Saturday, May 31, 2014

(not) at the bus stop

I've written before about my recent habit of walking in the morning to a different bus stop -- for the bit of extra exercise, for the bit of extra time outside in the light and the air before a day in my humble basement library, for a few extra minutes of looking up at the branches and the sky and feeling the wind on my face.

I catch the same bus most mornings, and the bus driver -- jovial and talkative and funny -- always has a boisterous greeting, a cheerful question, a humorous quip.  Last week for some reason I left earlier than usual one morning and caught a different bus down to work.  I was crossing Broadway at 114th and suddenly the bus that was stopped at the light started honking. I ignored it at first but eventually looked up and realized it was my bus, the one I hadn't taken that morning, and my crazy awesome bus driver was waving wildly at me and grinning and honking his horn.

He hasn't let me forget it yet: the day I spurned him for another driver.

Friday, May 30, 2014

'roland ducked beneath the tape...'

"Roland ducked beneath the tape and then just stood where he was for a moment, listening to the honk and pound of the city on this bright June day, relishing its adolescent vitality. He would never see another city, of that much he was almost positive. And perhaps that was just as well. He had an idea that after New York, all others would be a step down."
(Stephen King, The Dark Tower)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

facial recognition

I found myself chatting with a woman last weekend at Bill's wife's memorial service. I knew who she was -- a friend and colleague of Bill's at ISERP -- immediately, having met her several years ago at Bill's and Jill's wedding.  But apparently she's come in to my library on a semi-regular basis in the intervening years, and apparently I never recognize her.

Context can be everything, I suppose -- bring back the Bill factor and of course I knew who she was.  But I think at some point in the sordid, distant past I stopped looking closely at other people's faces. I was too busy looking at the cracks in the sidewalk in front of my feet, at the sky, at shoes and clothes and bodies hurtling through space. I was too busy obsessing over books or drugs or people I didn't know how to love very well.

Once, towards the end of college, I was walking across campus and eventually noticed a girl laughing and waving animatedly at me. I'd almost passed her by, this girl I happened to be deeply in love with, or crushing on, or whatever the proper terminology might have been at the time.  She finally stopped chuckling at my obliviousness and we went and got coffees and chatted out on the steps as the late autumn dusk settled in around us.

Later she asked me what it was I was thinking about all those times when my mind went wandering off and stopped seeing anyone. I don't think I knew what to tell her.

Later even than that, I think I more intentionally stopped looking at faces when I was out in the world. So many times I thought those faces passing by were people I knew, sometimes people I loved, and so many times I found myself smiling joyfully, longingly, only to discover it was someone else entirely, someone strange and unknown and not who I had thought it was at all.

Eventually it just seemed easier to stop looking, in the hopes that other people would stop looking, too.

I've gotten better about it in recent years. I try to look people in the eye, absorb their faces, remember their names, stop hiding behind my own lack of recognition. It helps to be dating a man who, I know, will always find me in a crowd even when I can't find him.  It helps to mind less about the embarrassment of introducing myself to the same person again and again. It helps to be able to just tell people that chances are I might not recognize them the next time we meet, and that they should just speak up for god's sake and say, "I'm So-and-so. So-and-so's friend. We've met twice before."

bridge, 5.24.14

Friday, May 16, 2014


I grew up in the northeast but we spent all of our summers out west. Northern Idaho is pretty dry, at least compared to New York. The hills surrounding the lake would be mottled with shades of green and brown, and beautiful, and the grasses would burn, and we'd sometimes lug buckets of water up the hill to water some of the younger apple trees and later, the flowers Grandma planted every spring at my father's grave.

You got used to it after awhile: the crisp, dry air and evenings cool enough for a campfire and cups of coffee out on the dock watching the early morning sun burn off the mist across the lake.

It was always something of a shock to deplane at LaGuardia or JFK or Westchester County Airport after two months of being at the lake cabin in Idaho. You'd walk out of the airport into that muggy, sticky, sweaty New York air and feel something akin to walking into a brick wall.

This morning, walking up to the bus stop, the air was sticky and humid and warm, and the branches I've been watching since deep winter are losing their stark shapes in cascading bowers of green.  My city's on its way to becoming its summertime jungle self again, and even the air seemed green and pregnant with rain.

'some of the books had actually become migratory...'

I did not particularly like this book, but I LOVED this passage.

"I don't see anything."

"That's right. And where on campus does even a very good locator spell not work?"

"I have no idea." Admitting ignorance promptly was the fastest way to get information out of a Brakebills professor.

"Try the library." Professor Brzezinski closed his eyes again, like an old walrus settling back down onto a sunny rock. "There are so many old seek-and-finds in that room, you can't find a Goddamned ting."

Quentin had spent very little time in the Brakebills library. Hardly anybody did if they could help it. Visiting scholars had been so aggressive over the centuries in casting locator spells to find the books they wanted, and spells of concealment to hide those same books from rival scholars, that the entire area was more or less opaque to magic, like a palimpsest that has been scribbled on over and over, past the point of legibility.

To make matters worse, some of the books had actually become migratory. In the nineteenth century Brakebills had appointed a librarian with a highly Romantic imagination who had envisioned a mobile library in which the books fluttered from shelf to shelf like birds, reorganizing themselves spontaneously under their own power in response to searches.  For the first few months the effect was said to have been quite dramatic. A painting of the scene survived as a mural behind the circulation desk, with enormous atlases soaring around the place like condors.

But the system turned out to be totally impractical.  The wear and tear on the spines alone was too costly, and the books were horribly disobedient. The librarian had imagined he could summon a given book to perch on his hand just by shouting out its call number, but in actuality they were just too willful, and some were actively predatory. The librarian was swiftly deposed, and his successor set about domesticating the books again, but even now there were stragglers, notably in Swiss History and Architecture 300-1399, that stubbornly flapped around near the ceiling. Once in a while an entire sub-sub-category that had long been thought safely dormant would take wing with an indescribable papery susurrus.

So the library was mostly empty, and it wasn't hard to spot Josh in an alcove off the second floor, sitting at a small square table across from a tall, cadaverously thing man with chiseled cheekbones and a pencil mustache. The man wore a black suit that hung on him. He looked like an undertaker.

(Lev Grossman, The Magicians, p, 127-128)

Monday, May 12, 2014

'when i am an old woman...'

There's a tunnel at the down-the-hill entrance to the A train at 190th Street. It's long and damp and warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and footsteps and voices echo up and down its length in distorted and sometimes funny ways.

Yesterday morning I was up and out the door by 6:30 and jogging along Bennett Avenue, admiring the steady thump of my feet against pavement and the lush green that's finally exploded throughout the city. Out of the corner of my eye, just before Bennett starts to curve down toward Broadway, I noticed an old woman standing in the entrance to that tunnel. She was wearing an ankle-length mostly cream-colored patterned skirt and a bright purple wide-brimmed hat, a stylin' purple purse caught over one arm. She was just standing there, one hand propping the door open, leaning in.

And as I approached her, I thought I heard an odd noise. A hooting, chirping, giggling sort of noise. And I realized, after a moment, that this little old woman was hooting into the tunnel, and seemed to be giggling at her own voice echoing back at her.

And I loved this so much, loved this woman so much that in that moment I wanted to run over and give her a great big hug. I don't know whether she was going to the subway or just walking by when the compulsion to shout out into this long tunnel overtook her -- a compulsion I understand all too well.  And why not, I imagine her asking herself. Who's to know, so early on a Sunday morning, that she is not always decorous or demure, who's awake and around to see such shenanigans?

I'm glad I was awake and around to see them, and hope that she found it as pleasing as I imagine she must have.

Friday, May 02, 2014


It's been awhile since I dreamt of apocalypse, though I always know it's lurking out there somewhere in the dark.  (The stories I tell myself, the stories of myself that I have for so long been telling everyone else, seem too often to revolve around the world as we know it coming to an end.)

Last night's dream, ridiculously enough, was about Thanksgiving. Specifically it was about an anxiety-filled last-minute afternoon of preparing shopping lists and going to the grocery store only to find that we couldn't get enough food. We didn't have the right IDs, the right stamps, the right paperwork in the face of massive food shortages to get what we needed, and our Thanksgiving was ruined.

I woke up frustrated and hungry and sad, got up and pulled on my jogging clothes and sneakers. I did a few stretches and went for my thrice-weekly walk/jog, and the sun was just coming up and making the very tops of the trees glow.

And it occurred to me, as I lumbered along with my face tilted up at the slowly lightening sky, that I've become somewhat obsessed these past few months with a certain stretch of boulevard in my neighborhood. I go out of my way to walk this stretch because there is something completely enchanting about these particular branches so delicately etched against this particular expanse of ever-changing  sky. Almost inevitably I find myself staring so intently upwards that at some point I trip and stumble and nearly come tumbling down.

It's worth it though, every morning, to feel washed clean by this little stretch of road. To feel so far from the city, so far from my dreams, perched on the edge of the river beneath these trees, beneath this field of sky.