What is left over from the accordion generation?
“Fuck it,” Ghi Gee said aloud.
Inside his mind he was rolling some lines together the way some people make money on a sale, the way the self finds its way to self-hood, passing through all those red lights.
If you want to make it, you’ve got get out there, put it down, leave it. Everything on the air disappears. Everything on the air came out alright because most of what people remember is the way you appeared to them. You can control that, look at the variables in your possession. The desire to keep things fresh, the intent to be irreducible, the ability to manage your multitudes.
Ghi Gee had no acquaintances. He either turned them off with his mouth or didn’t value his time with them. You had to be quick and fearless and full of featured mystery to be with him. Not fickle and moody and disturbed; surprising, elegant, informative, and bright. Sun, moon, and stars. A happy stance and a chance at his humor. You just had to be. Sometimes that was good enough.
“But being isn’t enough.”
I want to be a part of everything and everyone and I’m aware that I will not necessarily want them to be a part of me. So how do you justify your position? How do you open yourself up to the possibilities and evade unwanted attention? Never submit, never finish, never succeed where you find your happiness.
He was walking up the edge of Manhattan, laughing at himself; he who was the only one who could tolerate himself, who believed that one toils the daily life alone, free of a shared vision, on the outside, interested always in access, in deliverables, in being in and staying in based on good work.
“And sometimes it was not good work,” he said to himself staring at the left foot following the right foot on the white glittering sidewalk. Sometimes, all that could be conjured was in-between. In timed conditions, like school bells, with constant variables, like science.
“Adult life lacks experimentation.”
What is adult life? Adult life is admitting that there will never be a way to get it all right. That the human being was full of contradictions, of altitudes and descents, of boundaries and borders; that the way in was also the way out. The way the days went had everything to do with upbringing, education, disposition, and aiming for the middle, for a constant. He said it himself, “If the way in was at an altitude you would have trouble making the descent,” so he moved to the city, where everything was subject to human restraint.
As the sun was becoming a paler white like liquid gold, Ghi Gee was pushing his heels and toes harder into the right-angled pavement. He could put into one sentence exactly what he meant, but it wouldn’t mean much of anything. His own opinions were varied like the names of broadleaf trees, lush, canopied over streets somewhere else, in a place that breathed loneliness. Ghi Gee told himself stories about being an agent of his fame for making leaps of logic, transitions of magical thinking that if boiled could be reduced to the salt of wanting to belong. At every second of every day in every corner he wanted curves and continuation. He wished the rose window for his fellow human.
The sun and heat on First Avenue was isolated in a few paces above the 40th Street tunnel. He stopped because there was too much he wanted to remember and too much to forget.
The United Nations
End of the work day at the U.N.—that green glass building along the East River—flags come down five at a time by five officers in pale blue uniforms. I don’t recognize the ones above me.
While a car registered CONSUL awaits entry at the gates, another moves up, pops his trunk and bomb detection is conducted with a mirror on a stick probing the chassis.
I am under scrutiny myself. Behind the check station a guy in a police hat looks at me, dead-on, like a horse with blinders. The flags ripple kinetically in the wind.
I’ve been in some of these places but I’ve never really known the flags. I know four of twenty: the British, U.S., Argentinean, and Turkish. There are so many admirable ones—with stars and vectors, circles and stripes—and some with writing. One is a sun image stretching out its rays.
U.N. employees disperse like any other: soles clicking, bowties, briefcases in hand. Some wear the frock of their homeland.
Security and Safety drop the flags above me,
roll them up around their hands, like dirty things, stuff them in white painted metal boxes, drop their lids shut. One by one there are only long white poles crowned with gold balls lined up in succession.
I half expect pirate flags to go up in their place.
(At about the time that thought occurred to me, I thought I’d also like to tell the guards that these are only notes to myself.)
I watch a circle of three employees in almost the same bluge suit talk as they cross the street when four officers of the law come into my view. One moves to outflank me while the other three initiate the confrontation.
One asks what I’m doing. I tell him. Another asks why in front of the U.N. I tell him. Why note that it’s on the East River, he asks. I don’t want to be insulting. “In this day and age” comes up. I want my words back. When he asks are you a student, I tell him. I am clear with my answers.
I give my identification
The name of my company
Affiliations with the city
Friend’s midtown residence
I slow my answers down.
The third officer says, “This is not public land,” but offers that I’m not in trouble, just being questioned because it is an international building and ten people have been watching me on ten different cameras.
Now they have my identity, and as the one reads from my notebook, I note that I’m curious and they tell me about procedure, about the flag ceremony.
I wanted to make it clear.
The third officer says, “This is a free country, but we just can’t have people taking notes about the building and publishing them.”
The fourth officer is still behind me. I tell myself I am not there, that the U.N. is somewhere else, underneath a highway.
“Nice sweatshirt. You went to XYZ, didn’t you? XYZ?”
Ghi Gee was observing the interaction between the man in a pink polo whom he presumed to be Patov and a sweatshirt wearing old man.
“Did you go to XYZ?” the old man asked. “I was Class of ’55.”
“I can see that embroidered on your chest,” Patov said.
When they saw him, Mr. and Mrs. Patov excused themselves and greeted Ghi Gee coldly. Mr. Patov said to his wife, “You feel awkward because I’m judging to the person’s face. With good intentions, naturally. Is it that I’m awkward, or you feel that way and attribute your feelings to me? It seems perfectly reasonable to call into question someone who wears their XYZ sweatshirt out on the town.”
Ghi Gee stood before Mr. and Mrs. Patov as a one-legged hopscotch on the thin island between the Warburton Hotel and York Avenue. He didn’t let any silence in the balance and stepped forward between the two to explain the plan. Mr. Patov said “yes” to everything, like he already knew, and the seeming impatience only ceased when the act of walking re-kindled other, more pertinent thoughts.
“We went over and fought with them for independence and they turned the rules against us. They fucked us. We were subject to the old dirty laws, couldn’t own land, we had to live in certain areas. Now I have 700 acres resort, a lake. We joined the fatherland and fought and they sided with the Fascists because they said we were against them. They sent us away and then we came back.”
Ghi Gee asked for the password, which was Isaac Babel. (He looked up the 700 acres resort afterward.) Mr. Patov said, “I told you already.” But he hadn’t.
He wasn’t thankful for the pickup. He and his wife had been perpetuating the generational and political issues they spoke of from the moment they left the fatherland.
“It will get worse for us. They will hate us and do again what they once did. And everything changes when you cross the line. When you say what you are. Afraid, Jew, homosexual, in love. All those things change a man’s opinion of you after he has already embraced you. Just like that. Don’t tell them XYZ because…”
Mr. Patov was just like Former Boss complaining about a system error and asking the underling to fix it. All these small town problems came with being recognized and identifiable. And that’s why the big city anonymity was so beautiful. Though it only went so far.
“…you can despise your neighbor and refrain from turning them in, just to see them turn against you,” Patov was saying. “Never betray your homeland. Never betray your friends.”
While Ghi Gee took them along numbered streets to their meeting place in Central Park, Mr. Patov continued to reveal his surprising contradictions.
“In front of the university there were two bronze bulls and the students would paint their giant balls every year. So one year they put a lot of guards around it. My friends and I sent some girls to talk to them. So, the girls are laughing and sharing their cigarettes and little by little we were managing to do our job. At the end of the day the bull was still dark with soot but its balls were a shiny bronze from all the rubbing.”
In his mind, Ghi Gee was thinking, how to give written work the same exposure as visual art left around like a living gallery. Brevity. The more it happens the more it’s a phenomenon. Leave the laminated cards around with the words on them. But words can easily be reprinted and credited to someone else.
When he left Mr. and Mrs. Patov, he had enough cash in his pocket to afford the bus home. The thought of betrayal crossed Ghi Gee’s mind and he turned back to watch Mr. Patov concealing the fact that he was taking a photograph of some African lady reclined in a glass telephone booth. Capitalize on other people’s misery, on their grief, their devastation. Well, maybe she was there to be seen. No, this was no performance. Maybe it should have been.
Ghi Gee wanted to make sense of everything. He continued to think about how to show and continue showing. It’s about finding and not displaying. It’s not about discovering beauty. Once beauty is discovered it’ll inevitably be admired or treasured. Admired and treasured only. It will not live. In the midst of its life a beauty has context that makes it more than it is. It distracts the obsessive, invites the observant. To exhibit adventures growing out of our condition, to call forth the passions, engage the sympathies, that’s better than the pedestal. We need treasure! Without treasure we are stepping on the same soil in endless circumnavigation. What I collect and create and leave for others, I want them to find. I would have just left it there in a jar. For recognition. An eternity seeking recognition. It’s like when I clean the kitchen, I say, see how it’s organized. I say, I just want it to be recognized; I just want it to be enjoyed. It’s always there, but not always like this. I want the work to draw attention to itself or to give a feeling, a place.
Rescue this place with public art, with colors, with dialogues, with phrases.
At midday Ghi Gee thought of heading to the meadow. It was one of about a hundred-and-twenty-five places on the list of where to go and write in public. Now he was making his way through all of the weekend warriors. The idea was not so much to be outside with the light and air; it was about cultural legacy. A life of automatic is only as big as the self. Ghi Gee didn’t want to see himself and the city. He wanted to see how the city had become a part of him. It was a sport of judgment, the efficiently drawn line was not as important as the decisive line. You had to know what you wanted to see in life, but in his case, this was a function of the machinery of a city. That was how things worked. We were constantly influenced by things as we experienced them for the first time, when they were ideas or pictures or moving images given to us, when we adopted them whole and somehow saw ourselves in them. The expectation preceded the reality. We were commercial versions of ourselves. We needed to find what we were, how we could contribute, what we could make out of what existed. There was no point in trying to start over. It would never happen. We didn’t come this far to go backwards. The way forward was to understand the way things functioned and to establish what had never been.
No matter what on Sheep Meadow there’s always a group of friends playing catch with a kid’s toy that won’t make it the distance, throwing again and again until it does, hack-fawing at every try. The women and children aren’t into it, but they like the long grass. One woman beckons her husband while he’s in the middle of a throw. He takes two minutes to himself so the day will feel like a day and the rivers won’t collide. The long grass shifts like a horse’s mane and not a tangle of seaweed. To the benefit of the players, recumbent cake-eaters, the women tolerate their men. With the sun in their eyes, the Frisbee coming towards them is partly delayed in the sky.
A pasty large man gives a back massage to his face-down purple-dressed beloved, hands side-by-side on the small of her back. Another man reads separately from his female companion. A few of the fellas stand around surveying the scene. What is left to do is make comfortable, dance, swat at bugs, talk about the heat, smother the loves, the unacted upon ones. Saturday’s city is an uprising qualmed. Ode to the waning day, the cigar smoke wafting temporarily, like complacent second-born at the northeastern exit, facing away, stuffed with food, always soft, loving, free.
The shade empties like a slippery yolk. Roller skaters blast through cones to the beat of an alarm. If there is nothing else then there are injections of time, the bellyful spread in the middle of the city. The rest adapts with treatment.