman would consign her own newborn to a cooking pot, is profoundly depressing, especially when the papers are forecasting a return to the Great Depression, as they were this fall – then it better be for good reason. And ‘The Road’ is no good reason. Basically, it is just some hokey fantasy, a ’28 Days driven by luminous prose.

Take the whole reason why people become cannibals, the unnamed Apocalypse. Only three things could render the earth so utterly desolate – nuclear war, the extreme end of global warming where methane fireballs roar off the oceans, eviscerating everything in their path, or a giant asteroid that creates a thousand year night like the asteroid that finished off the dinosaurs. In either of these three scenarios, ‘The Road’ is impossible. If we choose all-encompassing nuclear war, then the radiation would make it impossible for human beings to survive more than a few months, never mind form bands to eat each other. If it was eternal night or methane fireballs, ditto – except that I think (though I’m no biologist) that if humans could manage to live, breathe, talk – and eat each other –  in Earth’s poisoned atmosphere, then so could say grubs, cockroaches, rats, and some of kind lower form of life in the oceans. I mean we are on the very high end of the food chain after all. Okay, so maybe it wouldn’t be the greatest place to live, maybe the eatin’ could be better, but  – there would be things to eat. Roots? Termites? Slime? Maybe some humans would turn to cannibalism to supplement their diet, for kicks – some people do it now, for no reason at all – but I don’t think it would be the only choice.

The Road is a fake, like so much literature that comes out now. It has nothing to do with where are now, or where we might be in the future. One thing I hope this downturn changes is our taste for fakes –  like meaningless celebrity, they’ve reigned supreme for far too long.

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