New York Romance II


Everything here happens on the surface.

A guy with a battered copy of Slaughterhouse Five sticking out of his back pocket photographs squirrels with the utmost seriousness and I watch him. He’s a photography student doing some kind of exposé on nature thriving in (in spite of?) the urban environment. Or he’s one of those Facebook photographers about to edit the fuck out of those squirrels before posting them in an album called “visions.” Both seem likely.

Next week I see the squirrels scattered on the chipped walls of an independent bookstore in matte naked copies.

I buy one, hoping they’re his.

Trash everywhere, usually. Giant garbage bags punctured and pulled apart by curiosity or hunger spill their colorful insides onto the ashy street, filmy and loose like deflated black lungs. Dirty punks in old boots rummage through them, frowning as they retrieve forgotten things.

I can’t imagine why anyone would buy furniture in a place like this.

The fire escapes are dusted powdery orange with rust, mottled light and dark like saffron pollen on skin. They look almost decorative, like fuzzy latticework. I wonder how they would hold up in the event of a fire.

Two girls stand close together in front of a building, their faces half hidden by shadow. One of them is wearing a pastel dress and vanilla perfume and the other is dressed in denim and flannel, smelling like laundry and work. The flannel girl leans in for a kiss. The vanilla girl instantly throws her arms around her neck and accidentally drops her fake Chanel handbag into a puddle on the ground.

A homeless man is asking me for money. I don’t know what to say because I don’t carry cash and I’m struggling to pay the rent, but I feel stupid explaining this to him and so pass by soundlessly like everyone else, wondering if they also feel guilty.

He yells obscenities at me all the way down the street.

Sometimes it’s better not to talk. Sometimes you make yourself unapproachable, your face poisonous and your features defensive, and no one will bother with you because your body is a closed door. But there are also those who see this type of hardness as a come-on – the more you make it clear you don’t want to be touched, the more they want to. It’s a game.

Nevertheless, I’m more afraid to be vulnerable than provocative.

I think about the suburban nowhere I grew up and feel a disgusted nostalgia for it, its syrupy heat and busted strip malls, the bleached glittery cheerleaders at school, discount Abercrombie & Fitch clothes and the occasional meth labs and the suicides everyone ignored. Bored eighth graders smoking in parking lots. Gray air-conditioned bookstores selling fifteen variations of the Bible and not one useful thing.

Here everything happens. Humanity confronts you every day without a break. Humanity climbs on top of you, slaps you awake and drops pigeon shit in your coffee. It dissolves your membrane until you’re tired of guessing. Everything happens, every roiling atom of it spinning in its own orbit. 

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