Lately I have been looking down as I walk. I find things in the street--- sometimes a quarter or an old penny-- last week an iPhone 6, someone's keys (another short story here, for another time)--something satisfying in returning lost items to their rightful owner. Occasionally, as with wandering dogs and cats, things or pets have been 'deleted', let go. Not everyone has that defective gene that makes us believe objects have a soul, that they emit some kind of emotional radar-- some vague longing and belong to us. I am burdened. I collect souls and sorrows and stories like missing children. I found a stray dog once-- years ago. I lived uptown, near Harlem-- was determined to find a good home for him, left him with a friend in Soho while I went on the road for 2 nights. He'd only known me for 3 days. I came back to the city, found that he'd escaped his soft collar and leash while tied outside a bar on Broome Street (ah, my friends' priorities…)… and there he was, curled up by the stairs of my old building, more than 100 blocks away. He was mine.
Most things in my life have not been that clear. I find it hard to recognize new shoes, the 'right' apartment, lunch. Love. But that's another novel. A few weeks ago I read an account of a blind man who was injured in a subway accident. When the train came in, it said, he was looking up. That had all kinds of resonance for me-- religious, spiritual-- irony. When you are blind I suppose it doesn't make much difference where you look.
My increasingly solitary day trips have an inner soundtrack. I do not carry an iPod or a phone, but I maintain an inner commentary--- it's unstoppable, my voice. Like my own personal Walt Whitman. Of course, it began as personal encounters-- observations, mental photography. But lately the flotsam and jetsam of objects in the street and gutters speak to me. Harlem, where cleanliness is not consistent, is a virtual Pandora's box. Block by block---gentrification alternates with the random and spectacular pairing of oddities and tragedy. On Lexington and 122nd, there is a men's shelter. Sunday summer nights the tenants are chilling on the street, sprawled across those strange new metal sculptural seating installations that line the curbs there… some in pairs, some talking trash, some quietly staring off, smoking, hitting me up for a dollar or anything. Many of them know me by now--- they know I'm not just a tourist, and I'm walking back from Pathmark where I spend my meagre food allowance as carefully as possible. They don't bother me. One of them always shares with me that his favorite color is black-- I like that. None of them are looking up.
On 119th Street, by the basketball courts, a young couple is having a discussion. The girl wants an accounting-- a reconciliation, maybe. Her boy is not looking at her. I could tell her, spare her hours of circuitous conversation, start her healing. He's gone. He's not coming back--- maybe he'll fuck her, out of boredom--- once or twice-- but he's not going to be looking. I can always tell with guys. I even know before they know. This drove my husband crazy. I was waiting, he said… I was setting a trap for him.
I do remember the way he looked at me, my young lovely husband. I remember some woman at an art auction coming up to me---a stranger-- and saying to me-- If any man in my life ever looked at me the way that man looks at you, I would die happy. I took things for granted then. Love-- passion-- candlelight. Dinner. An endless supply. Looking.
I also remember my baby boy. The surprise of him… the way he looked at me with those serious eyes-- with complete trust. So many of my girlfriends forgot to have children… and it wasn't on my priority list; it was a random act of love. Maybe I should never say something like this, but I pity any woman who hasn't carried the weight of life and experienced the colossal pain of birth and the utter miracle of giving life, of having it look back at you.
I am sitting in Starbucks to escape the indescribable traumatic building sounds that accompany the word 'renovation'. For us day sleepers, the endless New York City real estate boom market has become a challenge. I have a recurrent dream of earthquakes. I am running, the columns are crumbling around me, the ground is trembling. I awake and my bed is literally shaking. 9 AM promptly. Ironically a song is on the current playlist here--- one of those indie dreary bands but something unpretentious and slow-- Everybody's looking up… and I'm looking down… I don't know or care who it is. Somehow this tough-kid phrase from my middle school years comes into my head-- I'm gonna fix it so you have to look up to look down.
Everything changes. Neighborhoods, love. Brigitte Bardot turned 80 this week. I watched Le Mepris a few nights ago. Saturday night I was lucky enough to play in a concert at Lincoln Center. The singer, a formerly gorgeous and sought-after vocal star, now lives in a kind of homeless hotel. Her life and story was a revelation. She performed one of my songs and it was amazing. The room was so quiet-- I could hear my bass notes and I played with a fragility I had previously not experienced. Two hours later I was in Bay Ridge playing raucous garage music to a mostly drunk and rowdy audience which included a large Down's Syndrome woman who charged the stage at regular intervals during every single song. Was one gig worth more than the other? I don't know. I was paid exactly the same for both.
It's a bi-polar world, literally speaking. At the risk of stating the obvious, I guess Down must be the new Up.