Came home from a brief outing to buy some groceries with my sister and found that a freezer-cleaning was in order. This led to something of a minor-but-general sort-out and half an hour later I was carrying garbage and boxes for recycling to the rear of our building.
The latter have to be placed inside plastic bags when left. I don’t know if this is just the policy of our building and, more specifically, of our spectacular super, John, or if it’s a matter of some city or borough policy, but in any case, taking boxes outside for recycling involves the use of very large, clear, heavyweight plastic bags for their storage.
I didn’t notice the wind, really, until I opened the bag, at which point it was blown wildly open. Rather than realize that I was standing outside in a cold wind without a coat on—something that I realized only upon re-entering the building and feeling warm again—what I suddenly felt was a kind of incredible emotional fatigue.
Or, call it ennui.
Call it whatever you like, it overtook me as I stood there holding the flapping bag, boxes falling everywhere. Something about the particular sensory complex of that moment—the combination of pavement and cold wind and relative silence and a certain gray light and a flapping bag and my utter distraction—carried me out of New York and out of the present into something ineffable about my past and the path along which I have come in order to arrive where I am today.
I’ve said on many occasions and to a decent number of people that the thing I like best about New York is the incredible anonymity that it offers. Suddenly now I feel as though I miss another kind of anonymity, a deeper anonymity that New York doesn’t offer at all. Here, one is forever at the center of things. Even if no-one bothers you, all understand and are aware of your personhood.
Suddenly I find myself missing the total isolation of the middle areas of America, in which one can drive two miles in nearly any direction and be literally off the map, in a place for which there are no markers, no place names, no streets, and no chance of meeting anyone else. In fact, I even miss being inside the city in the middle areas of America, in that particular automobile-wonderland-as-urban-fabric milieu in which one can play the flaneur without ever having to be interrupted or having to encounter another human face.
There is something to be said for the ability to have one’s anonymity by virtue of the density of the crowd, so that there is no need to respond to or reflect on others’ faces, but there is also something to be said for the kind of living in which most hours of most days are spent alone and with the knowledge that the solitude in question is relatively durable in most instances, interrupted only rarely and with the specific intention of doing so.
I miss the feel of the wide-open, of the heavy, wild wind and of concrete as a kind of momentarily pacified state of nature, as opposed to the brittle, man-made wind of the city, so full of human activity and its byproducts, not to mention concrete not as nature momentarily pacified, but nature utterly and terribly exiled for eternity.
Most of all, I miss the very different sense of space-time with which I grew up. City space-time is engaging, dynamic, exciting, productive, and a hundred other adjectives, but it is also shallow, brittle, superficial, and desperately unsublime.