On the train yesterday, a slender figure in a long hooded black coat got on my car at 59th St. It wasn’t just a Goth thing-- it was obvious he either was channeling Death or, like a James Ensor updated, actually was using public transportation in real time.
Everyone was a little fidgety… even his shoes were zipped into the tight black fabric of his pants—a style you don’t see at Ian’s. No scythe, but you couldn’t exactly see his hands… he sat...blended...
My new approach, since I’m in full-blown middle age, is to approach tough kids and young gang-members with maternal affection. After my own parental wounds and badges, I’m versed in the lethal-weapon dialect of teenage emotion. So I’m thinking… what to say to Death? A one-liner…a Steven Wright approach? A Bergmann thing? Quote the Bible? Shakespeare? Embarrass the guy with my intellectual/literary superiority? Is the guy omniscient like God? I can’t remember… am trying to calculate how much reading Death might have done— is he partial to Goethe/Marlowe/Milton… the obvious parable stuff where he plays a role? An ego thing? Laughing nights over absinthe at a scrapbook of Seventh Seal and Darth Vader-esque characters ‘doing’ him? Does he read the classics… did he write them? Inspire as a muse? Does he listen to Sisters of Mercy or Muse? Wagner? The Mozart Requiem? Does he read obituaries and gloat? Use candles? See in the dark?
Well we’re approaching my stop in Chelsea… and the guy is getting ready to step out, with me. So I am now thinking--- maybe this is my personal caller—maybe I am the only person on the train who can even see the guy, and he knows my destination. I am a little nervous and decide to duck into the 8th Avenue Starbucks. Death does not go for a coffee. He is deliberately and stolidly making his way downtown. I breathe a sigh of relief, get myself a Venti black, and cut west on 22nd Street. At 10th Avenue, he reappears…. The light is against us. Will he walk into the traffic? No, he doesn’t. He waits. I am mustering all my courage and decide to look him in the eye, to make some small talk about the weather. After all, it is 101 degrees in Manhattan, I am drinking scalding Italian Roast and my companion here is draped like an Icelandic monk. Maybe he is allergic to the sun. Okay. I do it-- He is young and maybe Spanish—sort of beautiful in a vampiresque wasted way—with red-rimmed eyes and sensual lips.. but pale, pale, with the VMA-perfect shock of chemical black hair. It crosses my mind that my son’s Twilight-obsessed ex-girlfriend might even find him sexy, this young Death guy.
His youth and the hardness of his expression are disarming. For a quick minute I think--- will a bus veer off the road now, will it be heatstroke, a heart attack… will I gasp and then implode? But I am speechless. I let him walk ahead, for obvious reasons. I am thinking…maybe he is going to look at some art… maybe he will go straight for the Highline and melt in, until it is late enough to do the Meat Market nightclub thing. Maybe he will go for the Intrepid, or take a dip in the Hudson, curse the hero Sully for defying orders.
But there are no orders. Not for death, not for me today. I made it. I looked Death in the eye and lived.
Right. I looked at some adult-hating Twilight-obsessed delusional kid who is no less ridiculous than the Star Trek or Starwars nerds who dress up for those pathetic conventions…. An immature overgrown teen whose parents never sprung for the cool Spiderman costume for Halloween and he’s pissed. Some art-college Freshman pledging for the Goth fraternity… or a sacrilegious Catholic-School rebel offending the priests, dressing as a monk, about to do some serious drugs or rob an ATM machine or have gratuitous sex in a doorway while some cheap cellphone camera records it for youtube.
Having just finished Saramago’s Death with Interruptions, I choose to souvenir my little encounter… I choose to decide if I had photographed the guy there would be no image, that among all the crap and death-defying entries in the current competing spectacle of the artworld, I felt a little heartquake.