You are not doing it right if it does not hurt. One wonders if the Romans said that to each other as they prepared the crowns and taunted their prisoners with the horrors of non-lethal torture. The phrase carries two meanings. It is good counsel for a couple seeking financial advice on the amount of income they should stash away as savings. Yet, the same phrase is an ominous warning for those on the weak side of a power dynamic when their opposites are lacing up the jackboots.
Passion attracts and repels. Crowds that cannot look away are repulsed by what they see. The passionate are victims of their own zeal as impulse leads them into danger. Yet they cannot revert, they cannot abstain. For them, for many, passion is the essence of being alive – the stuff without which one can find no reason to stay among the broken, the hopeless. Passion, even The Passion of biblical lore, redeems.
She stretched her arms into her coat and moved into the sunlight. “I’ll walk a little faster today.” she thought. Soon enough, she began to run.
He carried the realm of possibility with him, on his back, a once burdensome but now comfortable cargo that helped keep his feet on the ground. His youthful prospective was optimistic, but in time, optimism is tempered in the furnace that is a city in summer, and now the realm embraced a future full of good and bad events, and that was ok, that was life.
They called the tavern the What If, and when they played ball that first summer “The What If’s” was emblazoned on the their jersey fronts in electric blue. Lucky said he’d named the place perfectly, because prospecting was the only reason anybody ever went into a bar. He loved that the team had usurped the name; he thought so little their prospects that he surmised the only way to move was up. “The great ‘What If’s’…” Lucky would say in his neighborhood accent as they came into the door for their free round after a beating. “What if they ever amount to something someday! That’ll be somethin’!”
The old neighborhood playgrounds were caged, though the fencing kept nobody out, or in. Similar chain-link barriers were everywhere, separating neighbors and keeping jumpers from bridges, but the high fenced, boxed-in asphalt courts really resonated with sportswriters looking for urban grit. They labeled the young basketballers playing within “Cagers”.
He had spent most of his life leaning against the chain link waiting for his turn in pick-up games they played for money. Two or three guys were regulars on his team, the others they’d pick up on the court. There were always guys hanging around, even on the weekdays, when you’d think everyone was on a curb and gutter crew. Connections were made, and if it worked out, you might have a guy for a bag drop later, or even a short-center for your softball team, which was a big deal, since ten guys a side for slow pitch was not always an easy corral.
There were no nets on any of the hoops, the school or park property directors were wary of theft, and there were always some misdemeanors being committed during the games. But excepting the property directors, crime was not a concern. Offenses like gambling, and possession, and drinking, and dealing in the cages were not prosecuted, and there were few patrol cars in the neighborhood anyway. Everyone knew each other, or vouched for newcomers, and besides, the neighborhood policed itself, just as the hoopers called their own fouls during the games.
His softball team was called the Chi-Dons, a mash up of the city name and an Italianate, 50’s sounding motif he’d seen used by doo-wop groups. The name had stuck for a few years after prior monikers – Boozers, Beginners, and Dead Enders had lost favor. He had a green and gold jersey, with the team name screened on, wrapped around his neck as one game finished and he led his hoops team to the court to play the next. As he walked away, the impression of the chain-link marked his back – he’d been leaning shirtless against it for some time; it was what he did, what they all did, from the time they were kids. He’d do the same thing tomorrow and next month and probably next year. You could tell the lot of them from a different crowd by the chain-link pattern marking their backs.
There was something cozy about the winter couples in the city. There was a certain unspoken intimacy in the way they walked, gingerly, together, minding each other’s balance, a gentle hand on the elbow, a light grip about the waist. On their way to market, or to church, or to visit family; exiting a car or a bus, they’d start out together and stay together, unlike the summer months when one party or another would linger at store windows or chat with strangers along the way. Winter couples in the city were less distracted by others, more mindful of each other. Their wet woolen coats, fuzzy from wear, developed the effluvia of a single organism; perfume and aftershave overwhelmed by the wet weather. From far away they looked as one, completing the connivance of the climate.
There was something cozy about the winter couples in the city.
I imagine him in the street, walking about in the rain, burdened only by the vital but mundane complexities of raising a family in the boroughs. Without the calling, the platform for rhapsodic rhetoric, the stepping stone political offices, he’d be just another guy in a trench coat on a rainy night. Maybe he’ll stop for a cocktail after court in Manhattan or closer to home, after the subway, at a neighborhood joint in Holliswood, Queens. Maybe the T.V. would be on, talking about Nixon, and setting him to thinking.
Decisions, decisions – for now they are provincial, almost intimate; small family and work dilemmas that will be sorted out with a little time and without the greater world giving a damn. Choices of case law at work, colleges to ponder for his children, all of which debated without the looming presence of an airplane parked on a tarmac, waiting for a Queens man to change history. What an unexpectedly full and rich life to be led in the bubble of those you know and care about, in a place you’ve lived your whole life. His wife was a schoolmate. His parents’ former grocery store was just down the block as he pulled up his collar against the drizzle.
He reaches a familiar intersection. Home is to the right. To the left are the local New York Liberal Party Offices. He is always taken the realms of possibility; by forks in roads. As he debates how to proceed, the rain continues, the world goes on without him, and the water begins to puddle around his shoes.
I am flying low, down toward the lights that run up again on the sides of the buildings; lights yearning for the heavens, for my roost. I am a watcher, I am an intervener, I am taking care of business, and there is much of it. Pan the camera back and upward and you see a Van Gogh; blue night sky, yellow light below. Art up above, but down here, it’s all business.
I can hear them thinking, mulling, obsessing in their own heads, and I can’t divulge their minds without undermining my dignity, so I am alone – with their thoughts. However, I can say that their thoughts are much like my surroundings as I descend among the edifices. Disjointed phrases, random words, emphasized, lots of exclamations, some sentences fading into the fog.
I am here for this, for them, though there is often little I can do. Most of them don’t believe in me, so they would dismiss my specter as a migraine symptom. Those that do believe would be too shocked to survive an encounter. The small mercies I can offer without alerting them are often overwhelmed by the enormity of the world they built. There are so many of them now, and so much light, and noise, and mindlessness, and worry; and war, that quiet persuasion is most often lost among the milieu.
Still, I descend from the limitless sky each night, on this eternal watch, reading their signs, reading their minds, choosing, doing. I am marooned in this vocation, a heavenly being somehow glass-ceilinged. I can go everywhere but I am going nowhere. I am notable but unnoticed.
Thank heaven for the artists, or there would be no sense of me at all.
When the rain comes down in sheets, and the time of day is just right, all the windows become paintings. Drip lines spread and bleed into one another images form and fade, color advances, all to the soundtrack of a far away crowd, applauding. That’s what it sounds like, applause, if you are wont to think about it that way, and perhaps that’s fitting, for a hard rain is transformative.
After the deluge, as you walk outside, colors are more vivid, and the scent is intoxicating. A low hush is punctuated by latent rain drops, leaf to leaf, branch to sidewalk. The city is swept clean by the heavens, and the living things, grasses, flowers, humans, reach for the sky in rejuvenation, in thankfulness.
Cities, maybe all places, are like the artists living within them; they thrive upon renewal.
There was this thing back then, about reconsidering open spaces, when the era of pavement was getting old, and people where looking for green environs; but I saw red. Was there a phoenix within the wheat fields, or is that an angel rising? It might be Christmas morning among the poinsettias, but then again, those that Frannie sent lasted past Easter, and this heavenly ghost is wearing white. I put the paint on the canvas, big as a wall, and kept going. More red, more red, and my studio was saturated in its reflection, like a nightclub off Times Square, or the inside of an Italian glass goblet. Her wings like a Deco butterfly, she ascends to the heavens, (also red), enraptured like St. Teresa, yet somehow stuck in the modern world; maybe it’s the the cut of the gown, or that design element of anchored dress tails.
Scary movies aren’t so very frightening while they are being filmed, excepting perhaps The Exorcist, where the set was allegedly rife with spooky happenings. They let me go crazy in 2007 on the sets of The Unborn, which was released two years later, and the only scary thought was whether we’d finish the distressing of the rooms in time for shooting. In fact, we were just adding a little atmosphere to the auditorium-like site, with scrapers and house paint. The real conjuring came from the director and production staff, who melded actors, incremental mechanical movements, and lighting into a film that gave moviegoers nightmares.
I don’t even have a good photo of it anymore, and it found a home so long ago, that my memory maybe fading, but I just remember wanting to paint that blue, to get that color that I could taste and feel onto the canvas for safekeeping. The girl, well, I was young and outgoing and that’s what I saw every night, on the dance floors, and after…