I got to work early enough to get breakfast at the little bagel stand on Fulton St. where I used to eat every morning before I moved. The bagel guy recognized me, and welcomed me back--he was worried that something had happened to me. He remembered my usual order--plain with cream cheese--and sent me on my way with the usual "Svank you! Hab a nice day!"
I think that officially makes me a New Yorker now. :)
Actually got a lot of work done that morning--random sunshine can be like productivity juice--so I didn't feel the slightest bit guilty when the boss turned to us at 2 PM and said, "Oh, what the hell, guys. Weekend starts now. Go home and enjoy yourselves."
I've actually come to dread long weekends because they remind me how little I've been living. At least at work I have an excuse. Working eight hours a day, eating dinner at McDonald's, buying light bulbs and groceries, struggling with writer's block for an hour, surfing the Internet until one in the morning--that's not a day, that's a bead down the abacus to the big croak. New York is eight million movies running all at once and I am an extra in every one of them. That guy you see in the background reading the paper, or holding a bag of groceries, or waiting for the subway--that's me. That's all I've been lately, just another face in the crowd; a prop that shows up in one scene and then gets rolled into a closet when the leads go somewhere else. And that's not even a metaphor. Until recently, my room didn't even have any furniture--just blank walls and a bare floor, and some basic amenities. It was like that empty place at the top of the stairs on a sitcom set, where the actor waits until he gets the cue to come out and be part of the show. I briefly come to life to have that one pivotal, life-changing conversation with a stranger on a train, or to give a takeout McValue Meal to a homeless dude, or to stand aside looking shocked when two cops tackle a shoplifter outside a Virgin Megastore, and then I fade back into the background. Visiting friends sometimes thank me for taking the time out to hang out with them, but the truth is that when no one's hanging out with me I may as well not even exist. I am ashamed to admit that on some weekends, when I have an appointment at 4 PM, I will go to bed at two in the morning and not wake up until 3. If this self-insignificance didn't scare the shit out of me I would suspect that I was little more than a figment of everyone's collective imagination. I don't have a story of my own anymore, and I am getting tired of seeing myself as a supporting character in the stories of other people.
This is what happens when you do not have friends you see often, do not belong to any sort of community, and have no obligations except to yourself. Some would call it freedom. But it's not freedom when it only belongs to you.
So I've been fighting that meaningless, anonymous existence with every fiber of my being. If I didn't spend two or three nights a week racing myself across parks, writing stories in my head, watching people on the subway, going on spontaneous excursions into neighboring states, I might as well give up the right to self-referential pronouns. I've become a street spirit of sorts, a living documentary, a floating camera--I watch couples accuse each other of infidelity outside subway stops; I sit among squealing proto-hipsters at high school recitals; I lie beneath the arch of the Brooklyn Bridge and listen to the cars rumble overhead. Sometimes I go to bars and shows and such and try to talk to people, but these efforts have proven to be so fruitless that most of the time I just stand aside and watch. You might think that this existence might squelch my identity rather than affirm it--but it gives me an secret double life, an innocent little secret, that makes me more than the person I am when no one is around. It doesn't seem so unusual that each individual person is a participant of this bizarre and mind-bogglingly enormous project we call New York City, but the difference with me is that I do it on purpose. I go to places where I don't have to be. There are so many little adventures that I will never write about here, not because they are private (they aren't) or that they would get me in trouble (they wouldn't), but because I need to have moments, mundane as they may be, that are no one's but my own.
That's not to say I'm stalking people or anything. I don't have to. All I need to do is walk out to a busy intersection, and hundreds of stories unfold all around me. It's a little like how I was in Hsinchu, walking to the far corners of the city after school, to the squattertowns and the water towers and the rice fields, so often that people got used to my presence and ignored me. I like to imagine that sometimes, in the emptiest corners of Hsinchu, people still occasionally see a little sixteen-year-old boy, walking through the streets in a sweat-drenched red shirt, stopping to look neither left nor right, eyes burning with carefully feigned purpose, as if hurrying to get somewhere where he would never arrive, and they just roll their eyes and say oh, it's the street ghost again, he always comes through here, and he never, ever stops. The difference between then and now, I suppose, was that back then I was an outside observer, looking in from the outside. And now I am part of the painting.
So it was with great anticipation yesterday that I got to enter that world a little early. The weather was nicer than it had been in months, so I headed up to Central Park, which I never get to do because it gets dark so early, with the intention of crossing the park eastward from the Museum of Natural History on 81st St. to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the other side. The thing is, Central Park is kind of like the Lost Woods--it's designed to make getting from point A to point B as long as possible, and in doing so completely fuck over your sense of direction. I managed to randomly encounter a couple breaking up in halting, stilted, dramatically eloquent voices (it turned out they were actors rehearsing); and an ice skating rink that people were roller skating on because the ice had all melted; and a magnificent statue fountain in the center of a city-block-wide courtyard; and a pillared hall at the foot of which a man in traditional Turkish garb simultaneously sang opera and played the violin in front of an altar marked "THOTH"; and an elderly couple snuggling on a bench; and when I got to the edge of the park I was exactly six blocks south of where I had started.
I did eventually make it to the Met. It wasn't as good as I remembered. Maybe it's my pretentious Oberlin liberal arts education getting to me, but I just can't call a lot of the stuff there art. This is weird because the things that underwhelmed me were mostly things that had existed before people started questioning that the kind of things people put in museums are art, but I have to struggle to find the aesthetic value in a set of dented coins or an unglazed clay pot, or even a drab Renaissance-era portrait done by a painter who had nothing to do with anything modern people admire about the Renaissance. Granted, these things are interesting in that they're very old and that they're part of the story of human history, and that in the context of each other they give people an idea of what life was like in various cultures thousands of years ago. But the Met is an art museum. Cataloguing the development of various styles and techniques and such is all well and good, but what's the point of putting things in an art museum if they don't have some kind of aesthetic value beyond their age and their technical significance? I could see why Duchamp was so pissed.
That's not to say I didn't enjoy myself at the Met, however. I don't mean to scare anyone by saying this, but even though the Arms and Armor exhibit is not particulaly big, and even though it has not changed significantly since I was a little boy, it still never fails to wow the living shit out of me. I spent an hour and a half losing myself in the sun-bright gleam of swords and pistols, scratched and dinged from generations of ancient tragedy, finally laid to rest forever inside a small glass case. I could almost feel the heft of those carefully balanced spears and blades; the loving touch of their smiths, the fear and anger of their wielders. The Japanese swords, especially--the amount of respect that goes into the presentation of each carefully polished katana, wakizashi, and tachi blade all but eliminates the distinction between warrior and weapon, in the eyes of their caretakers. And watching the evolution of these weapons over time, and the silly mistakes that brought them to their most familiar incarnations, was truly amazing. I know it's become worse than cliche to make fun of Final Fantasy VIII's implausible weaponry but I swear I saw an honest-to-God gunblade, back from an era when pistols took forever to reload and had an effective range of less than thirty feet. Also, seventeenth-century Spanish cuirassiers, who wore the world's first bulletproof vests under impractically heavy suits of armor, rode into battle armed with both a sword and a pair of dagger-shaped wheellock pistols. If that isn't badass, I don't know what is.
What a wonderful world this would be, if the only place you could see a gun was inside a glass case.
Also, some of you may be interested to know that the armor of Emperor Ferdinand I of Germany was specially commisioned to have a massive dong.
The modern art wing was also pretty breathtaking--it probably doesn't reflect well on me that Robert Motherwell's "Elegy to the Spanish Republic" moves me much more than some tediously photorealistic portrait of a rich spoiled seventeenth century Venetian. Maybe it's because I'm young that I prefer art that is expressive and experiments with concept and aesthetic and technique, but at least I enjoy it because I do, and not because I should. (Or maybe I've just been spoiled by that one visit to the National Gallery in London, which has a far more impressive collection of traditional paintings than the Met? Blegh...never thought I'd become this much of a snob.) Among my favorites were the aforementioned "Elegy to the Spanish Republic" (which the picture at the website does not do justice; that thing is huge, and it's impossible not to look at it without a great deal of inexplicable emotional violence), Dali's painting of Christ crucified on an unfolded hypercube, and this strange wavy chair that was carved out of a single piece of wood scrunched up like a wet noodle, creating an astonishing illusion of texture and fluidity and motion in what is by composition and purpose a hard, smooth, static object. I'm not an art expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I found that I enjoyed most of these pieces a lot more if I didn't read any part of the caption except the name of the artist, the title of the work, and the date the work was created. Most of the abstract painting and sculpture was so subjective anyway that the caption more often than not came off as pretentious bullshit, struggling to find something to say about works that spoke for themselves. And, amusingly, every painting of Florine Stettheimer's "Cathedral" series--cariactures of 1920s-era New York in the style of Italian Renaissance religious paintings--had a caption except one, the scathing "Cathedral of Art," which is a very unflattering depiction of the Met itself, in all its self-importance and cultural pomposity.
Had dinner just as the cafeteria was about to close, and they were playing Bach's Minuet in G Major (BWV Anh. 114) as muzak, and dear God it made me so happy to be reminded how much I hate that song. Hooray for things that remind me of who I am, when I am on the verge of forgetting.
Was going to see that new film by the guy who directed Donnie Darko--Southland Tales, I think it's called--but after standing for five hours straight and then crossing Central Park again I was pretty bushed. Did run into Wes and his lady friend on the F train, though, which was awesome.
I was going to tie this into seeing Juno with churchielafemme today, but this entry is already far too long. Suffice to say that it is a really good movie, and it makes me wish I had grown up bored in a little middle class American suburb, instead of struggling to preserve some semblance of individuality in an Orwellian industrial dystopia across the sea. (Too exciting is far worse than hardly exciting enough--and I have long wanted to be part of the world that most of you take for granted.) I guess you can never really go back to Ed