One block from here, in Astoria Park, there is a young-middle-age man that has been sitting on a bench wearing a coat, night and day, week after week, without interruption, since we first moved to this neighborhood in 2007. He disappears for a few hours here or there only when it’s raining very hard or during winter nights when it’s very cold outside. Immediately afterward, there he sits again, propless, without reading materials, television, radio, a suitcase, a shopping cart, or any indication of social or physical condition, attachment, or need.
Just a guy, his coat, and a bench.
At first we called him “Mr. Bum” but after talking to him a few times we learned his name, so we no longer call him that. We don’t say much to him and he doesn’t say much to us, but he seems to be a genuinely friendly, albeit very shy, isolated, and apparently freezing cold, guy. We have no idea what his story is. He looks like anyone else. Except—
Since 2007. Park bench.
Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself and someone else is leave them the hell alone, stay the hell away, shut the hell up, etc. Pretty much every phrase involving “hell” and some sort of termination.
Because there exists a large swath of the world that unwittingly suffers at times for reasons that the remainder of the world can’t understand.
Really, it’s not such an incredible story; we all know this to be the case if we take half a moment to think about it. Most of the incredible things we’ve heard are the most obvious if we take a moment to think about them. That’s why they’re so incredible to begin with.
You do all this work, travel all these miles, maintain all this discipline for all these years, build this entire ecostructstem around yourself and carry it with you both metaphorically and physically and it becomes a kind of master narrative for which you serve as an anchor and synecdoche and then it’s late at night some night (it’s always the first time you’ve said or thought any of this) and you can’t imagine what it’s all for any longer, and you can’t imagine what it all actually is any longer and you have no idea how to conceive of yourself.
Or the things you think you’ve told yourself you do and like and think.
And then you realize the fire you’re playing with. You can’t de-essentialize anything, not even yourself, without risking a very, very bad and embarrassing joke that will stay on your metaphysical record forever.
So you pull your socks up, down the rest of your bit of heaven, and toddle. You blink over and over again and shift your eyebrows up and down bewilderingly as if this somehow expresses a lack of focus, capability, and intent that is precisely the opposite of the course you’ve just forbidden yourself from taking.
Broken chess pieces: aesthetic heaven.
The hinges on my latest machine are actually a bit loose and have been since I got it. Floppy hinges have always been one of my biggest, most aggravatable peeves, but somehow this time I can’t really bring myself to care.
I could replace them, and the spare parts are cheap online. But just the thought of having to do the work makes me want to roll my eyes right out the rear of my head. So much for the geek facet.
Maybe what has been missing over the last god-knows-how-long isn’t the right thoughts or the right motivation or the right environment but rather the right keyboard and the right display.
I spent nearly all of my academic life typing on Thinkpads. It’s not beyond the pale to imagine that it might impart some kind of subconscious or functional trauma to suddenly be sat sitting at a keyboard of different dimensions and arrangements and a screen with a different viewing angle, color balance, surface finish, and dot pitch.
Am I crazy to think this?
Does it matter? Things have been better and more productive ever since.
Note: Once you affix something to the wall it becomes ageless and immortal and breaks free of all temporal and spatial contexts. There it hangs, radiant, an exemplar of the virtues of taste and sociomaterial aggregation. It can hang there forever, unaccused, timeless, progressive.
The moment you take it down again, it reeks of the long-past fashion, long-worn clothing, and abandoned leftovers. You immediately hide it, embarrassed to have ever had it on your wall in the first place.
You hope nobody who has stopped by has ever noticed it was there. After all, all of their homes’ interiors are so well designed, so comfortable, so fresh. You’re sure they noticed.
You hope they have the good taste never to mention it and make you face up to the truth.
On any given Sunday the nation is awash in worn white tights and repeatedly stained ties.
On any given Monday I still live in New York.