Friday, December 19, 2008

Handcuffed to a Naked Man in the Fridge

Winters accumulate, Summers drag, Spring disappears, and Fall is balding.  But Winters accumulate.  They collect in deepening pools.  Each year is a Winter added to the Winter bucket. One more Winter to drag around behind you like a shucked overcoat clinging at the wrists.  It may just be that Winter's astronomical phase is closer to the galactic norm, the elliptical skew showing us that much more night, that much more cold.  Winter's a reminder that we are floating in space and relative inches away from carbon based oblivion (hurray!).  

The city folds its little paper flowers every hour of every day, orbital phases be damned. Everything still moves, though old ladies and delivery men struggle in the slush and countless pedestrians drop knee deep into slush pothole pongee pits before being stippled with icy cabbie blow-back. Winter is an object lesson.  The sane are ushered over to the hob where they can reflect on Winters past and look forward to Spring.  

However widely the planet oscillates on its track the city picks up its own momentum and moves on.  Though once in a while the open clock works of the city gets caught on a sleeve of snow and stops long enough to enjoy pulling itself free.  On the twisted narrow streets in the older parts of Manhattan a good snow fall can sit for a day without salt or shovel. People walk in the middle of the street, breathe smoke and chatter in cliques. The sun rakes in benign in the early morning and for a minute it seems pristine, as natural a scene as a stand of cedars bowing beside a blue mountain.  The plows arrive, uncovering the oiled gray of the asphalt and the city's geometry returns.  There's nothing quite so beautiful as a New York City street deprived of its purpose.           

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Eyes on the Sidewalk

Community is what happens with your eyes when you walk down a busy sidewalk.  It may seem appropriate to look at your fellow pedestrians, but this can lead to brief, intense eye contact that may or may not have a life-threatening edge to it.  Looking is not recommended for all neighborhoods.  Most of the time you will find the bland expression of a body in transit.  Other times you can find some sublime little in-roads into the lives of total strangers.  

The supercilious, the doomed, the cantankerous, the lost, the famous pretending to be nonchalant. I can cast expert side glances and take in the full amazingness of a man in a lavender linen suit with matching hat without fully acknowledging that the man exists. The city can be downright hallucinatory without the occasional confrontation of eyes.  It is good to be warned off by the occasional bloodshot set or to be staunched entirely by people who are weeping openly on the city's sidewalks. 

Searching stranger's faces is an odd preoccupation. It may be a way of humanizing the otherwise anonymous millions I live beside.  In some small towns, eye contact is not only expected on Main Street, but should normally be attended by a greeting: a smile or a wave hello.  Here, the eyes are almost too much.  Thankfully when you are in public in New York, you are also alone.  There are just too many people to keep track of and the sidewalks are so regularly scandalized by freak-outs that people maintain the general law of live and let live, so long as their space (or sense of fashion decency) is not invaded.  

More frightening than the bloodshot daggers, which normally speak of a day of unending frustration, are the eyes that void their neutrality and suddenly want to be friends.  Every now and then an eager little glance is shot back from the pedestrian crowd, happy in a schizophrenic kind of way, intense and entreating, "Friend?" A total stranger? Either a small town soul bursting with naivete or the more likely predator scouring the streets for the small town soul to prey upon.  Whenever I come across one of those, I normally walk on so much the faster and ensure my expression has switched to neutral.  I'll scan the sidewalk for gum or the skyscrapers for cracks and plow ahead.    

Friday, December 12, 2008


Eggleston is a sly photographer.  Sly, not clever.  He figured out some things before he took his picture.  The composition is most usually balanced on some small strange detail.  The color keen and uncommon in a way that gets the emulsion to speak. Gelatin layers of sky, porcelain, kitchen wall.  White is seldom white.  Red is the color of blood in the vein.  The thick life of those colors.  

The subjects thrive, elected just an inch beyond whatever their reality may have been.  An inch. The brevity of that distance is enthralling. The difference is between walking and walking with a camera.  The picture you never knew you took of the kitchen sink. The postcard perfect field with the tarnished billboard.  His people and some of his places are arrested mid gesture, frozen for study.  They're easy to dismiss because it is so easy to imagine their next step.  

Somehow in his economy, Eggleston told us everything we needed to know about these people. The naked man just woken up on the couch beneath two shotguns with the ashtray at his feet. The redhead ecstatic in play dead on the lawn with a face full of sun and a genial set of buttons on her dress like a line of red jelly beans. The headless girl with the P. written on her hand in a blouse illustrated with kids at play, brown jumper and mini-skirt.  Does the P. on her hand give her age?  How much do we take for granted?  There's a level of specificity that denies type.  His people are people.  

Eggleston's pictures are especially effective in the city.  Easy pickins for porches, fields and southern bucolia.  I wonder if the pictures provoke a greater sense of the uncanny or nostalgia in Mississippi or if they simply thrive in New York because they seem transportive?   


The stairway moves.  It can be a surreal and upsetting experience for a pedestrian to be conveyed up and down without expending any energy, so it is understandable that when those little metal teeth appear and suddenly suck up the stairs you were just riding that you may stop.  The floor does not move? Hmm.  The stairs but not the floor.  Processed.  Now is the time to walk forward to allow the next escalatron off.  No?  It is preferable to assess one's options.  What is the rush? 

The next passive body arrives and roused by the realization that here is another person situated in the exact spot where my body will need to be in less than thirteen seconds, begins to contort. The next passive body is suddenly and unpleasantly awakened from mechanical confluence. Stomach is sucked in, shoulders angled and hands flattened as if already in apology for touching a stranger in public.  Eek by without the slightest touch or plow forward into the immobile brute ahead.  Learn him a lesson.  Eek by is the choice, attended by a look of disgust and a slight tsking sound.