Friday, May 1, 2009

Reading at 39,000 ft

To be inside taht music, to be drawn into the circle of its repetitions: perhaps that is a place where one could finally disappear.
But beggars and performers make up only a small part of the vagabond population. They are the aristocracy, the elite of the fallen. Far more numerous are those with nothing to do, with nowhere to go. Many are drunks--but that term does not do justice to the devastation they embody. Hulks of despair, clothed in rags, their faces bruised and bleeding, they shuffle through the streets as though in chains. Asleep in doorways, staggering insanely through traffic, collapsing on sidewalks--they seem to be everywhere the moment you look for them. Some will starve to death, others will dies of exposure, still others will be beaten or burned or tortured.
For every soul lost in this particular hell, there are several others locked inside madness--unable to exit the world that stands at the threshold of there of their bodies. Even though they seem to be there, they cannot be counted as present. The man, for example, who goes everywhere with a set of drum sticks, pounding the pavement with them in a reckless , nonsensical rhythm, stooped over awkwardly as he advances along the street, beating and beating away at the cement. Perhaps he thinks he is doing important work. Perhaps, if he did not do what he did, the city would fall apart. Perhaps the moon would spin out of its orbit and come crashing into earth. There are the ones who talk to themselves, who mutter, who scream, who curse, who groan, who tell themselves stories as if to someone else. That man I saw today sitting like a heap of garbage in front of Grand Central Station, the crowds rushing past him, saying in a loud, panic-stricken voice: "Third Marines....Eating bees.... The bees crawling out of my mouth." Or the woman shouting at an invisible companion: "And what if I don't want to! What if I just fucking don't want to!"
There are the women with their shopping bags and the men with there cardboard boxes, hauling their possessions from one place to the next, forever on the move, as if it mattered where they were. There is the man wrapped in the American flag. There is the woman with the Halloween mask on her face. There is the man in the ravaged overcoat, his shoes, wrapped in rags, carrying a perfectly pressed white shirt on a hanger--still sheathed in the dry-cleaner's plastic. There is a man in a business suit with bar feet and a football helmet on his head. There is the woman whose clothes are covered from head to toe with presidential campaign buttons. There is a man who walks with his face in his hands, weeping histerically and saying over and over again "No, no, no, no. He's dead. He's not dead. No, no, no, no. He's dead. He's not dead."
Baudelaire: Il me semble que je serais toujours bien la ou je ne suis pas. In other words: It seems to me that I will always be happy in the place where I am not. Or, more bluntly: Wherever I am not is the place where I am myself. Or else, taking the bull by his horns: Anywhere out of the world.

Paul Auster (The New York Trilogy: City of Glass)

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