Friday, October 24, 2008
The Enormous, Morphing Cell
To my surprise, I just finished, more or less, a new short piece, and I decided to walk out to Union Square to think about it. I should be taking care of any number of other things but I don't feel bad about procrastinating if I'm writing.
Just outside of Urban Outfitters, a young woman, stylishly put together, stuck out her hand toward me with the words, Hello, sir, my name is Kristine. I nodded, smiled, kept moving. I glanced over and saw Kristine's associate leaning against the wall with the clipboard. I think she was surprised that I didn't take her hand. Okay, she said with slight huff, clearly undeterred, on to the next. Obviously they were both soliciting donations for a cause I'm sure I believe in. But I couldn't quite put a finger on why I was put off. Maybe something about keeping the clipboard under wraps. Also, the slight aura of a game about it: let's see if we can pull this one in.
More and more, there's an assumption that everyone in Manhattan is just passing through, a tourist, someone who doesn't actually conduct mundane, everyday life here. Why else would solicitors set up shop on Seventh Avenue, around the corner, if they thought they were only talking to the people on our block. And still we're asked the same questions day after day: "Sir, do you believe in gay rights?" "Are you trying to make me feel like crap?" I want to say in response, as I run off to some errand. How does one answer that?
I'm afraid I might be clouding my point here. It goes without saying that it's important, especially at this point in time, to give money to the necessary causes. I'm fiercely grateful to the people who do the tough work of phone calls. At the same time, though, I worry about the city losing--or at least taking for granted--a fact that's central to urban life. Manhattan would be unbearable if we weren't paying attention together, collectively, physically, to the moment right there. I think about the profound pact we make with city life: the anonymity of it, the agreement to be speck inside the enormous, morphing cell. It takes lots of work to make that happen, a commitment that feels like religion to me. An awareness of others' bodies and personal space and clock time--all that. It's probably what Laura Nyro was thinking about when she was singing about the Tendaberry, her made-up name for the cold unknowable soul of the city.
Anyway, my walk turned out to be lovely after that little interruption, which was over almost before it even happened, the way of things here. It's mild out, high clouds in the air. It felt like there was a sense of happiness about so many people surging forward. I don't think I'm making that up. Change on the way, we hope, we hope.
And now to donate on-line to the Obama campaign and the Anti Prop 8 measures.
(Oh, above, a shot of the Union Square dog park at about 9 PM, on Tuesday of this week.)