I am someone who talks to buildings, waves at dogs, picks up coins on the sidewalk. Despite exasperated friends and family members, I still refuse to have a cellphone because it interferes with the private soliloquy that erupts internally when I go walking like a stray animal on city streets. I am anonymous, I am solitary; I am Everyman, I am channeling and composing-- listening and reacting, absorbing and emitting and eminently vulnerable (maybe that is the best part). I am eccentric and unremarkable at this age, and I value the shade of 'fly-on-the-wall' that accompanies these 'grey' years.
There is an amount of probability that my thoughts interest no one at this stage, but fortunately we have these blogs and outlets for documenting without burdening our friends and acquaintances with the mundane epiphanies and inventions of a low-impact life. At my age I have absorbed more than my share-- have become something of a professional observer, and find more revelation in the associations that emerge from mental storage points. It never fails to stun me the way random people here in this city live in proximity to one another-- a Nazi sympathizer beside a holocaust survivor, Republicans and Democrats, a billionaire beside someone who struggles for food. We do not necessarily wear our values, although plenty of people wear the costume of a person with money, irregardless of whether they have actually paid for it.
This afternoon I voted. My polling place is one of the beautiful churches of Manhattan. It is humbling to enter, and the act of submitting a ballot is like a religious experience. Today the man managing the tables was one of those New York characters who bleeds his history to anyone who listens. This one was an ex-con/mobster who claimed to have been the only inmate in Rikers' with a curtained cell. He had survived lung cancer, several near-death heart failures, a recent diagnosis of metastasized brain/stomach/liver disease… the nothing-to-lose attitude of someone who had crammed 90 lives into one, maybe embellished the re-telling. By the time he gave me my ballot, he'd proposed marriage, was begging to write me into his will. He was going to take care of everyone. If only… Still... I learned something… I had a little slice of free entertainment, an unplanned side-track in a routine day. We traded 8's, as they say in jazz… only I mostly tapped my foot while he jammed.
One of my gripes these days is overcharging. For every purchase, the man at the top gets the lion's share-- the man who needs it least. No one really sees what is in my glass, I always think-- no one has a clue how I survive in New York City without private luxuries most people see as necessities. Like so many of us, I could buy a downtown penthouse with the things I've turned down, given away. Regrets? I fear the shadow of bitterness I am sensing from some of my aging friends. In this culture it is difficult not to resent the uber-availability of cheap instagram mantras and mimes, of the absence of thought, of soul-- of a sense of context and depth. We pay for advice-- therapists, moment managers-- real estate agents, decorators-- we line their pockets while we often derive little benefit. While delegating is a necessity… the global mass of apps and outlets makes life difficult to navigate for the insecure. As for me, I have my own brand; free wisdom can be valuable if you know where to shop.
What is really bugging me lately-- after deleting my daily quota of voicemail solicitations (how do they get these numbers?) is the number of charitable organizations and websites who beg us for guilty donations, who twist our hearts and humiliate us-- which turn out to be dead ends, selfish vanity sites or manipulations by people who maybe give a tiny percentage to the destitute and sick and keep the lion's share for themselves... because the 'needy' are not necessarily those of us who starve and walk and do without… but the pathetic victims of brainwashing advertisements and big business who absolutely cannot live without their estheticians and cosmetic dentists-- their personal trainers and youth-promising supplements, without BMW's and the Hamptons, colorists and birkins… who literally have traded their souls for these things-- their value systems. Some of these people, I thought, as I voted in the massive church which requires a huge donation to host a wedding or Baptism-- even a funeral-- some of them go to church and recite things, place money in collection plates, go outside and ignore their badly dressed neighbors. Certainly they ignored the Cuban ex-con who is trying to make a joke and enhance the minutes he has left before the timer on his terminal brain tumor goes off… whether or not he is a pure con and has made the entire story up… it matters little. And he had more than a few things to say about city contracts, the mob, corruption at the root, etc. He'd worked at every level in every branch of every union and non-union urban department. He'd gone to prison for several-- for crimes, for not ratting, for his brand of con-professionalism. Yes, I took the time to listen to his tales beyond my limit of amusement until I began to suspect his truth and plot my exit. But he knew me, this man-- he could tell I am one of those people who converse with gargoyles and see angels, who do not refuse ghosts and beggars, who have visions and dream songs, and do not discount reality.
What I do know, as he knows, is that the potential value of every moment is identical. Unless you are Stephen Hawking, most moments are exactly the same length as any other-- orgasm moments, root canal moments, Academy Award moments or watching a homeless man vomit on the street. But our value systems, and the way we use these moments, or what we produce, have become so backed up and convoluted… with all the social media connections, the odds of some world-congealing actual event like Woodstock seems dim, except in replay mode which does have a certain celebrity currency-- a guaranteed viral youtube eternity, the way my private moments do not.
Someone asked me recently about my blog-- and I explained that I generally have a point at the outset, but I let myself wander, the way I take my walks this days-- as an opportunity-- because for someone who travels little outside my city, I am like a hitchhiker who accepts a ride with no destination. Today I let my Cuban friend drive me around and hijack my moment… fill it with tales of the mob and New York crime-- sickness and disease and the sense of God when you are fading on an operating table, the lore of his prison tattoos and his personal eloquence, like a Chaucerian tale-teller. The best part of all is that he directed me to the wrong voting table… and not just me-- this was a pattern-- because he never consulted the directories which was all part of his philosophy of humor and anti-bureaucracy. In fact, in keeping with the con artist thing, maybe he wasn't a Board of Elections employee at all… but for the moment, he was in exactly the right place, as was I.