Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Clockworks

A homeless man with no legs frequents the front of Citarella grocery store on Sixth Avenue near my apartment. I stare at his hands as I walk by, trying to make out the titles of thick books he reads; I have yet to decipher one. On a recent stroll, I found a little bird seated next to him on the sidewalk; instead of a book, his hands held bread that he ripped up and dropped in little pieces at the bird's feet. Man-hands and birdy couldn't have been more than 4 inches apart. It was beautiful to see, as the rest of Manhattan shuffled around the three of us unawares.

If I could travel through time, I wonder, would I go backward or forward? ("I miss Nicole so much," the message said. "I want to tell her, but I'm telling you instead.") If I go back, there's that pesky business about butterflies, hurricanes, and apocalyptic effects of changing what has been. But if today is tomorrow, that's the case no matter which way I go. I hate it when I catch myself saying one thing and meaning another.

I wonder if we can know anything for sure; even down to the tiniest, most base detail. Like these atoms between my fingertips and this keyboard; I can't even really say I'm making physical contact with the keys themselves. By that "logic," is it possible that all we do is gamble on the unknown and pray for the best? But if that's so, how does a girl judge what to do, or determine what's right? If I showed the boy-version of the homeless man at Citarella video footage of him legless, dirty, feeding a small bird on a warm Manhattan afternoon, would the young child believe this was his future self? Might he look down, see himself standing on two legs, and reject my intervention? Would he then decide to go forward or back in time; would he climb into the time machine at all?

"Don't let the stresses of the real world make you forget that all it takes is a bus ticket and Finnegan," the postcard said. The next morning I gave notice that I'll be skipping town for a little bit to let that background buzz in my brain take a nice, slow coffee break (black, no sugar). All this musing [Do we sometimes feel so strongly about things because part of us views said things as open outlets; safe for the improbability of them actually being tangible?], on time travel and what might be or have been, wobbles my knees.

I waver. I blink. Long breath in; hold it, then out. I wonder if there's another way; then see there is only through. "I'm happy for you," a friend told me. "It's been a long time coming." And, after all, I suppose it has. See you guys on the other side.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Members of the Karass

Kurt Vonnegut wrote in "Cat's Cradle" of the world's two greatest social organizations: the karass, 'a team that do[es] God's Will without ever discovering what they are doing;' and the granfalloon, a 'false karass,' a people who make associations based on states, countries of origins, sporting teams, etc. 'If you wish to study a granfalloon,' Vonnegut wrote, 'just remove the skin of a toy balloon.' "The Celestine Prophecy" says if you see a stranger three separate times, they have something to tell you; maybe a lesson.

I like the sound of all these things.

It was the winter of 2001 in St. Augustine, Fla. I wandered cobblestone streets barefooted with my bohemian boyfriend, taking in the warm air, wild armadillos, and street music. Frank and Mary Schaap, two hobos who could play a mean steel guitar and tenor sax, and whose voices made you feel like you were at some speakeasy in Harlem, enchanted. I spent hours by their music's side. Their $5 CD wormed its way into many mixed tapes I made for years to come. With no Web site or working e-mail, there was no way to follow up. And though it's the strangest thing to say, I thought about them a lot and missed them. When I heard St. Augustine made street performers subject to fines or arrest, I wondered about Frank and Mary.

So it follows, naturally, that I walked through Central Park Saturday afternoon very much as I did in St. Augustine six years ago; albeit with shoes and without a heavy hiking pack or boyfriend. The second I heard his guitar, hair stood up on my arms. I lurched forward. New teeth. More wrinkles. But that voice—I crept close to his open guitar case to inspect the name on his CD: Frank Schaap.

He finished his song and looked up at me. "Nice boots," he said. It would be 15 more minutes before I could relate to him how I'd tripped through a wormhole only to find him there, in the Big Apple. This very obvious member of my karass seemed mostly unimpressed. "Yeah, Mary and I are playing a gig down in DUMBO tonight," he offered matter-of-factly. What an outlaw. I bought Frank's new CD, $15, with shakey hands. We still have one more meeting to go.

Run-ins like this make me believe anything is possible. Is this naivety?

"Not naive," Conch Shell had corrected him, "[S]he simply has not been taught to fear the things you fear." (Tom Robbins, "Skinny Legs and All")

Thanks, Conch. Sometimes I wish it were so simple.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

News & Culture

Reviews of Little Children, Stranger than Fiction, Arctic Monkeys
[Click on article for larger size]

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[Originally published in Playgirl, August 2007]